Lebanon’s Arguileh Militia

Soon after I blogged about how the Beiruti restaurant Enab, situated in Gemmayze, was violating the smoking ban despite stickers announcing the place as a non-smoking restaurant (link with pictures), IndyAct Lebanon decided to take matters in their own hands after a growing number of complaints regarding that particular restaurant were met unanswered by our tourism police.

As I said, it’s obvious there’s an under-the-table deal somewhere that benefits off our lungs. Anything for that extra money.

IndyAct decided to use their office space, which is ideally situated next to Enab, in order to set up a huge banner announcing to people who frequent Gemmayze that the restaurant nearby is violating the law and that it is not, in fact, a smoke free place as it advertises. The people of IndyAct were surprised to find their premises violated soon after by employees of Enab who took down the poster. Apparently they wanted to break the law in peace.

And it has all been documented on video:

Soon after the incident, IndyACT procured an official permit from the municipality of Beirut to set up the poster that Enab’s employees forcibly removed. Let’s hope those employees don’t break yet another law by removing the poster.

Enab Gemmayze Smoking Ban

 

It is said apathy is the weakest point in applying the law. It is our duty as Lebanese to make sure our law is enforced, people constantly said. But I have to ask: what’s the point?

When restaurants such as Enab break the law so flagrantly and have no problem breaking it even more to cover up the initial violation fully knowing they won’t face any repercussions whatsoever, what’s the point?

The more I call that magical 1735 number, the less cooperation I find from the tourism police whose job, paid for by my taxes, is to ensure such laws are enforced. The smoking ban is dead, despite some politicians wanting you to believe otherwise.

The amount of restaurants violating the law today is way too big to count. There isn’t a restaurant in Jbeil or Batroun or Tripoli – the places I spend most of my time in, apart from very few select places like Crepaway, which is actually observing the law. And they don’t even care about it. When you ask them about the smoking ban they reply: “that little thing? No, there isn’t such a thing over here. Do you want an arguileh, sir?”

 

The solution that I have found suits me best is to reward those few restaurants that are actually observing the law by frequenting them more often. On the other hand, I have decided that when I visit a restaurant that turns out to be violating the law, I will simply leave making sure they know all the smoke in the air is the reason for my departure. They want to make money off arguileh? Well, it won’t be my money they’ll be taking.

While our minister of tourism panics over the decreasing number of tourists visiting our beautiful country and sets up promotions to boost the sector, I have to wonder: how can you expect those people who come from much more organized countries to visit a place where even arguile has its own mini-militia?

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I will personally never visit Enab, Jbeil’s Feniqia (link) or any restaurant that violates the ban for that matter again. I invite you to do the same.

 

Advertisements

Beirut’s Valet Parking Saga: 3enab, Gemmayze

In February 2012, the story about how a Zaatar w Zeit valet parking hassled and then hit someone who was trying to park in front of ZwZ in the early AM hours made the rounds. It sparked outrage (which naturally eventually died away) and even made it to the news. You can read all about it here.

The time of the following story is a few months later, on December 29th 2012, when a friend of mine named Jad Rahme tried to park in front of 3enab in Gemmayze and was hassled by the valet parking person and then by the restaurant’s manager. His story is currently gaining attention on Facebook (link) and I figured I’d help with sharing it as well:

Yesterday night at 0:45AM we parked in front of the restaurant Enab Beirut in Mar Mikhael. The valets come to us and tell us that we can’t park here because they keep this place empty for the restaurant. That’s the second time I face the same issue in front of the same restaurant and the first time I called the manager who apologized and told the valet to let me park. So that’s what I did yesterday but it seems like this time the manager took it as a personal issue against the restaurant. 

The manager made it clear that I can legally park here but that he don’t want me to park here because he wants to keep the place empty in front of the restaurant. To make it short, after hearing lovely words from the manager like “Akalna khara haydik el marra” and after he shouted “Iza 3ambtethaddene soff hon w fell” we left because we suspected that this will lead to the valet scratching the car or doing any similar vandal act.
I don’t know how many clients they will lose if we park in front of their restaurant at 1 in the morning but what’s sure is that they lost me as a future customer because I was planning to try this restaurant after hearing some good stuff about it in a family lunch few months ago.

To all the older generation who keeps on telling us “We count on the younger Lebanese generation to make this country a better place”, what do you expect from us if we can’t even park on a public parking spot? If we can’t park in a public spot that is meant to be for anyone how do you expect us to solve bigger problems like infrastructure and electricity?

With the hope that one day Lebanon will be run by a state and a government rather than valets and NGOs.

