An Interview with Parliamentary Candidate: Eliane Azzi

Beirut Today interviews Hada Minna’s parliamentary candidate Eliane Azzi from the district of Chouf

Eliane Azzi is an aspiring public servant. Azzi holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the Lebanese University, a Bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems from the American University of Science and Technology (AUST), a degree in Ecology from the University of Quebec, and is currently pursuing an MBA in Law and Political Science in Walden University.

She has been working with the UN’s World Food Progamme in administration and protocol since 2013. She has also been involved in various socials initiatives in Jiyeh.

Eliane is running for the Maronite seat in Jiyeh, Chouf under Hada Minna’s electoral campaign and the Madaniyaa coalition.

What are the primary reasons that made you want to run for parliament? What are the main pillars of your platform?

Since I was young, I always wanted to be a part of the government. Either in the military, public service, or as a politician, any kind of thing related to the government.

Lately, it has become apparent to me that working in the United Nations (UN) is not compatible with politics. When I used to work in the World Food Program (WFP), an entity in the UN, they had been focusing on and working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Recently however, WFP has been focusing on Lebanese people in a similar way that they had been dealing with refugees.

This is the main reason. Why do we need international organizations to take care of our people in Lebanon? Why don’t we ask the young people in Lebanon to work hard to meet the needs of the people? At first I thought that I could be a part of the establishment of an NGO that would specialize in this. Lebanese people should really care about others in society.

Then, I met the Hada Minna team and I was very impressed by their high standards in terms of policy-making and candidates, and a lot of their core beliefs are aligned with my own. When I saw that, I decided to present my resignation and work and run in the elections.

Is the representation of the people’s interest something that you consider to be essential?

For me, it is all about human rights. You know that in 1948, Charles Malek was one of the founders of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There should be numerous other rights provided to all people in Lebanon, but unfortunately some people are against it. When I say human rights in Lebanon, I mean basic human rights, the ability of a woman to pass on the Lebanese nationality to her children, the right to live in an unpolluted environment and many other rights. I believe that they should be provided and implemented in Lebanon.

According to a report by the International Labor Organization in 2014,  unemployment rate in Lebanon is 24%, while youth unemployment has been reported to be 35%, how will you work to address this and what steps should the government take to increase and to generate sustainable job creation?

I’m going to give the example of my village, Jiyeh. Jiyeh used to be one of the most touristic areas. Today, Jiyeh does not have any companies, nor does it have a bank, nor a mall, and there are barely any shops for clothes.

If a bank, a mall, and several small shops open up in Jiyeh, this would create more opportunities for employment. Presently, the resources and opportunities are not available for those searching for work. If we work on this, I am certain that it will create more opportunities. If we start from the villages somewhere, people will come to Jiyeh, and more can become employed.

With another waste crisis looming, what steps do you think parliament should take to tackle this issue? Is incineration a viable option? Is recycling a viable and practical option? Should recycling be made mandatory for every household in Lebanon?

Unfortunately, some of our trash is not recyclable. However, there are different solutions for this, and incineration is definitely not one of them. We have a lot of organic waste that we can use for composting, and there is also the aspect of chemical waste that should be transported out of Lebanon and be sold to companies or countries that want to buy and make use of it.

I believe that recycling is essential and should start everywhere. Primarily, it starts as home. People can learn to sort their trash as a daily habit. Supermarkets should also be recycling. There are several private companies that provide recycling services, and there are also recycling programs in places like Hazmieh, Achrafieh and Bet Bery that I think should spread and be made use of all across Lebanon.

In terms of real estate and real estate malpractices at the expense of the greenery in Lebanon, do you think economic development should trump the environmental conservation in Lebanon and what policies do you think parliament can develop to reduce these malpractices?

Yes, so we are always seeing buildings that are being constructed and nobody is buying nor is anyone living in them. If we can limit the number of buildings and houses that are built, we would conserve the greenery and nature that is left in Lebanon.

There are a lot of people that launder their money by investing it in construction in Lebanon. We should be laws developed that not only prohibit illicit real-estate activities, but also laws that protect the environment. The new parliament should really consider the impact of our activities on the environment in Lebanon, and they should base a lot of their policies on this.

