#NoLawNoVote: Get Lebanon’s Parliament To Do Something Decent For Once

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As a taxi drove me back home yesterday night, it reached a point in Downtown Beirut where the road was blocked. In typical Lebanese cab-driver fashion, he proceeded to curse at whatever was causing him to go through a detour in order to deposit yours truly who was, obviously, underpaying him for his services.

The road that was blocked is one of the many that could lead up to parliament. Because why wouldn’t our government invest in resources and man power and cause insurmountable traffic so men in tuxedos whose term has expired it’s been almost a year now could convene and do what they’ve been doing for five years: nothing?

Except our parliament is, for the first time in who knows when, actually discussing something worthwhile in a few hours from now, something that could potentially change the lives of many people around this country who have previously not had a voice in our beloved patriarchal society.

#NoLawNoVote is a campaign I am definitely participating in. It doesn’t matter if you can’t make it to downtown Beirut tomorrow in the early hours of the morning to stand there and shout your heart out at those deaf ears that often choose not to listen. It doesn’t even matter that those parliament members gathering tomorrow have yet to even remotely consider an electoral law for us to vote on. What matters is that the outcome of tomorrow’s session should be a very important factor in determining whatever happens to those MPs whenever it actually happens.

I am currently represented in parliament by Boutros Harb, who is also minister of telecommunications, and Antoine Zahra. And I hereby declare to whoever’s reading that if they do not approve the domestic abuse law, which will be up for a vote tomorrow, that the ballot they’ll get come election day is one that does not contain either of their names.

This is not about politics. It’s not about parties, religion, electoral gambling and other narrow-minded calculations that some might want you to fall for. This is about your mother and sister and aunt and future daughter who might get stuck in this country, unable to escape its prawns. This is to every single Lebanese women who was hit by her spouse. This is to every single Lebanese women who is not here today to tell her story.

Lebanon needs accountability. We’ve had very few opportunities for us to hold those we’ve entrusted to govern our country accountable to anything they’ve caused. We nag about the state they’ve led us to and vote for them all over again. Tomorrow is possibly one of the very few chances we’re getting to show those in charge that we can actually stick to what we believe in and reprimand them for their horrible voting-track record.

Your political party of choice saving face is not as important as your mother’s actual face. #NoLawNoVote is how it should always be.

Check out the event for tomorrow’s protest as well as some pictures from Kafa’s Facebook page:

Is The iPhone Really Getting 4G From Alfa?

A couple of weeks ago, when Apple released its 7.1 update for iOS, it also brought with it an update that enabled Lebanese iPhones to access the country’s newly launched 4G network.

I brought the fact that the iPhone wouldn’t work on the country’s 4G network way back when it launched last year due to Apple’s approval of the network being a requirement. Our carriers then scrambled to work with Apple for that purpose. Now, more than a year later, the iPhone will be launched officially by our carriers here and Lebanon is on the list of countries that can get iOS features that were unavailable to us before, such as iCloud Keychain.

However, there is a discrepancy in the rollout of the service between Lebanon’s two carriers that I believe has to be outlined for transparency’s sake and it is the following.

If you own an iPhone 5S on Touch’s network you’ll notice the following switch to enable or disable LTE.

iPhone 5S LTE Touch MTC Lebanon

If you own an iPhone on Alfa’s network you’ll notice the following button to enable or disable 4G.
Alfa iPhone 5 5G Lebanon

Both buttons are not exactly the same because in Apple’s standards, 4G is not exactly LTE. How so? Well, back in 2011 when the iPhone 4S was released, the 4G toggle was enabled for that phone fully knowing that it is not actually a 4G device. The move was criticized by many for being false-advertising. But the iPhone 4S in the United States, on AT&T’s network, clearly showed connectivity to a 4G network which wasn’t an actual 4G network, just a faster version of 3G, which was supported by the iPhone 4S at the time with speeds that can go up to 42Mbps.

iPhone 4S 4G AT&T

Are Lebanese customers also the victim of false advertising?

