Franklin Lamb writing from Dahiyeh, Beirut.
Hundreds of muezzin called believers to Lebanon’s mosques at 3:35 a.m. this morning for the Al Fajr (the Dawn) prayer. The haunting and beautiful strains of Allahu Akbar (God is great) and Ash-‘hadu ana la elaha ella Allah (I bear witness that there is no God by Allah) wafted from minarets and flowed softly, pushed by the morning sea breezes, along Beirut’s sandy, but trash-strewn beaches at Ramlet al Baida. Drifting along the Corniche Mazzra and Raouche, below the American University of Beirut, they swirled around the silent and narrow streets and alleys of Lebanon’s capital and drifted east and up along her mountains. Caressing the mountain tops they embraced the majestic Basilica at Harissa, high above Jounieh, topped by its 15-ton bronze statue of Saydet Libnan or Notre Dame du Liban.
Proclaimed the “Queen of Lebanon” by the Patriarch of Antioch at the beginning of the last century, this Blessed Virgin is a shrine with claimed healing powers for Pilgrims, and the patron saint of Lebanon’s Christians. She is held in the highest esteem by Shia and Sunni Muslims, as well as Druze. The Koran contains 253 references to Mary, two hundred more than in the New Testament.
When today’s predawn stillness returned to Beirut, it did not last long. It was shortly and regularly broken by the crowing of Beirut’s eternal chanters, its roosters. Some from as many as 20 stories up in downtown and Hamra apartment building balconies and roofs, others shunted and jammed into small cages or pits inside the Palestinian Refugee Camps. They seemed to speak and pass messages from the posh neighborhoods of East Beirut to the gypsy shacks and tents near Ouzai, as they welcomed the new day. An hour later they are silent and cocked and swiveled their heads in anticipation this post election Monday, as the sun came up like thunder out of Syria across the mountains. The Creator’s source and sustainer of life painted the sky with a hue part cyan, part blue. Some looked up and saw in it a Prophetic message: “Behold! It is the Dawning of the Age of Resistance.”
And so it may be.
Has a rare astrological concentration above intransient Lebanon, as some are suggesting this morning, brought together mandated political realignments denoting a higher purpose that energizes and inspires the possibility for transcendental breakthroughs?
This observer hasn’t the slightest clue.
But he can attest that many Lebanese, while exhausted, are justifiably proud of their generally well-conducted voting day at more than 1,400 polling Stations in 26 voting Districts and are willing to work with their political adversaries for the common good of Lebanon.
Lebanon’s voting process—step by step
Having spent election day as a last minute appointed “foreign observer” with the Coalition Libanaise pour L’Observation des Elections, I raced, for 13 hours, with colleagues from polling place to polling place, from Beirut, Dahiyeh, Saida and Tyre plus some villages near Qana and around Nabiteyeh, “observing”.
We watched and learned the exact Lebanese electoral process and were allowed to ask questions. We watched as voter IDs are verified and announced at each voting room; saw them checked again by all the poll watchers against their copy of the Master List of Registered Voters who were allowed to cast ballots at their sites. Once the watchers all approve the name and identity of the would-be voter, the voter signs a registration, steps behind the curtain and places a 2 inch by 2 inch “list” with the names of his choice inside an envelope (the voter can cancel a name and ‘write in’ another candidate if he/she wishes), seals it, exits the curtain and puts in into a large clear plastic box for all in the room to see, sticks a thumb in a bottle of dark purple dye (the first time this precaution, designed to prevent multiple voting, has ever been used in Lebanese elections), signs a form attesting to his vote and leaves the room as another voter enters.
Last night at exactly 7 pm all voting stations were closed. Anyone in line was allowed to vote. My observer team happened to be at a school in Dahiyeh. As the army chained and pad-locked the school yard gates locking us inside, probably 25 soldiers, and no doubt additional plain clothes security, asked people to move one block away from the voting station.
Inside, the chief of the polling station allowed us to watch silently outside the room with the door open and to take photos as the vote count started. Each ballot was removed one by one. It was placed on a scanner and the ballot with its identifying number was shown on a 4 foot by six foot screen. Each watcher, whether from March 8 or March 14 checked it, wrote down of his/her list the voter number (no names are used) nodded to the Chief, marked their Master Sheet, and the next ballot was taken from the voting box. The atmosphere was serious, polite and everyone appeared exhausted but proud of their work.
When the chains were removed from the gates ( it took two signatures from ranking officers to accomplish this feat) we departed the voting station commending the soldiers, and poll workers, many of whom had not slept for two days they told us, for their accomplishment of running a largely exemplary voting process. Our delegation concluded that this aspect of Lebanon’s election had been administered very well.
For sure, early aspects of Lebanon’s June 7 election were flawed in several ways, and reports by the Carter Center, European Union among others will no doubt appear shortly. More rumors of vote buying, delayed voting lists, and corruption are heard today, but this happened before the voting started, and the above described process, which we were told is based on the French system, appeared nearly exemplary.
The only fairly serious problem our team observed and one that could have been fairly easily avoided concerned the very long voter lines which were unnecessary. In every voting station we observed, while there may have been an average of eight to ten poll watchers, five security people and three staff at the head table administering the balloting, there was only one voting booth at each station. This resulted in hundreds of people, at many voting stations, spending four hours or more in the sweltering heat, some with small children or babies. I saw many elderly looking as if they could not stand up much longer. Why each station did not have a dozen voting booths is a question that remains unanswered.
