When Beirut Was At Its Most Beautiful In Years

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Beirut is its most beautiful when it’s alive. Over the past few years, it hasn’t been that way. No, parties at Skybar (RIP) don’t count.

Beirut is not beautiful when it’s a strange land to its people. It’s not beautiful when its center is always empty, when its heart is devoid of its people, when it’s forcibly maimed beyond recognition. No, Beirut is not beautiful when it doesn’t have us, when it’s full of flags that are not of the country which it represents.

On August 29th, 2015, Beirut not only had us, but it had enough of us to make it the most beautiful it’s been in years. Yesterday evening, Beirut was gorgeous. It was our own city finding its voice again, finding its calling again, finding its own identity again.

Beirut is nothing without its streets that should be filled with people. Yesterday, we filled its heart. Beirut is nothing without a beating center. Yesterday, Martyrs’ Square was beating in tachycardia. Beirut is nothing without us. Yesterday, we were Beirut.

Over 100,000 people gathered yesterday in Martyrs’ Square to say enough is enough. They chanted against the system. They chanted for their rights. They chanted with every ounce of voice they had in them for the causes they believed in.

This is how beautiful Beirut was:

 

And people had their hands intertwined to signal unity:

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The people also brought posters.

Some, like my friend Racha’s poster, were hilarious:

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She’s going to kill me for this going viral.

Youssef Nassar, inspired by Elissa’s now famous Twitter gaffe, brought out the big guns:

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#Best #Concert #Ever! #With #My #Besties.

My friend Izzie, meanwhile, compared our ruling class to her dog, “Funny.” Obviously, they wouldn’t amount to how adorable her puppy is:

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Pop culture also made an appearance in the form of “Game of Thrones.” What do our politicians have in common with Jon Snow? You guessed it:

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That wasn’t the only Game of Thrones-inspired poster around:

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Pop culture made another appearance in the form of a “Fifty Shades” pun:

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The whole “I kneel in front of you oh General” line that Bassil delivered recently now has an entirely different meaning.

And since we’re a very competitive country, our politicians had their report card released. Needless to say, it’s not very flattering:

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Because this protest was a BIG deal, Myriam Klink made an appearance:

By Ralph Aoun.

By Ralph Aoun.

But Klink will probably NOT approve of the content of this poster, zico zico and all:

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And because no protest in this country happens without foreign approval, this protest was under the auspices of North Korea. Thank you Pyong Yang!

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Some people brought figurative coffins with them to bury the system that has been killing us for years:

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Some made jokes about our security forces:

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Some were not as polite:

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But at least they have good calligraphy.

This time around, Berri got a few jabs:

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Others, and this is the poster that resonated with me the most, wanted to remind everyone of how much we’ve lost being submissive to this system for the past several years, and how many innocent lives paid the price. May all the children of Tripoli rest in peace:

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And here are a few more:

All of this happened to the backdrop of the most ironic poster of them all:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 9

Beirut is its most beautiful when its people are this free, when they are this creative and when they finally find their voice that has been forcibly silenced for years, at times when we thought such a thing wouldn’t happen.

Yesterday’s protest was the BIGGEST manifestation of secular, non-partisan but very politically driven individuals in the history of the country. If August 29th leads to results in the coming few days, this protest will go down in history as another form of Beirut Spring, in the heart of a country that has long shown democracy to the region.

This post is not about what should have happened, what should happen next and what is expected of this movement. This is about how beautiful and glorious our sight was, and how beautiful we made Beirut in the process.

Cheers to everyone who made Beirut great again. Cheers to those who sang, and chanted and shouted. Cheers to hopefully saying one day: “I was there.” Cheers to us.

North Lebanon Will NOT Be Turned Into Beirut’s Garbage Dump

In a stroke of pure “magic,” our politicians have “solved” the country’s garbage crisis. In the beginning there was Sukleen and the Nehmeh dump. Now, we have Sukleen again – yes, seriously – and the Nehmeh dump, in Beirut’s proximity, has been moved to a place that’s more than a hundred kilometers away from Beirut.

In a stroke of utter “genius,” the Lebanese government has decided that the Northern caza of Akkar will now be where the people of Beirut and its suburbs dump their garbage. In case you had your doubts before, be certain now: Lebanon does not have its areas equal. There’s Beirut and Mount Lebanon, a beacon of hope and love to the masses and the tourists and where all the money flows, and there are the peripheries, notably North Lebanon, where the only thing fitting is to give its people those other regions’ trash.

Sukleen will also be handling garbage again at the price of about $160/ton, that’s more than what they used to get paid before, and about 4 times the normal amount that any decent country in the world pays to handle garbage.

