Syrian refugees in Lebanon: A humiliating situation
Check out what Marwan Charbel said today on the Syrian Refugees issue:
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel admitted on Tuesday that the authorities had miscalculated in not building camps to house Syrian refugees escaping the fighting in their country.
In remarks to Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3), Charbel said: “We should have kept Syrian refugees in tents and provided them with all the necessary humanitarian assistance and medical aid … to contain the security violators that are present among them.”
“We made a mistake in dealing” with the issue, he said in response to a question on the presence of Syrian nationals among the casualties in the recent fighting in the northern city of Tripoli.
We have now over 300,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon and still no plans to set up special areas, receive the families and children and give them adequate aid. I know for a fact that a lot of Lebanese are donating or are more than willing to donate so let us find a way to control this flux of refugees and provide some minimal help because things are getting out of hand. Pictures of the Deir Zanoun camp are terrible.
Syria is at war and the thousands of families and individuals fleeing don’t have any money, so don’t expect them to sleep on the streets and starve to death while we go all racist on them. I am not justifying their acts but a lot of people put under these circumstances will revert to crime to provide for their families. I know it’s a huge burden that any government would find difficult to deal with, and I am all for Arab countries donating money to help us out here, but that’s not an excuse for doing nothing at all (Except setting curfew hours for foreign workers).
I am glad he admitted the mistakes repeatedly done but that’s not enough. How about someone suggests a freaking plan to help these refugees and control what’s happening?
Update: The General Security denied the allegations stated in Annahar’s article and said it didn’t have access to any data (Source: VOL).
Update2: Since February 2013, the Prime Minister can accept giving the Data to any security agency at his own discretion [Source]. The criteria set out by the law which requires judges’ prior approval and execution by Minister of Communication was waived as per request from President Sleiman. Nowadays, even ISF is receiving such Data and not only General Security (Annahar’s info is partially true but fully unprofessional). Thank you Razor!
An-Nahar Daily said on Monday that the General Security apparatus is receiving the telecommunications’ data that it needs upon the approval of Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.
According to An-Nahar newspaper, General Security Chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim sent more than one memorandum to the interior ministry and received immediate approvals from PM Mikati and Minister Charbel “who did not take into account the freedom and privacy of citizens”. [LBC]
According to Annahar’s article, The General Security have repeatedly requested access to the telecoms data of the entire population for many Lebanese areas and got an approval for it.
I don’t know where Telecom Minister Sehnaoui stands from those requests and whether he also gave his approval or if it was required (I think he has to approve), but this goes against the campaign he led himself few months back in the name of privacy and personal freedom. I wish the author of the article provided further explanation and details rather than politicize the whole matter as the problem is much bigger than such considerations.
In all cases, I am almost positive all the legal and illegal parties have access in a way or another to our data but this remains nonetheless a very serious issue as we should never compromise our freedom in the name of security.
Here’s my original post on the Freedom vs. Security back when the Information Branch requested data from the Telecom Ministry and the government and got denied any access.
To be honest, I didn’t think too highly of the painting but that’s not a reason to ban it, given that it was really banned since the spokesperson for JABAL, Ms. Zeina Antonios, told Beirut.com the painting was pulled because it was “too expensive for the show”.
On May 8, Fransabank launched the 9th edition of its JABAL exhibition at Hotel Le Gray to great success, with 18 of the 25 artists having sold their artwork during the launching event alone.
But one artist’s work – which appears in JABAL’s official catalogue – never made it to the actual exhibit. Mhammad Saad’s Farewell Beirut depicts Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (in addition to various other Lebanese politicians, including former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea among others) as a character in one of Michelangelo’s most renowned works, The Creation of Adam. [Link]
Sit-ins in front of the Turkish airlines and the Turkish cultural center
We’ve all been hearing for weeks now about protests and sit-ins organized in front of the Turkish airlines and the Turkish cultural center in Beirut by relatives of the 9 abducted Lebanese pilgrims in Syria. They also protested once outside the Turkish Embassy.
