Dear Lebanese, Stop Selling Your Country Short

Lebanon is not a perfect country. It has its obvious and grave flaws. But it exists.

It might be rickety. You might think the foundations are not solid. But the country has pulled through too much: civil war, several occupations, invasions, Israeli wars…
We pride ourselves on being resilient. We describe Beirut by saying it’s a “phoenix”, albeit quite cliche, always rising from the ashes.

But I digress.

What we also do is bash our country left and right, up and down. And every direction in between those anytime something we do not agree with happens.
Let me illustrate this.

The most recent example is the arrest of Zeid Hamdan today, after being accused of libel against the Lebanese president, following a rather useless song.
The moment Zeid was taken into custody, Lebanese twitter and Facebook users were up in protest. The Facebook page dedicated to freeing Zeid gained about 2000 followers in a few hours. All good, right? I mean, the arrest was ridiculous. The law upon which the arrest was based needs to be revised. It’s no longer 1926 when our constitution was “inspired” by the French one at the time. France changed theirs. It’s high time we change ours.
Another side of the Zeid Hamdan arrest was a lot of Lebanese people bashing their country, some calling it a useless place, others calling it a failure of a nation, while some called it a piece of sh*t.

In another example, some people have expressed their desire to change their citizenship and abandon this tragedy of a country. The cause for such feelings? Some beaches in Lebanon only allow couples to be admitted.

Some have called the nation a failure because our phones are not cheap and our internet isn’t fast. The basis for that comparison? A country whose system is a failing monarchy.

Others have expressed that sentiment when they got stuck in traffic. I’m sure those people haven’t heard of the ridiculous traffic that hit L.A. a few days ago, or the traffic that lasted a week in China. But you know, you’re Lebanese. You nag.

Just because our political system is in a perpetually fragile equilibrium doesn’t mean the whole system is a failure. Just because power transfers easily doesn’t mean the country is a failure.

And you know what the most ridiculous thing is, our expectations are so low of anything Lebanon-related that we’re willing to believe any rumor that defames the country as a whole. I’m sure you all remember how NewTV decided to announce that our National Anthem is stolen from some dead quasi-Moroccan kingdom, which named itself “The Kingdom of Peasants.” The news spread like wildfire. Some of the Facebook statuses and tweets at the time: Even our anthem is stolen. We’re such a ridiculous country.
And what do you know, the whole rumor turned out to be false. It turned out that those Moroccan peasants stole our anthem. I wonder, why weren’t the NewTV people arrested for defamatory behavior against the whole country?

This is historically a chronic problem in Lebanon, selling the nation short while idealizing a foreign ideology as it might be the quick fix to our problems. In the 1950’s and 60’s many thought that Nasser’s Arabist ideology would be the great fix for Lebanon. People thought that his brave speeches and anti-West sentiments is what the country needed. Yet I wonder if those people realize that Nasser turned Egypt into a police state, banned political parties and demonstrations, evicted countless minorities, lost at countless wars which bankrupted Egypt, and even used poison gas on people in his war in Yemen. Meanwhile during that time Lebanon was in the midst of a golden age , yet people called for his brand of Arabism thinking it would solve things. And shockingly we have erected a statue to such a bloody dictator right on our own sea front promenade.

We lament our sectarian system and lack of national semblance. Let’s take a closer look at our neighbors that we envy so much. Sudan has recently split into two states. The South finally won its independence after years of bloody civil war, and yes a civil war longer then the Lebanese civil war! Southerners revolted against a forced campaign of Arabism and lack of freedom. In Iraq where Kurds were victims of genocide, they now have their own autonomous zone, and the state acts as a loose federation. Morocco has witnessed a huge rebel movement in its Western Sahara province which now has its own autonomy. Egypt for the last three decades has seen spats of sectarian violence where the Coptic minority still does not have the right to build churches. And one can only begin to imagine how Shiites are treated in the GCC states.

