Thoughts on the Michel Samaha Scandal

This his picture taken in June 2003 shows former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha, an ardent supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad and for whom has long acted as his unofficial media adviser. Samaha was arrested in a dramatic, high profile police operation on August 9, 2012 and subsequently indicted for plotting terror attacks in Lebanon at Syria's behest. The civil war in Syria is affecting its fragile, tiny neighbor Lebanon in countless ways and has already spilled over into sectarian street clashes, kidnappings and general government paralysis. (AP Photo)

The humiliating verdict and the reactions to it over the past few days have been extremely enlightening when it comes to the fundamental problems in Lebanon: we’ve forgotten what a democracy means, the irrational political ideologues that will gladly dismiss hard evidence to back their political camp, a severely corrupt and decaying judiciary and most importantly, complete lack of trust in the security apparatus.

1- Military Court Should Vanish, ASAP

It’s the 21st Century. A decade and a half into it actually. However, for some perverted, inexplicable reason, Lebanese civilians get tried in military courts. You don’t need someone to explain to you why this is fundamentally wrong and unacceptable in what is supposed to be a democratic republic. It’s not supposed to be legal to do that, and I don’t mean “legal” in the “for-one-time-only” mockery we make of our laws and constitutions to pass outright rude and despotic “amendments” like extending for this sorry excuse of a parliament. Twice.

The military should have its own internal judiciary system for crimes related to the military and exclusively for its own members. So, a civilian that is charged with a security threat, should be tried in a criminal court, not a military one, simply because HE’S NOT in the military! The laws that apply to civilians and those that apply to enlisted members of the military are vastly different. Asking a military court to rule on a civilian, is admitting we are a security state where the armed forces are in power, not democratically elected (even though not for a while now) officials. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a country ruled by orders you can’t disobey and rights you are expected to forfeit “for the greater good” which is another way of saying that you’re screwed if you aren’t part of the establishment.

And for those of you who think that civilians get tried in military court for serious offenses only, like Michel Samaha’s, and Fayez Karam’s a few years back, you are gravely mistaken. If you video tape ISF darak beating up an unarmed civilian in public, and you say something that shows you’re in disagreement of what they’re doing, you’ll be served papers to go to MILITARY COURT, for taping policemen breaking the law they’re supposed to protect, and would spend A YEAR in jail if the judge feels like it, or your wasta and bank account aren’t good enough.

2- Double Standards from 14 and 8

It really bothers me that someone like justice minister Ashraf Rifi, known for his protection of da3esh supporters far and wide, would get so pissed off about the Samaha scandal. Whether it’s prosecuting taxpayers who chose to burn the da3esh flag, or being in the same political party that includes terrorists as vile and guilty as Samaha, such as Khaled Daher, a known traitor and responsible for financing and orchestrating desertions from the Lebanese Army to terrorist elements like Al Nusra or Da3esh.

March 8, who Samaha hails from, abandoned him when this all went down in a heartbeat. I mean, a water-balloon takes longer to deflate than any support for Samaha when he was arrested and charged a few years back. Aoun’s only issue was “how could the Information Branch arrest him in own bedroom?!” (apparently, bedrooms are off-limits). The more seasoned pro-Assad elements of March 8, Hezbollah and co, shyly suggested that maybe the Information Branch fabricated the evidence (something the hours of tapes and voice recordings revealed later on would later prove that that was not true).

So, the bleak support of Samaha back then, and the fierce defense of the insanely short sentence now, means they know what Samaha did was abhorred, but that they could easily get him off the hook for it in military court.

3- Trust Issues and Transparency

We don’t trust the cops. That’s not news, and you all know it. However, there are some cops who do good, honest police work, which often gets brushed off or dismissed because of the general lack of trust in the whole security apparatus, or because the perpetrators get driven away in limos from their jail cells by their political godfathers.

Obviously, the police needs to be reformed. In reality though, we know that’s kinda farfetched. A quick fix to cases that are high profile, like the Samaha one, would be more transparency. Make the evidence public, let us know what is happening in the court room. That way, it’ll be easier for the average taxpayer to nod their head and be convinced there’s probable cause for an arrest and that no tampering or fabricating of evidence occurred.

That way, public trust will be slowly earned and maybe the good example will be followed by other security agencies. But, when good police work is done, and people can easily dismiss it because of the generally abysmal track record of the ISF, that’s not right, and puts everyone in danger.

What Should Happen

Exhaust appeals for this verdict, which is an insult to Lebanese taxpayers’ intelligence. Ideally, get rid of the military court, or at least reorganize it to remain an internal military affairs court, one that has no jurisdiction over civilians, ever, no matter what. Retry Samaha in a criminal court again, and hand down a sentence that is comparable to the gravity of what Samaha did and was trying to do. I mean, for fuck’s sake, you get in more trouble for having a gram of weed in your car, than 50 kilograms of explosives. Come on, don’t be that obviously biased or irrational.

Samaha shouldn’t be let off the hook this easy. He should face justice. Adding him to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon cases instead of resolving it here, now and effectively, is just political manoeuvring by M14 who have sadly yet to reap the rewards of the STL. Sentence him here, with our own laws.

Food for thought: if Samaha got caught, imagine how many weren’t…

The Black Cat Loto Campaign Confusion in Superstitious Lebanon

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When I saw that campaign while walking in Saifi the other day, I was impressed. To create a campaign with such witty sarcasm was awesome, but I also worried that it’d be severely misunderstood by Lebanese folks, and it was, in different ways.

The Leila Abdellatif Factor

Lebanese people are hopelessly superstitious. Our millionaire entrepreneurs are sadly all astrologers and other types of snake oil salesmen (Michel Hayek, Maguy Farah, and all the copycats they spawned). It’s understandable people would resort to believing horse shit that cunning marketeers pedal to desperate masses, given that they cannot hope for anything more from a failed state and corrupt leadership that is nose-diving the country’s economy and society into the abyss.

