It seems like it's just another racist event in Lebanon, but there's a bit more to it ...
Tomorrow, on October 14, 2017, a protest organized by the new Lebanese Promise Party will take place on the Zouk Mosbeh highway calling for Syrian refugees to return home. Formerly known as the Lebanese Promise Bloc or the Lebnani Bloc, this new party has been trying to build itself online digitally since its launch on April 6, 2015. I remember noticing massive billboards promoting the party on some major highways in Lebanon, including in Jal el-Dib.
Visiting the party's website, I saw nothing out of the ordinary; it just talked about a national agenda for all Lebanese irrespective of their sects. To be honest, I probably should have looked deeper into it, but hindsight is 20/20, right?
To this day, the only vocal member of the party is its founder and president, Lebanese businessman Fares Fattouhi. He leads several businesses in both Lebanon and in Dubai (more on that below).
Previous Work and Campaigns
The Lebanese Promise Party has been vocal about their belief in Syrian refugees going home. On July 20, they launched an unsuccessful petition calling for Syrian refugees to return home. Aiming for 200,000 signatures, they only received 378. However, the campaign’s digital presence exposed the party to tens of thousands, especially on Facebook.
A map of Lebanon with red dots (representing refugee presence) scattered within its border was posted the day the campaign was launched.
“Join us in the national campaign for the return of displaced Syrians so Lebanon won’t all be covered in red … “
Last spring, the party joined various political minnows in Lebanon, led by the now self-proclaimed opposition Kataeb Party, in a series of protests against a series of proposed tax reforms. I recall seeing a few people carrying party paraphernalia, including a flag during a large protest in Riad Solh Square on March 19, 2017.
Also, back in November 2015, when they were known as the Lebanese Promise Bloc, they released a song thanking the UAE on behalf of Lebanese residents on the Gulf country's National Day. The song starts with several Lebanese men and women saying that they "feel Emirati."
Who is Fares Fattouhi?
Though I wasn’t familiar with Fattouhi prior to the Lebanese Promise Party, it’s clear that Fattouhi has been active in the private sector. Both in Lebanon and the UAE, Fattouhi is involved at a senior level with at least four businesses – according to his Facebook profile.
In Dubai, he is chairman of Digispace, which provides businesses in the region with e-commerce services.
The most notable business he is chairman of is Madcom, a Dubai-based advertising agency. Their clients have ranged from multi-national corporations like Coca Cola and Nissan to government branches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Madcom’s website says that they have offices across the MENA region, including in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. They also have what they describe as “affiliates” in the UK, France, China, Japan, and Russia among other places.
In fact, Madcom's Creative Director Eslam Hosny was tasked with developing the party's website (currently under construction after a brief run) as well as their overall digital presence.
Will the people bite?
What makes the emergence of this party worth mentioning is not the party itself, rather the ideology it represents. We have seen an extraordinary rise in nationalism in Lebanon, whether or not the individuals or groups involved are secular or sectarian.
One of the biggest myths in Lebanese society is that Lebanon’s shortcomings have always been caused by foreigners, whether they’re governments, corporations, or otherwise.
The party’s ideology, as a result, is appealing to this growing mass; it’s not [at least not overtly] sectarian in nature, it’s led by an entrepreneur, and it’s nationalist.
We're also seeing Lebanon's private sector more directly involved in politics, as regional powers, notably Saudi Arabia and Iran, spend more time focusing on Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Bahrain. Fattouhi entering politics could be the tip of the iceberg.
By targeting the Keserouan region, and previously the city of Tripoli, Fattouhi and co are tackling areas that other independent movements and collectives, mostly in the nicer parts of Beirut, have failed to win over.
There’s also the question if this party would fit in the framework of the current “opposition” which I mentioned above, which includes the Kataeb Party, former Future Movement member and Minister of Justice Ashraf Rifi, Boutros Harb, among others. It’s clear that Fattouhi has the money and resources, but doesn’t have the political legitimacy some of those others. The others, trying to rebrand themselves (especially the Kataeb) to appeal to those who participated in the 2015 garbage crisis protests and those who supported Beirut Madinati in the 2016 municipal elections, could use the branding strategy that Fattouhi has in his disposal in Dubai. So… this could be a classic case of political mutualism.
But only time will tell.