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…

A Friendly Post to Muslims About Ramadan

I’m a very outspoken, irreverent atheist. This makes a lot of people dislike me, and I don’t have a problem with that. I am wholeheartedly convinced religion is not only wrong, but very detrimental to our lives and humanity’s progress. However, please put this aside for this post, and I promise I’ll be as respectful as possible.

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The Abra Memo

This memo made my heart ache. For a municipality to violate the constitution, and its jurisdiction, and issue a memo banning non-Muslims and non-practicing Muslims from “eating in public”, was painful. What was even more painful, is how people twisted it as a “good-will” move that demonstrates how tolerant Lebanese people are, and how coexistence is working between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Really though? Do you really think a move of good-will should be imposed by a municipality? Do you really think a Christian that wants to respect his Muslim friend and not eat a popsicle in the sweltering heat in front of him, was waiting for a municipality memo written by a Christian chief whose hand was forced by a Muslim Sunni mufti? How is that good-will? How is that a choice? How was that respecting coexistence?

It’s good that the municipality chief recanted this shameful memo. It’s a clear victory for the liberal voices in Lebanon, often drowned-out by extremist religious conservative bombings, the violent opposition of Muslim leaders to laws that protect women’s rights and other disgraceful acts fueled by archaic religious beliefs exacerbated by inadequate education and the ever-present existential threats sects feel in Lebanon that makes the religious turn into evil.

Here I’d like to thank Stop Cultural Terrorism, BlogBaladi.com, Trella.org and Joe Maalouf’s 7ki Jelis for the attention they brought to the Abra issue, and helped through public opinion, reverse this shameful memo.

Other Attempts to Oppress People’s Choice

Abra’s got a lot of attention, but many others do not. It is very important this Ramadan that we all stay vigilant to these attempts to put down Lebanese people’s choice to do whatever they want under the law. If a place tries to impose such a religious law, it’s important we shed light on that, and show them we are not happy about this.

Some might say, “so what, it’s just for a month”, but as we’ve already seen in the Hamra example, where Zaatar w Zeit was forced to abandon bacon and beer because their landlord is a religious extremist. This is a dangerous phenomenon, one that should never get traction in liberal Lebanon, the one thing that makes Lebanon stand out from other Arab countries, the one trait that makes Lebanon the crown jewel of the conservative Arab countries.

So, please, if you believe in choice, and coexistence, discourage places and areas that force you to do something you don’t want to. Don’t go there. Don’t pay your money in support of religious extremism. Celebrate the difference, and sanctify the right to choose. Pay your money to Islamic charities if you are feeling charitable, but don’t pay a bill at a restaurant that doesn’t give you the choice to do what you want.

To My Conservative Muslim Readers

As a libertarian, I wholeheartedly respect whatever you want to do in line with your faith. It’s your absolute right, and no matter what I think of it, it’s your holy right to do it. BUT, forcing it upon others will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be acceptable.

If you want to fast, do so yourself, don’t force anyone else to. If your faith in your beliefs is strong enough, you won’t mind seeing someone else eat in front of you. I’m sure you can muster up enough will to keep to your beliefs. Forcing people to do what you want, shows that you are too weak to resist temptation, and that reflects very negatively on your faith. So, please, keep your faith to yourself, be proud of it, show it off, but don’t ever commit the transgression of imposing your beliefs on others, and have the nerve to call it coexistence, when it wasn’t a willing choice.

Some Last Words

Religious freedom is an absolute right in Lebanon. This means that your right to practice your religion is untouchable. It also means that your right to not to, is also untouchable. At a time when religious conservatives are ruining the country, with clashes all over the nation, suicide bombings every other day, executions with no trial and other horrible, horrible things, you must stand with what little human rights and liberal ideals we still have.

Abra was won, but Tripoli has already fallen. A similar, more forceful memo has been issued, in a city that has already suffered for decades from the tyranny of religious conservatives. This is saddening. And it feels hopeless in a city so polarized religiously, that disobeying this memo would put people’s lives in danger…

No one can tell you when can eat and when you can’t. No one can tell you you can’t protect the rights of your mom, sister, wife, girlfriend or friend. No one can tell you you can’t marry the love of your life because she worships another god. You are a free person, with individual rights that can never be robbed. Fight for them. Fight the good fight, not with bombs and suicide vests and intolerant memos and opposing fair laws, but peacefully and rationally.

Happy Ramadan!

