Category Archives: Critiques

What I Told The National About The New Traffic Law In Lebanon

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national1

The new traffic law is still the hottest topic in Lebanon right now and is even being mentioned in foreign media outlets. The Financial Times shared an article on the traffic law (classified under “Syria crisis” for some reason) last week and The National shared a story entitled “Lebanon attempts to impose order on its traffic jungle” on the same topic today .

I got interviewed by Josh Wood from the National and here are the key points I mentioned regarding the new traffic law:

– All previous attempts of implementing the traffic law started almost identically and all failed.
– People are driving more slowly and carefully at night and wearing their seat belts because the fines are huge, or simply because there are fines just like in previous attempts.
– Policemen are still breaking the law and should be punished more severely when they do so as they are role models for others to follow.
– I’m worried about bribes and recommend we automate the whole process by setting up a platform like this [one].
– The idea from the new traffic law should be to help people become aware of the traffic law and care about their own safety, not just fine them and send the money elsewhere.
– Lebanese should know that the fines they are paying are going somewhere to improve the infrastructure.

hahaha

On a last note, we have to stay optimistic every time someone tries to implement traffic laws and the current minister of interior is a rather pragmatic person so let’s hope for the best! You can check out the full article [here].

asas via Mustapha

PS: Thank you Josh for considering me and for mentioning almost everything I shared during the interview!

Posters Against The Zouk Power Plant Pollution Are Now Polluting The Streets

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I was actually surprised to see all parties sitting on one table to protest against the Zouk power plant on April 25 but I soon realized it was all nonsense when they started talking about forming committees. I know it’s too early to judge but no one had a serious proposal to end the Zouk Power Plant problem and it doesn’t look like we will get rid of it that soon.

What’s even worse is that the posters that they hung on every street and road are all still there and one of them almost fell on my car on the highway. So now the posters against the pollution in Keserwan are effectively polluting the city as well, noting that most of the area’s municipalities were involved in the protest. Cheghel ndeef wou 3al lebnené!

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A “Wasta” Shortcut Road To Cut Through Marina Dbayyeh’s Traffic

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dbayyeh

I posted back in 2010 about a shortcut road in Dbayyeh that might save you 20 minutes of morning traffic. The road (shown in red above) was accessible to everyone back then but they’d close it randomly sometimes. After a while, they closed it for good yet I’d notice army vehicles or convoys using it from time to time, but more and more cars have been using it in the past couple of weeks for some reason. I asked around and they told me you need some sort of “wasta” to have your name registered at the gate and they will let you in.

I can’t really confirm this info but the sure thing is that more and more cars are using it and I’ve been spending an extra 20 minutes in traffic because of this shortcut which is unacceptable. If they need the road, they can use it for emergencies or security reasons, but otherwise it should be kept as closed once and for all!

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What Happens When You Are Wrongly Fined In Lebanon?

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n2 via elNashra

Update: A friend told me that he faced the same problem once and that they told him that he doesn’t need to pay any fines if the fine is older than the car registration date.

I’ve been supportive of the new traffic law ever since it came out, but there are 4 issues that I’ve stated in a previous post and that I believe need to be tackled ASAP:
1- Political and security convoys: Is the police allowed to stop them? What happens when they are driving dangerously and cutting off people?
2- Fake License plates: This is unfortunately becoming a trend whereas crooks use fake car plate numbers and cause other drivers to get fined.
3- Settling the fines: Fines always used to come late (sometimes a year late), which is unacceptable. The ISF needs to figure out a way to automate the process.
4- Valet parking companies: Valet guys park everywhere illegally and throw away fines sometimes. They need to be severely penalized and banned if needed.

To be honest, I don’t believe anything can be done in regards to convoys, but the other issues are easy to tackle and should be done the soonest, specially the part related to fake license plates. Yesterday, everyone was sharing the story of a young lady who had just bought her 2015 Nissan X-trail only to find out she has a fine from 2013!! This is not the first time I hear about such a thing and it won’t be the last for sure, as there are a lot of criminals and thugs who put fake license plates on their cars and get other people fined. However, what’s alarming this time is that the car was newly registered and no one noticed the fine somehow, which means that the authorities did something wrong in the first place here.

