GCR: Lebanon Among Best in Education, Absolute Last in Trust in Politicians + More Numbers

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So, the World Economic Forum published its Global Competitiveness Report, and Lebanon got some interesting number I’ll highlight here:

Stuff We Sucked At

  • In public trust in politicians, we ranked ABSOLUTE LAST. We ranked 148 out of a total of 148 countries…
  • We’re next-to-last at 147/148 for “favoritism in decisions of public officials”
  • For cost of terrorism to business, we ranked 141/148
  • Wastefulness of government spending 144/148
  • Reliability of police services 119/148
  • Irregular payments and bribes 138/148
  • Judicial Independence 135/148
  • Quality of overall infrastructure 142/148
  • Quality of electricity supply 148/148
  • General government debt 145/148
  • Women in labor ratio to men 142/148
  • and the list goes on…

Stuff We’re Good At

  • Quality of primary education 7/148
  • Quality of math and science education 4/148
  • HIV pervalence in adult population 11/148
  • And a few other cool stuff…

All in all, everything really, really, really sucks. Like really bad, like, the absolute worst in the world for many things… But, we’re pretty good at a bunch of stuff too. We don’t have as much HIV+ people walking around. Our primary education is one of the top 10 worldwide, and our maths and science education is in the top 5 worldwide, so, there is hope in our future generations…

Source

The Invalid Excuse: Child Pornography Threat

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In Lebanon, we have a history of corrupt politicians and authorities who commit heinous crimes and put up some noble cause as their excuse. Remember when the MPs decided to cross off the word “woman” from the women’s right’s law that would protect from rape and abuse? Do you remember what the FPM MPs cited the cause as? They said, “all family members should be included, not just women, but men and children and the elderly”. What the MPs failed to tell you, is that that legal provision would render the law almost useless, since it failed to explicitly mention “women”, meaning the barbaric, ancient religious laws still have precedence over this rational, civil one.

Being a victim myself of several attempts to block my website, I’ve become accustomed to the tricks and ploys used. One I’ve been noticing over the past few months, is a rising trend in citing the Internet as a menace due to “child porn” dangers, and “corrupting children’s minds”.

Now, banning anything with that excuse is a slippery slope, and just another attempt to pretty-up a despicable clamp down on freedoms in Lebanon.

Here’s why it’s stupid to do that:

Use Child Porn to Catch Pedophiles

In most respectable countries, child pornography is dealt with rationally. When a pedophile is stupid enough to upload photos online, this should be considered as a chance to track him or her down and arrest them. The police in Lebanon is amazing at hacking people’s phones to find out if they’re gay or do drugs, and they go all CSI-FBI-CIA on innocent people’s asses. I don’t see why they can’t do the same if child porn is ever found in Lebanon online. So, instead of hiding behind our thumbs, we should use the data to track down the pedophiles and put them behind bars. That’s a far more noble use of this power to monitor the internet, then just a stupid, easily bypass-able ban.

So, use the incriminating content to catch the bastard, then have it removed altogether instead of a simple ban anyone with a brain can bypass.

Slippery Slope

Who the hell determines what “corrupts children’s minds?”. Maybe to some, Reddit and Facebook and 9gag are “corrupting”, should they be banned? What if someone writes something that pisses someone higher-up off? Will they get slapped with the “child protection” excuse to be shut down?

In the absence of a sensible civil law, authorities have no right to clamp down on the Internet in Lebanon without due process and monitoring, a proper appeals system and transparency and access to information regarding the ban. I mean, we still don’t even know the details of the 6 porn sites banned… Walaw?!

Do Something Offline First

If you drive through Maameltein at night, you’ll see grown men walking around with underage girls soliciting cars and passerby… Girls who obviously couldn’t even get into a club because they’re so young. Why doesn’t the police arrest that man? Why doesn’t any governmental authority protect these kids? Or is it just “smallteenpussy.com” that’s the real threat to those poor girls being sold on the street in plain sight of everyone… Maybe, if we see real attempts to rectify this injustice, we might start thinking of doing something online.

