Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Once upon a war...

I was only six years old when Israel invaded Beirut, and from that terrible time, I kept only one memory: My brother and I are playing on the balcony when thousands of colourful confetti rained down on us. We picked them up and they were flyers with writing on them. A carnival! There's going to be a carnival in Beirut soon! It was all so exciting. We started collecting the flyers and making paper planes and throwing them down the street. Every thing was full of colour. I remember it being so beautiful. The memory vanishes after that...

Years later, the family is having a reminiscing moment about the war, and I mention the confetti, wondering if we ever went to that carnival. My brother looks at me incredulously, "What carnival? These were flyers thrown by Israel warning of the threat of the PLO and explaining that we, the Lebanese, are not the target of their invasion". I was speechless... The six-year-old me must have tried to protect herself by conjuring this pleasant memory from what could have been awfully frightening. Of course the invasion ended up costing over 20,000 civilian lives, with 40,000 wounded. Because that's how "targeted" Israel's wars have always been.

I share this today because it's been on my mind for a while, the ability of a child to protect herself by erasing scary memories. And it keeps taking me to the children of Gaza and Syria, and all the horrors they are seeing. How powerful does their defense mechanism have to be to reinvent a bearable memory from all this? How will they ever be able to unsee images that the strongest of us shudders at in one glance? These aren't flyers falling from the sky, after which you can pack up and leave. These are phone calls and text messages informing you that your life as you know it is over, with nowhere to go, nowhere to hide and no means to forget. This stays with you, and your childhood is lost, forever.

It has to stop... It must stop.

Monday, June 16, 2014

World Cup rights in Lebanon: the right to make more money

It sounds like a victory doesn't it? Deal finally made to bring the World Cup to those who can't afford it. Lebanon will be able to watch all the games for free! Finally some light in this never-ending darkness.

But let's think about this for a second. Doesn't it sound fishy that even though we were promised week after week that a deal was eminent, it was never concluded until well after the tournament began? Let's look at the details:
1- Sama obtained the sole rights as a local agent to broadcast the World Cup in Lebanon from BeIN.
2- People who want to watch the World Cup subscribed to either BeIN or Sama (which was more than 50% cheaper than BeIN) right before the World Cup began, and probably well into the weekend. (I know a few people who waited until the last minute to see whether the government will strike a deal and broadcast for free).
3- Enforcement to prevent piracy was extremely effective in Beirut (I heard about a few cases of much easier access to pirated channels from people living just outside Beirut or in different cities).
4- Today, the deal to broadcast for free was announced by the government. The Ministry of Telecom will pay Sama compensation for broadcasting free - i.e. through taxpayer money. Sama's representative stated that they are footing a third of the bill, as a "gift to the Lebanese people".

Now I am not going into the debate over "the right to watch the World Cup" but I would like some answers on what exactly is the role of the government and their tight relationship with the private sector? Why was enforcement so effective in this particular instance when I haven't seen a single police officer enter any of the myriads of pubs in Beirut that now flaunt their clientele's "right to smoke" within their premises? How much was paid to secure this free broadcast and why was a compensation necessary, when Sama obviously had sold all the licenses it was going to sell?

Isn't it enough that corruption allegations at FIFA are already ruining the game for us? Or did the Lebanese felt left out and wanted to emphasize their eternal dominance in this field.

Don't get me wrong. I am happy that anyone who couldn't afford to watch the World Cup now has access, but I am just wondering who the biggest winner in all this is. Cause I sure don't feel like one.

