A new Democrats Abroad chapter forms in Lebanon

An exciting primary has sparked greater interest among expatriates in being heard at home.

After the 2006 US mid-term elections and the 2006 war in Lebanon, Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous, a professor at a Lebanese University, decided to help organize a talk at a local cafe about American-Lebanese dual citizenship responsibilities. Mr. Sensenig-Dabbous also hosted presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich and his wife when the Ohio senator toured Lebanon last September. His goal: to get enough members to form a chapter of Democrats Abroad (DA) – Lebanon.

What got people going, says Sensenig-Dabbous, an active member of Democrats Abroad Austria for 20-plus years before moving here, was the wide-open primary season.

"This election is not about the Middle East, it's about everything else: domestic politics, global warming, labor rights, women's rights, you know, the whole gamut," he says. "Americans here are very upset about what the [US] government is doing. I don't think American foreign policy in the Middle East is going to change; we all know that."

California native Patricia Nabti remains undecided on candidates but is certain of one thing: "We have to change, not just the president or the policies, but our mentality," says Ms. Nabti, who sees DA as a tool to help mobilize the estimated 35,000 to 50,000 Americans living in Lebanon.

The much smaller number of Republicans in Lebanon is also monitoring the primaries. One businessman in Beirut, who asked to remain anonymous due to his work, said he was part of a circle of 10 Republicans, mostly dual citizens, who have held informal gatherings and coordinated bipartisan "get out the vote" registration events since the 1990s. Most of their political participation, he said, is on an individual, often financial level, he says.

Democrats Abroad members say that they think more exaptriate Americans will cast their votes this year than ever – in part because of the new ease of doing so.

DA Lebanon formed too late to have an official voting station on Feb. 5, but members plan to watch the results together. Sensenig-Dabbous hopes DA in Lebanon will inspire chapters in Arab states.

"The goal is to mobilize hundreds of thousands of Lebanese-Americans to be more active in politics in the US," says the Lancaster, Pa., native. "The Arab-Americans in the US are just starting to get their voice – so should the ones living here."

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