But, for now, the government has proven otherwise. Why? Because when I wrote about an online prostitution ring online in Lebanon last year, the authorities shut the blog down, but kept the prostitution websites I wrote about running. Inno, w air?! Could it be any clearer that the intention is clamping down on freedom, and not protecting children?

My Thoughts on Rifi’s Actions

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Being an outspoken atheist means I get into a lot debates with annoyed theists over statuses. It’s funny how they forget that the “fundamental” elements of their faiths are chopping heads off, selling women into slavery and ethnically cleansing entire regions of the Middle East. But, hey! A status is just as offensive and bad, ok?!

One argument I always hear is that “these extremists are a minority” and “not everyone who is faithful is like that.” Well, DUUUH! No one ever said every faithful person is a blood thirsty barbarian straight out of the Dark Ages. If they did, they’d be stupid and unreasonable (just like the religious extremists.)

But, as Rifi was so brilliantly demonstrated, the “moderates” pave the way for their extremist counterparts by their irrational behavior to what they perceive as “protecting their faith.”

Richard Dawkins said it beautifully once: “The moderate, sensible religious people… make the world safe for extremists… by influencing society to respect faith.” I’ll edit it a bit to fit the current situation to make it sound something like “The self-proclaimed moderate, sensible religious people in Lebanon are forcibly making Lebanon a safe-haven for their extremist counterparts by forcing people to respect their faith.”

Here, I’ll break it down to help you understand why what Rifi did was NOT ok.

MAJOR Hypocrisy

Rifi is from Tripoli, a town where Islamist extremist flags are always a source of conflict. After the Lebanese Army removed the despicable black flags and replaced them with our Lebanese flag, the Islamist elements removed the national symbol of our country and replaced it with the black flags that have become synonymous with horrific death and genocide in our region.

Why didn’t Rifi ever send police cars to arrest these people? Where are the criminals that burned the historic library? The criminals that burnt the Christmas tree? Why didn’t Rifi think that they deserved to be “punished in the severest forms”? Is it because they were Christian symbols? Is it because the people he’d be arresting are constituents where we all know he’s planning to run for elected office?

Why are a bunch of misguided youths in Ashrafieh such prime targets to Rifi, enough to distract him from saving the lives of our abducted soldiers, who, till this day, Rifi and his government have no idea how many they are? How can he suggest he’s protecting the coexistence in Lebanon, when it’s clearly only Christian areas and individuals that feel the full brunt of his legal weight, while murderers and terrorists in his own hometown remain at large, with his blessing and the blessing of his colleagues? Is that really the best way to “protect coexistence”? By targeting Christian youths to try and score points with the extremist elements in his district? I think not.

Christian-Protector Bandwagon: FPM vs LF

The FPM (Free Patriotic Movement), the arch-rivals of Rifi’s FM (Future Movement) immediately jumped on this and even delegated its MPs to act as the youths’ defense attorneys. Though that is welcome, I’m sure dozens of independent attorneys would have come to the aid of these young people. It’s an attempt by the FPM to score points in their own districts, just like Rifi. As Rifi panders to Da3esh and Nusra members who can vote for him, the FPM pander to the Christian community in Lebanon, which plunges day after day into hopelessness and existential fears amid the vicious genocides the Islamic State has committed in Mosul and Syria, and the failure to fill Lebanon’s presidential seat, ceremonially sat on by a Maronite Christian figurehead.

Regardless the real motives though, the FPM deserves a nod of respect for stepping up so quickly and forcefully.

The LF are the ones that I feel are truly embarrassed. The LF traditionally sees itself as the most righteous protecter of Christians in Lebanon. It might not be said explicitly as much (except during the mass honoring their martyrs), but slogans like “Mar Charbel wel 7akim” are always present in their rallies and Facebook statuses. So, to seem them sit mute while Rifi does this to what was traditionally one of their powerhouses: Sassine Square in Ashrafieh, is embarrassing, and goes to show you how dependent Christian parties in Lebanon are to the funds they receive from their Muslim allies. Rifi is Future Movement, so, they keep their mouths shut. A shiite puts tiles in his home in Lasa (Kesserwen), and their media mouthpieces herald it as “an attack on Christians” or something just as sensational. But, prosecuting kids for protesting in what was once their “heartland”, and for strictly religious purposes, doesn’t even make them bat an eye…

It’s the “Orthodox Law” all over again, with both sides trying to score points with the increasingly skeptical Christian audience which is exhausted from the hypocrisy their political parties demonstrate every day, as a consequence of being tied down financially (and security-wise), to their Muslim coalition mates.

