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.

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Lebanese Politicians Don’t Care About Increasing Taxes:  They Know We’re Voting For Them Anyway & We Won’t Budge As Long As WhatsApp & Arguileh Are Untouched 

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VAT is now 11%. Our parliament is blazing through approving the 22 new taxes and increases that I wrote about a few days ago. Check them out here (click).

Among the other taxes being passed are those affecting alcohol, numerous stamps which increase bill prices, etc.

Among what is remaining unchanged is the salaries and benefits that current and previous MPs and ministers receive, as well as the shitload of money they get from all the deals they make by being part of government. Hurray!

Things are so messed up in parliament that:

• We can’t know exactly what is taking place at the session discussing the tax increase because it is not recorded nor televized,
• We cannot know which MPs voted for which taxes because Samer Saadeh’s request to have that be made available was denied.

The system is so corrupt that our politicians can screw us over as citizens with tax increased while providing nothing in services rendered, making sure the infrastructure we have remains horrible, and our basic rights stripped away.

Have you ever wondered if our politicians pay taxes? Have you asked yourselves why aren’t Lebanese politicians seeking office required to show us their tax returns as is the case in other countries?

Have you ever wondered why our politicians are not required to declare about their conflict of interests going into office? They literally are “voted” into their seats and find themselves rolling in the deep riches, fueling their personal businesses from tax evasion to directing governmental tenders their way. The examples are endless.

And yet, despite this all the level of apathy remains at an all time level and it is across the board.

Our politicians don’t give a shit because we’ve allowed them to be as relaxed as they are. They’ve drowned us in garbage and gotten away with it. They’ve robbed us of our election rights two times, with the third on the way, and they’ve gotten away with it. They make us live in no electricity, horrible internet and barely any running water and get away with it. They threaten our lives with having their goons do whatever they want and run unchecked, and they get away with that too. Taxes are another manifestation, and they are getting away with it too.

Just look at any poll for the fictional upcoming parliamentary elections. The same MPs that are currently representing a given caza are those leading in any done poll. Christians are happy because “bay el kell” is now in charge. Sunnis are happy because Hariri is back. The Shia are happy because no one dares tell their parties off, and the Druze are the Druze.

The Lebanese people have gotten to a “don’t give a shit” point that tax increases don’t get the same level of attention as a sexist list of reasons why you should date them, or a one year old news about their capital’s food. It shows in how our students vote in university elections, how we voted in municipal elections, how it’s still easier for us to be upset online than to do anything about it.

If only they’d taxed WhatsApp and Shisha, then something would have happened.

Lebanese Parliament Is Going To Extend Its Term A 3rd Time. We Last Voted In 2009. It’s 2017. Bass Hek.

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They want you to be busy with Myriam Klink, while they ignore the fact they should have come up with an election law 8 years ago.

They want you to be busy with their attempts to make you poorer, while they ignore the fact that they are demolishing the deadlines for the parliamentary election coming up this May.

They want you to be overwhelmed with all the hurdles they throw at you, so you are too preoccupied from standing up to the neo-dictatorship they’ve turned this country into by being so incompetent, so horribly bad, and so disgustingly unfit to serve you as citizens.

They want to blind you with them ordering delivery from apps, and bicycle lanes to feign modernity.

They want to fool you with biometric passports thinking we’re going up.

They want you to be grateful they’ve maintained stability, grateful that you have them, as they take us as citizens for granted every single day.

So here’s our wake up call:

We have not voted for parliament since 2009.

The last time Lebanon went this long without elections was when we had a civil war. This time, there’s no war. There’s simply horrendous incompetence and corruption and utter disregard for the constitution and our rights.

People of my generation have never ever cast a vote for parliament. I can’t even hold my politicians accountable because they don’t let me under the guise of “fair representation.” Here’s a news alert for you, our disgusting politicians: representation will never be fair if, you know, elections are never held in the first place.

And parliament will extend its mandate for the third time in a row, because they can’t agree on an electoral law, because they don’t care about agreeing on a law in the first place, because us having the basic right to vote is the least of their concern.

But please, Lebanon, if they ever let you vote, just don’t vote for them?

Dear Lebanese Government, Can You Not Add New Fines & Increase Taxes When You’re Offering Nothing In Return?

Over the past couple of weeks, the Lebanese government has devised two ways with which it will be taking away the hard-earned money of Lebanese everywhere: new taxes and new traffic fines.

In absolute value, taxes and fines are not always bad news. My uncle in California was telling me how the state voted to actually increase sales tax because the extra revenue would go into infrastructure enhancement. But that’s California, and we’re in Lebanon where the government is currently convening to vote on a budget for the first time in 12 years when the deadline for the electoral law they’ve been slacking off about for the past 8 years is in 2 days. This is to say that while Lebanon is a pretty country, its governance is shit. This isn’t a matter of debate.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, that there’s current talks about increasing the tax on alcohol over 500%. While the initial tax is super low (60 liras on beer) and therefore a 500% increase is not that significant (300 lira is still okay), it’s the idea behind the tax increase that matters here: where will the money go and what’s the point of it?

