The Lebanese legislative elections on May 15 will be a decisive moment for the country’s political future. Lebanese voters, both at home and abroad, will have the opportunity to vote for new representatives who will tackle the pressing challenges facing Lebanon today. The stakes are high and many eligible Lebanese are rushing to polling stations to cast their ballots. Many of these voters are Lebanese expatriates.
Although all Lebanese expats have played the unofficial role of “cultural ambassadors” when traveling abroad, so few feel a strong political sense of obligation to their ancestral homeland. In truth, many of them living in Europe, Africa and North America have recently moved to these places. This is because the economic situation in Lebanon is unbearable. This crisis was caused by the collapse of the banking sector. Lebanese who could previously earn a decent living lost most of the value of their wages and were forced to look elsewhere to compensate for this loss of purchasing power. They have now joined the millions of Lebanese scattered around the world who have built a reputation for success. They may now be able to help their friends and families back home.
The diaspora has acted for years as an economic safety net, sending billions of dollars in remittances to Lebanon. Indeed, Lebanon is in such a state of poverty due to mismanagement of resources and corruption by its ruling politicians that at one point former Prime Minister Hassan Diab asked the visiting Lebanese to “come with dollars”. Diab eventually resigned following the 2020 Beirut port explosion, the largest non-nuclear explosion in the world. During Diab’s tenure, he promised in a televised address to find out the truth and those responsible “will pay the price.” Right now, the only people who have paid the price are those who died and lost loved ones. The diaspora, for its part, quickly mobilized to come to the aid of its compatriots.
With all the talent, success and wealth that exists in the approximately 15 million members of the Lebanese diaspora, why has nothing been used to influence Lebanese politics? Part of this has to do with a lack of political organization and a common strategy on how to solve the long list of problems that have grown longer over the years. This must not continue to be the case. Nearly 60% of the Lebanese diaspora eligible to vote voted in advance, a sharp increase compared to the last elections in 2018. To date, more than 130,000 Lebanese abroad out of the 225,000 registered to vote in did.
Another important development is who Lebanese expats vote for. The slogan of the 2019 Lebanese protests was “Kilon Ya3ne Kilonor “all means all”. This referred to all established political parties and the traditional ruling class of politicians whom protesters blame for bringing their country to its knees. Many members of the diaspora agreed. In this election, a higher percentage of the diaspora is expected to vote for independent candidates who are not affiliated with the status quo.
For decades, Lebanese voters did not have many opposition politicians to support. Historically, most politicians have operated on a sectarian basis, where they disguise their true intentions with the language of sectarianism and protection of their community. They would manipulate the fears of the Lebanese by resuscitating the memory of fifteen years of civil war. This time however, many made the brave decision to reject establishment propaganda and vote for an opposition made up of non-aligned candidates. Many independent candidates running for parliament have accused their supporters of traditional political violence against them. In southern Lebanon, a doctor named Hicham Hayek, who is running against the traditional Shiite political alliance of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, told Al-Jazeera that he and his running mates were beaten by their supporters. He and his colleagues understood that they would receive criticism and backlash in what is widely seen as Hezbollah’s “territory”.
However, they never imagined facing violence for simply placing their names as a choice in a “democratic” state. It is a typical example of how deep-rooted sectarianism is in Lebanon and the tenacity with which it is held by certain political factions.
The faith-based system in Lebanon will take time to unravel or reform in any meaningful way where it no longer privileges those who simply operate on a platform of religious tribalism. Yet, with the rise of a more politically active Lebanese diaspora and a non-sectarian bloc that represents people on the basis of citizenship, we could witness the birth of a truly secular Lebanese state.
Adnan Nasser Independent Middle East analyst. BA in International Relations from Florida International University. Follow him on Instagram @revolutionarylebanon.