A Victorious Tripoli: Lynn Hayek Wins The Voice Kids, Fayha Choir Wins Best Middle Eastern Choir

From the forgotten city that always could but wasn’t allowed, Lynn Hayek and the gorgeous Fayha Choir went out and brought back to themselves and their town victories, about which the least we can say is kudos.

In its first season, The Voice Kids has been one of the most talked and watched TV shows in the Middle East, possibly even surpassing its adult counterpart. Lynn Hayek was one of the talents that turned heads since her blind audition and only reinforced her talent by progressing steadily and surely until she was one of the two remaining voices chosen by her coach, Kazem el Saher.

Lynn Hayek The Voice Kids

Earlier in the night, she beat Iraqi Mirna Hanna to qualify for the last round before being crowned as the first winner of The Voice Kids. Her city Tripoli celebrated her victory with fireworks and convoys circling around its streets; it was a moment of happiness that the city hasn’t seen in a long time.

 

I must say, all the talents on The Voice Kids were entities to behold. I congratulate these kids for doing what most people wouldn’t dare to do and expose themselves to an audience that is more than willing to treat them as jokes, as has occurred with the Syrian contestant Zein with some dimwit comments about him being overweight:

This is disgraceful.

This is disgraceful.

Check out a few of Lynn’s performances:

Meanwhile, in Dubai, a Choir Festival was taking place, bringing in 15 choirs from all around the Arab World in a competition to crown the best one among them. Lebanon’s participants were Tripoli’s Fayha Choir, also known as one of the most sublime singing entities you can hear in Lebanon. We couldn’t have asked for better representation if you asked me, and they delivered spectacularly by winning and becoming this year’s best Middle Eastern Choir.

Fayha Choir ChoirFest Middle East

Check out some of Fayha Choir’s performances:

Fayha Choir and Lynn Hayek winning today is a big deal, not only because they won, but because they won coming from a city that hasn’t seen such moments in a long time, whose people have been forcibly beaten down and forgotten and who haven’t been given any chances that others in the country have gotten.

Winning singing competitions may not be much, but it’s something. Tripoli deserves this. Lynn and the members of the Fayha Choir deserve the recognition they got.

Today, I’m a proud Northener. Thank you Lynn and Fayha Choir, bterfa3o el ras. 

 

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Lebanon Pioneers In The Middle East: Allows Trans People To Legally Change Gender

In the grand scheme of things, today was quite a bad day for Lebanese law. Letting a confessed terrorist go out on bail is not only a mark of shame for the entire country, but for any legal system that allows such a thing to happen. But this is not about Michel Samaha.
This is about a lesser publicized decision in Lebanese courts today that has set motion in the region’s most liberal countries to strengthen its role as such: changing one’s gender can be legally done in Lebanon because it pertains to personal liberties, as per a Lebanese court.
Published in The Legal Agenda earlier today, the details are as follows.

In 2014, a transman submitted an official request to Lebanese courts in order to legally change his gender from female to male. The court at the time refused. So this man took it to Lebanon’s Appeal Court (Este2naf) which took an unprecedented and saw that the change in question was not only allowed, but it fell within the rights of the man at hand, saying – and I quote: “A person’s right to receive treatment for ailments both physical and mental is fundamental.”

Lebanon’s Appeal Court decision comes after consulting with experts on the matter of sexual identity and sexual disorders, psychologists and psychiatrists, after which it reached the aforementioned conclusion noting that “the treatment the plaintiff went through, both hormonal and surgical, is his right as a human being and cannot be taken away.”

Of course, this does not make the decision final as Lebanon’s Supreme Court can still nullify it, as they did with the infamous Captagon decision several months ago. But this precedence in question is one of which I believe we as Lebanese should be proud.

Why? Because we are the only country in the region as of now where Trans rights have risen to such prominence, and have even reached legal victories.

Because even with our dysfunctional parliament that can’t legalize to protect the citizens it’s supposed to govern, our legal system has taken it on itself to try and do so in some aspects, and it’s doing so as the best countries in the world would do. 

There’s a long way to go still.