This being said, something needs to be done to handle these cases because the fines are serious now and no one should be wrongly fined and forced to pay for a violation he didn’t commit. A year ago, I shared an idea about an app that could help detect stolen cars and fake license plates in the process and I still believe it is relatively easy to implement it. Moreover, and based on what I’ve been hearing from people who got wrongly fined, the ISF should make the whole process of submitting complaints and following up on them easier and smoother to the people. The last thing we need is people using “wasta” to resolve such problems.

n1

It’s Time To Put An End To Illegal Cable Providers In Lebanon

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The union of Cable providers in Lebanon (I didn’t know they had a union) decided to take down LBCI yesterday as a sign of protest against the decision taken by 8 local TVs to make them pay a fee for broadcasting their shows. LBCI, Future TV, Tele Liban, NBN, Al Jadeed, Manar, OTV and MTV all set new broadcasting rules by asking cable providers to pay 4 dollars for each subscriber, and asking all cable providers to sign official documents that grant them broadcasting rights.

Honestly speaking, I think it’s about time someone regulated this whole process and put an end to illegal cable providers in Lebanon. I rarely watch TV but I remember I had to call the cable guy almost every Sunday when I was at my parents to be able to watch Formula 1 or some football game. The quality of the image is bad, they control what you’re watching and rarely answer the phone when needed. Moreover, the fact that they are able to randomly shut down LBCI just to protest is quite absurd and unheard of.

Some may argue that we shouldn’t have to pay to watch local TVs but they need to monetize to survive in this market and having illegal cable providers rebroadcast all their shows for free doesn’t make sense, specially when there are affordable and legal providers like Econet and Cable Vision.

Some Lebanese Refuse To Recognize The Armenian Genocide

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Lebanon Victims of the Ottoman rule – Picture taken in Lebanon via Annahar

A couple of Beiruti associations and organizations, as well as few Sunni groups in Tripoli, rejected Education Minister Elias Bou Saab’s decision “to shut down public and private schools on the occasion of the so-called Armenian genocide, and claimed that the genocide is a subject of historical dispute and lacks national consensus”. The Turkish flag was even raised in Tripoli to show support.

I don’t know what’s wrong with these people, but it’s quite shameful and pathetic to hear that some Lebanese don’t acknowledge a genocide that is documented in historical books, studies, novels and documentaries. Even the Turks acknowledged last year the killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks but still refused to call it a genocide.

Moreover, I think someone should remind these groups of Lebanon’s dark days of hunger during the Ottoman Rule, when General Jamal Pasha “instituted an internal blockade of cereals to enter Mount Lebanon, particularly the Christian Maronite Canton (Kaemmakam) that included the current districts of Kesrowan and Betroun. Consequently, the Lebanese could not receive wheat and cereals from the district of Akkar and the Bekaa Valley”. It is estimated that Mount Lebanon lost between 20 and 30% of its population and some sources claim that it was the highest death toll by population of the First World War. I know for a fact that the towns of Abidlleh and Chabtine lost more than 40 or 50% of its residents back then and cases of cannibalism were reported. Of course the severe drought and locusts that hit Lebanon made things worse but the suffocating internal blockade by the Ottomans did the most damage.

One of the many sources I found on this dark era is from “The Famine of 1915-18 in Greater Syria” book that mentions “500,000 victims of famine and related to famine in Syria and Lebanon, 200,000 of them died in Mount Lebanon, particularly in the districts of Byblos and Batroun and Tripoli”. If this is accurate, this means Tripoli also suffered from the Ottoman rule just like all of Lebanon did, and these groups should be condemning Turkey for these actions and what they did to the Armenian people as well.

Here’s an excerpt taken from a letter by Gibran Khalil Gibran to Mary Haskell dated May 26, 1916: “The famine in Mount Lebanon has been planned and instigated by the Turkish government. Already 80,000 have succumbed to starvation and thousands are dying every single day. The same process happened with the Christian Armenians and applied to the Christians in Mount Lebanon”. Also there’s an [article] written by Annahar on this matter, pictures and references I found on the AUB website, and this [article] that quotes several sources on the famine that hit Lebanon between 1915 and 1918.

A coalition of Sunni organizations in Beirut Tuesday condemned a decision by Education Minister Elias Bou Saab to close private and public schools on April 24 in observance of the Armenian genocide, saying it might torpedo Turkish efforts to release Lebanese hostages held by ISIS and Nusra Front.

“Beiruti Associations and Organizations rejects Education Minister Elias Bou Saab’s decision to shut down public and private schools on the occasion of the so-called Armenian genocide, given that the anniversary is a subject of historical dispute and the lack of national Lebanese consensus regarding the circumstances [of the events of 1915],” a statement said. [DailyStar]

أثار قرار وزير التربية الياس بوصعب بالتعطيل يوم الجمعة حفيظة البعض في المجتمع الطرابلسي، وفعالياته، رفضاً للقرار. ومن أبرز الهيئات الرافضة للقرار دار الافتاء في طرابلس، وجمعية العزم والسعادة التابعة لرئيس مجلس الوزراء الاسبق نجيب ميقاتي، وهيئة العلماء المسلمين، ودعا عدد من الجمعيات إلى اعتصامات الجمعة استنكارًا لموقف الوزير، ودفاعًا عن تركيا.

