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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Lebanese youth’s dilemma: fleeing a failed country or fighting for elections

Latest NewsLebanese youth's dilemma: fleeing a failed country or fighting for elections

Supporters of Hezbollah on Tuesday at a campaign rally in Beirut.VEL HAMZE (EFE)

Like Chile five years ago or Spain ten years ago. Youth movements, which have led massive protests in Lebanon in recent years against a status quo that humiliates them, are hoping to capitalize on dissatisfaction with the traditional party system in this Sunday’s elections. The alternative is to flee to the West and the Persian Gulf in search of a future denied them by the failed state. With a youth unemployment rate of nearly 48%, a life-saving project now seems unfeasible in Lebanon, where 8 out of 10 citizens (doubling the rate three years ago) live below the poverty line and the pound, the local currency, has depreciated by more than 90% since the beginning of the crisis, in October 2019. “Emigrants, send funds to Lebanon!” – calls for a poster in the Beirut airport of those who fly away in search of a better life.

Verena El Amil, a 26-year-old lawyer with a master’s degree in comparative law from the Sorbonne, has not gone anywhere. “I stay to fight for an alternative to chaos. There is an opportunity to continue living in our country,” she explains with a smile from her home in Ain Saadet, on the slopes of Mount Lebanon, on the outskirts of Beirut. He is running for this Maronite Christian constituency with the Generation for Change party as part of the Towards a State coalition of opposition forces. “We want a normal country: secular and without confessional politics; with full equality between men and women, the rule of law with separation of powers, and with a single personal statute of civil rights, compared to the current 15 for each religious community, some of which allow child marriage, ”summarizes his program.

Like many of the nearly 300 alternative candidates, that is, 40% of all those who stand for legislative elections, El-Amil made his way into politics as a prominent speaker in the Martyrs’ Square camps in Beirut, the epicenter of the uprising. against the party regime that emerged after the civil war that bled Lebanon between 1975 and 1990. “It was like a dream come true,” this young woman wistfully recalls the days of the Taurus (revolution) of 2020, with echoes of French May 1968. . Having become a candidate for one of 128 seats in parliament, she dared to take a step, trying to turn the ideas of change into applicable norms.

To survive, Lebanon needs more than recipes for gradual reforms. It is already a failed state, said UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty Olivier de Schutter on Wednesday, who blames the failure on the political and financial elite of the Levantine-Mediterranean country. “Impunity, corruption and inequality have led to a corrupt political and economic system,” warns this independent expert, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. “Political leaders are completely unaware of the reality of the desperate daily life of 80% of the population, where more than half of the families admit that their children are forced to skip meals a day.” For more than a million Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian exiles, the situation is even more unbearable. De Schutter also warns of a “lack of social safety nets” in the face of the failure of public services such as healthcare or electricity.

Verena El Amil, former Beirut youth protest leader and opposition candidate in the Lebanese legislative elections, in an image provided by her campaign.

From a balcony overlooking the coast of the Lebanese capital, 15 kilometers and 650 meters above sea level, Verena El Amil believes it is time to settle the score with the “blackmail” suffered by the Lebanese, and in particular his generation, because of the party system distributing power: the presidency of the nation for the Christian; the position of Prime Minister for a Sunni Muslim and the position of Speaker of Parliament for a Shia Muslim. And that it allows the existence of “illegally armed militias” such as the pro-Iranian Hezbollah.

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“All Lebanese women from all religious communities are subject to the same discrimination: we cannot pass on our citizenship to our children, to men yes,” insists the Generation Change candidate. “August 4, 2020 [fecha de la explosión que devastó el puerto de Beirut] We said, “Enough! This cannot go on any longer,” one of the youngest candidates in the election concludes. “The threat they have imposed on us – to keep the current regime at any cost, in fear of falling into a new civil war – no longer makes sense after more than 30 years of corruption and mismanagement.”

Young Beirutians don their best clothes as they walk, connected to their mobile phones, with Mediterranean laziness through the decaying metropolis, once the pearl of the Mediterranean, rising from the ashes of fratricidal feuds. Beggars of all ages harass drivers under a tangle of power lines strung with roaring diesel generators. Legal tender bills have up to five zeros. Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Arab Emirates are now the destinations for thousands of young Lebanese professionals to get out of the shipwreck of a failed state. The pandemic and the never-ending crisis put an end to the Thawra protests. Now those who occupied the makeshift camps and barricades have their first opportunity to resolve the dilemma in the elections: stay in Lebanon or flee without looking back.

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