By: Joseph Hitti, Jan 30 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.

The reasons have more to do with the deliberate exclusion of the
millions in the Lebanese Diaspora from the election process by an
authoritarian regime and its Syrian masters. In fact, those millions
of Lebanese living outside of Lebanon have been chased out of the
country by the very Syrian occupation and its lackeys in the Lebanese
regime that are now denying them the right to vote. And for good
reason: If people like me were allowed to vote in New York, Los
Angeles, Detroit or Houston, the puppet dictators in Beirut would
have been booted out of power by the peaceful means of elections
decades ago. Unfortunately, it took the cataclysmic event of
September 11 to force a major reassessment and reversal in the
international outlook on Lebanon’s predicament under the Syrian
occupation. And now the Syrians and their puppets Lahoud, Karami and
Berri are on their way out under intense pressure from a united
internal resistance and the international community led by the US and

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.

And so to all those clamoring today to rearrange the political
landscape in Lebanon in such a way that the Lebanese people can vote
freely for the first time in a long time, I raise the challenge of
including the Lebanese exiles, deportees, emigrants and all the
expatriates in the elections process. How else can we bring the
Lebanese people back together? How else do we encourage the
expatriates to reinvest in the rebuilding of the shattered body and
soul of Lebanon?

How else will the Lebanese people live up to their promise of
reaching out to their exiled and emigrant sons and daughters so the
bonds to the homeland remain strong? How else to thank those
expatriates who worked hard over the years to tell the true story of
the Syrian rape of Lebanon to the peoples of Europe, Australia,
Africa, Asia and North and South America?

How else to thank those expatriates who sustained and supported
families and friends with an influx of hard-earned money to keep the
internal resistance going even in the darkest hours of Lebanon’s
nightmare? How else can we hope that at least some of those
expatriates will one day decide to come back home again to the
country they left behind?

We, the expatriate Lebanese, want to participate in the elections
this coming May. We call on the Lebanese government, the Lebanese
resistance and opposition parties, the United States, Europe, the
United Nations, international elections monitoring organizations, and
everyone who is concerned with holding free and fair elections in May
in Lebanon to ensure that the new electoral law calls for balloting
stations in New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Detroit; Montreal,
Quebec City, Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver; Paris, Rome, Madrid,
London, Berlin, and Cyprus; Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro;
Buenos Aires, Mexico, and Santiago; Riyadh, Jeddah, Dubai, and Abu
Dhabi; Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth; and in
Johannesburg, Cotonou, Abidjan and Accra.

The editorials is posted on the lccc