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!
Update: WalkBeirut is not organizing walks at the moment.
One of my favorite things to do in Beirut is walk around and discover new streets, old houses and hidden spots. I always have people ask me about the location of some of the pictures I take while I’m walking around Achrafieh, Mar Mikhael or Gemmayze and I always thought it would be a nice idea to organize walks around Beirut and let tourists and locals discover the old parts of Beirut like they’ve never seen them before.
For those interested, there’s WalkBeirut, which is run by AUB graduates, and offers guided walking tours of Beirut, and there’s also Beirut Old City Walk which is run by Elie Karam who take tourists on walks and shows them Beirut’s old hidden gems. Elie’s next walk is scheduled for May 24. WalkBeirut is obviously the better choice if you want a professional well-guided tour, but I’ve read testimonials on Elie’s Facebook page and most of them loved the experience and found him funny so I think both of them are worth a try, specially that they cover different areas.
In fact, Beirut old city walk covers Achrafieh and Burj Hammoud areas while WalkBeirut‘s stops are mostly around DownTown Beirut and Kantari area. The ticket prices are respectively $15 and $20 excluding food.
If you know other people or organizations who offer walking tours, I will gladly share them.
Despite everything that’s been happening in the past few years and despite having the worst ranked country in the world in terms of freedom as a neighbor (Syria), Lebanon was still ranked as a partly-free country in the 2015 Freedom House report. Kuwait was the only other partly free country in the Arab World while Tunisia “became the Arab world’s only Free country after holding democratic elections under a new constitution”, and the first Arab country to achieve the status of Free since Lebanon was gripped by civil war. Lebanon scored 4.5 out of 7 in Freedom Rating, 4 in Civil Liberties and 5 in political rights thereby earning the “partly free” status.
Unfortunately though, Lebanon was given a well deserved “downward trend arrow due to the parliament’s repeated failure to elect a president and its postponement of overdue legislative elections for another two and a half years, which left the country with a presidential void and a National Assembly whose mandate expired in 2013”. As far as Arab countries are concerned, Kuwait was also ranked as partly free, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Iraq, Jordan and Yemen were ranked not-free, while Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria were ranked among the worst in the world.
Check out the full report [here] and more about Lebanon [here].
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.
While everyone was too busy talking about Salma Hayek’s visit to Beirut, two brave fire fighters died fighting a blaze in Mar Elias and trying to save others. Mohammad Al-Mawla was 25, a newly wed and a father-to-be while Adel Saadeh who was only 28 was preparing for his wedding. Mawla and Saadeh were involved in evacuating the building and suffocated to death after they got trapped in the building. Some are saying that Mawla rushed first to fight the blaze and was trapped inside, before Saaadeh rushed to his rescue and died from asphyxiation as well.
Needless to say, the only party to blame here is the government as always for not equipping and training our fire fighters properly. Fire fighters need new trucks, new equipment, the proper substances and training to fight a fire and assess a situation. Summer is already here, fires will start erupting everywhere and there’s still no plan to fund these brave volunteers and help them out.
The sad part is that their tragic death barely got any mention in the news, and their brave actions almost went unnoticed. In all cases, I’m just writing this post to show respect to these brave men and share with everyone their story, because it’s more relevant than everything that’s been happening in Lebanon last week.
Fixr.com put together a map of the world with the most-Googled for object in each country, using the auto-complete formula of “How much does * cost in [x country]”. Of course the results aren’t scientific but they are fun to look at.
Here are some of the findings from the Arab world:
– People want to know how much a wedding and a PS3 cost in Lebanon.
– People want to know how much a loaf of bread costs in Syria.
– People want to know how much a camel costs in Saudi Arabia.
– People want to know how much a Ferrari costs in the UAE.
– People want to know how much a Lamborghini costs in Kuwait.
– People want to know how much a kidney costs in Iran.
I don’t know why people are still looking for the PS3 in Lebanon but the wedding cost does make sense and I was actually planning to write few posts about it because it’s almost impossible to get any cost estimate for a wedding here and you can barely find any useful information online.
Check out what other countries are looking for [Here].
The first World Happiness Report was released in 2012 and ranked Lebanon in the 97th position worldwide and 8th position among Arab countries. In the 2015 World Happiness Report, Lebanon dropped 6 spots and was ranked 103rd, which makes sense given the stressful times we’ve been through in the past couple of years. The report also found that “GDP per capita was one of the most important explanatory variables in determining national happiness, along with social support (if you have someone in your life you can count on), healthy life expectancy, freedom (answer to the question “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?”), generosity (“Have you donated money to a charity in the past month?”), and government corruption”.
