As we watch millions of ordinary Iraqis vote freely for the first time in their history, I cannot but contrast the process with that of Lebanese elections. Iraqis in Iraq are voting in their first ever parliamentary elections, and that is an unimaginable achievement that is likely to reverberate in neighboring Syria and elsewhere in the Arab World. But the Lebanese people have always voted (since the 1920s), except for a 20-year interruption caused by the Syrian occupation.
Still, the more striking fact in the Iraqi elections is that they are truly universal, which means that every Iraqi, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion or place of residence, can vote if he or she so chooses. I emphasize the specific criterion of"place of residence" because the Lebanese have been voting since the 1920s, including women who obtained the right to vote in 1952 (before many European countries granted women that right), except those Lebanese living outside of Lebanon who still cannot vote. Yet, thousands of miles away from Baghdad, Mosul and Basra and all the other Iraqi cities and provinces, millions of Iraqi expatriates living abroad, from Detroit and Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., and from Berlin, London and Paris to Amman and Damascus, have voted in these first free elections in Iraq. Even Syrians living abroad can vote in their phony 99.99% elections at their consulates and embassies all over the world to re-elect the despot Bashar Assad and his Baathist ilk. In contrast, Lebanese expatriates still cannot vote.
Lebanon is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections this coming May. According to all indicators and sources, those are likely to be the first free elections since 1972 because the world wants the Syrians out before the elections. There can never be free elections in Lebanon with the Syrians still in the picture, and the process of re- democratizing Lebanon cannot move forward.
I, for one, born and bred in Lebanon and currently living in America, have never voted in Lebanese elections, ever! I came of age after the last free elections were held in 1972, then from war to exile, I was never able to vote in any of the elections held after 1972 because they were never free and Lebanese expatriates were always denied the right to vote in them. I have voted as a US citizen many times, but never as a Lebanese citizen.