Tripoli’s Massive PR Crisis: Beer Ads Banned In The City

Tripoli Beer ads

It must be tough being from Tripoli lately, or at least tougher than average for the people of a city long forgotten by successive governments, left to its own accord to make do with the little it has.

It wasn’t enough for people from Tripoli to have to deal with the fact that the other Lebanese, quick as they are to judge and believe their views are scripture, believe them all to be undercover members of ISIS or ISIS members to be.

It wasn’t enough as well for those unfazed by the ISIS threat (yet) to deal with the fact that their city has become synonymous with mayhem, sporadic fights, mini wars and hating the Lebanese army. No amount of tweets, Facebook posts or mini gatherings on the street and billboards in support of the army or in condoning the behavior of some of the city’s men would change that perception

It also wasn’t enough for those living in lala land, adorable as they are, to have to deal with the fact that being from Tripoli has also become synonymous with them having people like Kabbara, Khaled el Daher and Mer’ebi as their representatives. Granted, the latter two are not from Tripoli per so but who’s really looking at specific representation districts these days?

Keep in mind that all of this is to the background of destitute living conditions, severe social inequality, horribly poor development, high illiteracy rates and Lebanon’s highest poverty rates, just to name a few.

No, today the people of Tripoli have to deal with yet another facet to the growing saga of their city: their very own mayor being hellbent on turning the city into what it proclaims to be: Lebanon’s prime Muslim city.

When Ramadan rolled around, that mayor decided that breakfasts in the city should not be allowed. People tried to defy that order for a while but it only took him igniting the fire for the dormant Islamists, few as they are, to act on poor elderly having breakfast at one of Tebbane’s cafes, probably out of necessity to take medications. Soon enough, if you happened to be in Tripoli before iftar during Ramadan, you’d see most cafes closed to customers, afraid to make what little money they make with the circumstances reigning over their city currently.

No, banning breakfast was not enough.

Today, Mr. Ghazal is back with a vengeance. It wasn’t enough for most of Tripoli’s restaurants not to serve alcohol for customers, understandable as it is given the city’s demographics. However, the new rule of law in Tripoli is to forbid alcohol ads as well to be spread around the city, starting with beer. اجتنبوه has been modified by Mr. Ghazal’s fatwa-prone mind to include media items as well. Who knew one’s morality can be ruined by a picture of Almaza’s new low-end lager tier?

Apart from the fact that it’s probably illegal to ban such ads in his city when there are no regulations pertaining to it on a national level, Tripoli remains, even today, a city that is not actually demographically unicolor, where one of Lebanon’s biggest Christian orthodox communities resides and where the majority of the Sunni population is actually moderate, not ISIS-prone as they are portrayed by everyone.

What Mr. Ghazal seems to be entirely unaware of is the fact that his regulations are putting his city on an even faster track of regression to stone-aged times that make it incompatible with the vision most of its inhabitants want for it: a modern city with a sustainable economy, not a fertile terrain for the Islamic State. He also seems to have forgotten that his city has existed for a very long time with beer ads spread around its billboards without any sort of problems whatsoever. What gives in August 2014? Is the rise of the angry Sunni getting to his head as well?

Some people of the city decided to take their anger on social media, setting up a “Tripoli Loves Beer” Facebook page, posting pictures of them holding or drinking different kinds of beer to counteract Ghazal’s decision. However, is it enough?

The problem with Lebanon’s Tripoli goes beyond the repercussions of it being poor, left alone by governments as is the case with the entire North, ruled by factions that belong to borderline illiterate politicians, as is the case elsewhere in the region too. There’s a tangible PR problem with how the city is presenting itself, at times like these, to the rest of a country that is beginning to freak out from calls to ban alcohol, stop breakfasts and rising army hate, over-exaggerated as it is.

Tripoli’s downtown, for instance, is centered around a roundabout with the word “Allah.” Underneath Allah is a slogan proclaiming the city to be the citadel of Muslims. All around the roundabout are black لا اله الا الله flags. Welcome to Tripoli indeed.

The entirety of the coverage over Tripoli, when it actually happens, is centered around the “Allah” roundabout aspect, the ISIS flags on some sporadic balconies in destitute neighborhoods, serving as a magnifying glass on the illiterate brain-washed militants ruining their city’s reputation with each passing day. The details of how that reality came to be are irrelevant at this point. What Tripoli needs today is a gigantic shift: will it remain the city that surrenders to extremism again and again despite most of its inhabitants being against it? Or will it be the city to make sure that “the citadel of Muslims Tripoli” rhetoric exists no more?

With people like Ghazal as its mayor, with people like Kabbara as its parliament representatives, I don’t see the former happening anytime soon – even with its people fighting as hard as they can to try and change perspectives and with people on Tripoli’s side who advocate again and again to give the city a chance. We are all aware that this isn’t how the city truly is, that a couple minutes away from the “Nour” roundabout are numerous bars in Al-Mina that would readily serve you alcohol, that parties flourish and that women can dress scantily too. We are aware as well that the majority of the people in Tripoli are more terrified by what’s happening to their city and the possible repercussions than everyone else.

But all of that is put on hold with those looming ISIS flags beginning to prop around the city with politicians who are probably happy about that, and I have to wonder: till what ends can I tell people there’s nothing to worry about in Tripoli when I’m the one finding the current scene to be foreign in a place I’ve known since I was a child?

