Congrats Beirut! You Have Bike Sharing Stations Now, But No Infrastructure To Support Them

With no financial burden from the municipality of Beirut, a company called “Bike 4 All” installed the first of 25 proposed bike sharing stations for Beirut, right next to Le Grey in the downtown area.

The theoretical end date for the project, which will see around 500 available bikes in the city, is the year 2020. The rates for bike rentals have not been announced yet, but the news is already spreading like wildfire around the Lebanese blogo and internet-sphere with everyone (and their mother) lauding it as some breakthrough in our march towards “civility.”

It’s not.

To be thrilled about installing a bike sharing station in Beirut, which is nothing more than decoration at this point to the overgrown sidewalk in which it’s placed, is like one of those Beirutis being thrilled about their new face-lift without realizing they look like they’ve been hit in the face.

I hate the be *that* guy again (queue in the masses complaining that I always nag) but how is this the best thing to happen to the city in recent times? This is yet another manifestation of us, Lebanese, seeking out what brings out the flashiest headlines and most viral news report without the proper planning for it.

Tell me, did those Western bike-loving cities we want Beirut to look like install bike sharing systems without having the proper roads for them? The answer is no.

The fact of the matter is those bike sharing systems are going to be installed in a city that:

  • Doesn’t have bike lanes,
  • Doesn’t have proper sidewalks,
  • Doesn’t have proper traffic laws,
  • Doesn’t have people who respect traffic laws if present,
  • Doesn’t have policemen who enforce traffic laws if present.

Beirut has had a bike sharing system for years now. It was called “Beirut by Bike.” The many issues that company faced are summed up by the points above: every trip taken on a bicycle in the city is a hazard for the person riding.

In fact, the only Lebanese city that has a bicycle lane is Tripoli. You know what happened to the bicycle lane there? It’s become another strip for people to park their cars, and we both know that will also happen to the lane in Beirut, because that’s how we – as Lebanese – roll, especially when there’s no enforcement of any law pertaining to such things.

Yet again, where will they actually place those bike lanes? Beirut’s roads are already congested enough with the city needing a major overhaul of its entire traffic system for it to be able to introduce anything to it, and a bike sharing system without bike lanes is akin to our flag without the Cedar: it’s always lacking.

The sadder part is Beirut doesn’t even have proper car lanes to begin with, and we want to fake civility with bike sharing stations? Announcing bike sharing stations before planning for them with lanes and other important facets is because stations bring attention, lines in the street do not.

Perhaps in a city where garbage tends to find a way to pile up on the street every other month, and water is always scarce whilst the rest of the country drowns and where the only traffic law respected, albeit sporadically, is that of the seatbelt, biking isn’t a priority yet, especially when it’s not even thought out properly.

Advertisements

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.

jbeil-byblos-christmas-tree-2015

This year’s tree can work fine too:

byblos-jbeil-christmas-tree-2016

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

tripoli-christmas-village-1

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.

Victims, Not Threats: The Massacred In Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Yemen Are Not Terrorists For Hateful Rhetoric

Meet Adel Al-Jaf. He also calls himself Adel Euro, so you might know him by that. He was a rapper, a dancer and a man who tried to do the best that he could with what he had in his country. Last year, Adel said he was lucky enough to narrowly escape an explosion in Baghdad so he could dance again. This time, Adel was not as lucky.

Adel Euro Adel Al-Jaf

He is one of the 200 people in Iraq who, instead of buying Eid gifts these days as Eid el Fitr comes tomorrow, are buying coffins for their loved ones.

In the blink of an eye, an explosives-ridden van detonated itself through a busy shopping mall in Baghdad. Two hundred families, as a result, lay shattered, maimed, beyond repair, beyond the ability to heal.

It’s become way too easy to dismiss the deaths of those two hundred innocent people as just another thing that happens in *those* parts of the world, in a country (like Iraq) where suicide bombs are an every day occurrence.

But it’s not. And even if it is, the normalization of their tragedy makes the brutality of reality even more horrific. These were people, just like a regular American or European – because we all know your worth is higher the whiter your skin is – who could have been going to the Mall to buy their children and loved ones Christmas gifts.