Akkar – The Real Tragedy:

Here’s how the situation is in Akkar today:

  • There are villages that got electricity for the FIRST time in 2013 (link).
  • There are villages that do NOT have road access yet. I remind you this is 2015.
  • The caza does NOT have any decent hospital in it. Its people have to make the trip to Tripoli to begin getting decent medical coverage, and a lot of them have to make the trip even further south to Beirut in order not to die.
  • The caza does NOT have any decent schools and universities. Its people have to make the trip to Tripoli as well or move to Beirut for better opportunities.
  • Akkar is the country’s poorest area on record, only paralleled in poverty by Tripoli’s Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen areas. The numbers are astronomical: 40% of the population is considered poor and more than 18% live below the extreme poverty line.
  • The “best” way for the people of Akkar to make a living is for its men to risk their lives volunteering in the army; hence, calling Akkar “the basin of the army.”

Why don’t you hear about any of this? Well, I’ve tried to highlight how horrendous the condition in my region (the North) is on many occasions, but when it’s that *far* for the people of Beirut, as is anything north of the Madfoun checkpoint, nobody cares.

Another aspect of why you don’t hear about this is because no one, even Akkar’s politicians, care. The only time they do give a rat’s ass is come election time, in order to give the starving population a loaf of bread, a few sandwiches and a couple hundred bucks to sustain them through the coming four years (or seven).

Well, now we have another reason to give Akkar a second glance, so let’s spin this positively: Lebanon’s politicians have FINALLY remembered Akkar other than at the time of elections. Hurray!

How so? Well, our government and politicians want to turn areas of Akkar into the garbage dump for Beirut and its Greater Area’s garbage. Obviously, because they say no other region in the country can work, but it’s because the people there are so poor they can’t fight the decision of the government to kill them before their own eyes.

The details of the Akkar deal are as follows:

Ahmad el Hariri met several weeks ago with Tarek El Marhebi, the son of former MP Talal el Marhebi, who agreed to give him a land of around 1.4 million squared meters, to which was added another property culminating in about 2 million squared meters of area, in order to create a garbage dump to solve Beirut’s garbage problem, in an area is called Srar.

The Ministry of Environmental Affairs then studied the land and came to the conclusion that the type of soil used was NOT compatible with that required to do a dump, risking the toxins of the garbage infiltrating down to the underground water, which supplies the many villages of the caza since the government has NOT supplied the area with water as it is.

The Future Movement figures involved the aforementioned deal “denied” such claims a few weeks back. Today, with the news of such a dump being closer to reality than anyone expended, the claims they denied are not only true, they’re becoming a reality.

How is the government trying to buy the silence of the people in Akkar in order to effectively kill them with the waste of a region that is more than a hundred kilometers away? 100 million USD will be used to fund select developmental projects in the caza over the course of the next three years, money that is Akkar’s right and for which it does NOT have to reciprocate with receiving Beirut’s garbage. And to make things worse, the area will probably never going to see that development anyway.

This is governance 001 for the Lebanese system that doesn’t seem to care for an area unless it’s called Beirut and Friends:

  1. No, it’s not acceptable to silence the people of that area with money that you haven’t used for years to give them their rightful development, money that is rightfully theirs,
  2. No, it’s not acceptable to risk the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of people because you’re worried about the image that having your capital drown in garbage gives to the world,
  3. No, it’s not acceptable to risk the greenest region in the country’s environment because you’re too bloody corrupt to come up with a solution that limits your monetary return,
  4. No, it’s not acceptable and will not be accepted that Akkar ends up as Beirut’s garbage dump.

Akkar Isn’t The Only Northern Entity To Get Screwed:

If you thought Akkar was alone in getting screwed, you thought wrong. The entire North is under threat of being turned into Beirut’s waste disposal zone. Batroun’s areas of Hamat and Rasenhash have received a few shipments of garbage trucks from Beirut already. For reference, the area has your very lovable picturesque Nourieh convent.

Kefraya, in the Koura caza, also received a few garbage shipments, as did the city of Amioun before its people blocked roads and protested.

Tripoli is also having a true environmental disaster as it keeps getting shipments of Jounieh’s garbage, which are polluting its sea, soil and air. In the meantime, Jounieh’s mayor is bragging his city is the first to clear its garbage mess. How despicable.

North Pride:

I’m a son of the North. Batroun is my home. Koura is my home. Tripoli is my home. Akkar is my home. This is my land, and I will not have my land ruined, tarnished, maimed and irrevocably damaged just because I exist in a system that thinks I’m worthless for not having “Mount Lebanon” or “Beirut” stamped across my ID.

I’m a son of the North. My region is the country’s most forgotten, most ignored, most ridiculed and most stereotyped. My region is the country’s least developed and least considered (except when it’s for garbage it seems).

I’m a son of the North, and I will not have my home be filled with the garbage of those who not only couldn’t care less about it, but who will very likely not give a rat’s ass about where their garbage is heading the moment they don’t see it on their streets anymore.

I’m a son of the North and I say this: “Kell wa7ad yemsa7 kha*a b ido.” 

When We Protested and The Lebanese Government Tried To Kill Us

At 6:00PM on August 22nd, 2015, around 10,000 Lebanese people gathered in Downtown Beirut to protest the country’s overwhelming garbage crisis and with it the corrupt political system that has allowed it to prosper unresolved over the past month, as it has allowed the country to disintegrate since its moment of inception.