Until then, Tripoli likes beer, and the people who like Tripoli do too.

Tripoli beer

Cheers.

#LB4Gaza: What Was The Point?

Behold the greatness of Lebanese media. All eight of our TV stations decided to unite yesterday for Gaza in one news broadcast that has people talking about it today still, beating the typical Lebanese news cycle lifespan of a few seconds. Talk about influence.

About 24 hours later, I am here wondering if the dust has settled enough for us to look objectively at what was accomplished yesterday or if it’s too early for us to question the actual point of yesterday’s broadcast, at the cost of being branded unpatriotic Lebanese who don’t care about Gaza, although many of the kind do exist.

It goes to say that the only oddity about yesterday’s united news broadcast was seeing MTV’s news anchor with Al Manar’s logo above her head, or Al Manar’s news anchor on MTV. It was a chuckle worthy moment as they went on and on about Gaza, expressing their utmost sadness at the situation there with heartbreaking pictures of people that are dying too soon in a culture that is, maybe just maybe, beginning to value the importance of a life – but I could be foolishly optimistic here.

The news broadcast, cute and fluffy as it may have been, was akin to yet another Arab League meeting: full of promises, and as hollow as an empty barrel. It was us preaching to the choir, in one perfect news circle jerk, to people who are already troubled by the Gaza conflict, to people who already care about Gaza, telling them that we should care more somehow.

It is an act of solidarity, sure, for Lebanese media to stand the way it did with Palestine. What it is not, however, is groundbreaking: our news stations already have enough common ground amongst each other regarding the Palestinian matter to be able to agree to such a broadcast. The result was an empty broadcast that was full of sensationalism but low on depth, as is the typical Arab handling of the Palestinian matter. It is 2014 and they still have not learned that just saying Israel is a big bad monster doesn’t cut it anymore. We all know Israel is bad, now what will you do about it?

24 hours after the LB4Gaza news telecast is done, what was accomplished apart from a sporadic increase in discourse about the issue among a Lebanese populace that is already knee-deep in its own problems as it is and a quirky Exotica ad just to jump on the bandwagon? Wouldn’t it have been better for Gaza if, instead of failing to have a high-level discourse about the issue, all 8 stations organized a telethon that helped raise money and resources to actually help the people of Gaza beyond empty words?

20140722-170147-61307442.jpg

It is hypocritical for Lebanese TV stations to look at Gaza in solidarity when Palestinians in our own country live without rights, without safety and in living conditions that are detrimental to their well-being, with their voices squashed beyond measure. It’s also easy to assume greatness in such a broadcast, but it is also telling that such a broadcast can only happen towards Gaza and Palestine. Could it be because having a differing opinion on the matter is illegal?

It’s been three years since the Syrian war, whose effects have been much more catastrophic to Lebanon, and we didn’t just not have a unified news broadcast, the entire country doesn’t even have a unified foreign affairs stance regarding the Syrian war. While our news anchors wept their fake tears over their Arab brethren, Bashar el Assad and the Islamic extremists were still killing innocent people who probably warranted such a broadcast to talk about their strife.
It’s been also several days since the Christians in Iraq were evicted from their homes, had their property taken from them, had their homes branded with a derogatory ‘N’ for ‘Nasrani’ to denote their blasphemous religion in a country where they’ve become, in 2014, people of Dhumma again. Isn’t the destruction of millennial communities and eradicating them from their own country also worth a discussion?

What’s even more heartbreaking is that after all this time, the only hashtag – gasp – that wasn’t used is #LB4LB. Out of all the countries at hand, the only country that can actually benefit from a unified news cast is our very own Lebanon, with the level of discourse in media and among our officials sinking to new lows every other day, akin to the times when the country was in an actual full blown war, at times of theoretical peace, in a country at the brink of disintegration.

Such a broadcast, however, will never be used. Explosions are in the eye of the beholder. Assassinations are up for interpretation. The worth of our lives is not uniform but is a variable affair that fluctuates in quantity across regions, sects and differing TV stations. Hezbollah is the antichrist on MTV. Sunnis are the big bad evil coming to eradicate those who are different on Al Manar. This is the rhetoric that will be resumed a few hours from now on those same TV stations that, a few hours ago, had been so unified in a cause that is, whether we like it or not, alien to them and of a lesser importance than what’s taking place in their own backyards. #LB4LB will never be used because it’s always [insert your favorite party/sect/whatever]4LB. And that’s how it will always be.

Either way, what our media did is commendable in its own rights. If only evil and crimes against humanity had not been, to them, only clear when they involve Israel only.

Bringing Up Your Kids in Lebanon: How To Successfully Assault “Lesser” Foreigners 101

“Faith in humanity abolished” is what everyone’s been speaking about today as they circulate a video of a Lebanese child beating another Syrian child at the request of the Lebanese’s parents. The video is the following:

Certainly, the above is an abomination, a disgrace and whatever word can be inserted to describe the horror of the event at hand. But I have to wonder: why is anyone remotely shocked or even surprised?