This tendency to believe in something that is obviously not true, and is actually quite stupid if you think of it, makes people more likely to participate in the lottery, which I think is aptly dubbed the “stupidity tax”. Therefore, from a marketing standpoint, pandering to many Lebanese people’s weakness to obviously false and idiotic superstitions, was genius, though heavy-handed somewhat.

What’s Happening to the Cats

According to the press release I received, the black cats that are “reported” are picked up and shipped all the way to New Zealand, one of the few countries where superstitious people consider black cats as “good luck”, not “bad luck”. Now, the first thing I thought when I read this, is “fuck, those cats are lucky, leaving this superstitious cesspool of religious extremists to go to one of the most gorgeous, peaceful places ever: Middle Earth, otherwise known as New Zealand.”

But then, I was like, “NO! What are you doing, stop encouraging the decline of Lebanese intellect into a sad, sad old woman that truly believes a black cat is bad luck cause she’s a witch in disguise”.

But at the end, I was happy for the cats. Happy they managed to escape Lebanon into a good country. Lebanese cats and animals in general suffer massively from the cruelty and evil of folks. How many times have we seen stupid kids microwaving their animals, shooting them, torturing them, dragging them behind their cars, running them over on purpose and even FUCKING MUNICIPALITIES like the Burj Hammoud criminal ones that were shooting stray dogs at night. So, if I can make the “stupidity tax” people pay moeny to save poor animals and send them somewhere more civilized, then why the hell not?

Transparency is an Issue

Did the cats really get to New Zealand? Would someone really spend so much money and diplomatic connections to send a bunch of black cats to one of the farthest countries from ours? I’m not sure, and these “stupidity tax” stuff always lack enough transparency for me. Can we get the number of cats? How much all this cost? Who paid for it exactly? How can we verify the cats are doing ok in NZ?

And the press release mentions that they had the “support of municipality officers”, the same officers who shoot stray animals on the street because they somehow think that they are all “rabid” and pose a threat to citizens, which is something anyone with a functional brain knows is absurd. A rabid animal would show clear signs of that, and would die soon after the symptoms kick in, so the chance of that happening is almost negligible, or at least not enough to explain the slaughter of so many poor animals for no good reason using LIVE AMMUNITION in our neighborhoods…

Conclusion

It was a cool ad, although I think instead of fostering and encouraging the ill-advised superstitious decision-making of Lebanese folks, the focus should have been on removing the myth from the Dark Ages that cats are actually witches (which back then meant women that could read and write, and thus, in the backwards religious mind “threaten faith”).

It also has a hint of racist behavior, whereby we purge a certain “color” (black) and celebrate another (white). It also wreaks with our bloated self-importance and entitlement attitudes: “these cats are bad luck, so fuck it, let’s get rid of them cause I didn’t pay enough attention in school to know that witches don’t exist and it’s 20 fucking 15″.

What are your thoughts?

Still Here, Still Bleeding: A Century Later [VIDEO + MAGAZINE + EVENT]

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It’s been a hundred years, an entire century since the genocide. In that century, the Armenian community in Lebanon has been an integral part of Lebanese society, and their contributions culturally, economically, politically and socially are a priceless part of Lebanon’s vastly diverse history, heritage and culture.

Lebanon has always been the place where persecuted peoples sought refuge, even though many Lebanese would like to forget that. It’s no surprise we have 18 different recognised sects, and houses and churches carved into solid rock to evade conquering and genocidal armies like the Ottomans. Perhaps the hammer strike’s full brunt was felt in Armenia and the horrors committed there are unparalleled in modern history, but Lebanon also suffered at the hands of the Ottomans, and our plight is one and the same.

Audio Kultur has dedicated its 12th issue for the celebration of Lebanese Armenians and their influence on us all. It selected five Armenians who gave the testimonies of their grandparents and ancestors who survived and made it to Lebanon or Syria. The five also donated a bit of their blood for the occasion, which was used by the AK creative team to create the red ink which AK12 was printed with. I am a huge fan of Harout Fazlian, the conductor of the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, and Angelique Sabounjian is a very dear friend of mine, and they’re just two out of dozens of Lebanese Armenian friends I love and look up to. I love the thought of using their own blood to immortalise their ancestors’ sacrifice and suffering today, a century later.

That’s not everything though, the gorgeous video below was filmed with the 5 donors, and I urge you to watch it before continuing reading.

But, that’s not all either! On Sunday April 26, Armenia Street (Mar Mikhael) will be closed down by our friends at Achrafieh 2020 for yet another amazing car-free day from 10:00AM till 7:00PM. AK will be providing the entertainment, with several stages and entertainment stations along the street we all love and spend most of our time in, showcasing Armenian music and culture. In keeping with the still bleeding theme, DSC Lebanon will also be on site, accepting blood donations that will be delivered to those who need it across Lebanon, and a chance to remember the sacrifice of the Armenian people and turn it into something that will help save many lives today.

So, pick up the AK12 issue available for free across Lebanon, check the AudioKultur.com website, RSVP to the Facebook event now, and make sure you donate blood with DSC Lebanon on that day!

See you all on Sunday for a day where we remember the bleak past, celebrate a brighter present and look for a prosperous future.

