❊ What a Year! Top 11 Non-Political Lebanese Blog Stories of 2011

The year 2011 started with a bang. Literally. The very first post in Beirut Spring in 2011 was about the new year eve’s explosion in Alexandria Egypt. At the time we didn’t realize it, but that explosion set the tone for a year that turned out to be explosive and tumultuous in many ways.

The Arab spring and the turmoil in Lebanese politics dominated the 1,210 posts in this blog in 2011. But this year also witnessed other stories and off-beat, quirky little Lebanese memes that helped shape the year in their own way.

In this end-of-year post, you will find a recollection of these stories and hopefully you’ll remember the debates, laughs and anger they generated. This is a subjective list. It speaks more to this blogger’s interests than to the general Lebanese Zeitgeist. That said, I hope you all find it useful, delightful and worth sharing.

Without further Ado, I present you the list and wish a happy new year to you all!


Ontornet

Last year, we started noticing a problem: Lebanon had one of the worst internet connections in the world. But in 2011, it went even more downhill and became the absolute worse. It dawned on us that our government was woefully ill equipped to deal with the matter and that Lebanon is getting behind in many cool technologies. The internet was so slow that I found it very difficult to blog when I visited Lebanon.

The online (and offline) activists began taking matters in their own hands. Movements like Ontornet and Flip the Switch were born and the Lebanese stakeholders started having conversations about the internet in Lebanon. The world noticed, and international media started writing about Lebanon’s “painfully slow” internet connection.

The loud complaining and constant activism started paying off, as the Lebanese gradually began getting a more decent connection. But many remain unconvinced, as the faster connection that was announced with much pomp and fanfare took ages to improve and many hurdles came along the way.


How the world sees Lebanon, and how we see ourselves

As the summer of 2011 approached, many of us started noticing that there’s an unusual amount of foreign articles and TV reports on why “Beirut is Back”. So much so in fact that Angie wrote a post to serve as a template to save them time and trouble. We then realized that all these infomercials somehow included references to specific fancy new Beirut hotels and we made a connection.

We enjoyed talking about how international celebrities and comedians saw Lebanon, how foreign bloggers analyzed our habitsWe got angry when we noticed that they’re giving too much importance to things like the Beirut nightlife, or that some of them didn’t like our country, or when writers fell too deep into stereotyping.

But then we turned our gaze inward, into how Lebanon promoted itself to the outside world. We discovered an old Lebanese tradition of promoting Lebanon using scantly clad women, a tradition that survived very well. We discussed tv ads that were made to promote our little piece of heaven. We talked about how women are used to sell our country, about beauty pageants and plastic surgery. We then naturally sidetracked into talking about the state of advertising in Lebanon and about the lovable (and not so lovable) characters Lebanese ads spawned.


Racism and the abuse of foreign workers

The Lebanese awareness of the abuse of foreign domestic workers started in 2010. But 2011 was the year in which the issue really took off. Things got so bad we started having billboards telling us to treat workers well. The Philippines started arresting people who wanted to work in Lebanon. There were even studies on the sexuality of maids in Lebanon and how they are treated by their madames. Generally, the matter started garnering significant international exposure and became a real embarrassment.

The Lebanese fought back against such abuses. Activists wrote songs condemning their treatment and the government began implementing some imperfect programs to protect the worker’s rights. Still, the matter of racism in Lebanon remains far from solved, as it lingers on in parts of the media and some municipalities.


The “revolution against sectarianism”

I was hesitating to include this story in the list because it could be thought of as a political story. But I made an exception because of the amount of energy that was spent debating the issue on this blog.

At the height of the Arab spring, a group of Lebanese men and women decided that Lebanon’s revolution will be against the sectarian order ruling the country. It was an admirable and catchy idea, and indeed the demonstrations kept getting bigger and bigger. But I always got the feeling that something was wrong with their approach, and I kept writing post after post to elaborate my ideas. It is no use rehashing the arguments I and many other people made (if you’re really interested, you can click on the links), but the movement ended up divided and conquered by the very forces it was railing against, and eventually it fizzled away.

The protest movement itself, (which should not be confused with the Laicité movement)  went away, but its ideas greatly influenced the political conversation in the country.


Guinness world records and voting for Jeita

I didn’t invent the term “international celebrity syndrome”, but it adequately describes an almost pathological Lebanese need for recognition in the world. This manifested itself in a relentless drive to collect Guinness world records for bizarre and questionable achievements.