We are a country to be pitied. Our houses are filled with maids, all of whom are Sri Lankans despite the fact that most are not, who clean after us in miserable working conditions and for minimal pay. If they ask for a raise, we ridicule them for wanting too much, but who of us would work more than 12 hour days, every day, for $100 a month?

Our injustice does not stop there. We beat those women whenever they try and speak up. We ridicule them in media if they dare to stray from the well-defined line that we’ve set up for them, and our kids observe as we bully them into mental oblivion, every single day until their contract is over and they’re free to go back to their families, mere shells of their former selves.

We are a country of hypocrisy. We’ve been ridiculing Syrian refugees for the past year, calling for them to be sent back home or to have their already miserable living conditions over here demoted even further. Multiple arguments are used and regardless of whether those arguments are correct or not, one thing is clear: when it comes to the Syrian refugees, humane we are not.

We teach our children to stay away from the Syrians around us. We tell them they are filthy. We tell them they are disgusting. We tell them they are to be feared. We tell them they are thieves. And somehow, we pretend not to be doing anything wrong about those people… until there’s a video, of course.

Many of those Syrian refugees do not get the “privilege” that the boy in that video got: to have their struggles recorded. Most of them do not get to be seen getting beaten by Lebanese who use the only superiority they get in their own country: to overpower powerless people who just want to survive.

Only yesterday, Ziad Fares – a twitter user who goes by the handle @ZiadFares1 – witnessed a similar act in a much more public location. At Sassine’s Starbucks shop, he saw a male teenage employee kick a young Syrian girl just because she was selling chocolate in the vicinity. The girl wasn’t bothering people nor was she insiting they buy her unica bars when they decline. The girls stood there, asking the employee why he hit her with him only barking at her to leave. Of course, no one caught it on video for it to become the next “it” viral sensation that Lebanese will use to absolve their conscience regarding their many shortcomings towards all those “lessers.”

Before you begin to be outraged just because it’s what everyone else is doing, take a moment and think: when was the last time you were the bully to a Syrian, to an Ethiopian or any other nationality we’ve come to associate with our unfounded arrogance as of a “lesser” breed? When was the last time you failed to stand up to an injustice to those people taking place around you, forbidding them from having your voice speak up to them when it was the only voice they could have possibly had?

We teach our children to be hateful, to despise those who are different, to feel superior to those we tell them are less important, to beat those who are weak, to take what is “rightfully” theirs by their own hand because no one’s there to fight for their “rights.” We teach our children that it’s okay for their fathers to beat their mothers when they misbehave, fully knowing that they’ll get away with it every single time, and somehow we’re shocked that those children end up becoming parents who teach their own children to beat up unsuspecting children, who can take pleasure in filming such acts on video and who laugh as those children weep in front of them? What a load of bullshit.

That Syrian kid will get justice thanks to that video. I hope for that typical Lebanese man to be thrown in the deepest pits of any given Lebanese jail for his actions, and by the looks of it he might. But I also wish the same for countless other Lebanese who have done even worse to other foreigners here and who have gotten away unscathed.

Your faith in the Lebanese humanity should have been abolished a long time ago.

Update: the father of the child named Abbas in the above video has been reportedly apprehended by the police.

Where To Have Breakfast In Tripoli This Ramadan

With Tripoli’s Mayor hell-bent on turning his city into the Lebanese version of Qandahar, which years of constant fights didn’t do, with his recent request to effectively stop publicizing breakfasts within the city’s municipal bounds, I figured I’d compile a list of my favorite places to have an awesome breakfast in Tripoli.

Ahwak Cafe

This place is an absolute delight. It is the liberal hub of the city. I’d go on and on about that bathroom but you can get lost in the debates on its walls for hours. No wonder this place gets hammered, in one way or another, whenever push comes to shove in Tripoli. That same bathroom has atheists express their lack of belief in God on those walls. Those same atheists converse with believers who keep an open mind on its rustic tables while they enjoy the delicacies offered.

Ahwak makes awesome cakes. I love their Oreo cheesecake (Roadster could take notes of the recipe if they ever venture beyond Jounieh) and their Carrot Cake is still by far the best I’ve ever had. Their coffee is also entirely based on the “Tafesh” brand, which is known to be excellent.

By having breakfast at Ahwak, you’d also be supporting this place against the constant religious and political persecution affecting it, from Islamists who want to ruin Tripoli with an image that it isn’t befit for, and politicians who believe its youth’s open mind is on its way to ruin their city, necessitating such memos in the first place.

Ahwak is located in the hip “Dam W Farez” area of Tripoli, full of newly built cafes and restaurants that have managed to withstand the economic stagnation that befell their city due to the security situation and economic neglect over the past few years.

Hallab

It goes without saying that Hallab is always a must visit place in Tripoli and it’s not because I’m friends with Zaher Hallab. The place has character which is something you won’t find at other Hallab locations now that they’re expanding across Lebanon. Sit in “Le Palais” section and look at the great building facade, observe Tripoli’s “Ebrine Road” (I had to put in my hometown’s name) and its bustling life. There are many options for you. You can go sweet with “knefe” or other delicacies or you can go with Hallab’s “lahm b’aajine.” Either way, the only regret you’ll be having is about your delusion of a diet. They also offer cakes and beverages. And it’s all very affordable. Bye, bye Beiruti expensiveness.