وأصدرت “جمعية بيت الزكاة” بيانا طالبت فيه الحكومة اللبنانية بتوضيح حقيقة تبنّيها لقرار الوزير، وأوضح بيانها أن الجمعية “تدين كلّ المجازر التي وقعت في بلادنا العربية والإسلامية أو في العالم”، معلنة في البيان: “سوف نتقدّم من مجلس الوزراء بجدول عن المذابح التي ارتكبت بالأقاليم العربية والإسلامية، وليتحمّل المجلس النتائج، ولتعطل المدارس كل أيام العام الدراسي حدادًا على تلك المجازر”. [Annahar]

Stop Attacking The New Traffic Law

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I understand people criticizing certain aspects of the new traffic law and how police officers will be penalized for breaking the law, but refusing the traffic law because the roads are bad and not lit, or because you saw a cop running a red light is absurd. I agree that the new law is tough when it comes to fines, but again that’s not an excuse for not abiding by the new rules and becoming a better driver. It’s like ditching classes because the classroom seats are not comfortable, or as my friend Mustapha stated yesterday “refusing to take an exam because the school has no electricity”. If you want to keep on speeding, running red lights, not wearing seat-belts and driving recklessly, then you are an idiot and I hope you get fined and thrown in jail.

Don’t confuse the traffic law with other issues like the infrastructure, security and corruption because they are different. Implementing a new traffic law is as important as enhancing security, fixing roads, fighting censorship and corruption and protecting your freedom of thought. We need to become better drivers, the same way we need to become more environmentally friendly and less corrupt, and only a tough law and raising awareness will do the job. Again this doesn’t mean that the law is perfect and doesn’t have any flaws, but let’s do our part and start pressuring the authorities to do theirs as well. Speaking of which, there are 4 issues that I’m still not comfortable with and that I believe need to be tackled properly:

1- Political and security convoys: Is the police allowed to stop them? What happens when they are driving dangerously and cutting off people?
2- Fake License plates: This is unfortunately becoming a trend whereas crooks use fake car plate numbers and cause other drivers to get fined.
3- Settling the fines: Fines always used to come late (sometimes a year late), which is unacceptable. The ISF needs to figure out a way to automate the process.
4- Valet parking companies: Valet guys park everywhere illegally and throw away fines sometimes. They need to be severely penalized and banned if needed.

Until then, let’s drive safely and let’s hope the new traffic law will last more than 2 months this time.

IMG-20150422-WA0016 How the Lebanese reacted to the new traffic law – at the Mecanique in Dekwaneh

PS: Watch out for trains.

666 via Tayyar

Only In Lebanon: When You’d Rather Have Cancer Than Protest Against Your Political Party

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I spotted posters on the Jounieh highway inviting locals to protest against the Zouk powerplant on Saturday the 25th of April at 3pm. I texted a friend, who happens to be from Zouk Mikhael, and asked him about the protest and whether he’s going or not. He told me that he’s definitely not going because the protest is organized by people he disagrees with politically (wou 3am bya3emlouwa benkeye and maybe he’s right). I asked him whether his party or whomever he’s supporting are doing anything to fix this problem and he didn’t have a clear answer. Instead, he started attacking others and blaming them for not doing anything.

This small talk pretty much sums up the Zouk power plant situation and how Adonis and Zouk residents and municipalities, as well as Keserwan MPs and ministers haven’t done anything to shut down this polluting and hazardous plant. Some people have been lobbying since the days of the Camille Chamoun presidency, yet all their efforts have gone in vain because it’s all about politics and some people would rather get cancer from the toxins dispatched by the chemical plant than protest against their Zaiims. I don’t know how some Lebanese can be so nonchalant about their health and the well being of their children, specially when there are studies showing an increase in cancer due to this power plant.

The Zouk plant has been operating for more than 50 years and is polluting the whole country not just the Keserwan area. A couple of years back, emissions were reduced by 80% by Minister Gebran Bassil but this is not enough as filters aren’t apparently an effective solution. I don’t know what Zouk residents are still waiting for, but they are jeopardizing their health and their family’s health by keeping things as they are. What’s even worse is that more buildings are being built around the plant and the area is becoming overpopulated, not to mention the new beach resorts that are opening every summer, and the third smoke stack that might be added.

