What’s Greater Than Lebanon?

You can’t really blame the ministry of tourism for keeping its hopes up against all odds. After all, the country cannot function without a summer of tourists. They have, therefore, launched a new TV ad, enlisting the help of several Lebanese celebrities, to help boost tourism, gloriously titled: What’s Greater Than Lebanon?

Come on people, we have awesome food and awesome nightlife and beaches… Why wouldn’t you want to come here?

So just because you may have not heard of those touristic qualifications several times already, here’s how a trip to the great land of Lebanon can go:

  • Land in Beirut and keep yourself busy as you course through Beirut’s Southern suburb and its slogans.
  • Marvel at the wonders of Downtown Beirut only from afar. It’s unlikely – unless you’re super rich – that you’d be able to afford anything there. But isn’t that Rolex store beautiful?
  • Wander around Achrafieh. If you start to wonder why a lot of people are speaking French, don’t worry – that’s what happens around that place. Look at the beautiful Lebanese mansions while getting lost in the narrow streets that will soon be no more. Then, when you’re bored, do as everyone does where you come from and go to ABC.
  • You can also visit Hamra, which can also be called Beirut’s hipster central. Activists, militants, politics, hypocrites… You’ll find it all there. You can visit the local universities there for your daily dose of Lebanese elitists as well. Visit one of the pubs – they’re more expensive than where you come from, if where you come from has alcohol, but aren’t they just unique?
  • Your second day should include a visit to the South. Be careful not to cross the Litani river or you might have to answer to Hezbollah militants who get offended by your existence. I’d recommend visiting Saida but you cannot be certain clashes won’t kill you there so no Saida for you. Bummer… That marine castle is beautiful.
  • I hope you’ve been saving up money because today is beach day! Hurray? Well, we cannot go to any public beach because they are a reflection of how people act in this country: garbage everywhere. Odds are you’d get septic shock. So private beaches, which are also illegal, are where you’re supposed to go… Except entry will get you broke. Manage the pros and cons and decide as such.
  • Or you can use beach day to go North. The beaches are much nicer there and much cheaper. But I could be biased – that’s where I come from. You can visit the Cedar mountains and see our national symbol – all 20 left trees of it. You can listen to your friend or guide tell you about how this proximity between the mountain and the sea is unique and about how it actually snows – it’s best if you pretend to be super shocked by now – in winter here.
  • While up North, visit the Qadisha valley. Lebanese Christians use the remnants of this valley as proof that they were the original inhabitants of the country. So if your guide or friend is Christian, be prepared for a round of religious pride. But don’t worry, it’s not the kind with which you might end up dead.
  • You can visit Tripoli as well. They are the most underrated city in the country. They have a Crusade citadel, cheap and awesome food and several hundred bearded men roaming the streets to express their Sunni anger at the current situation of their compatriots in the country. But they’re going to heaven anyway because they don’t eat pork and drink alcohol. No Tripoli for you too… And don’t you dare go more North than Tripoli. Akkar is not a place we want tourists to see… Poverty, poverty everywhere.
  • Don’t worry though. It’s not all morbid. We have super awesome food. The tabbouleh they do where you come from is obviously subpar. How could it not be? The parsley we use is grown in trab el arez yalli aghla men l dehab.
  • You can visit the epic ruins of Baalbeck. The area is being bombed by the Free Syrian Army but don’t tell them I told you that. So instead of going there, just stay in Zahle and call it a Bekaa day. It should be enough.
  • Don’t forget to visit Harissa. The area sure is over-urbanized going up there with all those ugly buildings eating the mountain away but isn’t the view majestic? And make sure you drop by Jeita – our current national treasure, obviously robbed for the 7 wonders of nature.
  • On your last night here, you have got to go party. Don’t look at me – I’ve never been to Skybar. But there are plenty of decent (and expensive) places where you’ll dance the night away. Don’t get your hopes up for sex though. Our women are all sex but no sex. If you’re a woman… Good luck. May whoever you believe in be with you.
  • The greatness of a country isn’t in its mountain being proximal to its beaches and in the awesomeness of its cuisine. The touristic greatness of a country is in what unique aspects it can provide its tourists.
    Say what you want about Parisians but their food and city are brilliant. Turkish people may be the most non-hospitable I’ve seen but I was told they have mountains plunging into the sea as well. And they’re a stone’s throw away. Americans may be the big bad devil but they can probably throw better parties than us.

