Expats mobilize: Lebanon’s 2022 election, the needed ‘seed of change’

·4-min read

Given Lebanon’s ongoing economic and social crises, Lebanese expats see hope in the 2022 parliamentary election, set to take place on March 27. Fueling this hope for change is parliament’s decision to amend the electoral law, allowing expats to vote for 128 seats instead of six. As the expats’ registration deadline (November 20) approaches, diaspora networks around the world are mobilizing themselves in an attempt to increase awareness and encourage others to register.

After spending most of their lives abroad, Youmna Debs Bekhazi and her family decided to return to Lebanon in 2016. Four years later, they found themselves packing their suitcases again in search of a better future they wished to have found in their home country.

“It was hectic, but nice in Lebanon. We enjoyed being surrounded by family and watching our children grow more connected to their roots,” Debs Bekhazi said. “However, the good part did not last for long and we had no choice but to leave for Romania after the Beirut Port blast destroyed our house and the economic crisis deprived us of our own savings.”

Despite the disappointment, Youmna and her family’s hope for change made them register to vote for the next parliamentary election set to take place on March 27, 2022.

“I believe the election is the seed of change we all need,” she said. “If the situation gets better, we’ll return to Lebanon in a heartbeat.”

As of November 19, the global expat registration data recorded a total number of 210,033 registered individuals for the 2022 election, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants. This number exceeds double that of registrants from the 2018 election, which was approximately 82,000.

“This increase indicates that more expats are engaging in the democratic process,” said Zeina Mokaddam, member of Nahwal Watan, a platform for political change and socio-economic renewal.

Ralph Debbas, Lebanese expat living in New York, is among many who did not vote in 2018 but has already registered for the 2022 election and is encouraging others to do the same.

“While we felt there was a crisis [in 2018] and knew that the government was corrupt, we sensed that we had little chance of changing anything because of the lack of unity and leadership,” Debbas told FRANCE 24. “This time, however, we are united. The catalyst has been mostly the August 4 blast, but also the crisis that started before.”

The current registration trend projects an average growth of 5 to 8.5 percent in the number of registrants daily until November 20, according to Ana Al Arar, an independent Lebanese group for constructive change.

Nancy Stephan Jabra, member of The Lebanese Diaspora Network (TLDN), explained that there are several reasons contributing to this growth, including the mobilization efforts and initiatives being held globally to encourage expats to register.

“Back in 2018, the government and the Lebanese embassies located worldwide had a very limited outreach,” Stephan Jabra explained. “This time, we have diaspora networks doing the job of the government by encouraging and helping people register.”

From social media campaigns and one-on-one zoom calls, to events on the ground and 24- to 48-hour registration marathons, Lebanese expats from all parts of the world have joined efforts to raise awareness on the importance of voting.

“Social media campaigns have proven to be most effective with people who just need a nudge to register. For those who are more reluctant, Zoom or WhatsApp calls are more beneficial,” Ghassan Hassan, member of Nahwal Watan said, saying he volunteers almost five hours of his time daily. “We also help with technical problems some people face during the registration process.”

Cristine Kahil, Founder of the Lebanese Diaspora Exchange in Canada and volunteer in several diaspora groups, also took part in offline activities.

“I printed flyers out and drove around to some establishments and dropped them off,” Kahil said. “We also held some mass initiatives where people could stop by and register. It was a way to take the digital and put it in the physical to make people want to register.”

The Next Steps

As the deadline for registration approaches, the question remains on whether those who registered will actually commit to voting in the 2022 election.

According to Mokaddam, voter turnout will be impacted by the accessibility of voting centers worldwide and the effort the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants exerts in this regard.

“If people have to travel from one city, state, or country to another, we will see the number of voters drop,” Mokaddam told France 24. “However, if the government, pressured by the international community, carries out a seamless election, we can expect 70 percent or more voters.”

In an attempt to also ensure that registered expats commit to voting, Stephan Jabra explained that TLDN has a set of planned events in place, including a campaign with the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) to increase electoral literacy. Other diaspora networks also have several activities planned.

Stephan Jabra concluded that regardless of the turnout, this election's outcomes will be remarkable, given the increased political awareness both the Lebanese in Lebanon and abroad have developed due to the events that took place over the past 3 years.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting