Train Train: Trains in Lebanon Again?

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Traffic in Lebanon is insane, and for many reasons. First, Lebanese people are horrible drivers. Lanes and traffic lights and signs might as well just be modern art to them. They speed, overtake each other dangerously, go in the wrong direction, etc. Our traffic cops are good at Whatsapping their friends and whistling at girls walking on the street, the only thing truly enforced are the unfair parking tickets, which are haphazard and mean, given that no alternative parking is ever available, and if it is, some scumbag valet services that’s friends with the cops gets them.

Second, infrastructure projects in Lebanon are always geared towards how much money the contractor will make, not how useful it is for the flow of traffic and taxpayers’ wellbeing. Useless bridges with 8 lanes, just to allow for one lane under them, with a pricetag that’ll add many millions to the companies constructing them who are friends with the government at the time the contracts are awarded.

Third, very poor planning, like the Jounieh bay highway, which magically squeezes into two lanes after being 3 to 4 lanes before and after the Jounieh part. Imagine Lebanese drivers split into 4 lanes (5 actually, I mean, who cares about the lanes, right?) squeezing into 2 lanes in a battle to the death with crazy cab, truck and bus drivers. And with so many buildings crowding that strip of highway, it’s almost unimaginable that it can ever be expanded in a feasible way.

Trains might not be the silver bullet to solve our traffic problems, but it surely is a major part. Here are a few cool facts from the Train Train NGO’s Facebook page:

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Kalam Ennas Cool Reports

Here’s a cool report about the Lebanese railroads’ impressive history

And this one is a heartbreaking account of one of Lebanon’s train conductors, now 85 and abandoned by the country and government he served for almost 50 years.

Byblos-Batroun Rail Plans

Mr Maalouf has been trying to relaunch the line between the coast cities of Byblos and Batroun, to show the feasibility of having trains running again. “We need a success story,” he says. The project, with a budget of £430,000, should take only a matter of months to complete, but Mr Maalouf is still waiting for the green light from the Lebanese government.

via The Independent

It’s hard to believe the government would ever OK this. After all, our members of parliament are only good at a handful of things: punching taxpayers, suing taxpayers, extending their terms and increasing their wages.

But, there are other ways to make the money and get the projects done: the private sector. With enough public support, maybe, just maybe, we could rebuild that railway. I’m not sure how useful a train between the relatively close and congestion-free Byblos and Batroun would be, but still, as Maalouf said “we need a success story”.

Now, many of the remaining tracks and stations are government property: public property. But, so are our beaches, and almost every single centimeter of beach has been built-up by the private sector. So, why not do the same with the railroads, but at least this time, it’s for a nobler cause than making people pay 50,000LBP to swim in a publicly-owned beach.

It’d cost around 700,000 USD according to Train Train, why not let brands sponsor each segment or station, having for example the “Sanita Station” in Halat, the “Bank Byblos Station” near Jbeil, etc. I’m sure 700,000 USD won’t be too hard a sell for such an epic comeback for something our generations never saw live, despite it dating back almost 120 years…

Imagine the jobs it’d create and the momentum it’d kick off to resume rehabilitating our railway all the way from our northernmost tip, to Lebanon’s southernmost and hopefully into the Bekaa. It’ll also be interesting to see how Lebanese will adapt to blocking railroads, like they so casually and consistently do to roads…

New Lebanese e-Passport with Biometric Data in 2015

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We talk about how horrible our Lebanese passports all the time. All the queues at embassies for visas, all the paperwork and fees you need to go through, and the frustration, embarrassment and hopelessness you feel if you ever get rejected a visa somewhere (which is all too often for no clear reason). It’s also super expensive, with a 200USD fee (at least) to renew it for 5 years only.

Anyway, Lebanon has been forced by the International Civil Aviation Organization to include biometric chips into Lebanese passports (based on the ICAO’s Doc 9303). These chips are embedded in the passport covers or in the middle pages, and include the following biometric date:

  • Facial recognition
  • Fingerprint recognition
  • Iris recognition

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Do I HAVE to Change It?

No. Many of your passports won’t expire for several years, but you don’t have to go change it at the beginning of the new year. But, when it does expire, or it gets filled up with visas and stamps, your new passport will be an e-Passport with the biometric chip as of the beginning of 2015. So, if you want the e-Passport version and yours is expired/expiring, take the 1-year option for 100,000 LBP instead of the 5-year one (unless you’re into the vintage passport thing and having your fingerprints and face scanned at airports every single time).