Freedom of Speech > Religion

Your faith is yours. Your religion is yours. But freedom of speech is universal, unalienable and absolute. Why can Islamist terrorists burn US and Israeli flags, but a disgruntled Christian kid can’t burn the flag of the most evil terrorist group to grace the face of this Earth? Doesn’t the Israeli flag have a Star of David on it? Isn’t that a religious symbol? A religious symbol of a sect the Lebanese government recognizes? Do people who burn Israeli flags mean to insult all Jews or Judaism in general, or just Israel? Then why did you consider the IS flag an insult to Islam in general? Why the painful hypocrisy?

Dear Minister, Call Your Witch Hunt Off

And focus on our kidnapped boys. You know, the ones kidnapped by the murderers who use that flag you are so dearly fighting for. Apologize to the Lebanese people. And don’t worry about your election hopes, because your protection, and dare I say support for the fighters in Tripoli, has sealed that deal for you already. So, leave Ashrafieh alone, and focus on banning alcohol and other IS-like things in your hometown, the victim of religious extremism with no salvation in sight unfortunately. And if you wanna uphold “principles”, make sure you exert the power of the law equally on everyone. Why should Tripoli youths who burn flags have the right to do so, and kids in Ashrafieh can’t? Your attempt to “protect coexistence” has actually exacerbated sectarian tensions. You are the Minister of Justice, so, please, be just.

Summer Roadtrips: Off-Road with Helmets On!

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We all love going off-road. Usually, we think of off-roading as either on ATVs, or 4×4 SUVs. But, truth be told, it’s all about the buggies. Incredible machines like the RZR series are lightweight, pretty safe (seat-bealt and steel cage, unlike ATVs) and get to speeds off-road that’d give you goosebumps.

Helmets-On are the best-equipped and funnest off-road crew I know. They have places in Oyoun El Simane, Mayrouba, Laqlouq and Sodeco.They have dozens of machines, such as the RZR 800, RZR 900 and my absolute favorite the RZR 1000 series.

You can choose the two-seater, four-seater, or even six-seater if you wanna bring your group of friends and family on-board too. There aren’t complex controls like you’d expect, it’s just like driving a normal car: steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, and a simple gearbox control. However, if you actually understand the sport more deeply, you can adjust everything from height, to rigidity of the shock-absorbers and everything in between.

What’s cool about Helmets-On is they organize long roadtrips and camps in different parts of Lebanon. Meaning, you’ll be with a large convoy of like-minded people, guided by experts and locals on their ATVs to make sure you don’t get lost, and make on-the-spot repairs in the off-chance something happens to your machines.

I went on a trip with them from Ouyoun el Simane, through Faqra, Zaarour, Tarshish, Dahr El Baydar all the way to Maaser El Shouf and eventually a river near Jezzine. The views are breathtaking, and most of the track was empty hinterlands, with no homes or roads anywhere nearby, giving you views of a big chunk of Lebanon that few ever get to see (other than those of us who go hiking, camping, off-roading in these areas.)

What’s awesome about having such a fast ride, is that you get to see all those places in a relatively short span of time. Your route has at least a few dozen hiking destinations covered, and you’ll cruise through those in less than a day.

Driving the RZRs was surreal. It takes a few minutes to get convinced that a huge ditch or rock is like a tiny pebble for the RZR, and that you don’t need to brake and slow down when the road becomes tough. You just step on the gas and glide through. That, was awesome.

Perhaps the funnest part was driving through a river and several streams. The splashes are so worth the tons of dust you already got on your face and hair from the dirt off-road track.