Now correct me if I am wrong, but the men were abducted by a Syrian group and are now in Syria, so why exactly are we blaming the Turks? Even if the Turkish side is supporting the opposition in Syria and supposedly (Which I doubt) approved of this kidnapping, the protests should be against the Lebanese government and Lebanese officials. How come no protests are done against the Syrian Embassy?
Added to that, what is the point of protesting in front of the Turkish Airlines office? How are we helping these kidnapped pilgrims by blocking Turkish businesses in Beirut? It just doesn’t make any sense, even though it’s a far better reaction than kidnapping Syrian citizens in Lebanon like the Mokdad family did previously.
On a last note, I recommend that these families engage in positive talks with the Turkish authorities and their representatives in Lebanon instead of provoking them because the current approach won’t get them anywhere.
I still have one important question to ask: What were the pilgrims thinking by going by bus through Syrian territory while the country’s at war?
The Fouad Boutros Highway (Image courtesy of Save Beirut Heritage)
According to NowLebanon, the controversial Fouad Boutros Highway project was given the green light and will kick off in few weeks time. As per Save Beirut Heritage, the Fouad Boutros highway project will destroy 28 heritage landmarks, endanger 30 more, and uproot thousands of meters of lush green spaces in the Ashrafieh, Hekmeh and Mar Mikhail neighborhoods.
To be honest, I was surprised the issue was only raised now or at least given that much spotlight as it seems the project had gone a long way already and was technically a done deal. Added to that, I am asking around to see if the project will endanger that many houses and green spaces as I’ve heard otherwise. Of course, this doesn’t make the project any better but there’s a missing side to the story that must be clarified here.
I wish more talks would take place between Activists/NGOs and Achrafieh’s MPs or concerned officials in order to discuss these matters and find compromises. CDR, the company in charge of the new thoroughfare in conjunction with the municipality, as well as the municipality should assign a person to talk about this matter and shed the light on all its details.
I truly hope it doesn’t turn out to be like the highway connecting Achrafieh to Dekwaneh because it has left an everlasting damage on Burj Hammoud residents.
According to Save Beirut Heritage, the Fouad Boutros highway project will destroy 28 heritage landmarks, endanger 30 more, and uproot thousands of meters of lush green spaces in the Ashrafieh, Hekmeh and Mar Mikhail neighborhoods.
Check out what will happen to the Mar Mikhail street if this project is implemented. If the picture is correct, it will practically destroy the Mar Mikhail street and its surrounding. You can check out the full study [Here] and more pictures and information [Here].
Funnily enough, it’s much older news than the upgraded data plans
Telecom Minister Sehnaoui announced yesterday the good news that a bid was launched for the addressing of all of Lebanon, and that from now on, every home or office in Lebanon will have a proper address. Of course everyone got excited about this, including myself, but the truth is Lebanon’s postal system has been revamped since 2002 but remains unused.
A FEW years ago, only optimists would have dreamt of posting a letter in Lebanon. Today, that has changed. The problem now is getting people to use the post.
In 1998, the government granted a licence to SNC Lavallin, a Canadian contracting giant, to run the postal system. This was no minor endeavour. Years of war had wreaked havoc. Postmen, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of their neighbourhood had long been the backbone of mail distribution, had lost track of their flock during the fighting. Most streets have no name, and addresses are often no more specific than “second floor in the white building next to the flower shop”. SNC Lavallin brought in Canada Post as a technical adviser and created a new sorting and distribution system. Every building in the country has now been assigned a postal code, and most letters reach their destination within 24 hours
The Lebanese, however, have learned to get by without a post office. Private courier services flourish; the government failed to enforce SNC Lavallin’s monopoly.
This article clearly states that every building in this country has been assigned a proper postal code almost 10 years ago but no one bothered using it. This being said, I am not sure whether Minister Sehnaoui was aware of this company, or the fact that the project of addressing Lebanon that he’s been promoting has been available yet unused for 11 years!
It is worthy noting that SNC-Lavalin signed a 12-year contract with the Lebanese Government, which means that we paid money for a company over 12 years and didn’t make proper use of it. You can read more about the contract signing [Here].
