Saliba talks principles, why she joined PSP

Ghinwa Obeid/ The Daily Star

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Newly elected member of Progressive Socialist Party’s command council Reema Saliba may be an unlikely candidate for a senior position, but said she found herself in the party because of her ideology and principles. The 37-year-old from north Lebanon’s Christian majority district of Zgharta, far from the PSP’s traditionally areas of Mount Lebanon and the Chouf, spoke passionately about being a member and said she joined because she saw a body that represented her line of thought.

“For 10 years I worked in [Tripoli’s] Bab al-Tabbaneh area that is considered to be one of the poorest [areas],” Saliba said during an interview with The Daily Star Wednesday. “I used to work with children subjected to child labor and to violence in addition to women subjected to violence.”

Her work in Bab al-Tabbaneh, in the impoverished northern city of Tripoli that witnessed successive rounds of fighting and destruction in recent years tied to the Syrian conflict, prompted Saliba to question why some faced injustice while other did not.

This, she explained, pushed her to look for ways to make these peoples’ voices heard and their situation more visible.

“My presence with this class of people who are considered to be very poor and have a lot of needs always cause a kind of internal uprising,” Saliba said as she sat in front of a picture of PSP’s founder Kamal Jumblatt at the party’s Beirut headquarters. “I saw that in the socialist thinking, which led me to this place. The essence is the human being and those principles revolve around the person without anything else. [They] deal with the person as he is, not based on any social class or whether he is educated or lives in a proper area.”

In 2007 as she was working in Bab al-Tabbaneh, Saliba became a volunteer with a PSP-affiliated women’s league that worked on the issues that mattered to her. Her participation made her confident that she wanted to become a member of the party.

She officially joined the same year, rose quickly in the party and on Feb. 5 gained 679 votes for the command council – the largest share of the vote at the internal elections.

However, Saliba explained that her road wasn’t unchallenged.

She said that coming from an area of the country where the Marada Movement wields significant influence and deciding to join a political party whose influence has decreased in the area over the years wasn’t easy.

“I was raised in a family that had nothing to do with politics and was very far from the socialist thinking and socialist parties,” Saliba explained. “When I became a member of the party, voices began to rise in the area, in the family and [among] neighbors. The first question I was asked was ‘how did you reach them?’ [Then they said] ‘There is something wrong, you don’t belong there.’”

But Saliba said her respect for the freedom of choice and democracy made her more attached to her choice. In time, she said the people of Zgharta understood her decision.

“I don’t constitute a burden on the Marada Movement or on any other political movement,” she said. “When the [Feb. 5 internal PSP] election results came out and it happened that I came first place, my friends in the Marada Movement were the first to congratulate me.”

After her win, Saliba said that, along with other members of the command council, she will work to further the goals of protecting the poor from persecution, achieve social justice and strengthen coexistence.

She said the council was also looking to revive the PSP as a party that had cross-sectarian support and was visible in all areas as well as boosting the participation of women in political life.

With four women elected to the PSP’s 15 seats on the council earlier this month, Saliba said that this places a responsibility on them.

“My presence today along with three other women in a position where we are contributing to the decision-making puts us in a role to [contribute] to the participation of women in politics and the society,” she said.

Saliba said she has a lot on her plate and lots of plans she’s hoping to achieve, adding to the sense of responsibility she said she feels to keep proving to her colleagues and comrades that she is true to PSP’s principles.

“There is a thirst among the party members,” Saliba said, adding that she believes that despite the broader political trends, when there is real work on the ground it will win people’s trust.

“When you prove your efficiency on the ground … people will believe and trust you more,” she said. “And then people we will say ‘you are right’ and the circle will expand.”