Anyway, if you’re wondering what to do with what’s left of your summer in terms of roadtrips, I’d recommend you consider going on an off-road ride, or even camp! It’s fun, it’s in the middle of nature and it takes you places in Lebanon that would otherwise very hard to get to.

Check out their Facebook page for details and prices etc. And below are some of the hundreds of photos I took that day!

LEBANON: Hosting the Most Refugees Worldwide

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For every 1000 Lebanese, the UNHCR confirms there are 178 refugees. That’s almost 1 in 5 people in Lebanon. The report states that Pakistan hosts the most refugees at 1.6 million, but some unofficial figures are even higher in Lebanon, suggesting as many as 1.5 million Syrians, in addition to almost half a million Palestinian refugees (and most recently Christian refugees from Iraq).

This is both a grim and a reassuring number. It’s gloomy, because so many people around the globe are displaced from their homes and forced to seek refuge abroad. It’s gloomy because it indicates that Lebanon saw a surge in population anywhere between 20 and 25% in just 3 years. It’s also reassuring because it shows how hospitable the Lebanese have been, and how easily the Syrian refugee population assimilated into Lebanese society with largely no major camps. Of course, this also means that social and economic tensions rise, but, so far, Lebanon has weathered these challenges, and I’m confident we will remain to till the Syrian conflict is over…

Here’s to hoping Syria finds peace as soon as possible, with a new, freer, stronger Syria emerging as soon as possible…

source of image (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

What Tripoli’s Municipality Did Is Illegal, Here’s What To Do About It

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The nice thing about our Constitution is that in its preamble, it’s pretty awesome. It ensures Lebanon’s utmost adherence to human rights, the equality of its citizens under law and the absolute right to believe or not believe in whatever you want, and the freedom to practice that freely. The specific articles I’m referring to are the following:

A) Lebanon is a sovereign, free, and independent country. It is a final homeland for all its
citizens. It is unified in its territory, people, and institutions within the boundaries defined
in this constitution and recognized internationally.

B) Lebanon is Arab in its identity and in its affiliation. It is a founding and active
member of the League of Arab States and abides by its pacts and covenants. Lebanon is
also a founding and active member of the United Nations Organization and abides by its
covenants and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Government shall
embody these principles in all fields and areas without exception.

C) Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic based on respect for public liberties,
especially the freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of
rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination.

D) The people are the source of authority and sovereignty; they shall exercise these
powers through the constitutional institutions.

E) The political system is established on the principle of separation of powers, their
balance and cooperation.

F) The economic system is free and ensures private initiative and the right of private
property.

G) The even development among regions on the educational, social, and economic levels
shall be a basic pillar of the unity of the state and the stability of the system.

H) The abolition of political confessionalism shall be a basic national goal and shall be
achieved according to a staged plan.

I) Lebanese territory is one for all Lebanese. Every Lebanese shall have the right to live
in any part thereof and to enjoy the rule of law wherever he resides. There shall be no
segregation of the people on the basis of any type of belonging, and no fragmentation,
partition, or settlement of non-Lebanese in Lebanon.

J) There shall be no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the
‘pact of mutual existence.

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So, as you can see, the extremist stances of the Tripoli municipality chief is illegal according to Lebanon’s constitution, which has precedence over any local government crazy decisions like “banning foreigners from going out at night” and “banning the sale of alcohol.”

Why the Tripoli Affair is Scary

It’s definitely not new. Many parts of Lebanon are already forcibly alcohol-free, like Nabatieh and Sour and other regions in Lebanon where places that sell liquor have been burned, bombed or forced to shut down. What’s different about the Tripoli incident, is that apart from the thugs and extremist elements, it added some “fake” legitimacy to the intolerant decision that encroaches on people’s rights and freedom to choose what to do, and what religion and religious practices to abide by, or not to. I say “fake” legitimacy because the municipality doesn’t have the right or jurisdiction to disobey the unalienable rights guaranteed in the Lebanese Constitution’s preamble. (It is in clear violation of articles B, C, E, F, I and J).

