Amid the many problems facing Lebanon's political landscape – gender inequality, in-fighting and vested financial interests - lawyer and activist Nadine Moussa may just be what the country needs.
Lebanon’s first ever female presidential candidate does not mince her words. “They are all dinosaurs,” says Nadine Moussa of the current crop of all-male politicians that rules over the country. “It reminds me of the medieval approach of clans and tribes. They are obsolete.”
In Lebanon’s grandiloquent, patriarchal political landscape, Moussa is a breath of fresh air. Pretty much everything about the 50-something lawyer and activist marks her out from her competitors. She has no history of involvement in the civil war, no backing from foreign countries, no affiliation with the traditional parties and no vested financial interest in the current broken system. Plus, she’s a woman.
Of course, all of the above makes her a rank outsider but she also has the right qualifications. She studied law at the Université St Joseph, where nearly all Lebanese politicians start out; she has founded and chaired a number of advocacy organisations, including both the National Committee for Women’s Empowerment and the Lebanese Association to Prevent Corruption; and finally she’s a Maronite Christian – a confessional requirement for the presidential post.
Her bid to enter the political arena has not been easy. What should legally have been an automatic parliamentary election victory for Moussa in April 2013 when she ran for an uncontested seat was later annulled after eleventh-hour legal manoeuvring.
When parliament eventually postponed the entire election, Moussa changed tack and decided to put herself forward for the presidency instead. More than a year later, political in-fighting has meant that election too is yet to see the daylight, with no sign of resolution any time soon.
So whether Moussa and her alternative vision will ever get to the highest post a Christian can hold is questionable; her Triassic rivals are perhaps still too strong and power-hungry. But she is a compelling and much-needed voice for reform, transparency and gender equality at a time when street protests have shown that many Lebanese are ready for an evolution of sorts.
Monocle: How would you describe your approach to politics?
Nadine Moussa: Totally different from the usual one. Totally. The old politicians don’t care about the people and the wellbeing of the citizens. I do, they are my priority. I’ve been accused of being a dreamer and to that I say: “Yes, I would be a dreamer if we were living in the Middle Ages.” I’m talking about having our basic rights and services and in 2015 I think I’m being more realistic than those we’ve been watching so far. It’s time for us to turn the page of tensions, conflicts and civil wars – hidden and obvious – and to move forward towards something new.
M: What would be the first thing you would do if you were made president?
NM: I would lift the bank secrecy from both my accounts and those of my family. That would give the starting signal of my mandate, which essentially will be one of reform, stopping the corruption that is currently ravaging all sectors. I would also definitely prioritise the abolition of all the discriminatory laws [against women] in the legal system.
M: Do you think the confessional system needs to be scrapped?
NM: I think confessional coexistence is a big part of Lebanon’s richness and should be preserved and built upon. But it has been transformed and diverted into a professional division of the private interests of confessional chiefs and this should stop. If you go back to the [1989 peace accord] Taif in its total wording it’s a fine constitution. It just needs some changes and amendments to give more power to the president because there is not an equilibrium in the powers given to each authority.
M: What do you think of the You Stink protest movement, launched in response to a lack of basic services, including rubbish collection?
NM: I strongly and actively support it. I think it’s the movement of the Lebanese: each and every citizen can identify with the demands and the very strong message that You Stink is saying aloud. It reflects what the overwhelming silent majority wants. They were maybe asleep, maybe apathetic but something very important has started with this movement: it has given self-confidence back to the Lebanese citizens and you can’t defeat that.
M: How do you think Lebanon has coped with the Syrian refugee crisis?
NM: The government didn’t do well at all. They kept hiding their heads in the sand like ostriches, saying, “I’m not concerned, it’s not my problem.” In Europe you have control over your borders but we didn’t so our borders were completely open. Who is coping? We are coping. Those poor refugees are coping. But Lebanon is taking much more than its share. This is an international problem, a humanitarian issue, and the whole of the international community should be taking its share. In the long run we are going to suffer a lot because our infrastructure simply can’t handle it and our people don’t even have their basic rights and services.
M: What about the Syrian crisis in general: how has Lebanon managed to insulate itself from this enormous war that is covering most of its border?
NM: There is a kind of overarching national and international agreement to maintain the minimum stability in Lebanon and not allow it to explode because that would be a lose-lose situation for everyone. That’s how Lebanon has managed.