Sakker El Dekkene: Arrib 3al Tayyeb Awesome VIDEO

Last week, over two dozen volunteers with Sakker El Dekkene went down to Mar Mikhael-Burj Hammoud’s intersection for a really cool activation. Disguised as street vendors, Lebanese-style, they tried to sell IDs, diplomas, drivers licenses, gun carrying licenses, etc.

Some people laughed, some people were genuinely interested, most were curious, and one cab driver even asked for a hacked receiver to be able to watch the World Cup (before Tele Liban got the Turkish/Armenian dubbed version for free).

It’s time to work against the corruption in this “dekkene” of a country. Go here, and find out how you can help report and put an end to this.

Watching The World Cup for Free + Thoughts

UPDATE: The Telco industry is gonna pay the money. It’s now free for all. No need to do all the below =P

cablevia Chi7as

Before reading this, I recommend you read Mustapha’s take on why watching the World Cup isn’t really a “right” like so many people are calling it.

What’s Happening with SAMA?

A company called SAMA got the exclusive broadcasting rights in Lebanon, yet not through merit or best price, but through wasta of course. The Lebanese government gave this company exclusive rights, and it doesn’t even cover most Lebanese territories, so assuming you want to pay the exorbitant prices for one month of football, you might not be able to cause Sama did a crap job.

How Comic-book Villain is Sama?

In Lebanon, most of us have “dish el 7ay”, which is an illegal distributor of cable TV. That’s why you might have every channel on earth including Comedy Central UK in your home, but not pay a dime over 15,000LBP per month. What Sama and its conspirators are doing, is paying off these “dish el 7ay” to scramble channels like TF1 which are also broadcasting the World Cup, to further frustrate people to go and buy a Sama receiver. You can’t really complain though, cause dish el 7ay is also illegal, but, you can get an idea of how evil these companies are, style FIFA ya3ne.

How pathetic is the government?

I know self-respect isn’t a strong suit in Lebanon, but running around like beggars in Qatar and ass-kissing the Qatari government to pay 1.5 million dollars on our behalf, is super sad. I mean come on, you pay hundreds of millions of dollars to yourselves undeservedly. Couldn’t you throw in just 1 million USD? Or at least not encourage SAMA by OK-ing the exclusive rights and bribery of competition?

Inno, ma fi kahraba, min jeeb moteur. Ma fi may, min jeeb cistern. Ma fi DSL, mneshtere 3G. But for the World Cup, zarakto el ness.

How to bypass all of this bullcrap?

Ok, so this will need a little patience and understanding of stuff like VPNs, but it’s super simple, and here’s what to do step-by-step:

  • Download this Chrome Browser extension. (if you don’t have Chrome, catch up to 2014 and download it)
  • Then, go to https://www.itv.com/itvplayer/itv
  • On your upper right, you should see the Hola! icon of the chrome extension you just downloaded. Click it, and select UK.
  • Now, open a separate tab, and Google an example of a UK postcode.
  • Use that postcode to register on the iTV website.
  • Make sure you keep the postcode saved, because you will need to input it again when you select the World Cup stream.
  • And voila! You’re all set!
  • Go Germany!

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Special thanks to Simon Tadros for telling us about iTV’s stream and how to get it.

Asshole Contractors Damage Old Woman’s House to Force Her To Evacuate in Mar Mikhael

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Imagine leaving your home, the one you’ve been living in for decades, and coming back to realize that one of its entire sides is gone, demolished. This is what happened to an elderly lady in Mar Mikhael yesterday. A construction project had taken over two adjacent buildings from the 1920s (facing Locale), and wanted to include the house she lives in (from the 1900s!).

However, the asshole company didn’t want to evict the tenant by paying her her due compensation, and want to force her out by damaging her home beyond repair. This is similar to the horror stories you hear about rebuilding DownTown Beirut by Solidere, but this is happening right now, on a street most of us frequent every single day, and the Lebanese authorities failed to act…

Does this mean we can’t leave our homes if there’s a construction project nearby? Just in case the violent greed of the contractors or project owners wants to include our building in their new high-rise or whatever?

Go to Save Beirut Hertiage’s page to know what’s gonna happen next and how you can help.

Disgusting. Despicable.

SKYBAR Beirut Opening Tonight + What’s Different

10341605_807406792612352_3366375061267697161_nSo, it’s been 3 years since I’ve been to SkyBar Beirut, but today, I swung by the venue to see the preps for tonight’s huge opening.

My infamous blacklist of the iconic Beirut venue in the early days of this blog have made me stay away throughout the years, but, unlike what many might think, I’m not that big of an asshole and I don’t want to cause trouble just for the sake of it. So, when a few very good common friends told me what’s changed this year, I decided it’s time to rethink what’s happened, and to be completely honest, I’m hopeful all the problems I (and many like me) had back in 2011, are now long gone.

