Let’s Try To Save Tripoli’s Wonderful Fayha Choir

Following their huge win in Dubai on Saturday, where they were named Middle Eastern choir of the year, Tripoli’s Fayha Choir announced in a statement on their Facebook page that the Dubai event would be their last.
The wonderful choir, the country and the region’s best, will cease to exist in the coming weeks as it slowly dissolves.

The news left me distraught. Every single time I’ve seen the Fayha Choir in concert, I was left blown away by how wonderfully talented all those young men and women of Tripoli were, and at how beautiful the message of hope they were proclaiming to the world was. Such an entity stopping its activities is a shame, let alone when the cause is purely financial.

After hearing the news, I contacted one of the leads in Fayha Choir to inquire about the causes of such a decision. That person’s reply was straight to the point: the choir had grown beyond the capacities of its members and their maestro to be able to support it in the way that it deserves, to be able to attend all events whether here or abroad, or even compensate for the time they spend practicing and performing beyond the joy they bring in doing so.

It’s heartbreaking that such a thing is happening for such a silly reason, especially one that can be rectified. In a city that boasts the country’s richest people, this is disgraceful.
So dear Tripoli’s municipality, instead of panicking about beer ads in the city, why don’t you invest in such a medium that brings your city fame, pride and helps its talented youth express themselves in such a healthy medium?

Dear Tripoli’s politicians, from Najib Mikati to Mohammad Safadi and all their friends, I know it might feel counter-intuitive for you to invest in your city when election season isn’t coming up anytime soon, but your city needs it. Tripoli’s youth need to have their future mean more than just be an electorate number. 

Dear Tripoli’s wealthy class, I’ve seen you times and times again giving Fayha’s Choir standing ovations at each of their performances. That can’t be the maximum support you can give to a group whose name is a better representation of your wonderful city than almost everything taking place in it today.

Dear Lebanon’s concerned citizens, our country deserves to have such a choir that represents it so well survive financial troubles. Speak up. Try to help in the any way you can. 

I considered starting a crowd funding page, but an acute influx of cash is only a temporary solution. The Fayha Choir needs a stable income to support it, one that can only be 

Fayha Choir is a cultural landmark of the country and of Tripoli. Dismantling such an important part of our culture should be a matter of national urgency; this is a medium that allows youth to prosper, to express talent, to entertain people, to send a wonderful message to the world that this country and this Northern city can rise above them being forcibly forgotten and offer beauty to those who’d listen. This is very important. 

If you can help in any way, contact Roula Abou Baker. 

Why MTV’s “Banana Song” To Increase Culture In Lebanon Is A Big Failure

The only banana picture worth sharing

The only banana picture worth sharing

I was asked last week why I didn’t address the “banana song” that everyone was talking about. My answer was simple: it was something I didn’t feel should be propagated. Any kind of publicity is publicity, and I wasn’t going to be yet another blog exposing it to more people, not that it needed my help in doing so. Blog clicks and views be damned.

Yesterday, MTV announced that the whole thing was a marketing ploy orchestrated in collaboration with Impact BBDO to highlight how easily Lebanese fall for such flashy headlines and brainless news content instead of pursuing “culture.”

Certainly, the cause behind the mortifying song is noble, and kudos to those behind it for managing something that got almost everyone talking, even if it were to bash or criticize or to share it among friends for finding it hilarious.

But having everyone talk about it doesn’t mean the purpose of the campaign was successful. The campaign’s goal, to boost culture among the Lebanese populace, feels empty and hollow. I mean, isn’t MTV one of the leading Lebanese TV stations promoting lack of culture and decadence?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. How about 14 pictures about the content that MTV has been advertising on its channels for the past 4 days?

I don’t know about you but news about selfies and skin products don’t qualify as propagating culture in my book.

MTV’s lack of “culture propagation” also extends to their shows: when has Adel Karam hosted an artist on his show that promotes culture? His most successful episode was with Haifa Wehbe.

What was MTV’s attempt at keeping you glued to your TV sets on a Saturday night? Maya Diab in barely-there clothing singing karaoke.

How did MTV try to sell Dancing With The Stars in its first season? By using May Hariri.

Of course, MTV isn’t alone in this practice of culture-lacking Lebanese media approach. Here are some screenshots thanks to LBCI, OTV and Al-Jadeed:

Isn’t it ironic that the same TV station wanting to fight decadence has been actively promoting it for months and years based on the rule that “الجمهور عايز كده?”