I doubt a company like Apple would give preferential treatment to a Lebanese network and give it a special “enable 4G” button when that same toggle has been “enable LTE” for every single other carrier around the world, including Lebanon’s other network.

To support the argument is a collection of speedtest results that show a discrepancy between the speed of the service offered by MTC and that of Alfa.

This might as well be considered as unimportant given everything the country is going through. Varying speeds of fast internet are not a priority. But the question still begets itself: why is there such a discrepancy between the country’s two carriers if they are supposedly offering the same service?

All in all, my experience with 4G so far has been subpar but those speeds, regardless of whether they’re actually 4G or not, are desperately needed for DSL. Someone out there take note and make it happen.

A Proud Lebanese

When I get asked how it is to live in a country on the precipice of collapse, I often answer that I wouldn’t know. I guess I have to reconsider as the places I once called home are making me increasingly claustrophobic. I don’t fit. I don’t even know if I belong. And with each passing day, I fit and belong even less.

People in Tripoli couldn’t sleep last night due to the fights taking place there. I thought I was being made fun of as names such as “Allouki” and “Abou l Jamejem” were mentioned in front of me, but those were real people with real power and they were keeping an entire city on edge. Why? Who knows. We share the country with Alloukis and we can’t do anything but sit and watch as they do what they please in defense of their twisted ideology.

What was happening in Tripoli yesterday had been taking place for more than a year now for those keeping track. Schools have been closed, their students stranded. Businesses are closing. People are narrowly escaping sniper fire. This morning, for whatever reason, fights in Beirut broke out too. Let’s not even forget about the fire coming in from the Syrian side, one that we don’t condemn, one that we deem friendly. Where exactly is the line that delineates a country at war actually drawn?

We call ourselves a country of diversity, of 18 different sects that blend together to form a mesh of beauty – or whatever formulation we are spoon-fed. Never mind that it’s religion that’s the basis of the mess we’re in to begin with, but what’s there to be proud of when it comes to having 18 different sects of which we have next to no idea about? We pretend it’s nice to have them. We are born in regions that are so uniform that us getting exposed to those who are different is entirely contingent upon us branching out. Many prefer not to. Diversity isn’t only a headline, it’s a practice. And it’s non-existent.

I’ve seen people who hate others just because they were belong to a certain sect, wishing them death. Those people, as far as I know, were not as numerous and vocal a few years ago. I never thought I’d have to worry that someone would hate me just because they don’t agree with practices I didn’t even choose. How despicable is it for people to wish you death just because you happened to be born in a random area to a random family who sporadically happened to pray either at a church or at a mosque, believes in resurrection and is either waiting for the Mahdi or not?

Governance isn’t better. We’re in a country that took 10 months to form a governmentwhich then almost collapsed because it couldn’t agree on semantics that have no bearing to begin with. People, resistance, army. Who cares?

How could we hope for any form of governance when we can’t even agree on what we want to govern? Walk around Achrafieh and you’ll find graffitis encouraging Christians to wake up and smell the Federalism coffee. Go to the South and you’ll see countless posters of dead people who sacrificed their life for this cause or that. Christians don’t view those causes as worthy. The Southerners view Federalism as an imperialistic attempt to dismantle the country, while the Sunnis scramble to find a leader that would keep them in check and as such, Tripoli has become Rifiville. Behold our identity crisis. Our demarcation lines are apparently political but inherently sectual. Don’t be fooled. So long for our state of apparent fictive unity.

Our MPs care less about legislating than about proving religious points in parliament. That building is where our MPs compete to show God (and their followers) who loves him (and wants popularity) more. Meanwhile, the rest of MPs who aren’t busy yawning their day away are playing Candy Crush, reading a book on their iPad, complaining about fasting, a religious choice that they willingly took, taking pictures inside parliament to share on their instagram account.