I daresay it was the first time a Lebanese crowd gathered this substantially to protest in an apolitical way against a political system that’s affecting everyone. It was beautiful:

 

All pictures are taken by me unless noted otherwise.

All pictures are taken by me unless noted otherwise.

The crowd was immensely creative. They carried Lebanese flags devoid of the Cedar, a bunch of hilarious posters, and even Batman was there:

The people at the protest had one goal in mind: to tell anyone who’d hear us exactly how horrifying our political system has become, to the point where we’re drowning in garbage and no one cares. To the backdrop of “down with the system” chants, the following were roaming around:

And yet, despite the newly built gates to stop anyone from entering to the heart of Downtown Beirut where the very empty parliament resides, and despite the very heavily clad military presence, none of us thought the protest could turn bad.

We were just there, expressing our fundamental right for free speech, in a country that has long considered itself to be the beacon of free speech in the region. We were many, we were mighty. We were proud, we were excited. We chanted, we held our fists to the skies and shouted at a system that has tried to clench our hands and bring us down every single time. Around 6:30PM on August 22nd, 2015, we felt powerful.

Carte Blanche & Signal Jamming:

The crowds walked back from Riad el Solh square towards Martyrs’ Square. Naturally, every single opening that could lead to Nejmeh Square was closed off by armed personnel. The Lebanese Army was working hand in hand with the Internal Security Force (ISF) on closing off all the roads. As we passed them while walking back to Martyrs’ Square, we overheard a few saying they had a “carte blanche” for today. I didn’t give it much attention.

It was around that time that I first noticed my phone’s signal was getting jammed. My data connection kept dropping, and I failed to get my phone to connect to the 3G network even with restarts. I asked around, and I wasn’t the only one having that issue. There was a clear attempt to radio-silence the protest, but I didn’t give much attention to that either.

Gunshots Start:

The time was about 7:15PM. We were gathered around Martyrs’ Square chanting when the first bullets were fired. One round was followed by another, and then another. The armed personnel were firing, and shouting. A few moments later, they kept on increasing their perimeter, pushing protestors out of a region they had not secured before, beating them with batons until they cleared the area.

Children started crying. “Cowards,” there were many shouting. But if anyone thought that would be the end of it, we thought wrong. The most horrifying part of being shot at and beaten up isn’t that there were bullets being fired in the air, it’s the look of delight on that armed personnel’s face as he does it.

A “carte blanche” to keep order against protesters who did nothing but behave peacefully means many things. It means that you can decide that a peaceful protest is not one where you need to fire guns. It means you can decide not to beat up a woman who’s shouting at you. It means you can decide to be a civilized armed personnel, and not a savage.

Our country’s armed forces chose to be barbaric. They chose to be rabid dogs instead of being human beings.

Batman was the first to run.

How Tear Gas Feels Like:

We moved away from Martyrs’ Square and walked up Downtown Beirut. I daresay it was the most full that place was in ages, to the dismay of our government of course because this isn’t the crowd they wanted.

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On the way there, I saw a man with a cut across his scalp. I examined his wound. I told him what to do in order to clean in. There were two more like him on the way.

We gathered near the South entrance of Beirut Souks, the one facing the main entrance to Nejmeh Square. The crowds started chanting again. Bullets were fired in order to scare people, but the chants kept on growing louder.

A van for Beirut’s fire department then blazed its way through protesters. If we hadn’t made way, the van wouldn’t have had a problem in running us over. A moment later, they fired tear gas at us. If that first round of tear gas wasn’t enough, they fired a few more. One hit my friend in the head, another hit my knee before bouncing on the ground.

And we ran.

Tear Gas Beirut August 22 Protest YouStink

It didn’t start off as tears. It started as a constriction in my throat that tightened the more I tried not take a breath. It was so hard to hold it in when my lungs were aching for air.

It was then that I started coughing uncontrollably, each one followed by the next, making the ache in my throat worse, feeling like I was going to suffocate the more I coughed, the more I breathed, both of which I couldn’t control.

A few seconds later, my eyes started tearing and I was borderline blinded as I wobbled my way down from the main road as far as I can from the smoke. And they kept on firing. It felt like I was walking for endless meters, because my eyes wouldn’t let up and neither would my lungs.

I passed by a woman who had fainted on the side of the street. There was a little girl running away as well; she couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old.

The more I ran, the more I felt it was getting worse. I felt like I was going to faint a couple of times, but there was not time to think so I just kept going as my throat got tighter. I tried to use my shirt to bloc the gas, but I had no fluid on me to use as an insulator.

It started getting better when we reached CinemaCity. My friend fell to the ground and gasped for air. There was another woman lying at the side of the street, borderline unconscious being helped by her friends.

In case you’re wondering, this is how you look after being tear gassed by your government for protesting peacefully against its shit:

Tear Gas August 22 protest Beirut

The Classy Apathy Crowd:

Now that the crowds were dispersed, a few of us made our way through Beirut Souks. I walked by the cinema, and people were there. I walked by the shops and people were there. I walked by a local restaurant, and it had its doors shut because the people inside had gotten worried.