Thursdays and Saturdays: The Signature SkyBar Nights

The traditional SkyBar night, with the crowd-pleasing House and Hip Hop that alternate between the two genres’ mainstreams, focusing on the happier, lighter, more summer-y vibe SkyBar is all about. Friends like Lil’T, Dimix and Anthony Bassoulou will be on the decks those nights, along with a handful of others.

Fridays: Theme Nights

This is the first new thing SkyBar is introducing. It’s a theme night that changes every week, and for the FIFA World Cup, it’s gonna be Rio-themed. The props they’re preparing are sick btw, so looking forward to seeing what it’s gonna look like. Oh, and in traditional SkyBar glitz, they’re giving away a huge prize at the end of the World Cup for a lucky winner.

Sundays: Sunset Lounging

This was the deal-maker for me. Shorts, flip-flops and huge colorful beds with deep, beautiful House music we love (not the commercial kind) at sunset. I can’t wait to see what that’s gonna be like, and with cool peeps like DJette, Bob and Rami on it, I have faith it’ll be awesome and a breath of fresh air from the usually glitzy glam SkyBar is known for. The first act they’re getting this Sunday is HVOB (HerVoiceOverBoys), for a live set. Yes, LIVE. *excitement*, and in case you didn’t realize who HVOB is, listen to this and fangirl and fanboy over it =P

So, here’s to happy times this summer and a new page in this year’s EPIC summer in Beirut.

Why Badaro Could Be the Awesomest New Hotspot

TERRASSE OF THE BAR KISS PROOF IN BADARO STREETimage courtesy of Executive Magazine

Some Background

I’m happy that most stories I’m covering these days on this blog are happy ones. This summer’s looking good, despite all the political nonsense happening. But hey, let the politicians fight like children over seats, while we try to carve out some good things to enjoy about living and loving in Lebanon.

Nightlife hotspots in Lebanon have had a cyclical pattern for almost two decades now. As kids, we’d go club on Monot Street, later on Gemmayzeh took on the nightlife hotspot title, followed by Hamra and now Mar Mikhael.

However, one thing we often overlook is that the areas don’t suddenly die, but instead transform into the type and variety of venues that proved most successful. One cannot deny Monot has seen busier days, but the selection of pubs and restaurants there are the ones that survived and still prosper today. Same thing with Gemmayzeh and Hamra: the best venues are still there and doing great. Let’s call it the natural selection of nocturnal activities in Lebanon.

Further proof that this cycle isn’t an absolute one? We all know about Batroun, Jbeil and Jounieh’s meteoric rise when it comes to the nightlife sector, albeit quite different than Beirut’s. Jounieh and Jbeil’s ancient souks are a gorgeous backdrop to have a drink or two at, and Batroun’s summer activities and venues are always bursting with revelers.

Badaro’s Rise

One new Beiruti area that has been quietly but surely rising to the top, is Badaro. With delightful venues like Kissproof always full, and a handful of others popping up on the Badaro main street, with many more being planned for, it’s definitely one of the up-and-coming spots in the city. What’s different about Badaro, compared to Mar Mikhael, is that it’s somewhat less haphazard and unorganized. Instead of a few dozen places mushrooming up in an area not prepared to absorb so many people, the local authorities and business owners in Badaro are somewhat wisely planning what they believe will be a big boost in afterhours business.

The Possible Cherry on Top: Valet-Free Zone

3-Valet-Gemmayzeh_634498290318855431_mainimgImage courtesy of The Daily Star

Ample parking space is one thing, and more importantly, heavy resistance to valet parking mafias. We all hate the valets in Lebanon. They’re reckless drivers that occupy public property and charge exorbitant prices for subpar services you often have no choice of opting out of.

One business owner in Badaro insists he’s told off several valet parking companies already, trying to secure some business with his establishment. Of course, I was elated at this news.  Mar Mikhael’s fall into the clutches of valet means two things: traffic is choking because of their inconsiderate double and triple parking on public roads, as well as idly sitting by waiting for the car owners to show up and get their cars. It also means if you don’t want to pay 7,000LBP and trust a stranger with driving your car (good luck getting it back in one piece btw), you’ll have to do the impossible to find a parking spot to just go down have a drink and some fun.

That’s why I really really really hope the Badaro folks and merchants committee stick to their unofficial decision to keep the valet thugs off their streets. For me, not having valets there is an immediate dealmaker. I’d happily abandon Mar Mikhael or Uruguay if I knew I wouldn’t be hassled to pay or give up my keys to park on public property. Badaro also has plenty of parking lots, which I’m sure can be persuaded to open at night and absorb the rising numbers of people coming to the area for a drink or dinner.