This may come as a shock to many Lebanese but Lebanon is still #1 in the region for media and civil rights. According to pew polls %97 of Lebanese Muslims view Christians favorably while only a dismal %48 of Egyptians do and far ahead of the Arab nations, and for bizarre reasons we say that we aren’t a model of coexistence. Our literacy and education rate is one of the highest in the region and Lebanese universities continue to attract students from across the region. Even Western critics admit that Beirut is the most cosmopolitan city in the region as well as the culinary capital. While many in the Arab world are dying just to ask for presidential term limits, better civil society and free elections, we’ve continued to be on top in those fields for years.

People need to start dwelling on the positives. YOU come from a nation that has produced poets like Khalil Gebran and singers like Fairouz. YOU actually have the freedom to criticize your own state – regardless of what happened today. YOU actually have the freedom to start your own NGO. YOU have the freedom to vote for a political party of your choice. YOU have the freedom to wear what you want. YOU have the freedom to protest for change. YOU have nature reserves. YOU live in the most diverse nation in the region. YOU have banks that weathered the financial meltdown. YOU have cabinet ministers that actually respond. YOU have freedom of press. YOU have the freedom of how you want to identify, i.e. Arab, Phoenician, or whatever.

A few days ago, #BlameTheMuslims was a trending topic on Twitter. People thought it was racist because they missed the point. A Muslim girl started it as a sarcastic approach to how Muslims are portrayed in media. Her initial tweets?
– My battery died. #BlameTheMuslims.
– My shirt got dirty. #BlameTheMulims.
– I’m sleepy. #BlameTheMuslims.
You get the picture.
With some Lebanese, their lifestyle regarding their country is like this.
– My food is cold. #LebanonIsAFailure
– I can’t go to the beach because I don’t have a girlfriend #LebanonIsAFailure
– iPhone is expensive! #LebanonIsAFailure
– It takes me two hours to download a porn video! #LebanonIsAFailure.

So dear Lebanese, when you start selling your country short and whoring your pride around so other people start making fun of you and your heritage, you become a failure. Think about the people that read or hear your words before uttering them. Odds are, if someone non-Lebanese says these things about your country, you’d be all up in a fistfight. So why do you say them?

Look at what others in the Middle East are facing before you start complaining again. Take pride in your nation instead of constantly selling it short, and envying others. If we actually took more pride in our own nation and its unique diversity there would be more national cohesion instead of fragmentation. Let’s appreciate what we do have and work towards a better common future. A lot of what we need for change is right under our own noses. Lebanon is a middle income country, and many of its neighbors are ranked much lower, so stop and think about what they’re going through and what it really means to live in a failed state.

We have a long way to go. And compared to more advanced countries, we fall short in many aspects. But at least be proud of what you have accomplished.

Take this symbolically

PS: Thank you to my awesome friend Boulos for his great input and help in making this post.

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39 thoughts on “Dear Lebanese, Stop Selling Your Country Short

  1. “We lament our sectarian system and lack of national semblance” – do you think the sectarian system is a good thing or a bad thing?

    Reply
  2. It is true that we nag a whole lot, in fact, there a few tweeps I can nominate for the Nagging Awards. You make a lot of valid points, and I found the information that you put into this post very useful, but I have to disagree with your main idea.

    The way this is coming off to me, what your saying is: look at other middle eastern countries, and see how better we are.
    Reminds me of when I was young and I would get a bad grade, I would explain to my mother that every one else in the class had worse grades to which she’d reply that I shouldn’t be comparing myself to them, but rather to those who got high grades.
    In the same sense, we look at superior countries, hoping for the same rights and privileges they get; and yes it comes off as nagging, because we know Lebanon deserves better.

    I won’t go on about this, but that’s the way I see it. Cheers!

    Reply
    • I full agree with your idea. But when we look at superior countries, we nag because of electricity or not getting arrested for defaming the president. Not for their beaches. My point is: the country has lots of positive aspects that many Lebanese tend to overlook.

      And the point of the comparison is because some people from those countries actually had the decency to bash Lebanon. So I figured: you think you’re better than us, let’s see how things are with you.