قانون سير أفضل لضمان سلامة المواطن اللبناني

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بعد القرار في بدء العمل بقانون السير الجديد في لبنان، قررت وضع قانون سير لبناني من نوع أخر نحن بحاجة إليه، هو لضبط مخالفات المسؤولين وقوى الأمن في وطننا الحبيب

دركي على الخليوي بدل تنظيم السير: ١٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
دركي عكس السير: ١٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
دركي صافف على الرصيف أو نصف الطريق: ١٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
موكب أمني يسبب زحمة سير للمواطنين: ١٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
موكب أمني يهدد بالسلاح المواطنين العزل: ١٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
موكب أمني يعتدي بالضرب المبرح للمواطنين العزل: ١٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
حاجز درك نيته إهانة المواطن بلا سبب وافساد ليلتهم: طاولة مجاناً على حساب الدولة وإعتذار لدافعي الضريبة
حواجز اسمنتية في منتصف الطريق “لأسباب أمنية”: ١٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
تلطيش الأنسات والسيدات اللتين تقود السيارات من قبل قوى الامن: فرك ألسنتهم بالصابون البلدي و ١٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
إقفال طريق عام أو اوتستراد لتدريبات عسكرية: يوم عطلة مدفوع لكل اللبنانيين مع غرامة ١٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
إعطاء ضبط سير بدل من تسهيل السير وامن السير: ١٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠
إجبار المواطن على تجاوز الضو الأحمر ومن ثم اعطائه ضبط سير: إجبار العنصر على دفع الضبط، وتعويض للمواطن بضعف مبلغ الضبط
السماح لشبيحة الفالي باستملاك طريق عام مقابل رشوة: دفع مبلغ الرشوة ضعفين لكل مواطن يسلك الطريق المذكورة

 إن كنتم توافقون على هذا القانون، أو لديكم أي تعديل أو إضافة، الرجاء إستخدام هاشتغ #يا_نظيف

مع أطيب التمنيات والتهاني للدولة على الثروة التي ستجنيها دون تحسين السلامة المرورية في وطننا الحبيب

جينو رعيدي

ملاحظة: هذا النص ساخر، ولكنه يحاكي الواقع المرير الذي يعيشه المواطن اللبناني جراء انتهاكات القوى الأمنية والمسؤولين السياسيين دون أي محاسبة أو معالجة

“Ask An Israeli” Video Shows Interesting Opinions on Lebanon

I came across the video below on Reddit, and watched the entire 15 minutes and jotted down some notes which I found interesting.

Now, before we continue, I ask of you to put aside the political, historical, ideological indoctrination and focus for a second on what it actually is: unedited videos of normal Israelis.

The first thing you notice, is that almost all of them want peace with Lebanon, and next in line comes Syria. Even originally Yemeni Jews would rather have peace with us, than Yemen.

I can appreciate Lebanon, they’re pretty secular aside from Hezbollah

Now, that’s something to be proud of, even though it’s not awfully true. We do have a semblance of a somewhat secular system, but that’s just because the sects try to so carefully manage their conflicts, that there’s some space for folks like me to somewhat live the lives we want without religions butting in into every single aspect of life. At least when it could possibly be perceived as an attack from one sect on another, a big no-no here. So, one might hate two-piece bikinis because of their religion, but it’s highly unlikely they’d “attack” them because it might be seen as a Muslim-Christian strife, instead of what it actually is: no one’s fucking business what you wear)

Casino in Beirut

One dude was especially excited about our Casino. If he only knew how corrupt it was, and how horribly Lebanese politicians have destroyed it with their fake “wasta” jobs that bleed what is supposed to be our tax money into the bottomless pockets of the jackets their daddies and grandaddies handed down to them.

Market in Damascus (if it still exists)

Here is one of the disturbing parts of the video, where the interviewer jokingly says “if it still exists” and chuckles when an Israeli woman says she’d like to go to the market in Damascus. It shows the chilling nonchalance when it comes to immeasurable pain and suffering on those considered “the enemy”. At least this time though, it’s not Israeli forces that are dealing that pain and suffering on the Syrian people…

Peace is a dream

It is, and with the current leadership on both sides, it will remain so till the foreseeable future. Imagine what a peaceful Middle East would be like…

I think we are similar to them

Though unpleasant, the idea that Israeli and Lebanese folks are sorta similar in their mentalities, is sorta true. They’re both communities that always feel they’re being persecuted and hunted down, and this perpetual feeling of being a victim, has made them both much worse people.

It seems really natural to have peace with them, same food

The food issue has been a war in itself, with Lebanese and other Arab delicacies like Tabbouleh and Hommos, being claimed as “Israeli” food. This is of course preposterous, and any person with a slight grasp of how the world works knows that’s not true. Yet, instead of the “mine is bigger than yours” (in reference to Hommos plates), the woman feels that the fact what we eat is so similar, it seems “natural” to be at peace.

There is an amazing music scene in Lebanon (another woman: “Ibrahim Maalouf”)

Can’t argue with that, and it is true. Israelis can see how thriving our music and nightlife scene is, they won’t be thrown in jail for doing that like authorities in Lebanon would do. One thing I’ve learned, is that everywhere I’ve been, there’s been a scene I felt at home with: the electronic music scene, and the Beirut one is fucking awesome. Heck, my friend met a Sicilian man on the slopes in the Alps who told him he wants to come to Beirut and party at b018… Yet, all the Lebanese authorities do to help that scene is ban artists from entering if they’ve performed in Israel, and raise taxes or ask for bribes before we hold parties…

Beirut is supposed to be an amazing city

Keyword being: “supposed”, but it isn’t, and it’s largely our fault. Wars, corruption, nepotism have all robbed Beirut of its former glory, and turned it into a severely congested block of cement dotted with empty high-rises with higher prices, that replaced the priceless heritage buildings we can never replace.

One particular kid towards the beginning was odd, and said

I don’t mind if Nasrallah blows up my house (near the border with Lebanon). I respect him more than my father. I think he is a role model.