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These people’s garbage is obviously not part of the Beiruti equation. It’s probably too classy. I couldn’t not take a picture of them. My aching lungs and throat demanded it.

It Gets Worse:

Meanwhile back in Martyrs’ Square, the crowds were gathering again. It was getting dark, the time was around 8PM.

With darkness falling, Lebanon’s armed forces found new strength in being able to do whatever they wanted without anyone knowing they did it. So they started firing bullets, both live ammo and rubber ones, at the protestors chanting against them. They hosed the protestors with water canons and fired tear gas again, but the protestors held their own.

It was then that Lebanese media took notice of what was happening in Downtown Beirut. Our tweets, Facebook posts, images and videos were aplenty, widely shared and immensely circulated. LBC and NewTV were the first on the scene, and even journalists were attacked:

When confronted, the armed forces – both army and ISF – told protestors that “they started it.”

The first serious injury of the night happened around that time. A teenager boy, aged around 14 or 15, got hit by a rubber bullet in his pelvic area.

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Picture via Joey Ayoub.

Then I started getting news from my colleagues that the ER at my hospital was beginning to receive injured protestors. Hotel Dieu was receiving them as well. The injuries, for the most part, were not severe, but some of those rubber bullets required surgical intervention:

 

After uploading a video showing the Lebanese Army – yes, that same one we’ve all been defending for years – attacking us barbarically, I had many people attack me for “wrongfully” tarnishing the army’s image. This is a picture that clearly shows the army attacking people:

Picture via Elie Farah.

Picture via Elie Farah.

What happened next involved more violence, wide-spread arrests of protestors who – again – did absolutely nothing violent. In pure propaganda attempt, the Lebanese ISF released pictures of its own members with bloody cheeks, eyes and bandaged heels to tell the world that the protestors were violent.

I had no idea water bottles and hands were a dangerous weapon to the country now while we were being attacked with batons, bullets, armors and military boots. The country isn’t only full of shit, it’s full of melodrama.

It Could’ve Been Worse:

I have to say, if the Lebanese media – hats off to LBC and NewTV – hadn’t covered the protest from around 8PM till after midnight, I’m sure the armed forces would have enjoyed both the radio and media silence to commit a true massacre in Downtown Beirut yesterday, but they couldn’t.

They couldn’t because the anchors of Lebanese channels that have, for the first time in years, provided the country with actual and decent news, made it their job to tell the whole country how the people protesting for their most fundamental rights in Beirut were getting beaten up only for speaking.

The couldn’t because there are still, much to my delight, media in this country that knows when to draw the line to an establishment that has, for years, enjoyed unchecked coverage.

Shame on FutureTV and Al-Manar for pretending that nothing was happening in Downtown Beirut, but at least now they agree on something. And I guess they didn’t bring in the fighter jets, so we can’t say that were *too* brutal.

Lebanon’s Politicians Start To Kiss Our Ass:

Because they needed to capitalize on us getting beaten up and almost killed in Downtown Beirut, Lebanon’s politicians – of all kinds and shapes – figured it made absolute sense to condemn the actions of a government of which they are ALL part.

First was Nabil Nicolas, the same one who posted a picture of his leader in the heart of Mary the other day (link) announcing that he condemned what was happening. Then came Elias Abi Saab, who is part of the government itself, also condemning what was happening.

Neither quit their position of course, because why would you do anything worthwhile if you can simply throw a few words of garbage here and there and save face? It’s so easy to condemn in words and so hard to do so in action.

Then came Gebran Bassil in a beautiful tweet about the political establishment of which not only is he part but in which he is now ascending. Mr. Bassil needed someone to tell him yesterday who was at fault for what was happening in Downtown Beirut, and the answer came promptly:

 

August 22 Protest Gebran Bassil Tweet

It was Walid Jumblat’s turn next to shower us with his hypocrisy. He was supportive of the movement, and he said that yes, he stank as well. But because there are no alternatives, he effectively told everyone that we were stuck with them and there was nothing we can do. Deal with it.

Nouhad el Machnouk, our minister of interior affairs, was on vacation. So naturally because he was outside the country, he couldn’t have ordered the armed forces to do what they did, he said. He only ordered them to use rubber bullets and tear gas canisters as they do in ALL civilized countries, he said.

Mr. Machnouk probably still thought that the Lebanese people have the collective IQ of a fish and that when we were getting beaten up by his forces we wouldn’t be able to see through all the bullshit, but we can.

If only Mr. Machnouk had imported something other than rubber bullets and tear gas from civilized countries. Maybe he will now as he unfortunately is forced to cut his vacation short?

Lebanon Is A Dictatorshit:

If you had any doubt that this country was not a democracy, yesterday was your overwhelming proof that this is not a dictatorship, no it’s a dictatorshit.

We were doing nothing wrong. Protesting against a system that’s so corrupt it can’t handle garbage is not wrong. Chanting against a government that has been nothing but dysfunctional since its moment of birth is not wrong. And yet, we were attacked. And yet, they tried to kill us. And yet, many of us are in hospitals now because our country is run by an establishment whose only goal in life is to self-persevere.

