As I wiped the ink off my left thumb this morning, I couldn’t help but feel like I, along with many like-minded voters, had been punched in the gut. Although it wasn’t entirely unexpected, the news that Beirut Madinati didn’t win the Beirut municipal election and that the participation rates were abysmal was still a bitter pill to swallow.
This had been my first time voting, having been denied the right when the parliamentary elections were put on an infinite hold. So I was excited, that I was finally getting my chance to make my voice heard, especially that Beirut has not been in its best form lately (with the garbage crisis and all).
I had no doubt in my mind that I would cast my ballot in favor of the volunteer-led and non-politically affiliated campaign Beirut Madinati. I spent hours going through their detailed electoral program and social media pages so I didn’t need much convincing.
I was full of hope.
These are people just like me: people who care for Beirut, but have come to the realization that the current political situation was doing more harm than good. People that decided to take things into their own hands by devising short and long-term plans, keeping the focus on Beirut as a city, rather than affiliations. I marveled at their individual accomplishments, wondering if they could convince enough people that they were up to the challenge. After all, Facebook seemed to suggest so, with the outpour of support coming in from all directions.
But I was reminded a few days before the elections that one must not be too hopeful, especially in Lebanon.
Allegiances are very hard to let go of in a country that seemingly will never emerge from the Civil War- that was explained very clearly to me as I tried persuading family members to vote for Beirut Madinati.
All our conversations led back to two fundamental issues. There was fear that not voting for the politically backed Beyerte list would lead the Sunnis to lose one of their few remaining strongholds, in a time where all other factions have claimed a part of the country as their own. The other was that they felt they must vote to honor the memory of Rafic El Hariri.
I was astounded that they would rather vote for the same people over and over again than make an actual change because of unfounded fears. I was astounded that they so desperately wanted to keep things divided by sect, failing to notice that the list was made up of once-opposing factions who, not long ago, were attacking one another so openly.
Yet, I understood that their logic could not be changed overnight and that it was difficult for newcomers to sway them in a different direction.
Still, I woke up early on election day, brimming with a sense of possibility and excitement. I headed to the polling station, expecting the process to be tedious, but was surprised that it was all over in 15 minutes.
Then I went home and watched the news until the late hours of the night while simultaneously checking updates on social media.
The two sources of information could not have been any more different. I would check the internet first, finding it full of inked thumbs in support of Beirut Madinati, making me believe that these guys actually had a chance at winning. But then, the news would come out to say that the voter turnout was below the expected, which was a huge blow. At the end of the day close to 20% in Beirut had voted.
As Ahmad phrased it, those 80 percent that didn’t go to the polls were probably frustrated from the status quo but didn’t believe that a new option could change, so they stayed home. I mused that maybe a huge chunk of the voters weren’t even in the country.
But the worst part? When news came out that there were massive violations happening as the votes were being tallied. Almost at the same time, celebratory gunfire erupted around us. That was the final nail in the coffin- and I went to bed feeling down and frustrated that our voices didn’t matter.
We did things the right way but that wasn’t conveyed in the final result.
How could they celebrate when they didn’t even win fairly?
So now that the results are slowly coming out, does this mean that we give up on a better Beirut (and Lebanon)? Do we sit at home and just watch while nothing changes? Do we let the same old political leaders decide what is best for us?
I for one refuse to let that happen to my Beirut.
Even in the darkest of times, I have never lost hope and I don’t think that the people behind Beirut Madinati and those who support them should either. It would be great to see them in a non-profit or consultancy role.
Now that they have set the wheels in motion and mobilized a great number of people, the only place we can go from here is up.