Akra

If you’re in the mood for a traditional Tripoli breakfast, this is the place for you. It takes quite a bit to get to it and a local is advised to guide the way. In order to get there, make your way to the Tel area and ask around. The place is extremely known to the people there and should be known nationally if you ask me. They make so many different varieties of humus, each of which is great. They also offer awesome “fatte.” Order as much as you want. I assure you that you won’t be disappointed. And I can also assure you that you won’t end up paying more than 10,000LL per person. Yes, Akra is that cheap but more importantly Akra is so good that it has turned me into a person who craves hummus for breakfast. You can thank me for the recommendation later.

Coffee Pot:

Near Al Salam Mosque, which was destroyed last August in one of Lebanon’s now 22 explosions, lies a nice breakfast spot called Coffee Pot. They offer a set of omelette with toast, American coffee and pancakes for less than $10. You can also have separate options if you don’t feel like going all out. It’s quiet. They offer indoor seating as well as a terrace overlooking the busy street, though I would assume that wouldn’t be too favorable with this heat. Service is very friendly too.

Fasting Ramadan

It is an insult first and foremost to the Muslims fasting to have a mayor, sheikh or whatever other entity believe that them fasting Ramadan should be met with a whole lot of “kindly forced” consideration from everyone else.

I’ve seen a lot of people lump all of Lebanon’s Muslims into the basket of people who agree with what Tripoli’s mayor did. The truth is that the mayor’s ideological representation is so limited that it only spans very few people whose voice is only being augmented because that voice is what’s “in” right now. It was Muslims who were the first to make fun of the “no breakfast” memos. It was Tripoli’s Muslims who told me about their municipality’s decree, who asked me to try and express their anger at this shameful attempt to repress not only the freedom of others but their very own in the city they call home, but you don’t hear those voices as often as your hear that mayor.

The courtesy that those fasting Ramadan should receive is not something that can be bestowed upon them by a municipal decree, emanating from an Islamist Council. Such a courtesy is a mere manifestation of being considerate and being aware of how difficult it is to remain without food and water in this heat for such long hours and to be aware of how much dedication such an endeavor entails. Illegally and unconstitutionally enforcing a twisted version of “tolerance” defeats the entire purpose of Ramadan. Those sheikhs and mayor should have known better than to tarnish such a month in their city like that.

Ramadan is a beautiful time. I’ve only been massively exposed to it recently when I became friends with Muslims who – gasp – happen to be from Tripoli. Those people were kind, hospitable and so kind-hearted that they’ve shown me – a stranger and an outsider – the ins and outs of their holy month. I attended more iftars than I could remember. I went to s’hours, heard the tarawih, walked the city as it bustled with people leaving prayer. And it was all beautiful.

To that family in Tripoli and almost every single Muslim I know, be it from Tripoli or elsewhere, fasting Ramadan is an act to bring them closer to the God they believe in. It is not something they proclaim to the world. I haven’t heard any of my friends nag that they’re fasting. I haven’t heard them nag that people around them are eating. They know that while fasting that month is a religious duty to them, it remains a duty that is exclusive to them and should not be generalized upon everyone else. They don’t need anyone telling them it’s not their right to force it upon anyone. It’s innate knowledge to them. On the contrary, they find it honorable when they share their iftars with people who hadn’t been fasting and who had breakfast and even lunch.

Tripoli is a city that has been literally screwed for the past several years by downright negligence. We’ve all seen the capacities of our security forces with the recent explosions overdrive taking the country. Those same capacities were never applied to that city as the country left it to be burned alone, an island in a sea we quickly judged as full of Islamists that should perish with it. Tripoli’s mayor and some people who have his mentality are hell-bent on turning their city into the different-phobe version they believe is the best for its Muslims population, but Tripoli’s people – Muslims and not – know better and they’ve stood up to him.

They are the people who won’t let their city get turned into what’s been planned for it, who won’t let their own reputation be tarnished and turned into that of people who hate those who are different, even when it comes to meals, forcing restaurants to cut down their businesses according to someone with authority’s version of what God said, and who know that fasting Ramadan does not mean you are entitled for preferential treatment by any municipality or government. It is a personal act that remains as such. The Quran has told them, after all, “لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ.”

That mayor’s actions are a mere ploy for increasing popularity at a time when he assumed such a memo would resonate with the people in his city, bringing him accolades and newfound fame. The only accolade and fame he found were those of mockery from the same people he governs. He believed current times necessitate such a decree. He was wrong. There won’t be a time when Lebanon needs wishes upon restaurants to refrain from publicizing or even serving breakfast. Contrary to popular belief, such memos will never find their ways to fruition in Lebanon, be it in Tripoli or elsewhere, not now and not in the future. Why so? Because regardless of how downright despicable religious practices can get in this country, there are people who are aware enough to stand against them, people who managed to turn down that memo in mere hours after it was published. Those people are not Lebanese Christian-born activists who were appalled at a time when their breakfast options could be limited; they were Tripoli people born and bred and mostly Muslim.

Tripoli will not be Qandahar, not now and not in a future that many believe is upon us. Not when it has Muslims like the ones I know, friends and almost-family, who make sure you don’t leave their house on a Ramadan morning without them serving you breakfast.

Ramadan karim to everyone concerned.