And yet today, the Eiffel tower didn’t light up to remember them as it did yesterday to commemorate France’s victory in a football game. Even Burj el Arab, which remembered the victims of Brussels and Paris, while failing to remember the massacred of Beirut and Istanbul, couldn’t care less about the brutality of what took place less than 2 hours away. I guess keeping up with the westernized value of human lives is more befit of the image Dubai wants to give itself, so who are we to judge?

Today, those two hundred people that were brutally massacred as they went about their daily lives in Iraq are considered terrorists to be by many. The forty that died in Beirut almost 8 months ago are also considered as such. The hundreds of thousands that died and are dying in Syria are nothing but pests who have, thankfully, not encroached on the holiness of Western values, and so are the people of Yemen.

Good riddance, Donald Trump and his supporters would say. They had it coming, the far right across the world would point its finger and blurt out. And to those people, at the wake of my region being burned once again partly because of the repercussions of the actions of their people, I can’t but say: the only terrorist is you.

Sarah Sadaka, an Arab living in the United States, was going to a Best Buy store today. She went into that store speaking on her phone in Arabic, only to be circled by a woman who made it clear that her presence, her skin, her language made her uncomfortable. No one came to Sarah’s defense: she was just another sand nigger, breathing that free American air on the fourth of July. She did not deserve to have her right as a human being not to be violated that way taken away, she is, after all, only Arab.

Sarah, today, is the living embodiment of what it is to be the victim of terrorism in the United States, except this time it’s the brand championed by the likes of Donald Trump and the people with whom his rhetoric resonates.

When Omar Mateen went to a gay night club in Orlando and killed fifty people, mainstream American media only saw his name Omar as enough reason to justify his actions. He was just another Muslim. He was just another Middle Eastern offended by “our” way of life. Except Omar Mateen did not do so in the name of Islam, he did it in the name of his own insecurities, the insecurities of a man who is afraid of his own sexuality and who is so deluded in his own belief that he’d support two politically opposed factions in Hezbollah and ISIS as vindications for his action.

Omar Mateen’s characterization, and the repercussions that follow it, are a direct result of the kind of terrorism that Arabs and Muslims have to endure at the hands of people like Donald Trump, the Far Right across the world, and the minds that listen to them.

My mother tongue has become synonymous in people’s minds with death. If I speak it on a plane, I become an automatic threat, forced to undergo security checks, apprehended by officials because the words I utter from lips only resonate with fear, even if it’s to say: peace be upon you.

Victims, not threats. The more we are silent towards our murder, our decimation, and our characterization as people who do not deserve to live, the more we perpetuate the notion that people who think of Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners and those that live in the area are worth nothing is true. The more we are subdued in not demanding our deaths be remembered, be proclaimed, be cared for, the more our inherent value slips even further, even less than it already is, down an abyss in which the least valuable lives on this planet are Arab lives.

I should not be living in a world where I need to convince a friend of mine not to name his son Abdul Rahman because the name is “too Muslim.” I should not be living in a world where I have to defend myself at my own funeral. I should not be living in a world where the deaths of two hundred Iraqis is considered as just another bleb on the evening news, as they are just a waste of space.

We are people too, and we are worthy of life, one in which two hundred of us do not die at a mall buying new clothes for their children. We are victims, not threats.

 

 

Ramlet El Bayda, Beirut’s Last Remaining Public Beach, To Be Privatized and Turned Into A Resort

The whole “Beirut is for Beirutis” slogan that the winning Municipal board ran with is officially in full swing with them making sure Beirut is as such, for any Beiruti who can afford to pay $40 and above to spend a Saturday or Sunday at a beach that used to be the only place to unite the city’s residents, across their socioeconomic strata.

Images have surfaced yesterday of construction beginning to take place in Ramlet el Bayda, with the first step being destroying the places where the beach goers used to sip on their drinks or rest in between their swims.

Ironically, the facility being destroyed is also something that should not be there, given that it exists on public property and is most likely not regulated by any form of governance. But let’s not kid ourselves and pretend the above move is for the well-being of the beach, or for any other actual legal matter.

Rumor has it that Ramlet el Bayda will soon be turned into a private complex for cabins and chalets by Achour development. The project’s info could be found at this link.

