Lebanon Pioneers In The Middle East: Allows Trans People To Legally Change Gender

In the grand scheme of things, today was quite a bad day for Lebanese law. Letting a confessed terrorist go out on bail is not only a mark of shame for the entire country, but for any legal system that allows such a thing to happen. But this is not about Michel Samaha.
This is about a lesser publicized decision in Lebanese courts today that has set motion in the region’s most liberal countries to strengthen its role as such: changing one’s gender can be legally done in Lebanon because it pertains to personal liberties, as per a Lebanese court.
Published in The Legal Agenda earlier today, the details are as follows.

In 2014, a transman submitted an official request to Lebanese courts in order to legally change his gender from female to male. The court at the time refused. So this man took it to Lebanon’s Appeal Court (Este2naf) which took an unprecedented and saw that the change in question was not only allowed, but it fell within the rights of the man at hand, saying – and I quote: “A person’s right to receive treatment for ailments both physical and mental is fundamental.”

Lebanon’s Appeal Court decision comes after consulting with experts on the matter of sexual identity and sexual disorders, psychologists and psychiatrists, after which it reached the aforementioned conclusion noting that “the treatment the plaintiff went through, both hormonal and surgical, is his right as a human being and cannot be taken away.”

Of course, this does not make the decision final as Lebanon’s Supreme Court can still nullify it, as they did with the infamous Captagon decision several months ago. But this precedence in question is one of which I believe we as Lebanese should be proud.

Why? Because we are the only country in the region as of now where Trans rights have risen to such prominence, and have even reached legal victories.

Because even with our dysfunctional parliament that can’t legalize to protect the citizens it’s supposed to govern, our legal system has taken it on itself to try and do so in some aspects, and it’s doing so as the best countries in the world would do. 

There’s a long way to go still.

While this is indeed great, it remains an isolated court ruling that, in order to become law, has to be passed by parliament into one, and we all know how good our parliament is at passing laws, let alone controversial one. 

We have huge portions in our country whose rights are decimated. Our women are still fighting for their rights. Gay people are still fighting for their rights. Any minority that is not stereotypical Lebanese male is fighting for its right, but this is a victory to one of those minorities and as such it’s a victory for them all.
There’s a long way to go when it comes to changing stereotypes too. I can imagine the many rolling their eyes as they are reading these lines. The notion that individual rights are not a matter of collective opinion is paramount and in my opinion should be the law of the land everywhere and anywhere.

But today, despite all the negatives, this is a tiny beam of hope in a land that is going backward day by day. So maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for civility in the jungle after all. 

Ziad El Rahbani’s “Bennesbeh La Bokra Chou?” Was Beautiful; “Film Ameriki Tawil” In Cinemas Soon

Belnesbeh La bokra Chou Ziad el Rahbani play movie

Let me start out by saying that I am a Ziad el Rahbani uninitiated.

The tag-line for “Bennesbeh La Boukra Chou?” went: “you’ve been listening to it for 35 years, now come and watch it.” Well, I haven’t to say the least. In fact, apart from the occasional references to Ziad el Rahbani’s golden lines here and there among my acquaintances, my knowledge about his plays would’ve been essentially zero. It’s not something I’m proud of – to be so ignorant of a Lebanese icon is not one of my stronger suits I have to say – but I vehemently refused to listen to plays knowing that sometime in the near future I might be able to watch them.

Well, that future is now.

I was lucky to attend the Lebanese premiere – or the cinematic premiere that is – of “Bennesbeh Laboukra Chou?,” dedicated to the memory of Joseph Saker and Layal Rahbani, which will be in cinemas starting next Thursday, and I have to say: I’m thoroughly impressed.

No, this is not about the play’s sentences that everyone has memorized, or the songs that are engrained in our memories, even mine. This is about the entire experience of it: from film, to seeing the sheer joy on the faces of those watching it, to their reaction to finally seeing the play they’ve known so well on screen in the way that it is.

