The #1 Rule To Get a Job in Lebanon: Have a Religiously-Appropriate Name

Hassan is the name. Let’s play a game of guess his religion in front of an imaginary crowd. I’m not psychotic I swear, although I guess that’s what a psychotic person would say as well.

100% of my fictive crowd say he’s Muslim. Is he Shiite or Sunni? Let’s say our lovely crowd goes 70-30 for Shiite. All are educated guesses, all are well-reasoned choices. I wouldn’t call such thought process sectarian – after all, they were primed to answer. Our imaginary crowd is 100% wrong.

Hassan is not Muslim. Hassan goes to Church every sunday. He is as religious as they go. He is not eccentric enough to have had a name change. You can say he was born that way.

And yet Hassan is sitting around at home, nearing his 30s, unable to find a job just because of the name his parents decided to give him.

The areas he’s searching in, close to home and familiar, are all Christian. But they don’t believe him when they ask about his religion during job interviews, a question that is getting increasingly popular lately. Companies would definitely not admit to this, obviously.

The #1 rule to get a job in Lebanon is, therefore, to have a name that is appropriate religiously to the region you’re applying to. If you’re a Hassan in Jounieh, odds are you will have a terrible time in getting to the point of receiving a paycheck. Of course, other areas in the country are not exactly better.

It wasn’t enough that most of the jobs in the market today are being taken by highly trained and much less salary demanding Syrian incomers.  Lebanese people are having another hurdle develop in front of them lately, apart from all the wastas. Instead of having Lebanese judged by their capacities and qualifications, they are being increasingly judged by the way they pray and, lately, by where they live. And to think I was doubting my friends from Tripoli who were getting increasingly wary of putting up their city of residence on their CVs.

Bass fi a7la men lebnen? 

 

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Lebanese Christian Egoism

Fake-sympathy.

That’s what many Lebanese Christians express to news that touch upon other parts in the country but not them. Of course, it’s not necessarily an attribute to that part of Lebanese society. I’m sure all other sects indulge in the act of caring while not really caring.

But when it comes to Christians in Lebanon, we take this act to a whole new level as we glorify ourselves in the process.

Here’s a conversation that took place this morning which I was lucky to observe. Let’s call the three characters Elie, Georges and Joseph.

Joseph: did you hear that Beirut was up in flames last night?
Georges: really? What happened?
Joseph: two Sunni sheikhs were beaten up and roads were cut as a result.
Elie: I heard Sunni militants beat up people of other sects as well with the army standing there looking.
Joseph: I don’t expect otherwise.
Georges: Do you know which areas were affected?
Elie: You know, typical West Beirut.
Georges: Meaning?
Joseph: Enno, shi matra7 honik. Ass2as, Verdun, whatever.
Elie: Aslan mannon sha3b tarsh… The whole country is screwed because of them.
Joseph: 100%. You would never see such a thing with us.
Georges: Yeah, thank God we can actually think for a change.

The Elie in question is not me – I had to put it out there because some people like to call me an Islamophobe. Fa ktada l touwdi7 .

Many Lebanese Christians actually think they are outside of the current debacle in the country, or as it is commonly known the Sunni-Shia feud, simply because they are better people, they know better, they are more educated and are simply above such petty acts.

The civil war, which was partly caused by Lebanese Christians clinging to the power the French gave them against every thing (that’s not to say others wouldn’t have done the same), was a pure act of civility from the part of the Christians.

But wait. The Civil War is behind us, they’d say. We are better than that now, they would explain.

I’d like to see this Christian civility that they often speak of when somehow we’re thrown in the midst of any Lebanese conflict. With the presence of the mentalities similar to those of Elie, Georges and Joseph what “civility” are we talking about?

The most prevalent thing in our societies today is a severe bout of egomania. You know what they say: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. And we’re all big with nothing but emptiness inside – the fall is going to be one beautiful thing to behold.

