Lebanese Civil Society Triumphs: Naqabati Beats All Political Parties Combined At Syndicate of Engineers Elections

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Tonight, we celebrate. It may not be the national victory we hope to see come parliamentary elections (if they allow us to vote) but every little step towards dismantling the hegemony of political parties over everything surrounding our daily life counts.

That step, today, is the resounding triumph of Lebanon’s civil society movement in the Beirut Syndicate of Engineers Elections, in a list they called Naqabati, represented by Engineer Jad Tabet, over a list headed by Paul Najm, who’s backed by all political parties in power.

After a grueling electoral day, and a rather quick vote count aided by the use of electronic vote tabulations, Jad Tabet narrowly beat Paul Najm by about 21 votes:

 

This is a resounding victory. To have civil movement be this victorious over all political parties combined shows that if we’re united, we can achieve the results we hope to aspire at levels we had previously not dreamed of.

Naqabati’s campaign has been exemplary in how syndicates should be running in the country. They’ve been inviting press and engineers to attend their events in which they announced very clear platforms, geared towards giving a chance towards young engineers at making a dent in a field where hierarchy, as is the case in the remainder of Lebanese jobs, is key.

Jad Tabet wanted to help the youth. He wanted to restore his profession’s dignity and rights away from the uselessness of political parties. Today, he succeeded.

This is not a victory only for engineers. This is a victory for all of us to look up to. Yes, we can. Jad Tabet and Beirut’s engineers, thank you for showing us that.

Here’s hoping we can take this victory and turn it into parliament seats in the vote that matters most. We are the change that this country deserves, and we are about to bring it.

Mabrouk Jad Tabet. Mabrouk Naqabati.

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Beirut Will Have Super Fast Internet On April 9th, 11th and 13th; Other Regions Starting April 15th

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Let me start by saying this: Imad Kreidieh is the example of a Lebanese official that we need more of in every form of governance. Not only has he put his predecessor to shame in the 8 weeks he’s been heading Ogero, but he has also done so to every single Lebanese politician with how he has been clear, thorough and keen on making sure transparency is key in everything he does.

As such, Mr. Kreidieh held a Facebook live Q&A which you can watch in its entirety here:

 

In the parts that are relevant to us as consumers without all kinds of tech backgrounds, the highlights are as follows:

  • New plans with faster speeds and bigger quotas as well as reduced pricing should be available in the next 2-3 weeks pending a decree from the Ministry of Telecommunications.
  • Internet will not be as fast as it can be until infrastructure is changed, notably that of exchange sites (or centrals). The project regarding this will have its tender on April 19th with implementation following soon after. Drastic improvements should start being available in the Fall of 2017.
  • Unlimited internet might come back to Ogero users.
  • New ministry decree will slash the one month wait period between switching ISPs (Switching from Ogero to someone else or vice versa).

As for things that we will get to experience sooner rather than a later, Mr. Kreidieh announced opening up all of the possible internet speed in Beirut on three separate days, which will be April 9th (this Sunday), April 11th (next Tuesday) and April 13th (next Thursday).

Each day will see a different part of the Greater Beirut area receive as fast internet as possible, depending on how much your line can handle.

The regions are divided as such:

  • On April 9th: Badaro – Mazra3a – Elissar – Mrayjeh – Jdeideh -Hazmieh – Ras Beirut – Riyad el Solh.
  • On April 11th: Furn el Chebbek, Bir Hassan, Hadath, Amrousiye, Adlieh, Hamra, Choueifat, Nahr.
  • On April 13th: Dawra, Sin El Fil, Chiyah, Achrafieh, Mina el Hosn, Ras el Nab3, Dekwaneh.

Of course, since Lebanon isn’t only Beirut as one of the people asking Kreidieh said, other regions in the country will have on Sunday starting April 15th to benefit from the same event whereby internet speed will be uncapped with each user getting as fast a service as possible depending on how far they are from the exchange.

Faster speeds will be available from 8AM till 8PM and feedback is requested either on Twitter at @ikreidieh, or by emailing ogero on thepeople@ogero.gov.lb or at Ogero’s Facebook account, which you can access here.

Minister Of Culture Allows Demolition of Beirut’s Iconic “The Red House” & Destruction Is Already Underway

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Almost a year ago, the story of Beirut’s “Red House,” near Bliss in Hamra, was spreading like wild-fire. Most of us had taken the place’s existence for granted, as we walked by it on our way to university or on our excursions around the area.

But back then, the iconic “Red House,” which housed Ras Beirut’s Rebeiz family for generations, was under threat from some parts of that same family who had inherited the house and wanted to use the plot on which it existed to build yet another high-rise.

Luckily for us, the Ministry of Culture, through former minister Rony Araygi, responded to the pleas of those who advocated for the house to be preserved for its cultural value and placed the location on its list of protected sites around Beirut.

That changed in February.

For absolutely no justifiable reason whatsoever, new Minister of Culture Ghattas Khoury decided that the house wasn’t worth being a protected site in Beirut and, through the strike of a pen, removed it from the list of protected buildings around the capital with decree #32 on February 3rd, 2017, with it becoming valid when it was published in Lebanon’s Official Gazette on March 16th.

