“Beirut Madinati”: The institutional rise of Lebanese civil society

by Johnny Kairouz

5 May 2016 | 12:30

Source: by Annahar

  • by Johnny Kairouz
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 5 May 2016 | 12:30

A photo of the “Beirut Madinati” logo.

BEIRUT: The showdown has begun in Beirut's municipal elections between two different mindsets. The traditional representation of an entente between the well-known parties and families will now face a coalition of persons with technocratic competence and with an ambitious and promising platform.

Traditionally – at least ever since the first post-Taef era municipal elections – the Beirut municipal council has been the result of a carefully crafted coalition of traditional Beiruti families and national parties along with a confessional parity between Christians and Muslims.

The late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's efforts to have an all-inclusive list in 1998 were remarkable as he went as far as including a Lebanese Forces representative – at a time when the party was banned and its members persecuted by the Syrian occupying regime and its Lebanese government satellite. This year, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has also presented us with the "Beirutis' List"-- a list that encompasses the main political landscape of Beirut.

While having a comprehensive list representing the Lebanese panorama without excluding anyone must have certainly been commendable during the much-sought harmony following the civil war; eighteen years later, the actual and tangible achievements of the elected members are of much more importance.

Ask an average Beirut resident who his current mayor is and you will hardly obtain an answer. Chances are that he/she will more likely be aware of London or Paris' mayor than the one of his/her own city. Ask him/her of the biggest achievement that the Beirut municipality can boast of and I doubt there will be an answer.

To make it easier, no one needs to be asked anything. Just go ahead and visit the website of our beloved capital (www.beirut.gov.lb): The website has been under construction for at least the past five years. Revamping the city is certainly not without challenge. But for a city with a budget of approximately one billion US dollars to have its website under construction in 2016 – when they could have easily outsourced it if they did not have the capacities – is undoubtedly unacceptable.

If there were anything that could be clean and neat in Beirut, it's a website. But since the traditional electoral lists have always taken for granted their "representative" nature, they never even bothered with an ambitious electoral program that could inspire the voters.

Enter "Beirut Madinati," a team wholeheartedly willing to take the challenge. The competence of its members and the caliber of its benevolent activists are very impressive. They managed to gather a list of achieving members from different fields and industries. The members are dedicated to the platform that they offer, and are not in the contest for political opportunism.

To have a better idea about the group, I recently spoke to the advisor and founding member of the movement: Dr. Karim El-Mufti. I had the chance to meet the political science professor a few months ago when he told me about the key principles of the party.

According to Dr. El-Mufti, the three pillars of the party stand for the principles of transparency, restoring the public interest, and, organization. Transparency – which has become a principle almost forgotten in Lebanon – will be promoted by restructuring and automating the work flow of the administrative tasks of the municipality. Fighting bribery and corruption, which are prevalent in public institutions, will contribute to restoring the public interest.

The third pillar, which is as challenging as the first two, will be the more visible one. It will entail important matters such as the urban planning of the city, improving its waste management and reforming its public transportation system. All of these tenets are elaborated in their ambitious ten-point program which is available in a thirty-page platform.

Unlike what many are trying to portray, the movement does not have a specific position on the political spectrum. The program, which according to Dr. El-Mufti is pragmatic and independent, borrows ideas from both the left and the right depending on the issue tackled and the solution they propose. Similarly, although it is part of the same context and a result of the same frustration, it is not a direct offshoot of the "You Stink" movement. Members of the group come from different ideological backgrounds and are united by the common goal of improving Beirut.

The importance of this disengagement from the traditional political landscape is twofold. The first is that we should start disassociating national issues from municipal issues. We can disagree when it comes to the legitimacy of armed groups on the Lebanese territory or the interference of these groups in the Syrian war, but this does not mean that we should also disagree when it comes to improving our city.

Where the large-scale politics have failed, the local ones should at least succeed. One of the issues that have been disastrous when it comes to applying the rule of law is the lax application of the smoking ban as I have already extensively investigated. I have received a confirmation from Dr. El-Mufti that – the commitment to the health of the citizens being part of Madinati's pledge – if elected they will cooperate with the Governor (Mohafez) of Beirut to make sure that the city's Municipal Police and Municipal Guard will implement the law.

The second important point is that the rivalry in the elections has now taken a new dimension. "Beirut Madinati" is offering us the first full-fledged grassroots attempt to make a change via democratic institutions.

We now have the opportunity to place competence and ambition above traditional confessional, tribal and geographic affiliation without taking the risk of offsetting any balance (whether confessional or political). If this succeeds, greater things will be possible at the national level.

The candidates include real-life achievers who are promising us what we need most: innovation that is nowhere to be found on any other previous or current platform. It is time for us to set aside our ideological differences, at the municipal level at least, and to tackle the issues that we have at heart by voting for "Beirut Madinati." No matter what happens, the movement has at least won in managing to take the electoral process to another – much needed – level.


Johnny Kairouz is a social and political activist who contributes regularly to Annahar. He can be followed on Twitter @johnnykairouz

His views do not necessarily reflect Annahar's.

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