Putting Lebanon’s First Civil Marriage in Perspective

We sure are all thrilled that a Lebanese couple defied all odds in having Lebanon’s first ever civil marriage happen on our soil (click here). They are courageous and should be commended, as we’ve all done and they have shown that, if you absolutely want to, getting a civil marriage in Lebanon is entirely possible although extremely tedious.

Some people categorized is as a triumph for a secular state to be, some were thrilled that they don’t have to go to Cyprus now to get married. Others were over the moon that this is this couple’s way of sticking it to religious figures who want to keep us down. You know how the drill goes.

But things are not that peachy. Quite simply put, if you think about it Lebanon’s first civil marriage is a triumph for our secular system first and foremost.

As I was discussing with a friend the possibility of maybe removing our sects like this couple did, I had this nagging idea in my head all the time: how much would that limit my prospects in this country?

And the answer is: a lot.

How is a couple being forced to remove their sect from all governmental papers in order to get married a triumph over the sectarian system? If anything, it’s a grave injustice for them. Not because our sectarian system is healthy but because by opting out of it through removing their sect from all their legal documents as per Article 60 LR., this couple has not only limited things for themselves but for their children and their children’s children as well.

It’s not even about governmental jobs which are allocated according to sectarian quotas. It’s about universities which admit students in a Lebanese-affirmative action sort of way whereby half of its admissions are Christians and the other half is Muslim. It’s about jobs that would hire you outside of qualifications if you’re from a certain sect. It’s about this mentality among a lot of people – arguably the majority – to help out others just because they are “men wleid l tayfe.” (from our sect).

It’s not the way things should be, sure. But it’s the way things are. Should the consequences of a civil marriage be limited opportunities for everyone involved? I hardly think so.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the current state of affairs in Lebanon is entirely run on that category in your documents labeled “sect.” Once that box is empty, where do you fit in the bureaucratical aspect of things? Nowhere. How will they register their children when the time comes? How difficult will it be for them to get things done in this country starting from getting that meaningless “ikhraj l eid?”

On top of all that, here’s a sample of some of the comments on NowLebanon’s article about the issue:

Civil Marriage Lebanon

 

Enough said, I guess.

Quite simply put: a “proper” Lebanese civil marriage should be one that takes place while all your governmental papers still have your sect written there in that box.

Either way, if you want to get a civil marriage Lebanon is not the way for you. Nicosia should still be your main destination because at least you know that if you get married there you won’t have a whole lot of repercussions to go through and you know that your children won’t have to go through hell and back in order to get a job.

Lebanon Described in 1870

This seems very familiar, right?
Some things may have changed. But the crux of it all is still the same.

20120816-141132.jpg

It’s been 142 years and this still rings true. Should this sadden us? Or should this open up the eyes of those who are still blinded by the infinite quest towards national unity which will never happen?

(source)

Welcome to the republic of eternal fragmentation.

The Week I Lost Hope in Lebanon

It is a sad moment when you find out that even though you belong in your country, you simply don’t fit there. This past week had this revelation thrust upon me. I belong in Lebanon. But I do not fit.

It started with me blogging about the Batroun cocaine scandal and my parents getting inundated with phone calls for me to pull the article offline. Some of those calls had been from a high-ranking priest. Others had threatened to pull their political strings. My parents got so worried about my well-being that they couldn’t sleep that night. I had to abide. It seems that there’s a limit to what you are allowed to say even when it comes to littlest things such as writing a harmless, nameless post about an issue that’s affecting my generation. But it doesn’t stop with drugs.

Everywhere I look, I am faced with the reality of people so untouchable that the mere idea of mentioning them would make me lose sleep. I am not a coward. But it’s just the way things are. In fact, I think I am automatically limited in Lebanon to the confines of what is allowed to me simply because my father is not one of those untouchables, he doesn’t know one of them and he’s not a millionaire who can buy his way into becoming one.

