Lebanon At 2016 Rio Olympics: Our Athletes, The Possibility of a Gold Medal & Fighting With Israel Over A Bus

Lebanon Olympics 2016

Rio’s 2016 Olympics had their big opening yesterday, or as the joke goes it was similar to an average Lebanese wedding. Critics are hailing Brazil’s celebration of its history without shying away from the bits that are usually covered up such as slavery, and thirsty people are drooling over the flag bearer of a Tonga, which is a country of 169 Polynesian islands.

As it is customary, Lebanon has a collection of athletes – nine – that are representing the country in Rio. Those athletes are:

  • Ray Bassil – Shooting,
  • Mariana Sahakian  – Table Tennis,
  • Ahmad Hazer – Athletics,
  • Chirine Njem – Athletics,
  • Anthony Barbar – Swimming,
  • Gabriella Doueihy – Swimming,
  • Elias Nassif – Judo,
  • Mona Sheaito  – Fencing,
  • Richard Mourjan – Canoe Slalom.

Chirine Njem will be the first woman to represent Lebanon in a Marathon race. Richard Mourjan will also be our first time participating in a Canoe Slalom.

Of the nine aforementioned athletes, Ray Bassil and Mona Sheaito participated in London’s 2012 Olympics.

The last time Lebanon won a medal at the Olympics goes back to 1980, at the Moscow olympics, where Hassan Bechara won a bronze for Greco-Roman wrestling.

In total, our country has a total of 4 medals to its name, two silver and two bronze, divided along the following manner:

  • 1952 (Helsinki Olympics): Zakaria Chehab (silver medal in men’s wrestling); Khalil Taha (bronze medal in men’s wrestling)
  • 1972 (Munich’s Olympics): Mohamed Traboulsi (silver medal in weightlifting),
  • 1980 (Moscow’s olympics): Hassan Bechara (bronze medal in wrestling).

The country has never had an athlete win a gold medal. I guess this is not exactly shocking given how little investment our governments put into sports in general and into nourishing the many athletic talents that our country has. Even sending athletes to the Olympics has proven, over and over again, to be “complicated” for our government. Those that went to London in 2012 reportedly had to finance a big chunk of their participation.

So it’s to that backdrop that it seems unbelievable that Lebanon may have its first shot at a golden medal. As reported by CNN, since her disappointing start in London back in 2012, Lebanon’s Ray Bassil has been working really hard, despite the obstacles set forth by her own country, to get better at what she does. She has since collected medal upon medal, rising to become the world’s #1 female trap shooter.

Ray will be competing on Sunday August 7th (tomorrow) at 3PM Beirut time.

Ray Bassil Olympics 2016 Rio

The schedule of Lebanon’s athletes is as follows, as sent to me by a friend:

Saturday, August 6th
* Mariana Sahakian – Table Tennis.

Sunday, August 7th:
* Ray Bassil: Shooting.
* Gabriella Doueihy: Swimming (women’s 400m freestyle).
* Richard Merjan: Canoe Slalom Men’s canoe single

Tuesday, August 9th: 
* Elias Nassif: Judo – 81 kg elimination round of 32

Wednesday, August 10th: 
* Mona Sheaito: Fencing,

Thursday, August 11th:
* Anthony Barbar: Swimming (men’s 50m freestyle).

Sunday, August 14th:
* Chirine Njem: Women’s marathon.

Tuesday, August 16th:
* Ahmad Hazer: Men’s 110m hurdle race.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Lebanese if our participation went drama free. Lucky for us, the drama started on day zero with the Lebanese and Israeli delegations nearly fighting over being assigned the same bus to be transported to the opening ceremony.

Lebanon - Israel - Rio 2016

The Times of Israel were the first to report on the issue (link), before Lebanese media picked up on the news. Israelis were appalled – gasp – and found the precedence to be “dangerous.” Meanwhile in Lebanon, the news is receiving more comical responses.

There’s not really much to read into it, and the only entity to blame for assigning the same bus for the Lebanese and Israeli delegations is the organizing committee that figured putting two enemy countries that recently commemorated the ten year anniversary of their latest war together on the same transportation vehicle was a good idea.

