Lebanon elections 2022: Lebanese in the US cast their ballots with cautious optimism
On a rainy day in South San Francisco on Mother’s Day last week, hundreds of Lebanese came out to vote. They are part of the vast expatriate vote that will help determine who their country's decision-makers will be.
The polling station was an office repurposed for the day by long-time California resident Eddy Tabet, who left Lebanon in 1978 in the midst of the country’s 15-year civil war. In addition to offering his office space to the Lebanese honorary consulate, he made as many phone calls as he could to get people out to vote.
“One person said: I have a Mother’s Day brunch,” Tabet recalled. He said he responded: “It’s open from 7 am to 10 pm. Find a way to get yourself to the voting booth and cast your vote. Do your part.”
Tabet told The New Arab that he has been encouraged by the level of enthusiasm from Lebanese expatriate voters. In the San Francisco Bay Area alone, voter registration is up by 50 percent from 2018, he said.
Though he and other voters are aware that one election will not change the entire system, what is important in this election is to vote for candidates who can implement much-needed policies.
This election, which will take place in Lebanon on Sunday, comes at a time when the country is in dire need of better policies. In the past 10 years, Lebanon has experienced a garbage crisis, multiple blasts throughout the country, a financial crisis, and a massive explosion at the port of Beirut that killed around 200 and plunged hundreds of thousands into poverty. These problems are a common topic of conversation among Lebanese both domestically and abroad.
“This is the way it starts, by changing the members of parliament so you have people who are more clean, who actually have the intention of serving the Lebanese people. This is where is starts,” Osman Ghandour, a Stanford graduate student, told The New Arab.
“There are few ways to impact the way the country is run. This is one of them.”
Serage Amatory, also a Stanford graduate student, part of a group of Lebanese students from Stanford who went together to vote, was eager to cast his vote.
He told The New Arab that the process as “remarkably well organised”, even though the wait time was a couple of hours. He said there were also isolated instances of poll volunteers trying to influence votes, which he did not let deter him.
“I was a bit shaky or hesitant about how to vote,” he said, as he was about to cast his vote for a Najat Saliba, a candidate running on a platform of environmentalism and other progressive policies.
“People in line were saying she’s too much of a hardcore feminist. Little did they know that’s what the younger generation wants.
“We’re not voting them in thinking they can make a big change. They just open the door.”
Hala Jalwan, a long-time San Francisco resident who works in IT and grew up in Lebanon, also had no problem waiting her turn and filling out forms. What was important for her was taking part in change through her vote.
“You can see little by little there’s change happening in the country,” she told The New Arab. “It’s not as fast as people would hope. It will need time to happen.”
Tabet says he will continue doing what he can to get Lebanese out to vote in future elections. One demographic he’s looking at is seniors, many of whom have let their paperwork expire, making themselves ineligible to vote. What is important, he says, is getting Lebanese involved in the future of their country.
“Let’s see if we can have a nascent movement that’s purely Lebanon, rather than affected by anyone from the outside – not just Middle Eastern players, even bigger players,” he said, referring to Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as the US, France and Russia, for their involvement in Lebanese affairs.
“We’ve always figured things out on our own. Let’s try to do that.”