While this is indeed great, it remains an isolated court ruling that, in order to become law, has to be passed by parliament into one, and we all know how good our parliament is at passing laws, let alone controversial one. 

We have huge portions in our country whose rights are decimated. Our women are still fighting for their rights. Gay people are still fighting for their rights. Any minority that is not stereotypical Lebanese male is fighting for its right, but this is a victory to one of those minorities and as such it’s a victory for them all.
There’s a long way to go when it comes to changing stereotypes too. I can imagine the many rolling their eyes as they are reading these lines. The notion that individual rights are not a matter of collective opinion is paramount and in my opinion should be the law of the land everywhere and anywhere.

But today, despite all the negatives, this is a tiny beam of hope in a land that is going backward day by day. So maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for civility in the jungle after all. 

When Arabs Think The Apocalypse Is Near Because The US Legislated Same-Sex Marriage

I’m so honored and flattered to be living in the most open-minded and widely-accepting region of the world. Not only is everything peachy, wonderful and exceedingly rainbow-y around this place, but people in the region are adamant that their quality of life is obviously the way to go for everyone else, and that any deviation from it is quite clearly going to bring about the end of days, Allah-style.

It only took a couple of hours after the United States legislated same-sex marriage on Friday for Arabs across the Middle East to rise in outrage. Obviously, the outrage was restricted to Facebook and Twitter, but some of them were absolutely seething.

Here’s a sample:

How can anyone fathom living in a place where people are equal and requested?

I mean look at Iceland. They have more books published per person than any other country in the world while still being the second happiest country in the world. They legalized same-sex marriage in 2010. How dreadful.

Look at Belgium. The UNICEF called it the best place for children in the world. They legalized same-sex marriage in 2003. How atrocious.

Look at Canada. They are, according to studies, the most educated country in the world. They legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. How horrifying.

Look at New Zealand. They’re the second least corrupt and fourth safest country in the world. They legalized same-sex marriage in 2013. How abysmal.

Look at Norway. They legalized same-sex marriage in 2001, and they’re #1 on the UN’s Human Development Index. How disgusting.

Look at Ireland. In May 2015, they became the world’s first country to legislate same-sex marriage via a public referendum. They’re the #10 in the best places to grow up in. How nauseating.

Obviously, a #GAY_HOUSE is not a suitable place for humanity, because it will destroy everything that we’re about:

Arabs US - 15

 

So, because those horrible same-sex-loving countries are downright appalling at how they do things, I think that we should tell them what “natural” is, because they don’t know, and because we’re excellent at keeping things natural:

  1. It’s okay to have ISIS in your backyard. Clearly, there’s nothing wrong or unnatural about a clan of beheading-loving terrorists who are emanating from our #NATURAL_HOUSE.
  2. It’s okay if you marry an 8 year old girl. As long as the person you’re marrying has a vagina, you’re okay. Also, it’s not pedophilia in our #NATURAL_HOUSE.
  3. It’s okay if you beat your wife to death. The law allows it. No one will bat an eyelash on the news of her ending up in the hospital, brain dead. No one will also care about the bruises on her face. This is how we roll in our #NATURAL_HOUSE.
  4. It’s not okay for you to marry someone who inherited a different set of religious beliefs. Sunni and Shiite can be okay, even though you wouldn’t want that for your children nowadays also. But Muslim-Christian? This is not how things work in our #NATURAL_HOUSE.
  5. You will not be naturalized in our countries unless you’re from a certain religion. It doesn’t matter how good of a person you are, how hard-working, law-abiding and national. We don’t want any strangers in our #NATURAL_HOUSE.
  6. If you hear someone talk about the idea of civil liberties, call them a heretic and hang them at your nearest town square. Civil marriage? Equal right? Human rights? These are foreign concepts in our #NATURAL_HOUSE.
  7. If someone dares to mention Western countries, you will point your finger to his or her face and accuse them of being a follower of the Great Big Shaytan. This is not an insult to anyone’s intelligence in our #NATURAL_HOUSE.
  8. You will bring up Gaza and other violations of human rights in casual conversation about irrelevant topics, over shisha with your friends, to show you care. We are compassionate in our #NATURAL_HOUSE.