But the biggest manifestation of this was in the “vote for Jeita” frenzy that gripped Lebanon for several weeks. So much campaigning took place and so much public money was spent that the online activists took part of a backlash.

Bloggers resented the relentless pressure to vote. Some said the competition was a scam and that the campaign to promote voting was a ripoff. Some wondered about the misplaced set of politicians’ priorities.

In the end Jeita lost, and this helped many to become more accepting of the arguments against the competition.


Social media hits the Lebanese mainstream

One reason why the Lebanese were so upset with the slow internet is because it was interfering with their new habit of enjoying Facebook, Twitter and other online social networks. Twitter proved to be surprisingly popular in Lebanon, but Facebook had its fans too. Actually Facebook was so popular that it had to be banned from parliament because it was distracting our dear MPs.

People began suing each other because of Facebook content. The Prime Minister expressed his wish to create a “hi-tech ministry”. Officials started learning about bloggers and decided to regulate their work, which created a storm online that caused them to backtrack.

But the Lebanese really took note when politicians started using Twitter. After a long public absence, Ex Prime Minister and opposition leader Saad Hariri chose Twitter to be his medium to talk to the Lebanese. This created a stampede of mainstream journalists jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, despite the challenges some of them had understanding the medium.

To welcome Twitter newcomers, I published a guide of suggested Lebanese people to follow that many of you found very useful.


Censorship

For some reason, 2011 was a year where a lot of censorship happened in Lebanon. There was self censorship in websites that belong to both sides of the Lebanese political divide. There was a prestigious international photojournalism exhibit that was cancelled, a Lebanese singer was jailed because of a song about the president. Iranian movies, Lebanese movies, even posters of movies were censored.

The censorship sometimes was so flagrant and bizzarre that the Lebanese fought back and won. It lead to research about how censorship in Lebanon works and who really is to blame. But this remains an uphill battle, as censorship remains acceptable in many Lebanese quarters.


Women’s rights

Thanks to heroic efforts by activists, the issue of women rights took center stage in the Lebanese consciousness in 2011. We learned that women in Lebanon face two main challenges: A legal system that treats them like second class citizens, and a society that views them as sexual objects. The prevalence of rape and harassment was the consequence of such an environment.

Some of the advocacy paid off and the lady activists started getting recognition and real returns on their efforts. One Lebanese party even elected a woman as its leader. But the arrival of the all-male Mikati cabinet came as a huge symbolic setback for the ladies’ cause and portended legislation that is grossly unfair to the Lebanese fair sex.


The fight against smoking

There had been some grumblings about the prevalence of smoking in public places in Lebanon, but serious things began happening in 2011. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) banned smoking on its premises and said it will stop accepting cigarette ads. The parliament started debating an anti smoking law and a public discussion that involved all stake holders was launched.

Some independent initiatives tested the waters, and in the end we got a good law. But many wondered if it’s possible to enforce in a place like Lebanon.


Protecting Beirut’s heritage

2011 had a fair amount of rumors and warnings of historical and cultural buildings that were about to be taken down to be replaced by commercial establishments. We agonized over the fate of the Glass café in Gemmayze, we discussed the fate of the Egg-shaped building and questioned the frenzy over the shutting down of Theatre de Beyrouth. We had great discussions about effective online advocacy for heritage conservation.


Bonus little memes

The evil valet parking dudes:

Because parking in Beirut is so stressful and because of TV reports that the valet parking guys are spying on us, it was inevitable that the Valet-Parking people became so reviled across the blogosphere in 2011.

Websites that were hacked:

Many websites were hacked in 2011. Hezbollah hacked the Future Movement‘s sites, The Saudis hacked Wi2am Wahhab’s site, The Syrians hacked the website of the Beirut Bar association and the homepage of Harvard University, Some Syrian regime websites were hacked and we learned that the notorious Anonymous community of hackers has set its eyes on Assad .

Even yours truly wasn’t spared.

Apps, Ecommerce and New Looks:

As smartphones became more common, we started learning about Lebanese apps that are fun, quirky and successful. Lebanon’s mainstream media got into the apps business , and so did some Arab revolutions. Blog posts about iPhone advice became common and people started caring about Steve Jobs.