For many, Ramlet el Bayda was the only beach in Beirut where they were able to take their children for a swim, with every single place around it becoming a location where people like them are often considered persona non grata.

They are doing to Ramlet el Bayda the same thing they tried to do to Dalieh: wall it off from us, the people, who have the right for this beach and land to become a place for everyone to visit, not just those who are able to afford it.

They want to turn Ramlet el Bayda from a beach for everyone, to a resort for the select few. As their plans start going into action, the city of Beirut bids farewell to its last free space to the Mediterranean. Everywhere else has been claimed by businessmen and politicians who know their power is always above the laws that say our shores are forever ours, and never theirs.

To make things worse, and even though these images have been online for around 24 hours, no media has discussed them or at least critically looked at the issue to unearth the deal behind it. Have we become to apathetic that this has become just another corruption entity for us to gulp down?

A resort at Ramlet el Bayda will probably also have lasting environmental impact on a city where public spaces are rarer than the tourists roaming its streets these days. Maybe they believe, after opening Horsh Beirut, that we have right to only one public space?

In the battle for Beirut to keep hold to an identity that makes it unique, one thing is for sure: we are losing. With each building they destroy, we lose. With each street they erase, we lose. With each beach they claim, we lose. When will their greed ever stop? I guess until Beirut has no more places for us to cling to.

Ramlet el Bayda is down, mayday.

Why Did The UN, Canadian and French Embassies Know About The Explosion But Not Us Lebanese?

News of an explosion in the Verdun area of Beirut is currently the most horrifying thing to happen in Lebanon in a long time.

The positive aspect of things is that the damage seems to be only material with BLOM’s HQ being the apparent target. As of now, there are no casualties. The attack happening around Iftar time means that few people were around the area as well.

At a time when some entities want this to become a reality for us in Lebanon, no casualties is a sigh of relief.

One has to wonder though, how did the UN, Canadian and French embassies know that such a thing would happen over the weekend and we, as Lebanese, had no inkling or warning whatsoever?

The pictures at the top of the article are two statements issued by the UN and the Canadian authorities respectively to their constituents to avoid the specific area of Beirut that was targeted, and Hamra in general.

Two days ago, the French Foreign Affairs ministry escalated Lebanon’s security status and warned its citizens from visiting the country.

The above also applies to the instructions workers at international NGOs operating in the country received this weekend.

The question therefore begets itself: where was our entire security apparatus from all of this? Why is our worth as Lebanese always less than every single other nationality in our own country? If international agencies and foreign countries had suspicions that such a thing could happen, were our security forces not aware or were they not in the loop to begin with?

No casualties is no excuse for us to let such a thing pass by unnoticed. It is our right as Lebanese to live in our country with the utmost levels of security, not to be second class entities in our own land and in our own homes.

Right now is not the time to discuss the politics of such an attack and whether it occurring is obvious or not, or whether the context of such an attack and the bank it targets points fingers. Right now is the time to hope that no innocent life has been lost in this country for being at the wrong place at the wrong time once again, for us being perpetual victims of our existence in this land.

Stay safe everyone.

 

Sia Is Coming To The Byblos Festival On August 9th


A source of mine just sent me the line-up of this summer’s Byblos Festival, in an otherwise very quiet lead up.

This same time last year, the festival had already confirmed John Legend and I had leaked Alt-J performing. Many had thought the festival was out of big names for this summer, but it seems we’ve all been wrong.

Sia, the Australian super star behind songs such as Chandelier and Titanium, will be performing on August 9th. No words yet on whether she will show her face, but her voice will more than suffice either way.

This will be Sia’s first performance in the entire Middle East. It will be a recreation of her critically acclaimed showcase at Coachella. 

In a surprisingly disappointing line-up, Sia seems to be the main draw when it comes to international talent. 

Other acts that will also be in the festival are Mashrou’ Leila, Hishik Bishik and Carole Samaha as Lebanese performers and renowned saxophonist Kenny G as well as Grace Jones.

The full line-up is present at the above picture and ticket prices will be as follows:

Standing:

– Regular: $75,

– Golden Circle: $125.

Sitting: $70, $90 and $150.