How much will it cost?

Currently, each passport costs the Lebanese government 2 USD, the expected price of a Lebanese e-Passport is going to be around 15 USD. Imagine how much we’re gonna pay for the new one, if we pay 200 USD for the current 2 USD passport… Hopefully, the prices won’t be jacked up, and I wish they’d make them more affordable, since you have to take into consideration that we pay hundreds and thousands of dollars for visas, so, it’s sorta adding insult to injury that we need to pay that much for a passport that virtually gets us nowhere aside from a handful of countries. Either that, or decrease taxes at the airport to make it more affordable to travel…

It’s important to mention that Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Sudan, South Sudan, Qatar and United Arab Emirates already have e-Passports.

More Information: Call 1717 or Online

You can check out all the documents you need, fees, etc. at the General Security Website or call their number (which is not toll-free btw) on 1717 to ask them in person. Or just do it via LibanPost it it’s just a renewal: website or call 1577.

Sources: General Security hotline, local mokhtar and Daily Star.

Alleged Photo Two Innocent Lebanese Were Sued For

10717885_10152276132731582_971642133_nThe above photo was apparently enough to unleash the wrath of the Lebanese Forces MPs against two Lebanese citizens, who carried it in a protest condemning the plans to extend for parliament, yet again, thereby violating the constitution and robbing Lebanese taxpayers of their right to vote for their elected members of parliament for the second time in less than two years.

The Lebanese Forces MPs aren’t the first to do such a thing though, Amal MP Hani Kobeissi filed a similar lawsuit against banking syndicate chief, Francois Bassil. It’s becoming a shameful practice by the nation’s MP to try and shift focus from the grossly illegitimate practice of extending for themselves, with the occasional hike in their eternal wages (something they have yet to grant the hundreds of thousands of employees, despite it being justified in that case.)

Here’s why this is not OK:

  • It’s bullying. Members of parliament enjoy parliamentary immunity and thus cannot be sued themselves without express permission from the parliament. So, exercising that right when it cannot be exercised against them, is outright bullying.
  • It’s random. Dozens if not hundreds and thousands of people say that sort of thing every day. Why were these two singled out? Are they being made an example of? Is it to deter people from demanding for their basic, absolute right to vote in what is supposed to be a democracy?
  • It’s insulting. Instead of doing their job and legislating, or focusing on more pressing issues like voting for a president, solving the hostage crisis of our boys in uniform and the dozens of basic social and economic issues they can focus on, our MPs are busy drafting trumped up charges against harmless taxpayers who are merely expressing their opinion.
  • It’s shifting focus from the real issue: that extending for the parliament is not OK. It’s not healthy, and it’s chiseling away at what little semblance of normalcy and a democracy Lebanon has.
  • It’s adding insult to injury, when taxpayers see the parliament unable to ratify their well-deserved wage increases, but have no problem hiking their own parliamentary wages, and above all that use their special privileges to “punish” citizens, that’s just too unacceptable.
  • It’s embarrassing and humiliating. The parliamentarians cite “protecting the prestige and privilege” of their office as the reason they’re suing two taxpayers, but in reality, it makes them look weak and juvenile, unable to accept criticism and their own constituents, who are frustrated at their extremely poor performance and are venting in a peaceful, legally sound manner.
  • It’s not generalizing, because it’s not an actual indictment. We know not every single one is a corrupt criminal, but the word “thief” here is used to stress that extension of parliament’s mandate is “stealing” taxpayers’ right to vote and choose their own MPs. We cannot prove if they are actually “thieves” because we do not have access to information in Lebanon, and even if we could, they would use their parliamentary privilege to avoid prosecution.

To sum up, it’s unfortunate this is happening, and I’d like to remind our MPs of the Lebanese Constitution that they’re ought to uphold, especially a few articles from its preamble:

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, balance, and cooperation amongst the various branches of Government.

source

And please, focus on doing your jobs. Earn the respect you demand of Lebanese taxpayers, instead of bully them into silence over something they have every right to protest against and condemn.

