#سكر_خطك: Why I’m Closing My Alfa & Touch Lines Today

 

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Over the past few days, we’ve all seen the above screen-grab in one way or another asking Lebanese citizens to stop using Alfa and Touch’s mobile services on Sunday January 8th, in an attempt to raise awareness and fight the horrifying corruption infesting our telecommunication sector.

Lebanon has one of the highest telecommunication prices in the region and the world. For comparison, the average prepaid monthly recharge in Lebanon is around $25 while it’s around $7 in other Arab countries. The services we get with our recharges are also abysmal: a minute is 25 cents, a text is 5 cents and mobile internet is recharged separately at rates that are exorbitant: $23 for 5GB on Alfa and $29 for 6GB on Touch  with extra-use rates of around 7 cents/MB that run up your bill into the stratosphere. And to think those rates were more expensive….

A lot has been said about the aforementioned campaign, and many are saying there’s no point because, for a lot of Lebanese, they’ve already paid Alfa and Touch by recharging their prepaid line or renewing their internet bundle. But that’s not true, because a one day boycott will cost Alfa and Touch a lot of money.

Food for thought: If those affected by this boycott weren’t worried, they wouldn’t be launching the campaign that they are currently undertaking against it. Also, your personal rights are way more important than any political undertone that has been painted over this campaign.

Please note that with both companies simply enforcing prices set by the government, this boycott affects the government first and foremost. Telecommunication is the second largest revenue source for the government after taxes, which means that reducing that revenue effectively cuts off a major revenue source for the government, which could force it to look into better pricing and services.

In numbers: The 2015 estimated revenues from mobile telecommunication to the Lebanese government were around $1.28 billion, which translates to about $3.5 million daily, encompassing texts and calls as well as internet and other services. That’s a lot of money they’re making for the horrendous services we get. A one day boycott will stop both companies from making approximately that much, without adjusting for further increase in their revenue that they’ve made in 2016.

Those of us whose lines are prepaid will only benefit Touch and Alfa if we use the credit that we already have. Those of us whose lines are postpaid and who decide not to use their phones will directly cost Alfa and Touch money by not providing them with a revenue. If we both put our lines off the grid, those of us who don’t won’t be able to reach us by calling or texting which further degrades the quality of their mobile experience.

With a wide enough boycott, Alfa and Touch will also suffer losses from the fact they have to invest in keeping their networks running without those networks being used: they are supposed to keep their networks at maximum capacity to accommodate the usual influx. With no influx taking place, they will run up the losses.

Perhaps a boycott isn’t the ideal way to bring about the change we want. But the point is not to remain apathetic anymore to the fact we, as a country, are being ripped off without anything to be done about it simply because this is our status quo and we’re forced to deal with it.

Call it slacktivisim, short-sighted, or whatever you feel like. But putting my phone in airplane mode for the day won’t affect me much, but it could get both companies, and therefore our government, to realize that their current rates and policies are unacceptable. Morocco did it when their government banned VoIP. KSA did it when their ISPs raised internet prices. It works.

To put it in perspective, the price of around 250 minutes and 300MB in Lebanon is $84, while the regional average is $32. The price of 500MB and 500 minutes in Lebanon is $136 while the regional average is $57. The price of a 1000minutes and 1000MB bundle in Lebanon is near $270 while the regional average is $111. This is not okay.

As an ending note: if you go France, you can get a phone line from a company called Free for around €20 a month. This includes: unlimited calls inside France to all lines, unlimited calls from France to mobile phones internationally to many countries around the world, Lebanon excluded, unlimited SMS and MMS, unlimited mobile internet, and free wifi when you connect to Free’s Wifi Hotspots on streets. That is all.

MTV Has The Audacity To Claim They’re The Reason Lebanon Had Compassion For Istanbul’s Victims

I take pride in the fact that as individuals on Social Media, we got one of Lebanon’s most watched TV stations to worry so much about its reputation that it tried to discredit us at least three times since Monday.

The first round was during Monday’s episode of Menna w Jerr, when Dolly Ghanem said:

“Social media is what makes a big deal out of nothing. I’m from the war generation and covered worse things than this. but we’ve never been under this much scrutiny. Those criticizing the media as chasing scoops and ratings, yes that guy, isn’t he waiting and seeing how many have shared his words? Isn’t he also running behind scoops and shares?”

I guess Mrs. Ghanem’s annoyance that her lot is being scrutinized by social media is enough proof for us that we’re on the right track. If this scrutiny is going to force them to do their job better, puts them in their place, forces them to try to attack our reputation to preserve theirs, and fail in doing so, then we’re triumphant.