Goes to show the charisma and influence of Hezbollah’s General Secretary, even mesmerizes some of the people his missiles can reach beyond the border…

Conclusion

This post isn’t about naturalizing with Israel or making peace with a government that has so brutally bombed, invaded and destroyed Lebanon so many times over the past few decades. This post is about remembering that it’s important to see how the other side pictures us, to see if it really reflects the reality. And sadly, most of the things the Israelis think are good about us, have deteriorated. Casino? Promenade? Sea? Secular? We should be, but we’re not.

Here’s the page, it also does videos like this with Palestinians.

Oh BTW, Zahleh Now Has 24H Electricity

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What happened in Zahleh is both extremely encouraging, and awfully scary. Encouraging because it’s been almost 50 fucking years since the war started, and we still don’t fucking have fucking electricity in 2000 fucking 15. Scary because the politically-backed “moteurs” gangs are shooting transformers to stop EDZ from supplying 24 hours of electricity a day. And the best part is, the government, church, and every other useless, self-important institution was busy fighting over the stupid corrupt Casino du Liban and some stupid contracting project no one gives a fuck about at the Port.

It’s unacceptable we don’t have electricity all day yet. It’s shameful, given that so many tens of billions of dollars have been dumped into the pockets of everyone involved in running Lebanon the past 25 years. It’s shameful we have accepted it as a reality we can never change: that we will never have electricity. All they do is buy stupid, expensive, useless ships to pollute more and supply less. They build an extremely polluting “new” power plant in a heavily populated area with no or bad filters. Their rotten employees close the main highway into Beirut so they get ill-gotten benefits for sub-par services. Tfeh.

I am extremely proud of Electricite de Zahle. Proud of them for saying to the government, fuck you, we’re gonna give the people who pay us what they’re paying for. Fuck you to the disgusting animals that run the generators who threatened to disrupt this plan, and attempted to on several occasions, while police ate fried chicken and tortured kids smoking pot.

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EDZ showed that waiting for the government is useless, and the only way is for the private sector to take initiative and fix things, and let the government try and keep up when they’re too busy boycotting parliamentary sessions till their foreign patrons give them the go-ahead. I hope they can install bullet-proof infrastructure, but that would cost too much. Here’s to hoping all the moteur owners die suddenly of heart failure caused by the pollution of their illegal “livelihoods”. I hope the rest of Lebanon learns from Zahle and its surroundings, and remembers that, hey, it’s 2015, I’m pretty sure humans have figured out a way to generate electricity round the clock, right? Mafrood ya3ne.

Bravo EDZ!

Why the LBC Fadl Shaker Interview Was Actually Good

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I’ve followed the hurricane of criticism hurled at Edmond Sassine and LBC for the interview with notorious pop-star-hearthrob-turned-filthy-islamist-terrorist Fadl Shakr, or Abou Whatever according to his terrorist pet name. It was amusing, to say the least. I loved the March 8 team of conspiracy theorists, especially Al Akhbar who turned into an international, best-selling thriller. But, it was actually sad. Very sad.

Freedom of the press is sorely misunderstood here. If you get an interview with Satan himself, you go take it. If a CNN anchor got an invite to interview Bin Laden, they’re gonna fucking take it for sure. Why? Not because they want to be the mouth piece of Bin Laden, but because people wanna know more about these terrorists, where they are hiding, are they alive, etc. Ask yourselves, who among us didn’t wonder what became of Fadl Shaker? I for one care a lot, and for me, I want to know where the murderous terrorist with Lebanese soldiers’ blood on his hands is hiding. I want to know why he isn’t behind bars yet. I wanna see how this coward will try to escape the hand of justice like his filthy collaborators who tried to escape the airport in Beirut posing as metro-sexual male escorts…

We learned one thing from that interview, which is that a plot to get the terrorist off the hook is being cooked up. Do I think Pierre El Daher or Edmond Sassine are the masterminds? Of course not. Why would they? The Waleed Ben Talal argument is stupid, and I think Al Akhbar and co with these allegations are just encouraging LBC to cover that issue even more, an issue that Lebanese folks honestly couldn’t care less about. We don’t care about the legal disputes with the Saudi prince. So, please, please stop the absurd conspiracy theories about this.

I think the interview turned our focus to something that was a mystery. I’m outraged someone thinks they can whitewash the filth off that murderous traitor, and will definitely not sit idly by as this unfolds. I mean, come on, an awkwardly placed framed photo of his toddler smiling juxtaposed with a worn-out Oud, I mean, come on. How stupid does Fadl and his handlers think we are? If he by a miracle escapes the hand of justice and is exonerated, then we’ll all make sure his musical career remains a laughable throwback, and that a comeback will never happen, and that’s one thing I’m sure all of us can guarantee.

LBC had every right to air that interview, fake and hollow as it was. The questions were obviously coordinated if not dictated by Shaker, and Edmond wasn’t exceptionally tough on Skaker. Then again, he was in territory that is harboring this criminal, and where the security forces can’t intervene if the worst should happen. Regardless, the insight Edmond gained was valuable, and Shaker’s extremely flimsy rationalization of his crimes, claiming he “was asleep” when the clashes with the army erupted, and that he simply walked into the camp and took refuge. This, he just casually says, while the opposite is well-documented in video and audio recordings of the terrorist kissing Assir’s forehead and boasting about killing two Lebanese soldiers, referring to them as “fteesten” (which means two carcasses).

The first phase of this whitewashing campaign has started, and it was a major flop. The next logical move in this deceitful campaign is infusing the kidnapped soldiers crisis into the mix. The increasing moves toward a prisoner swap with the terrorist groups in Aarsal’s hinterlands, though in my opinion very imprudent, seems to be getting momentum. Shaker would make a great dance-monkey in a bell-hop suit as a cherry on top of such a “deal”.

