The Problem With Banning Pork and Alcohol At Some Lebanese Restaurants

Gino Raidy’s encounter at ZWZ’s Hamra Branch went viral across Lebanon’s internet community very fast. His shock that a restaurant like ZWZ, infamous for his Halloumi bacon sandwiches, would actually have a branch that wouldn’t serve anything non-conformant with Islamic sharia sparked some huge debate as is evident by the extensive response to his post which you can read here.

It is beyond perfectly understandable that such an issue would be considered by many as infringing on their basic freedom of eating whatever they want to eat. It is also beyond ironic that ZWZ Hamra might as well be the go-to restaurant for Lebanese pub-goers who drink themselves away a few meters away in Hamra’s infamous alleyway and other pubs.

So why would Islamic sharia be up and running in one place and completely shattered in another place? ZWZ’s diplomatic reply to the matter alluded to their leasing conditions: the person from whom they got their lease doesn’t allow pork and alcohol on the premises of his building and ZWZ had to conform.

The question, therefore, asks itself: couldn’t have ZWZ opened elsewhere?

The answer is: most probably not.

It’s easy to preach regarding the matter but the fact of the matter remains that landlords have the upper hand in cosmopolitan places like Hamra (despite what Homeland’s producers want you to believe) because of the extremely high demand for property and the low supply. Whatever a landlord wants, a landlord gets. And most companies have to deal with is as such despite their better judgement.

The fix for this is, obviously, stricter governmental regulations. But in a country where such an issue comes at possibly the lowest of importance in woes, such regulations will not be enforced anytime soon.

The issue, though, is not in disassociation with the general mood of the country.

This vigilante sharia applying is unacceptable. I’m not entirely sure if it’s legal as well. Is it allowed for someone to enforce something on their own property that is not legal across Lebanon? My gut tells me no. But Lebanese law has these sporadic eccentricities that make it baffling. And regardless of whether it’s legal or not, what is actually legal in Lebanon and is actually applied?

The only urban planning law that I know of pertaining to this matter is banning alcohol sales within a certain radius of any prayer house, including Churches. Christian areas do not conform with it while places like Tripoli apply it to the letter. You would be lucky to find a place in Tripoli with a carton of booze under the counter which they dispense to their most loyal customers only.

What is sure, however, is that this vigilante sharia is creating an even bigger divide in a country that doesn’t need more divisions to begin with, even among Muslims themselves because it’s not really about religion but about ideology. Banning alcohol and pork, which slowly turns places in a country that falls more on the liberal side in this deeply conservative region, slowly disassociates regions from each other: turning some more extreme while others become more liberal, the cultural and sectarian divide growing even bigger. The conservatives, subsequently, become more conservative. The less conservative folk become less so and the merry goes round. The clash between these ideologies would grow stronger.

Perhaps it is ZWZ’s right not to serve alcohol and pork on some of its premises. But when there’s no regulation to dictate this, the question asks itself: what’s the limit for this sort of “freedom” for restaurants? When does imposing restrictions on others, even those who share your religious views, crosses the line of freedom? And is it truly permissible to say that, due to the presence of alternatives, discussing the presence of Sharia-abiding restaurants should not be allowed?



10 thoughts on “The Problem With Banning Pork and Alcohol At Some Lebanese Restaurants

  1. Some Muslims who are more conservative in their beliefs, believe that they are not allowed to go into a restaurant that serves alcohol or bacon (and they are not small in number here in Lebanon). So when it comes down to the places they can go to, it’s Food Style, Go Tango, and a couple others.

    I think it’s very nice of ZWZ to take them into consideration for a branch while still accommodating their customers who do drink and eat pork (because it’s only one branch that isn’t serving).


  2. Just FYI – the old souk in Byblos is divided into alcoholic and non-alcoholic venues. In some of the old streets you cannot purchase alcohol, when the the shop next door (literally) is an open bar.


  3. ma badda hal add! It’s just one branch. As muslim (not islamist) I would prefer to be in a restaurant not serving alcohols and pork. Am not the only one, lot of muslims do, and they aren’t extremists! So thanks god we have one branch of ZWZ in beirut where we could really enjoy our lunch.


    • You prefer to be in a restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol and pork but is it an absolute necessity?
      FOr some people it might be but in a country as mixed as Lebanon, it should not. After all, if you don’t want to eat pork and drink alcohol, simply don’t do it. I don’t even like both.

      However, the point here isn’t about a restaurant deciding not to serve or not. To me, which I tried to illustrate here, the point isn’t about ZWZ even. It’s about them being forced, as are many other restaurants, to conform to something they don’t want to do.

      At the end of the day, I don’t think you need a restaurant that doesn’t serve certain substances to enjoy your lunch. I’d rather they not have smoking areas not something i can simply not order.


  4. So if a restaurant chooses to accept a contract with a landlord that it should not serve certain foods or drinks then that means that the freedom of choice is restricted and we end up living in a dictatorship on the long run. Nice.

    What about the thousands of other restaurants that are bound by certain business contracts to serve either Pepsi of Coca Cola products but never both? You might retort that this is a business strategy, marketing and so on… I would say that it is exactly the same when a landlord uses business to impose religious laws. Marketing of religion. After all, every single religious phenomenon in Lebanon and the world I can argue, is driven by business goals. It is all about money. Let’s admit it and fight religion to the bones and be done with it. Openly fight all religions. In the West, and particularly in the USA, we see how religion has finally come out to show what it is all about. Because of the freedom in the markets there, freedom of belief, freedom of doing business, religions flourished to the point that they lost their effectiveness when it became clear that they are all business scams. Nothing more.

    Blog posts like yours and similar others show that the authors are borderline islamophobes. While you and other bloggers pretend to fight religions, you are always softer on Christians than on Muslims. That is why these posts garner so much talkback because readers detect the double standards.



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