Can the new owner succeed where western experts failed? Snail mail may be losing ground to more modern forms of communication, but even in developed countries, ever more letters are being posted every year. Having secured a longer licence, Lebanon Invest expects to break even on mail delivery. But the real money, it thinks, lies in other uses for Libanpost’s infrastructure. It wants to turn the company into a full-fledged distribution and logistics group, offering everything from one-stop billing to financial services, where the margins are higher than on mail delivery. As everywhere, it will take more than letters and stamps to build a profitable postal system.
On a final note, this bid might not be the right thing to do considering the past experiences, taking into account that more modern forms of communications are spreading nowadays and more importantly given that this project has already been done before! What needs to be done is re-implementing the addresses we paid tens of millions of dollars SNC-Lavalin to do for us, and update them internally to make them up to date and cut costs.
Zaitunay Bay almost empty during Winter – Picture taken via Instagram [@LeNajib]
This was posted on Thursday on Amarres Bistro & Cafe Francais’ Facebook page:
Our lovely restaurant Amarres in Zaitunay Bay has had to close down. A word from our CEO:
Business in Lebanon is going through bitter/sweet times. We decided to close our restaurant Amarres in Zaitunay Bay but are opening our 2nd Couqley branch in Blueberry Square, Dbayeh on May 15th. Since 2012, the economic climate in Lebanon has been too harsh to sustain large restaurants in Zaitunay Bay, a destination that demands stability. It is sad to shut down a good restaurant in a beautiful location but the decision is the correct one for us. The business model is unsustainable. Amarres at Zaitunay Bay depended on 3 customer pillars: (1) Lebanese Living in Lebanon (2) Lebanese Expats (3) Tourists. Since May 2012, with the harsh political & security issues affecting Lebanon, Amarres at Zaitunay Bay has seen only 1/3 of the required 3 customer pillars. The good news is that our other outlets are thriving; Couqley, The Angry Monkey, The Tanning Salon + Couqley 2nd Branch opening May 15th in Dbayeh :-)
In the words of Churchill: ‘never, never, never give in’
Having read that, I remembered a post I had written more than a year ago on whether it’s profitable to operate at the Zaitunay Bay, and another post in December 2012 on how businesses are struggling at the Zaitunay Bay.
Here are the rough calculations I did last year:
Let’s assume a restaurant named X pays 750,000$ a year for a 150m2 place that can fit 80 people.
750,000$ means 62,500$ a month and almost 2000$ a day.
- If a meal costs on average between 30 and 50$ at restaurant X, it will need between 40 and 70 customers EVERY day to break even.
- This will only cover the rental fees without taking into consideration wages, maintenance and operating fees etc…
We’ve already had a bad summer season and this one doesn’t seem too promising, so it might be a good idea for the Beirut Municipality and/or whomever is managing the Zaitunay Bay to lower these exorbitant rent prices and let businesses survive this crisis Lebanon is going through. If no initiatives are taken, expect more closures in the upcoming weeks/months.
I’ve been wanting to post about the Ghost nightclub incident for a couple of days now but I took some time to read everything that’s been said online and in the media as well as watch Joe Maalouf’s “Enta 7orr” show to see if he has more information to share on this matter.
To begin with, let me just state that I am personally against the practices of Mayor Chakhtoura and for abolishing Article 534 of the Penal Code, which states that “sexual intercourse contrary to nature is punishable for up to 1 year in prison”, because it is a clear violation of the Human Rights. In fact, “criminalization of homosexuality is a crime without a victim, in addition to its contradiction with principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and other conventions”. However, this whole issue is being tackled the wrong way in my opinion and in a way that will only benefit Dekwaneh’s Mayor Antoine Chakhtoura.
