Dear Lebanese Government, Can You Not Add New Fines & Increase Taxes When You’re Offering Nothing In Return?

Over the past couple of weeks, the Lebanese government has devised two ways with which it will be taking away the hard-earned money of Lebanese everywhere: new taxes and new traffic fines.

In absolute value, taxes and fines are not always bad news. My uncle in California was telling me how the state voted to actually increase sales tax because the extra revenue would go into infrastructure enhancement. But that’s California, and we’re in Lebanon where the government is currently convening to vote on a budget for the first time in 12 years when the deadline for the electoral law they’ve been slacking off about for the past 8 years is in 2 days. This is to say that while Lebanon is a pretty country, its governance is shit. This isn’t a matter of debate.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, that there’s current talks about increasing the tax on alcohol over 500%. While the initial tax is super low (60 liras on beer) and therefore a 500% increase is not that significant (300 lira is still okay), it’s the idea behind the tax increase that matters here: where will the money go and what’s the point of it?

The tax increase in question will have even worse effects on those who sell it, with repercussions on the consumer, and it comes at an odd time given the rising anti-alcohol sentiment in certain Hezbollah-controlled areas.

Yes, alcohol is a luxury item, and luxury items should be taxed, but there’s a degree of accountability to trace how our tax money goes and if it’s going to good use. As far as the Lebanese way goes, I’d say that extra 500% on alcohol would go towards more chopper rides for Gebran Bassil and friends. That’s how our tax money is used, ladies and gentlemen: to allow our politicians to enjoy their lifestyles and maintain them as high as possible. Isn’t it ironic, therefore, that there’s actual tax increase discussions when parliament and the government low-key passed increases in compensation for families of past MPs. Moreover, let’s not pretend this is to improve the health of the Lebanese populace. If they cared they’d have taxed cigarettes but those are not religiously controversial items.

The other new added source of income for the government is with them installing red-light enforcement cameras across the Greater Beirut area. How those cameras work is as follows: when you reach a red light, you’re supposed to stop. YES, THIS IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION. Anyway, when you stop at that red light you’re supposed to stop BEFORE the pedestrian crosswalk because those stripes in the middle of the road are supposed to be used by, you know, pedestrians crossing the road. The current state of the country is not like this at all.

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I’m all for extra traffic fines in the country. Lord knows our driving is horrendous and needs as much measures for it to be improved as possible, but how can you improve driving through negative reinforcement when the notion of what you are trying to reinforce has never been taught in the first place? As in, Lebanese drivers are not taught how to obey traffic laws in the first place so how are they to be aware that they’re supposed to stop before a crosswalk?

Our driving tests go as follows: you show up after having paid that astronomical $300+ fee, with whatever you paid extra for that wasta, you do that computer exam about street signs and are helped by whoever is present there because they just want to be done with it, and then go do your practical test which involves you parallel parking and then going in reverse in a manual-transmission car which has been modified so much that to drive it, you don’t even have to use the pedal.

So how can you expect drivers whose only experience with actual “official” driving is that corrupt and silly to suddenly be aware of rules that are strictly applied in countries that have way more detailed and elaborate driving tests?

This is most obvious with the fact that with a trial run of the new cameras, they collected fines every 8 seconds. But I digress.

The question is: how am I supposed to stop at a crosswalk if I can’t even see the crosswalk in the first place? How much actual investment from the fines that are already incurred has gone into the roads around Beirut to make sure that, say, those roads are up to standard you want to put the drivers to?

Have all those parking fines they’ve been collecting since enforcing the paid parking system around Beirut improved our sidewalks? No. Did it improve our roads? No. Did the speeding tickets they’ve been collecting for ages now, with increasing values since that new law they passed, contribute to better roads and infrastructure? No.

So where the hell is all the money going? No one knows.

Does our government know that there are more rules for “civilized” driving around Beirut that have to be applied as well, such as, at the top of my head, enforcing the fact that the direction of lanes (as in lanes with a left arrow or lanes with straight arrows, etc..) should be obeyed could cut down on so much traffic, as in when someone from the right lane decides they want to go to the left and cuts off the entire left lane in doing so?

