Category Archives: Critiques

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.

Leave Lebanon’s Hyenas Alone!

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Hyena1 via LBCI

The man showing in the picture above is called Mashhour Ghossen as per Akkar News’s Facebook page and he’s bragging about snatching a baby Hyena from his mother. He was hunting apparently when he found the mother with her three children and thought it would be a good idea to steal one of her babies. The two men below weren’t interested in raising hyenas at home so they decided to kill the poor little animal for no reason and pose for pictures.

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This is not the first time hyenas are killed and abused in Lebanon even though they are harmless gentle creatures. Unfortunately, there’s this misconception that they are cruel and dangerous animals and they attack humans which is not true specially when it comes to striped hyenas. The Lebanese hyena is an endangered species and plays a crucial role by cleaning forests from carcasses and bones, which is why we need to condemn these attacks and fine people who harm hyenas from now on.

Protecting hyenas and Lebanon’s wildlife animals in general is a very important matter and the concerned ministries, mainly the Ministry of Environment, should enforce the 2004 law once and for all. It is no longer acceptable to see people posting pictures of killing hyenas and media outlets sharing their stories without taking any action. The guy’s name is mentioned in the article so the authorities should go after him and bring back the hyena cub to his mother. They should also arrest those who killed the hyena cub and warn them or reprimand them somehow.

Once and for all, hyenas are not like the ones you remember from the Lion King. They may not be the nicest looking creatures but they are harmless and will soon disappear if we don’t stop killing them.

Thank you Nadine Mazloum for highlighting these wrongdoings

What’s Stopping Beirut From Becoming A Tech Hub For The Middle East?

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FIBER-OPTICS via Executive-Magazine

Mike Butcher (Techcrunch) believes that “Beirut is rapidly shaping up to be a powerhouse for startups in the Middle East”, and that “Lebanon is uniquely posed to generate startups which aim both at the Arab world and the wider world at large”. Of course these are not just talks as Lebanon has everything from tech campuses, talented software engineers, successful entrepreneurs, a growing number of investors and accelerators, award-winning startups and more importantly a $400 million investment by Lebanon’s Central Bank through Circular No. 331.

So why isn’t Lebanon a tech hub yet?
Lebanon has everything except one tiny yet crucial thing, which is a fast and abundant internet. Butcher pointed out that the current average internet speed in Lebanon is 3.11 Mbps (vs 27.9 Mbps in the UAE) but it’s not really the case as the speeds outside Beirut are much lower and barely reach 1Mbps in some areas. Moreover, the changes that MP Harb introduced last year required an increase in bandwidth by Ogero which never took place and therefore forced some ISPs to charge the unlimited night traffic. The only fast and reliable connections nowadays are the 3G and 4G mobile data plans but they are relatively expensive if you need a plan bigger than 10GB.

Who’s to blame for the internet?
This issue has been dragging for quite some time, and is the result of the endless political bickering between the Telecom Ministry and Ogero. We thought that things would improve now that both the minister and Ogero are on the same political side, but things actually got worse somehow. It could be due to the lack of coordination between the two parties or/and the lack of expertise of Minister Harb in Telecom given that he’s a lawyer. Funnily enough, if we look back at previous strategies of implementing changes without coordinating with the other party, some of them actually worked out and forced others parties to adapt after a while (while end users suffered) so this “crisis” we are in might actually lead to something better in the near future but no one knows when. In fact, the sad part is that we can’t get any of the two parties to explain what’s happening and the proof is the latest Executive Magazine interview with Ogero’s head Abdel Moneim Youssef. Here are 3 small paragraphs that sum up the whole interview and leaves all our questions in regards to the internet and the future of fiber optics unanswered:

When asked why the new fiber optic network contracted in 2011 — which now connects the bulk of the central offices in Lebanon as well as many of the country’s heavy users such as universities and hospitals — has not been turned on, Youssef immediately retorted on the semantics, not the substance, of our question. ‘Heavy users’ is a meaningless term, he shot back, embarking on a diatribe arguing that the term was “not even a word.” If you look up ‘heavy users’ on Google, he said, it would yield no results. He went further to say that ‘heavy users’ was only a term used by people in Lebanon, to describe a concept that does not exist in the rest of the world’s parlance.