In fact, if you follow closely the details of the story, you will realize that Chakhoura, who happens to be a lawyer, is trying to cover up his illegal practices, whether in terms of arrest or abuse, by highlighting the fact that the victims were homosexuals or transvestites, and Marwan Charbel’s statement yesterday played in his favor. Even though some might argue that the law is vague and does not specify a relationship between two men to be illegal, the types of unnatural sexual relationships are specified somewhere in the laws or official documents from what I understood. There’s been one case where a judge in Batroun refuted Article 534 but his decision could have been legally challenged. That’s why the only way to fight this is by asking to abolish Article 534.
Arousing the religious feeling in the area was another weapon Chakhtoura used, and this is noticeable through the banners I spotted in Dekwaneh and on Facebook:
Before going any further, I took some time to watch the whole episode of Enta 7orr and found Maalouf’s guest, Dr. Elie Abou Aoun spot on in his analysis and comments and partially agreeing with what I said above. However, I noticed some contradictions in the testimonies being given and few weak arguments presented by Maalouf that I wished if he had elaborated on further. For example:
- (Minute 1:39 Till 7:04): Maalouf called Rabih Dagher, Ghost’s owner, who denied the original story that the municipal police raided the night club and arrested four and said the mayor only came to visit him that night and then left. I don’t know whether he’s too scared to admit what happened or he left the club early but something’s not right here.
- Maalouf mentioned that under Article 74, Chakhtoura was not allowed to arrest these people or interrogate them but based on Abou Aoun’s comment and my knowledge, the municipal police is allowed to arrest people under the pretext of violating “el 2adeb el 3ame”, which means in case it spots an indecent behavior, whether it’s a heterosexual couple having sex in the car, a guy running bare naked in the street or two homosexuals kissing. The problem is here that there’s no clear definition of what constitutes an indecent behavior, the same way the Lebanese Law does not define what an “unnatural sexual act” is. I am asking a legal expert to confirm this but I am confident the municipal police can interrogate and arrest people under certain circumstances.
- (Minute 16:35): Maalouf calls an employee named Ziad who works at Ghost and he states that Ghost was not just for homosexuals but for straight people too. I wish if Joe had elaborated further on the possibility of opening gay-friendly pubs in Lebanon and whether the owner can get any protection from people like Chakhtoura from the local authorities (From the police for ex) in that case? If it is doable, then we’d avoid another Ghost-like scandal.
- Why were drugs and criminal activities in Dekwaneh brought up into this episode? And why are we making a big fuss out of video pokers and amusement centers? The Taxi driver being interviewed said Dekwaneh had turned into “Las Vegas” as if it’s a bad thing. That was unnecessary in my opinion, knowing that Chakhtoura almost got killed a year ago after a campaign he launched to clean his city of drug dealers.
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud Maalouf for the investigations he does, and I think his show has a great potential, but I wish if he had focused on the legal matters and facts that interest us more and that would help us come out with a convincing conclusion because mixing the Ghost night club scandal with the “protected” criminals of Dekwaneh and its surrounding is not valid here, and the Casinos (if we can call them that way) story is irrelevant.
Speaking of legal matters and to get back to the main point I raised earlier that Dr. Elie Abou Aoun explained so well, we should all be concerned about what Chakhtoura did and not just the Lebanese homosexual community, because what he did is a clear violation of the Lebanese Law, basic human rights and international conventions that Lebanon is committed to respecting and implementing, as well as a breach of the basic arrest and interrogation guidelines set by the Lebanese state. This is where our main focus should be in order not to turn this into a pro or anti-gay rights campaign where the public opinion will (unfortunately) favor Chakhtoura no questions asked and the story will die out in a matter of weeks if not days.
On top of all that, some are saying that Ghost has been open for almost 5 years now and question the timing of Chaktoura’s illegal actions, which leaves me wondering if this isn’t a classic case of a deal gone wrong between the two parties in question, because Ghost’s owner was denying all the facts on TV. In regards to Interior Minister Marwan Charbel’s last statement, the only thing I have to say is that we need Ziad Baroud back ASAP.