    You want a great touristic season? You need less political hypocrisy, less half-assed security measures, more stability and less pretentiousness when it comes to how valuable touristically Lebanon is.
    Until then, we can keep begging for tourists to come us much as we please. As it stands, we are giving them absolutely no reason to come…. But our ministry of tourism is in touristic Lala land anyway.

    And yet, despite it all, we are still expecting tourists to grace us with their presence in the Great Republic of Lebanon.

    Lebanon’s Arguileh Militia

    Soon after I blogged about how the Beiruti restaurant Enab, situated in Gemmayze, was violating the smoking ban despite stickers announcing the place as a non-smoking restaurant (link with pictures), IndyAct Lebanon decided to take matters in their own hands after a growing number of complaints regarding that particular restaurant were met unanswered by our tourism police.

    As I said, it’s obvious there’s an under-the-table deal somewhere that benefits off our lungs. Anything for that extra money.

    IndyAct decided to use their office space, which is ideally situated next to Enab, in order to set up a huge banner announcing to people who frequent Gemmayze that the restaurant nearby is violating the law and that it is not, in fact, a smoke free place as it advertises. The people of IndyAct were surprised to find their premises violated soon after by employees of Enab who took down the poster. Apparently they wanted to break the law in peace.

    And it has all been documented on video:

    Soon after the incident, IndyACT procured an official permit from the municipality of Beirut to set up the poster that Enab’s employees forcibly removed. Let’s hope those employees don’t break yet another law by removing the poster.

    Enab Gemmayze Smoking Ban


    It is said apathy is the weakest point in applying the law. It is our duty as Lebanese to make sure our law is enforced, people constantly said. But I have to ask: what’s the point?

    When restaurants such as Enab break the law so flagrantly and have no problem breaking it even more to cover up the initial violation fully knowing they won’t face any repercussions whatsoever, what’s the point?

    The more I call that magical 1735 number, the less cooperation I find from the tourism police whose job, paid for by my taxes, is to ensure such laws are enforced. The smoking ban is dead, despite some politicians wanting you to believe otherwise.

    The amount of restaurants violating the law today is way too big to count. There isn’t a restaurant in Jbeil or Batroun or Tripoli – the places I spend most of my time in, apart from very few select places like Crepaway, which is actually observing the law. And they don’t even care about it. When you ask them about the smoking ban they reply: “that little thing? No, there isn’t such a thing over here. Do you want an arguileh, sir?”


    The solution that I have found suits me best is to reward those few restaurants that are actually observing the law by frequenting them more often. On the other hand, I have decided that when I visit a restaurant that turns out to be violating the law, I will simply leave making sure they know all the smoke in the air is the reason for my departure. They want to make money off arguileh? Well, it won’t be my money they’ll be taking.

    While our minister of tourism panics over the decreasing number of tourists visiting our beautiful country and sets up promotions to boost the sector, I have to wonder: how can you expect those people who come from much more organized countries to visit a place where even arguile has its own mini-militia?

    I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I will personally never visit Enab, Jbeil’s Feniqia (link) or any restaurant that violates the ban for that matter again. I invite you to do the same.


    MTC Touch Donates $10,000 to the Jeita Vote

    Now that we’ve established that the N7W competition is not scam and that you have more than enough reasons to vote for Jeita, I believe we need to commend MTC on its announcement today, which translates as follows:

    Lebanese Mobile telecommunications company “MTC Touch” announced its contribution of $ 10,000 dollars, which represent 100,000 SMS, to support the Jeita Grotto voting campaign, aimed at making the cave one of the seven wonders of the world of nature.

    The company said in a statement that the initiative came to reaffirm “the company’s permanent commitment toward Lebanese society and its continued support for its growth and prosperity and is participating today through this contribution in reaffirming the Jeita Grotto site as a fundamental pillar of natural tourism. In doing so, MTC Touch provides a catalyst for the voting campaign as it enters its last stage.”

