“Come and have lunch,” Najat Saliba, MP for Chouf, said over the phone.
Food abounds in Parliament, where she has been camping out since Thursday with her colleague, Beirut II MP Melhem Khalaf.
The two deputies began a sit-in after Parliament’s 11th electoral session last Thursday, which failed, once again, to yield a new president. Their move comes in an attempt to pressure Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to hold an open session until a new head of state is elected.
The sit-in is an unprecedented initiative requiring complex logistical efforts, as Parliament is not equipped to accommodate MPs for the night.
Five hours of electricity
The two MPs’ decision to camp out inside Parliament raised several logistical questions, especially since Berri seemed dismayed by the move.
Will the Parliament administration pressure the two MPs to put an end to their sit-in by complicating their stay?
“Absolutely not,” Adnan Daher, Parliament secretary-general, told L’Orient-Le Jour.
According to him, electricity supply will be subject to the usual daily power rationing, as the country is plunged into darkness because of a serious energy crisis.
“The electricity in our building depends on Électricité du Liban and not on us or a private generator,” Daher said. “Usually, we have power from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.”
The MPs will have to make do with five hours of power a day.
“We are managing with what we have,” Saliba said, without elaborating.
“In the evening, they use the flashlights on their phone, a candle or external batteries,” said Abdul Rahman Bizri, an independent MP for Saida, who has been visiting the two MPs at Parliament on a daily basis.
Daher said the Parliament doors remain open to other MPs affiliated with the protest movement. Khalaf and Saliba also have access to toilets, and the chamber security personnel are present.
“They are good young people,” Najat said when asked if Parliament officials and police — who had suppressed the protesters during the Oct. 17 uprising — are bothering them.
It is difficult to find out more information about how the two MPs are getting by. “We don't want to talk about it, it’s not important,” Saliba said.
Paula Yacoubian, a Forces of Change MP for Beirut, said the same thing.
“The parties in power want to ridicule this action by reducing it to the sole issue of [water and electricity] supply. We are trying to help them with everything they need,” she said.
Immediately after Thursday’s session, Yacoubian offered to take care of food and to receive them at her home if they wanted to take a shower.
However, both Khalaf and Saliba have avoided leaving the Parliament building, instead sleeping on sofas and taking cold showers, according to a Parliament source who spoke on condition of anonymity as they had been asked not to share details of the sit-in.
“This is the situation of many Lebanese” amid the country’s economic collapse, the MP said.
Yacoubian and her fellow protest movement MPs are not the only ones to visit the two deputies.
Every day, the opposition and the so-called centrist camp MPs have been also meeting with their colleagues.
“When we visit, we give advance notice and ask our colleagues if they need us to bring them groceries,” Bizri said.
Once inside Parliament, the visiting MPs take the opportunity to discuss the presidential election.
“We agree on how the forces of change can come together. The debate never stops, it’s a good spin-off of our colleagues’ work. Besides, under a presidential vacuum, we should all be in Parliament all the time,” Bizri said.
Berri, however, has not yet called for a 12th electoral session — perhaps a way to signal to the MPs that he is not ready to let go.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.