The Israelis can go on and on about how being blocked by the Lebanese delegation from accessing the bus is “unsportsmanship” behavior. And we, as Lebanese, will have differing opinions about this depending on where we fall on the political spectrum. But the fact of the matter is and will always be: it’s not unsportsmanship to protest Israel’s violations of our land, our people, and the land of the people that have been forcibly made refugees in our country. The Olympic games have never been devoid of political tone, and this is just another manifestation of that.

The Lebanese athletes sharing the bus with the Israeli delegation would have also had repercussions in Lebanon, as it is illegal for us to have any sort of interaction with Israelis. Or have we forgotten the international selfie scandal?

So in summary: we have nine athletes making us proud, one of them might make Lebanese history, and we’ve already fought with Israel. Just another typical day in Lebanon.

Lebanon Successfully Turns Army Day Into A Mortifying Freakshow

I get it if it’s Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day or any other day that has become, over the years, synonymous with commercialism and ways for advertisers all around the world to sell their products.

I get that 2016 has been proving a tough year so far. Our economy is going downhill, if that’s even possible. Inflation is going up. Roadster diner changed its menu. It’s a tough year out there to be Lebanese. And it just got tougher to swallow.

The horrors of 2016 continue today with Lebanon’s Army Day, celebrated every year on August 1st, becoming our new Mother’s and Father’s and Valentine’s Day. For lack of other words, bel lebnene: 7alabneha.

Ad agencies across country decided Army Day was yet another opportunity not to honor the army, but to pitch their new product in a way to sell it riding our army’s back. So everyone and their mother decided to do Army Day ads, of which this is a sample:

And just when you think that this would be the end of it, the yearly social media gaffe occurs with Virgin Megastores deciding to honor the army in their own way:


Awesome, right? Except that picture is of an Israeli soldier. You’d think that such a mistake would not occur on Army Day, out of all days, let alone on any other regular day. You’d think a campaign such as this would go through several people before surfacing online, but guess again I suppose.

After posting the above screenshot on my blog’s Facebook page, Virgin were quick to take down the post and decide that pointing out the fact they were using Lebanon’s only enemy country to “give respect” to our army was us leading a “campaign” against them. I’ve begun to realize that this is the Lebanese way for companies to deal with backlash: it’s always a campaign, and they’ve never actually fucked up. Even if it’s a picture of an Israeli soldier.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 11.32.23 PM

And if you thought this was the end of it, you thought wrong.

Because this is the country of “la joie de vivre” and this is summer, and as we all know, you can swim and ski in the same day w hek, a Lebanese overpriced resort decided to flaunt its army love in the only way it knows how, other than parading its own overcrowded facilities of course: half-naked bodies dancing in a pool to a semi-remixed version of the Lebanese National Anthem.

I swear, you can’t make this stuff up:

Many may not see anything wrong with such a display, but I find it hard to find swimsuit-sporting half-intoxicated bodies prancing to your country’s national anthem as anything remotely approaching paying respect for your country or your army.

2016 will officially go down as the year when Lebanon commercialized its Army Day. It was probably a long time coming, but we’re officially there. I wouldn’t be channeling my inner Layla Abdul Latif much if I predicted next year to be worse, with more ads, more products that want to be sold, more people paying money to sell their products than actually contributing to the army in the ways that it can benefit from, all to the backdrop of a country so buried in the sand that Army Day passes by every year without us having a proper discussion about it.

You see, would ad agencies find Army Day to be such an enticing opportunity hadn’t we, as Lebanese, put the army on a pedestal beyond reproach?

See you next year. And happy Army Day. Ba3d fi Exotica ma 3emlet di3aye. 

Fabian Maamari, Enough With Your Silliness

Behold Fabian Maamari, the Swedish-Lebanese whose Facebook pictures are causing a Lebanese frenzy.

4 days ago, Fabian posted a picture of him between two IDF soldiers with the very – err – sentimental? caption that you can check here.

To sum-up, Fabian met Avi – an Israeli – and the love of his life as he calls him, when he visited Israel last year during Tel Aviv’s yearly Pride parade. He then decided to move to Israel and stay there.

Recently, Fabian went on a vacation to the Israeli side of the Dead Sea where he saw two IDF soldiers roaming around. So because he was “experimental” he came up to them and waited until they made contact. He then made sure they knew he was Lebanese because he wanted to shock them.