We also have presidential elections coming up soon, as people scurry to secure as much support as possible to their theoretical bid. I’ve received text messages to go and vote in online polls for whom I want as my next president. It’s not desperation, per se, that pushes parties to such acts. It’s them flexing their muscles, doing what they’ve been doing for a long time: getting stuck at the superficialities of Lebanese politics, never getting knee-deep in the swarm that desperately needs cleansing.

Our job prospects are not good either. I keep hearing from people how, in a couple of years, I’ll start ripping them off with consults, in typical Lebanese-doctor stereotypes. What those people don’t know, however, is that when I graduate with an MD degree next year, I’ll start with a $700 salary. And while my example is probably skewed and well below the average, I have to wonder: what is the actual average of Lebanese salaries? And how does it compare to the rising prices all across the country that many people can’t even afford anymore? What hope of a decent lifestyle can we aspire to without resorting to our parents whenever the need arises?

Even our liberties are being compromised. This blogpost might get me in jail because who knows who will end up reading into it and getting offended. A publication wonders where a sizable amount of public funds went and they get sued by the minister who’s responsible for the funds. A blogger criticizes a minister’s henchmen and he is summoned by our bureau of cybercrime for investigation. A teenager kisses a statue of the Virgin Mary four years ago and some news service digs out his Facebook profile, diffuses the picture and gets him in jail. A twitter user uses the most vile of languages to address the Lebanese president and the next thing you know, he’s facing a possible jail sentence. Ladies and gentlemen, our country’s entire security and well-being rests upon the transgressions of those people.

I watched “Waltz With Bashir” recently and found it to be utterly fascinating. I also found it depressing, not only because the history it portrayed was sad and that we, as a nation, will not recognize anything of that era anytime soon. It was sad because we, as Lebanese, will never be permitted to tackle such issues in the way that they do. It’s not only a manifestation of artistic license and whatnot. It’s a manifestation of opinion within the legal framework of our country – the line runs very thin around treason. Who would dare?

I’ve been wondering if living in lala land is what we all require at this point. But that’s not the type of life I can lead, nor is it the type of life I think we should lead. It’s not okay to be disassociated from everything taking place and pretend all’s okay when nothing is. It’s not okay to be blindly proud of the homeland just because it’s our homeland. This is the homeland that is, today, pulling you back just because you exist in it. Should I be proud? Should I be thankful? Should I be content? Should I be passive and take it?

I feel powerless and useless and that is not something I’m used to feel. I’m lost for words when friends reach out, exasperated at how things turn out. I’m lost for words when foreigners ask me what’s happening in the place I call home. I’m also not used to being lost for words. I don’t even defend my country the way I used to do when someone would dare confront me about it. What’s there to defend anymore?

I’m tired of the superiority we exhibit towards other countries and nationalities who probably have it better than we do. Where does this whole “I’m better than you” attitude even stem from? What do we even have to show for ourselves? Gebran Khalil Gebran does not count.

Today, I look at around all the familiarity that once comforted me and all I see is desolation that diverges from everything I believe in. I’m one of those people who are trying to remember why they were proud to be Lebanese once upon a time. My friends are leaving. Those who are here are preparing to leave. Those who are not preparing to leave are not people with whom I can establish rapport. We go about our daily lives like zombies whose only purpose is to exist. We live on the ruins of glory days that have long gone, days that have been buried and whose graves have been ransacked time and time again. I try to find reasons to belong and, apart from family, I can find none.

Lately, when someone tells me how proud they are of being Lebanese and how beautiful this country is, I just shrug as my mind goes: get real. This is not a reality to let anyone be proud.

A Lebanese Woman’s Vagina

Your health matters.

I’ve said the previous sentence to so many people lately, possibly as a byproduct of my medical education, that it’s become akin to a broken record. The people I tell it to are always hesitant to agree. They never do. My advice always falls on deaf ears. Everyone thinks they’re invincible.