Do they even know that people massively clicking on a link isn’t indicative of its quality and that people tuning into a TV show doesn’t mean that said TV show is of decent quality?

Does MTV also think that the people who shared the video and who are targeted by the campaign would suddenly wake up and find themselves needing to pursue some Picasso instead of a Miss Lebanon selfie and some Beethoven instead of Haifa, especially that there’s absolutely no Lebanese TV stations that serves such a level of “culture” to begin with, in a country where such a thing isn’t remotely primed in the first place?

The Lebanese population is being actively dumbed down by TV stations who then come sweeping in with a marketing ploy to show us that we easily fall prey to gimmicks, while doing absolutely nothing about the problem in the first place. Don’t ridicule people with a silly “music” video when your TV station makes absolutely no effort at advocating for the campaign you’re supposedly championing.

If you want to fight decadence and promote culture, then do it, don’t preach it. Offer some culture to your viewers that isn’t gimmicky. Educate them. Give them news articles that would stimulate their minds, that don’t start with a  “بالصور ” or ” بالفيديو ” headline.

Don’t expose the music of the highest bidder when there’s so much better pieces floating around the Lebanese scene but without the needed money to give them airtime. Don’t give acting roles to models when there are countless theatre students in the country who can’t make a living.

If you want to promote culture, don’t shy away from investigative journalism that could highlight and maybe change a lot of what’s happening in this country just because a politician owns shares in your establishment. How many issues has MTV and other Lebanese TV stations forcefully ignored because they’re not “catchy” enough, because they deem aren’t newsworthy enough, because they want to kill them upon arrival for a reason or another? How can you promote culture if you’re deciding what is cultural and what isn’t?

The simplest analogy to this whole issue that I can think of is the following: MTV promoting culture is akin to Al Manar promoting secularism or Tele Lumiere promoting atheism. In other words, it’s bullshit. In a week or so, when people get over bananas, MTV will go back to what it does best and it will all be “بالصور ” or ” بالفيديو .”


Let Them Demolish Amin Maalouf’s House

Amin Maalouf's Home Beirut

Many people are panicking that Gaby Layon, our minister of culture, has approved the demolition of Amin Maalouf’s house in Beirut’s Badaro neighborhood, which started yesterday. You can check out pictures of what’s left of the house here.

My problem with the issue can be formulated in the following question: should we be against this demolition because it’s Amin Maalouf’s house, which is why most people are outraged, or because it’s is a one-of-a-kind Lebanese mansion that has been around for over a century?

While Amin Maalouf is definitely a Lebanese to make us proud and whatnot, I do not believe him living in the house holds any cultural value for the Amin-Maalouf-Lived-Here protesters. He did not create most of his literature in it. I don’t think the house he couldn’t wait to get out of helped shape him as a writer in any way. If Amin Maalouf wanted the house saved, I’m sure Amin Maalouf could have gotten it saved.

However, the house is more than a century old. It is an old fashioned Lebanese house, present in a capital that is fast losing any form of architecture that makes it distinctive – and this is where the wealth of this residence lies. Long-gone are those mansions that our forefathers helped build and told us about when we were younger. Long gone are those houses that make Beirut Beirut. They are but a distant memory stranded among a concrete jungle of high-rises, slums and Zaitunay Bays. The house shouldn’t be demolished not because Amin Maalouf lived in it but because it would, if renovated, fit in and give grandeur and character to its neighborhood – one that the coming high rise wouldn’t even dream of doing.

Not all old Lebanese buildings are nice and should be preserved though. But their demolition is a reflection of two serious problems: we have a lack of urban design that is only getting worse with each tower ruining Beirut’s skyline. The idea that high-rises shouldn’t be stranded all around the city but located in one main district is non-existent. For example, my neighborhood in Achrafieh has a very high building that hasn’t been completed yet and it’s been ten years at least. It sits there, out of place, out of character and absolutely disgusting-looking. These old buildings are being demolished at an increasingly rapid pace as well – out with the old, in with the ugly new. And this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the horrors of Beirut’s current designs.

The second problem is that those who should care about preserving our culture don’t. And those who have the power to point that out are in a deep state of apathy.

While the issue of electricity and Lebanon’s ancient ruins are different, they are both of the same importance. However, how many TV stations do you see grilling Gebran Bassil day in, day out? All of them except OTV and Al-Manar. How many stations do you see grilling Gaby Layoun for demolishing more landmarks during his time than any other minister of culture? None.