    Voting ends on Friday, 11/11/11. Results should be announced later that day. If you’re in Lebanon, you can text “Jeita” to 1070, which costs $0.1.

    If you’re outside Lebanon, you can consult the following image:

    Why N7W is NOT a Scam

    Despite many attempts to get my lovely Lebanese compatriotes off their high horse regarding many aspects of our beloved country, it seems I have fallen short somehow. The high-horse is too high for some people to actually see that not everything is out there to get them and not everything “good” that goes on with their country needs to be torn apart.

    Let me start with one simple thing. Even IF N7W was a scam, it still doesn’t discredit the immense positive attributes this will bring Lebanon as a whole if Jeita ends up winning. Sure, it won’t end our national debt as some people suggested, nor will it be a solution to our political system. But come on, anyone comparing Jeita winning with a solution to the national debt is not only delusional, they also have some logical fuse in their brain short-circuiting. No offense that is.

    The N7W campaign, which has been going on for almost four years now, will have millions upon millions of votes cast – and that was before SMS votes started. That was when people voted with emails and only those very enthusiastic voted with more than one email.

    But I digress.

    Recently, I’ve had the “pleasure” of reading an “interesting” post by my friend Gino Raidy who immediately stamped the word SCAM all over the N7W process, as well as a picture to go with it.

    When I first clicked on the link to read Gino’s post, which was immediately picked up by BeirutSpring, I expected to read something interesting. I expected to find something new. Not something rehashed, over and over again, by the same people.

    I shall be addressing every point Gino made in his article, with lesser emphasis on increasing font size and such.

    Multiple Voting:

    First, multiple votes is not a reason for the N7W competition to be a scam. Far from it, actually. Most competitions involving email voting let people vote once per email. And when it comes to SMS voting, you can vote more than once. You are allowed to vote for your favorites to win as many times as you want. Let’s look at two trivial examples. American Idol. You can vote either by telephone as much as you want, or you can text the number of your desired candidate as much as you want. The final tally of votes ends up nearing 500 million. I don’t see anyone screaming scam about that. Or is it only a scam when the theme of the vote is different?

    A second example of competitions with voting are award shows such as the ACM, or Academy of Country Music Awards. If you thought American Idol was a “silly” example, at least the most prestigious country music award show is not. And for that awards show, the public gets to vote for the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a country artist. Yes, you guessed it. They can vote as many times as they want.

    Voting Since 2009 2007:

    We’ve been voting since 2007, not 2009. But we’ve been voting for different phases of the competition since 2007. Four years ago, the Cedar Forest in North Lebanon was nominated with Jeita. And we were voting for both sites. Then came a time where the nominated sites had to be cut down to about seventy and each country can only have one representative. So the Lebanese committee chose to have Jeita represent us onwards and pulled the plug on support for the Cedars. You might disagree with the decision. Some people argued that the Cedars are more symbolic of Lebanon. But in all fairness, Jeita has a much higher chance of winning. The second phase of the vote was to get all the sites that qualified into groups based on the nature of that site. Jeita was in the group of natural caves. And so, yet again, we voted for Jeita in its group and got it to qualify to the final stage of voting that is taking place today.

    Phase voting is a natural thing in all competitions. It’s also a very natural thing in elections. I would give the American Idol example or any award show example again but let me illustrate this with something else. US presidential elections. It starts with democratic and republican primaries taking place for over a year all across the United States. Each party ends up voting for a nominee that represents it in the general elections. Then, those two candidates go head to head and one winner emerges. Another example is the French presidential elections. Each party goes through a series of voting to choose their nominee. Then all appointed nominees go through a first round of voting, by all the people of France, which ends up narrowing down the choice to only two candidates before the president is ultimately chosen in a final round of voting.

    How is sequential voting since 2007 a mark of scam, I have no idea. You can check out the steps of the vote here.

    UNESCO Does Not Support It

    Fine, UNESCO does not support it. I fail to see how the N7W committee asking UNESCO to back it up and them refusing reflects negatively on N7W. After all, aren’t there many things that UNESCO did not support? Wasn’t it up until very recently (Monday to be exact) that Palestine was granted full membership to UNESCO?