      But you’re right.. There are some things that we definitely need to improve, which is the point of my first and last sentences: we are not perfect, we have lots of shortcomings.

      Reply
  3. Now the serious comment. I’ve lived outside Lebanon half my life. I used to wait for summer to go every year and I used to weep every single time we left. The country has so much life, something other counties simply don’t have. It’s not an acquired quality. It’s either present or not.
    Now that I’ve lived here for a few years, I know what to expect. Sure, I’d love to browse super fast internet and have electricity 24/7 and in time, I’m sure we’ll have those. But to me, the fact that I can say I’m Lebanese, with all the connotations implied with that, makes me proud in a region that is recently attempting to catch up. But they will never catch up because Lebanon is ahead of them in things that money cannot buy, such as Internet or electricity.
    Anyway, my 2 cents.

    Reply
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  5. I agree with you. Lebanese trash their country a lot. We take a lot of things for granted and won’t realize the beauty of our country until they’re gone.

    I used to be like that but changed a lot this summer. I traveled to Jordan in June, and between the weird/perverted looks you get for wearing a t-shirt, the scorching heat, the total absence of a night life, the average food and the deserted landscapes, I really couldn’t wait to get back. It made me appreciate Lebanon so much more.
    Moreover an Egyptian friend of a friend came to spend a week in our country and he loved it. He described it as “heaven on earth”. So different from the rest of the Arab countries.

    It’s true that some things need to be improved (it’s unimaginable that we have the slowest internet on earth and still no constant electricity in 2011!!!) but Lebanon is a great country after all.

    I ❤ Lebanon

    Reply
    • I’m very glad you agree with me. My post is not about electricity and internet (which definitely need to be improved asap) but about all the little things that we’ve come to take for granted. Sometimes, it’s worth stopping at those and saying: I’m actually glad I have these things going for me.

      Thank you for the comment Christine 🙂

      Reply
  6. You cannot believe how ANNOYED I was when I saw certain Lebanese chatting over Twitter and Facebook w/ Arabs and telling them how crappy our country was. Get a freaking grip!

    Reply
  7. Bravo!!! We needed that. Try living in London for 20 years and then Lebanon seems like Paradise on Earth!!! Yes, there are a lot of things to complain about, but there are in every country. Maybe it’s time to put all the positive together and try and built on that. Maybe one tweet at a time, one blog post at a time… but we will get there! 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you Mich for your valuable comment! You just showcased that even living in one of those “better” countries does not mean you lead a better life.
      That’s exactly my point, instead of bashing your country, look at its positive aspects and build from those to better the future. And yes, we will get there!

      Reply
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    • How is a middle income country that is regionally # 1 in media and civil rights, with a higher rate of coexistence then its neighbors, banks that are still going strong, and a huge civil society that can have its voice heard a failure? And if its a failure then what are its neighbors?

      The point of the post was that Lebanon has short-comings but saying those short-comings makes it a complete failure only torpedoes any sense of national pride.

      Reply
  11. elie i agree.. i love my country.. i’v been to three of the largest countries and i have been born in one , Russia..However, we need a little bit or organization, and to be heard and to use democracy we need to nag a little.For instance, Sydney is a city with a population of 4,500,000 and the transport is great. No traffic, even within the city and within 1 lane roads just like lebanon, just cuz they nagged one time and they got it.
    I believe we should still nag because some things are really unbearable just cuz we know we can solve them. It’s like we can get the better grade in the easy question ( internet and electricty are easy problems, unlike what media markets), and we ace the hard question. Ur a med student and u know. However, we should nag a lil less on things that are luxuries. Private beaches are a luxury while the public beach isn’t. Both should be there. A cellphone is a need, while an iPhone is a luxury. We need to weigh our nags.
    So yes I will nag about secterianism, electricity, corruption and racism against other cultures. But i will not nag if i dun get into a beach or because it’s 33 degrees outside ( which is awesome btw, it’s 15 degrees in sydney where i’m at)..
    all that aside, where is the couples only beach ? i wanna take my gf and go there sometime 😛

    Reply
    • Akid I remember you :p
      kick ass name btw :p

      And I agree with you. You’re supposed to nag to move forward but there’s nagging for the sake of nagging (Which I’m addressing here) and there’s nagging for improvement (which is not happening here and which most people do).