The biggest restraint I’ve gotten is from women my age, who are not in the medical field, and who always inquire about elements pertaining to an entity of their life that they almost never share with anyone. I always advice them to seek out a gynecologist with whom they can establish a good rapport and take good care of themselves.

Why would I want a gynecologist, they’d reply. What would people think of me if they knew?

I’d go on and on about the need for a gynecologist at any age. I’d tell them about the importance of being healthy. But the stigma is too much for some.

I find the following video by Marsa to be simply brilliant, perfectly summarizing how Lebanese society gets its women to look at their private parts as shameful organs that should be hidden, tucked away from everyone – even themselves.

 We talk about laws to protect Lebanese women, to empower them and make them stronger in our patriarchal society. But will any law take hold if our women’s view of themselves remains tainted by the years and years of upbringing that have only served to bring them down? Will those laws take hold if many of our women view their vaginas as nothing but shameful?

Think about it.

The 2014 Oscars Predictions

2014 Oscars

Is it just me or was 2013 a very underwhelming year for cinema? Here I am, looking at the Oscar nominees one last time in order to pick favorites and predict who’s gonna take that golden statuette and I’m realizing that I’m not invested in the movies that have reached the finish line.

To note, I don’t have a decent streak when it comes to these predictions. I’m lousy at it. So proceed at your own risk.

Best Picture:

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Prediction: 12 Years A Slave

Personal Favorite: Gravity

It’s almost certain that 12 Years A Slave will take the Best Picture oscar tonight. I found it to be a good movie but was it remarkable enough? I hardly think so. The subject matter was overdone to my taste – weren’t Django and Lincoln from last year enough? – and the handling was too shocking at times and overly-sentimental at others. Perhaps that’s just me though. However, the truth is I wouldn’t mind 12 Years A Slave winning even though I’d much rather see Gravity, which was truly transfixing, or Her, which was quite the little surprise, win. As long as Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t get it, all will be well.

Best Actor:

dallas_buyers_club_ver2

Prediction: Matthew McConaughey

Personal Pick: Matthew McConaughey

Who knew Mr. McConaughey had it in him? Whenever his name pops up, I immediately think of those horrible romantic comedies he had become known for. Well, guess again. He had quite the performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” The movie wouldn’t have been what it turned out to be hadn’t been from him. And he also lost more weight than I did for the role. Isn’t that what those academy members love to vote for? But my personal pick, if I had been voting, would have been for Joaquin Phoenix whom I thought was quite the act in Her, an essentially one man (and woman’s voice) show. Phoenix isn’t even nominated.

Best Actress:

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Prediction: Cate Blanchett

Personal Pick: Judie Dench

All in all, I find the best actress race to be, yet again, more interesting than the best actor one. Cate Blanchett, as the neurotic fallen-from-grace socialite, was interesting to watch in Blue Jasmine and she’s had the best campaign out of the nominated bunch so far, setting her as the clear favorite. But wasn’t Judie Dench mesmerizing in Philomena?

Best Director:

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Prediction: Alfonso Cuarón

Personal Pick: Alfonso Cuarón

Back when I watched Gravity, a friend said he had no idea how some of the shots the movie contained were done. Gravity was a directing tour-de-force and for that, Cuarón deserves to win. I hope he does.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

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Prediction: Jared Leto

Personal Pick: Jared Leto

Again, who knew Jared Leto had it in him? He was electric as the transsexual woman in “Dallas Buyers Club,” stealing every scene he was in and being completely unrecognizable at that. Kudos.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

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Prediction: Jennifer Lawrence

Personal Pick: Lupita Nyong’o

Well, my heart here goes to Jennifer Lawrence (<3) but Lupita Nyong’o, in her first movie performance (is it?), was simply brilliant and should win this. The reason I’m going with Jennifer Lawrence is due to the fact that no supporting actress won this before without winning both the BAFTAs and the Golden Globe, which she has done, and as we all know the Academy members are not the bunch that would go for upsets. I’d be happy either way. Also, off topic, but isn’t it nice to see Julia Roberts in the mix again?

