Category Archives: Middle East

Global School Rankings 2015: Lebanon Ranks 58th Worldwide, 3rd Among Arab Countries

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BBC are calling these rankings the “biggest ever global school rankings” as they were “based on an amalgamation of international assessments, including the OECD’s Pisa tests, the TIMSS tests run by US-based academics and TERCE tests in Latin America, putting developed and developing countries on a single scale”. The analysis was based on test scores in maths and science in 76 countries and put Asian countries in the top five places and African countries at the bottom.

As far as Lebanon is concerned, we ranked 58th worldwide and 3rd in the region after the UAE (1st) and Bahrain (2nd). In terms of economic growth potential, Lebanon can achieve an 816% GDP increase if all pupils (15 year old) are enrolled in schools and that they achieve at least basic skills.

Here’s a list showing rankings in the Arab World:
United Arab Emirates 45
Bahrain 57
Lebanon 58
Jordan 61
Saudi Arabia 66
Qatar 68
Oman 72

Worldwide, Singapore came first, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. The UK ranked 20th, the US 28th and Ghana got the worst ranking at 76.


EU Sets 10 Conditions To Grant Lebanon Visa-free Travel in Schengen Zone Countries

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As you all probably heard by now, UAE citizens will no longer require a visa to travel to Schengen Zone Countries, after the European Parliament approved their proposal back in June last year. Needless to say, the Lebanese weren’t very fond of this decision and filed an official complaint to the EU claiming that they deserve this more than other Arab countries, specially after a study proved that Lebanon is indeed the centre of the universe, and given that Beirut was once known as the “Paris of the Middle East”.

In order to calm things down, and given how crucial Lebanon’s economy and tourists are to the European Union, the EU held an emergency meeting and agreed to grant Lebanese a visa-free access to Schengen Zone Countries if its citizens agree to abide by the following 10 conditions:

1- Lebanese will stand in line while boarding an airplane.
2- Lebanese will not fake bank statements or 5 star hotel reservations in their Schengen application.
3- Lebanese will not attempt to bribe the security guard at embassies.
4- Lebanese will not apply to a different country than the one they are going to.
5- Lebanese will not change seats on the airplane and confuse the hostesses.
6- Lebanese will not attempt to carry a 50kg luggage into the airplane as a carry-on
7- Lebanese will no longer clap when the plane lands.
8- Lebanese will not play loud Arabic music (or sing a mouwwel) on the airplane.
9- Lebanese will not attempt to smuggle keshek or basterma.
10- Lebanese will not schedule five different appointments on the same day to avoid waiting in line.

(PS: Satire Disclaimer)

Lebanon & Kuwait The Only Partly-Free Countries In The Region, Tunisia Ranked Free

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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 Most Googled Products In Lebanon And The Middle East

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Wedding 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].


Lebanon Ranked 103rd (Down 6 Spots) In World Happiness Report 2015

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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):
UAE 20
Oman 22
Qatar 28
KSA 35
Kuwait 39
Bahrain 49
Libya 63
Algeria 68
Jordan 82
Morocco 92
Lebanon 103
Tunisia 107
Palestine 108
Iraq 112
Sudan 118
Egypt 135
Yemen 136
Syrian Arab Republic 156

You can check out the full report [here].


Thanks Rami!

LOGI: An Initiative To Advocate For Transparency in Lebanon’s Oil & Gas Industry

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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.

You can read more about LOGI [Here].

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.


16 Lebanese Featured Among The 100 Most Powerful Arabs Under 40

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Arabian Business published the 100 most powerful Arabs under 40 list which included 16 Lebanese. The top ranked was Iqbal Al Asaad who’s a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, followed by Amal Clooney, Maher Zain, Rani Raad and Nancy Ajram. Khalil Beschir, a Lebanese racing driver and the first ever Arab to race in a single-seater World Championship was also featured on that list.

You can check out the full list [here].

Here are the Lebanese mentioned:

6- Iqbal Al Asaad
Industry: Science
Country: Lebanon (Palestine)

9- Amal Clooney
Industry: Law
Country:UK (Lebanon)

10- Maher Zain
Industry: Culture and society
Country: Sweden (Lebanon)

13- Rani Raad
Country: UK (Lebanon)

19- Nancy Ajram
Industry: Arts and entertainment
Country: Lebanon

44- Moustafa Fahour
Industry: Culture and Society
Country: Lebanon

49- Philippe Ghanem
Industry: Banking and finance
Country: UAE (Lebanon)

53- Habib Haddad
Industry: Technology
Country: Lebanon

63- Abdallah Absi
Industry: Technology
Country: Lebanon

65- Ayah Bdeir
Industry: Technology
Country: Canada (Lebanon)

67-Mahmoud Kabbour
Industry: Arts and entertainment
Country: Lebanon

79- Fahd Hariri
Industry: Banking and finance
Country: France (Lebanon)

82- Khalil Beschir
Industry: Sport
Country: Lebanon

89- Diala Makki
Industry: Arts and entertainment
Country: UAE (Lebanon)

99- Myriam Fares
Industry: Arts and entertainment
Country: Lebanon

100- May Habib
Industry: Technology
Country: UAE (Lebanon)

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

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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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!


Lebanese-British Amal Alameddine Clooney Second Most Powerful Arab Woman

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The 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2015 list by Arabian Business is out and this year’s second place goes to Lebanese-British lawyer Amal Clooney. Amal is an activist known for leading numerous high-profile human rights cases and she made headlines all over the world last year after marrying Georges Clooney. I think this is the highest rank ever achieved by a Lebanese on that list which was topped once again by HE Sheikha Lubna Al Qassimi.

10 other Lebanese women proudly made the list:
– Nayla Hayek
– Iqbal Al Asaad (Lebanon/Palestine)
– Grace Najjar
– Joumana Haddad
– Ayah Bdeir
– Nadine Labaki
– Nancy Ajram
– Fairouz
– Reine Abbas
– Hind Hobeika

Check out the full list [here].

list women