As for any MPs reading this and thinking of filing a lawsuit against me, please don’t. If it hurt your feelings so much to listen to the opinions and thoughts of one of your constituents and a Lebanese taxpayer, maybe you should pause for a second and think of rearranging your priorities and focusing on what matters. Of course, I acknowledge it is your right to file a slander and libel lawsuit according to Lebanon’s ambiguous laws, but what good would it do? It’ll just create more disgruntled, disenfranchised youth that cannot wait to leave Lebanon for anywhere else that’d accept them with their Lebanese passports (like me).

I hope you take this in good faith, and act in a manner that’ll earn all our respect, instead of running around trying to punish people who spoke their mind and voiced their understandable frustration.

Beloved Nahr Ibrahim and Chouen Being Destroyed

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Greed. Greed characterizes most legislation in Lebanon. It’s never because it’s for the common good. It’s usually to force something upon the country, with one or many of the legislating sides getting a LOT of cash for it. It’s in everything, from sanctioning ads for ministries when your relative owns the ad agency, to forcing people to buy fire extinguishers when there’s only one supplier, who just happens to be also related to those that enacted the law.

Nahr Ibrahim is the latest victim to this insatiable greed at the expense of Lebanon’s environment and its people. Many of you have camped there, I wrote about it 18 months ago, and I know for a fact many of you went up to check it out because of that. Nahr Ibrahim, Chouen, Janet Artaba and a lot of other historic, legendary and irreplaceable locations and ecosystems are being wiped out as we speak.

It’s not supposed to be legal, since in 1997, the Ministry of Environment designated the river, and 500 meters from each bank, as a “natural area under its protection.” 10665345_662089907232203_3523364722333692898_n

Of course, with a little money, anything can be changed in Lebanon, and that’s what was done. Ground was broken, and over a MILLION square meters of forest is being cut down right this moment. When a group of local activists filed a lawsuit, citing the above document, the judge initially ruled in their favor, and the environmental slaughter was halted. But, unfortunately, 48 hours later, that very same judge went back on his decision, and allowed the work to resume. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you why that judge did that, you’re old enough to know how this works in Lebanon.

Dams take too fucking long, cost too fucking much and are too much of a liability. One earthquake could destroy the hundreds of millions invested. It devastates the ecosystem both up-stream and down-stream. It never really works in Lebanon, just look at the Karaoun Dam. It’s just a cesspool of human feces and animal carcasses that’s already dried up.

There are plenty of other alternatives to fixing our electricity problem, like letting the private sector and private citizens generate their own electricity, instead of forcing us to pay and adhere only to either the disgusting EDL zoo or even more disgusting “moteur el 7ay” gangs. We could invest in much smaller dams, which would not devastate the ecosystem, but could still provide us with enough electricity generation (like small steps along the river, instead one MASSIVE dam that would have severe consequences on everything).

Why You Should Care

You might not be a conservationist. You might not really give a fuck about trees being cut down. But, imagine not being able to go there to camp anymore. Imagine Chouen disappearing forever. Imagine all the sites that Nahr Ibrahim feeds disappearing. Imagine the birthplace of Adonis and Astarte gone forever. Imagine all the beauty, the biodiversity, the rich history, one of the only mostly “untouched” parts of Lebanon, suddenly gone. Why? So that greedy men can fill their pockets with the hundreds of millions that are going to be spent on this useless, harmful cause. Imagine not being able to take your kids there one day, show them a side of Lebanon that’ll remind them that not everything in this country sucks and should be despised, but some remind us that it’s actually pretty fucking awesome, if it weren’t for some douchebag Lebanese politicians and people (the people who leave their garbage behind, assholes.)

How You Can Help

There’s a Facebook group which coordinates all actions and provides all the necessary information, news, studies and legal matters. There will be action on the ground soon, so, stay up to date here.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some photos I’ve taken in Nahr Ibrahim, and read my post on if you wanna go camp or spend the day there.

 

4 of the World’s 20 Oldest Cities are Lebanese

So, the Telegraph’s travel section has published a gallery of “The World’s 20 Oldest Cities“. It includes the classics like Byblos, Sidon, Tyre and Beirut, Athens, Aleppo, Damascus, Jerusalem and the embattled Arbil and Kirkuk…

It’s sad that we have 4 of those cities in our tiny piece of land, and we’re ruining most of them and the heritage in them. How many spots have been looted, destroyed and replaced by ugly slabs of concrete in Beirut? How neglected are Sidon and Tyre’s heritage and ruins? Heck, there’s a hideos, polluting port that masks the beauty and epicness of the Water Citadel in Sidon. Only Byblos is doing it right, with amazing planning and preservation that Byblos, Jbeil, deserves!