Here, I know many people will feel offended and outraged, but, we need to think a little less with our testosterone and feelings and a bit more with our brains. Releasing terrorists which will do exactly the same thing and try to kidnap more soldiers, is a mistake. As hard as it is to acknowledge, these brave men knew the risks they took when they joined the army, or they should have at least. And the only way to release them is to actually rescue them. We have ISF and army teams which are extremely well-trained in counter-terrorism tactics, and I think the initial mistake was stopping the battle before rescuing our boys taken hostage.

What I’m trying to say, is that the interview fooled no one. And that airing it was the right thing to do, and I fully support Edmond and LBC in that. Anyone with that scoop would’ve taken it, and I’m glad it wasn’t with a media outlet more friendly with the Assir phenomenon and its religious extremist followers. What I think we should do now, is make sure no one ever forgets the crimes of this disgusting, vile “human being” and I use that term liberally to describe Shaker. I expect that if he ever releases another song, a team of patriots will bring down the networks of any label that dares approach that islamist terrorist thug, who is cowardly trying to back-pedal.

And, lastly, even if Shaker finally saw the error of his ways, this isn’t a fucking romcom. He still has to pay for his past crimes, no matter how much you dress that pile of shit up and shave its face.

No respect, no compromise for these individuals. However, despite my deep, deep hatred of them, unlike many who share these sentiments, I don’t want to torture or kill them. If we do, we’ll be just like them. He needs to stand a proper trial, and spend the rest of his days behind bars, singing his beloved songs to try and forget the miserable conditions he will eventually die in thanks to the crimes his newfound faith in religion made him do.

25% of Lebanese Left, 35% Leaving Soon

image56The Lebanese Emigrant Statue in Beirut [image source]

A Real Crisis

There are 5 million people around the world that have the Lebanese passport. 25% have already left and reside in other countries now. Whereas another 35% are either waiting for their papers, or are expecting to emigrate from Lebanon soon. That’s not taking into account Lebanese citizens whose parents or grandparents immigrated to foreign countries. (source: Al Jazeera)

That’s 6 in every 10 Lebanese who either left, or are preparing, or at least expecting to, leave Lebanon. We sort of all know that most of us would rather be working and studying somewhere else, where mentalities and attitudes aren’t governed by a Civil War that supposedly ended 25 years ago, where they have 24-hour electricity and potable water. Probably even somewhere where people vote and have rights and enjoy freedom and equality under fair, secular laws. But, seeing them in percentage form is still quite shocking.

It is obvious that the emigration problem is a massive one in Lebanon. Add to that the influx of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and you are certain to have the excruciatingly delicate Lebanese demographic scale, which our political system is built upon, completely pushed off-balance. But, after countless field missions and dozens of fixing jobs with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, I’ve come to realize that Syrian folks are generally very eager to Lebanon, and that often times, all the odd jobs and money they try to scrape together, is to buy a ticket to Turkey, and figure out what to do from there. So, the broken record of astoundingly bold claims that the Syrians are going to replace the Lebanese is simply not true, and the reality is closer to: they both want to leave Lebanon, but it’s easier for Lebanese to do so than it is for a Syrian refugee.

Regardless, this powerful repulsive force in Lebanon should be a major crisis on our agendas. But, from a governmental and policy perspective, it seems Lebanese governments over the past couple of decades sort of encouraged Lebanese people leaving, and for good reason. Remittances from Lebanese expats amounted to a whopping 16.2% of Lebanon’s GDP in 2014 (7.67 billion USD). Just to put that into perspective, Russia’s was a total of 7.33 billion USD, and Italy’s was 8.22 billion USD. (source: Daily Star)

However, despite the perks of having an extra 7+ billion dollars a year, it’s not ok that first, Lebanese people so overwhelmingly feel the urge, or need, to leave. And second, that they contribute so much, yet have virtually no say in what happens in the country they grew up in, have family in, identify as from and increasingly support financially.

Faced with the unanswerable question of “how we can fix Lebanon”, pragmatic options aren’t that many. With no president, and illegitimate parliament and a cabinet of ministers busy exploiting that void to empty tax coffers into personal or party interests masked under the guise of the taxpayers’ interest, it’s hard to suggest something feasible. Add to that the endemic corruption in every state institution, the brutality of Lebanese security forces and the crippled and politicized justice system, and you get a brain teaser political science students visiting Beirut from abroad have sought for decades to try and understand, while their local counterparts just gave up trying to make sense of it from an early age.

A Silver Bullet, Sort Of

Numbers are nice. They speak louder than words sometimes and more safely convince us of what the right thing to do or focus on is. If we take into account how many Lebanese people there are in the world, safe estimates put them at somewhere around 14 million outside of Lebanon. That’s 3.5 times more folks than in Lebanon itself.

The first thing these numbers make me think of is, that’s the key to our elections problem. The sad truth is that political allegiances in Lebanon are largely sectarian based, with the majority of Shiites supporting the Hezbollah camp, the majority of Sunnis supporting the Future Movement camp, the Druzes largely in Junblat’s Progressive Socialist Party, and the Christians sorta split down the middle with a slight (and easily reversible) advantage towards the Michel Aoun camp in the past two elections. So, the wiggle-room has always been in the Christian votes that are more likely to change their minds at the ballot box. Sadly though, the options they have to choose from, are both far, far from ideal. They’re not even remotely adequate, and so, the option of change by ballot boxes, and that votes can speak louder than bullets, is hard given the current political landscape in Lebanon. That’s where those 14 million Lebanese folks become our best chance for changing something.