Patriarch Raï Equates Terrorists With Atheists & Non-Religious

Patriarch Bechara Rai

It’s yet another Sunday in Lebanon and another opportunity for the Maronite Patriarch to offer his words of wisdom, in his weekly sermon, to the ears that would listen. It’s also yet another Sunday in a Lebanon of presidential void, security chaos and with more people listening in to the likes of Raï for possible hints at what to expect in the next few weeks when it comes to political development, the patriarch new quite well the stakes of his sermon. Here’s an excerpt, translated by yours truly, of Raï’s sermon today:

“In this occasion, we cannot forget that the Lebanese family is made up of two components: Christian and Muslim, and it has become a model for today’s societies, eastern and western, threatened by two extreme and opposite movements: religious regimes that aim to eliminate those that are different and to enforce their own faith and teachings onto others, and secular atheist systems which exclude God from society, legislating what they please without any regards of the natural laws of God. We are seeing signs of both these movements in Lebanon…. we demand the government and concerned ministries to issue decrees that stop such practices as is stated in article 9 of the constitution: freedom of belief is absolute.”

Color me confused but I was under the impression that it wasn’t non-religious people that took over Iraq recently, killed people just because they prayed differently. I was also under the impression that it wasn’t the acts of those non-religious people that led to many terrorist attacks, a few years ago, whose repercussions we still live today. Spreading across the Middle East today, and now in Lebanon, is a clear attempt to equate lack of religiosity with the terrorists threatening the fabrics of our society.

I have always been under the assumption as well that the root of Lebanese problems is our twisted understanding of religion. We have always been taught to fear that who is different: Muslims, Christians, Jews and now atheists – who are becoming a more vocal part of society, albeit still squashed by the thunderous voices of religious men whose influence spreads much deeper than to be challenged anytime soon. Secularism wasn’t what built our country, it wasn’t what ignited both our civil wars, it wasn’t what perpetuated the status quo from 1990 till 2005 and it’s not what’s bringing about the Lebanon of 2014.

Today, Lebanon is without a president, without a decent legislating body, without a decently functioning government, without security and without a functioning labor force. Who’s the cause for the mayhem and anarchy that Lebanon is living today? I’ll go on a limb and say, not those very horrifying nonbelievers, but our deeply sectarian system that empowers what Raï is championing. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” is the saying. But this is deeply, irrevocably broken.

Religious men of Lebanon like to spread fear. It is what puts food on their table at the end of the day. Patriarch Raï is no exception. By lumping ISIS, Al Qaeda or whatever terrorist group fits the bill with non-believers in one basket, he is doing just that: be afraid of those killing you… and be afraid of those that can challenge your well-rooted beliefs that have been enforced in you for such a long time by your families, by your schools, by your communities and by the likes of Mr. Rai.

What’s threatening the fabrics of Lebanese society isn’t lack of belief. It’s the blind attachment to belief and taking those beliefs to a point where they become maimed, mutilated and unrecognizably wrong. What’s threatening the fabrics of Lebanese society today is people, like Raï, still making people fear the premise of a secular system where people are treated based on their merits, not sect, where their worth is contingent upon who they are as people not on which region or religion they were born in, where equality is assured to everyone and isn’t relative to the inner rules of the sect your parents happened to belong to.

What’s threatening the fabrics of Lebanese societies aren’t some of Lebanon’s citizens becoming more liberal, supporting laws that their parents or parish priests wouldn’t approve of, it’s the fact that the absolute majority of Lebanese don’t challenge their parents’ beliefs or what they’ve been taught at school for so many years or what they’re being told by the head of their sect during a Sunday sermon.

Article 9 of the Lebanese constitution asserts freedom of belief, as Raï pointed out. Freedom of belief also extends to the freedom of not believing in any god and in having a country protect your right of not believing. Raï is afraid of the influence the increasing number of Christian nonbelievers has on his power. Perhaps he shouldn’t as it’ll be a long time before his influence budges. But I’ll let him know this: once upon a time, Mr Raï, I was one of those people that belonged to the flock that calls you their shepherd. I’m so glad I’m not part of that Maronite herd anymore that is susceptible to every word you say. I’m one of those you don’t have power over anymore, and it’s been extremely liberating.

What’s Happening At Zara Lebanon?

Update: AZADEA were kind enough to explain the process of their pricing. Sales and promotions are monitored by the Lebanese Ministry of Economy. If such a mistake were to be found at their premises, the customer is to get the lower price guaranteed. You can also always consult their costumer service in case you encounter such an aberration.

A friend recently sent two pictures my way of people they know shopping at one of Zara’s shops in Beirut and discovering that they were possibly victims of fraud by a chain that many believed wouldn’t resort to such techniques for profit.

Every year, come sales time, retailers slash prices off many of their items in attempts to lure customers into buying. We all fall for it – what’s better than paying a whole lot less for something that, a few days ago, cost a whole lot more?

Except it seems to be possible that some retailers have reverted to a technique that many of us had only heard of before but haven’t seen: increasing the pre-sales price on an item and then applying the sales discount on that, to maximize profitability on the item to be sold.

I don’t know how long this practice has been going on in their premises nor do I know if other retailers in Lebanon also adopt this fraudulent technique to rip us off of our hard-earned money. What it seems to be, however, is that even shopping in Lebanon isn’t the simple straightforward matter that it should be.

