A letter to a former Lebanese first lady: Why I won’t come back

What would drive more than 77,000 Arabs reader to check which countries Trump has barred entry from?

Pierre Ghanem

Published: Updated:

I woke up this morning in Washington and browsed the news on Al Arabiya’s Arabic website and found that more than 77,000 readers had read a story entitled “Which Arab countries has Trump suspended visitors from?

At first, I was pleased because I had written this article, and to get such high hits is the greatest feeling for a reporter. But after a while, I began to feel bitter; firstly, because the news did not take me a lot of time to write – around half an hour. I quickly sent the piece to my editor and went back home as it was my daughter’s 12th birthday and I did not want to miss the small celebration at home.

On Thursday morning, I was surprised to find that such a simple topic made an impact. What would drive more than 77,000 Arabs reader to check which countries Trump has barred entry from?

This took me back to 1991, when I got a call from a friend who informed me that there was a television channel that was opening in London, and without hesitation, I found myself less than a week later, working for MBC in London, when I couldn’t speak the city’s language, and in an institution with new faces.

In fact, I left behind me 9 years of work in television, parents and friends, and started again from scratch. I discovered that I am working with dignity in an institution that respects me. I discovered that I was one man among millions, and the cars would stop at the red light so I can safely cross the street. I discovered that I can go to the bank and get a several-thousand-pound loan to buy a house and pay instalments over 25 years without the mediation of a security officer or anyone in power. I discovered that I can go from one side of the city to another, from one side of England to another, even from England to Europe without having to cross and stop a Syrian deterrence checkpoint, and without a border strip drawn by the Israeli occupation.

After that, I traveled to the United States and repeated the same experience. It all began 25 years ago, and now after all those years I find that 77,000 Arab readers have read a story about visas allowing them to go to America.

I have one conclusion: there are 77,000 Arabs like me suffering from the violation of their dignity; they do not find institutions that respect them; they are afraid that a car would hit them when crossing the street on a red light; they cannot obtain a bank loan to buy a house, and they cannot move from one side to another in their own countries without being abruptly checked at security checkpoints and oppressed by the occupation.

And so, Mrs. Mona Hrawi, I did not come back, and there are 77 ,000 persons other than me, asking why Trump is suspending visit visas from Arab countries! Do you remember in the 90s when you visited London and the Lebanese embassy there held a reception for you as the first lady?

I went to the reception hall like dozens who came to see you and I was surprised with your beautiful and elegant presence, and a few minutes later I heard you say: “We want you back in Lebanon.”

Coming back is all we wanted in 1995, 2005 and even still in 2017, but the truth is that there are 77,000 Arabs who read this story, and apparently nothing has changed since 1991! Is there a young man who can work in dignity, or a young man who can buy an apartment and move freely in his country?

Ma’am, even crossing the street is risky in our country, and here, away from our families, our loved ones and the graves of the ones who died, we feel safe.

While I was writing this piece, the number of Arabs who have read the story has jumped to 87,000.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Pierre Ghanem is an Al Arabiya correspondent based in Washington, D.C.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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