For starters, the play is filmed well enough for it to be shown in cinema. It’s not Kubrick, of course, but it is decent to the extent that a few minutes in you’ll forget that you’re watching rescued footage of a nearly four decades old play and simply fall into it. In fact, the grainy texture even gives it character: this is not a glossy movie, it’s rustic, full of life and quite charming. It feels documentary-like, which is also the purpose of the play at hand.

No one needs me to talk about the content of course, but I have to say that I was grossly impressed. Ziad’s satirical take on the Lebanese way of life then, the clash of classes and the struggle of the prolitariat, could not be truer even today. In fact, the movie/play starts: there have been many tomorrows after that, but what has changed? The fact of the matter is, so little has, and things are probably worse today than they were back then. Ziad’s monologue towards the end, about the need for work, about providing and trying to escape poverty is chills-inducing. It’s beautiful to see the lines many have repeated over the years be said in front of you “live,” and it’s even more beautiful to see the audience that knows those lines so well react to them.

I asked someone how it felt to watch the play they had listened to endlessly for years, and they said that it felt exactly as they had expected. I had to agree: you may be used to the voices, but the acting is exquisite. I have to say, Ziad el Rahbani may be a great playwright, but he’s an even better actor: the energy that man exuded on his stage is near-unparalleled in these times. No wonder audiences back then fell for him: it brought me such joy to see him perform in the way that he did, and I’m sure it will do the same to you.

You don’t need my words to tell you to watch “Bennesbeh Laboukra Chou?” if it’s something you planned. But let me tell you this: the people singing along to the songs, muttering those lines under their breathes or simply clapping along was an experience in itself, one full of nostalgia and wonder, one that I recommend wholeheartedly.

Film Ameriki Tawil

And, for those of you who want more, a list you can now add me to, there will be more: Film Ameriki Tawil, the even better play as I was told, will be in cinemas in the coming months as well (a source told me in around 2 months), and here’s part of the trailer:

To The Lebanese & Arabs Mocking The Siege On Madaya And Its Starving People

Huddled in the Anti-Lebanon mountains, Madaya is a Syrian village housing tens of thousands of innocent people who are being starved to death at the hand of a siege enforced by the Lebanese allies of the Syrian regime. Their strife is not new. They’ve been going through hell for months, eating whatever they can get: leaves, dirt, cats, dogs. International aid groups are calling the famine there the tip of the iceberg of the crisis taking place in that village of 40,000 people, and no one has been able as of now to fully grasp the picture of the human tragedy taking place there.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Forgive the shock value of the following pictures, but the victims in Madaya deserve to have their voices heard on top of those belittling them for being forced to protractedly die.

Today, some Lebanese and other Arabs are pioneering once again.

I didn’t think that there was potential for some aspects of my country to sink any lower, but color me surprised because not only have we done that, no, we have set the standards on how low you can go. Starting now, I beseech the entire world to consider us as a standard for being despicable, inhumane and revolting because it can’t get worse than this, because there can’t be people who are worse than those about whom I’m writing now.

As the news about Madaya’s humanity crisis broke, some people in my country and the region had the audacity not only to stand with the siege, but to mock the dying people of Madaya. Behold a few samples:

 

I don’t know if these creatures are people, because people cannot be so lacking of compassion, of humanity and of any ounce of civility to actually think that their own political agenda is worth advancing by useless social media posts over the frail, cachectic bodies of men, women and children.

I don’t know if these creatures are of the required intellect to be aware of the horror of watching your child die in front of you because you are not able to feed them.

I don’t know if these creatures grasp how horrifying it is to watch your parents waste away in front of you, and you in front of them, because all of you are not allowed to eat.

These creatures are savages whose existence is an abomination, who are not worthy of the air they breathe, the food they eat, the space their bodies are wasting by merely existing.

Ladies and gentlemen, we share the country with entities who cannot rise above their demented, twisted politics even when it’s as clear as the dying body of a child who has lost all color in their face and all the life out of their cheeks. They cannot grasp the notion that there are things in life far worthier than defending what you know at all costs.

Ladies and gentlemen, we live with beings who can fathom making fun of people who are being starved to death just for the sake of being funny.

