Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lebanon In Numbers: The Public Debt Case

If you are one of the lucky ones to have been born in this lovely country—just like me—then the number 54 Billion must have a great significance to you. In US dollar terms, this is the amount of debt our beloved country owes to the public. 54 Billion United States Dollars is the price which you and I have to repay; the price of our parents’ and grandparents’ partying years.

Every day, we hear people talking about the $54 billion debt, but what they don’t tell you is what does it mean? You know it’s a lot, but what can you compare it to in order to understand whether it’s a big deal or not? I can tell you that Australia, for example, has a debt of about $400 billion, but we both agree that Australia’s economy is better than that of Lebanon. In fact, when you compare the size of the debt to the size of the economy (what economists call Dept-To-GDP ratio), on a list from 1 to 145, with 1 being the “worst” debt-to-GDP, Australia ranks at 113 while Lebanon is proudly the 5th.

As part of the new segment on Free Thinking Lebanon: “Lebanon In Numbers”, I give you my first ever Infographic. I hope it will offer you a better insight into the Lebanese public debt issue.
Don’t forget to share!

Saturday, October 27, 2012 by Eli ·


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tripoli As Google Sees It

While looking for pictures to add to my latest post “The Ghosts Of The Civil War Visit Tripoli”, I searched Google Images. I simply queried the term “Tripoli Lebanon” and the results Google returned were shocking. Every other picture shows acts of violence in the city. Is this the image we are portraying to the world? This is very sad.

Below is an example of the images. I suggest you try yourself; simply search for “Tripoli Lebanon” in Google images, and see for yourself.




Mideast Lebanon Syria





Thursday, October 25, 2012 by Eli ·


The Ghosts Of The Lebanese Civil War Visit Tripoli

Today is my first day at my Tripoli office after the Achrafieh Bombing of last Friday. During the past couple days, entering the city wasn’t advised at all. Those who attended their daily jobs were soon warned to leave immediately. Stories of snipings, and of insurgents shooting their automatic guns at random, were not strange to anyone who had been following the news lately, especially regarding the doomed situation in Tripoli. What is new, however, is the fact that in the aftermath of the Achrafieh explosion, the situation escalated considerably. You might be wonder “what could be graver than civilians shooting each other, and shelling each other’s homes?” Well, believe it or not, in some of Tripoli’s side-streets, people were encountering road-blockers who were asking for a sort of tax in order to let them pass.

Armed Men Tripoli

These “gatekeepers” were mainly kids; some of them carrying guns that look so heavy on them that “their shoulders appeared to be dislocated,” a co-worker later told me. He was held at one of these roadblocks (I don’t remember the name of the street but I recall that it was not one of the main roads of the city). A kid with an AK47—strapped to his crooked shoulder—approached him and asked him to pay up if he wishes to cross to the other side of the blocked street; when he replied by saying that he had no money on him, they took his pack of Marlboro lights, his lunch and an apple.

If you are finding it hard to believe that such things were taking place in Tripoli, Lebanon, I can’t blame you, because I didn’t believe it either at first. However, an additional recount from a different co-worker, describing the same detail, made me want to check for its validity. Toward the end of business hours, everybody in the office was talking about this; sadly these things were truly happening!

If you still cannot believe it though, you might want to check what was happening in other regions in Beirut, Tripoli and South Lebanon, where some road-blockers were asking for the identity cards of people. Those innocent men, women and children were discriminated by their religious identity—which could be determined by their First and Last names. Depending on your religious sect, you were either let go or “bullied”. Accounts of this taking place in various regions throughout Lebanon were all over the news. These shocking stories reminded us of the horrors of the Lebanese Civil War.

Lebanon Insurgents in Black Masks

As I arrived to Tripoli this morning, I was surprised by how “normal” everything was. Traffic was blocked as usual; people were walking in the street as if nothing had happened; and shops were open for business. City-life in Tripoli was back to normal. Many of you would consider such a scene as a positive sign that street violence was over. However, what I felt, when I encountered this awkward normality is completely different; to me this was a scary and worrying.

The question I pondered—which is the direct cause of my pessimism—is whether we, the Lebanese people, have become so accustomed to such waves of violence and civil insurgency, that we no longer show signs of fear and despair; and as soon as the situation allows it, we carry-on living our lives as if nothing had happened.