The use of riot police against us was a political decision. The carte blanche they were given was entirely pre-meditated. Those in power thought that flexing their muscles would silence the many voices in the country that are fed up with their lies, with their corruption. But they thought wrong.

The Lebanese establishment is only invested in one thing and one thing only: to maintain itself against all odds, against all logic and reason. Garbage in the streets? Who cares as long as I can get a few bucks off of it. More than $20 billion spent on electricity that gets cut 12 hours a day? Yes, that money funded my vacation well. No elections for two years in a row? The taste of power is grand.

Our political establishment is a parasite: it feeds off of us in order to grow stronger and keep itself in power. It sacrifices us to make sure it runs unchecked. It throws its armed personnel under the bus to make sure that nothing comes its way.

We were protesting for our basic and most fundamental rights and they tried to kill us. This is worse than when the Syrian regime did the same or maybe worse to protestors back in the days. Back then, it was a foreign presence trying to silence you. Today, it’s your own country’s people trying to kill you.

Not only did the Lebanese political establishment tell every single Lebanese that they effectively did not matter, but they tried to sugar coat it by breaking their own ranks and pointing fingers at each other; not only do they stink, they reek.

But Beirut Was The Most Beautiful It’s Been In Ages Yesterday:

The day after, I’m the most proud I’ve been in years. I’m proud of every single man, woman and child that went down yesterday to protest. I genuinely love every single one of those 10,000 people that gathered around in Beirut yesterday, even the smokers.

I’m proud of the people of Tripoli who went down to Beirut late at night to protest even when no one protested for them when their city was being burned again and again. I’m proud they were not deterred at the Madfoun checkpoint which was blocked by the army at 1:40AM to stop them.

You people turned Beirut into a city that’s worth being plastered across the world yesterday because you were amazing, courageous and wonderful. You got people all across the country to see the government for what it truly was: a rotten establishment that reeks of decay.

The day after, you are all heroes, with your cuts and scars and bruises and teary eyes. The government fears you. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have reacted this way. In a few years, when you have children in a country that’s hopefully become civilized enough for us to bring children into, you will sit down and tell them how you changed things. It’s a beautiful story to tell, believe me.

Foreign Journalists, Can You Stop The Cliche & Poorly Researched Articles About Lebanon?

Dear Foreign Journalists,

We, as Lebanese people, absolutely adore the pride booster injections that you give us whenever you write about Beirut or our country.

In other words, the country gets a massive hard-on whenever you take the time to write an article about Beirut, or about how much of an “exotic” destination for tourism Lebanon is. Many of us (not me, to be honest) rise above the cliche of the articles because we believe they serve the greater good: to show the country in a better light, to show Beirut as a cosmopolitan city, and what have you.

But – and to put this gently – there’s just so much that you can say about a city being a party capital and about a people being party-loving before it becomes not only redundant, but utterly nauseating to read à la “oh look, it’s another one of those articles.”

I know that writing those articles gets you a lot of clicks and attention – blame our clicking-loving-Lebanese-fingers for that, but what needs to be said is the following.

Over the past couple of days, an article by The Telegraph by Ruth Sherlock – a foreign correspondent based in Beirut – has been making the rounds, aptly titled: “War is a million miles away when the Lebanese begin to party.” 

The article started off with a picture of a woman drinking champagne, with the caption indicating that the woman was doing so at a recent election, noting that the most recent election we’ve had was in 2009. But that’s not the “best” part about the picture.

Lebanon Telegraph Article

The author naturally assumed that the woman in question was Christian, because sectarian and religious designations by Western Journalists are perfectly fine when talking about Lebanon.

How is that woman Christian? I guess it’s because she’s unveiled? Because as we all know, there isn’t a single Muslim woman in the country who isn’t veiled. I should get the memo out to my friends. Or is it because she’s drinking alcohol? Because, as we all know there isn’t a single Muslim who happens to be female who likes to drink alcohol in this country? I should also get the memo to my party-loving friends; but please don’t get any ideas about writing articles about alcohol-loving Lebanese-Muslim women, I beseech you.

The article then goes on and on about Lebanon’s love for plastic surgery, because this is not new. What is new, however, is that we – as Lebanese – like to throw extravagant parties worth over $200,000 and weddings worth over $300,000.

I don’t know about you but I, as a Lebanese, currently have $30 in my bank account. Not only does my entire worth not equate $200,000, but I’ve never seen such money in my life before. This is to say that when you talk to an event organizer serving the Lebanese 0.3% in order to get an assessment of the other 99.7%, you are bound to – and forgive my French – fuck up. For reference on Lebanon’s distribution of wealth and why the notion of $200,000 events being the norm is completely erroneous, check the following article.

And because the Lebanese cliché is never really fulfilled without mentioning religion a few dozen times in a 500 word article, The Telegraph article made the very astute observation that Lebanese put sect before country, also known as something my not-yet-born cousin would gladly tell you on any of her sonograms.