Perhaps it’s a typing mistake, perhaps it’s not. But even international brands may not above bending the law when they set ship over here. Today even our markets are in anarchy. With no control, no safeguards, no monitoring and no regulations, who protects the average Lebanese customer from falling to such practices?

Getting Assaulted By A Taxi Driver in Beirut

It was Sunday June 15th, a few hours before starting my final year of medicine, as I headed to the graduation dinner of colleagues at my university. I took the unfortunate decision to go to the location by a “service,” or the cheap fare for taxis in Beirut. The place was within walkable distance on any given day but I was borderline suited up and it was June in Beirut.

The taxi picked up a 25 year old guy who wanted to go to “Hotel Dieu” and drove onwards. He dropped me off next to Banque Byblos on Achrafieh’s main road, facing Sofil, and I gave him 20,000.

That was mistake #1.

The moment he saw the bill, he started barraging me about how I hadn’t told him that I had such a huge bill with me. I looked at him and replied: “it’s just 20,000. What would you have done if I had a bigger bill?”

He didn’t like my reply. Perhaps I should have just ignored, but I have a very low threshold as an individual for unnecessary rudeness. A few minutes later as he held up traffic, under a street camera belonging to the bank or the nearby Dutch embassy, he threw all 1000LL bills at me, so I got out of the car and closed the door behind me with an extra flair. I turned my back and crossed the street.

That was mistake #2.

A moment later, I started hearing shouting from behind me. “I will fuck your mother, you cunt!” I turned around and saw that the taxi driver was addressing me. I turned around and walked onwards. “You cunt, you cunt. Your mother is a whore.” I turned around and immediately gave him the finger. His voice kept rising and the insults kept coming. I gave him a second finger and walked onwards.

That was mistake #3.

I walked down the Sofil road, on my way to the location of the graduation dinner, when I heard the shouting get closer. The guy he was supposed to take with him to Hotel Dieu still in the car, the taxi driver drove his car towards me. A moment later, he was out of his car with a bat and before I knew it he slammed me on the side. It was one of those fight or flight moments we get taught about in biology. I decided to fight. So I started beating him as he hit me with the bat he had.

A minute or so later, I break free as the valet parking personnel of nearby “Le Maillon” come close. The taxi driver then runs to his car and drives away as he sees people getting closer. I hadn’t gotten his license plate number. The guy with him was texting throughout; he hadn’t moved a muscle.

My (brief) medical training allowed me to quickly assess my injuries. I felt blood gushing down my neck and lip. I also felt a bruise over my forehead and shoulder. I hadn’t lost consciousness, nor did I feel dizzy or vomit. I assumed my injuries were minimal so I marched on the dinner.

I was disheveled and obviously shocked. I had never thought such a thing would happen to me. My friends were all smiling when they saw me. Their smiles turned into shock when they saw my bloody neck. They went with me to the bathroom to help me clean up.

The graduating physicians assessed my head wound and decided it was superficial and didn’t need stitches. I let my body’s coagulation system run its course and headed back to the dinner. I decided not to ruin the night for the friends who wanted me there, and I tried my best not to.

A couple of hours later, I couldn’t take it anymore so I headed out to my hospital’s ER room. I entered without going through the personnel at the entrance. I saw familiar residents. They knew me. They immediately asked what was wrong so I explained to them that I needed a medical report of what had happened to me to present it to the police. The ER physician asked me to go open a file, the way any other patient would do. I told him I didn’t have money on me – he couldn’t care less. There was no preferential treatment for their own student there. I paid whatever fee they asked, running out of money in the process, and waited in my own triage cubicle.

I quickly told the resident examining me that there was nothing wrong. I just needed my wound cleaned so I can get on my way. The whole thing took about an hour. I was out of the ER and broke my 1AM. My friend was going to take me to the police to file an official complaint.

The best part of the night was yet upon me.

I arrived to the police station a few minutes later. What do you need, the policeman guarding the door asked. I told him the purpose of my visit and he directed me to the 5th floor. To reach said floor, he pointed me towards an elevator for everyone minus “officers.” The elevator wasn’t working.

I reached the 5th floor and explained what had happened to the personnel there. Their initial reaction was not to ask whether I was okay or not, it was to make sure they understood the precise location of where the assault had happened. The reason? “The location falls outside of the jurisdiction of this floor. Please go to the 1st floor so they can assist you.”

Make sure you go down the elevator to the ground floor, they said, it doesn’t stop at the first. I did as they said.

On the first floor, the personnel there brought up fancy Google Earth. They had underestimated my ability to read Beirut from satellite, telling me I wouldn’t understand what I saw. I pointed them to where the assault had happened. Guess what? It wasn’t their jurisdiction either. I was pointed to another floor.

I went up. It wouldn’t end there. “Did the assault happen on the sidewalk or on the asphalt?” They asked. “Does it matter?” I replied. Of course it did. Their jurisdiction only extended to the asphalt of the road going up from Mar Mkhayel towards Achrafieh’s main street. The assault on me had happened on the way down to Mar Mkhayel… on the sidewalk. So what what I supposed to do?

“You look okay,” they said, “and we’re obviously not going to do anything now. So why don’t you come back tomorrow at 9AM?”