Watch the video here:

The second round of replies came yesterday when they said they chose their right to remain silent against such attacks, but still posted an entire article about the matter (link).

In that article, they compared the campaign they’ve been victims of as nothing more than an orchestrated effort by those who hate their freedom. They also reminded us of the fact that, once upon a time, they were closed down by Syrian-Lebanese authorities because they were very free. Yes, because that has anything to do with the criticism hurled at them, and all other TV stations today, from almost everyone.

You’d think they have the decency, as a supposedly respected institution, to take a moment of self-reflection and see what went wrong, but no that’s not even close to being the case. Instead of listening to the massive outrage at the way they’re handling things, they keep digging a hole for themselves.

And they’re not even done digging that hole yet.

A few minutes ago, MTV posted their second article since deciding to remain silent about the criticism they’ve received. In that article, accompanied by a picture of someone in Elias’ family member weeping, they decry that:

“Those messing around on social media have relaxed by now and stopped preaching…. If it weren’t for us, the media they’re criticizing, Lebanese people wouldn’t have felt this compassion to the victims of Istanbul’s attacks.”

Yes, they had the audacity to say they’re the reason we felt sorry and horrified that other Lebanese had been brutally killed, in cold blood, at the hand of a terrorist, away from home, on a night that should have been one of the best nights of their lives.

There’s despicable, and then there’s this whole other level of deplorable. No, MTV. You are not the reason we felt compassion to Elias, Rita and Haykal. We did because we are human, because we, too, have lost people and know the weight of such losses. We did because death touches us all. We did because they’re our friends, our family members. We did, in spite of you turning their death into a reality TV show.

It doesn’t end there. They try to justify the coverage they did at Elias Wardini’s house by saying that the reporter had forgotten she was a journalist at the family’s home and felt like she was a family member sharing in their grief, and that the quality of live broadcast goes back to the decisions of the station’s administration.

This kind of emotional, sensational rhetoric about a reporter suddenly becoming a family member and forgetting all her professionalism is senseless and the epitome of unprofessionalism. That’s like me saying to the family of a patient I just lost: oh, sorry I couldn’t do the best job that I could. I suddenly forgot I’m a doctor and decided to become a part of your family instead.

It doesn’t end there. They say that: “We were all affected by the tragedy that we wanted the people to mourn with the family, so we could all grieve together. It’s okay if the viewer is touched and cries for the death of his fellow citizens.”

Well, at least they admit it now. So let’s put it bluntly: NO. It’s not okay for you to use the family’s mourning to get the viewer to cry. NO, it’s not okay for you to assume you have to show me their tears for me to need to grieve. NO, it’s not okay for you to assume the role of a stage manager in my emotions and in my life ordering me to cry or laugh.

Moreover, your station’s administration deciding to show Elias’ sister receiving the news of his death, or Rita’s father weeping for his child, or even filming live from the plane carrying the victims home, filming them being taken to hospitals and their homes is the core of the problem.

But things are more rotten than this.

A couple of days ago, I was asked by a very respectable journalist who was not aware I had criticized MTV to give a statement for a news report about Razmi el Kadi. So I did. In about 15 seconds I said: “I’m not aware of whether there’s any legal basis to arrest Mr. El Kadi or not, but his words are not acceptable. There’s a sanctity to death, especially that of your countrymen, to be respected. The location of their death has no bearing on this issue when they’re this innocent.”

Soon after the report aired, a couple of MTV producers decided to subtweet me, calling me a hypocrite, to which I naturally replied that when you do a bad job, you will be called out on it. Someone, however, was way too offended by the fact I was, in 15 seconds, on MTV’s airspace, that they raised the issue with that administration.

Soon enough, the report in question was pulled off YouTube. A few hours later, it was aired on their midnight use re-edited to remove my parts from it. Keep in mind that the issue in question had nothing to do with their coverage, but was of a totally different matter altogether.

I don’t care in the least that my part was removed. But it’s a whole other level of unprofessional when some individuals who work in TV cannot take criticism and when a TV station refuses to host those who’ve criticized it. I mean, just delete yourself.

How childish can you get not only to be upset that you hosted someone who criticized you, but to make the effort – double the work – to re-edit the report and silence them from it? But it’s okay. I must have expected better ideals from a media that wants to advertise itself, in its own words, as “a victim of it being too free.”

But I digress.

MTV, when our Minister of Information Melhem Riachi questions, live on your air, when he questioned the point of you live covering an injured being taken to a hospital, of your coverage from the airplane carrying the victims, of your coverage at the victims’ houses, how can you even try to defend yourself?