To close the discussion, he invited Executive to call up all of our sources and tell them they were wrong. “They are completely ignorant,” he said. Every source we had cited in our interview — the advisers to the Ministry of Telecommunications, the consultants, the internet services providers — were implied. All of them.

After we dismissed some ideas implied by our interviewee — such as buying shovels and digging trenches to check for the presence of cables, or calling respected experts to insult them — the net gain of 40 minutes’ exposure to Youssef’s mastery in haranguing was thin. What we learned was that the questions we were asking, for some reason, were questions that Youssef did not want to answer.

What’s next?
As Butcher stated, the building blocks are all there to transform Beirut into a tech hub for the MENA region, but we need decent internet for that to happen and I still find it hard to believe that Ogero or the Telecom Ministry don’t want this to happen. They have everything to win by enhancing the internet speeds and everything to lose by not doing so. In all cases, I hope we get some answers in the weeks or months to come but until then, Dubai is becoming a vibrant startup hub for the Middle East and that’s where all Lebanese entrepreneurs are or will be going.

500MB Of Extra Data Consumption Costs As Much As A 10GB 3G/4G Plan In Lebanon

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Screenshot_2015-04-03-20-19-59

A year ago, I was still subscribed to the 1.5GB 3G mobile data plan but I was exceeding it by some 300-400MB a month. After Minister Boutros Harb approved the new 3G/4G rates my account got upgraded to 5GB but it still wasn’t enough for me as I had moved to a new place and I didn’t have WIFI so I ended up upgrading it to the 10GB plan which costs $49 monthly. Moreover, my last two smartphones were 4G enabled which means more consumption and I wasn’t willing to drop my speed to 3G anymore as 4G is super quick.

In all cases, I can’t really complain about the 3G/4G speeds as the coverage and the speed are perfect but my problem is with the extra consumption rates which are still unacceptable and ridiculously high. If we take what I’m currently paying for, it’s $49 for 10GB yet 1 extra MB costs 0.07$ which means that 100MB of extra consumption costs $7.

So the 10GB normal plan costs as much as 700MB of extra consumption which is quite ridiculous to be honest. I made sure to check with my Dubai friends to see if the extra MBs cost a lot and they are also expensive there but not as much as in Lebanon. I think the common sense would be to charge 0.07$ for every 10MB not 1MB and allow users to add MBs in the same month for a set rate. For example if I have 5 days left I will be able to add 1GB for $10 or $15 instead of paying almost $100 for it.

I think someone needs to raise this matter to the Telecom Minister Boutros Harb and ask him to change these ridiculous rates ASAP.

PS: Let’s not talk about data roaming rates which are out of this world.

It’s Ok For Some Valet Parking Guys To Park Illegally In Beirut

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valet

Every time I’m heading from Achrafieh to Beirut Souks, most of the traffic is caused by valet parking guys from Annahar building till we get to the souks. It’s either people stopping in the middle of the road to give their cars to the valet, or the valet parallel parking or even double parallel parking the cars. As a result, you have a 3-lane road turned into barely one lane while the cops stand there and do nothing, or at least that’s what we thought.

As it turns out, one of the cops has apparently agreed to only fine drivers that parked illegally but didn’t give their car to the valet parking. So if the valet parks illegally it’s fine but if anyone else dares parallel park he will get fined within 5 minutes. That’s what happened with Rizk Khoury who reported his story to Annahar and stated that the cop clearly told him that he got fined because he didn’t give his car to the valet. The ISF promised to follow up this case and punish the cop in question but this is not enough as valet parking companies should not be allowed to block roads in the first place and operate the way they are. Moreover, the park meter spots should be strictly for drivers and not valet parking companies.

What’s happening in DT Beirut is also happening in Mar Mikhael, Gemmayze, Antelias, Hamra, Badaro (recently) and almost everywhere you go in Lebanon. They charge you the amounts they want, which may vary from one hour to the other just like in Antelias and they are never responsible for what’s inside the car or the car itself. A week ago, my friend was telling me his cousin bought a stolen Rolex by a valet.