      As for the beaches, I think Riviera is one of them :p

      Reply
  12. All in all, great article Mr Elie 😀
    One important proud achievment you forgot to mention, our tiny country was the first and last in the region to have offered the ultimate “slap” to one of the most powerful armies in the world!

    And i have a suggestion for those who keep complaining about hmmm…everything? : li msh 3ajbo, Allah ma3o 😀 😛
    Peace! 🙂

    Reply
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  15. Hello Elie,
    Let me say that I found your about your blog recently, and I am an avid follower since then.

    I am one of the whiners you are complaining about
    Why do I whine? in short: RESPECT, or rather the lack of; let me elaborate:

    5 reasons why Lebanese complain:

    #1 Because of the people;
    I see monkeys & bulls running loose. Loud, polluting, rude & cranky people that disrespect completely the community, public assets and regulation, and seem like they just got free from a zoo for the 1st time.
    Cause? Blame the civil war of course.
    Those same cowboys will abide by the laws anywhere else, because of a stick held by rulers who have plans to move their countries forward. which leads us to point #2:

    #2: The country is run by corrupted war criminals who keep their subjects happy alive with barely enough crumbs to keep them alive, in order to continue to suck the fruit of their hard work on a continuous basis.
    This doesn’t seem to end anytime soon. We are doomed.

    #3: Lebanon’s (including the dog-poo infected capital Beirut) archaic infrastructure is put to shame by remote villages in the poorest countries, starting with the basics: transportation, electricity, water, sewers… you name it.
    Those countries we like to compare ourselves to in order to get deluded by an unreal sense of superiority are already way ahead of us.

    #4: Decaying heritage: What we have in Lebanon is truly unique: Byblos, Cedars, Jeita, Tyr… watch all this awesomeness getting neglected, and destroyed with time. The beauty of the country, that ‘heaven’ aka. is not here to stay.
    Hopefully you will live enough to listen to your grandchildren singing songs about our imaginary feats.

    #5: The only thing left to be proud of is the option of getting wasted by alcohol and smoke in what is called a “vibrant” night-life, which personally does not impress me.

    But of course, there is a ray hope. Our educational system is the best in the world, and our children are the drive of change that will take this nation to a better future… or are they?
    I see no difference between their condescending speech and their parents.

    As long as we stay in the disbelief that we live in the great “Switzerland of the Middle East”, nothing will change.
    That is the reason why I whine.

    PS: For any diversity, a plane ticket is needed.
    Serge: I would love to lay on a sandy beach and read a book, please tell me where I can do that, without paying a 30$ fee.
    Christine: Chich-tawouk and hommos taste great, they are found elsewhere too.

    Reply
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  18. Well what I beleive the Lebanese are missing is their sense of belonging: patriotic belonging, belonging to a community, to a country. They find an easy-way out: Imigration. The fact is IF every one starts feeling responsible and stop blaming the system, then, all together we can change that system (not by nagging alone since actions speak louder than words). Unlike our neighbors, each and every civilian has in his hands a super powerful tool that can change the system as part of a community effort: the election ballot. Back to the point where every Lebanese is responsible for keeping the installed system alive and greedier, committing an unforgivable crime: brainwashing the citizens and stuffing their minds with irrational beliefs under the hood of religion and balance of powers.
    It is about time we revive the 1840-1860’s spirit when our ancestors didn’t keep quiet but hand in hand, accepting each other, they stood up, spoke and made a turning point in history. They have fought for us to be where we are now, it is our duty to them to keep the flame alive to show them that their efforts weren’t in vain but a boost for us to sail our country to a better place. It is OUR country so it OUR duty and we shouldn’t wait for someone else to do that for us because we wouldn’t deserve it.

    Reply
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