The religious cliché also needs a good dose of how communities are segregated into East and West, Christian versus Muslim and how they rarely interact, with the occasional sectarian and probably senile man still living in 1965 who thinks those who pray differently are inherently bad people, although I have to admit the notion is not particularly erroneous among many people of the Lebanese populace, but it’s all very “been-there-done-that” topic wise, especially when name-dropping neighborhoods for their sectarian affiliation, and doing so erroneously; as far as I know, Basta is very Sunni.

Do not, however, and I beseech you again, go into how the Sunni-Shiite conflict of the region is having repercussions on Lebanon because that’s another overdone topic or how precious and vital Lebanon’s Christians are for the region because they, out of all denominations in the country, don’t need their self-worth inflamed any more.

Then, because it’s never an article about Lebanon without mentioning power cuts and how we don’t agree on our history post 1943, The Telegraph article aptly drops those, as if they’re coloring by number. Pastel color green goes into box number 3.

When you want to write an article about Lebanon, please don’t interview a party planner for the 1%, a businessman who is among the 1% and an old man who was probably taken aback by the presence of a foreigner, and was more than willing to blurt out anything, pile up the bunch together and call it an “article.”

I understand that Lebanon is not your target audience in such pieces; but we will be reading them anyway. Similarly, I assume you’d also be appalled if I wrote an article about the United Kingdom and mixed up Scotland with England, or if I wrote an article about New York City and I assumed the entire city is nothing more than Manhattan’s Financial District.

The Telegraph isn’t the only publication to do this. The examples are endless, from the Guardian to the Washington Times. It’s always the same topic over, and over again.

As a rule of thumb, the following headlines are so overdone they’re dead: Lebanon and parties, Lebanon and war, Lebanon and religious diversity, Lebanon and electricity &/or internet, Lebanon and the proximity of the beach to the mountain, Lebanon and skiing plus swimming in the same day, Lebanon and the active presence of Christians.

If you absolutely feel the need to write about any of the aforementioned topics, however, please, please do read the other twenty million articles written in the same vein, and try to give a new perspective, one that local media fails to produce because of the toes they’re afraid of stepping on, and one which both your Lebanese and local readers alike will find refreshing.

PS: The picture of the Church next to the Mosque in Downtown Beirut is a big no-no.

beirut-church-mosque

Best,

A disgruntled reader.

 

Being Gay Is Worse Than Being ISIS: 2 Lebanese Men Tortured For 3 Weeks in Prison Over Their Sexuality

You, as a Lebanese, are as irrelevant as a cockroach. Your rights are the doormat every single person with power steps on to ascend up the scale of political prowess.

A couple of weeks ago, two minute-long videos were leaked out of Roumieh jail. They featured security officers beating up on Islamist suspects – people who have not been convicted yet. I won’t be sharing the videos here, because there’s no point in propagating such barbaric things.

Mini-Lebanese-hell broke loose as a consequence. In the quiet Ramadan month, politically, the bombshell of torture happening in Lebanese jail – surprise, surprise! – got some people on the streets burning tires, blocking roads. It got Ashraf Rifi, our minister of justice, up in a fit as to how such a thing could ever happen – how shocking – but we all know it was because those tortured are Sunni.

Many were ecstatic about the videos, as I was able to assess with the sheer enthusiasm that many of my Facebook friends shared them. Human rights are not an argument to some people it seemed: those people killed our soldiers, they’d shout at you. Sure, they might have… but how are we better than them if we film them being humiliated and then use those videos for political fuel? Oh, you just love ISIS. 

But this post is not about ISIS torture videos.

Another reaction that took place when the Roumieh videos surfaced was utter shock that such stuff happen in Lebanese jails. Torture? In Lebanon? Mais c’est pas possible? Le liban est le plus beau pays du monde, oh mon dieu. 

Those people clearly lived in their version of Lebanese Switzerland where Beirut served as a Middle Eastern Geneva. The wake-up call that they got to realize that they were indeed living in a third world country where their value is worthless was shocking: this is not a land where human rights are scripture, where your value as a human being is paramount and where your sanctity is holy.

The story of Roy Azar, who had a sound grenade aimed at his chest, killing him a few weeks before his release time, was never front-page news. Roy Azar is not fuel for Ashraf Rifi to ride on the Sunni-anger bandwagon.

The story of Jamil Abou Ghina who died of a heart attack due to the severe torture he experienced at the hand of sadists in Lebanese jail was not front-page news. Jamil Abou Ghina was not filmed being beaten up and laughed at by some irrelevant security officer who probably got orders from high above to do so.

But this isn’t about Jamil or Roy either.

L’Orient Le Jour broke a story a few days ago that I think everyone should read (link). It’s the story of torture that also took place recently, but clearly did not get the attention that a terrorist getting beaten up in Roumieh got.

On June 9th, 2015, Omar and his friend Samer were on their way to spend the weekend in the South when they were stopped at a checkpoint that found a few grams of weed in their car. So they were arrested, their belongings confiscated, and were taken to be interrogated and ended up spending the night in jail where they were subjected to drug testing, all of which turned out negative.