I personally stopped giving my car to the valet years ago and I think everyone should do the same. However the problem is that they are taking over the huge parking lots lately and forcing you to pay extra if you want to park there, but I’d rather pay more or walk for a mile or even take a taxi than give my car to a valet.

You can read the full Annahar story [here].

[YouTube]

Should Lebanese Cops Be Punished More Severely If They Break The Law?

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Yasa via Yasa

Every day, there’s a new picture being shared online of a police or a municipality officer breaking the law. These officers are either not wearing helmets on their bikes, or running a red light, or talking on the phone instead of facilitating traffic and other countless violations. Unfortunately, barely any actions are ever taken against these cops which is quite frustrating specially for Lebanese citizens who do respect the law. So how should police officers be punished when they break the law? Should they be more severely fined?

ooo via Yasa

The answer is yes because law enforcement people are entrusted with great power over all of us and should act as role models for others to follow. Police officers should be more afraid of breaking the law and their punishment should be much more severe than ordinary law breakers. Moreover, stiffer fines will force bad cops to either give up their badges or straighten up and will filter out the good cops in the force. That’s how things should ideally work and how we will be able one day to enforce traffic laws in Lebanon.

A week ago, I suggested one way to report bad cops through a platform I called “3layye wou 3leik”. The platform encourages citizens to respect the law and report any violations they see in an attempt to reduce their fines. I’m almost sure such an initiative will never be taken seriously but there’s no harm in sharing the idea and getting some feedback on it.

On a lighter note, few Lebanese came up with a funny list of fines for violations involving police officers or related to ministers. The fines set were outrageous in response to the newly introduced heavy fines in the new traffic law.

Here’s the first list (Don’t know the source):
new traffic law

And a funnier one by Gino:
ginos

Tweet At #GazaFont To Break The Media Blackout And #UncoverGaza Stories

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letters

When sectarian fights were raging in Tripoli and innocent people were getting killed, a lot of people were clueless about what’s happening and who’s fighting who. The sad part was that most local TVs seemed uninterested and only very few did the extra effort to go and investigate properly. This negligence led the online community to start hashtags and campaigns to support Tripoli residents, shed the light on the events taking place and share stories and videos.

Of course I’m not trying to compare in anyway the small fights that took place in Tripoli last year to what Gaza, also known for being the largest open-air prison in the world, has been going through the past 20 years or more, but in both cases media played a detrimental role by ignoring the events and hiding the truth.

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The sad and shocking part is that the media blackout on the latest Israeli offensive against Gaza was deliberate and the atrocities and crimes that were committed there didn’t get the coverage needed, even though the last Gaza war was the bloodiest in years. In fact, Israel has killed in 2014 more Palestinians (2,341) than in any other year since 1967 and 531 out of these 2341 kills were innocent children.

Font

Having said all that, the Gaza Font is an initiative aimed at shedding the light on the Gaza unknown stories by asking the public to engage. Every letter and number stands for a story little-known that is now revealed and you can show your support in many ways that are described on the website, and mainly by tweeting at #UncoverGaza.

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We are all concerned with what’s happening around us, whether in Syria or Palestine or anywhere in the Middle East. We should be concerned with innocent civilians and families and children paying the price of war and being kicked out of their villages and houses. Let’s not forget we’ve been there many times as Lebanese and every family in Lebanon has paid the price of war in one way or another.

[YouTube]

Lebanese Journalist Joumana Haddad Denied Entrance To Bahrain Because She’s An Atheist

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Joumanal

Joumana Haddad is Lebanese journalist, activist, poet, instructor, author and the head of the cultural pages for An Nahar newspaper, as well as the editor-in-chief of Jasad magazine, a controversial Arabic magazine specialized in the literature and arts of the body. She’s an exceptional woman that speaks seven languages and was recently ranked among the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women in 2015.

Joumana was supposed to fly to Bahrain on the 6th of April to attend a cultural event, however an online campaign (#البحرين_لا_ترحب_بالملحدين) was started against her visit and as a result, she was denied entrance because she’s an atheist and a threat to society. How is being an atheist a threat to society? Unless Joumana chops heads off and trains terrorists while pretending to write poetry, I think that’s the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard of.