Update: So turns out the "compensation" paid to Sama was US$ 3 million, which amounts to 75% of the US$ 4 million the dealer had paid to obtain the exclusive rights. I find it highly unlikely that Sama collected less than US$ 1 million (less than 9,000 subscribers), casting doubt on their representative's claim that they were "footing a third of a bill". On the other hand, and in a surprise move, the chairman of Tele Liban took it upon himself to broadcast all the World Cup games on state TV even though this was not part of the agreement between the government and Sama. I give up.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

How the "The Law to Protect Women from Family Violence" never came to pass

In quintessential Lebanese style, parliament just passed a law that initially meant to protect women from violence at home but has been modified beyond recognition to what is now known as “The Bill for the Protection of Women and Family Members Against Domestic Violence". The Legal Agenda has done a great job of explaining why this law is in fact insulting to feminists and anyone who appreciates a sense of justice in their society. Here are a few points from their thorough analysis. I highly recommend reading the article in full:

The subcommittee in charge of reviewing the original draft law prepared by the NGO KAFA (Enough) objected that the text of the legislation does not treat all members of the same family equally and discriminates positively for women. Without a shred of irony, they argued that  the draft law "contradicted Article 7 of the Lebanese Constitution enshrining equality of all Lebanese in terms of their rights and obligations." Because we all know that all Lebanese are treated equally under the law, except for some Lebanese (i.e. males) who are treated more equally than others (read civil status law).

It is common knowledge that the subcommittee had removed "marital rape" and "forced marriage" from the text of the original draft. It claimed that only physical violence that can be proven as per the Criminal Law counts. But did you know that the committee just added “marital rights to intercourse” in an explicit text of civil law (Clause 7(a) of Article 3 of the amended draft)? If this draft passes, guess what it means. The Legal Agenda depressingly expalins:

"Not only does the amendment fail to consider marital rape an act of violence, it might actually lead to deeming the infliction of harm by a wife on her husband while fighting off his attempt to rape her an act of violence itself."

In other words, the husband can legally rape his wife, and if she fights back, he can sue her for domestic violence.

To add insult to injury, the committee also included "adultery among the list of crimes that fall under marital violence, thereby allowing the aggrieved husband to seek protective measures under the law." Why? Because equality apparently.

Happy April's Fools everyone. We've all been duped.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nudity indeed sells

When I first heard about Jackie Chamoun's leaked video and the criticism that made her apologize, I was offended. Why should she? If Lebanon was indeed a conservative society, then we shouldn't be subjected to the political porn we have to endure on a daily basis. Of course, I also wholeheartedly believe that a woman (or man) has the right to do whatever they want with their bodies and no one has the right to dictate their moral standards on them. The incident soon snowballed resulting in hundreds of blog posts and tweets and hashtags and creepy dude pics, all in support of Jackie's right to strip and represent Lebanon in the Olympics. Good for them. Good for us (I also did my share of tweeting and FB sharing).

But looking at the extent of the supportive response (to be honest I barely saw any negative comments about Jackie), I wonder where all this energy and indignation is coming from. I didn't see any of it when Roula Yacoub's husband was found not guilty of murdering her, under extremely murky legal proceedings. Why hasn't there been any outrage at the refusal of the police to intervene in a domestic violence incident that lead to the murder of another woman? I don't see any hashtags or Instagram photos calling for justice and rule of law, and for adopting progressive domestic violence legislation in Lebanon.

So I do want to ask, how "modern" are we as a society? And is it freedom and human rights that we are advocating, or just the image that comes with it?

Just food for thought.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sequence of events after a Beirut blast

This is literally what happens every single time:
  1. When you hear the news, experience shock and moment of silence. Heart sinks.
  2. When you recover, immediately - and irrationally, contact your partner/significant other/loved ones via Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter (phone lines are usually down) to make sure they are fine, even though you're not sure exactly where the explosion was.
  3. When the initial panic wears off, try to determine the general vicinity of the blast and remember if anyone you know works, lives or may be in the area at the time. Repeat Step 2 for those people.
  4. When you are sure everyone is fine, start getting angry at the cowardly assholes with no clear agenda except terrorizing people who are just going about their lives, when they already have enough problems.
  5. When you realize that this was an assassination and not a random blast, secretly breathe a sigh of relief for one second but then decide that this only means one thing: we are as irrelevant and insignificant as we have ever been in this damn excuse for a country, and only serve as collateral damage in a decades long conflict that has nothing to do with us.
  6. Get frustrated and depressed.
  7. Repeat ad infinitum.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Is Egypt really the worst Arab state for women?