So with no more charges under their belt, our lovely police officers went through Omar’s phone conversation with his friend Samer and noticed that he called him “habibi.” So they accused Omar of being homosexual, which he denied. Then they took out the negative drug test result, told him it was positive, in an attempt to get him to give out details about drug dealers in Beirut. When that failed, they brought out his friend Samer, stripped him and started beating him up with their hands, with their canes. They submerged his head in icy water, in attempt to get them to confess to both drugs and homosexuality charges.

Samer was beaten up, drowned, electrocuted. He ended up confessing to the charges. Then they started torturing Omar to give our names of people in the Lebanese gay community, which he didn’t do. It was then that the police called Omar and Samer’s parents and told them that their children were gay.

When Omar and Samer’s parents arrived to the place where they were held, they were not allowed to see their children. When they asked if their children had been tortured, the officer assured them: walaw? Where do you think we live?

The two men spent 6 days in Tyre where they were faced with a choice: either get beaten up or give out names of gay men in Lebanon. Then they were transferred to the infamous Hobeich police station, where they stayed for 5 days, in a 20 squared meter cells with 20 other people. Then they were transferred to holding in Saida where they stayed for 8 days, with 200 other prisoners who were informed by the security officers there that Omar and Salem were homosexuals.

Omar was then released two days later after being seen by a judge. His friend Samer was kept in jail, until L’Orient Le Jour contacted Nohad el Machnouk who took it upon himself to address the issue. Samer was liberated 30 minutes later.

Of course, the story of Omar and Samer did not receive front-page attention in Lebanon. No one burned tires. No one closed roads. No one got upset. It simply passed by, like any other piece of news, irrelevant and useless.

Why would a Lebanese MP care? Defending the rights of two men who were violated in such a way does not help him with a populace that only seems to care when the issue is sectarian.

Why would Ashraf Rifi, the minister of justice, care that severe injustice has befallen Lebanese citizens when those citizens are maybe not Sunni, or not in any way material for him to further fuel his ascension atop the Future Movement in the absence of Saad?

Why would the Lebanese populace care about two men who were beaten up, electrocuted, humiliated, and have their reputation ruined?

Why would the staunch new-found defenders of human rights who popped out of the blue after the surfacing of the Roumieh videos also rise up to the mantel after such a horrific story as well?

Omar and Samer are just one example in a growing list of stories of torture across the Lebanese Republic. The only difference is this time Omar spoke up for himself and his friend.

How many Lebanese are there among us who have had to suffer horrific transgressions just for falling under the pawns of some barbaric animal with power and are too afraid to tell their story for fear of repercussions? How many stories are there, similar to that of Omar and Samer, of people who are being violated just because someone in power felt like it? How many Lebanese are there, who have been accused of drug possession, of drug use, of homosexuality, or any other charge, had to be subjected to severe transgressions just because?

The sad part is that there will be people in the country to say that Omar and Samer deserve what they got, just as there were people who say those prisoners in Roumieh deserve what they got as well. Welcome to the Republic of shame, we offer you 18 sects, diversity, a capital with identity issues, mountains close to the sea, and 21-st century torture to feast your eyes, senses and human rights.

 

5 Major Projects To Take Place In Beirut: The City Losing Itself To Money

Between articles about how empty Downtown is and a reiteration of every form of the word “Phoenix” possible, there has been plenty that international publications have said about our capital. But there hasn’t been, in my opinion, as interesting an article as the one published in The Guardian today (link). In fact, it has taught me a few things about the city’s future that I felt should be shared.

Solidere’s view for Downtown Beirut is only halfway done. That empty but beautiful looking aggregation of charming but ultimately lifeless buildings is not where things end. Solidere’s view for how the center of Beirut should be is basically to get as many fancy worldwide architects as possible and have them build on one of the city’s plots.

As such, here are 5 projects that await the city in the future.

1 – Zaha Hadid’s Department Store in Beirut Souks

If you thought Zaha Hadid’s AUB building was bad, wait till you see this. Beirut Souks as they stand currently are not expensive nor are they enough for regular shoppers. So, naturally, they will expand in the future with the addition of a Zaha Hadid-designed department store that will also serve as a residential space in some of its floors. Why? Because money, I guess. The place will have be a 5-storey development of 26,370musable area (32,390m2 gross). And it looks ugly. For more information, check this.

2 – Norman Foster’s 3Beirut:

In the “Minet el Hosn” area, behind the Four Seasons hotel and facing Phoenicia, 3 towers are currently under construction, and nearing completion. The 3 towers are basically a staggered face that rises up to 120 meters. And here I thought urban planning in the city had a limit on how many “high-rises” you can have. They are considered “luxury apartments” and as such, add this to the list 99% of the Lebanese population can’t afford but will spend the rest of their days looking at. For more information, check this.

3 – Herzog & de Meuron’s “Beirut Terrace”:

Also in the “Minet el Hosn” area, facing Phoenicia, the “Beirut Terrace” project is currently under construction. An architect friend of mine once said he found the design to be impressive, so I would assume that this one of the better ones from an architectural point of view. In 2013, this project ranked 3rd among 36 projects worldwide in the MIPIM Awards. Of course, this apartments complex is also not within your budget, or almost anyone’s budget for that matter. The penthouse is $13 million. For more information, check this.