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The problem with such new measures, whether new taxes or new fines, is that they’re always half-assed and poorly thought out. They’re never the first step in actually improving the system to begin with and always come at a cost to us as citizens. You want to put on cameras to make sure people stop properly at red lights? How about you make sure those people can properly drive in the first place by making sure our driving test process isn’t a joke and that the roads they’re supposed to drive on are up to far? You want people to pay more taxes on alcohol? How about you make sure the alcohol in the market is up to par?

In short, you want us to pay more taxes and fines, you have to pay up first in services and improvement. And to be honest, at the rate we’re going, that’s not asking for much.

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Bi Sarahah, That “Sarahah” Website Is A Waste Of Your Time, Sanity & Well-Being

It happens every now and then, on various social media platforms, that websites wanting their users to engage in answering questions submitted anonymously become super popular.

As a Twitter user, I’ve been exposed to such websites for a long time now. A few years ago, it was ask.fm that had everyone up in arms. Over the past few months, another website called Curious Cat took the cake. Today, Facebook users across Lebanon and the Arab World are discovering a website called “Sarahah” – Arabic for honesty – that does the exact same thing: you set up a profile, advertise for it and whoever wants to ask you or tell you anything can do so anonymously.

The idea may sound tantalizing at first, but anonymity has a way to bring out the worst out of people and you don’t want to submit yourself to that willingly, just because it sounds cute or it’s what everyone else in doing.

I’ve never used those websites, but I’ve seen what my friends and other people I follow get asked. While they might get the occasional adorable message from Mr or Ms. anonymous saying they have a crush on them and it stops at that, more often than not the messages verge on the vitriol and the hurtful and do not involve any of the “constructive criticism” that some people think the website will offer them. I know this firsthand from the comments I get on this blog: the personal attacks are mostly from people under fake names and fake emails.

Exposing yourself to anonymous criticism is not the key to become a “better” person. Computer screens and keyboards give people the ability to say things they’d never tell you to your face. On the contrary, it will only serve to bring you down. Your actual friends would tell you when you mess up or when you have to fix something about the way you’re handling things to your face and don’t actually need a platform for them to do so anonymously. If they don’t do so, then perhaps you have to reassess the sensibilities of that friendship.

On the other hand, strangers whose opinion of you is based on what you post on Facebook or what you tweet are those whose criticism you should take with a pinch of salt. They don’t know you. They’re only sending you those messages because that’s what being anonymous allows them to do.

Moreover, don’t think that these websites are exclusive to your family and friends: anyone with an internet connection can access your profile and submit anything they want to say about you. This opens all the abuse doors you can think of. We might act all macho and non-caring, but we’re all affected by what others say about us to some degree. Do you really want to be willingly bullied by anonymous cowards online who are drowning in their own insecurities and see you as easy submissive prey for them to lash out at?

Don’t waste your time on useless websites which will give you more of a headache than anything else. Use that free time you’re using in thinking such websites can be good for you in things that can actually make you a better person: read up on the world, see what’s happening around you, hang out with your actual friends and ask them their opinion over dinner.

Simply put: if you want honesty, have those who actually know you tell it to your face. Ask your friends to send you messages or texts or Instagram DM’s with that same criticism you’re trying to get from people who may not know you. Don’t think that validation or improvement can come from those who don’t have the guts to tell you, to your face, bi sarahah, whatever they want to say.

Marine Le Pen Is Coming To Lebanon… Before She Forces French-Lebanese To Drop One Of Their Nationalities

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Rejoice, all of Lebanon’s right-wing! The head of the French “Front National” Marine Le Pen is coming over for a visit on February 19th and 20th, with scheduled meetings with President Aoun as well as Prime Minister Hariri, as reported by L’Orient Le Jour.

