BEIRUT, Lebanon — With 2 million tourists forecasted to visit Lebanon this year — providing this troubled and cash-strapped Mediterranean country with much needed tax revenue to pay off its enormous $50 billion public debt — government officials are doing their best to clean up Beirut’s reputation as an unstable and dangerous city, in an effort to woo even more summer visitors.
After sectarian clashes erupted last week following the designation of a prominent Sunni leader as Prime Minister, various political parties began calling for demilitarizing Beirut and transforming it into a “safe city”.
Nonviolence activist Rana Karam says that “various civil society organizations have been promoting such an initiative for years, and it finally looks like the project is getting some traction.”
Interior Minister Ziad Baroud has further proposed putting more policemen on the streets in an effort to alleviate Beirut’s chronic traffic problems, and has also asked drivers to refrain from honking their horns while in traffic.
“If you look at most cities in Europe and the United States, you see that there are severe fines for honking your car horn if there is no urgent need to do so,” said Baroud spokesman Fadi Antabli. “In Lebanon, people honk their horn while they are sitting in traffic, just out of frustration. And then others join in, and pretty soon the entire avenue is honking. This is a very bad habit that the Interior Ministry is trying to change.”
In addition to cracking down on flagrant honkers, the ministry has also been enforcing some other image-enhancing initiatives. “We’ve asked restaurant owners not to serve as much garlic alongside their grilled meat dishes as they normally do,” said Antabli. “Foreigners — especially northern and western Europeans — are not used to these quantities of garlic, and we want to ensure that tourists are not put off by bad breath as they tour our historic sites.”
Tourism Minister Elie Marouni announced a few similar initiatives last week, aimed at maximizing tourist comfort. “We are asking all Lebanese men between the ages of 18 and 65 to keep their shirts buttoned up as close to the neck as possible, minimizing the amount of chest hair spill-out,” said Marouni’s spokeswoman Nada Feghali. “Also, taxi drivers are kindly asked to trim their pinky finger nails, or, at the very least, to refrain from using them as Q-Tips.”
Also, in a joint project sponsored by the Ministries of the Environment, Energy, and Tourism, a nationwide publicity campaign was launched last month aiming to educate Lebanese on how to respond to tourists when asked about the deep electricity rationing.
“If somebody asks you why the power goes out every day for several hours, just say that this is Lebanon’s effort to “go green” and combat global warming,” says the smiling TV presenter in a series of advertisements.
Early signs suggest that these initiatives may be working. Tourists surveyed upon leaving Beirut have consistently remarked upon the “minty breath” of the Lebanese and their deep eco-conciousness.
“I think it’s just wonderful that they are so committed to recycling,” said Fran Newhouse, an American woman visiting Lebanon for the first time from Minnesota. “I mean, that enormous mountain of recycled bottles and cans outside of Saida is just amazing. I hope the Greenpeace ship comes soon and takes all the recycled materials away so that the Lebanese can have their beach back. Heaven knows, they deserve it.”
I hear part of the plan for a cabinet expansion is to create a Minister of Wazwaziya, who will try to make Beirut a virtually zouz-free zone, creating a space at the upcoming Beirut Zoo where one can see the “endangered species” otherwise known as the Wazwaz.
In my own extensive market research, I have found that there is also a holiday market for northern Europeans seeking ‘slum tourism’ and Lebanese expatriates seeking ‘body hair recreation.’
Build sidewalks in Beirut and every single Scandanavian will leave, muttering: this is just like Oslo …
Hide the body hair, and every single expatriate Lebanese will reboard, lamenting: my kind knows no home …
Gulfie tastes aside, the future is niche tourism. Rather than sinking resources into extensive social engineering that might improve the lives of residents, better is to put up billboards and bumper stickers saying: honk if you love Lebanon.
I can already hear the love!!!
Beep-beep … 🙂
looool great article & love the Minnesotan visitor!
re: Lebanon’s “go green” campaign: nothing says “eco-conscious” like the delightful smell of generator diesel 😀
It’s been too long. We need to chat on the phone. Will call this weekend.
As usual, your comment would have made the perfect epilogue to the post. I will send my drafts by you from now on before publishing them.
I debated b/w the Michigan upper peninsula and Minnesota for a while before settling on the latter. I think that the economic downturn has made Michiganders a tad more cynical and thus less likely to fall for our ministry’s shenanigans.
Ridiculous. I’m not ashamed of my culture and I won’t change in order to please foreigners in my own country. Lebanon, love it of leave it (and that includes sirangists too).
Nice article, I like your take on things.
With all due respect my friend, this is not about changing so called culture to please foreigners.
un-necessary honking, garbage, shooting people on balconies, shooting in the air to celebrate, beating the living shit out of a frenchman by the army because he refused to move out of the way, not having electricity for more than a couple hours a day, having a huge dump of garbage on the beach, ALL these combined can hardly be called “culture” my friend.
And it’s not about changing them to please the few foreigners that trickle in during the summer season, it’s about changing them so people can live in a normal country and lead a life that is normal and decent.
The problem with a gung ho attitude of: Lebanon, love or leave it, is that most people end up leaving it, even those who love it.
@babagannouj, Excellently said, bravo!!!
If only were much more people like you thinking my friend (which i am one of them) and it’s shameful and regretful to have others @vox p. considering “culture” all what you mentioned i your post!!
p.s.: either wake up or grow up @vox p.!
ppl these changes are a way to make lebanon more APPROPRIATE u cant say its part of the culture.. no its just ppl not knowing any better… and they are trying to change that the honking is ridiculous.. nothign worse then sitting on ur balcony and hearing the honking of horns of cabs and frustration of seeing that lovely cabby clean his ears with his pinky nail and hair in general is considered as a DIRTY thing.. .. ppl had hair back in the day coz they had no clothes.. and it isnt very nice to have it out in the open .. im sorry.. i gag when i see the waz waz in fanalla’s and there ass crack is sticking out with the hair line exposed with no shame.. GOOD JOB I cant wait to see these changes start to come in order! but ya the go green thing is pretty funny .. give us POWER LEBANON!!!!
great article about the booming tourist season!!! Not sure about the decrease in garlic though…
You had me going until the chest hair part.
Miss you, man. Give me a buzz and we’ll catch up, or we can try to skype if my connection doesn’t get dropped every five minutes!`
Your neighbours to the south once had campaigns educating outgoing tourists. Please keep hotel pilfering to a minimum. Towels are ok, but faucets and other fixtures must not leave the country.
The honking makes perfect sense… but please, keep the chest hair in display 😛 that is one of the richest characteristics of Lebanese men! wil golden necklace
So hmm when is the greenpeace ship coming? along side the alien spaceship / israeli one? Now that ought to be an interesting night, bring cams.
Ziad baroud “… has also asked drivers to refrain from honking their horns while in traffic.”
This is Gold!! Gold I tell ya!!
Another hilarious success, this is quickly becoming one of my favourite blogs out there.