It’s one thing to be apathetic to the plight of the people in Madaya, but to actively wish them further harm, to actively make fun of them is something beyond words.

I want to never wish them the hunger that the people of Madaya are feeling. I want to never wish them seeing their loved ones waste away in front of them not because of disease, but because of lack of food. I want to never wish them to see their pets being turned to stew. I want to never wish them what they are wishing to the people of Madaya. But I can’t, so here are their names, and their faces.

Do with them as you please. I may not believe, but I believe those people will one day face their reckoning: اللَّهُ يَسْتَهْزِئُ بِهِمْ وَيَمُدُّهُمْ فِي طُغْيَانِهِمْ يَعْمَهُونَ.

 

 

Everything You Need To Know About The “New” Lebanese Passport Rules

  
4 days prior to a deadline that was suddenly imposed on every single Lebanese, it turns out that the passports we paid hundreds of thousands of Lebanese liras to renew recently are turning obsolete.

The Why:

Our passports are ancient. They lack biometric data that have become standard all around the world. Moreover, renewal with handwritten notes is also against international regulations.

Over the past year, Lebanon’s General Security stopped renewing passports and started issuing new ones instead. Of course, unless you knew someone doing a passport within the last year, there would have been no way for you to know of such regulation.

The How:

Starting January 10th, no Lebanese will be allowed to travel out of the country using a passport with handwritten renewal dates. That is to say if you paid 60,000 last year for renewal or 300,000 for a 5 year extension, you are out of luck: you will be stopped at the airport, your passport confiscated and you will be sent back home to get a new passport.

If you’re abroad and coming to Lebanon, your passport will be confiscated the moment you arrive at the airport and then your Lebanese stay will become a bureaucratic mess of you trying to get a new passport in time.

The Details:

If you’re Lebanese in Lebanon, just go and apply for a new passport. The money you paid for a renewal will be lost, as would happen when you try to renew and the officer at the General Security thinks your picture is too young or too different.

If you’re a Lebanese coming from abroad, get your family here to ready passport papers for you at the nearest Mokhtar in order to have an easy path. You will need new passport sized pictures and a recent ID card.

If your ID card is not new (it still has your childhood picture), you will need an Ekhraj Eid in order to get the passport procedure rolling. Yay!

If you are one of those lucky people with long duration visas, your old passport will be attached to your current one meaning the visas will remain functional. 

It Will Get Worse:

The passport you’ll be getting is the same as the one you currently have, except it doesn’t have handwritten notes. In a few years, when they start using passports with biometric chips and data, they’ll force you to give up your old passport and pay another fee for a new one, a fee that promises to be higher than the exorbitant one we already pay. 

Why This Is Unacceptable:

It’s not my fault as a Lebanese citizen that my government is so inadequate that they couldn’t even properly inform its citizens of such regulations until 4 days prior to the deadline.

They said that they issued statements before. But those statements have not been picked up by media outlets and as such we had no way to know and were also issued on Christmas. Maybe we should have asked for new passports for Christmas instead?

You’d think an institution that makes sure to bombard you with their birthday propaganda or with any form of self-indulgent material would actually bother informing you about such an important event. But no, as it stands: the average Lebanese citizen is getting the short end of the stick, as usual.

Why do I have to pay again for a passport that I already paid for when it’s not even my fault that my passport is useless to begin with?

Till when do we, as Lebanese people, have to constantly be screwed by our government just because they have no idea what they’re doing?

Mabrouk people. In case you have travel plans, start panicking about actually being allowed to leave the country because your perfectly decent passports will become obsolete in 4 days. 

Attempting To Bring Affordable Medicine To Every Lebanese And Refugee in Lebanon

As I’m starting my career in medicine in Lebanon, I noticed that the biggest hurdle facing patients is accessibility. This can take many forms. For the few that I serve at the tertiary center where I work, such issues are second rate: many of them can afford the healthcare provided at my institution and wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the thought that there are actually others in their country who are not as fortunate.