The Obstacles

But, the hopes that Lebanese abroad can help change the tide faces a lot of obstacles before becoming a reality. First and foremost, most of these folks don’t have the Lebanese passport, given that their families might have been in their new countries for generations now. So, getting them on the books will be the first challenge, assuming they even want to of course. Second, our electoral law is absolute shit, and most of the suggested amendments are also absolute shit. The problem is that those trying to write it are thinking on a very tiny scale, towns and districts to try and predict the results of the elections before they even happen, lessons learned from the days of the Syrian occupation. And third, and less quantifiable and observable, is how the Lebanese emigrants will vote. Will it be based on pre-emigrating attitudes? Less or more conservative? Policy-oriented or za3eem-oriented?

I’ve met and talked with a lot of folks from the Lebanese diaspora in different parts of the world, and you can never really know what to expect. Sometimes, I find they’re a bit more open, outspoken and dare I say liberated. Other times, I feel like I could very well be in a rural village talking to illiterate octogenarians who still think black people are referred to as “slaves”, despite living for decades in urban metropolises of the West. So, it sorta is a gamble, but one that would speak loudly and resonate through not just votes, but maybe even representation.

It might sound unorthodox, but given how much they outnumber Lebanese residents and how big their share in funding Lebanon’s GDP is reminds me of the Washington DC license plates that read “taxation without representation”, given how the district is only represented by a delegate in Congress instead of congressmen and senators, but still pay taxes to the federal government and lie exclusively under the Congress’ jurisdiction. Difference is, DC folks are vastly outnumbered by the rest of the country, whereas in our case, it’s people residing in Lebanon that are the minority.

Wrapping Up

So, an ideal electoral law would guarantee the right of Lebanese emigrants to vote. Their fresh, uncorrupted votes will be a major help in restoring faith in the democratic process in Lebanon. Crooked politicians have already understood the value of the Lebanese diaspora, and in previous elections, both camps chartered flights to herd in expats loyal to them and bribe a few extra thousand votes where they needed them most. Therefore, it’s even more necessary to install a voting from abroad process, to try and discourage this foul form of bribery, and make sure that at least expats, can vote somewhat more freely and wholeheartedly.

Then again, should people who don’t live here have the major say in what happens here? Honestly, given the track record of those living in Lebanon, I’d be willing to take my chances, and if not, maybe a formula that guarantees the Lebanese diaspora are properly represented, just without completely alienating those actually residing in Lebanon.

Who knows. And which group are you guys in? The 25%, the 35% or the remaining 40%?

Why We Never Go to Downtown Beirut

Thursday 007s

Downtown Beirut, which the most zealous of the pro-Hariri camp always hail as the reason he should be idolized by every single Lebanese person, is a massive failure. Apart from the fact that how it came to be rebuilt, is everything but transparent, if not outright criminal, it was built and invested in for all the wrong reasons:

1- Never build a part of your own country for tourists

Tourist traps are usually parts of a city or country already there from centuries ago, which locals decided to turn into a tourist attraction instead of replacing it with new, expensive buildings. In Lebanon, we let contractors destroy priceless heritage sites to build high-rise towers that no one ever buys, and proof of that is how initial single-unit floor plans quickly get divided up into 3 or 4 units to try and sell them when the bigger, expensive ones don’t get any absurd million-dollar bids.

After the July 2006 war, when Hezbollah started to lose favor among most Sunni Arabs, especially the wealthy ones in the Gulf, and the authoritarian monarchs there decided to bar their wealthy subjects from visiting Beirut, Downtown became a ghost town, and remains one today. In a country and region this volatile, one can ask why on earth we’d invest tens of billions of post-war rebuilding funds into a tourist trap designed to vacuum every cent possible from wealthy Arabs seeking to escape their suffocating regimes for a little fun in much less uptight Lebanon. You know, the whole point was to rip people off, not give a good experience, and that Lebanese “7arba2a” had a major role to play in Downtown’s downfall.

One can ask why not a single establishment there was geared towards Lebanese people, Lebanese families and Lebanese youth. None of us want to pay 20USD for water and stale peanuts we never ordered. None of us wanna pay a deposit to guarantee a reservation. At least, not very many of us.

But, one cannot blame the political tit-for-tat that stopped the flow of Gulf petrodollars that financed a big portion of the crucial, yet unreliable services sector in Lebanon, which exponentially eclipses more stable and secure sectors like agriculture and manufacturing. There’s more to it than the absence of rich Gulf tourists.

2- Obnoxious, Useless and Brutal Security

How many times did you try to pass through (if not actually mean to go to) Downtown Beirut and got surprised by a complete or partial shutdown for whatever silly reason? Too many. When it’s not some special interest group trying to twist the hand of the government, which in reality just giving the average taxpayer undeserved hell for it, while the ministers and MPs jovially order their foreign-financed, armored vehicles to cut through any perceived threat, which sometimes, incredibly, can be peaceful protestors in tuxes and wedding dresses demanding for their right to get married on their own terms, not the church’s or mosque’s. If it’s not that, it’s some meeting or whatever that they hold behind hordes of armed riot police and 4-meter high walls of barbed wire. Cowards. Afraid of their own constituents.

If you’re that afraid for your safety, then stop being a drama queen and pretending to go down and do your job in parliament or some ministry. Stay home, do your “work” from there, instead of mess up our commutes and daily lives for your unbelievably inflated sense of self-importance, when most citizens don’t even know your name or what you look like (just the ones you pay off, of course).

So, another reason, is that we get harassed by the cops enough as it is, why would I ever in my right mind go down to a place that’s practically their mini-fiefdom along with the warlords that assign them to that post? Fuck that, I’ll go somewhere with some peace and quiet, and some respect for fellow human beings, especially when its their taxes pay for the cops and politicians’ ill-deserved salaries.

3- Solidere is hard to trust and stomach

Did you know you need to pay Solidere a few thousand dollars for a half-day of shooting something there? And that you need permissions from so many people, that you’d gladly fork out the money just to get all of them off your back. I’m not sure about you, but when my taxes all go to build those 2-3 blocks of fake buildings, I better fucking be able to shoot a video of me dancing in a tutu without needing 8000USD to be “allowed” to in what is supposed to be public property.