Best Animated Movie:

frozen

Prediction: Frozen

Personal Pick: Frozen

Frozen has become quite the phenomenon. I’m not the biggest of fans – too much music! – but it’s hard to deny exactly how big of a powerhouse it has become.

Best Original Song:

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Prediction: Let It Go

Personal Pick: The Moon Song

To be honest, the best movie song this year isn’t even nominated. In case you’re wondering which one I’m talking about, it’s Inside Llewyn Davis‘ “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.” What’s a travesty is having that movie have no songs from its soundtrack nominated. So watch Frozen’s “Let It Go” or Pharell Williams’ “Happy” and pretend to be absolutely shocked when they do.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

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Prediction: 12 Years A Slave

Personal Pick: Before Midnight

It’s difficult not to see the night’s best picture frontrunner not win this but I’ve found “Before Midnight” to be one of the most refreshing movies of the year. It was completely different from anything Hollywood typically offers. It had witty dialogue, an engaging story and – above all – it was just exquisitely written.

Best Original Screenplay:

her

Prediction: Her

Personal Pick: Her

Spike Jonze’s story about a man falling in love with his operating system sounds silly if taken as is but his handling of the issue turned into a movie that was reflective, important, witty and human.

Other Awards:

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  • Visual Effects: Gravity
  • Cinematography: Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Costume Design: The Great Gatsby
  • Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty
  • Visual Effects: Gravity

 

 

 

Protest For Tuition Fees: Well Done, AUB Students!

Sitting on the sidelines is good up to a certain point. But there comes a time when you can’t but act. AUB students did that today. And irrelevant me is proud of what they did.

I’m sick and tired of people constantly barraging anyone who goes to AUB and is complaining about tuition fees rising by saying: “you could always go to a cheaper university.”

How is their business what AUB students protest peacefully? When has everyone become so apathetic by default that they can’t but bring down people whose only goal was to be proactive in their own campus, against an administration that has become so corrupt with bureaucracy and is trying to remain afloat on their backs?

When I was at AUB back in 2010, I paid about 10 million LL in tuition fees for my sciences program. My brother whose program classifies under arts (i.e. cheaper than sciences) pays 14 million LL for the same amount of credits. His tuition is set for another increase.

Today’s AUB students reminded me of the days when I was a student there and the entire student body shut the university down to protest upcoming tuition increases. People camped out in front of College Hall. My friends slept nights on end there. We ended up with results.

It’s not because these students just want to have a cause for the sake of having a cause. It’s not because those students are bored and want something to protest. It’s not because they are all rich people who don’t understand the struggles of other Lebanese who can’t go to AUB.

It’s for our parents’ sake that we protested back then and that those students are protesting today, because we know how hard it is to make ends meet in this country, because our parents don’t grow money on trees and because going to AUB doesn’t mean you’re the son or daughter of someone who lights their cigars with dollar bills.

It’s for future students who can afford AUB today that we protested back then and that these students are protesting today, so they can still get the education that they can get.

It’s because the increase in AUB tuition fees has rarely, if ever, been a matter in which the student body was involved. It has always been a matter where administrative figures with six figure salaries (in dollars) gather to discuss how their salaries would remain relatively unchanged if not increasing over the years while putting forth lame arguments of “research funding, retaining professors, lack of endowments.”

Education is not an entitlement. If you have the means to get the best education you can get, go for it. But accepting the fact that the best education you can get is slipping out of your means due to corruption, plain and simple, is what those AUB students are not doing today by raising their voice, withstanding the barrage of people ridiculing them for doing what they’re doing in the process.

AUB’s administration is blaming the Lebanese situation and them wanting to maintain their level for wanting to take tuitions on another rise. But isn’t the Lebanese situation also affecting the parents who are required to pay those tuitions? Last time I checked, the  situation was general not selective. And is maintaing a level not contingent upon excellent and remarkable students who are forcibly being pushed out?

