Lebanese Ministry of Culture Is Transferring The Roman Columns That Were Thrown Away To A Safe Location

 

Around 2 days after I wrote a very widely circulated post about the matter, which referenced a L’Orient Le Jour article on the issue, Lebanon’s Ministry of Culture decided to take notice of the 500 or so Roman Columns entrusted to its care, and it has begun transferring them to warehouses for safe keeping.

The actions of the Ministry of Culture were brought to my attention by SkyNews Arabia reporter Larissa Aoun who tweeted the above referenced picture from the site where the Roman Columns were thrown away when their warehouse was dismantled earlier this year.

Minister of Culture Ghattas Khoury, on the other hand, is not happy that the issue got this much attention, especially with MP and head of Kataeb Samy Gemayel discussed the issue in a Facebook live video, which you can view here:

In a statement from the site where the Ministry of Culture was doing its job, Minister Khoury issued the following statement:

The statement’s essence translates to: “we’re here to assert that the columns here are under the care of the Ministry of Culture. I had said on Twitter that we were monitoring the columns and would transfer them to Horsh Beirut soon.”

Of course, the definition of “soon” in Lebanese politics and governance would’ve been months if not longer, hadn’t the issue gained the traction that it did, forcing the Ministry to save face by acting on the issue as promptly as it did, and transferring the columns – especially those with inscriptions and other decorations – for safe keeping.

As I mentioned previously, the columns were supposed to be transported to different locations across Beirut to make Jbeil-esque entrances or streets in the city, but such plans were changed for reasons that have not been detailed.

The columns, according to Minister Ghattas Khoury, are now set to be transferred to Horsh Beirut, which is the last green space available in Beirut – if they keep it of course. What will happen to them in Horsh Beirut is probably uncertain as sections of it are going to be transformed to a hospital, because that’s exactly what Beirut needs: less green spaces, more buildings.

It’s a shame that our history and heritage needs viral blog posts for our system to governance to act on protecting it. It’s not just about these columns. It’s also about the many ancient houses around Beirut, the many sites uncovered at various construction plots around the city, among others. How many more times are we supposed to cry out for such landmarks and historical sites to be studied and preserved when it should be a reflex for concerned ministries to do so?

It doesn’t make sense that in a country with as much history, a lot of it is wiped to ease the way for businessmen, without Lebanese people even becoming aware of it in the first place, and to have that history’s last frontier be social media, not authorities who should be the main defender of the heritage of the country they’re serving.

Until the next archeological crisis, I hope these columns beautify Beirut. We all know it needs it.

500 Roman Columns In Beirut Have Been Thrown Away By The Sea Next To Biel, Because Who Needs History Anyway

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The saga of the sure and constant destruction of any historical remnants of Beirut continue. The city, which is constantly listed among the world’s oldest continuously inhabited locales, is having progressively less things to show for its history as the Lebanese government and everyone involved in governance seems not to care the least about that particular aspect of the city, treating it with as much carelessness as you could imagine… and then some.

Picture this: if you go near Biel, in the recently built Beirut Waterfront area, you will stumble on an archeological discovery that most countries around the world can’t even boast about having: between 400 to 500 roman columns are found there, thrown away by the sea, waiting for kingdom come to do its job.

Of course, it’s not a discovery per se. Rather, those columns are there because the place that’s been storing them for the past 20 years was recently demolished to make way for new construction in the area. I wonder what string of logic led them to believe that the best mode of action towards those columns was just to throw them away near the sea and wait?

First reported a few days ago by L’Orient Le Jour, these columns were obtained during the many archeological digs that took place around Beirut between 1993 and 1997, soon after the end of the Lebanese civil war. The plan for the columns in questions, all of which were well-preserved, was to be dispersed around the city in various historical public spaces, similar to the one you’d see entering Jbeil.

Except that did not happen: the columns were never properly sorted, they were never categorized according which site they were extracted from in order to plant them in their natural location, and here they are today lying by the sea.

The person overseeing those columns was Hans Curvers, the archeologist appointed by Solidere. Needless to say, we all know the story of Solidere with any archeological finding in the Downtown Beirut area: complete media blackout, banning anyone and everything from approaching the site where those ruins were found and then – suddenly – those ruins vanishing or getting destroyed beyond recognition.

The General Directory of Antiquities in Lebanon (DGA) admitted that there were some shortcomings in the way the columns have been dealt with, which is an understatement given the fact they’re lying by a polluted sea because their warehouse was demolished without a backup plan.

The Ministry of Culture, through its head Mr. Ghattas Khoury (whose track record is of taking out the protections of cultural houses around the city), noted that the columns were “not forgotten” but awaiting transfer to Horsh Beirut, and that they were lying there because they didn’t have warehouses to store them. How is that even an excuse?

Why weren’t those columns transferred to Horsh Beirut months ago when the park opened instead of waiting until media notices the fact they’ve been thrown away? Why weren’t transient alternative warehouses built for these columns until such transfer could be accomplished? Are the ministry of culture and the DGA so incompetent that they don’t know (or probably don’t care) about the damage that such columns might be exposed to in such conditions?

The fact of the matter is, Beirut – one of the world’s most archeologically rich places – is becoming progressively poorer in anything that represents its history and heritage by the day. From old houses and breweries and buildings, to ruins and roman columns, nothing is safe. But I guess it all doesn’t matter as long as some shady international publication decides that it should be placed on a “best of” list which makes everything a-okay.

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.

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.