Gaby Layoun isn’t Michel Aoun’s son-in-law. He doesn’t have a protective clout around him. He can be very easily disposed, another Charbel Nahhas if you want.

Gaby Layoun doesn’t have the faintest idea what culture is. He is the minister behind the current demolition of Beirut’s Hippodrome in Wadi Bou Jmil and the demolition of the Phoenician Port in Downtown Beirut as well. For all matters and purposes, this is a man who doesn’t know anything that extends beyond the growing depth of his coffers. And yet he’s still adorning our government with his presence. He was even quoted “apologizing” for Maalouf’s home, not knowing its architectural worth. Please.

Let them destroy Amin Maalouf’s house. What remains of our ancestor’s Beirut doesn’t rest on it. Odds are there’s another house somewhere in Beirut right now being demolished as well. But no one cares. Lebanon’s cultural identity crisis isn’t contingent upon a house standing, in a country whose national heritage is a matter of disagreement, where those landmarks being destroyed are considered by some as unnecessary – “the tourists don’t want to see that.”

Let them demolish Amin Maalouf’s house. It is not his home. It is but a tiny speck in a dying country, a cancerous and corrupt ministry, an idle media and a wretched people all getting ready for Lebanon’s upcoming 2013 elections. I’m pretty sure if the ministry wanted to demolish Gebran Khalil Gebran’s home, few would have cared as well.

Let them demolish Amin Maalouf’s house because, if anything, leaving his old home actually allowed him to be great. 3a2belna.

Welcome to the Republic of Anarchy

Welcome to Lebanon.

Those were the words I thought I would be very keen to hear halfway through my stay in France. I’m almost two weeks in. And the last thing I want to do is go back.

As I sat in my French apartment, looking over a car stopping at a red light at 4 am in the morning, I started to wonder… what am I going back to in a couple of weeks?

And after the political unraveling of the last few days, that question’s broken disk kept spinning. I am not a Lebanese who has been so overly seduced by life in those “better” Western countries that the thought of life in Lebanon has become intolerable. I am perfectly able to live there as I’ve done for the entirety of my 22 years so far. In fact, the only thing I’ve done these past two weeks in France – apart from hospital duties – is to tell everyone about all the good that my country has to offer, slowly working on changing their stereotypes.

The ironic part is that just yesterday at noon some French person asked me about the situation in my country and I answered: there’s nothing really happening except in few select areas that you wouldn’t really go to.

How gullible of me? Yes, I know.

Once you’ve tasted the forbidden fruit of everything that those “better” countries have to offer and once you’ve dipped your toes into the waters of safety that are spread around all their land, you can’t but wonder: how are we living exactly?

Where am I going back in a few weeks?

To a place where we enjoy a security kept together by fragile forces enjoying an exquisite 69. To a place where “pilgrims” getting kidnapped is solved by some family’s army wing kidnapping people in retaliation. To a place where families have army wings. To a place where some families are called clans. To a place where these clans stick together. To a place where these clans threaten to make things worse.

Go back where you ask?

To a place where these clans decide to take things into their hands. To a place where clans actually have the option to take things into their own hands. To a place where you – irrelevant, clan-less, arms-less – are close to a bug, ready to be squashed. All for the greater good.

Go back to what?

To a place where any irrelevant person finding any irrelevant TV station can get the whole country to boil. To a place where people believe they have principles but are so brainwashed that they think they reached their opinions freely. To a place where saying your opinion can get you threats. To a place where freedom of speech is slowly becoming a myth. To a place where some people would much rather have you silenced than to defend your right to say your opinion. To a place where you would much rather stay silent because talking has become expensive.

Go back where?

To a place where we accept doing a war for a few prisoners in some country and eleven in an another but talking about those other prisoners who have been as such for decades is considered treason. To a place where some people’s only fault is not to be born into this family or that because that’s the way to get things done. To a place where each house has an arsenal of arms tucked away with winter’s carpets, ready to be unloaded at any second. To a place where the range of self-control is as expanded as the emotional range of a spoon.

Go back where?

To a place where the way people look at you is determined by your nationality, by the color of your skin or the religious symbol you wear around your neck. It might be the same in other countries, true, but I’m certain there are no other countries where workers of certain nationalities are threatened not to roam certain towns after a specific hour.

Go back where again?