As I sat pondering over this in my Achrafieh apartment, I was melting in the July heat. There was no electricity. I wasn’t put off by the fact that the three hour cycle I had gotten used to by now was being messed up. It would only be a matter of minutes. But when those minutes turned to hours and those hours started doubling, I knew something was wrong. It just couldn’t be.

The situation persisted for a day. And two. And then three. So much so that after the only 50 minutes of electricity I had gotten on one of those days, I met up with some friends for a walk around Beirut. As we wandered through Gemmayzé and then Downtown, I felt happy to see so many people happy. Perhaps alcohol-induced ignorance is really bliss.

But as we got to Downtown, a Lebanese-looking girl came up to me and said with a khaliji accent that I later realized was fake: “I want you to fuck me.” My first reflex, after the few seconds it took me to understand whatever she had said, was to reply with my Lebanese accent. She immediately lost interest. It seemed that this girl and her friend had been hunting down foreigners and khalijis in Downtown Beirut, using an improvised accent to hook them. If you’re Lebanese then odds are your coffers are empty and they wouldn’t be interested in you.

As I walked through Downtown and some very annoying people came flooding over me with their pleading for me to sit in one of their restaurants, I looked at the menus they were offering. And behold: the main dish every day for the entirety of summer is…. KABSE! Our national dish is no longer tabboule or fattoush, but Saudi Kabse. Even l’entrecote de Paris in Downtown Beirut had hookahs being offered. Would you like some apple-flavored nicotine with your French steak, sir?

Scattered around the area were ancient ruins as well, some of which had been demolished already in favor of the newer structures. Others stood defiant among restaurants, churches and mosques. I remembered the Phoenician port that was demolished and how some people thought that decision was wise. What use would the port be for tourists? Would the Khalijis like to visit the port?

Because the entirety of the country now rests upon what the khalijis may or may not like. So we give them what we expect would bring them pleasure and say screw everything that is Lebanese.

Our identity crisis didn’t stop there. Our need to please foreigners with what we think they would like doesn’t stop at the mere elements of food or ancient monuments. Our walk took us to Saifi village, a very beautiful place in Downtown Beirut. One of the shops there was selling khaliji clothes and nothing more. Because, you know, there’s nothing better-looking than for me, as a Lebanese, to wander around in one of those white robes with that thing strapped around my head.

So I left the security zone known as Downtown Beirut and went back home. And there was no electricity still. I showered with whatever water I had left using a fluorescent light that I had left charging with whatever grid-coverage my house had gotten throughout the day. And then when the lights flickered, I decided to watch the news. Somehow, a very creepy looking bearded man riding a horse (or a donkey) and making fiery statements in Saida had made national news. That man was sheikh Ahmad el Assir, an extreme Muslim cleric who has apparently decided to restore Sunni pride and honor by blocking roads and making speeches, despite the former being clearly against Islamic shari’a.

Ahmad el Assir was followed by another bipolar segment about the Maronite Patriach and another statement of his that contradicted something he had said a day or two before. Then came on his Holiness Hassan Nasrallah (because using any other prefix would get you shot) to bestow upon us his eternal wisdom. As I listened to these three men talk, each of them representing one of the country’s three main sects, I realized exactly how deep their influence runs. When Nasrallah speaks, the Shiites rise. When Ahmad el Assir shouts, the Sunnis boil and when Beshara el Raï does anything worth mentioning, the Maronites go into a frenzy.

It’s the way things are. It’s the way things have always been and will always be.

It is then that I decided to check the situation of my visa application at the French embassy for my trip during the month of August. The same notification popped up. “Wait 10 business days on average for the application to be processed.” Fine. So I decided to see if there was a possibility for the visa to be done before the 10 business days. They did say “on average.” My google searches led me to a page that listed which countries were required to have a 10 day wait for their schengen application to be processed. Lebanon is one of them, obviously. What are the other countries that Lebanon was grouped with? Let me name a few: Niger, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Congo, Rwanda, etc…. The total is 39 countries. How many of us thought we were better than those countries? I’m sure most of us did. Not for the folks in the Eurozone. The rest of the world either doesn’t need one or can have it issued in less than a day.