After Amman was the rated the third "Ugliest City in the World" and Beirut the 20th "Top City in the World", using vague criteria such as "dirty, chaotic streets and ugly buildings looking like they're crumbling on top of each other" (in reference to Amman not Beirut!), the polling community has come up with a new ranking system: worst Arab states for women. And Egypt won, apparently due to a "surge in violence and Islamist feeling", whatever that means.

Now I am not going to make the argument that Egypt doesn't deserve the title when there are countries like Saudi Arabia and Yemen in contention. I am not an expert on how it is to be a woman in Egypt these days, enduring harassment in the street on a daily basis, nor have I ever been a female citizen of Saudi or Yemen. But I am almost certain that as a Lebanese woman, it in no way feels like I am supposed to be worse off than a woman living in Somalia, a country that still refuses to sign the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. I do not believe that as a woman living in Tunisia, with full citizenship rights, I would be worse off than a Jordanian woman, exposed to "honor" crimes and denied the right to pass my citizenship to my children, where the glass ceiling feels like fortified cement. Something doesn't add up here.

This strangely designed poll by the Thomas Reuters Foundation is reminiscent of the annual Transparency International  poll in which people from different countries are asked about the perception of corruption in their country. The headlines always goes something like "Lebanon most corrupt country in Middle East". In fact, it is simply an indicator of people's perception about corruption, because there is no other way of actually measuring corruption (you can't just go up to a politician and ask them if they accept bribes - well let's just say it gets more complicated). This poll basically asked "336 specialists" their own opinion on whether statements like "Women and men have equal access to run for all elected positions in public office" or "Girls are expected to give up their education sooner than boys" in their country. As complicated as the statements were to confirm, more problematic were answering questions like: "Current inheritance laws are biased towards men.", an issue that has a basis in religion.

What bothered me about this poll is first, the obviously strange and inexplicable results. The second thing is that many of the questions, such as "Marital rape is recognised by law and punished" or "Female genital mutilation is a common practice in this country" can be clearly answered through a little bit of research. They are not really perception based. Another problem is using the indicator of access to health care, as Karl noted, which may not be a sign of a gender equal society but of a rentier state, compared to a country that does not provide public health care to any of its citizens.

I am not sure why the Thomas Reuters foundation decided to conduct their study in this manner, but it has not shed any light on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab world, as we ended up with one more useless list of countries ranked at someone else's whim.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A justified rant: Are you kidding me with this citizenship thing?

This seriously cannot go on. How retarded are we? Did you know this:

Palestine was the first Arab country to give women the right to pass on their citizenship, in 2003, followed by Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia and Libya. Last year, the UAE announced that children of Emirati women married to foreigners could apply for citizenship once they turn 18. And in January 2012, the Council of Ministers in Saudi Arabia announced it would grant citizenship to children of Saudi women married to non-Saudi men, on the condition that they meet other citizenship requirements.

Saudi Arabia people. Where women can't drive. Saudi Arabia, the most backward country in the world when it comes to women's rights, doesn't think that granting women the right to pass on their nationality will turn their country upside down and ruin life for everyone else.

But in Lebanon, it's a different story. In Lebanon, we form an all-male committee to review the possibility of granting women full citizenship. We not only leave it to the "men" to decide, we do it at the most patronizing timing: On Mother's Day. You know, as a "gift" to mothers, not an inherent right to all women. Of course the committee found that this "gift" was not a good idea after all, because despite the constitution, human rights and international treaties that Lebanon is committed to, granting this priceless gift may unhinge the delicate sectarian balance of the nation. And God forbid this sectarian balance, that for all I can see only guarantees government positions for the country's warlords, should be unhinged. Meanwhile, Americans of Lebanese male ancestry from 1921 have every right to that coveted nationality. I wonder how many actually claimed it.

I don't know why we expected anything different from such a cynical committee. Everybody knows that on Mother's Day, the Lebanese buy their mothers toasters.