To sum things up, if the problem is that we can’t get rid of the power-plant that easily, municipalities should raise awareness on its dangers and keep people away from it. They should also organize protests and pressure the authorities to cut down the pollution and agree on a plan to remove the power plants once and for all. At the same time, municipalities should do what Zahle did and try to figure out alternatives (renewable energy solutions maybe?) to provide their towns and villages with 24/7 electricity, that way they will be able to negotiate on better terms, noting that Zouk residents don’t even get 24/7 electricity! It’s quite absurd that the authorities are allowing people to build new residential areas, commercial centers and beach resorts around the Zouk power plant while there’s a yearly increase of cancer cases and other diseases due to this plant!

For those of you who think that there’s no solution to this matter, check out this study done by Patrick Kallas that I found online and that proposes four solutions to the Zouk power plant issue, and I’m sure there are other studies and solutions published online.

As far as Saturday’s protest is concerned, I don’t know who is organizing it but that’s not how you achieve things. You need to convince residents that you have a certain strategy, that you will be following a certain plan of work and that these protests will eventually get somewhere not just end up on some local TV’s news bulletin for 2 minutes.

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Fatal Road Accidents In Lebanon: Don’t Blame The Roads Only

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News2558123-635644159326340632 Picture from Issam Breidy’s fatal accident – via LBCI

Over 900 people got killed in car accidents in Lebanon last year and the last victim was Lebanese actor and singer Issam Breidy who died on Sunday morning when his car overturned on the Dora bridge. Two other people died during the weekend and tens got injured in various car accidents. I personally didn’t know much about Issam but I was saddened by the news just like most Lebanese, and I was really touched by all the stories the media shared about him, on how his family and friends loved, on how talented and hard-working he was but I was also disappointed by the way Lebanese media covered the story, and covers any story related to fatal road accidents. I understand that people don’t want to hear such stuff, specially the victim’s family and friends, but the media’s responsibility is to shed the light on what happened and more importantly to spread awareness on road safety instead of just blaming the authorities.

Don’t get me wrong here as the authorities and concerned ministries are to blame and more for all the accidents that are taking place and I support any kind of pressure to fix the infrastructure and make our roads safer. Moreover, I still don’t believe we will be able to implement any new traffic law if there are no plans to filter out the corrupt cops from the ISF and improve the roads, but this is not an excuse for being a bad driver. Whether the roads are good or bad, it is our responsibility to wear a seat-belt, to respect the traffic lights, to drive slowly on wet roads, to respect the speed limits, to make sure our brakes are working fine etc ..

I’ve been driving in Lebanon for the past 15 years and I can easily tell you that roads are worse than ever but drivers as well. Every time I’m driving back from a party in Beirut, I feel like I’m in a Fast & Furious movie. Young people think they have control over the wheel no matter how fast they’re going or how drunk they are. They don’t understand that it’s pointless, irresponsible and stupid to drive when you are too tired or drunk, and it’s selfish because you will be hurting your beloved ones if something happens to you. If you’ve been drinking and driving for years without getting into any accident, it doesn’t mean you should keep on doing it. If anything, you should consider yourself lucky and stop doing it once and for all.

All what I’m saying is that we need to fix the roads, but we also need to change the attitude of the drivers in this country. When you’re partying with friends and one of them had too much to drink and wants to drive back home, stop him at any cost and order a taxi. If he insists on driving because he’s man enough to do so, call the cops. If I ever hear that my younger brother drove back home drunk or tired, I will forbid him from ever driving a car again for his own sake. We need to stop this carnage and put an end to all these accidents! If the authorities aren’t doing anything about it, let’s do our part at least!

On a last note, I just want to make it clear one more time that this isn’t about Issam Breidy or any specific road victim, but about the role the media and we people have to play in spreading awareness and forcing our friends and entourage to drive safely and respect the laws.

Sincere condolences to the family of Issam, Charbel Z who also died that weekend and all the road victims in Lebanon.

bill

On The Issue of Child Beggars In Beirut And What Happened At Dunkin Donuts Hamra

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Almost 2 million people have fled Syria to Lebanon since the start of the conflict in 2011, out of which hundreds of thousands of children deprived of education, food and their most basic needs. As a result, a lot of them had to resort to begging in order to provide for their families, or were recruited and exploited by organized mobs (or sometimes their own families) to make revenues. These gangs usually distribute children at different strategic points and threaten them to collect a minimum amount of money or suffer dire consequences. This is why a lot of children beggars refuse to take food when offered and ask for money instead, and they follow you every where out of fear that they might get beaten up when they go back home. As a result, most of them end up working long hours in detrimental conditions and leading a catastrophic lifestyle which poses many risks on their physical and mental well-being. To make things even worse, some gangs are sexually exploiting these children or even selling their kidneys.