    Besides, UNESCO already has a list of World Heritage Sites, including the Lebanese Kadisha Valley, which is threatened to be removed off the list. Now I wonder, what good did the tag of “world heritage site” do the Kadisha Valley? How known is the valley even among Lebanese? I can’t begin to tell you the number of people I know who hadn’t heard of the valley until I mentioned it.

    UNESCO might not support N7W but that doesn’t reflect negatively on the competition in any way whatsoever. It just means that. A committee where political play is key decided not to back up a committee where political play is to a lesser key. Simple as that.

    The Maldives Withdrew Themselves From The Competition:

    Yes, I have read that same article, back from May 2011, that the Maldives decided to withdraw themselves from the vote because the N7W organization asked for copious amount of money and financial engagements. Simple question, which I will illustrate with a breathtaking image of the Maldives:

    Surprise, surprise… The Maldives are still in the competition. Their government pulled off support for the participation? It’s hard for me to believe that a flimsy Switzerland-based organization can overtake a government. I’m just saying.

    Besides, to be eligible to be part of the final 28 participants, no fee had to be paid. N7W is, at the end of the day, a non-profit organization. But to be non-profit, you need to balance out your expenses. In order to do so, they offered sponsorship rights, which are elective, for the final phase of the vote, in return for a certain amount of money. In Lebanon’s case, according to officials from the Jeita Grotto committee from whom I got a statement, no such fees were paid. Jeita doesn’t have sponsors.

    But let me ask this: is $500,000 too much to be paid for the amount of advertisement they’re getting from being part of this competition? Could Jeita have gotten the exposure it’s getting had it not been competing? I hardly think so. Odds are Jeita would have forever remained a landmark visited mostly by the Lebanese and a fraction of the couple million tourists we get every year.

    More Tourists:

    Yes, more tourists. There’s no way in hell having millions of millions of people (multiple voting included) visiting a website and voting for seven different sites without it sparking at least a curiosity to visit, with many of those acting out of it and actually visiting. Take me for an example, I really want to visit the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, a landmark I did not know existed before the competition. Say I do go to Ireland. I won’t end up visiting the Cliffs of Moher and going back to Lebanon. I’ll stay there for at least a week, visiting other landmarks and helping out their local economy.

    To assume that “NO ONE” is falling for this is absurd. Tourists who are interested in visiting a country will search for related info about their country. If Jeita ends up winning, odds are that will be one of the main points they will encounter in their search and they will most definitely want to visit it if they end up coming to Lebanon. At the end of the day, Lebanon is a country driven first and foremost by its tourism sector, which is helped immensely by such exposure. To assume that such exposure is nonsensical would be nonsensical in itself.

    National Pride:

    Yes, national pride. Shouting national pride from the rooftops that is. And yes, that does make me – or any other Lebanese – proud of what we have accomplished with the Jeita vote, how for one rare time in our history we’ve forgotten our differences – at least for a minute – and all voted for one common thing. Yes, that is something that makes me proud. It makes me proud to see a landmark from my country be part of a competition on such an international level, just as I would be proud to see, for example, Riyad Salameh picking up an award for excellent skills in managing our Central Bank and helped us weather the international financial meltdown. It makes me proud to see some great Lebanese icon, like Fairuz, being honored at an international level – regardless of whether I think she needs that honor or not. Sure, we need to preserve our natural sites. We need better laws. We need to take better care of our country. But I fail to see how all of that is logically deterring us from supporting the Jeita vote in any way?

    At the end of the day, scam or not, official or not, N7W is doing most of the countries that have reached the finals a huge favor. When I look at their live voting map and I see someone from Vietnam or Chinese Taipei voting for Jeita, it makes me happy. Not because they voted for Jeita, but because someone, somewhere, now knows that there’s a country called Lebanon in the Middle East with a breathtaking landmark that, win or no win, is now known.

    It’s clear though that some Lebanese need to stop it with the conspiracy theories and relax. If you don’t find enough reasons to vote for Jeita, then don’t vote. Don’t berate those who find the reasons to. And also, fellow Lebanese, you shouldn’t be angry people are urging everyone to vote. It will all end in nine days.