That is why, it’s imperative that this injustice be rectified, and immediately.

How to Rectify this Injustice

Ever since word broke out, a team of awesome people with the support of some of the nation’s brightest legal minds have been considering what can be done, and we’ve decided it’s time to take this to the Shura Council of Lebanon. The Shura Council is sort of like the US Supreme Court, which has the final say regarding constitutionality of bills and laws and other matters in Lebanon. What’s great is that any citizen can file a lawsuit with the Shura Council, and we plan on doing just that. All we need is your help, especially if you’re a Tripoli resident.

We’re very proud to announce that if you’re willing to file the lawsuit, we will take care of all your legal fees and proceedings with some of Lebanon’s brightest and most-connected attorneys and the support of several legal, rights and freedom NGOs.

Just call 01 208 101 and we’ll take it from there!

A Few Words

Despite the vicious onslaught of extremist Islam in different forms in Lebanon, we’re still here, and true to the ideals we all believe in: freedom, equality and peace. Whether its terrorists in Aarsal or delusional murderers blowing themselves up, or extremist clerics derailing women’s rights laws, or even hateful, intolerant municipal chiefs, they’ll never kill what makes Lebanon special: its liberal nature compared to other Arab countries.

No matter how much fear, disgust and hopelessness these extremists preach, we should never treat them as they would treat us. Violence and hatred is never an option we’ll want to take. Instead, due diligence and non-violent direct action is the path we choose to take. After all, if there’s one thing that makes us different from them, it’s that we don’t chop heads off and condone raping women and children.

So, no matter how vicious and abhorred the extremist camp and its fans become, we can’t resort to their level. Go party, have a beer and toast them. Go about your every day lives. Try to make where you are a bit better. Show the world and Lebanon that our version is better, happier and more tolerant. Help charities aiding locals and the millions of Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi refugees who came to Lebanon to escape the hell these extremists made them go through back home. Never give up. This isn’t petty politics or academic debates. This is a real threat to our way of life, our way of thinking, and it’s up to us to keep it alive and well as our petty, dim-witted, corrupt politicians bicker over seats and their wages…

Thoughts About The Aarsal Operation

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I’ve been following the news minute by minute over the past week. The general sentiment was already an unpleasant one with the heart-wrenching crimes against humanity being committed in Gaza and Mosul, by equally extremist ideological entities, and it became worse when it hit so close to home, as we’ve all been predicting.

I’ve been to Aarsal several times over the past two years. I’ve met many locals and many Syrian refugees there. I know firsthand how hard it’s been for that Lebanese town of 40,000 originally now housing some 100,000 refugees in the greater Aarsal area and border regions, a barren, dry no-mans-land with no proper border demarcation. This lack of demarcation makes it difficult for international aid agencies like the UNHCR to get access to many of the refugees who happen to live in the part of town beyond the de-facto border set by the last Lebanese army checkpoint, beyond which the Lebanese jurisdiction doesn’t hold up for the UNHCR and its partners. This leaves the aid up to thousands of these refugees to independent NGOs and individual initiatives like Lebanese For Refugees.

Why You Should Be Confident in the Lebanese Army

Simply? Because I’m confident they’re one of the most experienced, if not most experienced armies in the region and the world when it comes to successfully fighting extremist Islamist terrorist groups. The epic and costly fight in Nahr El Bared, and squashing the “Fateh El Islam” terrorist group was the first major battle, add to that the unrest in Tripoli, the clashes with Al Assir in Abra, and earlier in the decade during the Syrian Occupation when they were attacked on New Year’s Eve Y2K by extremist terrorists as well.

So, training-wise, I know our boys in special forces units like the Mujawkal and Maghawir, are the best and brightest. Equipment-wise, they could always use better weapons and I hope the Saudi-bought French tactical weapons will make it into our soldiers’ hands ASAP.

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Why You Should Be Worried About the Lebanese Army

Because our elected officials see them as numbers. Our media and municipalities see them as “just another martyr”. This is unacceptable. If there’s one thing alone I agree with or would even dare say “respect” about the Israelis, is that they never leave behind one of their own. Every soldier’s safety and life is precious and a matter of national security. We need to take care of our soldiers, decrease as much as possible the loss of life among our troops, who often leave behind families that depend on them.