Many Lebanese worked hard for months from the different parties and all labored proudly with hope for their unique country and society which saw a record average turnout at 53% up from 45% in 2005. In highly contested Districts such in Metn and Akkar, the average turnout was 65%. Hundreds of thousands of registered voters remained abroad and this is one reason why 53% may not seem impressively high, but actually is. Those based here such as Lebanese government employees, who voted two days early so they could work on Election Day, achieved turnout figures between 89% and 95%, record for Lebanon. In non-competitive or already decided Districts, some Lebanese preferred a day of relaxation at the beach or with family and friends to a sometimes long trip to their village to vote, and sometimes only then to cast a vote that will not affect the outcome of the election.
Opposition disappointed but civil
The votes have been tallied and the election results show pretty much a status quo ante with the Majority picking up a net four seats (a new total of 71 with 57 for the Opposition) at the expense of the Christian Maronite leader and Opposition ally, former General Aoun and Free Patriotic Movement. Sometimes contentious in the heat of campaign, the FPM was gracious this morning in conceding its opponents will remain the Majority, if obviously disappointed. One FPM supporter was in tears and she explained that having been educated abroad, she returned to Lebanon and hoped an Opposition victory would expose and end rampant corruption and the Ziam graft system and she was depressed because she fears things might remain as they have been.
Michel de Chadarevian, a member of Gen. Michel Aoun’s FPM political bureau, told the media that FPM was disappointed with the election result but would respect the outcome and would now work with all parties to form a government of national unity. “Lebanon can only be governed by a national unity government,” he said. “Even if we had won we would have formed a national unity government.”
Hezbollah won all 11 districts in which it fielded its 11 candidates, and along with its allies won 21 seats in district in Southern Lebanon succeeded in raising its vote tallies, despite a Saudi funded rival Shia party, Lebanon Option Movement. Hezbollah and its allies also won 10 seats in the eastern Baalbek region.
Hezbollah member, Hasan Fadlallah, an MP in the outgoing parliament, explained: “What matters to us now is that Lebanon turns a new page, one based on partnership, cooperation and understanding,” he said. “Lebanon’s specificity is in its diversity and there is no majority or minority. No party can claim to have won the majority among all communities.”
Hezbollah MP Mohamed Raad, the Opposition leader in Parliament, reminded his fellow Lebanese that “the majority must commit not to question our role as a resistance party, the legitimacy of our weapons arsenal and the fact that Israel is an enemy state”.
Feltman: One last time
The US administration is reportedly disappointed that their ‘Team’ did not achieve a stronger victory. Just before the voting, the Obama administration allowed Jeffrey Feltman, Deputy Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, in clear violation of Lebanon voting laws, which required no campaigning after midnight on Friday, to blitz the media through carefully timed interviews with pro-Majority An-Nahar and al-Hayat newspapers, with his personal calls for the Lebanese to have enough intelligence to vote as Feltman saw fit.
Many Lebanese resented the additional interference in which, not hiding his contempt for Lebanon’s voters, Feltman announced: “The election’s outcome will naturally affect world’s stance towards the new Lebanese government and the manner in which the United States and Congress deal with Lebanon. I believe the Lebanese are smart enough to understand that there will be an effect.”
Feltman, apparently nervous about the election outcome, decided to directly interfere in Lebanon’s election one last time and he attacked the head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP General Michel Aoun lecturing Lebanese voters: “one of your politicians is proposing that Christians shouldn’t depend on the United States. I hope the Lebanese had accurately listened to the president’s [Barack Obama] speech that specifically pointed to the widest Christian religious minority in Lebanon, the Maronites. The president spoke about the need for respecting all peoples in the region including minorities…I hope the Lebanese would ask themselves: do we want to be on the side of the international community and close to the stances that president Obama made? I hope they would say yes.”
No major change in the political landscape of Lebanon
As one who has been able to observe some events in this country first-hand, sometimes being granted unique opportunities, this observer has tried to see events with the eye of a conscientious witness and reporter, interested in passing along, the truth as best it can be divined. Yet it is a struggle as one observes events first-hand and whose sympathies and concerns and respect for the people of Lebanon and their unwelcomed Palestinian guests are not neutral.
The June 7, 2009 election did little to change the political landscape here. It was never a question of an Islamic Republic if the Opposition had decisively prevailed or that Hezbollah’s weapons would be decommissioned before Lebanon was able to defend itself. Nor was it in question that a slim majority by either side would not require a renewed commitment to the Taif Accord calls and the full implementation of all the clauses and the need for Parliament to enact a modern electoral law based on proportional representation which a majority in Lebanon desire.
With regard to the noisy issue of arms of the resistance, there remains insufficient political will in Lebanon to force the issue in Parliament although Israel has wasted no time insisting on it.
The new Parliament has must important business to conduct from granting woman rights including the right to confer nationality on their children to aid the Palestinian refugees with civil rights until the return to their Country.
The National Lebanese Resistance sprung from its people in every village, seeking to defend a Zionist terrorized Lebanon, staking their lives on their basic belief in God and the independence and sovereignty for their country and the Liberation of Palestine.
As this era of Resistance to Zionism spreads around the World and intensifies here and abroad, every hour that Lebanon resists brings the region closer to justice and real peace.
Nothing changed this yesterday.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. A shorter version of this dispatch has been published in Counterpunch and other alternative press online.