As far as Arab countries are concerned, UAE ranked first followed by Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The least happy country in the region and (almost) worldwide (156th out of 158) is the Syrian one. Worldwide, Switzerland came on top, followed by Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada and Finland.
Here’s the full list for Arab countries (Rank 2015):
Syrian Arab Republic 156
We all know by now that Lebanon’s oil and gas reserves off its coast might be the richest and best in the Mediterranean, and a lot of Lebanese are thrilled about this discovery and already started dreaming about a wealthy country with a solid infrastructure, prosperous economy and a strong army, but transparency and accountability are needed to make the best out of these resources and we are very far from that in Lebanon!
Corruption is at an all time high, Our MPs have extended their term, we don’t have a president and most of the parties handling the oil & gas file are not trustworthy. For that sake, I’ve been following up mostly on reports from [Executive Magazine] and [MESP], and other useful articles like HMA Tom Fletcher’s take on this matter and what George Sassine, who’s an energy policy expert, had to say about it.
George Sassine also happens to be one of the founders of LOGI, The Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI), which is an independent NGO based in Beirut that aims to create a network of experts across the world to help Lebanon benefit from its oil and gas wealth, and avoid the resource curse. I was introduced to LOGI by a friend a week ago and I think what they are aiming to do is exactly what Lebanon needs to maximize the economic and social benefits of its oil and gas wealth. We need an expert’s point of view on these issues and we need competent individuals to inform us citizens on the key issues facing facing Lebanon’s oil and gas industry, and help us understand what’s happening around us and what’s being cooked behind our backs by corrupt parties. Once policies are set in motion and contracts are locked for decades, it will be impossible to change anything and we might fall into the resource curse forever!
Just in case you don’t know what the resource curse is, it is also known as the “paradox of plenty and refers to the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources, specifically point-source non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources. This is mainly due to governments mismanagement, corruption, instability and other factors”.
LOGI is asking people to join their initiative and support them to kick off the initiative through a dedicated website and finance their first research projects. The website will include infographics, dynamic animations, videos, detailed reports and a database of all analyses and news articles on oil and gas in Lebanon both in Arabic and English, and the first research projects will include policy briefs on Lebanon’s export infrastructure strategy, and fiscal policy strategy. LOGI already secured a large part of the amount needed ($10,000), which is honestly nothing when compared to the billions at risk if the oil & gas goes into the wrong hands.
I’m not writing this post to ask readers to donate money as I’m sure they will secure it before the deadline, but to shed the light on this initiative and ask those interested to get engaged and contribute to driving change in Lebanon. I honestly believe we need similar initiatives for all our problems in Lebanon whereas experts join hands to inform the citizens of what’s really happening, put pressure on the government and concerned parties and offer solutions and reports. On the other hand, it is important for us as citizens to follow up on these NGOs and hold them accountable when they break their promises, the same way we should be doing with our politicians.
Georges Sassine is a Harvard University alum and an energy policy expert with a wide range of experience with several multinational companies. He has been widely published commenting on energy, transparency and public policy issues including the Financial Times, CNN, the Huffington Post, Annahar, L’Orient le Jour, the Daily Star and others.
Karen Ayat is a Partner and Contributor to Natural Gas Europe – a leading platform that provides information and analyses of natural gas developments. Karen emerged as a key expert on the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean and her work has been widely published, mainly by Natural Gas Europe and Energy Tribune. She holds an LLM in Commercial Law from City University London and reads International Relations and Contemporary War at King’s College London.
Jeremy Arbid is an energy and public affairs analyst focused on Lebanon’s oil and gas industry. He is currently a journalist covering economics and government policy for Executive Magazine in Beirut. He holds a Master in Public Administration from the American University of Beirut, and a bachelor in Political Science from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Research fellows: several research fellows are helping LOGI launch various research projects including 4 Harvard University master students, and an ESCP Europe Business School graduate.
LOGI’s Advisory Board is formed from several high level executives and experts spanning multinational energy companies, an international energy law firm, a world renowned think tank, academics from top universities, as well as experts from global NGOs focused on transparency in the oil and gas sector.
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.
How the Lebanese reacted to the new traffic law – at the Mecanique in Dekwaneh
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.