I’m also worried that the Aarsal operations’ effects extend beyond the Aarsal region. Already you hear voices of dissent and violent attacks against soldiers in the Tripoli area. The excuse is a contorted spin on events that feed off on Sunni disenfranchisement in light of Hezbollah’s virtually unstoppable participation in the Syrian war in support of the Bashar El Assad. Most Sunnis sympathize with the original uprising against Assad, which puts them at odds with the Shiite Hezbollah. The worrisome scenario is when Sunni youths get disillusioned into supporting terrorist groups that seem to many  of them as the only alternative to the Shiite scarecrow Hezbollah. Which puts them at an inevitable clash, which often innocent civilians and Lebanese Army soldiers pay the price for.

Why Everyone Should Support the Army, But Also Hold It Accountable

I cannot imagine someone not supporting the Lebanese Army in this operation. A group of foreign, extremist fighters taking an entire Lebanese city hostage, executing many and using others as human shields and obstructing their attempts to flee to neighboring towns. But also, calls for a media blackout and “unified media coverage” seems unreasonable to me. Sharing false information is unacceptable, but counting on official press releases alone, is not enough for the average Lebanese taxpayer who deserves to know what the LAF is doing in a Lebanese town full of innocent Lebanese civilians and thousands of innocent refugees.

I know many people would wish harm and pain and even torture for these murderous criminals, but when we don’t let proper civil justice take its route, we become guilty of the same crimes as the terrorists: blind hatred and zero rights. That’s why videos of beating up an unarmed suspect in Abra by a group of soldiers and civilians, is unacceptable. The alleged civilized society our boys are fighting for against the barbaric way of life the terrorists forcibly try to impose, demands we respect human rights of both the criminals, as well as the innocent civilians paying the price.

Worst Case Scenario?

That the voices of dissent against the army rise, and unrest boils up in regions like Tripoli, would apart from causing violent clashes and loss of life, would also hinder the immense efforts of the General Security, LAF and ISF to foil suicide bombing plans before it’s too late. The worst case scenario is not yet upon us, and I hope it never will be. Of course, Hezbollah’s possible participation in the Aarsal operations might be the spark that ignites the fuel, but I doubt Hezbollah would take that rash decision. Besides, the LAF is more than capable of doing the job, so their intervention would be even hard to justify to their own supporters, and a blatant reinforcement of every single crime March 14 accuses Hezbollah of.

Best Case Scenario?

That the operations end immediately with the fighters agreeing to release the soldiers they’ve kidnapped and retreat back into Syria. This would hopefully stop the loss of precious life, and jump-start the way-overdue process of properly managing the refugee crisis and making sure none of the impromptu refugee camps become fertile ground for these terrorist to regroup and replenish, for the sake of both Lebanon, and the Syrian refugees who are also victims of these extremist fighters. Talk is already starting about Aarsal being “Kahwagi’s Nahr El Bared”, which compares the success of former president Michel Sleiman as Army Chief in the Nahr El Bared battles that many agree ensured his selection as Lebanon’s next president. Lebanon’s presidency is currently vacant, and no clear resolution in sight, which helped spark hopes for some that the LAF’s victory would speed up the process of electing the current Army Chief, Kahwagi, as Lebanon’s next Maronite president.

We’d also see even more forceful condemnation from more moderate Sunnis, making it clear to the terrorist groups and other Lebanese people, that they stand as one hand in fighting this extremist, violent way of life Lebanon never was and will never be part of. The broken record of “these people don’t represent us!” without any viable action taken to further elaborate that, and the comfortable excuse “It’s Hezbollah’s fault” as an alternative, makes it pretty shaky when it comes to making sure our young men don’t end up enchanted by extremist promises of violent empowerment.

