Congrats Beirut! You Have Bike Sharing Stations Now, But No Infrastructure To Support Them

With no financial burden from the municipality of Beirut, a company called “Bike 4 All” installed the first of 25 proposed bike sharing stations for Beirut, right next to Le Grey in the downtown area.

The theoretical end date for the project, which will see around 500 available bikes in the city, is the year 2020. The rates for bike rentals have not been announced yet, but the news is already spreading like wildfire around the Lebanese blogo and internet-sphere with everyone (and their mother) lauding it as some breakthrough in our march towards “civility.”

It’s not.

To be thrilled about installing a bike sharing station in Beirut, which is nothing more than decoration at this point to the overgrown sidewalk in which it’s placed, is like one of those Beirutis being thrilled about their new face-lift without realizing they look like they’ve been hit in the face.

I hate the be *that* guy again (queue in the masses complaining that I always nag) but how is this the best thing to happen to the city in recent times? This is yet another manifestation of us, Lebanese, seeking out what brings out the flashiest headlines and most viral news report without the proper planning for it.

Tell me, did those Western bike-loving cities we want Beirut to look like install bike sharing systems without having the proper roads for them? The answer is no.

The fact of the matter is those bike sharing systems are going to be installed in a city that:

  • Doesn’t have bike lanes,
  • Doesn’t have proper sidewalks,
  • Doesn’t have proper traffic laws,
  • Doesn’t have people who respect traffic laws if present,
  • Doesn’t have policemen who enforce traffic laws if present.

Beirut has had a bike sharing system for years now. It was called “Beirut by Bike.” The many issues that company faced are summed up by the points above: every trip taken on a bicycle in the city is a hazard for the person riding.

In fact, the only Lebanese city that has a bicycle lane is Tripoli. You know what happened to the bicycle lane there? It’s become another strip for people to park their cars, and we both know that will also happen to the lane in Beirut, because that’s how we – as Lebanese – roll, especially when there’s no enforcement of any law pertaining to such things.

Yet again, where will they actually place those bike lanes? Beirut’s roads are already congested enough with the city needing a major overhaul of its entire traffic system for it to be able to introduce anything to it, and a bike sharing system without bike lanes is akin to our flag without the Cedar: it’s always lacking.

The sadder part is Beirut doesn’t even have proper car lanes to begin with, and we want to fake civility with bike sharing stations? Announcing bike sharing stations before planning for them with lanes and other important facets is because stations bring attention, lines in the street do not.

Perhaps in a city where garbage tends to find a way to pile up on the street every other month, and water is always scarce whilst the rest of the country drowns and where the only traffic law respected, albeit sporadically, is that of the seatbelt, biking isn’t a priority yet, especially when it’s not even thought out properly.

Qornet El Sawda, Lebanon’s Highest Peak, To Be Ruined & Turned Into A Resort

The Arab obsession with “highest” and “biggest” and “most expensive” continues with a real estate company deciding to turn Lebanon’s highest peak, Qornet el Sawda, in the Makmel Mountain up North, right next to our most celebrated Cedar Forest, into a touristic project they are (creatively) calling: Al-Kumma.

The project will be built on a 420,000 m2 plot, and will include a hotel, club house, wellness-center, and entertainment facilities, 650 chalets, 70 villas, and a ski trail. You know, because the surrounding area doesn’t have enough of those already.

The company behind the $500 million project is Realis Development, which is owned by a family that also has shares in a Abu Dhabi finance company. The project will be financed via banks and equity funds. It is not known which banks or equity funds will have part in this, or which politicians for that matter, yet.

The first phase of the project will begin in summer of 2017.

I’m all for development in the North, Lebanon’s poorest and most deprived area, but when it comes at the expense of one of our country’s most beautiful regions and one of its most ecologically vital areas, I think a line has to be drawn.

Not only does the area already have a world-class skiing area that is visited by thousands of visitors yearly, but it’s also a major water storage site for the country and North Lebanon with it receiving the highest amount of rainfall and snow in the entire Middle East.