I wonder, who are we supposed to entrust with our culture and heritage if the Ministry of Culture couldn’t care less about the history of the country it’s supposed to be preserving? I mean, if a house that is as old and as preserved as the Red House can’t find its way onto a governmental protected list, then what’s left for sites whose history can’t advocate for them as much?

Is it maybe because the current owners are probably friends with PM Hariri and lobbied him into getting his Minister of Culture to do this?

As a reminder, the “Red House” is more than 300 years old. It was the beacon of one of Ras Beirut’s main matriarchs throughout the 19th and 20th century. It had a pivotal role in the politics of the area for more than 5 decades. It was the house of Ras Beirut’s mokhtar for over 50 years. It was where Louis Armstrong had dropped by for a visit during his Beirut stay.

The owners cite family feuds in the struggle over the “Red House.” But the truth is they don’t want to take over the property simply to kick out their family member who was living there, which is something they’ve accomplished months ago. They simply want to destroy the property.

In fact, Michel Rebeiz, now 94, who grew up there and whose mother was one of the more important matriarchs of Ras Beirut, still goes there every morning to check on his childhood home before it is no more. Neighbors around the area tell of him leaving with his eyes swollen as he laments what all of his history is turning into.

The truth is, however, that the “Red House” was never protected. Even when the Ministry of Culture labeled it as a protected site, sources say that attempts to demolish it were still underway. In fact, the following pictures were reportedly taken BEFORE the new minister had allowed the demolition but before:

So much for governmental protection.

Following its designation as a protected site, police officers from the Hbeich precinct did a surveil of the place. Their report is invaluable to show the illegal activities that have taken place on the property even when it was under governmental protection. Unfortunately, as regular citizens we cannot access such information.

The good news is that it’s not too late, yet. We can still get our Ministry of Culture to overturn their updated decision and to protect the “Red House” once again. The collective history of our capital and the landmarks that still stand testimony to it is more important than the money some people can make through backroom deals and under-the-table agreements.

Beirut is being destroyed every single day by contractors and politicians as well as people who couldn’t care less about anything other than their bottom line. The solution for such entities is a strong governance that puts them in their spot. It’s high time we get that, and the city we deserve. The “Red House” is our history. It’s horrible that even our history can’t survive our current corruption.

Wikipedia Saves Mauritanian From Deportation At Beirut Airport: Border Officer Didn’t Know His Country Was Arab

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At the Arab League Summit last year, the biggest scandal wasn’t how Arabs couldn’t get their business together (as usual) to set a path in solving the many problems facing their countries, but how the Lebanese delegation completely humiliated itself and the country it’s representing.

Instead of being thankful for the host country, the Lebanese delegation complained about their infrastructure, because as you know Lebanon leads the way in that regard. They were appalled how Nouakchott didn’t have 5 star hotels for them to be hosted in, devastated at how the summit was being held in a tent, and completely beyond themselves that they had to go through that, in yet another episode of the tough life of a Lebanese politician.

So to make it work, they charged the Lebanese taxpayer to host them in Morocco for the night, then have them travel to Nouakchott the following day for the Summit before leaving Mauritania. The host country then responded in a scathing news report.

But it seems that our streak with insulting Mauritania and its people continues when one of Maurtania’s top and most controversial journalists for his calls for a secular non-Islamic state in his country, Hanevy Dahah, landed in Beirut’s airport.

As our border control personnel flipped through his passport, he was asked about his entry visa, to which Hanevy replied that Mauritania is an Arab country whose citizens can enter Lebanon without a visa if they have $2000 on them as well as a round-trip ticket, emphasizing that Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s official airlines, wouldn’t have brought him in hadn’t they made sure he fulfilled the requirements to enter Lebanese soil.

The border control officer was not satisfied with the answer, and he referred Hanevy to another officer who was not convinced that Mauritania is an Arab country to which the rules Mr. Dahah illustrated actually applied. A discussion among our airport’s border control officers ensued about whether Mauritania was, in fact, an Arab country or not, to which a senior officer decided, after being racist towards Hanevy because of the darker color of his skin, that Mauritania wasn’t Arab and wanted to deport Hanevy.

A few moments later, the second officer who had decided Mauritania wasn’t an Arab country went on Wikipedia, came back to her superior and informed him of her findings to which the superior replied: “oh right, they added it to the list of Arab countries recently.”

Hanevy was eventually permitted entry to Lebanon.

I guess a good part of Beirut’s border protection officers missed out on that 7th grade geography lession, which is then repeated yearly until graduation, that: “موريتانيا دولة عربية وعاصمتها نواكشوط.”

It’s unacceptable for a citizen of any country, let alone those of which we are ignorant about, to have to go through what Hanevy did. Mr. Dahah was lucky enough one of the officers doubted her pre-conceptions enough to search for the information online. But shouldn’t there be a database for our border officers to check the requirements of entry for a country’s citizens based on who issued their passports? This is gross incompetence, and reflects badly on the Lebanese government and the state of Beirut’s airport.

At a time when our officers would have no issue whatsoever letting Westerners in without any ounce of vetting, it’s horrible that some people from countries that many Lebanese would view themselves as being superior to have to go through what Hanevy Dahah did.

How can we, as Lebanese, be up in arms that our own citizens might face discrimination and ignorance in American and European airports when some of our officers are doing worse to citizens who have the full legal right to enter our country?

But thanks Wikipedia, saving people from deportation and helping people graduate from college since 2001.

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.

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.