What Beirut’s Election Results Tell: Lebanon Can Hope For Change

Beirut Madinati - bIERTE list 2016 2

This post was written with Ramez Dagher from Moulahazat

As promised earlier, this is the more detailed look at how Beirut voted, beyond the surprisingly great outing of the civil movement Beirut Madinati’s list, which even though it didn’t get actual seats, still has plenty to celebrate.

It is important to note that in the most optimistic of cases, the chances for any list other than the list of the political parties to win was next to zero. No this isn’t retrospective analysis. 

Despite the context of the trash crisis, rising corruption, overall voter discontentment, parliament extending its mandate twice, etc… the math of the Beirut electoral equation was never in favor of any non-political movement: the division of districts, the system, demographics, the sectarian propaganda – The Bierteh list had tried to attract voters – especially Christian ones – by proposing a 50-50 Christian/Muslim list, although Beirut Madinati had also kept the same quota.

So no, the cards were not the best that could be given for Beirut Madinati, or any other movement for that matter, simply because those cards were being played on a table that served only one side: the political establishment.

As a result of all of the above, the loudest of voters on Sunday was the low turnout.

20% Voted:

This is not a historically low number. In 2010, 18% of Beirutis voted. Beirutis simply do not vote in Municipal elections, and only do so at slightly higher numbers in parliamentary ones: 33% in 2009.

This is due to many factors. Voter learned helplessness is an important one, but so is the feel that there really isn’t a contest to begin with further increasing the sense of voter apathy. 

33% voted in 1998, the first election since the Civil War, and the lower turnout since should be enough to tell you how much people lost faith.

Many partisan voters were also not willing to vote for the “zayy ma hiye” list but did not want to break lines.

Achrafieh El Bidayi:

Beirut Madinati won the Beirut 1 district with around 60% of the vote, a blow to the rallying calls of Christian parties in the area for their supporters to vote for the Bierti’s list. The 60% figure is not only exclusive to the mostly-Christian Beirut 1, but is also applicable to the Christian vote in the rest of Beirut.

This doesn’t mean the weight of the LF and FPM combined is 40%. Many LF and FPM leaning voters voted for Beirut Madinati more against Hariri, but it sets the precedence that politically affiliated people can go beyond their affiliations and vote in a way that breaks what they were instructed to do.

Boycotts from the bases of the FPM, LF, and Kataeb were also there on election day, as a sign of disagreement with the recent choices of their parties: The FPM electorate isn’t a fan of Hariri; the LF base isn’t a fan of an alliance with the FPM, and the Kataeb aren’t fans of anything.

This lack of enthusiasm was probably one of the causes of the lower turnout in Christian polling stations.

The context of such a vote, however, is probably not sectarian as is circulating. Achrafieh is one of Beirut’s higher socioeconomic areas, with higher income and education rates. You’ll probably see a similar phenomenon in the higher socio-economic districts of Beirut III. Those residents are more likely to vote for issues such as reform, transportation and trash sorting. Those are also the voters that are the less afraid of change.

Many if not all of Lebanon’s parties count on clientelism to widen their electoral base. In higher socio-economic echelons, the reliance of the electorate on the mainstream parties is less.  Those voters don’t need their political parties in the neo-socialist way that most parties in Lebanon function. In Achrafieh, for example, the LF and FPM do not provide medical services, free education, job opportunities for Achrafieh voters as much as other parties in other districts, so throughout the years, the electorate managed to develop an independence from traditional Christian parties.

The Example Of Tariq El Jdide: Anyone Can Be Reached

Sectarian talk is terrible, but is a necessary evil until the political system is not one where people go and vote in segregation based on how they pray. If you crunch Beirut’s numbers, you will end up with a rough figure of around 30% of the Sunni vote not going to Hariri.

This is probably as important, if not more, than BM winning 60% of the vote in Beirut 1.

I don’t believe we can call this a dissent from the Future Movement yet, but it is a continuation of the gradual and progressive Sunni dislike of the way Saad Hariri is running things, even with his rise of popularity after his return.

The reason the Future Movement won is not because voters are “sheep.” It’s because the Future Movement, through various governmental policies, has forced the people of many Sunni areas to always remain in need for their intervention to get the basic necessities that should be a right for every Lebanese citizen, which many in other areas have access to without needing their political parties: do not cut the hand that feeds you.

