Comparing Beirut To Dubai

An American writer for the Huffington Post wrote an article today titled: “Thank you, Beirut. Your Friend, Dubai” in which she basically paralleled the rise of Dubai to the gradual decline and possible near-demise (never ever?) of Beirut.

The writer’s opinion of the Lebanese capital was favorable – even favorable of the go-to Lebanese scarecrow for Americans Hezbollah, trying to explain its popularity among many Lebanese and the reason for its increasing political strength.

In typical fashion, Lebanese across the internet have been sharing the article fervently. It’s about Lebanon. It’s about Beirut. It’s by a very prominent publication. Click, click away.

However, the question I want to ask is the following: is comparing and contrasting Beirut to Dubai warranted?

I, for one, think drawing similarities between the two cities is comparing apples to oranges for the following reasons:

1) Beirut was never made out of money. When you talk about Beirut, you don’t talk about an economical hub for a region or a city made entirely because they discovered oil beneath its soils. You talk about a city which made itself by itself and who, when the factors leading to its prosperity are affected, undoes itself by itself.

2) Beirut has never had poured into it the same amount of money going into Dubai daily. The Lebanese economy – even in its heyday – has never been as strong as the Emirati economy is (or was if we’re accounting for the recession). Up until a few years ago, we didn’t have oil. We won’t see any benefits from that oil until 2018 at the most optimistic expectations (link) and I’m sure the economy driving Beirut won’t be nowhere near comparable to that of Dubai anytime soon.

3) Beirut and Dubai have two entirely different experiences to give their visitors. The joke goes “I’ve never been to Dubai but I’ve been to Zaytounay Bay.” Many moguls are sure trying to turn Beirut into a new Dubai. But I believe their attempts will end up futile. They can build as much malls as they want and spend copious amounts of money into flashy projects that pale in comparison to any developments in more developed countries. They can build the fanciest hotels and the most hedonic of night clubs. But the fact of the matter remains, and it shows in the point the article’s author tried to make: Dubai is for show and Beirut is for heart, however tacky that might be. Can you compare both?

4) By comparing Beirut to Dubai, the comparison can be extended to the countries holding the two cities. Is the “Lebanon” experience of tourism compared to the “UAE” experience? I highly doubt it.

5) The governing bodies behind Beirut and Dubai are highly different. On one hand, you have an iron-first ruling with a twist of enough liberalism not to step on bigger political toes. On the other hand, you have a state barely keeping it politically together as everyone fights for a piece of the Lebanese cake.

Beirut is a city with woes. There’s political instability at every turn. Civil strife can erupt at any moment. The city is that of 18 sects trying to live together while working for their communitarian benefits, some of which are mutually exclusive with those of others. But don’t you think that for a city as chaotic, with a serious lack of infrastructure and urban design, to be compared to Dubai at every point is poignant enough to tell which city has more promise? And If Dubai’s oil reserves ran out tomorrow and its economy started going down the drain and the expats in it decided their futures better be spent elsewhere, would it still be the mega-brilliant city everyone makes it out to be today?

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Lebanon’s Twisted Perception of Beauty

When a journalist wrote an article in the Huffington Post about Lebanon’s babes and botox in its capital, many Lebanese stood against the article in uproar.

This is not us. These are not our women. This is not our city.

Do they have a point? Sure they do. After all, not all our women boast plastic faces as they strut their heels and behinds on the tables of Beirut’s rooftops. But what people seem to fail to realize is that the side of Lebanon portrayed by the Huffington Post is the one we want to get across to the world.

Check out this video from 2011. I have written about it before (check it here).

I disagree with the content of the video. I dislike the categorization of Lebanese joie de vivre as something only related to partying the night away. But when the only face even your ministry of tourism is giving of your country is that of rooftops, nightclubs and night life, what could you expect from a journalist who’s coming to your country to see the supposed highlights your country has to offer?

When you tell someone to come visit specific places in a country and they judge a country based on the places you recommended, you can’t but blame yourself for that.

Even I am guilty of that. Whenever a French person decides to inform me he thinks my country is full of Islamists where women are forced to wear the veil in order to go out of their homes, I go on and on about our nightlife, among other things. And I’m not even a fan of nightlife to begin with.

What David Constable has noticed is a phenomenon that runs deeper than should be acceptable in Lebanese society. Have you ever seen a woman your grandmother’s age with her face so plasticized that she looks downright disgusting? I have seen way too many of those, the last one of them as I boarded my flight to France. Have you seen girls your age who decide the moment they finish high school to start injecting their lips and cheeks? Well, I know some girls like that.

And the list goes on.

No, I’m not saying everyone does it. I’m not saying all our women are plastic. I’m not saying all our women can be summed up with boobs and botox. What I’m saying is that we have a lot of them and what is “odd” is usually the thing that sticks out the most. Simplest example? We don’t notice the calm days we get throughout the year but when all hell breaks loose for a few days or weeks, we judge the entire year accordingly. And we get judged as an “unsafe” country by everyone else according to those days as well.

It’s the same premise when it comes to boobs, babes, botox and Beirut.

A friend of mine, whom I met abroad, has a Lebanese mother and a non-Lebanese father. She has a typical European face: blond, a little nose and green eyes. When she visited her mother’s homeland a while back, she got interrogated by random people on the streets who wanted to know the surgeon who fixed her nose – because no one can have a nose like that – and the place where she got her contact lenses – because no one can have eyes that green.

We have many people who want those little inconspicuous noses that don’t require them to choose a specific side every time them want to change their Facebook profile picture. We have many people who want bigger breasts and asses. We have many people who want to have chest implants to go off all macho. We have many people who want to change their faces, look younger and have bigger lips in the process.

Are those “many” people the entirety of the Lebanese population? No. Are those “many” also present in other societies? Perhaps. But if you look closely, you will find many even among your close friends who have at least had something done – the fact that we can get loans as well to do so isn’t helping. On the other hand, in a one month stay in Europe, I have failed to see as many botoxed babes here or women who dress up for a wedding every day before going to work.

Many in our societies in Lebanon like to show off. Be it through their phones, cars, clothes or even through plastic surgery. And those are the people we like to show the world because they are the ones who help us change the stereotypes others have of us. But with the baggage of the bling-bling crowds comes something else entirely, which is another stereotype: we are a country of fake people.

Are we fake? Absolutely not. Beirut has much more to offer than just that. Lebanon has way more to offer than rooftops and night clubs. But that idea won’t change anytime soon. Especially when the only thing we want people to see in Lebanon when they come here is Gemmayze, Skybar, Downtown and Zaitunay Bay. Demand of  our ministry of tourism to change tactics and to change the way it promotes the country  and then we get to be in uproar over an article turning our entire society plastic.