On a last note, there’s a fact that’s quite interesting that was pointed out to me by a friend of mine. Article 534 was derived from French legislation during the so-called French “mandate” on Lebanon where we didn’t have yet a constitutional council in Lebanon, which was founded in order to “supervise the constitutionality of laws and to arbitrate conflicts that arise from parliamentary and presidential elections”. This being said, we should push to have all these archaic laws similar to Article 534 of the Penal Code revised by this council and abolished if not conforming with the international conventions that Lebanon is bound to respect.
Even though Syria is in a state of war, and almost every airplane company has prohibited flights of its civilian airlines over Syrian territory (even Russia!), MEA planes are still using the Syrian airspace and endangering the lives of their staff and passengers.
The reason why Russia stopped its planes from flying over Syria is after “ground-to-air missiles were fired at a Russian passenger jet flying over the strife-torn Arab nation”, so the threat is real and there were previous rumors that two of MEA’s planes were targeted by surface-to-air missiles in Syrian airspace but they were denied.
However, a MEA pilot few days ago was asked to delay his landing and spend some time above Syrian airspace, during which he apparently took pictures of the clashes taking place underneath him and emailed them to other pilots to warn them. After the administration became aware of this email, they suspended the pilot according to this report and denied any threats on the MEA airplanes.
I don’t quite understand why any civilian plane would want to fly above Syrian airspace with everything that’s happening, and I hope that the MEA Administration will stop these flights before a disastrous scenario occurs. What is surprising is that many people are still going on these flights, as if a cheaper ticket is more important than their safety.
Few things I want to say here:
- I support everyone’s freedom of opinion and I believe we should be allowed to criticize or caricaturize or mock anyone we want regardless of their social/religious/political rank. Having said that, the few respectable Lebanese TVs we have should promote such freedoms out of principle regardless if they agree with the comedian or not.
- Charbel Khalil is a known comedian in Lebanon but I honestly rarely found his shows funny. Added to that, he lost all credibility in my regards when he apologized after the famous Hassan Nasrallah episode. This being said, MTV should have focused on that part only without defending Patriarch Sfeir and interviewing people that are only interested in cursing Khalil. After all, Patriarch Sfeir doesn’t need anyone to defend him.
- The best way to deal with Khalil’s foul language and accusations against MTV and the priest is by filing a lawsuit. Just to be clear, this does not contradict with my first statement as spreading false allegations is not part of the freedom of opinion I preach or believe in.
On a last note, I think this is yet another proof that we need better comedy shows and comedians in Lebanon.
HMA Tom Fletcher asked three important questions to the Lebanese in regards to the latest discoveries of gas resources in Lebanon:
1- Do you have the courage to coexist?
2- Do you have a national vision? What kind of Lebanon do you want to see in 2020, when the gas revenues start to filter through?
3- How do you hold the state to account in delivering the benefits of these resources to the people?
Georges Sassine tried to provide an answer to the third question. Check out his interesting take on this subject [Here].
As far as I am concerned, I’d rather we stay away from the oil and gas resources.
I don’t know who is behind the website [U-Harass] but it’s irresponsible to publish inaccurate statistics regarding sexual harassment in Lebanese Universities. You can’t possibly come up with such assumptions based on a sample of 221 students from 20 different universities.
The American University of Beirut has over 6000 students (Let’s say 50/50 male/female) so if we take the average of students per university, barely 12 out of the 3000 AUB students answered this survey, which is less than 1% of the AUB population.
Sexual Harassment is a very serious topic that should be tackled in a more professional way.
In case you are wondering why we don’t celebrate Earth Day in Lebanon, it’s because we have so many forests and green areas and no pollution whatsoever. To be honest, I am not expecting anything from the government but it’s weird to have a Green Party in Lebanon that has no activities online or offline on that day.
Today is Earth Day! Over one billion people in 192 countries are participating from London to Sao Paolo, Seoul to Babylon City, New Delhi to New York, Rome to Cairo; people everywhere are taking action in their communities and helping depict The Face of Climate Change.
How can you get involved? Attend an Earth Day event in your community, start doing something to lower your carbon footprint, and take a photo of yourself being part of the solution and upload it to The Face of Climate Change Wall.