To a place where some people have minds so messed up that they think messing up the whole country serves their best interests only when, in fact, the only interests being served are those of countries that we love to hate. And they do so willingly, lovingly, exquisitely and proudly.

Go back where?

To a place where we pride ourselves of being triumphant in non-sensical wars when, in fact, we are losing the more important battles of science, research, advancement, economy. To a place where we pride ourselves on the importance of resiliency – only when it comes to certain very specific things. Everything else? Well, the hell with that.

Go back where?

To a checkpoint that gives you digital rectal exams if you don’t have all the papers you’ve ever been given in the country, a checkpoint that turns you into a national threat while others kidnap citizens of other nationalities left and right and are left to go on with their business as if they are doing absolutely nothing wrong.

Go back where?

To a place whose airport road is closed 300 days out of 365 by those same irrelevant people who think they are so relevant. To a place where burning tires has become a meme we laugh at. To a place where the concept of a peaceful demonstration does not exist.

Go back where?

To a place where my MacBook charger gives me headache because the electricity we get sporadically is not only non-existent most of the times but of such a low quality that our electronics suffer in return. To a place where a smoker is always right. To a place where a woman is wrong most of the times. To a place where a woman driving a bus is deemed “mestarjle.”

Go back where?

To a place where you are ripped off for the bare necessities every single day. And you can’t do anything about it. To a place where you have to beg for any little thing you want to get. To a place where phone companies are screwing you daily. To a place where consuming tap water gives you diarrhea. To a place where breathing gives you pneumonia. To a place where walking on sidewalks means maneuvering your way around cars, dog feces and drunkards. To a place where a public transportation system is non-existent and where going from point A to point B, despite them being within the same city, gets you to panic.

Go back where?

Somewhere whose capital is a concrete jungle, becoming uglier with each building getting torn down and a high-rise replacing it. Whose capital has very few select spots that we love to show to tourists because that’s really the only thing we’ve got to show. Whose capital is clinically dead in every possible way – except partying the night away in a pride element of “joie de vivre.” Whose capital dances so wildly on the tip of a yo-yo that you can’t really tell which road you have to take in the morning to get to work safely.

Go back where?

To a place whose regions are so close together and yet so segregated that telling people where you’re from comes with a baggage of stereotypes that you have to tolerate your whole life. To a place where those regions are always – always – unicolor.

Go back where?

To some place where shit hits the fan so frequently that you end up having no idea what kind of place you’d be going back to. And it’d be raining shit all the time. To a place where all the components for the situation to get messed up are in place. All the time. And somehow we always end up utterly shocked when it happens. It’s what was getting brewed when we were partying the night away at Skybar last night. Cheers by the way.

Go back where?

To a place whose “activists” are neo-socialists who want to advance their own agenda under an umbrella of independence. Where the only slogan those activists raise is beautiful rhetoric of a better tomorrow. Someone has watched that “Annie” movie often. Where those activists have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. But don’t tell them I told you that.

Go back to what?

To a place whose expats berate you for writing something similar to what you’re reading right now – because somehow that place is an awesome place, much better than the places they decided to immigrate to. And yet they are there – not here. Whose expats are so blinded by homesickness that they can’t really see how sick their home really is.

Go back where?

To some place whose national pride comes in the form of the following: Cedars, mountain close to the sea, skiing and swimming in the spring, Christians having an “active” presence, Jeita Grotto, whatever green we have left, Skybar, White, Gemmayzé, Byblos, the politician you think is next to God, the history you are not even familiar with, the fact that this place is so much better than those places around it, the resiliency, the “joie de vivre.”

And the list is limited to that.

At this point though, I don’t care about the few Cedar trees that we have left. I don’t care that the white in our flag is that of the snowy mountains we adore so much. I don’t care about a cave you have to pay a shitload to get access to. I don’t care that the president of the country always has to be Christian – something you somehow find yourself always saying to ignorant foreigners who think your country is a haven for Islamists. I don’t give a shit about Lebanese joie de vivre: let’s dance the night away tonight and not care about what’ll happen tomorrow. I don’t care about comparing Lebanon to lesser neighboring countries just because it makes us feel better about ourselves.

What I do care about is having a decent country to return to. A place I can be proud to call my land, my home. Where my rights as a human being, first and foremost, are respected beyond any other measure. Where I don’t feel a stranger in a land that is supposedly mine. Where I know that the safety I feel today will still be there tomorrow. Where a girl walking down the street in Gemmayzé knows that if she saw someone being involved in lude acts, that someone will end up in prison. Where I don’t have to be eternally grateful for any asshole for doing their job. Where I don’t have to kiss up to assholes for them to do their job.