Another issue is transparency. Between the horror stories you listen to from the anti-Solidere camp, and the fairytale ads on CNN International by Solidere themselves, you’re sorta lost on who’s actually right. Why don’t Lebanese taxpayers know more? They don’t have to of course, if that’s what the company thinks, but, personally, I’d much rather go spend money in a place where I trust the people a bit more. People straight with who they are and what they do/did with all that money.

Personally, I don’t really have an opinion and don’t feel any sources of information are credible enough. But, the fact that this issue is such a controversial one, and with many people so vocally pro or con, it sorta ruins the mood for me.

4- Everything Interesting is a Church/Mosque or Mausoleum

You can feel how much Lebanese people hate each other when you see the gargantuan Mohamad El Amin mosque, built on land “donated” by the St Georges cathedral right next to it, that looks more like a doll-house now. Of course, this “insult” by making the mosque so much bigger, didn’t go unanswered by the Maronite church, which decided they’re going to spend many, many years and millions to build a bell-tower that’s as high as the mosque minarets. I mean, come on, who wants to go see that happen when they’re on a date or out to club?

When it’s not the race for who has the biggest, shiniest tower, it’s a battle on whether or not we should light up the crucifix on this church and the crescent on that mosque. And in between, there’s images and mausoleums of prominent folks killed violently everywhere, and with security to make sure no one vandalizes them. Quite the atmosphere to go out in, right? And how many of you haven’t gotten into odds with the annoying gatekeepers and guards of those sites, who somehow think you owe them some kind of allegiance or respect, when they’re the ones closing your roads, barring your access and not allowing you to park without paying their cousins who work as valet parking thugs.

I’d Go Down Someday If

If the roads stop being blocked. If I can find cheap parking. If the soldiers and cops there are taught respect to the taxpayer they’re supposed to serve and protect, not humiliate and abuse. I’d go down there if I won’t be charged money for stuff I didn’t order. I’d go down there if there’s a museum or cultural space where you can sit and work, maybe with internet connection that doesn’t cost a fortune and a million wastas to put the fabled “fiber optics network” to use. If I know if I ever felt the need to, I could protest in front of this illegitimate parliament without getting the shit beaten out of me after the cops have confiscated everyone’s phones and cameras.

Prospects of that are starting to appear though, with the Uruguay street and Annahar building restoring some of their old days’ glory. But, if it weren’t for happy hour reasons, I’m not sure how many people would voluntarily commute to the area if their work wasn’t already walking distance away. That’s why people migrate to places like Gemmayzeh, then Mar Mikhael and now Badaro. It’s because we feel like we’re in our own country there, not a ghost town patrolled by bribe-driven security people protecting the thieves of taxpayers’ money and votes. It’s also because we don’t feel everything is geared towards ripping us off (like most business owners in the area who have modeled their business plans on ripping off rich Khaleejis).

It’s not because of the political in-fighting, nor the security situation, and even if all that suddenly stopped and everything was fine and dandy, I’m pretty sure many of you would still not go. It’s been 9 years now. It’s time to figure out how to do business, without relying solely on rich Arab money, and instead trying to engage Lebanese folks who aren’t easily dazzled with glitzy price-tags for sub-standard services and products.

10 Years Later…

I’m alone a lot. I know folks think I’m always at a party or exploring some cool stuff with cool people, but remember, my Instagram is the stuff I choose to share. I live alone. I travel alone. I work alone. Sometimes I watch a movie alone. Sometimes I even go clubbing alone.

Being alone allows you to think a lot. Thinking uninterruptedly because the free WiFi is just 30 minutes at that airport. Thinking uninterruptedly because there’s no smoking area in that terminal (the one that caters for the budget airlines). Thinking uninterruptedly because you’re not worried someone traveling with you forgot something and you need to go back to the security check.

“Eurotrips” aren’t something new, and by any standard, I’m very late to that party. But this one was exceptionally epiphany-inducing for me. It might have been the solitude. It might have been the legal drugs. It might have been the music. It might have been the people I met. I’m not really sure, but one thing I knew it coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the Hariri assassination. I knew it would coincide with that anniversary, so I knew I’d probably be sitting on a river bank in Amsterdam with a rolled-up joint to ponder that a little.

Love

I love Lebanon. I love its people. I’ve fallen in love with a few Lebanese girls. My closest friends are Lebanese. Most of my family is Lebanese. It’s where I went to school, where I had my first kiss, where I partied my first party and where I raised my dog.

I love my hometown of Ehden. I love the heavily-scarred, over-choked Beirut. I love the parties there and I love the DJs that spin in them and create their music. I love that a Lebanese person can get themselves out of a tight spot in pretty resourceful (though not always ethical) way.

I love the weather. I love the resilience. I love that almost every major civilization has conquered and eventually liberated us, leaving some of their ruins, and their genes, behind. I love we have an opinion on everything, even if it has nothing to do with us. I love that everyone thinks they’re an expert on everything, and often get into embarrassing situations because of that. I love how everyone tries to be holier-than-thou when behind closed doors they’d make Mia Khalifa blush.

Hate

I hate it because we’ve spent unlimited billions of dollars on electricity, but we have none. I hate it because our slow internet is always expensive, and when it isn’t, our quotas suddenly become shorter. I hate it because they think they have the right to censor us. I hate it because almost every person thinks they’re important enough somehow to dictate how others should live and what they can and cannot do with their own lives and decisions.