I didn’t return.

Perhaps I had different expectations of how my first police encounter and how my first calling upon the law would work.

Perhaps I was too foolish to believe that those policemen wouldn’t waste an entire hour of my time at 1:30AM in the morning sending me between their office’s floors in their vain attempts to throw their work off on each other.

Perhaps I was too stupid to believe I would actually get the law working for me, in an area with about 100 cameras per squared meter, by simply asking for my right without resorting to my non-existent connections to help push my cause forward.

My friends told me I should have gone the second day and wasted my time because no one will give me my right if I don’t fight for it, but I have to ask: is it acceptable that, after getting assaulted with a bat at a supposedly safe street in your capital, you need to also figuratively fight with those whose job is to supposedly fight for you, wasting your energy and effort at something they told you wouldn’t lead to much anyway?

I guess I’m lucky he didn’t have a gun.

As I was walking down the stairs to exit the police station, I saw those anniversary posters for our internal security forces. “Our job is to serve and protect you,” they said. I just laughed at the irony as I headed back to the car that drove me back home.

Oops, Sorry For “Accidentally” Destroying Your Mar Mkhayel Home

While everyone jumped from one pub to the next in Mar Mkhayel yesterday to catch the first game of the FIFA World Cup, there was a woman there standing in disbelief in the midst of her living room, looking over the streets filled with traffic. She was not looking out of a window.

The Facebook group advocating to Save Beirut’s Heritage (link) is trying to propagate the story of a woman who could have died because of the greed of contractors in Beirut who know there’s no law to hunt them, no regulations to constrict them and no one to tell them they did nothing wrong.

Right next to that woman’s house is a 1920s building which as of yesterday does not exist anymore. In the process of demolishing that building, her own apartment’s walls were destroyed in the process. If that woman had been there while those skilled workers were doing their “job” she would have been seriously injured, if not killed. The wall that was demolished is that of her living room. Her apartment is in a building that’s over 100 years old. The contractor has offered the woman to buy her another apartment instead, but what good would that do when it could have almost cost that woman her life?

Let’s not be gullible and assume it’s an innocent mistake. I don’t know the woman’s name. I don’t know who the contractor is. What I do know, however, is that the practice of damaging houses “accidentally” in order to force their tenants to evict has been going on for a long time in Beirut as the city’s manic rush to exemplify its concrete maze status is pushed full gear.

This isn’t about the value of an old house in Mar Mkhayel, although that’s another topic worth discussing in itself especially that the area is facing yet another round of demolition soon with the Fouad Boutros Highway tearing it apart. This is about the length that Beirut’s real estate mafia would go to in order to get that new “it” high-rise they’re craving for so much. This is about how little the lives and well-being of people mean in the grand picture of millions of dollars in investment being put to remodel the city and make it more chaotic, irregular and without a character than it already is.

A few blogs have already spoken about the issue (here and here), but I believe this is something vital to highlight so here I am trying to propagate it further. Beirut’s Municipality should care less about fencing Rawche at this point and care more about the well-being of the people in the city, the people who are dying because of their total disregard to the illegality taking place here. Lebanon’s ministry of interior should care less about people not having an easy path to World Cup watching and care more about making sure such a thing never happens again.

Yesterday, this woman returned to a damaged home. Some other day, many of us – living in old Beiruti apartments in areas bustling with construction – could suddenly face a reality without home.

These are a few pictures from Save Beirut Heritage:

 

 

When Lebanese Students Become A Bargaining Chip: What’s Happening To Official Exams?

Lebanon’s parliament has failed yet again. It failed to elect a president for the Republic over the past 3 months. It failed again yesterday. It failed to secure the promised demands of Lebanon’s workers syndicate. And it will keep failing because that’s how our excuse of a legislative body functions.

10 minutes was all it took for this parliament to pass the law that extended its mandate for a year and half last year. This same parliament has failed to manage a two third majority for almost all of its sessions following our presidential election attempt, also read charade, back in early April.

The issue at hand is a debate worth having: rightful demands versus economic responsibilities. It’s also a debate that this country, where flashy headlines always take the cake, does not have the ability to hold. Our parliament, however, is not held back by the economic woes that such demands would hold. They’re held back by the typical political tug-of-war we’ve had for the past five years, if not more, and by them trying to come up with ways to circumvent having their properties taxed and finding ways for us to carry the burden of the workers’ demands.

In this ongoing war between Lebanon’s classes, the only entity lost in limbo is Lebanese students who have no idea what’s happening with them and their official exams, which will determine the course of their future.

Last week, Lebanon’s current minister of education postponed official exams by about a week in order to see what transpires from today’s parliamentary session. Perhaps it was a move to press on our legislators to see if they actually cared about the students. Well, if it were it turns out they don’t.

So what’s happening to those official exams now? The minister is saying that the students will go on and present those exams but the teachers will not correct, which begets the obvious question: what’s the point of holding exams if the papers are to sit in some warehouse, ink on paper without grades?

Our speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, just announced as well that Lebanon’s current climate is not one where official exams can be held. Ladies and gentlemen, our country is a place, it seems, where holding exams is now a matter of national “climate,” which is the excuse given last year not to hold parliamentary elections. I wonder, when is the climate in this country ever suitable for things that should function seamlessly for them to do so?