As for the valet calamity everywhere else, the government should step in and clear these violations. Of course, we know that’s a bit farfetched, so, the least they can do is make sure the prices are fixed. A couple thousand liras should be more than enough, but any lira above 5,000 is just thievery. Also, put the cops to better use, and instead of preying on young people who look like they smoke pot, make sure the drug dealers and pimps disguised as valets keep the sides of the road like they should be: public property taxpayers pay to maintain as such. As for the venues employing valet services, I know you love the commissions you take from the profits the valets make, but remember, if the behavior remains this bad and outright illegal, we’ll just take our business elsewhere where parking and getting there isn’t a street battle with uniformed gangs.

Places Already Open + Opening Soon

I’ll be heading over there a lot over the next few weeks to review the places already open, and leak the places that are going to soon, so stay tuned!

If You Smoke Weed in Lebanon, Know Your Rights.

  • 11,443 people arrested for drug use between 2009-2013

  • 42% were between the ages of 18 and 25

  • One person arrested every 3 hours

The numbers are shocking, but trust me, they’re not even a fraction of the horrifying reality. Those 11,443 were actually on the books, so most probably didn’t bribe themselves out early enough. Imagine how much higher the real number is.

Lebanese police make the Gestapo pale in comparison when young adults are mixed with recreational drug use (mainly smoking pot). The unlawful arrests, extreme human rights abuse, brutal torture and illegal practices would make you stay up at night, and I’ve spend many of those nights thinking of all the innocent people spending months and years behind bars in Roumieh, only because someone was forced to confess they bought weed from them. Neighbors of notorious police precincts know they wake up at night from the screams of young people being tortured into confessing what is often never true.

But, immense work has been happening for many months, and the situation is getting better. Talk of decriminalization is everywhere and government officials have expressed openly their readiness to consider it seriously. Incarceration, at least in Beirut is less brutal than it was in the past decade or so. But, we’re far from there, and to get there, each of us needs to step up to keep your rights guaranteed and end this hopeless, endless cycle of pain and suffering.

The guys at Skoun are amazing, and I am a huge fan and supporter of the hard work they put every day helping addicts fight their addiction, and making sure Lebanese people’s rights are not trampled all over like we’ve gotten used to.

Watch this video, focus on it, and learn. #KnowYourRights so that you don’t crack #UnderPressure.

A recap:

  • You CANNOT be arrested with no evidence

  • You CANNOT be arrested because the cop profiled or discriminated against you

  • You CANNOT be arrested if you were purposely incriminated or entrapped

  • You CANNOT be humiliated while being questioned

  • You CANNOT be tortured when in custody, even with just words

  • You CANNOT be threatened

  • You CANNOT be forced to confess anything

  • You CANNOT spend more than 96 hours in a police station

  • You CANNOT be denied a call to your lawyer and family

  • You CANNOT be denied access to proper medical attention

MOST IMPORTANTLY!!!!!

  • Ask to be referred to the Addiction Committee!

It is your absolute right to demand you be taken for to the Addiction Committee in Lebanon, where you will go into a “detox” and “rehab” facility for a certain period of time depending on your charges, and allowed to resume your lives afterwards. This means you will not get prosecuted for using drugs. Instead, the issue will be treated as it should be: a health concern, not a criminal offense. This is vital information. Make sure you know it, make sure your friends and family know it. Demand that, don’t cave in to the pressure put on you, demand you be taken to the Addiction Committee immediately, finish your 10-day detox and avoid months and years in sub-human standards in our hard-drug-infested “prisons”.

Let’s put an end to lives ruined by the ISF’s “drug war”. Let’s make sure decriminalization happens as soon as possible, and till then, KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! Don’t let anyone put you under pressure to confess to something you never did.

Good luck, stay safe and be smart!

Also, join Skoun’s Annual Party at White on June 10. Would love to see you all there! Tweet and FB with the hashtag #KnowYourRightsSkoun

Sanayeh Garden Opening June 1st – Here’s a Preview

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The Rene Moawad Garden in Sanayeh is set to open on May 31st JUNE 1st! Here’s a preview of all the awesome stuff. I love that there’s plenty of places for kids (with really cool games I wish I could play on!), a bike lane, lots of benches, public restrooms, “7aras Beirut” at the gates and a giant water fountain surrounded by a perfect circle of trees.

Can’t wait to chill out there in a few days!