I don’t really care about needing a visa, although ideally I would prefer not to. But it seems my passport is so low-grade that even my visa has to go through countless bureaucratic steps. My mind then wandered to my family in the US, how they are all US citizens, with the exception of my father, and how for the simple fact that they hold that navy-blue American passport, they have much more opportunities – the simplest of which is when it comes to traveling. But I shrugged the idea off.

The following day, my friends were trying to come up with plans that involved going to the beach in Sour (Tyr). I had my reservations on the matter. For the past few months, the only thing I had heard of Sour was about restaurants serving alcohol getting bombed and liquor shops getting forcibly closed. I had started to wonder if that part of the Lebanese South was slowly getting turned into New-Tehran. And even though I had never been past Saida, my interest in visiting Tyr had gotten very minimal. My friends told me my worry was unfounded. But when the minimal concept of people being free to drink whatever they want is lost upon some individuals, what would they think of me?

“You don’t really need to drink beer on the beach in Sour.” But the question is: what if I want to?

Amid all of this, the citizens of Jal el Dib were busy throwing a tantrum. Their bridge had been demolished because it was a safety hazard and their commute time had increased by a few minutes. Totally unacceptable. What way of protest did they decide was the most suitable? Block the highway in both directions. That would teach the Lebanese something, sure. And they, of course, got what they wanted: $20 million from our tax money for them to have a bridge (or a tunnel) whose construction will create way more traffic for everyone in the year or two (or even more) it will take to finish. It’s not like this form of protest is illegal but our security forces are too cowardly to crack down upon them and open the highway. It’s apparently not my right to go to class or work but it’s their right to stop me.

And we’re also not allowed to talk about the army, the ISF or any form of people who are “protecting” the country because they are doing all of us a service. It seems that the concept of a person doing his or her job has escaped people in the country. People have forgotten that they’re paying the army, the ISF. But I digress.

“Thank you minister Sehanoui for fixing the internet!”

It’s his freaking job to fix the internet. I shouldn’t thank him for it. It’s his duty to fix whatever went wrong because he is in charge of it.

“Thank you minister Bassil for providing the $1.2 million needed for the water project in Ebrine.” That was a banner at the entrance of my hometown.

No, I don’t want to thank Bassil for using money that I had paid to fund a project that has been in the works for a few decades.

No, I don’t want to be eternally grateful to ministers and MPs who are spinning doing their job into a 2013 elections campaign.

So as I sat in one of my med school’s tutoring classes, as a practicing physician told me how I’d be lucky to get paid $400 in Lebanon after 7 years of medical school, I looked around me and saw one of my colleagues who thinks Ahmad el Assir is the best thing to come to Lebanon in a long time and then another who thinks Muslims should be eradicated from the country because they are the root of all evil and a third one who believes that Hassan Nasrallah is the undeclared return of Imam el Mehdi.

And I realized that these three people represent their societies, their families. Their convictions run way deeper than what they’ve declared. And as the realization that I do not really fit among my friends dawned on me, I remembered that girl from downtown, my electricity situation at home, my crappy cellular coverage, my lack of water availability at home, the deafening traffic, the people who can move mountains, figuratively, with a flick of their finger; the people who can block roads and not face any resistance; the people who honk until your ears bleed because you stopped at a red light; the people who cannot stand to grab their kleenex for a few minutes so they throw it outside their cars without caring; the people who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about our national heritage… And the list goes on and on.

I realized I have pitiful job prospects in a country of no national pride, no national unity, no electricity, no water, no internet, no security and – for the first time – no hope whatsoever.

Can we nag? Sure. Would that lead anywhere? No. Can we talk about it? Sure. Would that get us anywhere? No. Can we do something about it? Perhaps. Would that change things? No.