Last Words

Remember, Aarsal is a Lebanese town. The infamy some of its officials and groups have earned doesn’t negate the fact the overwhelming majority are hospitable, kind, generous people who have equal rights to every other person in Lebanon. They need to be saved from the terrorists and expect the Army to liberate them, and care for their safety and wellbeing, which I am one hundred percent sure the Lebanese Army is doing heroically.

As for our troops, we wholeheartedly wish you all stay safe and be careful, and thank you from the bottom of our heart for fighting the fight we never could. You make us proud, and repaying you is impossible, but making a better country to try to make it worth your fight, just might be one small step at a time…

RPM Karting Opens TOMORROW! Here’s My Test-Drive.

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So, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the awesome new racing park opening in Mtein, Lebanon: RPM. The excitement was insane, and I’m finally happy to announce that it’ll be open for everyone to try starting tomorrow!

It all started when I was in my way to Zahleh on the Tarshish road, and I spotted the track and had to Instagram it. My friends Omar and Highsam saw it, and forwarded it to one of the owners, Walid Abousleiman, who was kind enough to get in touch and set up a test-drive for me before the track officially opens and as they were putting on the final security and safety touches. There, Raffi Etyemezian, former karting and rally charm and partner in RPM, took the time to explain everything and showcase all the different cars and services and their plans for the future. It’s refreshing to see someone so passionate about what they do, and that afternoon with Raffi showing us around was awesome.

It’s gonna be a massive, 80,000m2 location which apart from the main 1300 meter track, will have a “baby track” for kids to learn karting, a “traffic city” to teach kids proper driving and traffic laws, a mini-football court and a theme-park for kids to enjoy while their folks burn some rubber!

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It’s not quite done yet, as there is still the main building (which looks awesome btw in the renders) that will house conference rooms (for karting courses and safety presentations), restaurants and a rooftop terrace.

They have over 100 karting cars ready, 50 of which are earmarked for professional competitions, with some cars sporting a whopping 44 horsepower! (to give you some perspective, the cars we used to sign waivers for when we were kids because they were too fast, had a 12hp engine…)

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The location is breathtaking, with mountains on one side and a valley on the other, the picturesque backdrop to my sunset test drive was as enjoyable as the actual driving itself!

The prices will be 20,000-25,000LBP for every 10 minutes, depending on what car you rent. And for now, it’s just on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays without any reservations, you just walk-in.

I’ll be uploading a video after we’re done editing it and uploading it on Lebanese Internet speeds. I just wanted to let you all know it’s open as of tomorrow!

Weighing in on the Blue Gold Project and Lebanon’s Imminent Water Shortage

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What Water?

Privatizing our water? I’m sure it’d make a lot of people gasp in shock. But, wait a minute, I’ve never, in my entire life in Lebanon, gotten a single drop of water from the state run water company. Not. A. Single. Drop. Every house I’ve lived in, we either had an artesian aquifer (beer 2ertwaze), or bought cisterns of water. Yet, every year I pay the respective municipalities for the water I never used… So, which water are you afraid of being privatized exactly? The ones that come to some parts of Lebanon for a couple of hours a day?

The water issue is as bad as the electricity one. It’s completely and utterly dismal. In  a country with so much precipitation (usually), rivers, mountains and temperate climate, it’s definitely not ok to be so lacking in water. Imagine, the government is considering buying water from Turkey… It’s that bad and wasteful.

The “Profit” Word Allergy

“Capitalism is evil” bla bla bla. If I had a lira for every time I heard that… “Privatization” is like a dirty word in Lebanon, it’s taboo. Why? Because in the post-war year, zero transparency and extreme corruption spawned corporations like our telecos, (real estate company you know) and other mega-corporations that many parts of the population consider pure evil. But, that’s the governments’ at the time’s fault, not a corporation’s. A corporation makes profit. That’s no secret. That’s how a capitalist economy works: you innovate, compete and invest, in hopes of getting profit on the long-run.