MTV, it’s time for you to re-assess yourself. Take a deep look in whatever mirror you have and admit that you’re messing up majorly. Stop digging that hole. It’s too embarrassing.

Why Those Who Insult Istanbul’s Victims Should Always Be Challenged, Not Ignored

I never thought that we, as a country first and foremost and as a region in the grander scheme of things, would so grossly disagree about our characterization of the victims of the Istanbul attacks. I’m not talking about whether they are martyrs or victims, but about people who are so full of hate that not only do they not mourn but believe others should not mourn too.

Those people have forsaken every ounce of humanity and turned the barbaric deaths of innocents as yet another event to correlate with their religious, sectarian or even political discourse.

Ramzi El Kadi & Huffington Post Arabi:

Earlier yesterday, I posted screengrabs from a Twitter account by someone named Ramzi Al Kadi on my blog’s Facebook page. Soon enough, the story was picked up by news outlets and it went viral.

Within minutes, Al Kadi was being called all kinds of names as if he were the only entity in this country and region regurgitating that horrifying word-vomit. Some were attacking the way he looked, digging through his entire online history and bringing it back to haunt him.

El Kadi had said he did not want to mourn the victims. He thought what happened to them was well-deserved given that they were at a night club, which is in his opinion is a disgrace of a place. To him, the victims – Rita, Elias and Haykal – were nothing more than sinners who had it coming for wanting to have fun at a “whore house.”

Unfortunately, Al-Kadi isn’t a lone example. You only need to head to Huffington Post Arabi’s Facebook page to see the exact same rhetoric being spewed by Arabs in the comments section. In an article posted by the page about Lebanese victim Rita El Chami, the comments ranged from those who were sympathetic to her sacrifice, calling her a hero, to those – like Al Kadi – who saw her as nothing more than – again, I quote – “a whore” for partying the end of the year away, wishing that she’d “go to hell.”

The debate in Saudi Arabia about the Istanbul attacks isn’t about their dead, but about whether they were at a nightclub or a restaurant, because that makes a difference in how their death is perceived. Palestinian victim Leanne Nasser is suffering from the same discourse back home: whether it was appropriate of her to go party the night away. It was her first trip abroad.

To note, Ramzi Al Kadi is saying his Twitter account was hacked. I don’t see why given there’s no value in hacking an account with 200 followers, but it’s a statement to be conveyed. Ramzi has since been arrested in order for his tweets to be investigated, which – regardless of how disgusting what his tweets were – is not something we should accept. Being an asshole is not a crime.

Hassan Hamzeh & Politics:

 

Al Manar reporter Hassan Hamzeh decided to insult the victims of Istanbul’s terrorist attacks from a different perspective. To him, this was pure politics. Being a Hezbollah supporter, he saw the attacks on Istanbul as nothing more than a chance for him to gloat in revenge and spite.

“Istanbul is paying the price it should pay” he tweeted. He then followed it up with: “Istanbul should pay more,” before concluding with: “Erdogan, you reap what you sow.”

To Hassan Hamzeh, the victims from all backgrounds are nothing more than pawns in his party’s political game, their entire lives and families and loved ones be damned as long as he can be satisfied that a city and a country he despises are being broken like this.

Other politically-charged social media users were annoyed at how the victims of Istanbul’s attacks were being called martyrs compared to others who “didn’t sacrifice their lives at a nightclub,” as if the location of where you are brutally killed has some bearing over the worth of your life and death.

While the Lebanese government flexed its muscles with helpless people like Al-Kadi, Hassan Hamzeh – with his political backbone – is still at large, free to roam and tweet more hateful things because he’s untouchable.

Why We Should Speak Up:

Regardless of where people die because of such vicious attacks – whether at a club, a brothel, church or Mosque – the sanctity of death should be respected. You have to be at a whole other level of deplorable to disrespect the passing of people whose only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time because you don’t like where they were or what they were doing.

When I first posted Ramzi Al-Kadi’s screenshots, people said that giving people like him such exposure makes them feel important and gives them power, that their negativity had no place in times of mourning. I disagree.

The best way for hate and bigotry to prosper is for them to run unchecked for a lifetime. The more we stay silent, the more we let such horrors fester in the minds and souls of those who are most susceptible, and the more Ramzis and Hassans we will have to deal with later on.

Our bubble as millennials or liberals has gotten us to think that the majority of people share our views and as such most will find the words of Ramzi or Hassan as abhorrent as we do, and that might be the case with many, but today’s world is far from being one where we can remain silent to people who insult victims just because they can.