We’re in a ditch that we cannot escape, change or alter. And they wonder why we look West in envy. What 2012 has shown over and over again is that the situation is hopeless. We thought we had learned from May 7th, 2008. And then many mini-May 7th took place in the space of a few weeks. We thought we had learned not to get swept by enticing political rhetoric. It only takes a leader a sentence to get his followers on or off the streets.

I know I had said before not to take Lebanon lightly. But I believe that we get the country that we think we deserve. The sad reality is that the collective of the Lebanese population thinks they deserve shit. And shit is what they’re getting.

Why I’m Against Proportional Representation (Nesbiyé) in Lebanon’s 2013 Elections

One of the main debates going on in the country currently is regarding the 2013 electoral law, mainly whether to include proportional representation in it or not.

Politicians’ views are already diverging on the matter and they break down to the following:

– Walid Jumblat: Against. He wouldn’t be totally dominant over the Druze vote and would lose a decent amount of his influence.

– Saad Hariri: Against. While he’s not as affected by this representation-wise as Jumblat, his stance has varied from being supportive of proportional representation to against it solely because he wants to bring Jumblat to his side for the elections.

– Hezbollah: With. They get about 90% of the Shiite votes in elections, which is where they have candidates. 90% in the proportional representation law would give them all the seats with very minimal effect. It’s a win-win situation for them so why not demand Lebanon as one district with proportional representation to have bigger gains across the map?

– Michel Aoun: With. Why wouldn’t he approve of something that would make him benefit from all the votes of the party mentioned above?

– Samir Geagea: No idea. He has made arguments than can go both ways so his stance regarding this matter hasn’t been fully formulated yet.

One of my main problems with proportional representation is that it is thought of as the cure to our system when it is far from being the case. Many believe that applying “nesbiyé” in the 2013 elections will start decreasing sectarianism by having different people from certain sects getting representation.

In order to do that, the electoral districts being thought of are getting increasingly bigger. Some are even suggesting to make Lebanon one whole electoral district. The argument? This is the only political elections where the population gets to vote so why not get the whole country to vote for everyone?

The way I see it an MP is a representative of their corresponding region first and foremost. Increasing electoral districts to make “nesbiyé” work will not lead to better representation. Or is it “representation” only when certain parties that wouldn’t dream of a parliament seat get one even if they don’t represent the woes of a region? Does a citizen from Beirut know what are my concerns as a citizen from Batroun? I don’t think so. Do I know what are the concerns of my friend in the South? Absolutely not.

What gives me the right to choose their MP and them mine? The sake of national unity? Please.

And for those who believe districts should be medium-sized, say according to the mohafaza – what do people in Batroun know about what a caza like Koura needs? What do people in Zgharta know about the demands of people in Bsharre?

When during parliamentary sessions an MP talks about his district as his main focus, you know this is what they represent not the whole country as we so gullibly want to believe. And it is definitely their right. The whole idea that we, as a country, need everyone to vote for everyone in order to reach unity is non-sensical. You don’t see it happening anywhere else in the world that a country votes for all the MPs its parliament has.

Let’s talk about how practical applying nesbiyé would be. I, in Batroun, get 2 MPs. In the 2009 elections, the margin for those who won was 53%-47%, which in a nesbiyé-equipped scenario means that the result wouldn’t be 2-0 but 1-1. Is that a representation of the will of the caza? Definitely not. Of course, applying proportional representation means Batroun would be merged with other districts, which brings me back to the point I mentioned previously. In reality, most cazas don’t have an overflow of MPs they get to vote to.

It is here that I have to ask: what’s the point of people voting and giving someone a majority when everyone gets to power either way? When I vote for someone and against another person, that means I do not want that person to represent me. If the results of my district turn out to be in my favor and the person who lost ends up in office anyway, then what’s the whole point of elections to begin with?