How will you work to promote environmental conservation and undertaking environmental impact reporting in the new oil-drilling sector in Lebanon?

Before we even begin to drill oil and developing our oil industry, we need to consider and assess the impact of our current industries on the environment. For example, the issue with the quarries and the destruction of our mountains.

We should be changing our mentality as a nation before we continue to engage in activities that alter our environment.

What role do you think public spaces play in society? Do you think that the increase in public spaces would serve to promote unity in Lebanon? How will you work to conserve and create public spaces in Lebanon?

In each area in Lebanon, there are several empty and even green spaces that are not being used by the municipality, and they belong to the government, and I genuinely do not think that we should be selling them. Even if a private company or an individual wants to buy a small plot of land, they should not be sold. Instead, these spaces should be turned into parks and public gardens, where people can relax and take their kids to.

Today, several people that used to enjoy going to green spaces in the mountains to relax and read cannot do so anymore, because a lot of those spaces are filled with trash. In fact, these spaces should be and are under the responsibility of the government to ensure their conservation, rather than to be sold to private companies that will just use them the land to build new buildings.

Human Rights Watch released a report in January of 2018 on the alarming air pollution rates in Lebanon due to the burning of waste, what policies do you think the parliament should develop and to prohibit these environmental malpractices and to reduces air pollution?

First, I think a good step forward was when the government limited the use of diesel fuel that is very environmentally damaging, especially for air toxicity rates. They also made it mandatory to do a yearly check up for cars to monitor the level CO2 emissions to make sure that they do not emit the same amount of CO2 emissions as old cars by making sure that each vehicle’s engine is running well.

Secondly, I think that we should definitely have a lot more electrical cars in Lebanon. At the moment, both Porsche and Mercedes are both importing electrical cars in Lebanon. There is also Renault that has imported electrical cars in the past. We can encourage people to buy these kinds of cars.

Thirdly, we should prohibit and eliminate the use of old cars, like cars from the 70s that are not running properly and emit high rates of CO2 emissions. I think they should either be destroyed or exported, or even taken a part to be used for cars that run better.

Fourth and finally is the issue of open waste burning. We should definitely prohibit, penalize, and eliminate this practice. We should implement a law that penalizes each person or private entity that burns waste openly. In each area, there is a municipality police present and drive all around the area all day. And whenever they see someone burning waste openly they should give them a ticket or penalty, because each person who pays will not repeat the offense again. Especially, if the amount on the ticket is high.

For me, these are basic steps.

How would you describe the Lebanese government’s performance and actions in dealing with the Syrian refugee issue? (if the person answers that the government has not done well, follow it with this question) Do you think that the parliament can promote policies that better their conditions?

I think that the government should balance between the refugees and the Lebanese people. The issue is that the salary of a person who is Syrian is much lower than that of a Lebanese person, especially in the service industry, like in a restaurant. This makes it more likely for a Syrian person to work than a Lebanese person. This is a huge issue, and creates a lot of tension between the two. This is something that the government should have addressed a while back and has not taken action about.

Secondly, if someone is a refugee, they have their rights but they should also have their limits. The Lebanese government has not done a study or a consensus on the number of refugees in Lebanon. They base their assumptions on the number given to them by the UNHCR, and there are numerous refugees in Lebanon without any documentation. If the government could have controlled the influx of refugees in Lebanon, it would have been a lot better for Syrians and for the citizens of Lebanon.

In terms of a woman’s right to be able to naturalize and pass on the Lebanese nationality to her children, do you think the parliament should work to create a policy that naturalize every Lebanese woman’s children, or only allow women to pass on their nationality based on certain exceptions?

Every woman that has given birth to a child should be able to pass on her nationality to her children. Even if the father is Palestinian or Syrian, they should be able to pass on their nationality.

I also think that we should reconsider the law that prohibits Palestinians from getting the Lebanese nationality. A woman should be able to pass on her nationality to her husband. If, a Lebanese man can pass it on, every person should be able to pass it on.