The political framework of the elections is important. They come at a time when Sunnis in Lebanon feel increasingly threatened by being categorized as potential-Islamists, to the background of a party in power fighting for a regime they do not approve of in Syria.

The need to not break rank was never greater. They may not approve of Hariri, but this was not the time to show it, and yet 30% did. The situation in the country is not one where sects have the prerogative to show cracks in their facade, or have we forgotten how Christians have also forced a seemingly unbreakable veneer over the past few months as well?

All of this makes the 30% figure of Sunnis who did not vote for Hariri all the more impressive and courageous. It’s the kind of percentage that breaks taboos.

Moving Forward:

The election’s overall results are telling. In Beirut I, the LF representative Elie Yahchouchi and the FPM’s Traboulsi lead their allies in the FM by around 800 votes (of around 6500 the list got). In Beirut II, with its important Shia and Armenian electorate, almost all of the winning candidates from LB are in the 9000 votes region. One candidate however, Amal’s representative, stands out as having 10000 votes. In the third district, Yahchouchi and Traboulsi are 5000 votes behind the FM’s candidates.

The difference between the first and the last of list is around 8000 votes for LB, and 3000 votes for BM. In other words, most of those who voted BM did not make major changes to their lists (“tochtib”) and were convinced with almost all of BM’s candidates, while the base of every single party in power was modifying the names.

That is the biggest proof that the ruling coalition is unstable, and that in 2017, even a minor split between the parties in power can lower that 60% and give way to an independent breakthrough. Check the results here.

But now is time to look ahead.

Our voting process needs to be modernized. 36 hours to go through Beirut’s voting results is a disgrace. There are no excuses.

The rhetoric we need to adopt should never call those who do not vote the way we want sheep or other varieties of animals. It is demeaning, and not any different than the system we want to change. Such horrific name-calling only alienates voters from your platform. The core of democracy is one where many will not vote the way you find is best.

Our rhetoric should also be more inclusive, and less elitist. Our bubble in which we believe our paradigm of Lebanese politics is scripture is exclusive to the people that are reached by our message, but the bulk of voters exist outside of that bubble. We need to be aware that what we know and believe is true doesn’t translate to others and work on reforming our message to make it holistic.

This means that calls to divide Beirut into smaller districts just because Achrafieh voted one way and Tariq el Jdide voted another are horrifyingly xenophobic. Beirut is a city that is 18 km2 with 500,000 voters only. It is too small to be divided. We need policies to bring people together, not segregate them into separate cantons.

Accomplishing so starts by championing policies to better the conditions of all Beirutis, especially those that exist in impoverished areas. Beirut Madinati did not, for instance, campaign as much as it should have in Tariq el Jdide.

Political parties in the country keep people at bay by keeping them afraid and hungry. Keep them as such, and they remain at their mercy. The first step in breaking this political hegemony is to make them need their political parties less: advocate for better schools, better and more comprehensive healthcare, fight economic inflation, raise the minimum wage, adopt a better taxing scheme, etc…

Such measures, however, cannot be done by simply complaining on Facebook. Modernizing our elections isn’t only about getting electronic voting machines, but also about having an electoral law that is fitting of the year 2016. The only law that can work to represent all different sections of Lebanon’s society is a law based on proportional representation. If such a law were adopted, for example, Beirut Madinati would have obtained 9 seats out of the available 24 on Sunday.

Proportional representation, as proposed during a cabinet meeting in 2010 tackling the municipal electoral law, is one of many reforms, such as electing the mayor directly from the people, and a 30% women quota, that are napping in parliament. The establishment is making it harder, but that shouldn’t mean that pressure should stop.

We also need to realize that, despite disagreeing with them, political parties are not going away. If we are to leave a mark, we have to find a framework in which we organize into a party that can compete better in elections, in politics and do so in unity: one of our biggest failings in this election was having like-minded people run on two different lists.

Today, we should be cautiously optimistic at what the future holds. Change in Lebanon is not a sudden process. It’s a tedious affair that needs planning over many years. Start planning for 2017’s parliamentary elections today and 2022’s municipal elections yesterday. Do not despair, and most importantly, always challenge the status quo regardless of how comfortable you are in it.