Qornet el Sawda is also a few minutes away from the country’s oldest and most celebrated Cedar Forest, or what remains of it, in what is commonly called: the forest of Cedars of God. I guess the thousand years of deforestation from progressive cultures that have used the wood of those trees from that area for their various construction projects wasn’t enough.

Instead of restoring the area’s greenery and contributing to its reforestation efforts to further promote eco-tourism in this country, we are doing the exact opposite. How many trees and shrubs will be destroyed for this project? How many Cedar trees will be cut for it to take place and for the few politicians as well as businessmen behind it to make a few dollars? Is our outrage at the Cedar’s dignity only in Facebook posts and never aimed at the actual trees being uprooted from their natural habitat to let way for man to come in and ruin the mountain further?

For this project to go through without any more investigation is a disgrace. How many more of our regions are they supposed to ruin just because they have the wasta and money? Where is the Ministry of Environment from all of this? Probably busy defending the seagulls being shot near the airport?

How long will it be before one of the country’s most fascinating hiking trails turns into an “exclusive” region for those who can afford it? I’m still waiting to find the maximal point of capitalist greed.

One of the most beautiful characteristics of the North is how pristine its nature is, especially the Bcharre area which boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the country (and the entire region, may I add). It breaks my heart to see it be ruined that way. What a shame.

No Lebanon, Killing The Costa Brava Birds Won’t Fix The Airport’s Problems or Your Corruption

I thought it was a joke, that a couple of days ago a governmental job offering opened up asking for “experts” in the art of hunting birds to chase them away from Beirut’s airport in case they show up there.

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It turns out that was nowhere near a joke, with the only farce being this semblance of governance that we have that, when faced with a problem and a clear solution, opts for the ridiculous measures instead because why not?

Although it’s been known that the situation at Beirut’s airport has been precarious for a while, the issue exploded a few days ago after an MEA flight had a near-miss with a crash because of those birds.

Since then, Lebanon’s government has been trying to scramble itself to action to try and fix what it can. Their solution? Well, look at the pictures below.

To put it bluntly: how ridiculous, short-sighted and utterly silly is our government to think that killing the birds is a fix to the problem?

For starters, those birds are innocent animals who are flocking to an area providing them with food and warmth.

Those birds are not the threat to your planes. The threat is the fact you decided to have a landfill against every single international standard 100 meter away from the airport and 9 meters away from the sea and are now surprised this has repercussions.

Those birds that are being massacred in a testosterone-fueled assault are yet another casualty of successive governments that 1) don’t give a rat’s ass about the environment, 2) have no idea what they’re doing and 3) will do anything to keep their corrupt practices in place.

The reason those birds are there isn’t because they woke up one day and decided they wanted to threaten the airport nearby. No, they’re there because we have a governing body that would do anything to keep its interests intact, including threatening the lives of thousands of passengers daily as long as it can keep the landfills and dumps from which it’s making money wherever they are.

The thing about those birds is that they will keep coming, no matter how many of them you kill, because of that landfill whose existence you’re trying to ignore.

The Lebanese government is killing those birds to make them pay for its failures. This is unacceptable and revolting and horrifying. And the worst part is? It’s paying those hunters for this “job” from our own tax money, instead of investing in an actual solution that won’t see us facing the threat of death every time we take off or land in this God-forsaken country’s only airport.

Syrian Brown Bears, Thought To Have Been Extinct From Lebanon For 60 Years, Seen In The Beqaa

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To break away from the string of saddening and corrupt news emanating from this country since the start of the new year, it brings me so much joy to write about this.

Towards the end of December, a group of youngsters scouting the hills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range in the Bekaa, about 6 kilometers Northeast of Baalbak, spotted two animals that have not been seen in Lebanon for around 60 years: since 1958, to be precise.

The Syrian Bear, whose latin name is Ursus arctos syriacus, was originally found in Lebanon towards the end of the 19th century but was haunted almost to extinction so that, since 1960, the only pair present in the country are at a reserve in the Chouf.