Staying silent to people like all of those who insulted the victims of the Istanbul attacks in LaReina has a lot to do with why we are dealing with entities like Trump, Le Pen, Brexit and a rising trend in right wing extremism all around the world, why we are reeling from the effects of living in a post-truth existence where facts have become matters of opinion for many.

There remains a huge populace that lives among us that believes in what Ramzi Al-Kadi said, without them proclaiming it. We live in a conservative Arab world where it’s very easy to forget, as the only people we talk to are those who think like us, that there are those beyond our walls who believe that nightclubs are abominations, that those who frequent them are sinners and that those who die there should not be mourned.

Those people you want us to ignore are voters, influencers, mothers and fathers. We can’t repress them into a basket to be tucked away just because we feel like the higher road is the better road. To drive our society forward, those people’s ideas – not the way they look as many have criticized Ramzi – should always be challenged. We can’t shy away from the ideological debate taking place wherever we roam for fear of the challenge, or of upsetting others and ourselves.

Ramzi Al-Kadi and those who think like him think their ideas and beliefs are as valid, and should be applied on a more grander scale than just tweets or Facebook comments. To better our societies, we can’t just dismiss those ideas outright just because they’re horrifying. We have to listen, criticize, challenge the core of their thoughts.

The cycle of us versus them will never end if we stay silent and let the cycle perpetuate without breaking it. It’s easier to imagine “them” as enemies who hate the way we live no matter what. But “they” are victims of ideas that have been entrenched in their minds for years, and those ideas can be beaten if we take up the mantle of the fight.

The Lebanese Victims of Istanbul’s Terrorist Attacks & Lebanese TV Stations’ Disgusting Unprofessionalism

 

I debated whether to write about this issue or not for the better part of the last few hours, but the response by Lebanese media to the Istanbul attacks, especially with regards to the Lebanese who fell victim to them, is disgusting and horrifying and should not be accepted any day longer or repeated in any way in any coverage in 2017.

In a terrorist attack on a night club in Istanbul, an abomination of a human being dressed as Santa opened fire and killed 39 people, injuring more than 60 others. Of those 100 people, around 13 are Lebanese as per initial estimates. Of those Lebanese, three have been confirmed to have passed away so far: Elias Wardini, Rita Chami and Haykal Moussallem.

Lebanon’s three victims were visiting Istanbul, like many Lebanese, thinking it was a safe place for them ring in the new year. They were there with friends, loved ones, hoping for the last moments of 2016 and the first of 2017 to bring them the happiness they were seeking out on that dance-floor.

Elias and Rita were enjoying the Istanbul snow together only hours before tragedy struck.

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It’s heartbreaking how uncertain and fickle our existence as people and as Lebanese is.

Fewer things are as tragic as this: to fall victim to acts of terror, to have your death be analyzed a hundred thousand times fold, to be called a “martyr” in an attempt to normalize the horror to which Elias, Rita and Haykal were victims, and since this is Lebanon, to have your death become a national circus for your country’s media to bring in as many viewers and ad money as they possibly could.

Elias was a personal trainer. He was engaged, to be married. He was 26.

Rita was one of my close friend’s best friends. Her mother, who also happens to be her best friend had recently passed away after a tough battle with cancer. Rita had left her studies in Radio and TV to be by her mother’s side.

Haykal Moussallem was a married man, and a physical fitness trainer for many of Lebanon’s basketball teams. He was currently Tadamon’s trainer.

Elias Wardini, Rita Chami and Haykal Moussallem, I didn’t know you but I know many of your friends, and they all loved you so. May you all rest in peace, and may your family find solace in you being loved by so many this much.

Elias, Rita and Haykal were actual people. They loved, were loved. They tried to thrive, to build their lives, to reclaim things they had lost. That is a concept that is escaping Lebanese TV stations as they treat Elias, Rita and Haykal as nothing more than push notification entities to get traffic to their websites, sensational stories to get viewers to their channels and click-baits to drive ad money on their websites.

Dear Lebanese TV stations, let me copy paste the rant I’ve already written about you with its many expletives before I elaborate further:

Lebanese TV stations are so fucking unprofessional. How despicable can you get to go to the houses of Istanbul’s victims, film their families receiving the news of their passing, asking them all kinds of ridiculous questions. How the fuck do you think they’re feeling? Are they happy? Do you think I want to see people receiving the worst news of their lives? Fuck you.