The purpose of the visit is to “show solidarity with Christians of the Middle East.” Because it’s common sense to do so in the best country for Christians in the Middle East, where the president is a “Michel,” not where, you know, Christians are actually dying because of war, but I digress.

Marine Le Pen’s visit comes around two weeks after Emmanuel Macron (bless him! <3) also visited the country. Both come in the same context of being more exposed to Middle Eastern politics in formulating more credible policies (that please their supporters, of course) before the French presidential elections become heated in the coming months with debates and first round votes.

It’s worth noting that Lebanon has one of the biggest French diasporas outside of Europe and French-Lebanese tend to vote for more right-wing parties (obviously) with Sarkozy getting around 68% of the vote here in 2012.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, is not Sarkozy. While many on L’Orient-Le Jour’s Facebook page are orgasmic with the upcoming visit and are pledging their support for her, exhibits being:

Marine Le Pen is a Islamophobic, French-supremacist demagogue, a friend of Donald Trump, Breitbart favorite for the elections, front-runner for the first round of the vote with a horrifying lead among Millennials. She wants to reduce immigration to the strict minimum (yes, French-Lebanese that affects your people too). She wants to increase police numbers and give them more power in France. Like other far-right politicians, her emblems are summarized with the notion of country first.

As part of her “French First” policies, Marine Le Pen wants to force dual French citizenship holders of non-European countries to choose between their two nationalities and relinquish the other, in case she is voted for president. Her comments, which were more specific to French Jews and later extrapolated to other groups (link), are worrying and horrifying.

So yes, dear French-Lebanese who are excited about her visit or who want to vote for her, you go ahead and do that. If she wins (she will not, but who knows how crazy 2017 wants to be), you will be forced to either stop not being French or Lebanese.

I sincerely hope you choose to forsake the latter citizenship because we truly need way less narrow-minded bigots here who are only concerned with what affects them personally, with complete and utter disregard to everyone else in the process. If you want to shoot yourself in the foot, make sure it’s your own foot and not everyone else’s with you as many Arab-Americans are now realizing, in hindsight, about their decision to vote for Trump.

And dear Marine Le Pen, I hope you enjoy your visit very much! Maybe it’ll show you that those-who-shall-not-be-named (Muslims) can coexist with the rightful heirs of the world (Christians) if, you know, you let them.

Thugs Attacking New TV Because They Were “Offended” And Lebanon’s Armed Forces Doing Nothing Is A Disgrace

For the past two hours, New TV has been barricaded and attacked by “protestors” whose more accurate description is probably thugs, as they try to break into the TV station because, as far as they’re concerned, it broadcast something that offended them.

As part of its political satire program, Doma Krasiyé, New TV tackled the issue of the Imam Moussa el Sader who has been missing for the past 30 years. In doing so, they brought on them the wrath of some Amal Movement supporters whose political cover is so strong they dare go about and attack TV stations because their sensibilities were walked upon. Who else can do this? I can name one other party in this country who has the audacity to do this and not expect reperecussions.

So for the past few hours, those thugs have been attacking the New TV building, which has personnel working inside, with rocks and fireworks as they break down windows and doors in their attempt to break in.

Meanwhile, all of Lebanon’s armed forces are nowhere to be found. Their existence is as void as that presidential crisis we had for over two years, but yet again did you expect otherwise?

It borders on the comical. Our secretary of information reported that he had asked the protestors to listen to reason. Because you can obviously reason with testosterone-driven thugs whose entire moral compass is summarized with their sect and their political background.

It’s downright disgraceful that, slightly more than a year and a half ago, when protestors were doing so peacefully against the government’s inadequacy, they were met with rubber bullets and smoke grenades. I rememeber running through Beirut Souks, feeling like my throat was clenching up because of how barbarically we were treated.
Who remembers who ordered the attacks at the time? It was the exact same politician who has been sitting as speaker of parliament for the past two decades, and who was more worried about protestors standing symbolically in front of an empty parliament than about the garbage accumulating in the streets of Beirut.