I know the Lebanese people have had enough of these devastating events; and that many of us have given up on this country—after having raised our voices to no avail, but regardless of all these facts, I could never understand how we no longer give these scary realities their deserved weight. Similar events have disturbed our parents during the civil war, and there is no reason why they wouldn’t end up extremely damaging to our own generation. Today, it might still be limited to a pack of smokes and a fruit, or maybe a couple slaps to the face, but who knows, maybe these bloody scenes that have given terrible nightmares to our parents in the past, might come back on day to haunt us.

by Eli ·


Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Achrafieh Bombing: a Sad Incident and an Even Sadder Reaction


I wish it didn’t have to get to such a tragic event for me to return to posting on this blog. Friday October 19th, 2012, a horrific terrorist attack shook Sassine Square in Achrafieh, Beirut, and all its neighbouring areas during rush hour (around 02:30pm). The blast, caused by a car bomb parked in the street, caused massive damage to the cars and the buildings in the vicinity; but worst of all were human casualties: 8 dead and more than 100 injured.

A couple of hours into this national blow, Lebanon learned that this cowardly attack had targeted the convoy of Internal Security Forces Information Branch chief Wissam al-Hassan, and had resulted in his death.

This scene was a deja-vu to all of us. A series of political assassinations that took place four years ago had a similar beginning to what we have witnessed today. A number of highly respectable MPs were killed during these bombings; a state of constant fear reigned over this doomed country; and despite those attacks having stopped a few months later, Lebanon stepped into a period of instability and economic stagnation which still cripples our country today.

During their coverage of the incident, the media was communicating irresponsible accusations uttered by different Lebanese politicians—mainly from the March 14 coalition—who, instead of conveying a peaceful message, were pointing fingers at the parties whom they believe are behind this attack. Even though one can sympathise with their situation—the assassinated figures were all from this coalition, however we have learned the hard way, from previous similar situations, that such behaviour causes terrible counter-effects in the form of violent street demonstrations carried out by angry mobs expressing their rage by burning tires and vandalizing.

Burning Tires Lebanon

Following the announcement of the death of Chief Wissam al-Hassan, many TV stations began reporting acts of violence all over the country: tire-burning in one place, shootings in an other, and road-blocking. On hearing these messages, I couldn’t but curse out loud. A wave of disgust overwhelmed me. What is becoming of this country? Are we heading toward total anarchy? Corruption, politics, and secularism have become a malignant cancer, slowly eating Lebanon from the inside out.

Violence, murder, rape, theft, public property vandalism, and now terrorism have become more frequent and more damaging than what we were used to in the past. It seemed lately as if any event, regardless of its gravity, is apt to light up the short fuse of depraved rioters—followers of a certain political leader.

These gullible members of society are not be the root of all that evil, but their damaging conduct fuels the terrorist machine that threat our own existence on a daily basis. Today’s violent reactions to an already horrible incident made me realize how worse our situation have become

A viable explanation of the above increasingly degrading situation came up in a conversation with my fiancĂ©e today (and it is the reason why I’m blogging about this in the first place).

The unstable situation in Lebanon, both in terms of internal security and worsening economic conditions, has been the major drive behind the ever-increasing number of Lebanese expatriates who keep on deserting this country in search for work abroad. This economically and socially detrimental process has significant consequences on the demography of Lebanon.

The majority of those who leave the country on a daily basis are educated young Men and Women, holders of a university degree, and who would otherwise waste their credentials by surrendering to the domestic low-paying job market.

The high demand for fresh graduates has attracted the learned slice of our young workforce. Less and less of our productive working party is now being represented by educated youth; instead the generation on which the country relies on to build the future is being overstocked with the unqualified, the illiterate and violent street thugs.

Once viewed from this perspective, the sad reality we live in today becomes justified. How do we expect to move forward and overcome the social and economic barriers put in place for us by the plague-ridden regional politics and the international agendas that dictate our destiny in this disaster-prone part of the map? I understand that we are facing a difficult multi-layered problem; however, we must not ignore these fundamental social and economic issues which are the pillars a healthy country builds on. Today, the footprint of  “good” people is still considerably visible, but will it always be if we continue on the same path of ignorance? Maybe the next time I’m voting I should stop for a second and remember #Achrafieh #Sassine.

Saturday, October 20, 2012 by Eli ·


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