Those IDF soldiers turned out to have served in Lebanon during the period of Israeli occupation of the South, and maybe even during the July 2006 war. Therefore, Fabian’s knee-jerk reaction was to have all his fears dissolve because the IDF soldiers thought Lebanon was “a beautiful country.”

They were then invited to dinner where Fabian told them the story of how he met his husband, and things quickly turned into sunshine and butterflies and how we should never judge people before we meet them and that Israelis can be nice people too.

Israelis can be good people, sure. I mean, they are just people, and people can be good or bad. Fair enough, a soldier killing a Lebanese does not make all people of that country bad. But it does put a huge question mark on the country that ordered the killing, especially when the death tally on our side is of lives shattered and ruined. Meeting adorable Israelis does not mean foregoing the struggles of Lebanese people with them. It doesn’t mean brushing aside their horrors just because it’s “cool.”

By the same token, there are a lot of bad Lebanese people that make me ashamed of holding the same nationality. A recent example that comes to mind is those employees who beat up two African women just because they were, well, African (link), or how many of us are treating the Syrian refugees.

But this isn’t about giving every single Israeli the benefit of the doubt for being Israeli, Fabian Maamari wants us to give their entire country the benefit of the doubt, and with that I have a problem.

This is not, unlike how some Lebanese media portrayed it, about Fabian Maamari being gay, and being a Lebanese man in love with an Israeli man. This is far from it. Maamari can love whoever he wants, and sleep with whoever he wants, Israeli or otherwise, and I couldn’t care less.

This is also not similar to when Miss Lebanon found herself in a selfie with Miss Israel (link) or when the recurrent debate about how to best handle Israeli presence at international events takes place.


I feel like a few reminders are in order for Mr. Maamari, who entered Israel with his Swedish passport, and who has absolutely no reason to be “afraid” when he’s there as a European Union nationalist, not as Lebanese.

These are a few pictures from the recent July War, where Israel killed over 1500 civilians of your country including more than 300 women and children:

And this is the love they gave us then:


And these are pictures of the 1996 Qana Massacre where Israel shelled a UN compound filled with children, killing 106.

Where was the love back then?

For every picture that you are posting, Mr. Maamari, of your Israeli adventure, there’s one to parallel it in horrors of what that country has caused us.

For every “awww” moment you’re experiencing when you meet an Israeli who happens to be nice, and you get the shock of his life that they can be nice when you’re dating one of them (I don’t get it?), there’s a Palestinian child drawing his last breath. Have you heard about the recent settler arson that took an infant’s life?

Either way, I see that you noticed how Palestine is separated from you by a wall, but you seem not to have an issue with it:

A picture taken by Fabian, off his blog.

A picture taken by Fabian, off his blog.

Fabian’s reply to those who reminded him of Israel’s atrocities in Lebanon is that he does not entertain blind hate. Yes, because the history of how your other country got killed, decimated, and targeted is blind.

Your people, that is if they are your people, are not filled with hate; they are filled with memories, most of which you lack. The wars you’ve “heard” about, some of us lived first hand (link). Those IDF soldiers you had dinner with probably killed a father or a mother or a child of someone that we may know. That country you’re falling in love with actively killed us and occupied our land for years.

Fabian Maamari, you are allowed to sleep with as many Israelis as you want. You are allowed to fall in love with as many Israelis as you want, and by all means have dinner with as many IDF soldiers as you want. You are allowed to be happy you went viral for your “boundaries-transcending” love affair as much as you want. But there’s a limit to how love-struck you can be.

No Hezbollah, We Are Not Ready For War

When Hezbollah retaliated by attacking the Israeli army convoy on Wednesday, my knee-jerk reaction was to call my friend who was the most touched by the 2006 war. She’s a medical student in my class, lived all her life in a village right at the border, spent several sleepless nights back in July 2006 huddled in an underground shelter her family had and still cowers away from sudden loud sounds to this day. She had a test that day, and she was devastated.

As she tried reading Internal Medicine off her iPad while checking news on her phone, she frantically called her parents who told her that schools had closed in the region. People had rushed to the bakeries to buy all the bread they can get. Grains had run out of the market in minutes. Flashback to 9 years prior to presentation, in 2015. Welcome to Lebanon, where the fragile stability in which you try to thrive can be taken away in a second.

For several tense hours, we all wondered what awaited us next. Would we have to go through yet another July war, but in January? Can we handle another war? Do we really want another exacerbation of the situation we’re perpetually in?