Freedom of speech is holier than all of your politics. Your imams, your priests and patriarchs, politicians and holy figures, missing or wholly present are not above any form of criticism. If you’re annoyed or offended, as is your right, go ahead and protest with civility. Speak up as to why you are offended. But to have a knee-jerk reflex to trash and riot and attack is despicable, unacceptable and horrifying. What’s worse is that some of our politicians enable this as a form of muscle flexion.

Lebanon, parliamentary elections are coming up soon. We will never have a country that amounts to anything if we don’t vote for the change we deserve, a change that starts with politicians who do not harbor thugs and criminals to do their bidding at their will, and who have our entire security apparatus at their mercy.

Simply put: if Imam Moussa el Sader saw this, he would have disappeared willingly. 

No, Donald Trump Didn’t Sign A Visa Free Travel Order To Arab Countries

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A “news” article by a website called “USA radio” is currently making the rounds that Donald Trump signed an executive order that allows visa-free travel to Arab countries, including Lebanon, excluding the 6 Arab countries of the 7 he had tried to ban two weeks ago. It was written at the same time Trump signed his travel ban order, but only started making the Arab rounds recently.

The article is being shared left and right. To summarize, the news is fake. False. Not correct. You still need visas to go to the U.S. and no American president, for the foreseeable future, regardless of who they are, will sign an order that allows visa free travel to Arab countries. I mean, where do we think we are, la la land?

For starters, the website in question has shared two similar articles worded in almost exactly the same way about Caribbean countries as well as Ghana. Both articles have since been removed. Another article remains about the U.S. establishing visa free travel with “Asia” and that is also fake news.

Usa-radio.com is a website full of fake news, of which this is a bunch:

I know the idea of being added to the list of countries who don’t have to knock embassy doors for visas is tantalizing, but this is still not happening anytime soon, and the Lebanese passport, as well as most Arab countries’ passports, are still among the worst-ranked passports of the world.

Moreover, Donald Trump whose policies are progressively aiming at isolating his country from the rest of the world will surely not sign an order to allow visa free travel from countries whose predominant religion he wants to ban. Let’s have some common sense, people. Also, just check out the actual, official, governmental Visa Waiver Program website (click).

 

If it’s too good to be true, it most likely isn’t, especially when the president whose order you want to be true is building a multi-billion wall to keep his Southern neighbors out. If you want to go to the United States, your only way is to pay that visa fee and go to your local embassy and be interviewed.

As a rule of thumb, when you see an article at which your first thought is “is this true?” from websites you’ve previously not heard of, make sure you use the powers of google to search for reliable sources that you are familiar with that corroborate the information put forth in that article.

How To Make Sure You Can Vote In The 2017 Lebanese Parliamentary Elections

In theory, on May 21st, 2017, Lebanon will be voting for a “new” parliament for the first time since June 2009. It is our duty as citizens, therefore, to make sure that nothing stands in our way from making sure we hold our MPs accountable, to the best of our capacities given the law they are tailoring to make sure they return to power.

In order for you to be an eligible voter in Lebanon, you must be over 21, have no felonies on your judiciary record and, subsequently, have your name be listed on your hometown’s voters register. Every year, on February 10th, the Lebanese ministry of interior publishes all of Lebanon’s voting lists for voters to access them and make sure they are listed correctly.

As such, it’s our duty at this point to make sure that our names are not listed incorrectly or with missing data that could prevent us from voting on Election Day.

Case in point, during last year’s municipal election, I was a representative at the polling station for my father who was running for “mekhtar,” and we faced more than a dozen of voters who had their voting rights challenged because of mistakes in the government’s voting list.

All of this could be prevented by us being diligent.

Step 1: Go to this website (click).

Step 2: Click on القوائم الإنتخابية.

Step 3: Go to your proper mohafazat, caza, and village. Then select your sect as well as gender and sift through the document for your registry number.

If you find any mistakes in your registration, head to your hometown’s mekhtar with your ID. They would fill out a paper that you’d take to your caza’s “ma2mour l nfous” for them to fix your registration information. The whole process takes minutes, and the deadline is March 10th.