Meanwhile, about 100,000 Lebanese students are falling hostage to the ongoing political bickering taking place in the country, their entire future in limbo. For the past two months, these students have been sitting at home studying and preparing for exams they didn’t even know would happen.

Can you imagine the amount of stress that these fifteen and seventeen year olds have to withstand not knowing what’s happening with them, having their exams postponed one minute and then not knowing if they’re taking place the next? We were lucky back then that our only worry was about passing, not about whether all the studying would actually culminate in an exam taking place or not.

Those 100,000 students, spread upon brevet, baccalaureate and technical eduction, will be stuck if those exams don’t happen. Those in brevet won’t pass to secondary classes. Those presenting their bac will not go to universities. What’s worse is that everyone knows this exceedingly well and still those students are used as a bargaining chip to advance rights or lack thereof. What’s even worse is that those 100,000 students have nothing to do with the issue at hand. Shouldn’t their future be off limits to the ongoing bickering?

It doesn’t matter where you stand regarding the demands of Lebanon’s syndicate of worker, but using Lebanon’s students and their future as a bargaining chip, keeping them hostage to the current situation is not something anyone should stand with.

This is a country without a president, without a decent functional working body, without legislation, without parliamentary elections, without security or sovereignty. But no worries everyone, our government is hard at work making sure you can watch the World Cup on Tele Liban. Yes, that’s what truly matters now. Forza Azzurri everyone.

 

Religion & Politics: What Happened At The Sagesse – Riyadi Basketball Game

Here’s another concept that it seems to be tough for Lebanon to grasp: sportsmanship.

For the second time in two consecutive games, Lebanon’s top 2 basketball teams were found at each other’s throats as the games they were playing ended. You’d think someone would have learned from the first round but it seems we were too foolishly optimistic. One can not hope for any form of civility in this country, even in sports.

The stories over what happened are numerous. The one that was relayed to me by a relative who was at the game is the following: Towards the end of the 4th quarter, when it was obvious that Sagesse had won and tied the tiers 2-2, the players had apparently an agreement to pass the remaining seconds with the score unchanged. Dewarik Spencer, Sagesse’s player, then decided to score a two-point basket at the last second which angered Lauren Woods, who plays with Riyadi, leading to an altercation between the two men as is obvious in the following video:

Subsequently, the very civil crowds attending the game decided to join in on the fun. Next thing you know, the players had joined in on the fighting while LBC’s Gayath was lost for words commenting on the absolutely beautiful scene in front of him. But does the story of the fight, regardless of sides, even matter?

A player participating in the beating

A player participating in the beating

The fight, however, is not that of a simple two points scored.

Prior to the game at hand, Sagesse’s fans were circulating the following picture online to flex their muscles. Who can beat them if Jesus was on their side?

photo

These are Lebanese Forces Civil War headlines

The chants by Riyadi’s supporters at the previous game are the other side of the coin. It felt like 1997 all over again when the fights were a constellation of sectarian-political causes. Christians versus Muslims. Lebanese Forces persecuted as they were at the time versus Future Movement, then working with the Assad regime.

Our Lebanese time machine still works. We always find ways to put ourselves back in time, because who doesn’t like familiarity?

It’s weird how these two teams, belonging to two political parties that are currently in bed with each other, still manage to hate each other as much as they do. You can’t help but wonder what would have happened had Riyadi been a Shiite-centric party with Hezbollah funding? Count your lucky stars people the party of god has not ventured into basketball yet.

The main problem at hand is not that Lebanese Christians hate its Muslims (and vice versa) or that the Lebanese Forces and the Future Movement cannot eradicate the history both of them share by a few years of alliance.

The problem is that these problems, held at bay with Lebanon’s fragile politics, are finding their way to erupt at something as meaningless in the grand scheme of things as a championship basketball game. What do these people have left for when something major actually happens? Will they bring out their tanks and missiles and work their way through the argument then?

The problem is that our sports are so infiltrated with politics they’ve lost the true meaning of what sports should be: something to bring people together in a friendly competition. If you support Sagesse, one can assume with a high degree of accuracy that you are Christian and prefer the Lebanese Forces politically. If you support Riyadi, one assumes you’re Sunni and a fan of Hariri. Is that how it’s supposed to be? Isn’t sports about supporting the team you believe has the best game not the one which satisfies your sectarian itch?

The even bigger problem is that people are proud of the fights at hand. Sagesse’s supporters call Riyadi’s supporters tatar. The reverse is also true. If you check both teams’ Facebook pages, you will find a slew of hateful speech towards each other that struts the lines of sectarianism and civil war rhetoric quite proudly. Here are a few screenshots, with next to no voices of reason:

It hasn’t even been long since the world basketball federation lifted the ban on Lebanese basketball for the clear infiltration of the sector by our horrid politics. The many months the sector spent in limbo, not knowing whether it would be able to launch again or not, were not enough to teach anyone a lesson.

No one learned, fight after fight, that there’s a tangible need to raise ticket prices. No one learned that there’s a dire need for new regulations that limit politics and political money, effectively removing that extra player each team has on court. It’s not a surprise though that there are no lessons learned because since when do we as Lebanese actually do that?