I hate it because I know everything done politically in the name of the people, involves a not-so-secret contract worth many, many millions. (Remember the fire extinguisher thing a few years back? Well, compare the current food and garbage and casino and port ludicrous issues as exactly the same). I hate it because I’m 24 and I’ve never voted, and don’t think I will anytime soon. I hate it because issues that I care about like civil marriage, women’s rights, no police brutality, fair courts and respect for human rights always gets sabotaged by filthy religious men and the politicians that fall under the same corrupt sect.

I hate it because the police do miracles to crackdown on harmless civilians for having a beard, or smoking a joint, or other petty “crimes”, but when someone actually commits a crime, like block a road, murder, assassinate, terrorize, they are left to roam free and unabated (maybe cause the cops are too chicken like their favorite food, or simply, there’s not much bribe money in it). I hate it because people think revenge is right, and often take it into their own penis and head-chopping barbaric hands I hate it because people think being a soldier means benefits from the government, not the duty that includes putting your life and liberty on the line for the sake of your country, and expect us to release terrorists for their sake, terrorists who will try to the exact same vile things again, instead of trying to rescue them like a military should, not pander and court a stupid, barbaric terrorist network.

I hate it most though, because it punishes hope. Being hopeful in Lebanon is like being stupid. I didn’t particularly like Rafic Hariri. I had not forgotten that for most of his life, he was a partner in the Syrian occupier’s crimes, and only when their interests shifted, the very public strife between them arose. The images paid for on TV ads and spots making Hariri look divine made me uneasy, and the fact that people who a week earlier wouldn’t have hesitated calling him a “bad man” to put it politely, were suddenly shedding tears at the edited videos with sad soundtracks about his life. But, I hated the Syrian occupation and everything about it, and I was hoping that the loudspeaking vans and pick-up trucks that kept inviting people to go down to Martyr’s Square and tell the government to resign and the Syrian occupiers to get out, would actually amount to something. It did. And I did go down, with very big hopes about a Lebanon we could be proud of and live in and look up to.

A couple of weeks later, the mostly bonafide Syrian lackies who had suddenly become March 14 freedom fighters, reverted to their old ways and gutted the very essence of the March 2005 movement, with the disgusting and aptly named “foursome” electoral coalition which ensured that the Christian parties that had been actual “14 March” for years (LF and FPM) stayed out of power. All the years of struggle against the Syrian occupation, while the newcomers to M14 getting fat from the crumbs the Syrian regime was dropping on the floors of torture dungeons for them. That was the first slap in a hopeful kid like me’s face.

Then, Gebran died, and none of those left could be trusted anymore. And I switched camps. But, I don’t like ideologies and I don’t like Arabist nationalists and I don’t like Islamist ideologues and above all else, I don’t really like hypocrites. So, that didn’t last long, and ever since, I’ve been watching how the two pathetically incompetent camps have performed worse than anyone’s wildest (and incredibly low) expectations.

I hate it because it makes me feel guilty. I feel guilty because when we work on a specific cause, I still feel like we giving others hope, when we have none… And that has been taking its toll on me, and I hate that.

It forced us to make our goals less ambitious. A lot less ambitious. In a decade, we went from restoring our old, free, independent country, to “please don’t kill us with this toxic chemical and that rabid law” and “no guys, it’s not ok to beat and rape your wife cause of your religion”, and “please stop wasting so much energy and time ruining young people’s lives for a quick buck”, and “hey, why is it unsafe to run an election, but it’s safe to take taxes and arrest people with zero probable cause or legal precedent”, and the list goes on and on.

Gateless, Fenceless Metros Did It

Berlin’s metro and trams don’t have gated stations. People can just walk in and sit without paying first. But they do. Imagine the money saved on all those gates and fences and stations. The transport authority trusts the people will do the right thing, and the people know that if they don’t pay for what they use, the city won’t be able to afford running that service anymore. Of course, if an inspector asks you for a ticket, and you don’t have one, you’ll get a fine (but didn’t run into any of those in over a week).

Picture a metro in Beirut. It’s hard to imagine it ever being completed because most of the money for it would be in politicians’ pockets, like everything else. Assuming it did though, imagine the vandalism and sabotage it’d endure by Lebanese folks: people who have historically never learned to trust a government or respect authority, which was mostly foreign invaders. Look at what the disgusting creatures that run the generators in Zahle are doing: they’re shooting transformers that promised to provide the area with something that should be an absolute basic right, not an unattainable luxury: 24-hour electricity. And look what the cops and politicians are doing about it: nothing. Imagine what the service and bus drivers that keep menacing our roads, would do if we had a better, cheaper and more efficient alternative…

Instead, they make big deals about corruption scandals like in the past few weeks the Casino one, and the Port one, where the real issue is only that they didn’t split the crooked money between themselves evenly, so they try to turn it into a religious or national thing (with the Maronite church, frustrated it can’t influence the political class to vote for a Maronite president, always meddling in these non-religious affairs, trying to fill the president’s shoes, which don’t really do much btw). The casino thing ended by paying off fake employees with your real tax liras, and in the meantime, you watched a dramatic sitcom unfold, when really, a microscopic casino that no one visits doesn’t need 3 fucking thousand employees with 200,000USD of severance…

The Fortress Has Fallen

A good friend once told me that Lebanon is a fortress, where anything bad can go in, but barely anything can escape. More like a prison. We all know how restrictive our passport is, and how difficult it is to secure a student or work visa, or immigration, to somewhere where we could build a better life for ourselves. That didn’t bother me before, and the thought of trying to stay away no matter what the cost, was never an option. It is now though. I’ve realized that other than the States, there’s plenty of countries I’d rather live in than at home, and that’s sad. When we get hungry and someone suggests we order delivery here, I immediately think of local Lebanese delivery spots, then remember I’m not there anymore.

I guess, 10 years later, I’ve become the person who will probably persuade others to leave, instead of persuading my family and friends why I, and they, shouldn’t.