As an alumnus, AUB’s current students made me proud. The pictures of them protesting made me happy. Seeing their numbers and those signs made me smile. They can’t change the situation in the country. They can’t fix politics. They can’t ameliorate the economy. But protesting and hopefully stopping arbitrary changes in their university is something they can do. Getting news of X dropping out because they couldn’t afford their education from becoming current is what they’re trying to do. Good for them. Stop bringing them down.

The following are pictures from the protest that I got off twitter. Kudos on the slogans:

Angelina Jolie & Whatsapp: Two Things That Were More Important To Lebanon Than Yesterday’s Suicide Bomber

The rhetoric lately when it comes to explosions and suicide bombers has become that of “we’ve become used to it.” People go about their business usually, not caring that people had just died and that suicide bombers being among us is not something that permits us to go about our business regularly.

On February 19th, 4 days ago, two bombs rocked Bir Hassan in Beirut’s Southern Suburb. 50 minutes after the news of the explosion broke out and all necessary politicians copy/pasted their required indignations and political messages, our president issued a message to a young twitter activist accepting his apology for some defamatory tweets. Nice gesture? Perhaps. Was it the proper time? I guess we can all agree it wasn’t.

There was a time when explosions taking place occupied our news for hours on end. Yesterday’s suicide bomber and the army men and civilians he killed only did so for a brief period of time before our TV stations resumed their regular broadcasts. The Voice here, another trivia show there. Life went on.

If one wants to plot the effect of explosions on the Lebanese populace over time, you’d get a curve that is somewhat like this:

IMG_0500

Yesterday’s suicide bomber news was eclipsed by two news items that made the innocent people that died seem irrelevant, the news about their death being absolutely secondary to the major problems the country was facing at the time, à la OMG WHATSAPP IS DOWN!

Whatsapp:

The jokes about Facebook and Whatsapp sky-rocketed yesterday. But the most ironic thing was our TV stations issuing breaking news bulletins about Whatsapp being down while showing footage of the suicide bomb. They knew where people’s real interest was. Our new minister of telecom, Boutros Harb, even tweeted about the service’s problems:

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 11.36.30 AMI guess people can’t shoot down his twitter skills after all. On Twitter, people discussed their Whatsapp service being off more than the bombs. The former was interesting news, the latter being very been there, done that about 24 times in the past year. How would they come up with their Saturday night plans? How would they know if they should hit Mar Mkhayel or Hamra tonight? How would they know what to coordinate what to wear? Our priorities are well established.

Angelina Jolie:

Picture via Annahar (obviously)

Picture via Annahar (obviously)

I commend Angelina Jolie for being more interested in Lebanon’s Syrian refugees than our governments, as well as most of the Lebanese population. This isn’t the first time she comes to Lebanon for that matter and I’m assuming it won’t be her last. She also slept at some hotel in Zahle. Good for her? Not quite. It’s good for the entire country, people!

Her secret visit immediately became the hottest news piece of the evening (literally, perhaps?) for our news services and people alike. A tweet leaked her location. News services latched onto it and started their retrospective analysis to confirm such news by figuring out why the Lebanese Army blocked the roads leading to that hotel. Our own paparazzi squirmed to take her pictures at the camps she was visiting. Angelina’s secret visit was secret no more.

This is good for the country, some said. Such a high profile visit might change perspectives, other said to try and explain their obsession with her visit while it didn’t pertain in any way whatsoever to whatever agenda they believed she could advance.

Pity The Nation?

Pity the nation that cares more about the image Angelina Jolie might give than about the reason she’s actually here. Pity the nation that cares more about its whatsapp connectivity than about the people whose pieces were burning as they panicked over them not able to stalk their ex’s last seen status. I understand you want to move on quickly, Lebanon. But aren’t you moving on a little too quickly sometimes?