It started with them spreading fake news, giving false hope to Elias Wardini’s family that he was safe and sound, without any basis, without fact checking it, without giving a shit how false hope is as devastating in instances such as this as knowing the truth:

They also did the same with Haykal Moussallem. Please note that both fake stories are the same; Haykal and Elias had jumped into the water:

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When it was clear that Elias Wardini did not make it, they set up camp in the middle of his family’s house, filmed them receiving the news of his passing, filmed Elias’ sister receiving the shock of her life and reacting to it as she learned her brother was no more, made the father of the victim cry on national TV, interviewed politicians who couldn’t wait for their moment in the spotlight in the middle of the family’s house.

The more news about more victims surfaced, the more they sought out their sensationalism. More houses were visited. More devastated family members were asked “how they felt,” as if they would answer anything other than “heartbroken.” More interpretation by all knowing news hosts, anchors and reporters were thrown at us about how those families were dealing, coping, and receiving the news.

It’s as if they’re not aware that those that passed away and those that are in critical conditions are people with loved ones and friends who are worried about them. It’s as if they don’t know, based on our previous experiences with the horror we’ve experienced on our soil, how devastating such events could be, let alone have them take place on what should be joyful celebratory days. It’s like they’re not aware of the theatrics they are doing, the reality TV show they’re turning those families’ lives into as they’ll never be whole again, as they’ll never look at New Year’s Day the same once more.

It doesn’t stop there, but even after PM Saad Hariri personally asked Lebanese TV stations to stop their coverage from the houses of the victims, MTV’s reporters not only refuse to do so but call on the Red Cross on live TV to come to the victims’ houses because some of their family members had fainted from the news. Don’t they have a phone they could call from? Or an ounce of dignity they wanted to preserve by not pretending to play heroes on national TV?

That wasn’t the end of it. Our media tried to play the role of the only heroes in this affair, with them being the only entity fighting for our Lebanese victims. Fighting how? With the charade they were airing. Meanwhile, our government was on top of things with a plane being sent with medical equipment to bring back our countrymen home, have all their medical expenses paid for, and have MEA issue free tickets to Istanbul for all families involved.

My heart breaks on this first day of the year ten folds. It breaks because my country is, once again, at the heart of an international tragedy. It breaks for Rita, Elias and Haykal, for all the potential they had, for all the love they gave those that loved them, for all the hope they had and all the days they had in front of them. It breaks for their families, who are as broken as this country on this horrifying morning.

And throughout those breaks, I can’t but be disgusted at how our media handle – and always handle – our national losses. We are not material for you to get money. We are not sources for you to be sensational. We are not faceless names you call martyrs to rouse emotions. We are people. We have lives. We have families. We deserve privacy. We deserve some dignity. And you, dear media, deserve a big fat: fuck you.

Malek Maktabi’s Story of Zainab & Her Sri Lankan Mother Deepa Is A Disgrace To The Lebanese State

I am angry. Nay, angry is an understatement, I am livid. Anger wasn’t the only thing I felt yesterday. I was also deeply ashamed to be a citizen of a country where the story that Malek Maktabi’s show, in a rare instance of journalistic integrity, portrayed not only could happen, but is probably part of a bigger array of stories just waiting to be told.

The story, summarized, is as follows:

In 1991, Deepa Darmasiri was a Sri Lankan working as a housekeeper at a Lebanese household in the South. The husband in the household she was working in, whose name was always bleeped out and never mentioned, one day raped Deepa at knife-point, leading her to become pregnant.

Deepa did not want to get an abortion because she “never could imagine not meeting her child.” So she carried the baby to term. To make his rape legal and to be able to register the baby, that scumbag of a man exercised his religiously given right to polygamy and married Deepa.

Once Deepa gave birth, he took the baby girl whom he named Zainab – Deepa wanted to name her Huda – and got the mother deported back to her country, never to see or hear from her daughter ever again.

The story of a Lebanese daughter searching for her Sri Lankan mother is a heartbreaking reminder of how horrifying Lebanese patriarchy is. What’s worse is that Zainab is not a lone example of the disgusting state that our demented patriarchal laws have led us to.

Deepa is a victim on so many levels. She’s a victim for being a woman living in a country (and a world in the bigger sense) that sees her gender as inferior, both actually and legally. She’s a victim of Lebanese personal status law, placing her as inferior to her husband in all regards, even in the matter of him being able to divorce her as easily as he did, leading her to getting deported. She’s the victim of being from a nationality that we, as a country, deem as lesser. Because, you know, we as Lebanese are the creme de la creme and everyone else be damned.

Side note: Sri Lanka has better infrastructure than this dismal country currently has and will probably have for years to come. They have faster internet, 24/7 electricity, better water coverage and their women are more equal to men. But please, tell me more about how we think they’re inferior because they come work here in jobs we would never partake in, or because they’re black, or maybe because they’re not originally Phoenicians, or because any nationality that is not White and Western is one that we look down to thinking we are so much better.