3enab is a restaurant that has been mentioned on my blog before to point out its severe breach of the smoking ban, despite sporting a sticker on its main door advertising a non-smoking environment. You can check the pictures here.

Despite reporting the place, the authorities didn’t even bother which is proof enough – at least to me – that our so called tourism police is in with our restaurants to violate the smoking ban. How many restaurants actually respected the no-smoking law on New Year’s Eve? Almost none.

Regarding the issue at hand, I personally always try to find a place to park without resorting to Valet Parking. But anyone would tell you that trying to park anywhere in Achrafieh on a Saturday (or any other day for that matter) is a near impossible task. I know it shouldn’t be this way but what can you do?

If, by some stroke of bad luck, I end up having to park somewhere in front of a shop, the least that I should theoretically expect is not to be bad-mouthed or hassled or even beaten. But Lebanon is all except theoretical. The police which couldn’t care less about the smoking ban won’t care about an issue that’s been going on for far longer. The authorities which have no problem eating away your rights whenever they feel like it won’t be bothered by some valet parking employee hassling you.

Sometimes things are just the way they are and you can’t really hope to change any of them. With each passing day, this is becoming my realization towards my country. I may love it to pieces but how can I expect to make those needed massive changes when a parking spot has become a commodity, when demanding for a law to be applied is met with apathy, where regulatory laws are always met with ridicule and where those who should look after you only care about looking after themselves?

This is 3enab’s Facebook page (here) if you feel like complaining.

 

Lebanese Restaurants Violating The Smoking Ban: 3enab, Gemmayze

I went to 3enab yesterday for the first time and I thought it was a very cool restaurant. I really liked the old-fashioned Lebanese architectural aspect of it. The food was good as well – after all, you can’t go terribly wrong with Lebanese food, which is the absolute best, and that is a fact.

As my friends and I settled down, a waiter came to us and asked if we wanted an arguile. I promptly asked him: isn’t smoking banned? He then replied: we’ll open this window:

Never mind that the window was tiny but apparently that’s enough to consider the room an “open space” – whatever that means. Soon enough, a couple coming for dinner ordered an arguile. The man was also smoking cigar.

As we finished having dinner and turned around to leave, we were surprised to find the entire restaurant filled with arguiles, even in sections of the restaurant without windows to open. A friend noted as we exited the door: it felt like shisha cafe for a moment there.

 

Ironically, this is the sign they had at their main door:

As soon as I left, I called 1735 and reported the place. They took my contact info and said they’ll look into it. But as I was made to realize: infringing the law this obviously in an area where tourism police is constantly on the prowl, seeing it was a Friday night, means 3enab probably has some under the table dealings with those making sure the law is carried out. Anything for that extra arguile revenue.

I’m pretty sure those against the smoking ban are elated right now.

A Girl’s Walk Around Gemmayzé, Beirut

My best friend was having dinner at the newly opened Nasawiya Cafe last Saturday. They had a Ghana-music night and it was for a good cause, she thought. When the event ended, she got up to leave.

Her friend walked with her. His car was parked a little before hers. He offered to drive her to her car. She refused.

This is Gemmayzé. I have walked this street all my life. What’s the worse that can happen?

So she tucked her hands in her pockets and walked on the sidewalk. Like a ma’am. She looked around the bustling bars and the intoxicated people. She saw the fancy cars trying to find a place to park.

As she walked and walked, she felt safe. Gemmayzé and Achrafieh were home.

It was then that she spotted something in the well-lit corner of the street. She stopped right in her tracks. She was paralyzed with shock. She was petrified.

It couldn’t be. Not here. Not like this. Not on this street.

In that well-lit corner was sitting a man. This man didn’t care about passerbies who looked at him in disgust but did nothing about what he was doing. He just kept at it.

She looked at his hand. Down there. She couldn’t move. The man in front of her was mastrubating in public. In front of her.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Suddenly, the man stood up and walked briskly towards her.

He had a steady pace. He was not intoxicated. He was not drunk. He was not high. He was fully aware of what he was doing. And in that moment it took him to get to her from the corner he was sitting in, she felt the most afraid in her 22 years of existence so far.

The man stood in front of her. He looked down at her and said: “Do you want me to cum on your breasts?”

Her reflex response was to grab her phone. Speed dial her friend and start shouting for him to come to her.
It took the friend less than a minute to be there. It took her more than a minute to catch her breath.

Never did she believe she would be this threatened this close to home. Never did she think she would see this level of decadence on a street that she always considered as beyond safe.

That night she felt the least empowered of her life. She felt so weak that she felt she couldn’t have done anything. And what’s worse, she knew that if anything had happened further, she wouldn’t have a safety net to fall back on.