The video, which was posted by GreenArea and later on picked up by multiple news outlets and blogs, shows the mother bear and her cub circling around the snow, probably in search for a safer or warmer area.

The presence of the cub with his mother means that the pair’s habitat is probably nearby as the cub couldn’t be more than a year old, which is how long mothers tend to take care for their offspring in that species. Its estimate birth is around spring of 2016 or slightly earlier.

This sighting is historic because the closest area these bears were spotted previously was around 500km away, in Turkey, even though they used to inhabit the areas of Mount Lebanon quite frequently around 100 years ago.

To say that these bears MUST BE PROTECTED (all caps, shouting from the rooftops) is of utmost importance. Not only are they on the endangered animals list with the threat of going extinct worldwide, but up to this point we had lost them from Lebanon.

It’s the responsibility of our Ministry of Environment, as well as ours, to make sure that locals of the area do not decide to flex their hunting muscles and go seek out the bears to add them to a list of animal trophies, and to designate the area they’ve taken up habitat as protected.

This further shows that mother nature has its own way to establish normality when humans don’t come interfering in it.

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

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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.

Dear Riyadi, The Turkish Flag Raised To Tease Homentmen Wasn’t Photoshopped, And Yes It’s Despicable

It says a lot when the knee-jerk reaction to something as disgusting as this is to cry foul and call photoshop instead of calling out those who did that.

It says even more that the men who were holding the Turkish flags weren’t even holding them right: they were just there to tease the Armenian team the team they’re supporting was playing.

I posted the above pictures on my blog’s Facebook page and was immediately inundated by replies that it was photoshopped. No, it wasn’t. Not only was it shared by one of Al Riyadi’s top Facebook fan pages, but a little zooming in and you can see the person holding the flag. Some even tried to defend it. Anything to save face? No, just no.

Perhaps it’s a good thing to have a “it’s photoshopped” reflex in order not to raise tensions, but when faced with evidence that it’s not, the right route is to own up to it and apologize to the team you were playing whose entire history you insulted, to those who support that team whose ancestral struggles you’ve insulted and to your fellow citizens whose fight is a daily, yearly thing to have their genocide recognized. And all for what? Teasing?

There’s a whole other level of disgraceful when you have to sink to such low levels and then try to justify it. Turkey is a good friend to Lebanon? Yes, but that’s not the place to celebrate that. People wanted to commemorate the memory of our victims at Istanbul’s Reina attacks? Really now, against an Armenian team, during a basketball game that followed a period during which organizers for both teams wanted to deviate tensions?

The fact of the matter is that Turkish flag was intentional, and that picture was authentic and the act was despicable. It was even preceded by fans making that “joke” on social media over and over again:

But it’s not a joke. It’s not funny. What it is is disgusting, disgraceful, hurtful and despicable.

To set an example, Al-Riyadi should identify whoever those fans were and ban them from attending future games of the team in order to set an example. It’s easy to dismiss such acts as goofy play, but we’ve experienced them way too often and fans of multiple teams have been banned from courts so repeatedly for things to remain as is. Sometimes, such as this time, you have to call out things as they are so people know that doing them isn’t worth the laughs they got with the bros or that surge of pride they felt when they pulled that flag out of their pocket mid-game.

This is about the mentality that would push a supporter of a particular team, in this case Al Riyadi Beirut, to figure it’s a good idea to insult Armenians in the worst way possible by bringing a Turkish flag to a game and not even hold it properly, or the mentality of a Sagesse supporter chanting Islamophobic slogans just because they can. The examples are endless, and they’ve been thoroughly documented.

I’m 100% certain that this is not what all Al-Riyadi supporters are like as many of my friends are supporters of that particular team and they would never be in such poor taste as to pull a similar stunt. I’m also positive that such stunts do not paint the picture of the entirety of Lebanon’s basketball fans. However, with sectarian and political slogans becoming as part of the game as the ball, isn’t it high time for the entirety of the game to be re-assessed?

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

 

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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.