By Nick Cooper and Paul Hellard
After more than 40 years of institutionalised corruption, cronyism and sectarian fear-mongering, the 15 May Lebanese national election offers a turning point that could reshape the country and the region. Once known as the “Paris of the Middle East”, decades of exploitation and collusion by the ruling political elites has drained Lebanon’s coffers, caused the currency to lose 95% of its value, led to the emigration of more Lebanese people than remain, and entrenched a sectarian political system that makes change virtually impossible.
Joining forces with the Resistance movements now spreading across the country, the Green Party of Lebanon (GPL) is contesting this month’s election with clear eyes, passionate conviction, and a vision for a prosperous Green future denied to the people for so long.
“The majority of the old authorities are corrupt. In public, they fight. In private, they collude. They control the power between them,” says Imad Farhat, member of GPL’s Political Bureau. “They’ve invented an electoral system tailor-made to make sure they will be returned. They’re using this sectarian symphony, so that they make people afraid of each other. They have the money, they have the power, they have so many tools that we don’t have.”
But throughout their campaign for this month’s election, the Green Party of Lebanon has gained two things the old sectarian parties don’t have: trust, and respect.
“The beliefs of the Green Party, you can find it everywhere with the people. When you interact with the people they believe in the same goals even though they didn’t know of the Green Party”
“Everywhere you go, you see the same belief at the end.”
This is a situation that will be familiar to Greens around the world – that once people know what the Greens stand for and our vision for the future, they are behind us. It is why face-to-face conversations are so important in campaigns across the globe, including in Lebanon, with campaigners going door-to-door, village to village to spread their message.
“I don’t know how to describe it – the energy, and the craving for an alternative to the current situation,” says Najah Jaroush, Executive Committee member of the Green Party of Lebanon. “There are, for instance, three or four villages that have the same geography. They meet in an open place with a big festival with presentations and campaigning for people who want to hear the project or the plan of the new candidates. And they are excited. They want change.”
Imad Farhat agrees. “The major breakthrough of the Revolution was breaking the taboo of opposing the elites, the rulers. Now, people are opposing loudly. Now, it is happening freely, without fear,” he says.
That Revolution is the 17 October Revolution, which began in 2019 and has continued to grow ever since. Weekly peaceful protests across the country call for an end to the endemic corruption among the political elites and public sector, enduring and extreme unemployment, runaway inflation, a captured judiciary, and, especially, a sectarian political system that inflames social tensions to maintain the power and privilege of the current ruling class at the expense of the Lebanese people.
As a proudly non-sectarian movement, the Green Party of Lebanon names electoral reform as one of its key election platforms. Despite having a secular Constitution, the existing political elites have passed laws and colluded on internal agreements to entrench their position. The electoral lists, presented to voters, are segregated by religious affiliation, and sectarian quotas are applied to the multi-member electorates. Agreements between the ruling parties mean that the President will always be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shi’a Muslim.
“Most of the opposition movement are non-sectarian, they are working or they’re fighting for a non-sectarian country, regardless of the demographic distribution,” says Farhat. “There are a number of Revolution lists, and they all want to change the corrupt system.”
The aftermath of the 2020 Beirut Port explosion, a national and personal tragedy affecting millions across Lebanon and abroad, is just one example of how firmly rooted and disastrously the multiple sectarian, the corruption, and judicial crises overlap.
Ayah Abdouny, a youth activist in Lebanon and co-Convenor of the Asia-Pacific Greens Federation, laments that, “once the explosion happened, there was huge anger and a huge demand for changing the power.”
“But the corrupted politicians blew the investigation,” says Abdouny. “And they’ve done a lot to put aside the clean judge so that he cannot continue with his investigation. The investigation is still suspended. They’ve managed to picture the explosion as being a Christian area, only affecting the Christian part of Beirut. Which is not the case, of course. But they are using this human tragedy to try to further inflame religious, regional, economic, social, and political differences among Lebanese”
“They know how to manipulate and use or dilute the people’s anger. They’re so malignant that they make people forget at the time of the election. We are making sure that doesn’t happen.”
Of course, Lebanon’s economic and political crises aren’t the only challenges facing the country. Once rich in forests, water and wildlife, concentration of ownership and exploitation by oligarchs and political interests have only exacerbated the impacts of climate change.
“Climate change is affecting Lebanon heavily. And even though we’ve had poor seasons in the past, the rainfall is now getting lower and lower,” says Farhat. “Wildfires, both ‘natural’ and purposefully lit, are taking place every year, and we don’t have the tools and equipment to protect or to firefight.”
“Deforestation is also a huge problem, driven by politicians not enforcing even the basic laws to stop it, because of some calculations about winning votes and holding their power.”
Facing such immense challenges, most would throw up their hands in despair, or leave for another country. Millions of Lebanese have done just that over the past decades. But, with characteristic Lebanese resilience and a dark optimism in the face of adversity, Farhat and Abdouny view the future differently.
“The economic situation in Lebanon has reached zero. But, that means we can build a new economic system, a Green economy, using the huge resources of Lebanon,” says Farhat. “We don’t have an infrastructure,” adds Abdouny. “Seeing this opportunity, we can build everything from zero, which makes the Green economic vision or the plan much more implementable; much more feasible in Lebanon.”
This vision of a Green recovery and economy, and how it can be done, is laid out in the party’s 2020 35-page economic platform, 100% Lebanon: A Green Economic Recovery Vision. Bringing together perspectives on diversity, geography, ecology, energy, transport, tourism, agriculture, and more. It offers a future alternative for Lebanon ahead of the 15 May elections.
But despite their public support and compelling vision for the country’s future, the Green Party of Lebanon and the Revolution movement more broadly, are realistic about the challenges they face as Lebanon goes to the polls. They know that decades of nepotism and corruption have stacked the deck against change, transparency, and a non-sectarian future that puts people and the planet before vested interests.
“We are looking to break the cycle. We’ve got to transition towards change,” says Abdouny. “There will be a minimum of five Revolutionaries in the new Parliament, and we are hoping for ten,” adds Farhat.
“This will not be a majority, but it will enable us to hold the old authorities to account, bring visibility, and show that a different future is possible for Lebanon.”
Five or ten MPs may not seem like a big change in a Parliament of 128, but complicated Parliamentary rules mean that it would at least force parliamentary debate on legislation, rather than back-room deals that see laws passed without any consultation or public discussion.
Jaroush reflects on what this could mean for Lebanon: “Change has started since the revolution of 2019. We might not get the results that we aspire for in this election, but it is the beginning of a new road for change. I believe that after four years, GPL, as part of the wave of change, will be rooted in the Parliament”
This spark may just be the catalyst Lebanon needs for a future where decisions are made in the interests of people and the planet, and chart a new course for the country to regain its position as the jewel of the Middle East. May a brighter future prevail.
To learn more about the Green Party of Lebanon, or donate to their campaign, head to https://asiapacificgreens.org/donate/2022-lebanese-elections/