That disgusting man would win. And what’s worse, his win would have been fair and square by all accounts.

When she got home, she needed to vent. She had already read my article about losing hope in Lebanon. So she wrote an addendum centered around the night that seared her decision to leave the country for her PhD in 6 months.

“From a Lebanese ovaries point of view, it is impossible to spend your life in semi peace without a pair of testicles guarding your back. From your dad watching your every move to your boyfriend being over jealous, to your husband being overprotective. Testicles are handling the situations.

This is the most annoying thing to young ovaries. But sexual assault is not a far fetched situation. It lurks around your brain every second of your waking time. Whoever tells you otherwise is in oblivion or still didn’t hear the stories everyone is so busy hiding.

If you walk around a carefree neighborhood, it is only because you know the alpha male there. No matter how loud you are online about your independence, you will never be ready to punch a guy once confronted.

Bottom line is we should either grow a pair or embrace our inherited dependence.”

What’s ironic, she later told me, is the place she was having dinner in.

Two Lebanese Stand-Up Comedians Detained For Public Lewd Behavior: Showing Underwear

When did this take place? In 2009.

What happened? Comedian Edmon Haddad, who appears in the New TV show Chi.N.N, and Rawiya al-Shab were detained for a comedy show they did in Gemmayzé.

Why? Haddad apparently showed his underwear in the comedy show, as the above picture shows, and they auctioned off some of the men in the audience as a joke.

As a result of all of the above, a media outlet present at the event decided that this was a breach for public morality and reported the event in an article that was picked up by a judge who ordered the comedians to be detained based on the information in that article alone.

So dear judge, whose name is apparently forbidden from being circulated, let me ask you a few things:

1) How reliable and law-conformant is a judgement in which your only proof is something you read? How about we start using Al-Jaras as a reliable witness in Lebanon from now on?

2) What exactly is breaching public moral that we’re talking about? My public moral was not breached by a comedian showing a part of his underwear. I’m pretty sure the only one whose moral was violated at that event was the reporter. So if one person feeling violated is enough, this brings me back to…

3) How about you issue warrants against a dozen parliament members who breached my public moral by calling each other lewd words on national TV during three consecutive days?

4) How about you issue warrants for the MP and the head of a certain political party who threw chairs at each other on national TV and basically used every Lebanese curse word known to us?

At this rate, everyone whose underwear shows above their jeans’ line walking down the streets should be very careful. Some media outlet might write an article about how they feel offended by you and you might be detained. This makes the naked Ain el Mrayse guy’s act much more courageous than insane, don’t you think?

The comedian in question, Edmond Haddad, had the following to say on his YouTube channel:

Beirut’s Zaitunay Bay Featured in the New York Times

The Zaintunay Bay picture used by the NY Times

Yet another piece of Lebanon’s capital makes it to a highly acclaimed international publication. This time, Zaitunay Bay takes center stage with a feature in the coveted New York Times’ Travel section. You can read the full article here.

And if you thought previous articles by The Telegraph and New York Times and other publications about Beirut were not nauseating enough with use of words and adjectives that revolve around “Phoenix, resurrection, war-torn, etc….” this article is no different.

“It’s the phoenix of downtown Beirut coming back,” one of the owners of a restaurant in Zaitunay Bay says. Somehow almost 20 years after the end of the civil war, color me tired of using this terminology. If in 20 years Beirut isn’t back, then it might as well not plan a come back at all.

And somehow I don’t think Beirut has really returned if our pride and joy in the city when it comes to tourists extends from Gemmayze to Hamra. The “Phoenix” we are proud of has a golden beak, which is the aforementioned region. The rest of that Phoenix? I guess the best description would be: wings and body of concrete (and weak concrete at that).

My problem with Zaitunay Bay, and other similar projects around Beirut, is that they are not happening anywhere else. Having blogged before about how Beirut is not what Lebanon is all about, I feel the need to reiterate that point when articles such as this one arise. You see, of course Beirut will keep getting “resurrected” if all the capitol Lebanese and non-Lebanese investors put is in this city, in a very select area of it to be exact, while other places in Lebanon have to make their own luck, so to speak.

The fact that Zaitunay Bay is only an extension of Beirut’s DownTown is a testament to that.

In a way, I am prouder of places like Batroun that have surpassed years of Syrian presence and became one of the North’s major cities. I am proud of Jbeil, a city that is becoming a major tourist attraction solely based on what it has to naturally offer, not because of millions and millions of dollars being thrown in it.

But well, have I mentioned how gorgeous the Cedars are this time of year?

And if you think I’m being too harsh, the concrete marvels of Zaitunay Bay are absolutely breathtaking in this weather, don’t you think?