As I caught up with news online, I remembered back in July 2014, at the ER of the hospital I’m rotating in when a colleague from the South told me about the house his family had built.

It was a big mansion near Tyr, he said. A massive structure with dozens of rooms and beautiful views, he boasted. They were building it before 2006 but it got destroyed in the war by an Israeli shelling. His moment of pride came when he shared with me how in the 8 years since, his family had rebuilt the entire house, this time bigger, fancier, bolder, and that when the mansion gets destroyed again, as he was sure it would, they would be only too willing to rebuild it once more, bigger, fancier and bolder. “I miss war,” he said. “I can feel my body itching to fight.”

I shrugged him off back then, despite me knowing that he echoed a lot of people in his sentiment. It was madness to me that this cycle would become close to normality. In Lebanon, it is normality.

As such, following the attack on Wednesday, many figured bringing up the data-side of 2006 would sober up some people. 1300 dead, billions in damages, ruined infrastructure, bridges destroyed beyond recognition, economy in tatters, millions of cluster bombs, political repercussions from which we haven’t begun to recuperate 9 years later, just to name a few.

In a way, if all of the previously mentioned data existed in another country, it would guide people away from what caused them, towards more stability, more security, and less volatility. In Lebanon, however, these statistics are as irrelevant as this blogpost you are wasting your time reading.

We are a country ruled by law of emotion. This is not exclusive to Hezbollah and its supporters. It transcends them to all sects and regions. Those up in a fit about Nasrallah’s speech today would only gladly shoot up in the air hundreds of bullets when their politician graces other screens and would also pump their fist in their air in synchrony with the see of “labbaykas” they are in.

People convince themselves that their politics today are what they are because of current times. Those views, however, always stem – almost with no exception – from those same political parties benefitting their supporters in one way or another: protection during the Civil War, financial support in times of need, cover-ups for high profile murders (Yves Nawfal anyone?), wastas for med school admissions….

As such, what Hezbollah did on Wednesday, what Hezbollah is doing in Syria, what Nasrallah said today and what might or might not happen in the coming days are all broad headlines and actions that, for Hezbollah’s supporters, only serve to reinforce the notion their party of Allah is unattainable, beyond reproach, beyond questioning, beyond criticism, and, for lack of better word, allah-like, especially for those whose “faith” was waning. They should have known better. Repercussions obviously be damned.

In a country of emotional rule of law, repercussions rarely matter when the statements and actions preceding them are feisty, ambitious, grand and resistive. The lives of this country’s people are also only a matter of plus or minus numbers when their death and sacrifices are for a greater cause that, in the greater sense, only moves at a snail’s pace except in the eyes of those who view those deaths as advancing that grand cause.

However, those repercussions that don’t really matter are lived and felt by all. Yes, we all live them, contrary to those who have been pointing fingers lately to say that even the 2006 war wasn’t felt by everyone. I was there in 2006 when my part of the Lebanese Bible Belt had more Ali’s than Elie’s. I was there when those Ali’s in my hometown wept at the sight of their demolished homes. I was there when my neighbor was wailing as his son narrowly escaped death at the Madfoun bridge when it was bombed. I was there when every single Lebanese without exception looked at the skies in horror as smoke from across the country filled the horizons.

Between 2006 and 2015, we have done very little, if nothing at all, to lessen the repercussions of a possible new confrontation with our enemy down under. For instance, have we at least made sure that civilian casualties this time around wouldn’t be in the four digits and that we wouldn’t lose children whose only fault was being of a certain region, living at a certain time in Lebanese history, by building shelters for them? No. We can’t even tell our people جهزوا ملاجئكم  because they don’t have any. In a culture of the glorification of death, such souls don’t matter.

Today, Hezbollah says it’s ready for war, as it would obviously say. Hezbollah’s entire existence is well-rooted in its preparedness for conflict. I would be surprised if they weren’t. Hezbollah’s supporters would pretend they are ready for war as well. Eventually, in the case of war, the country would also follow suit in supporting our countrymen against Israeli aggression, despite us just waiting until the dust settles to point the finger and shout that we did not ask for this, while people tell us that the whole “another” war rhetoric is futile since the mere presence of Israel invokes lack of safety. But I digress.