The tax increase in question will have even worse effects on those who sell it, with repercussions on the consumer, and it comes at an odd time given the rising anti-alcohol sentiment in certain Hezbollah-controlled areas.

Yes, alcohol is a luxury item, and luxury items should be taxed, but there’s a degree of accountability to trace how our tax money goes and if it’s going to good use. As far as the Lebanese way goes, I’d say that extra 500% on alcohol would go towards more chopper rides for Gebran Bassil and friends. That’s how our tax money is used, ladies and gentlemen: to allow our politicians to enjoy their lifestyles and maintain them as high as possible. Isn’t it ironic, therefore, that there’s actual tax increase discussions when parliament and the government low-key passed increases in compensation for families of past MPs. Moreover, let’s not pretend this is to improve the health of the Lebanese populace. If they cared they’d have taxed cigarettes but those are not religiously controversial items.

The other new added source of income for the government is with them installing red-light enforcement cameras across the Greater Beirut area. How those cameras work is as follows: when you reach a red light, you’re supposed to stop. YES, THIS IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION. Anyway, when you stop at that red light you’re supposed to stop BEFORE the pedestrian crosswalk because those stripes in the middle of the road are supposed to be used by, you know, pedestrians crossing the road. The current state of the country is not like this at all.

tmc-red-light-cameras

I’m all for extra traffic fines in the country. Lord knows our driving is horrendous and needs as much measures for it to be improved as possible, but how can you improve driving through negative reinforcement when the notion of what you are trying to reinforce has never been taught in the first place? As in, Lebanese drivers are not taught how to obey traffic laws in the first place so how are they to be aware that they’re supposed to stop before a crosswalk?

Our driving tests go as follows: you show up after having paid that astronomical $300+ fee, with whatever you paid extra for that wasta, you do that computer exam about street signs and are helped by whoever is present there because they just want to be done with it, and then go do your practical test which involves you parallel parking and then going in reverse in a manual-transmission car which has been modified so much that to drive it, you don’t even have to use the pedal.

So how can you expect drivers whose only experience with actual “official” driving is that corrupt and silly to suddenly be aware of rules that are strictly applied in countries that have way more detailed and elaborate driving tests?

This is most obvious with the fact that with a trial run of the new cameras, they collected fines every 8 seconds. But I digress.

The question is: how am I supposed to stop at a crosswalk if I can’t even see the crosswalk in the first place? How much actual investment from the fines that are already incurred has gone into the roads around Beirut to make sure that, say, those roads are up to standard you want to put the drivers to?

Have all those parking fines they’ve been collecting since enforcing the paid parking system around Beirut improved our sidewalks? No. Did it improve our roads? No. Did the speeding tickets they’ve been collecting for ages now, with increasing values since that new law they passed, contribute to better roads and infrastructure? No.

So where the hell is all the money going? No one knows.

Does our government know that there are more rules for “civilized” driving around Beirut that have to be applied as well, such as, at the top of my head, enforcing the fact that the direction of lanes (as in lanes with a left arrow or lanes with straight arrows, etc..) should be obeyed could cut down on so much traffic, as in when someone from the right lane decides they want to go to the left and cuts off the entire left lane in doing so?

stock-photo-three-lanes-with-left-only-straight-only-right-only-markings-can-be-used-as-a-concept-42270640

 

The problem with such new measures, whether new taxes or new fines, is that they’re always half-assed and poorly thought out. They’re never the first step in actually improving the system to begin with and always come at a cost to us as citizens. You want to put on cameras to make sure people stop properly at red lights? How about you make sure those people can properly drive in the first place by making sure our driving test process isn’t a joke and that the roads they’re supposed to drive on are up to far? You want people to pay more taxes on alcohol? How about you make sure the alcohol in the market is up to par?

In short, you want us to pay more taxes and fines, you have to pay up first in services and improvement. And to be honest, at the rate we’re going, that’s not asking for much.

Beirut’s Airport Is Not Safe For Air Travel Anymore; A Disaster Could Happen At Any Moment

beirut-airport

Add the current situation of Beirut’s airport to the growing (and endless) list of complete failures that Lebanon’s governments can add to their achievements: the airport is not only unsafe for air travel anymore, it’s become so dangerous that an air disaster not happening already is nothing short of a miracle.

To fix the trash crisis that their ineptitude caused, Lebanon’s government saw it fit to build a landfill which almost literally borders the airport wall, south of Beirut, calling it the Costa Brava landfill. As physics and common sense have it, establishing a landfill that close to the airport (or any airport for that matter) doesn’t come without repercussions.