Should we help street children or not?
Child beggars have been present since ever in Lebanon, but their situation has worsened with the Syrian crisis as more families are inhabiting the streets and more children are being forced out of school to beg for their families, or are being exploited by child beggar networks, and this is quite noticeable in many streets in Beirut specially in Hamra where there are tens of families living on the side walks and child beggars all over the place.

Personally speaking, I can’t but help children I see on the street, no matter what their nationality is, but I always prefer to give them food instead of money because I know money is going to the wrong people. Some take the food you offer them while others only want cash and become annoying at some point, but giving them money will make them come back for more which is why I refuse to do so. Of course I wish I could get these children out of the street and put them back in school, but there’s little I can do about that and the only way to help is by spreading awareness on this matter and promoting the NGOs helping refugees and street children, or even doing small initiatives like the one LiveLoveBeirut and JouéClub did back in Christmas based on one of the pictures I took.

Who is to blame for this situation?
Both begging and child labor are illegal in Lebanon and the government is responsible for enforcing laws that prohibit exploiting children to finance illegal activities or for sexual purposes. Moreover, Lebanon is forced to abide by the Convention on the rights of the child that was agreed on in 1991. This being said, it is the responsibility of the authorities and mainly the ministry of social affairs to help get these children out of the street and back into school, and more importantly arrest the gangs that are playing a major role in keeping children on the street.

Sadly enough, this issue has long been neglected by the authorities and the only organization in Lebanon that offers a refuge to both Lebanese and non-Lebanese street children (Home of Hope) is not receiving enough funds to do its job. The organization, established by the Lebanese Evangelical Society (LES), is headed by Mr. John Eter, and offers kids a basic education, medical insurance and most importantly a loving environment.

What happened at Dunkin Donuts in Hamra?
A story has gone viral in the past few days about a Dunkin Donuts employee who “beat up” a Syrian child beggar and kicked him out of the coffee shop. The story spread before it even got confirmed and the picture of a DD employee that had nothing to do with the incident got shared somehow. Eventually, the employee who hit the child got suspended by Dunkin Donuts Lebanon and a police investigation is underway according to what they stated on Facebook, while Al Jadeed interviewed the employee and other eye witnesses who stated that the kid wasn’t beaten up as stated. Needless to say, what this employee did was wrong whether he slapped or beat up the kid and I think DD should have added an apology to their statement but I don’t understand people, specially Dima Sadek whom I respect, who are asking to boycott Dunkin Donuts because of that incident. How is boycotting Dunkin Donuts going to help with anything? When did boycotting ever achieve anything? And did they take into consideration the hundreds of families who are against such practices and working with Dunkin Donuts? What if the child beggar was a Lebanese or a Kurd? Why does it matter that he’s a Syrian?

Moreover, I can easily confirm that a similar incident has taken place in almost every coffee shop I’ve been to in Lebanon, and street children are humiliated, beaten up, slapped and pushed away almost everywhere in Lebanon. Shall we start boycotting all the shops? I think a smarter idea would be to mount the pressure on the authorities to do something about this growing phenomenon and help raise funds for concerned NGOs to help these children. I would also encourage journalists and influential people in the media to tackle this problem with the concerned ministries instead of focusing on an isolated incident.

Can we help Lebanon’s street children?
Lebanon has suffered the most from the flow of Syrian refugees, and the Syrian crisis has proven to be a huge burden socially economically and politically. The international help that we are getting is not enough to cope with the ever-growing influx of refugees and the biggest problem is that there’s a whole generation of children, victims of the Syrian war, that are forced to drop out of school and are destroying their future. This being said, the fact that there’s a single institution in Lebanon dealing with homeless children is unacceptable, and the work that the ministry of social affairs has been doing is less than pathetic. For that purpose, we need a new strategy to cope with this ever-growing problem and as it happens, one LAU student came up with a cool idea that “includes modified and improved methodologies of dealing with beggar children, collecting donations, recruiting street educators and volunteers, and educating the general populous about the situation, through the establishment of a non-governmental organization”. I’m sure there are other proposals and ideas that are as affordable and sustainable and can help provide a better living for all street children of all nationalities in Lebanon. Let’s not forget that 1.5 Million Lebanese are below the poverty line according to the UN and a lot of Lebanese child beggars originate from the Bekaa area so this is not just a problem related to the refugees and concerns a whole generation of Lebanese as well.