The problem with Hezbollah being ready for war is that, once more, it reinforces the notion that they believe they exist in void, which is something they are repeatedly failing to understand. Nasrallah’s party may be ready to roll, but that party operates within the confines of a country that I’m sure he’s sad to be stuck in called Lebanon, a country that extends beyond the borders of the Litani, in which millions other than Hezbollah’s militants exist, in which there are now 1 million plus refugees that are freezing to death, in which there is no president, in which the government is so handicapped it couldn’t convene following Hezbollah’s attack on Wednesday, in which we are facing one of the toughest economical situations in years, in which the entire status quo is hanging on a fragile line that few want broken. And that country, in all its irrelevance, is not ready for the war that Hezbollah doesn’t even want but is “ready” for.

Back in 2006, Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview (YouTube link) that if he had known kidnapping the two soldiers at the border would lead to the July war, he wouldn’t have done it. I highly doubt the country is in a better state this time around. Either way, this isn’t something we get a say in.

Al Arz Tahini… Made in Israel


An Israeli company is using the Lebanese Cedar to market the well-known Tahini, used to prepare dishes such as Hummus, in order to sell it in some major markets.

Check out the pictures of the item, taken by Twitter user @KhaladK:

Before you freak out, the pictures are not taken in Lebanon. Mr. Khalad is one of the many Lebanese who decided to seek a better life abroad. In his case, the country in question is Australia, which is where the pictures were taken.

According to @KhaladK, the Israeli product is of a better quality than its Lebanese counterpart, which leaks the oil it contains and isn’t as appealing. He didn’t purchase it of course. He sent me the pictures out of curiosity’s sake.

There’s nothing scandalous, in my opinion, about this. I just found it interesting and possibly conversation-worthy to point out the use of the Lebanese Cedar to sell a Lebanese paste by companies residing in non-other than Lebanon’s sworn enemy.

Globalization sure transcends blue lines. The tahini is also kosher.

Thoughts, if any?

AUB Returns to Lebanon

A couple of days ago, I blogged about a mistake on an American research symposium that listed the Lebanese university AUB as located in Israel.

Following the publication of that post, it got picked up by various news outlets, such as L’Orient Le Jour, Annahar, Kataeb and New TV who shed light on the matter as well.

Today, I checked the program of the symposium and it seems the mistake has been corrected: AUB is listed as in Lebanon.

AUB, Lebanon

I was told that such mistakes aren’t always a bad thing as they help shed light on the research they are part in. I personally believe, however, that research should be able to stand on its own merits and not employ such gimmicks in order to turn ears.

We’ll never know the details of how such a mistake remained in the program till a week before the symposium started. But I guess what matters is the bottom line: getting it fixed. Good luck to those who are presenting the research and I hope they do a good job.

Neshan and Jon Stewart, The Zionist

Is there anything better than your healthy dose of Zionism to kick off the day?

While hosting Bassem Youssef on his show yesterday, Neshan decided that Youssef’s friend, the infamous Jon Stewart, is nothing more than a Zionist. Just because he’s Jewish.

Bassem Youssef was polite enough to tell Neshan that, contrary to popular belief, Jon Stewart’s religion has nothing to do with his political mindset, that he is a defender of the Palestinian cause, etc.

Of course, you might as well have been talking to a wall.

Not to expect the mentality set forth by the likes of Neshan in this part of the world is absurd. But what’s shocking is that someone like Neshan – a self-proclaimed educated individual (you only need to listen to his degustation of every letter in an Arabic sentence) – doesn’t know the simple and yet very important fact that we all need to grasp: Jewish does not equate Zionist.

Instead of trying to stop the perpetuation of this blatant racism and incessant ignorance, Neshan not only fuels them but helps affirm them in the minds of the millions who already believe such ideologies.

In what world is Jon Stewart a Zionist? In the world of ignorant individuals who can’t get past their hate, their prejudices, their closed-mindedness, their ignorance, their racism.

There’s nothing different between what Neshan believes and between those who believe all Muslims are terrorists. Except maybe one generalization gives the people in this area some drive, some peace of mind while the other makes them rally in anger.

In the grand scheme of things, Neshan is irrelevant compared to Jon Stewart. I don’t even like his style of interviewing. But he apparently represents a mentality that people with the exposure he has should not possess. And that mentality is more dangerous than his presumed pretentiousness.