But the truth is that the healthcare sector in Lebanon is a tragedy. The numbers speak for themselves: Almost half of the Lebanese populace has no other means of coverage other than the Ministry of Health, whose budget is less than 5% of the total country’s budget. So what happens when that budget runs out, which happens ever so often? Over 40% of the Lebanese population finds hospital doors closing in their faces, as our news outlets race to pick up the media scoop without actually delving into the issue and finding out why it’s an issue in the first place.

To try and break this cycle, a bunch of doctors from the University of Balamand and the American University of Beirut, along with a few of their colleagues in other fields, have teamed up to attempt and get affordable healthcare to every Lebanese out there, regardless of income range and of geographical location.

It doesn’t matter whether that Lebanese can afford hospital entry or not; in a lot of the case a simple visit to a doctor can suffice to diagnose and treat a particular issue. It’s getting access to a decent doctor that’s the problem, and, when access is available, actually being able to afford the fees.

In a project launched on Zoomaal (link), the aforementioned Lebanese doctors are trying to change that reality to the best of their capacities.

They are creating a platform that allows the following:

  • Patients to get in direct contact with real life doctors for minimal fees, have their histories taken and maybe even get management.
  • Allow those patients to be visited by doctors and get examined and assessed also for minimal fees.

To achieve this, a phone call, video call or a house visit can be arranged. The details are all at this link.

This is the first attempt that I can think of by any Lebanese entity to bring healthcare to the entirety of the Lebanese populace, regardless of income and regardless of geographical constraints. This project is trying to do what the Lebanese government has failed to do: actually care about those who need it most and who don’t have the same amenities that should be a given right in the beginning of 2016.

In a country of over 4 million people, and more than 2 million refugees, having most of your population not having access to healthcare is a disgrace. It’s a shame it’s not as headline grabbing though as Mia Khalifa being the top pornstar in the world or Jbeil’s Christmas tree being listed somewhere. That would’ve gotten people interested.

No, Lebanon Has Not Legalized Captagon To Get The Saudi Prince Off The Hook… Yet

For the past two days, Lebanon’s internet has been abuzz with news that a Lebanese court has set a precedence to consider Captagon’s trade as a crime within the spectrum of pharmacy laws and not within drug laws. The implications of such a precedence were assumed to set the way to exonerate the Saudi Prince Abdul Mohsen Ben Saoud, currently held in (five stars) custody in Lebanon, and send him on his merry way to his execution-loving human-rights-hating homeland.

Why We’re All Talking About Captagon:

For those of us who have not been that into the drug trade in the aftermath of the Syrian war, Captagon is the trade name of an amphetamine called Phenethylline, a highly potent stimulant first synthesized in 1961. The drug has no approved medicinal uses but has shown some efficacy in some psychiatric illnesses.

This is not why we’re discussing Captagon.

Since the start of the Syrian war, Captagon has been at the forefront of the growing drug trade circulating through Syria. It’s reportedly the most used drug by the militants in that country, and is being manufactured in Syria for export to the countries of the region.

It is in that way that Abdul Mohsen Ben Saoud was caught in Beirut’s airport on October 28th, 2015, as he tried to smuggle enormous quantities of the substance out of the country.

Lebanon To Try And Exonerate The Saudi Prince?

So naturally, it’s been assumed that it will only be a matter of time before Lebanon finds a way to send that Saudi Prince on his way home. Yesterday, Lebanese blogger Gino Raidy shared a snapshot of a newspaper clip of an article detailing how a Lebanese judge set a legal precedence by considering the trade of captagon not to be a crime under the subtext of drug trade laws but under medicinal pharmacy laws. This meant that the sentence associated with such a crime would be much softer and, to extrapolate, would help the Saudi Prince’s case.

Lebanon’s internet was ablaze with the news, and, if true, such a legal precedence would’ve been another mark of shame for this great Republic to live in.

But a few things did not feel right about this newspaper article.

Why Wasn’t It Reported Anywhere Else?