Apart from the toxic fumes that could damage airplane engines and our lungs, as well as the hotter air that emanates from the landfill which could disrupt aviation, the birds attracted to the landfill could literally cause airplanes to crash. The government is aware of this problem so they installed ultrasonic bird repellers, which obviously don’t work.

This almost happened yesterday with an MEA plane, as reported by LBC, that was faced with a flock of seagulls as it was landing, leading the western runway the plane used to be closed until the birds were dealt with. How did the government respond? By increasing the numbers of ultrasonic bird repellers that, as established, don’t work.

I guess the only way they’ll do something is by a plane crashing and hundreds of people dying. You know, that’ll be the best way for them to proclaim they’re doing something and go to the victims’ funerals, shake the hands of their families and have their coffins draped in our flag.

You see, while the movie “Sully” in which Tom Hanks, playing the true story of airlines pilot Chelsey Sullenberg whose plane got hit by birds as it took off form New York, causing both engines to fail and leading him to land the plane in the Hudson river, was a riveting Hollywood story, things almost never play out that way. Are we counting on countless miracles to keep our airport running?

An anonymous source inside Beirut’s airport confirmed this saying that: “If the International Air Transport Association (IATA) were to show up at Beirut’s airport unannounced, the place would be closed down in a matter of hours. This is how unsafe things have become.”

It doesn’t stop there. He says that aviation has become so hazardous that “it’s a miracle how a crash has not occurred already. We literally hold our breaths every time a plane departs or lands.” Why hasn’t this made the media rounds yet? Because “airport officials are trying to hide it.”

I guess our safety and our lives are not worth anyone getting a headache over a media scandal. A plane crash is much easier to brush by, isn’t it?

Beirut’s airport is not only unsafe to use, it’s going to get us killed if we keep using it. The troubling part is that this is our only airport. The horrifying part is while our government is aware of this, they choose not to act out on it because, as we do things in Lebanon, we cross our fingers and hope for the best. Well, not this time.

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

 

sakker-khattak

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.

Save Kfarabida: Lebanese Government Wants To Turn Batroun’s Best Beaches Into a Private Yacht Club

The place that welcomes you North, once you cross the Madfoun, is an idyllic coastal town in Batroun called Kfaraabida. It has around 1000 voters, a small municipal board, and a resourceful mayor that has been around for nearly two decades.

What Kfaraabida is known for, however, is the presence of countless beach spots for beach-lovers to go to, as well as multiple sea-side restaurants in the area. Of those, I note: Barracuda, which many Beirutis attend weekly on Thursday for George Nehme and his band, White Beach, Pierre and Friends (technically not in Kfaraabida per se but might as well).

The area houses some of Lebanon’s most pristine beaches. Many of them are free, or cost very little to access. But, most importantly, they are some of Lebanon’s cleanest, with rock formations that serve as a habitat for many marine animals. Those rocks can also serve as beautiful Instagram pictures, since that’s what matters most these days.

Well, recently, the Lebanese government passed a decree whereby 37,000 squared meters of Kfaraabida’s beaches, and 4000 squared meters of sea that will be reclaimed, are to be given to a PRIVATE company which will use the area to build a private resort and yacht club.

How much money will that company pay the Lebanese government yearly for such an atrocity? $30,000. For reference, that’s less money than a private beach makes per week with their exuberant entrance price. So yes, the government is taking one of Batroun’s best beaches, getting no money for it, and giving it to a company to ruin it and make it private.

Live love Lebanon indeed.

Apart from the gross corruption taking place in having our government enable a private company from taking what should be OUR public property, and turn beaches that are as of now free into a private resort for their yachts and for their swimming pleasure, the project will have detrimental effects on the region and the town:

  1. The marine life in the region will be threatened. As I mentioned, those beaches are a habitat for many of such creatures.
  2. Fishermen in the region use those beaches as points from which they go fishing.
  3. Batrounis and Northerners who can’t afford $30 entrance prices to beaches will have nowhere to go to anymore.
  4. The area is so diverse in both marine life and rock formations that its inhabitants thought it should be turned into a natural reserve. It’s now being destroyed instead.
  5. The project is being done with utter disregard of Kfarabida’s municipality.

Batroun’s MP Boutros Harb doesn’t see what the fuss is about and believes the project is beneficial given it will generate jobs, because ruining the environment and the lives of the people of the area is the only way to do so. Maybe he should just transfer the project to the Balaa pothole in Tannourine instead?

So Kfarabida’s municipality, it’s up to you to make sure that such a project doesn’t see the day of light in your jurisdiction. They are taking your hand, claiming it as their own, ruining everything about it that makes it beautiful, and leaving you in the dust.

Dear Lebanon’s government, how many more beaches will you ruin, spaces will you steal before you reach equilibrium with your need to build yacht clubs for your members? The sad part is that we live in a country where such flagrant corruption will, unfortunately, end up being unpreventable.

I mourn for my North. They only care about it when they can ruin it in projects that only bring them money but not its people.

For more detailed information about the project’s legality, check out this link.