I believe competition is the best way to move forward and develop anything. Planes and radar and radio and antibiotics would have probably taken a lot longer to realize if the world hand’t gone to war twice. When more than one company compete in a market, their products become better, cheaper and safer. One recurrent theme I hear is that pharmaceutical companies just want to make money off of you, thus make unsafe drugs that make you sick so they make profit. Umm… If a drug manufacturer does a bad drug, and people get killed or sick, we’ll stop buying their drugs, and their profits will go down. So, if you were a drug maker, you’d probably do everything you can to make sure your drugs are safe, and guarantee you make profits. If it was a governmental body, it’d probably just say “oops, we’re sorry!” and move back into mediocre advancements with lack of competition. I can give a dozen other examples but I think I made my point.

Profits are ok. It’s not a bad word. Making money honestly isn’t a crime. So, cut the populist rhetoric and conspiracy theories and focus on yourself for a moment. Are you getting water? If so, is it adequate? Is it safe? It’s not even potable. Are you paying for it? Isn’t someone making profit then? But, you’re not getting any good or service for it, and doesn’t look like you’ll be any time soon.

Blue Gold

It’s name is like something “Mr Burns” from The Simpsons would create in a dark lair somewhere with other rich evil men. The marketing campaigns have been super vague and too-good-to-be-true, and the backlash by some observers has made me question a lot things. We Lebanese don’t trust anyone’s promises. We’re used to being let down, and used to zero accountability when it comes to public policy (and pretty much everything else). We also are distrustful of good intentions. Why would anyone want to fix our water problem for free? And that question is spot on, why? And the answer is no one. But, think of how much money could be generated if we not only have enough water, but a surplus, meaning we can sell it to other countries not as fortunate as us.

My personal opinion is, I think the folks behind Blue Gold are planning on banking on the 500 million cubic meter surplus after the Blue Gold plan gets implemented. With proper distribution, good waste management, new dams, water collection methods and other water resource development plans they have, will allegedly ensure every Lebanese person’s water needs by 2020. It’s an ambitious date, and I’m not sure how in just 6 years anyone can fix this mess, but what I’m sure of is it’s not the government: our bankrupt, corrupt, inefficient excuse of a government.

We mustn’t fall into the same mistakes as the 1990s. Privatization shouldn’t be another word for unfair monopolies. If a prime minister sells a state resource to himself or his family, that’s not privatization, that’s corruption and conflict of interests and abuse of power (which is the case with a lot of privatized services in Lebanon unfortunately).

Transparency is the dealmaker for Blue Gold. If they can earn people’s trust, mine included, and demonstrate how transparent they’re planning to be, and how much of a say the average citizen like myself has, they’ll have my full support. I couldn’t care less if the money is going to the State or not. I care about getting what I paid for, and if that means a private corporation coming in and fixing it, then by all means, please do. As long consumer rights are untouchable, I see no problem with letting a private corporation run something that the state couldn’t. I remember paying my electricity bills in New York to ConEdison, and I’m pretty sure the water and electricity and heating there was better than my home hear in Zouk Mikael…

Conclusion

The only hope we have is in a powerful, transparent private sector. The public sector is dismal, and won’t be fixed anytime soon. Heck, even their work hours are absurdly short and illogical, just like everything else. The challenge here, is making sure Blue Gold won’t become another (real estate company you know) which built itself upoon exploiting the country’s weak and poor. Bottom line is, we want water. So, let’s see who can get it to us in the cheapest, most efficient and fastest way possible. Hint: it’s definitely not the government (at least not alone).

Newly Discovered Ruins Being Plundered in Downtown Beirut

New Ruins

It looks like the series of outright destruction and theft of Lebanon’s archeological treasures continues. Today, while walking by, a close friend noticed ruins being excavated on a new lot prepped for construction between the Bank Audi HQ and the Elie Saab HQ, just a stone’s throw away from the Prime Minister’s HQ (quite a fancy neighborhood, huh?).

The gate was mistakenly left open, allowing for a photo, before my friend was hurriedly escorted away and the gate sealed. When asked why, the gatekeeper rudely said, “yeah, they’re being stolen. You can’t take photos here.”

Till when? After priceless landmarks like the first Port in Beirut, Beirut’s ancient gate, and other gems keep being plundered silently, or just filled in with cement at night when no one is watching…