News flash: we are not. Not even close. Deepa’s story shows how rotten to the core this country is.

Get this: we live in a country where a man was able to rape, impregnate, have the woman carry the child to term, take her baby away, have her deported NEVER to be able to come back again and still roam free.

Why? Because this is Lebanese patriarchy. This is how it works. Men are always superior. Lebanese are superior to non-Lebanese especially if those non-Lebanese don’t have a strong country to be able to defend them, and it’s just disgraceful. How is this man considered a human being, I wouldn’t know. He’s an abomination, pure and simple. Not only is that man still roaming free, never seeing a jail cell in his life for all the disgusting things he’s done, but he’s also probably protected by some politician down South that makes him impenetrable.

The disgraceful thing is that what he did was not illegal according to Lebanese law. He was perfectly within his rights as a man to do what he did to Deepa and to her daughter Zainab.

How horrifying is it that this man overpowered a helpless migrant worker, raped her, violated ALL her rights, her only fault being coming to this country to seek a better future for herself?

How horrifying is it that this man didn’t care in the least about his daughter, about the fact he brought her into this world as a result of raping a helpless woman after holding a knife to her throat?

How horrifying is it that Deepa had no one to run to, no one to help her, that our ministries of social affairs and labor wouldn’t have cared about her plight, about the fact she was violated that way?

Zainab and Deepa’s story is precisely why our laws need to be changed and I hope it provides the much needed catalyst for NGOs dealing with migrant workers to have a louder platform from which to proclaim their very rightful demands.

We cannot and should not be allowed to have an upper hand over workers who come from any country in the world just because they are coming to work here. We cannot and should not be allowed to have our men hold an upper hand over our women or any women wherever they come from, just because they happened to be born with a set of XY chromosomes.

We cannot and should not allow anyone to do what that scumbag did and still be allowed to roam free, unchecked and unpunished. As long as our laws allow them too, some men will do what this creature did, and others have probably done so plenty of times already. How many more Zainbas are out there because our state has enabled the perpetuation of this, because of our patriarchy and our sense that we are better than other “lesser” nationalities? It’s just disgraceful, and shameful.

What’s even more shameful are those who were bothered by this topic being discussed, under the pretext that it’s not New Year’s Eve material. Wake the hell up. This is a reality that is part of this wretched country every single day. You getting sad for a few seconds is upsetting you? You realizing this country’s laws are messed up to say the least is distressing you and ruining your party spirit? Deepa and her daughter Zainab never had any New Year Eves together because of the apathy of people like you.

42 days after she met her daughter, Deepa passed away probably from cancer. She couldn’t be flown to Lebanon to spend the remainder of her days with her daughter because getting a Lebanese visa to a Sri Lankan is near-impossible. This goes back again to our country thinking it’s better than others while our own citizens beg at the door of embassies for visas for other countries to seek out better futures.

I commend Malek Maktabi on his work with Zainab and Deepa’s story, and I sincerely hope this doesn’t stop at it being a NYE special to get viewers worked up. This should be as daily a conversation as possible, to hopefully reach a place where Lebanon’s state doesn’t perpetuate the existence of more Zainabs and more Deepas.

Deepa Darmasiri, rest in peace you beautiful gorgeous human being.

No Netanyahu, Israel Isn’t The Only Middle Eastern Place Where Christians Can Celebrate Christmas

In his increasingly childish bitchfit against the international political establishment that saw his country’s transgressions through settlements on Palestinian land finally made illegal with a UN resolution banning Israel – yeah, right – from building more of them, the Israeli PM is lashing out at his country’s closest ally and the reason Israel has been off the hook in everything it’s done for years, the United States.

As part of a rant aimed at US Secretary of State John Kerry whose tone was very moderate towards the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, with him recognizing the plight of Palestinians and their refugees, the land grab they’ve been victim of, among other things, Netanyahu figured it best to remind Kerry, and by extension of his buzz words that you know will circle Fox News for months to come, other Americans and Westerners who see Israel as the only worthy beacon of civilization in the Middle East that – and I quote:

“Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians can celebrate Christmas.”

In the grand scheme of things, such statements are utterly meaningless, mostly because they’re pure bullshit. But as we’ve seen bullshit can actually get equal bullshit elected. The danger in letting such statements go by unchallenged is that they play right into the rhetoric that Israel and its allies want to put forward: It is the only country in the Middle East that’s, for all matters and purposes, worth anything, everyone else be damned.