In all cases, it’s their loss as any country should be proud of having women like Joumana Haddad.

Love and support to you Joumana as always!

Joumana

Lebanon’s New Traffic Law: Everything You Need To Know

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new law

I think we all agree that Lebanon needs a new traffic law and I’m glad that the authorities finally managed to draft a new modern traffic law but the question remains whether they will be able to implement it or not? I followed closely Kalamennas‘ episode last week, listened to what Gen. Joseph Msallem (head of public relations division in the Internal Security Forces) and Marcel Ghanem had to say and all I can say is that law enforcement officers need to figure out a way to gain people’s trust while spreading awareness on the new traffic law.

If the aim of the new traffic law is to fine people, then things will only get worse and people will find a way (wasta) not to pay the fines. If not, then the ISF should develop a strategy to 1) spread awareness on the new traffic law without fines 2) serve as role models and 3) gain people’s trust and encourage them not to break the law. Two days ago, I spotted four police officers breaking the law on my way from Jounieh to Achrafieh. One of them wasn’t wearing a seat-belt, the other wasn’t wearing a helmet on his bike, and the 2 others were driving recklessly and cutting off people. If some police officers are incapable of respecting the law and are not being fined or reprimanded, then things will never work out even if this new law is the one of the most modern ones in the world.

On another note, you need a proper infrastructure and decent roads to properly implement the new traffic law, which is not the case. Our roads are terrible and barely lit, traffic lights (if present) are not working everywhere, road works are lousy and hazardous, potholes are everywhere etc. Of course this is not an excuse not to have a new traffic law but the absence of any initiative to fix all these small issues endangering people’s lives makes us wonder if the government is serious about this new law or they’re just doing it to collect more money from the Lebanese.

Speaking of violations and fines, I summed up some of the technical details that were mentioned on LBCI in order to give you an idea about the new law. If you are interested in reading the whole 177-pages long law, you can find it [here].

All in all, we do need severe offences to stop traffic violations but we also need competent and trustworthy law enforcement officers to do the job, and we need the law to be implemented in all regions and on all individuals without any exception.

PS: The fines are so high in this new traffic law that one blogger thought of introducing the Lebanese driving ticket loan.

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In addition to the above violations, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or exceeding the speed limit will be also be punishable by law. The fines will be determined based on the severity of the violation.

An Empty Nejmeh Square In Beirut Turned Green For St Patrick’s Day

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Nejmeh Square greening 2015 (1)

I shared a picture yesterday of Beirut’s Nejmeh Square (Place de l’Etoile) as it turned green to celebrate Ireland’s National Day. The #GoGreen4PatricksDay initiative was organized by the Irish Consulate in Beirut and the Irish Embassy in Cairo in partnership with the Mayor of Beirut yet the one thing that almost everyone pointed out in that picture was the fact that Nejmeh square was empty.

Captain Philip Carey, currently serving with UNIFIL in At-Tiri, south Lebanon, said at the event: “Over 30,000 members of the Irish Defence Forces have served as peacekeepers with UNIFIL in Lebanon since 1978 and I am intensely proud to be here at this Greening for St Patrick’s Day, commemorating our role in restoring peace in Lebanon and celebrating the friendship between our two countries and people.”

I know for a fact that a small event was organized for St Patrick’s Day and Ireland’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Isolde Moylan, gave a small speech on the bonds of solidarity and friendship between the two countries and the symbolism of the Beirut greening, but it saddens me that the Beirut municipality and the Irish Consulate didn’t consider doing a major event to attract people and revive the square for at least one night. St Patrick’s Day could have been the perfect occasion for that as there are plenty of fun things to do, like everyone getting dressed in green and wearing shamrocks, as well as plenty of drinking games to play.

It saddens me to see the once so-popular Nejmeh square always empty nowadays but the problem is not that people are not going to DT Beirut anymore, but instead they are now going to Beirut Souks and its surrounding mainly due to the security measures always in place near the parliament and the road closures around it. I think it’s about time Beirut’s Municipality and Solidere consider reviving Nejmeh square by organizing weekly events and making good use of holidays like St Patrick’s Day.