I have a story to tell you.
Exactly two years ago today, we held the first parliamentary elections in Lebanon in 9 years. 1,908,002 Lebanese citizens took to the voting booths. That’s approximately 50% of the total number of registered voters. In Lebanon, we vote in districts, and we can only choose the candidates running in our district. Furthermore, every year, the government selects one boy and one girl from each of the 26 districts through a state-conducted lottery to compete in an event in which the participants are forced to kill each other until there’s only one survivor. Wait… no. That’s the movie “The Hunger Games”. Sorry. But you should know that “The Hunger Games” were inspired by Lebanese politics, and our Katniss Everdeen is called Nabih Berri (always winning!).
Moving on. So within each of the 26 districts, there is a specific number of “ballot boxes” assigned to the district’s voters as per their gender, family identity, and religion altogether. Your assigned ballot box is where you cast your vote. For example:
My district is “Beirut II”. Beirut II has 531 ballot boxes.
My ballot box was number 272, located in the “Khaled Bin Al Waleed Maqased Secondary School” in room 10. In that ballot box, 594 Lebanese were registered to vote, 269 actually voted. So, about 45% voted.
My brothers’ ballot box was number 207, located in “Fakhreddine Al Maani for Girls Secondary School” in room 3. In that ballot box, 606 Lebanese were registered to vote, 288 actually voted. So about 47% voted.
And so on and so forth… You following? Hope so, cuz the punchline is worth it.
On average, in the entire country, almost 48% of every ballot box’s registered voters showed up to vote. That was the case for EVERY SINGLE ONE of the 6,793 ballot boxes in the whole nation, EXCEPT FOR FOUR BALLOT BOXES where NONE of the voters showed up, or almost none. Read below.
- Ballot Box number 91, in Beirut II, located in “Abi Bakr Al Siddiq School – Kantari” room 7.
There are 1,004 registered voters, 0 voted.
- Ballot Box number 92, in Beirut II, located in “Armenian Evangelical High School” room 1.
There are 966 registered voters, 1 voted.
- Ballot Box number 93, in Beirut II, located in “Armenian Evangelical High School” room 2.
There are 979 registered voters, 0 voted.
- Ballot Box number 94, in Beirut II, located in “Armenian Evangelical High School” room 3.
There are 1,035 registered voters, 4 voted.
Quite eerie, wouldn’t you say? … Upon looking closely, I realized that these are the ballot boxes of Minaa El Hosn. These are Beirut’s Jewish voters.
All of them most likely gone from the country, except for a tiny handful, 5 of whom bravely participated in our elections. Please take a moment with me as I try to peel the layers of this valuable data.
In the deeply sectarian muddy waters of Lebanese civil life, where jobs, rights, marriage, divorce, burial, housing, paperwork, holidays are commanded by the written and unwritten laws of your religious confession and the powers of your sectarian leader, 5 Lebanese voters of the vanished Jewish confession who have no political lifting power participated in electing our parliament.
How I admire that they stood the test of time, racist politics, and identity confusion in a ferociously sectarian country to remain Lebanese first and foremost in their identity, and willingly participate in Lebanese politics no matter how little consideration their voices or community gets. Even though they may feel as complete ghosts in the ruthless jungle of Lebanese politics, even though they may feel so desperately lonely in their deserted neighborhoods, these people got up on a Sunday, got dressed, took their Lebanese ID card, drove down to the polling booths, walked into a mute building with their steps echoing loudly in the empty hallways, slowly gravitated towards one of the four loneliest ballot boxes in the country, probably had an awkward moment with the guard overlooking their ballot box, got behind the voting desk, held the ball pen, perused the list of candidates, and elected a representative that they wish to see in Parliament— they voted for a Lebanese; a Lebanese just like them— even though there’s little in it for them. None of them voted blank. They all voted for a specific person. And even though I suspect they are part of the same family, they voted for different people. That’s citizenship more exemplary than most.
To the 4 voters of ballot box number 94, and to 1 voter of ballot box 92, whoever you may be, whatever may be your story, thank you for choosing to remain Lebanese despite the fact that you may not have always felt understood or appreciated in your own country. Thank you for being such responsible Lebanese citizens who decided to put citizenship first, but mostly, thank you for not being afraid to exercise your right to vote in a country that does not assimilate you in any way. For what it’s worth, you exercising your basic constitutional right is the foundation of the Lebanon we vow to build; a Lebanon where liberties are cherished, where fear takes a backseat to empathy, where citizens courageously relate to people and processes regardless of their confessional background, and where every single human being is socially and constitutionally dignified.
That’s what we will build in the next elections.
Meanwhile, I will carry this story with me for a long time. I hope my readers will as well.