Voting for our future without us

For some of us having the right to vote is still a dream. Not having this choice means others decide on what terms to move on.

von Yasmine Nayef Merei

Yasmine Merei is originally from Homs, Syria. Today she lives and works in Berlin. Photo: privat

The photo of Angela Merkel on one of the WhatsApp groups where Syrian refugees exchange information about life in Germany was enough to make me realize just how much worry and sadness these elections have brought us. The picture read “Dear Syrians, I have secured my fourth term, go to sleep now my children so you can wake up tomorrow early and go to your language classes”

Before seeing this picture, I had spent the election day at home following the news. I was discreetly reading the posts written by my Syrian friends in the intelligentsia on their social media pages, but not daring to call or write to any of them to discuss their opinions on the elections and prepare material for this very article I am writing now. How was I supposed to approach them? When I know the kind of pain my questions might cause, or the images they might bring back; images of their friends who have died or are still in prison, of thousands of Syrian children who have been maimed, and others who have lost their chances at education and medical vaccines, and the hundreds of historical sites which date back thousands of years that have been destroyed by the war in my country. All of this has been happening over the past six years, ever since we dared to dream of a day like the one Germany is living today, a day when we get a choice between several candidates, not one when we are met with a voting ballot that has one name on it that and a vote between “yes” or “no”.
Most of us Syrian refugees did not think that one day we would witness elections where the people choose the political party whose agenda suits their ambitions and fulfills their conditions for a decent life.

I follow an ongoing report on BBC Arabic about the reasons behind the rise of the Right during this election, among those reasons are, according to the article, “poverty, poor education, unemployment and a disappointment in traditional political practices”. I am forced to hold back my laughter and ignore the thorn in my throat at the same time. The situation here seems like luxury for Syrian refugees who came to Germany looking for a chance at life. People who most likely chose one person from the family to make the difficult journey here, because the price of riding that rubber boat with a high risk of drowning is one that most cannot afford. And if that person makes it, he is anguished with endless waiting, condemned to the spiral of bureaucratic procedures and forced to always be ready to react and respond. During these elections, of which we have never experienced anything similar, we Syrians sat there… waiting… for the people of Germany to determine our fate for us!
A couple of years ago, my knowledge of Germany was limited to Michael Schumacher, the Ferrari racer in Formula One competitions, and the German national soccer team, which I supported obsessively and even had pictures of some of its players, my favorites being Miroslav Klose, Michael Ballack and the unequaled goalie, Oliver Kahn. Today, I find myself, just like hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees sitting in front of the TV with great anticipation. My adrenaline levels rising to their highest, as I await a goal for the CDU over AfD so this match can end with a win for the team that will protect my right to asylum and provide me with some relief of my fears of deportation and a block on family reunification.

Do we as refugees constitute a main factor in the rise of the AfD as a right-wing party that is fundamentally Islamophobic? Even though we, as a politically powerless faction of society, are not in a position where we can answer such questions, we must stay cognizant that not all refugees are Muslim, and that these elections from our perspective are not simply a political appraisal of the German people as a part of the “democratic” west, but a test of the west’s true level of belief in plurality. Furthermore, it is a chance to challenge the depth of social democracy, and the sincerity of the election slogans promoting cultural tolerance and freedom of speech, belief and identification.
If the Middle East and part of Africa had not erupted into war and famine, what card would the AfD have played in order to gain support? They bring back with them blemishes that the world had thought the face of Germany was keeping itself clear of.
Our presence today as refugees opened the door for many questions regarding majorities and minorities – politically, economically, religiously and ethnically. It challenges the plans to invest in plurality -if those exist- and the strategies to take full of advantage of refugees’ potential. The political conflict was a reason that tens of thousands were granted one year of protective stay which does not allow family reunions, exceptions are not made for those who arrived alone as minors with the hope of reuniting with their families and then reached or are close to reaching the age in which they lose reunification rights. Just like the mothers and fathers who have arrived on their own, and their children have grown up in Turkey or Lebanon after they lost the right for family reunification. These people have nothing left of their identity but loss, and they have no alternative identity for the future but that of introversion due to family disintegration and of loss of control over their fate. No one would want that for ones own family.

It’s been three years since we began to arrive at the shores of Europe in search of what remains of our dreams and energy to believe in ourselves and our right to life. Most of us did not intentionally chose the country we ended up in, as fleeing from death and the fear of drowning did not allow space for planning and strategizing in case of survival. However, Germany welcoming us and treating us humanely at a time where many doors were shut in our faces, made the desire to come to Germany spread like wildfire among those stuck in Greece and Hungary and even among those who arrived in other European countries.
Even though we are – against our will – one of the main points of political disputes in Germany, nothing positive will come from drowning ourselves in blame. The results of these elections should be our motivation to continue our efforts to search for our identity and our future and to carry out our potentials. Despite the rise of the Right, for politically powerless observers like us, the elections will continue to be an example of real democracy and an image of a colorful Germany for all.

Yasmine Merei was born in Homs, Syria, and is a journalist, linguist and human rights activist. She is working for a women’s initiative in Berlin called “Women for Common Spaces”, together with Sasha Waltz & Guests.

Translation from Arabic into English by Malak AlSayyad