Moreover, in the current state Lebanon is finding itself today, especially with armed parties swaying the balance of power, would nesbiyé truly be fair, as it’s alluded to be, for parties that don’t have weapons?

In the current form of sectarian Lebanon today, when all sects except Christians give a majority that cannot be contested to one specific party, wouldn’t proportional representation with bigger districts dilute the Christian vote to a point of irrelevance as we’ve seen, for instance, in the 2000 and 2005 elections in certain districts?

In a country where division is based on sects and regions, any law will be accused of increasing either tension. The 2009 law is blamed for increasing sectarianism. We say that because we love to hide and pretend as if our regions are not a mass aggregation of people from one specific sect when, in fact, the only reason we look at the 2009 law negatively is because the results it brought about was a collection of people who couldn’t rule to begin with and others who don’t know how to rule.

Just take a look at a map of Lebanon and you’ll see exactly how one-colored most regions are. This is a demographically situation, not an electoral one.

No, proportional representation is not bad, as some politicians are saying, because it increases Syrian influence in Lebanon. Proportional representation is bad because it’s so ill-timed it is nowhere near the solution it is made out to be. It can only possibly work with bigger circumscriptions, and everything aside, this is an inherent flaw that cannot be ignored. It can only work when the political system of the country is not a disproportionate sectarian representation to begin with. It can only work when the main parties that will make part of it have, at least, some varying degrees of equal influence. When not everyone is fundamentally on equal footing, you can’t have a law that equalizes them in voting booths.

Lebanon: A State of Sectarianophobia

Two Lebanese go out together to have dinner. They had never met before. They know nothing about each other.
The first looks at the second and asks: “what’s your name?”
The second glares and replies: “why do you want to know? You want to know my sect, don’t you?”
The first is perplexed. Wasn’t someone’s name part of the natural process of knowing that someone? Or asking about their hometown?
How can you know someone if you don’t know a minimum of their basic information?
Well for many Lebanese, if you ask these questions then you’re automatically labeled as sectarian filth.

Our society has gotten so afraid of the idea of sects that we tend to see sects everywhere and cower away from them. No, when someone asks you their name, they don’t always seek out to know know your sect. When someone asks you where you come from, their intention is not to always know your sect. Get over yourself.

Our fear from sects doesn’t stop at that. We also have our stereotypes that we associate with every person, depending on their answer to the previously mentioned questions. A Maroun from Mount Lebanon? He must be one of those people who think France should have stayed here. A Hussein from the South? Hezbollah galore right there. A Omar from Tripoli? Saad, Saad, Saad, Saad, Saad.

We ask ourselves not to be limited by our sects and yet, when it comes to it, we limit each other immediately based on our preconceptions. Have you ever tried to have a heated political debate with a Lebanese who drastically disagrees with you and somehow they ended up blaming your sect for your opinion? It has actually happened to me more than once. Somehow, for many people, the idea of thoughts and a mind independent of your sect does not exist. How could it, right? Sects are to blame for everything in the country.

There’s traffic? Blame the sectarian system. There’s electricity outages? Blame the sectarian system. There’s water shortage? The sects must be overly drinking. We are so hell-bent on finding a scapegoat to blame for everything that we have managed to turn sects into monsters hurting our society like nothing else has.

Perhaps our main problem as a society is that we are so afraid of the idea of sects that we see it a monstrous thing that needs to be abolished.
At the end of the day, if me asking for your name makes me sectarian, then yes I am.
If me asking for your last name makes me sectarian, then yes I am.
If me asking for your hometown makes me sectarian, then yes I am.
If me not thinking sects are monsters makes me sectarian, then yes I am.
If having political ideas that fit with your sectarian stereotype makes me sectarian, then yes I am.
If me not panicking about the mere mention of sects makes me sectarian, then yes I am.
If my ideology being too extreme for you makes me sectarian, then yes I am.

Yes, I am sectarian. But I’ve got news for you… so are you.