I voted today. I have a purple smudge on my left thumb to prove my “participation in this civil responsibility,” as it is called. (And, contrary to what Ziad Baroud said, the purple smudge does not last a few weeks. It lasts as long two hand-washes and one hot shower.)
i drove up to the Zahle region yesterday to avoid the anticipated traffic, but it seems that most folks from Beirut had already left on Friday, so there was no traffic. Less traffic than a usual week-end. On the way there, I saw a handful of cars with orange flags, a few with yellow flags, and another handful with Lebanese flags. Yes, the Lebanese flag itself had morphed into a representative of a particular party.
This morning, I followed Saad Hariri’s instructions: I woke up early, had coffee, then breakfast, and then voted. I made sure not to vote on an empty stomach. By the time I had my breakfast, it was around 11 am, and I walked down to the small school in the village with my uncle, my uncle’s wife, and a friend from another district who was so repulsed by these elections that she opted out of even a blank vote. The mood in the school was easy going. Representatives — actually, no — volunteers from the political parties were enjoying themselves in the school courtyard. Lots and lots of orange. A bit of blue. A bit more red. And a bit of black shirts with red letters. And two, yes, two men with t-shirts declaring themselves to be “friends” of the candidate from the Lebanese Communist Party.
There was only one small entrance into the school. (And this same entrance was also the only exist.) At the bottom of the 8 steps of the entrance stood an ISF officer.
“One christian male,” he yelled. “We have room for one christian male. One Christian male!”
Inside the school, the village was divided not alphabetically by family, not numerically by identification number (‘raqm el sijil’), but rather, by sectarian denomination.
For the first time in my life — and hopefully for the last time — I walked according to the sectarian affiliation of my birth. I was disgusted. In voting for representatives — or, more accurately, in voting against those I don’t want to represent me more than the others — the government was reminding me, yet again, that my affiliation is first to this arbitrary sectarian affiliation, an affiliation that I had rejected all my life.
Inside this small, little-used school, I walked to the end of the hallway to await my turn in the small classroom. The ISF officers inside the school were frustrated at the levels of noise, and at the constant ‘hellos, stop by for coffee afterwards’ greetings.
I walked into the voting booth, after some 30 minutes, and found a small room filled with witnesses.
“Rania Rifaat el-Masri” I said.
“Rania Rifaat el Masri” he said and I heard my name echoed a few times as the witnesses each checked off my name from the list of constituents.
“Are votes written in red ink acceptable?” I asked.
“Use my blue pen,” one election-staffer suggested.
“No, use my blue pen,’ said the ISF officer at the door.
I wondered: what if I had not asked? Would that small white sheet on which I had carefully written 7 names have been rejected? How many small white sheets with red ink would be rejected?
I walked into the covered voting booth and heard someone in the room say, “ah, it seems she will cancel out of a few names. “tshaTeb”.’ In that little blue voting booth was listed the names – and the sectarian affiliations – of each candidate. There was also a bunch of small, square blank white sheets. But no pen or pencil inside. Because I felt that all would be happier if I were to hurry up, I did not take my time reading each name and contemplating the list. I pulled out the three tiny – truly tiny – sheets of paper that each political coalition had given me (one from “Zahle bel ‘alb’, another from ‘ketlet zahle el sha3bieye’ and one from the LCP with only the name of the LCP candidate and with space – allegedly – to write in the other 6 names.) Truly – the coalition’s sheets are teeny. Anyway, I put those teeny sheets away, and wrote my own list, put that small sheet of paper in the envelope, and walked out.
Walking out of the small school, I squeezed by way out of the still crowded entrance/exit. My friend – Perla – had tried, unsuccessfully, to engage opposition political party supporters into conversation. But, they refused. “We don’t talk politics today,” they told her.
The drive back to Beirut was just as uneventful as the drive to el-Bekaa on Saturday.
Contrary to some rumors, some restaurants and cafes in Beirut are open. Perla and I were looking for those open places since both our kitchens are empty. I had been envisioning living off wine and chocolate – all that I have in my kitchen – until Monday evening.
Now, in my apartment in Beirut, I hear Ziad Baroud congratulating Lebanese on the elections, considering that these elections were “in this part of the world.” How wonderful to hear patronizing and orientalist comments made by our Minster of the Interior! (On a technical note, he also said that 58% voted, 20% more than 2005, and most voted in the first two hours.)
I listen to the news now. Following the latest vote-counts. For this evening, I want to put aside my rationality, I want to ignore that whoever wins, the difference will not be grand for this country. Most of the seats have been already been selected, chosen by the coalitions. On the resistance front, there is a difference between the two coalitions. However, on the domestic agenda, all sides have only small differences, quite small. All support the neo-liberal economic agenda – but to varying degrees. All are sectarian – to varying degrees.
I would be all the more excited were there real domestic differences between the two coalitions, particularly if one were of a socialist, secular agenda.
But, for now and for tomorrow, I shall put all those thoughts aside and simply look upon these elections as many other seem to do: to see which color shall win, the orange or the blue, with a bit less excitement than I followed the Soccer World Cup, the Italian or the Brazilian.
And, more fundamentally, I am hoping to see a few losses in these elections.
Good-bye Seniora? Good-bye Murr? Good-bye Fatoush?