After some initial complaining, Lebanon started getting decent E-Commerce sites.

News websites redesigned their online presence: The Daily Star, Naharnet and Annahar all sported new looks. Annahar even gave a facelift to its actual newspaper and Al-Akhbar introduced an English edition.

Languages:

In 2011, I implored the Lebanese to face the fact that the French language in Lebanon is dying. I also looked at the coming of age of Arabic , the real one and the online variety. I also shared why I chose English to be the language in which I blog

→ Respond to this post On Twitter
  • http://inkontheside.com Sareen

    Excellent round up the year! Great job Mustapha

  • http://Janbein.wordpress.com Janbein

    Very good post.. can’t think of anything you’ve missed.
    Perhaps only the involvement of Lebanese in the arab spring.

  • http://loveinlebanon.blogspot.com Ogie

    Great recap Mustapha! And thanks for all the links

  • Mustapha

    @Sareen,
    Thank you!

    @Janbein,
    Thanks! Isn’t that what the revolution against sectarianism is supposed to be?

    @Ogie,
    Ahhh, the links. They took ages to prepare, but now I have a one-stop reference point to the stories of 2011..

  • Leila khauli

    Moustapha thank you for summing it all up so well and providing us with all this info. I had forgotten some of the issues and I really feel we should not. Wishing u and your family a v productive new year

  • http://mireille.it migheille

    nice list :) indeed it is kinda true :)

    Thanks for the round up at non-politics for a change :)

  • http://beirutdriveby.blogspot.com/ beirut drive-by

    Wow! the mother of all round-ups! This was a huge effort on your part and i’m planning on reading each and every link. How about a list of predictions for next year? I’d bet you’ll be more accurate than the “psychics” we’ll be hearing from tomorrow night.
    Happy New Year Mustapha :)

  • http://www.blogbaladi.com Najib

    Love the roundup. Must have taken you forever.

  • A bare truth

    Nice recap Mustapha,

    Wish a wonderful year ahead!!!

  • http://www.ivysays.com IVY SAYS

    I think that pretty much sums things up, good stuff.
    Have a great year ahead and I look forward to read more of what you have to say!

    Peace

  • http://blog.funkyozzi.com Liliane

    Excellent round up, I can imagine how tiring it must be to go through more than 1000 posts and choose the most influential stories and write about them and then select and link to those posts :)

    I also want to say thank you for giving me a share in the round up, very flattered. Thanks Mustapha and keep up the great job you have been doing in this website. It is definitely among the top blogs in Lebanon (if not the top :D)

    Happy new year!

  • Mustapha

    @ Leila,
    I intended this precisely to be a point of reference for 2011 if one day we should need such a thing. Good to know it is already being helpful in that way..

    @ Migheille,
    Thanks! Something tells me in 2012 we’ll be having much more tech and internet stories

    @ Beirut Drive-by
    Love the “mother of all round ups” title.. yes, it took ages to write, but it was a labor of pure love. Not a big fan of writing predictions though..

    @ Najib
    Glad you like it. Yes indeed, it did take time to write, as Liliane noted: I had to go through every single one of my posts of 2011

    @ A Bare Truth
    Same to you cubey :)

    @ Ivy

    Peace ;)

    @Liliane
    Thanks for the nice words lil, I’m very flattered by your compliments :)

  • Mariam

    Yes Mustapha looks like a bit of work :) but its good. Pretty much sums up what is in my opinion one of the worst years of my 22. May 2012 bring better things for everyone.

  • Antidisestablishmentarianism

    Great post, BS. Keep it up

  • Fadi

    thanks alot and happy new year!! it’s a really fun roundup!! It’s interesting to note we are now fully basking in the electronic age and it shows from your ontornet first part, social media, in censorship, hacked websites, ecommerce and apps etc etc..

    And also thanks for your big fat twitter list too, it is what actually pushed me away from facebook and into the more interesting twitter :)

  • http://www.simbarusseau.com Simba Russeau

    Really excellent roundup! Especially love the fact that you included the issue of migrant workers in da mix. Beirut Spring is a great resource.

  • Mustapha

    @Fadi,

    Thanks! As for tech, you’re right, but I did mention that my own interests will color this roundup and I’m very interested in tech stories so that might have affected the focus of the piece,

    @ Simba,
    Thanks! I’m glad you like it..