What will this lead to? Absolutely nothing. It’s the way things are. And it’s the way things will remain. Thousands will read this. Some will love it. Some will have a sense of national pride miraculously kick in and decide than I’m not worth it. Others will get stuck at the fact that I alluded to that country that shall not be named and decide that I’m an ignorant traitor of a history they apparently know very well.

Others will say I should stop criticizing and come up with a solution. But what’s the point, really? It’s not like any solution you can come up with can get illiterate growers of hashish to decide they want to integrate in a country where you don’t even have anything to integrate in. A solution to what? Bring forth national unity?

Go back where again?

To a place that has literally (check this) remained the same for the past 142 years when it comes to the basic fabrics of its society. To a place where Sunnis hate the Shiites who hate the Druze who hate the Maronites who hate the Orthodox who hate the Catholics who hate the Jews who hate the Shiites who also hate the Sunnis who in turn hate the Maronites and what you’re left with is a clusterfuck of sects hating each other. And you can’t begin to dream to change that because if there’s anything that our meaningless history has taught us it’s that diversity is beyond overrated.

There was a week back in July where I lost hope in Lebanon (check here) ever becoming a country I would love to be in at least in the foreseeable future. But I retained my pride to be Lebanese. There’s a love/hate relationship with this land that you can’t escape from.
But today, as I’m typing these words on a subway taking me to the hospital where I’m gladly working 10 hours a day, I’m even considering if this national pride is enough anymore. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t. But when it’s gone, the only thing I’ll be left with is me caring.

Some French people here, as well as people from other nationalities, commend me for being overly patriotic. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s a good thing. I’m beginning to wonder if my pride that should be non-existent in a country that can’t begin to dream to function is stopping to me as an individual from moving on and becoming something.

If there’s anything I noticed from my stay in Europe is that no matter what you do and how well you integrate, you will always be looked at as the intruder to their culture. You will always be looked at as the outsider, the person who was not there when it all began and the person who will always be looked down upon.

Then you look at your “culture” back home and, despite having people who share your thoughts and dreams and aspirations, you are faced with the realization that you are a minority. You are not where your country is heading. The culture currently sinking its teeth into the land you hold dear is not that of liberties and freedom but that of fear and hate and disgust and lack of law.

Welcome to Lebanon. I thought I would be dying to see that sign two weeks into my stay in France. Two weeks in, the only sign I can see looming above my country’s airport is: welcome to the republic of anarchy.

And do I really want to go back there?

Beirut’s Roman Hippodrome is Being Dismantled by Lebanese Ministry of Culture… Against The Law

Our lovely minister of culture just doesn’t let up. A few days after he authorized the destruction of a one-of-a-kind Phoenician Port in Downtown Beirut, he’s at it again.

This time, he’s defying a law by the Shawra Council, whose jurisdiction supersedes that of the minister, which doesn’t allow any works to be done inside the estate of the Roman Hippodrome, which I spoke about back in March.

MTV has gotten exclusive footage from inside the hippodrome, which is sealed off for the public, in the Wadi Bou Jmil area showing the dismantling process in full swing. It’s still in its early stages by the looks of it but this is downright unacceptable. And if a law can’t keep the real estate mafia from eating away at whatever heritage Beirut has, you can’t but ask: what will?

This is our history. This is something that makes Lebanon unique in a way since not all countries have hippodromes stranded on their land. This is something that we should be proud to have. This is something that we should turn into a public venue.

But no. The minister has other plans. The best use for the hippodrome would be the parking lot of a high-rise. And you know what the sad part is? Some people will ask: what’s the point behind a hippodrome? Should all of the ancient monuments in Beirut be kept?

And the sadder part is that the beyond evident and deafening “YES” to second question is not as evident and common as I had originally thought.

Minister Layoun should resign because the only ministry he’s being in charge of is the ministry of  un-culture. Let’s help strip whatever identity Beirut has and cash in a few millions in our bank accounts. Those will surely come in useful when he stops being minister and he leaves to some other country with his family.

I’d say I’m disgusted. But at this point, in this country, I’m simply amused. Destroy away. Destroy away. If your brain can’t tell you that you’re doing something wrong, how will anyone convince you?

Just a question though. How do these people reach power? Also, don’t you just love change and reform?