Once upon a time, I used to be a homophobe bigot. I used to think what people did in the privacy of their homes was my own business, and that I was allowed to have an opinion into how other people lived their lives, and that their lives are supposed to go on the track of values that I was exposed to all my life, never challenging, never looking at another realm of morality that existed beyond the confines of that little town, nestled on the hills of Batroun, in the heart of Christian Lebanon.

This extended to the way I dealt with things as well: when the only thing you know is that different is not okay, that “other” is frowned upon, that anything existing beyond your moral code is cringe-worthy, you slowly but surely regress into not being human.

But then I left home, and I realized that there were a lot of things I didn’t know. I realized that being challenged, morally, by things I had never been exposed to wasn’t only mind-boggling, it was also exhilarating. And slowly, over the course of many years and friendships in between, I not only do not recognize the boy that I was a few years ago, but I cower at the idea of that person still existing in some people’s memory.

I’ve seen some people say that discussing the new American legislation should not be done by people not living in the United States. I believe it’s the exact opposite. The most heart-warming story I’ve seen over the weekend is how a friend of mine, whose mother thought homosexuality was an abomination only a few years ago, is now a person who just wants people to live and let live, because what they’re doing does not affect her in any way whatsoever.

The more we discuss such topics and issues that challenge what we know, the more we inch towards truly bettering ourselves as societies, crawling slowly but surely towards a better state, one where people realize that the people who are different in all aspects are not an issue, but not accepting them is.

Why Rima Karaki Shutting Up The Islamist Hani Al Siba’i Is Super Important To Middle Eastern Women Rights

The video of Rima Karaki shutting up Hani Al-Siba’i couldn’t come at a more appropriate time for the region. Its rise in popularity happens to take place one day before International Women’s Day.

He is an Egyptian Islamist who is now residing in London after fleeing Egypt where he faces charges for the support of Islamists. He is BFF’s with Al Zarqawi and thinks Bin Laden is to be respected. He’s a pile or hypocrisy: someone who wants to implement the sharia’h… but lives in London. He’s a defense lawyer… but can’t handle an argument.

Out of all people that interviewed him over the times, Lebanese TV presenter Rima Karaki drew the thickest line. She wore a veil out of respect to his presence (even if through satellite from London), and he ended up demanding she shut up for trying to direct the conversation in a manner suitable for her TV show.

She did the opposite and cut him off right there on air, stopping him from spewing even more hate and disrespect to her and, indirectly, to Middle Eastern and Arab women everywhere.

Hani Al Siba’i is a representation of the sheikhs roaming our lands who think everyone should abide by the rules they have in mind, who think they have the right to shut up a woman just because she dared speak up and who have the audacity to not only request it, but shout it on platforms that always give them a megaphone.

In those 2 minutes, Rima Karaki did something that many women in the region are too afraid to do: stand up to a bully who happens to be protected by religious establishments and fear that allow him to thrive.

Rima Karaki - 1

When Al Siba’i tried to intimidate her, she stood her ground and still tried to take the harness of the interview away from his monologue.

Rima Karaki - 2

Instead, she told Al Siba’i something that probably no other woman he ever encountered has ever told him: she would be the one taking the decision.

Rima Karaki - 3

So because this was all too weird and foreign to him, Al Siba’i reverted to what he knows best and told Rima to shut up.

Rima Karaki - 6

So while trying to be respectful, Rima Karaki answered back. I’m sure he wasn’t used to getting that thrown in his face… ever.

Rima Karaki - 5

So naturally, he reverted to full blown sexism and disrespect to bring Rima down. She didn’t budge. She cut his mic off and then his feed.

In those 2 minutes, Rima Karaki did what every single person, let alone women, should do to people like Al Siba’i: cut them off. I couldn’t not find myself rooting for her. There’s nothing sweeter and more beautiful seeing a woman standing up to someone like him in that manner, someone who hates women and contributes every single day to their detriment.

If I were her, I would have thrown away the veil too, just as the Egyptian anchor did a couple of years ago (link).