Here are the excerpts from the original post, which you can find here.

(a funny thing I also noticed, they put the modern country near each ancient city, such as Lebanon/Iran/Turkey, etc. but put “Middle East” next to Jerusalem, but they put “Palestinian Territories” for Jericho)

Byblos

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When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 5,000 BC

Founded as Gebal by the Phoenicians, Byblos was given its name by the Greeks, who imported papyrus from the city. Hence the English word Bible is derived from Byblos. The city’s key tourist sites include ancient Phoenician temples, Byblos Castle and St John the Baptist Church – built by crusaders in the 12th century – and the old Medieval City Wall. The Byblos International Festival is a more modern attraction, and has featured bands such as Keane and Jethro Tull.

Beirut

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When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 3,000 BC

Lebanon’s capital, as well as its cultural, administrative and economic centre, Beirut’s history stretches back around 5,000 years. Excavations in the city have unearthed Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Arab and Ottoman remains, while it is mentioned in letters to the pharaoh of Egypt as early as the 14th century BC. Since the end of the Lebanese civil war, it has become a lively, modern tourist attraction.

Jan Morris (Welsh historian and travel writer): “To the stern student of affairs, Beirut is a phenomenon, beguiling perhaps, but quite, quite impossible.”

Sidon

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When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 4,000 BC

Around 25 miles south of Beirut lies Sidon, one of the most important – and perhaps the oldest – Phoenician cities. It was the base from which the Phoenician’s great Mediterranean empire grew. Both Jesus and St Paul are said to have visited Sidon, as did Alexander the Great, who captured the city in 333 BC.

Charles Méryon (French artist): “Few persons new to the climate escape a rash of some description.”

Tyre

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When did the earliest inhabitants settle? 2,750 BC

The legendary birthplace of Europa and Dido, Tyre was founded around 2,750 BC, according to Herodotus. It was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BC following a seven-month seige and became a Roman province in 64 BC. Today, tourism is a major industry: the city’s Roman Hippodrome is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Bible: “Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes.”

Source of information and photos:  Telegraph.co.uk

What the Lebanese Government is Doing About the Ebola Outbreak

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Following my post about the government not doing enough to protect Lebanon from this deadly virus, I was approached by several Lebanese both in Lebanon and in West Africa (WA) who told me about the procedures happening. So, for the sake of being honest, and letting readers know full well what’s happening and what to do in case the worst happens, here’s what you should know:

  • No ebola infections in Lebanese in WA, 6 suspected cases turned out to be Malaria and were treated accordingly.
  • Nationals of infected countries are not allowed entry into Lebanon (6 countries in total)
  • Lebanese Red Cross and Civil Defense teams have been trained in containing and transporting infected individuals at the airport
  • Each governorate has an ambulance specifically allocated for Ebola patients
  • Each hospital has a bed specifically allocated for Ebola patients
  • Suspected cases are taken to Hariri University Governmental Hospital, where the medical staff has also received special Ebola training
  • Passengers coming from affected countries have their temperature checked before boarding, then after arrival, the ministry of foreign affairs calls in to make sure they’re still in good health (given incubation time of the virus can be up to 21 days after exposure)
  • If any symptoms appear, such as fever, vomiting, etc. individuals and their families are taken to the Hariri Hospital
  • Treatment is of course at the expense of the Health Ministry

Mustapha Hamoui, a good friend and the blogger behind Beirut Spring who lives in WA, also weighed in about what’s being done for the Lebanese in WA

I am a Lebanese in West Africa… I think you’re being a bit unfair… I’m in a country that is not affected (touch wood), but the ministry of foreign affairs is doing a decent work of spreading awareness here through our embassies and through SMS and email campaigns.. Even the Ministry of health asked people who are suspect ebola to declare themselves to the ministry and it will handle their treatment in Lebanon.

So, I’m really glad that this work has been done with Lebanese ministries, their embassies in partnership with the WHO, the Red Cross and other international organizations. I hope Lebanon stays Ebola-free, and that the lethal virus gets stopped from spreading further in WA, and a vaccine or treatment be developed soon!

PS as for the people who approached me saying that they came from WA without anyone checking their temperature, it’s because it’s not actually a thermometer for each passenger, but heat scanning cameras installed at the Rafic Hariri International Airport.

Ministry of Health Ebola Page

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!