Syrian elections: Lebanese prejudice rears its ugly head

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Syrian expatriates living in Lebanon cast their ballots in the country's presidential elections at the Syrian Embassy in Yarze east of Beirut on May 28, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Joseph Eid)

By: Rana Harbi

Published Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tens of thousands of Syrian expatriates in Lebanon continued to cast ballots on Thursday after the Syrian embassy in Lebanon decided to extend the vote in the presidential elections an extra day due to the overwhelming number of voters.

On Wednesday, all the entrances to the Lebanese capital were jammed as tens of thousands of Syrians flocked to their embassy in the town of Yarze overlooking Beirut to cast their absentee ballot ahead of next week’s presidential elections. Media reports varied between 80,000 to over 100,000 people showed up at the embassy.

The traffic jams caused by crowds of pedestrians heading to the polls provoked a wide range of reactions among the Lebanese citizens on one hand, and Lebanese politicians and public figures on the other hand.

Hostile anti-Syrian statements overwhelmed media outlets and popular social media platforms as March 14 supporters followed in the footsteps of March 14 politicians, who did not hesitate in expressing high levels of hatred and distress over the presence of Syrian refugees supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Lebanon.

In an ugly about-face, many Lebanese who had been steady supporters of the Syrian refugees and their humanitarian crisis in the past three years instantly changed their stances after Wednesday’s massive turnout.

Kataeb bloc MP Nadim Gemayel poured out his frustration in a series of tweets demanding that pro-Assad supporters get “deported from Lebanon because they are not refugees.” Gemayel also called on the Lebanese government to stop what he called “the theatrical elections” and expel the Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim Ali.

A screenshot from Nadim Gemayel's Twitter feed calling for the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador. A screenshot from Nadim Gemayel's Twitter feed calling for the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador.

Moreover, 14 March affiliated journalist May Chidiac’s intolerance towards Syrian refugees surfaced on her Twitter account, spawning a social media backlash from Lebanese activists who criticized what they deemed as “unacceptable racism.” Chidiac referred to the Syrian presence as a “demographic overcrowding” that is “a threat to Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty,” asking pro-Assad supporters “to go to Syria and defend Assad so that Lebanon is relieved from their presence.” She also replaced the word “refugees” with “occupiers.”

A screenshot from May Chidiac's Twitter feed calling for the expulsion of Syrians from Lebanon. A screenshot from May Chidiac's Twitter feed calling for the expulsion of Syrians from Lebanon.

Future TV personality Nadim Koteich anticipated the return of the old Lebanese chant “Syrians leave our country,” after yesterday’s unexpected number of voters. He also demanded that “every Syrian who voted for Assad gets deported immediately.”

A screenshot from Nadim Koteich's Facebook page.A screenshot from Nadim Koteich's Facebook page.

A screenshot from Nadim Koteich's Twitter feed after he called for Syrians who voted for Assad to be deported tomorrow. A screenshot from Nadim Koteich's Twitter feed after he called for Syrians who voted for Assad to be deported tomorrow.

Similarly, hundreds of Lebanese citizens openly expressed racism towards Syrians on Facebook and Twitter, referring to the refugees as a “burden that must be lifted.”

The chaotic procedures and lack of organization led to clashes on Wednesday outside the embassy compound in Yarze between Lebanese soldiers and enthusiastic voters, an issue that was addressed on Thursday in order to better facilitate the voting process. Three ballot boxes were increased to six, special passages for pedestrians were opened on the sidewalks leading to the embassy and more office workers were present in the embassy to hasten the voting process.

Besides Assad, two relatively unknown candidates are also in the running: independent MP and former communist party member Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar, and Damascus businessman Hassan Abdullah al-Nouri, a member of the internal opposition tolerated by Assad's government.

Comments

Dr. May Chidiac does not even have a twitter account. The one you published information from is a fake account. So before you spread your propaganda, how about you respect journalistic codes of ethics and actually ask her if she said that herself than be cowards who rely on social media and unauthorized and unconfirmed accounts.

She feels extreme sympathy for the refugees and had you paid attention to anything she says, you'd notice that she detests what Bashar has done to the refugees and feels extreme sorrow for them. She never called them occupiers. The protests that occurred in defense on Assad incited a response from her, but only because they are supporting a murderer. Had you a conscience, you would not publish such libel.

In other words, the usual repugnant, mouthy lot, spewing their venom against a vulnerable refugee people - who just happen to be our brethren in trouble.

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