Ironically, in those 2 minutes NewTV produced the best TV in their history. This is the full video:

On March 8th, 2015 this is the view across the Middle East and Arab world:

  • Women in Lebanon are not allowed to pass on their citizenship to their children. They are not protected by a decent law against domestic abuse.
  • Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to have authority over their own self; their male relatives do. They cannot go anywhere without male chaperones. They are not allowed to run for any government body that is allowed to legislate. They are not allowed to drive. They aren’t allowed to go out without wearing appropriate religious attire.
  • Women in Jordan are still the victims of rampant domestic violence and honor killings.
  • Women in the U.A.E. can face jail time if they are ever caught engaging in pre-marital sex, or drinking.
  • Women in Egypt are still the victims of female circumcision, a barbaric practice whose sole purpose is to decrease their sexual drive.
  • Women in Kuwait and Qatar cannot pass their citizenships to their children. They’ve also only recently, and very limitedly, started to try and become more engaged in the political life of their country.
  • Women in Iraq are being forced, in some parts of the country, to wear head scarves and traditional abayas to cover up. Their political presence only stems from the quota required to be filled by women according to law there.

We live in the region with the world’s highest gender gap.

Gender Gap World

And what is common between all those countries is that the value of women is always contingent upon the integrity of their hymen, their worth relative to the purity of their bodies, their purpose in life is to breed and procreate, but rarely produce, and never, ever, stand up to religious authority without facing repercussions.

Until today.

If there’s anything to empower Arab and Middle Eastern women this year around, it’s this. It’s standing up to those who contribute to those women not having rights, who bring them down every time they try to stand up to themselves, who think that “woman” is an insult, who think women should shut up when a man is speaking and who are given a religious cloak to make all their poison holy.

 

Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP Gets Censored for the Middle East

Like her or hate her, there’s basically no escaping her especially if you tune in for 10 minutes of local radio. Lady Gaga is gearing up to release her upcoming album which she has titled: ARTPOP. A few weeks ago, she revealed the album’s title to be the following:

ARTPOP

Pretty weird, right? It’s not like you’d expect anything less from her at this point though. However, Middle Eastern countries are getting a different and censored version of this same cover, which was just released and is the following:

BYP0Iz0CQAAE123.jpg-large

They’ve increased the dimension of that ball in front of her, whatever it might mean, to cover her breasts. They’ve also colored her legs black in order to give the impression that she’s covered up.

And yes, Lebanon is one of those countries as is evident by the Lebanese iTunes Store.

I really don’t get this. Did local authorities tell her label they would refuse to sell the album under its previous cover? Or did the label do this out of courtesy? If so, did they really think people wouldn’t simply switch the censored and covered-up cover for the other one in case the decided to purchase the album?

I may not like Lady Gaga and her music but I absolutely hate censorship especially when it’s this absurd and non-sensical. What’s next? Cover her up with a burqa and retitle the album to something regionally-appropriate in order not to irk some people? After all, who knows how they’ll take the “art” in Artpop?

Last time I checked, regardless of whether I agree or not with her methods, she was someone championing for personal liberties and whatnot. Our countries have squashed that right out of the bat – and the album is yet to be released. Perhaps they’ll then censor the track listing as well which contains songs called Sex Dreams and Swine because, as you know, sex and swine are both haram.

I guess the bright side is that this wasn’t banned, not that it would make any difference given that’s available online aplenty.

Lebanon’s Porn Habits

Popsci has recently published, off of a website called PornMD, an aggregation of every country’s porn habits based on the search items users who are located in that country use while accessing some porn websites.

Some interesting observations that the aforementioned website noticed are the following:

  1. Finland has Oedipus complex,
  2. Iran likes to search for gay porn,
  3. Ukraine has a thing for gay raincoats.

Some observations regarding the Middle East that I noticed are the following:

  1. Syria is into some form of incest. Their top search is aunt.
  2. Israelis are into Arabs.
  3. Palestinians love their families even in porn.
  4. Gulf countries have no data involved. Could be all the blocks.

Naturally, I figured I’d look at Lebanon’s part of the info-graphic. It’s sad to say we are not very creative, although slightly nauseating (shit orgy? Really?), in our porn browsing habits:

Lebanon Porn Habits

You can access the entire infographic, which contains no pornographic material, here.