Regardless of the fact that I had never heard of the newspaper that published that article, my initial reflex was to google the title to see whose else had reported it. As of a few hours ago, Google returned two results both of which were talking about precisely that article, both of which had popped in the last 12 hours, since Gino’s post went viral, and both of which were also of non-reputable sources.

Let’s also assume that this news were true, don’t you think that the Saudi-Arabia-hating camp of Lebanese politics would have jumped on it by now and shoved it in everyone’s face to show how corrupt our judicial system is, and by extension minister Rifi?

Let’s also assume that this news were true, don’t you think that there would be ANY other Lebanese news outlet that would have reported it? It’s a ghost town out there.

This could be part of a cosmic cover up to bury the news, which is why neither Google nor Lebanon’s news outlets know about it. But since when are we conspiracy theorists?

Or this could be something that is essentially irrelevant to the cause of the Saudi Prince.

What Really Happened:

992841_10205015694088497_4276483254586981385_n

The excerpt that was shared online, as it turns out, was not recent. It was of a decision set forth by judge Jean Bsaibes months prior to catching the Saudi Prince, essentially meaning that even if a Lebanese court had set that precedence before, it couldn’t have possibly done it thinking that a Saudi Prince would one day be caught in our airport trafficking 2 tons of this drug.

The decision in question took place at a Beqaa court, whose jurisdiction does not cover the court handling the Saudi Prince in Baabda.

Moreover, the judge’s decision was later overruled by Lebanon’s supreme court (Tamyiz court) effectively keeping Captagon where it is: a drug, ruled by drug trade laws.

The Saudi Prince Isn’t Leaving Anytime Soon… Yet:

There’s nothing I’d love more than to crucify the Lebanese establishment, when it comes to any facet pertaining to our daily lives, especially if it tries to get a Saudi Prince off the hook for trading drugs worth millions of dollars and hundreds of lives.

But today is not the day for us to do so.

Our legal system, as of now, is still firmly holding the prince in custody with no resolution for his situation in sight. Moreover, I suppose the question to ask at this point is the following: is maneuvering the legal system the best way to get the Saudi Prince back to his country?

If anything, the resolution of the Saudi  prince situation will not occur through a legal precedence but will be part of a political deal in which he is an important bargaining chip.

 

 

13 Lebanese That Made It Big In 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, and you are overwhelmed by end-of-year lists, the only list that I wanted to make, as I also did last year, was one commemorating Lebanese faces that I believe did something in 2015 that was great.

Consider it as one of my rare non-nagging posts of the year, fitting to end 2015 on a more or less positive note despite it being the year that it was. The names I’m about to mention are in no particular order, and are chosen in a non-scientific way of course.

1. Abou Ali Issa & Adel Termos:

In the depth of horror and chaos emerged the two stories of true heroism in the country this year in the form of two men: Abou Ali Issa and Adel Termos. Both of them lost their lives months and kilometers apart, but in eerily similar scenarios: to the hands of disgusting terrorists who know nothing but destruction and murder. Both of these men risked their lives, leaving behind their families and everything they had built up to for years, tackled suicide bombers and saved hundreds. If there’s anyone to leave 2015 remembering, it’s these two names.

2. Yves Nawfal and Georges el Rif:

In early 2015, Yves Nawfal was brutally murdered at the hand of thugs who thought they were above the law. A few months later, a similar scenario took place and Georges el Rif fell victim to a horrifying stabbing in broad daylight at the hands of a thug who also thought wouldn’t face repercussions for his actions. This is Lebanon after all. But the thugs ended up in jail, and for the first time in years there was a nationwide outcry for the serious need of accountability that overshadowed wastas and politicians trying to circumvent the law to protect their henchmen. May Yves and Georges rest in peace.

3. Tol3et Ri7etkom:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 1

Speaking of accountability, the second half of 2015 was, at a certain point, the period during which a secular, non-partisan movement scared our government shitless because they put every person in power under the spot of their corruption and did so in such a glorious way (link) prompting our government to attack with tear bombs, anti-riot gear, build walls to barricade the protestors, etc…. Sure, the movement ended up fizzling out, as most things Lebanese end up doing, but in that moment, when over 100,000 people gathered in Downtown Beirut to shout for a new system, they were infinite.

