Saturday, June 12, 2010

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Beirut: best place to visit?

(Despite the on-going political and economic instability in Lebanon, fueled by the harboring of religious fundamentalism, the New York Times named Beirut as the best place to visit in 2009.)


Lebanon is one of the few countries that weren’t affected by the subprime crisis. Economists explain that the three main reasons behind this immunity are: the central-bank’s wise decision to prohibit commercial banks from stepping into subprime territory; the fact that Lebanon’s industry is mainly services-based; and the boom in touristic activities, which has luckily coincided with the worldwide crisis. Tourism has always been a significant contributor to our national income, and every summer people anticipate a large touristic turn up, hoping for a financial stimulus and a boost of the ever stagnating economy.


In terms of touristic attractions, Lebanon is well endowed with countless historical relics and monuments, diverse national museums, and an abundance of eye-candy natural vistas. These fascinating national treasures have attracted millions of tourists to this small Mediterranean country, throughout the years—the majority coming from other Arab countries. In the last decade, however, different factors have become the main touristic magnet: the large variety of leisure activities and the vibrant night-life.



Lebanon is the only Arab country in which people, with the exception of religious extremists, enjoy a liberal lifestyle. Even though religion plays an important role in the government, it is still regarded as a significantly moderate nation, if compared to the neighboring Islamic republics. Nowhere else in the Arab-world do people enjoy the laissez-faire way of life, such as the one offered in Lebanon. During the last ten years, tourists from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan have been swarming Lebanese shopping malls and have become regulars at the clubbing scene in Beirut. These “pious” Muslims, have found the optimal locale—in terms of luxury and freedom from their dictatorial religious dogmatism—to spend the billions of US dollars, hibernating in their nine-digits-interest-swelling-secretly-held bank accounts (Islamic doctrine prohibits Muslims from earning interest on their money. However, the Banking Secrecy system in Lebanon opens a completely private backdoor for those petroleum giants.)

Beirut Before and After The clubbing frenzy, sweeping through the streets of Beirut, every night of the week, 365 days per year, for the last decade, have breathed life into post-war Lebanon. This once demolished capital has been transformed into the ultimate party-city in the Middle East. However, this transformation is seen differently by the religious fundamentalists; for them, Beirut has become the Sin-City of Arabia. Honestly, I fear that one day those religiously eccentric individuals will drag Lebanon into another war (I say “another” because religion/sectarianism has been the cause of the previous ones),  which will undo all the progress that has been taking place for the last decade.  Every time I drive down the streets of Beirut and I hear El-‘Adaan (Muslim prayer) echoing from the loud speakers of the mosques, I wish that, one day, the optimistic dance beats of the nightclubs in downtown Beirut will be loud enough to mute these resonating prayers, and not the other way around.

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