With support from the Australian Greens, Greens parties in the Middle East continue to operate and call for a better future for their people.
By Michelle Sheather
In late October, the Middle East Green parties met for the first time in Lebanon through a training initiative organised by the Australian Greens International Development Committee (IDC).
Delegates from the Green parties in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon met in northern Lebanon, and the Palestinian Greens joined us by video link up. There have been a number of visa issues for international events which has hindered this previously.
The Australian Greens were represented by Ken Davis of the IDC and staff member Michelle Sheather, International Development Coordinator.
The training was inspiring for all members, who developed a plan of communications and collaboration going forward. The Jordanian party will act as a centre for the parties and for the wider speaking Arabic Green parties.
Three key areas were identified for working between the four Green parties in the Middle East: water, desertification and land use; and electricity/clean energy. These issues reflect aspects of daily lives that impact these countries where water and desertification are immense threats, as well as electricity blackouts in Iraq and Palestine.
Increasing and empowering women’s involvement in parties was also identified as a key outcome. Through the IDC-supported program for mentoring women in Asia Pacific and Middle East Green parties, at least two Middle East Green party delegates will be included in this program from January 2020.
Each party presented their own activities and experiences, and the Australian Greens presented on our local government campaign experiences; fundraising; and digital campaigning strategies.
Both the Green Party of Lebanon and the Jordanian Nature Party have local government elected representatives and all parties are hoping to increase their representation at this level. The Jordanians are working towards their national elections scheduled for September 2020, which will be their first time to stand candidates at this level. The presentation from the Palestinian Greens gave a detailed account of their issues of food security and sovereignty, land use and borders, and access to water and electricity.
A personal account
My day of arrival in preparation for the training was the day the country of Lebanon erupted in mass protests calling out government corruption, gross financial mismanagement, and, in the longer term, for a non-sectarian-based electoral system.
Half of the country were on the streets literally blocking key roads in central Beirut to the airport, at towns and at key roads throughout the country. To get out of the airport, I needed to hire a motor scooter taxi to get through the blockades as car access was not an option.
Women and youth were playing a prominent part in the mass uprising and, on occasions, three generations of families were at the blockades while DJs played music for a festive atmosphere as real change could be felt in the wind. We were able to witness the blockades in Beirut and Byblos in the north and many smaller towns in between.
The government of Lebanon resigned two weeks later, and negotiations are still underway with government and protest leaders – in which the Green Party of Lebanon is involved – to form a new government that is more than another version of the previous.
The non-violent mass movement in Lebanon, which is now nine weeks and ongoing, is inspiring for many beyond Lebanon’s borders. The people realise it is the moment to push for real change to move the country forward, or the opportunity will disappear for some time.
The military and police have contributed to maintaining the peace, which is in stark contrast to Iraq where our colleagues have also been on the frontlines. In Iraq, over 500 people have been killed and 17,000 injured as the government, military and police react to predominantly non-violent mass protests calling for a new government and an end to the political corruption experienced for many years. Appeals are being made for a new prime minister to be selected without foreign interference, including from Iran or further afield. The government has not yet changed but the protest movement is empowering many Iraqis and not relenting.
It is with these backdrops our colleagues in parties in the Middle East continue to operate and call for a better future for their people.
Michelle Sheather is the Australian Greens’ International Development Coordinator.