It’s precisely not challenging such statements in the past that has turned Israel from the apartheid state existing on occupied territory, turning a blind eye towards all rules of war, ignoring many of the UN resolutions in which it is part, among other things, to this “liberal,” “religiously free” beacon of “hope” in the Middle East that is only “defending” itself against those “Arabs” who just don’t get it. All of this to the backdrop of Christian-centric, Israel-loving, everything and everyone else-hating Trump coming in 3 weeks.

So Netanyahu, and those that seem to believe him, how about you come sit on last year’s Byblos tree? I’m pretty sure it will bring your lot quite the pleasure.

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This year’s tree can work fine too:

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Or how about you come see this year’s tree in Tripoli? In case you didn’t know, that’s *whispers* Muslim territory.

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How about checking out the tree in Downtown Beirut?

beirut-downtown-tree-2016

Pic via @livelovebeirut.

Or the many other ways through which Beirut celebrated Christmas? (Pictures via LiveLoveBeirut).

 

Or how about the tree in my own house where my family gathered for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas lunch, opened presents and then had some of its members go to midnight mass?

lebanon-christmas-decoration-2016-2

Or those pesky Christmas decorations in all our malls?

I also don’t see Israel on that Huffington Post list of notable Christmas trees from around the world but Lebanon has TWO entries there, as does the West Bank. Weird, huh?

I find it odd that the country that sells itself as being the world’s only Jewish state and gets away with it because anyone who tries to challenge that notion is deemed anti-Semitic has the audacity to claim it’s a defender of Christian rights when Christians in Israel are, similarly to Muslims, inherently second class citizens due to the fact they’re not, you know, Jewish. Just an FYI to Netanyahu and his friends, the president in Lebanon is Christian and I, a Lebanese who happens to be Christian (on paper), have the absolute freedom to practice my religion if I want to without worrying about checkpoints, armies oppressing me, a state that deems my religion second-rate, among other things.

And if you thought that Lebanon was a special case, let me remind you that it was less than a week ago that Israeli rabbis had a problem with Christmas decorations at a local mall. Or does that not affect the way Christians celebrate Christmas?

Conversely, when that “scandal” was going down, I was visiting the Jordanian city Aqaba, from which I could see Eilat. The city was Christmas ready with decorations at its hotels and streets, even though its Christian population is minor.

aqaba-christmas-decoration

The fact of the matter is that the best Christmas in the Middle East isn’t in Lebanon or in Jordan, but where it all began: Bethlehem. And even that isn’t in Israel either.

Tea, meet kettle.

13 Lebanese That Made It Big In 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, and you are overwhelmed by end-of-year lists, the only list that I wanted to make, as I also did last year, was one commemorating Lebanese faces that I believe did something in 2016 that made them stand out. Whether them standing out is positive or negative, especially those whose work was of a more political nature, is up to you.

Consider it as one of my rare non-nagging posts of the year, fitting to end 2016 on a more positive note despite it being the year that it was, hashtag #GoAway2016. The names I’m about to mention are in no particular order, and are chosen without wasta so please spare me the “you didn’t choose X so you must be biased for Y” comments.

1 – Rouba Mhaissen:

rouba-mhaissen

I had the pleasure of meeting Rouba way back in 2007 when we were classmates in an English course at AUB. Since then, she’s gone on to conquer the world – almost literally – after founding the NGO SAWA For Development And Aid, which has been at the forefront of dealing with the Syrian crisis, notably with the refugees. From being one of AUB’s youngest alumni to be honored by the university this year, to addressing UN assemblies, the UN security general, Prince Charles and other politicians from all around the world, the world is a slightly better place for having Dr. Mhaissen in it.

2 – Jamil Haddad:

jamil-haddad-colonel-beer

At a more local level, Jamil Haddad has helped put Batroun back on the Lebanese map, and in a big way, with Colonel Beer making it big onto the Lebanese scale in 2016. With it quickly becoming one of Lebanon’s top selling and best beers available, Mr. Haddad managed to maintain a niche for himself and his beer’s brand with a local brewery in Batroun that has hosted countless events over the years and has been a pilgrimage place for Lebanese mainstream and hipster individuals alike.

3 – Huda Zoghbi:

huda-zoghbi

Huda Y. Zoghbi is a Lebanese-born physician and medical researcher. She is a professor in the departments of Pediatrics, Molecular and Human Genetics, and Neurology and Neuroscience at Baylor College in Texas. This year, apart from receiving the Shaw Prize in May, for her work in research leading to discovery of genes and proteins involved in Rett syndrome, she was also awarded the Breakthrough Prize, which amounts to $3 million, for her neuroscience research that has laid the groundwork for promising therapeutic candidates for Alzheimer’s Disease and autism.