4. Ely Dagher:

Ely Makhoul Cannes 2015 Waves '98

When it comes to Lebanese cinema this year, Waves ’98 by Ely Dagher takes the cake. This young Lebanese filmmaker not only did what many considered to this point to be near impossible for Lebanese cinema, but he did so with full acclaim, claiming the first win ever for a Lebanese at the Cannes Film Festival.

5. Rima Karaki:

Rima Karaki

There’s a lot to say about Rima Karaki, good and bad, but her shutting up the Islamist Hani Al Siba’i was definitely one of my personal highlights of 2015, and judging by the international response she received, the world’s. When Al Siba’i told her to shut up and that it was “beneath him to be interviewed by a woman” like her, Karaki cut him off air. She was the leader there, and it was glorious to see (link).

6. Karim Zreik:

Karim Zreik

Zreik is the man behind the latest Netflix Marvel sensation “Jessica Jones.” If you haven’t started watching that show, get on it. Zreik is a leading producer on “Jessica Jones,” a series that has been critically acclaimed and has gained a fandom in lightning speed. Season 2 is already on the way, and I bet his name will still be the one you see first as the credits roll by at the end of every episode.

7. Ziad Sankari:

Ziad Sankari

Founder of a pioneering medical technology called CardioDiagnostics to diagnose cardiac emergencies as they occur, Ziad Sankari not only paved the way of medical advances in 2015 but was also honored by Barack Obama as one of the year’s top entrepreneurs. As a medical doctor, I can’t wait to see what his invention can do in real practice and how it will affect our job.

8. Mia Khalifa:

Mia Khalifa

I debated whether to include Mia or not quite extensively. At the end of the day, how could I not? She single-handedly got an entire country either proud or massively riled up. She got so many death threats from a lot of people around the region who were offended by what she did, as if that pertained to them in any way whatsoever, and, at the end of the day, being the world’s top pornstar – even if the ranking is labile – is still quite the achievement. Mia Khalife made it big. Double D big, or something along those lines.

9. Gabriel Abi Saad:

Gabriel ABI sAAD

At an age of only 8, Gabriel Abi Saad managed to win the world championship in a math competition involving fast counting. It may not be a first for a Lebanese – Mohammad el Mir did the same thing last year in his category too – but an accomplishment of the sort cannot go unnoticed.

10. The NGO Kafa:

Kafa

After years of campaigning, Kafa successfully got Lebanon’s parliament to pass a law protecting Lebanese women from domestic abuse. Recognizing that the law our dear parliament passed had massive shortcomings, Kafa did not simply stop. They kept their momentum going throughout the year, highlighting as many domestic abuse crimes as possible, culminating in a video about child marriage in the country that resonated all across the world. Here’s hoping the state of Lebanese women is better in 2016.

 

11. Mashrou3 Leila:

mashrou3 leila

Among Lebanon’s bands, Mashrou3 Leila were the frontrunners this year. After holding concerts across the world, from the US to Europe to the Arab world, they released their latest album “Ebn el Leil” not only to critical acclaim, but also to raves from The Guardian who called them one of the world’s next big bands.

12. Amira Kassis

Amira Kassis

A nutrition graduate from the American University Beirut, Amira Kassis reached for the stars in 2015. Literally. With her team at Nestle, she innovated a menu that will be used by two pilots who will fly a solar airplane around the globe over a period of more than 5 months. The food had to be preservatives free and still be fresh even after 3 months. The menu also included quinoa tabbouleh. What she did was never done before.

13. Our Vacant Presidential Seat:

Empty Baabda Seat

Because a list about a country who hasn’t had a president for over a year and a half cannot be complete without a spot reserved especially for that has remained spotless so far. We thought 2015 would be the year our political establishment finally found a president. The joke’s on us. Throughout the year, that empty Baabda seat has been an ever-present reminder of how dysfunctional this country is. Eventually, the vacancy became comical, so here it is, at #13, for the joke that this has become.