Could Patriarch Raï Become The Next Pope?

The conclave of Cardinals in charge of electing the new pope to replace Benedict XVI is currently underway at the Sistine chapel in the Vatican. You’re out of luck if you are a Roman tourist at this time of year – you can blame Benedict’s old age for that.

As it is with papal elections, there is no clear frontrunner as of this point. The myth goes that the cardinals leave their choice to the holy spirit through copious amounts of prayers and holiness. That is if you believe the holy spirit is a combination of politics, geographic, demographics and whatnot.

Eventually, any Pope nowadays is chosen based on one premise only: strengthening the position of the Catholic Church around the world. The late pope John Paul II led one of the biggest developments the Catholic Church had seen when it comes to the Youth, especially in popularity. Benedict’s undeclared job was to contain this surge that John Paul caused in a more Christian, usable, framework.

Today, the Catholic church is stuck at the edge of a steep cliff with the following predicaments:

  1. Decreasing worshippers across the world,
  2. Rise in Christian persecution in certain parts of the world,
  3. Sex-related scandals that plague Catholic priests more often than none,
  4. Corruption scandals that always seem to find a foothold,
  5. The issues of abortion, same-sex marriage and other thorny issues.

Seeing as the Catholic church is firm in its position regarding abortion, same-sex marriages (despite some recent breakthroughs in that regard), stem cell research and the like, I believe point #5 is not even an option in the voters’ mindset. Corruption and sex-related scandals are issues that Cardinals feel should be best kept in-house, not influencing the decision of choosing a Pope who will lead a Church not only based on those two criteria. The stances of the Catholic church regarding the many sex abuse cases that were revealed is a testament to that – if anything, it reminds me of typical elderly Lebanese women whose job in life is to cover up any wrongdoing in their family and showcase it to the world in positive light. Cardinals are similar to those elderly women in that regard.

The most important framework for Cardinals voting today is the following: help Christians around the world stay Christians and lessen the numbers of Christians who are deciding not to be so anymore. There’s little that a Pope can do when it comes to decreasing worshippers – after all, how do you convince people who lack faith that they should have it? It’s impossible. But what the papal conclave of Cardinals can affect is the persecution of Christian minorities across the world, notably in the Middle East.

Pope Benedict’s XVI’s visit to Lebanon back in September – his last major visit to any country before his resignation – was not out of the blue. Him demanding Patriarch Raï to go to Syria and hold mass there, which sparked an insane reaction, was also not out of the blue. Small steps they may be, sure, but for the faithful who still cling to their belief despite the hardships, a patriarch or a Pope acknowledging their strife is some very important business.

The question, therefore, asks itself: Could Patriarch Raï be the dark horse to be elected as the upcoming Pope?

Many Lebanese have already set Facebook pages to that effect, out of enthusiasm mostly, as if a liking a Facebook page to demand our patriarch be instated as Pope is actually beneficial or worth it. But that’s how things are with us – we always take things to Facebook.

However, I have thought about it lately and come to conclude that Mr. Raï could have a decent, albeit slight chance, at becoming the world’s next Pope for the following reasons:

  1. If the main focus is to target the persecution of Christians in the world, what better option than the head of the Christian majority in the location where Christians are targeted the most? The Middle East.
  2. Former pope Benedict’s XVI’s visit to Lebanon was, in part, to sign the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation (text) in which the Vatican goes on and on about the crucial importance of the Church in the Middle East.
  3. A Pope from the Middle East would set the wheels for true Muslim-Christian dialogue, which is what this deeply religious and troubled region needs and the Vatican knows this.
  4. Patriarch Raï is age appropriate to be pope. He is only 73. He also speaks several languages fluently, as is required of Lebanese bishops.
  5. Patriarch Raï does not come from a country where priest sex scandals are aplenty and being relatively unknown to the vote has a rather “cleaner” slate than his counterparts. He was also elected as an assistant to the interim Pope over the past week.

The reasons may not be supremely compelling to have someone become Pope, sure. But they’re still viable enough to put Mr. Raï on the papal map. I’m not even sure if Mr. Raï can be a good pope but he might become one.  And frankly, him getting elected sort of scares me.