I’ve debated whether to write this or not. Then whether to publish it or not. Then I figured, screw it.
I am a proud Lebanese. And it’s because I like my country that I can’t sit aside and pretend that fake accolades mean more than they are, that void accomplishments are fuller than they actually are.
Beirut isn’t a bad city, sure. It’s perhaps the best city that we have given that our centralization policies have put everything only in and around it. But, forgive the bluntness, there’s no freaking way in hell Beirut can find itself on a world’s best cities list. Unless the person doing that list was high on some Bekaai hashish.
Beirut recently found itself to be on a list of the world’s top 25 cities, courtesy of CN Traveler. Those same people, for those who remember, voted Byblos as the #1 city in the region, with Beirut coming in second. Take that Dubai! We celebrated back then. That little triumph our cities had, although meaningless in itself, meant a lot to us.
Beirut is given the following description as per the CN Traveler website:
The capital of Lebanon has “much to offer the adventurous traveler.” Find “exotic cuisine and cocktails” at the “most exclusive clubs in the world” in what one reader calls “the Paris of the Middle East.” This city offers a “tapestry of sects, religions, and lifestyles that provide a feast for the mind of the intellectual.”
Visiting Lebanon is for the “adventurous,” it seems. I didn’t know my country was such a wild ride. Point me to the next safari why don’t you?
Perhaps Beirut is a great city for a visitor who came here to experience our unparalleled joie de vivre with someone who decided to show them Gemayzeh, Skybar and White, then spend a weekend in Faghaya, pretending that’s still Beirut, before spending the day at some beach that has more plastic than in the bodies of the women strutting their heels in its sands.
Yes, that sounds great indeed.
I don’t know what criteria were employed to rank the cities of that list. But the mark of the greatness of a city isn’t by how well and how great it treats a tourist coming to it for a week. It’s by how great it is for someone who lives there and calls that city home.
When I think of Beirut today, I think of unparalleled urbanization. I think of concrete masses upon concrete masses. I think of cultural demise that manifests in monument demolitions and old houses getting ripped off their foundations. I think of so little monuments that need to be seen in the city. I think of no public transportation. I think of no electricity, no water, of traffic, no public spaces and parks.
When I think of Beirut today, I’m being told I should think of Skybar and Dubai-esque malls because that’s what my city has to offer lately. I’m not sure how that qualifies as greatness honestly. Or I could just be the rare Lebanese who doesn’t like pubs and night clubs and all their derivatives.
Don’t let some silly list fool you into believing the city we call home doesn’t need massive plans, massive reforms, massive work, massive restructuring. Because what Beirut is today, a city living off the ghost of its luxurious past, is only great in the eyes of its beholders. And that’s not really great.