4 – Walid Phares:

walid-phares

I may not agree with almost any of his politics and find his choice of presidential candidates in the US presidential race to be abhorrent, as well as the way he writes his last name (why?), but Walid Phares, one of Trump’s top advisors managed to get his candidate elected president of the leading country in the world. That has to amount to something, right?

5 – Jeanine Fares Pirro:

jeanine-pirro

No, I’m not biased to people with my family name. Jeanine Fares Pirro is a Lebanese-American judge who has had an active political career with the Republican Party consisting of Senate and District Attorney runs during which she was the candidate of her party in New York state. In 2016, Jeanine Fares Pirro became one of the top influencers in the American Election through her Fox News TV show during which she was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump, leading her to become a household name across the United States.

6 – Beirut Madinati:

Beirut Madinati

Leading up to Lebanon’s municipal elections in May, there was probably no other political movement that got anyone as excited about it as Beirut Madinati. They were a bunch of educated people from all sectors, running to change the Beiruti status quo. Their great campaign was, sadly, unsuccessful in breaking Lebanon’s very decaying electoral system but their 40% vote share was a triumph in itself. Here’s hoping the change they put into motion can translate into results in 2017’s Parliamentary elections.

7 – Adeela:

adeela

There’s not been another social media figure this past year that has been as polarizing and omnipresent as the often-hilarious Arab satire on Adele. Adeela is inescapable. It’s become so influential in the art scene that its critiques and jokes have become material that newspapers and tabloids write about.

8 – Mawtoura:

mawtoura

The founders of Mawtoura and Adeela are not the same person, but they’re best friends in real life – and both are quite nice people once you meet them. With Adeela being the police of Lebanon and the Arab world’s music scene mainly, Mawtoura provides as funny and poignant assessments of the Lebanese social scene and, occasionally, political life.

9 – Nadia El Cheikh:

nadia-el-cheikh

In 2016, Dr. Nadia el Cheikh became AUB’s first woman dean of the university’s biggest and founding faculty, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. A historian of the Abbasid Caliphate and Byzantium, she’s the holder of a Ph.D. degree in History and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University. Dr. El Cheikh’s research interests focus on women and gender.

10 – Jimmy Keyrouz:

jimmy-keyrouz

Mr. Keyrouz is a young filmmaker whose movie “Nocturne in Black” was nominated and then won “Best Narrative Film” at the Student Academy Awards in 2016, organized by the same entity behind the Oscars. “Nocturne In Black” tells the story of a musician struggling to rebuild his piano in a war-ravaged Middle Eastern neighborhood. Keyrouz’s movie has already won Jury Selects at the Columbia University Film Festival, a National Board of Review Student Grant, the Caucus Foundation production grant, the Marion Carter Green Award and the IFP Audience Award. He was one of 17 winners out of a nearly 1800 movie selection.

11 – Charbel Habib:

charbel-habib

A vintage car enthusiast, Charbel Habib owns over 40 classic cars. With Walid Samaha as his co-driver, the duo took on the epic Peking-Paris Rally that saw them race from Beijing to Paris, or around 14,000km in a 1964 Porsche 365C. I daresay the biggest hurdle was probably their need for visas going across that territory, but they made it to Paris in one piece and were winners of a Gold medal, ranking second in their class, and being the first drivers to get a Porsche 365C to do that route.

12 – Fayha Choir:

Fayha Choir ChoirFest Middle East

They started off the year with their situation being as precarious as it gets. They were in financial trouble and fighting tooth and nail to try and keep their choir, Lebanon’s best afloat. Lucky for us, they were not only successful but Tripoli’s Fayha Choir went on to win Best Middle Eastern choir at the Choir Fest in the United Arab Emirates. I bet 2017 will be a great year for them too.

13 – Michel Aoun:

michel-aoun-president

After much debate, I figured the list can’t but be concluded by the man who, after more than a 2 year long presidential vacuum, managed to fulfill his life’s dream of becoming the Lebanese president. Sure, his election ceremony by parliament was as childish as it could get, but by taking up the highest governmental level in the Lebanese Republic, we can say that in 2016 Michel Aoun made it. He’s been in office for nearly 60 days and not much has happened (apart from a ministry for women’s affairs to which a man was appointed) but we’re still giving our president the benefit of the doubt to steer the country through next year’s parliamentary elections under a fair electoral law that could see those at #6 cause a dent.

Until 2017, everyone.