It’s our right as citizens to vote and hold those who have taken away our right to vote two times now, and hopefully not a third time, accountable. Let’s not let some silly mistake in our registration be enough reason for some political representatives at our polling place to challenge that right.

Elie Marouni Wants To Build Wall With Syria, Deport Refugees & Says Hillary Is Inept As She Can’t Please Her Husband

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Remember Elie Marouni? The Kataeb MP who, only a few months ago, said women should be blamed for when they got raped? Well, he’s back to his old horrifying ways.

In an interview with Joe Maalouf’s Hawa el Horriyeh, many Lebanese politicians were trying to draw similarities between our herd of politicians and American president Donald Trump. While many tried to distance themselves from the comparison and when asked what they’d do if they were Trump tried to have a more humane and decent approach, Elie Marouni went the exact opposite way.

He boasted that he was a lot like Trump, because he was sick of all the disgust we’re surrounded with. He did not specify what was disgusting exactly given he’s rotting away in parliament since 2009, postponing elections left and right and contributing to the horrific political stagnation we are part of. But, yes please tell me more about your “araf.”

It doesn’t stop there. When other Lebanese politicians criticized Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico as inhumane, Elie Marouni boasted that if he were the Lebanese Trump, he would build a wall on our border with Syria and get all the refugees out and back to their country. He would also make his wife his personal advisor because “you can’t leave her alone.”

His magnum opus doesn’t stop there. Because Elie Marouni is so funny, he figured the best way to bring down Hillary Clinton, also known as the first woman to ever be the nominee of a major American party for president and the person who got the second highest number of votes in history after Barack Obama, was to address her husband cheating on her: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, then how can she satisfy America?”

Simply revolting. The horrifying part is that there will be many Lebanese who not only agree with Elie Marouni but would also chuckle or applaud his remarks, especially that “joke” about Clinton not satisfying her husband because what are we but a patriarchal society that laughs at the expense of women, especially when they are the butt of the joke of their husband’s indecencies, summarizing them by their husband and not through their own accomplishments?

You see, whether you like her or not, Hillary Clinton is one hundred million times the person that Elie Marouni will ever be, and that’s before we even go into her list of accomplishments that he wouldn’t even dream of matching. And yet, here we are, with a Lebanese MP thinking he has the right to joke about another politician, just because she’s a woman, from a sexual way, while he basks in his own irrelevance.

But you can’t expect much from someone who thinks a woman who is raped should be held accountable for her own rape, especially when he defends himself by saying that “women in the audience agreed with me.” There are plenty of self-hating individuals out there, as is evident by all the Arabs that voted for the man who tried to ban their own family members from entering the country one week into his presidency, but I digress.

What can you expect from a man who wants to keep his wife as close to him as possible because he can’t trust her to be her own person?

Elie Marouni doesn’t think his extent of ridicule and low-level rhetoric stops there. Like his role model Trump, he also wants to build a wall along our border with Syria. The wall is, as he calls it, a wall to control things and not to separate. I guess we must all re-evaluate our basic knowledge and understanding of walls because, as far as humanity knew, the basic function of a wall is to separate. You can refer to what Israel is doing to Palestinians across their land for further information. I bet they also call it a “wall to control things.”

He also wants to send refugees, whom he calls “emigrants,” because they obviously left their country voluntarily to come live in ours, back to their home-land. Perhaps that’s what he meant by the “disgust” he referred to when he said he shared a lot of Trump’s ideas?

This person, ladies and gentlemen, is a member of Lebanon’s parliament, and one who will probably be voted back in this May if he doesn’t postpone elections for the third time that is. Lebanon, we deserve better than an MP who thinks our women’s bodies being violated is not the fault of the person violating them. We deserve better than an MP who has the audacity to bring down women who have done more than he will ever do in four lifetimes just because their husbands are pigs. We deserve better than this level of fear from others legislating on our behalf.

Welcome to the age when xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, sexism and misogyny are worn with pride.

Check the video here.