4 – Peter Marino’s  1338 Mina El Hosn:

Seeing as that same area isn’t saturated with wellness centers and shopping spaces already, here’s another one. The project includes retail, restaurants and cafés, high-end serviced apartments and a wellness center, the future Beirut Spa and Wellness Center. It will be a continuation of the Beirut Souks project and serve to connect the hotels area (Phoenicia, Four Seasons, Monroe) with the commercial district (Souks, Downtown). Located along Patriarch Howayek Street, it will cover an area of 17,173m2. For more information, check this.

5 – Renzo Piano’s “Pinwheel”:

Sama Beirut, which is nearing completion, won’t be the country’s tallest structure for long. “Pinwheel” is the name of the glass tower to be built at Wafiq Sinno avenue, near Biel, effectively blocking the view for most of the buildings behind it.  The towers will have a department store and ballroom in their lower levels, and a hotel with serviced apartments in the higher levels. For more information on the project, check this.

Bonus – Jean Nouvel’s “Landmark”:

We’ve all heard about this one when the plot on which it was built turned out to have Lebanon’s first Church. Naturally, everyone was outraged. Except this time, because it was a religious building, the outrage ended up putting the project on hold. As it looks now, this will be the project out of the 5 listed never to see the light of day. It was supposed to be a hotel, shopping center – because downtown doesn’t have enough of those – as well as a spa. For more information, click here.

They wonder why we feel disconnected with the city’s heart, and ultimately with the city itself. Beirut is not meant for us anymore. Even the less “fancy” development is not something most of us can afford. The Beirut that our parents told us stories about is nowhere to be found anymore, and if you thought the future would move retrogradely towards a city that’s more accessible to Lebanese, and less aimed at wealthy expats and Saudi sheikhs, you thought terribly wrong.

A Tale of Two Cities: Lebanon Edition

I went to watch a movie in Beirut yesterday. It was done by 1AM so I simply went back home. As I walked up the sidewalk leading to my apartment, I could hear the parties bustling around me. Gemmayzé was gearing up to lose its cars. Cars were still circling the roads fervently in search for their next destination.

Even the movie that I watched was marred by the beats being dropped at a nearby nightclub. It was one of those old cinemas that didn’t bother invest in soundproof systems. Or was the club too loud? I guess nightlife in Beirut is alive and well. All was well.

As I walked back home, there was probably someone my age also making his way back to his place in the Northern city of Tripoli. Unlike me, however, he did not walk carelessly to his apartment, carefully examining his surroundings. That man was probably too wary of the bloodshed taking place in his city as he walked, of all the people that died, of his life that hung with the balance of every footstep he took on that cold bloody and empty Tarmac.

My day prior to the movie had been meaningless. I have a ton of exams to prepare to and anyone who has dabbled with medical school exams knows the material I’m supposed to cover by next week is basically uncoverable. But I persevered anyway. My friends asked me if I wanted to go out to their favorite burger joint. I declined. They went anyway, had ice cream afterwards. Nothing like some calories to burn off the stress.

And as I worried over my exams, there was a 16 year old boy not far from where I was trying to escape the school he attended, whose area had been overtaken by bullets and missiles. As he ran for cover, his every instinct pulling him for safety, the 16 year old boy existed no more. I don’t even know his name. He is but a number in a growing list. He is but one of many similar schoolchildren who escaped their schools by jumping over the fences, running through sniper-filled streets for their lives. Typical.

I do know, however, the name Paul Walker. As I woke up today to a house that feels cozier by the Christmas Tree I decorated a day prior, my social media timeline was lit with people who were upset that an American actor had died. I didn’t appreciate how they were more upset at a guy’s demise while trying to be fast and furious while the death of one of their own, that 16 year old whose name we don’t know, didn’t even resonate.

A few hundred meters away from me, Gemmayzé’s car free day, part of the Achrafieh2020 plan, was in full swing. The street was packed with people who had taken their children out on a sunny Sunday, benefiting from a neighborhood that had become synonymous with traffic, a day or so before it starts raining, finally.

The street was filled with children who had no other worry on their mind apart from the schoolwork they were returning to in a few hours. Those children were having fun, lots of it. They were safe. They were sheltered. They were protected. They were being brought up exactly as children should be.

And then I started thinking of the children I knew in Tripoli, how they were not being brought up exactly like children ought to be. I thought of two adorable twin girls and it broke my heart that at the tender age of three, they’ve been exposed to more gunfire and missile sounds than almost everyone else that I know. It saddened me that those two little precious girls couldn’t enjoy the same joys in life that the children roaming around Gemmayzé had, only because it was not safe for them to leave their house.

I also thought of all the children in that city who, with each passing day of violence, are forced to take sides, to become radicalized even if only in thought, and to possibly take arms later on.

These are two cities that are about 80 kilometers and a few decades apart. This is to the children of that city no one likes talking about. May they have better days someday. I wish they were sheltered, carefree and unaware sometimes. The sad part is that nobody really cares.