Our Incredibly Distorting Bubble


– Myriam Klink… A Storm in an English-speaking teapot –

This morning I was browsing Lebanese blogs and I saw a link to Executive Magazine’s article on what the Lebanese googled in 2012. It was an interesting read filled with the kind of stuff I usually like: Interactive graphs, charts and photos of blond models..

But when I saw the chart on Lebanese divas, I knew that something was completely off:

Could it be? a talentless woman spiking ahead of our superstars in Lebanon twice in 2012? Something is wrong and I decided to investigate. So I redid the same google trends study but with one small but crucial change: I used the artists’ name in Arabic instead of latin. As I suspected, a completely different picture emerges:

The Arabic searches have a much higher activity volume and are therefore more representative of the population, and you see that depressed purple line in the bottom? That’s all the searches whats-her-face got in Arabic. A woman who caused a stir in the blogosphere and on my facebook newsfeed barely registers in the Arabic-speaking Lebanon.

Bubble

As a Lebanese who blogs in English, I often wondered how much my voice and that of people like me (people who post stuff in English and French on facebook and read blogs like this) are influential in Lebanon. Time and time again, I’ve noticed that we live in a bubble that is not truly representative of the man on the street. I attacked Arabic language purists and made the point that even if you don’t speak Arabic you can be as Lebanese as anybody else, but that doesn’t mean that we should be under the illusion that Lebanon looks like us. Consider how Executive Magazine describes the english-only Myriam Klink chart: (emphasis mine)

There can only be one winner for this: Myriam Klink. The “3ANTER” singer’s hit about her pet pussy cat provoked one of the biggest temporary spikes of the year in Lebanese Google searches.

The first chart, without Klink, shows Haifa Wehbe, Nancy Ajram and Elissa as the top three Googled female artists overall, with the legendary Fairuz trailing a long way behind.

The man who wrote this seems to really believe that this google search is representative of Lebanon, despite the huge red flag that shows Fairuz as failing in a country that all but worships her. His attitude mirrors that of many of us who are deluded and who really believe that the majority of the Lebanese are like us.

The lesson from Egypt

Last year, ahead of the parliamentary elections in Egypt, I was following about 500 Egyptian people on twitter, most of which are “Arab Spring” type activists. The picture their tweets painted was that the elections will produce a parliament that will guide Egypt to the path of freedom and Liberty. There too reality got in the way: 75% of Egyptian voters chose Islamists to represent them in parliament. Needless to say, that was completely different from the image I had in my head from reading the twitter feed.

We (and by we I mean people like me and the people I follow on twitter and facebook) ought to really reflect on this and what it means. To make this even more obvious I will end with yet another google trends chart, this time comparing the searches for Myriam Klink (english) and مريام كلينك in Arabic:

In Tripoli, Citizens are to Blame Too

A poster has been making the rounds in Tripoli’s social media (click image above for full poster), blaming the citizens of Tripoli for electing worthless representatives. “You voted for them”, the pointed finger admonishes the reader over a dramatic background of splattered blood and portraits of sinister-looking Tripoli MPs “…You’re the one to blame”.

That’s a good point. But the poster is also right in a way it didn’t intend: the latest events in Tripoli are not only a failure of the political class, but also a failure of civil society and the citizens of Tripoli.

Will you get done with it already?

There are two sides in this battle. On one hand you have the Alawis in Jabal Mohsen who are a minority but who are well armed and well entrenched on a hill overlooking the city. On the other hand, you have ragtag Jihadi Sunnis in Tebbaneh who want to teach the Alawis a lesson as a payback for what their sponsor, Assad, has been doing to his people in Syria.

The common complaint on Twitter and on Facebook is that politicians are not doing their work to stop the violence. Another culprit is the media for ignoring what’s happening in the capital of the north, and a particularly popular soundbite is that Lebanon has forgotten about Tripoli and is behaving as if the city doesn’t exist.

But dig deeper into the attitudes of the city’s citizens and you find that many are secretly rooting for one side to win.

The Sunnis are hoping that the Jihadis (conveniently forgetting that they’re outlaw gunmen) will “liberate” Jabal Mohsen from Assad’s claws. Many are angry because they are feeling like sitting ducks to the missiles falling in on their city from the hill, and angry because it doesn’t feel right that a minority can terrorise the city’s majority in this way.

The Alawis on the other hand believe that they’re fighting an existential battle, a battle that if they lose they will be massacred or expelled from the city. This is why their supporters are secretly hoping that their missiles will prove painful enough for Tripoli to establish permanent deterrence and get the Jihadis off their backs

What people who really want peace do

Here’s what we didn’t see yet in Tripoli: We didn’t see mothers from both sides forming chains at the demarcation lines and setting up tents in protest against the insanity and vowing to stay there until the shooting stops. We didn’t see large rallies where sunnis and Alawis declared together that they’re brothers and they don’t want to take any part of this.

The sad truth is that Tripoli is a divided city. One that is filled with suspicion, anger and hate. We blame the politicians for the war, but it is ultimately our fault.

Why the Lebanese iTunes Store may do Well


At first glance, the newly announced Lebanese iTunes store is destined to fail. Think of it for a moment: Who in their right mind in Lebanon will buy a song online when the illegal market for music in Lebanon is so rampant and copyright law-enforcement is completely absent? It is very easy to walk to a corner shop in Lebanon and buy a CD rom with hundreds of the latest Lebanese songs for less than $5, why would you download one song for a buck?

Add to that the crappy internet in Lebanon, the fact that not all Lebanese have credit cards, that many don’t use iOS and the fact that the store is entirely in english (that’s a completely different conversation), and you’ll realize that the Lebanese market can’t be big enough for such a store to be viable.

A piece of Lebanon

If I were to guess why the Lebanese iTunes store will actually do well, I would venture one word: The Diaspora. Lebanese who work abroad but maintain links with the homeland, those will be the real customers of the Lebanese iTunes store. Many of them, like me, have Lebanese credit cards (the requirement to open an account in the Lebanese iTunes store). They are numerous, relatively wealthy, have fast internet connections and have little other options to listen to hit music from Lebanon.

Lebanese songs are a pain to find in torrent websites, and having to wait for our relatives to send us CDs from Lebanon just takes time. There are streaming apps out there (like the excellent Anghami), but many people still prefer to own their music.

To the diaspora, the iTunes store offers the chance to buy a piece of Lebanese culture instantaneously. I think many will happily take it.

Blogging…and a Pivot

It took a while to admit it, but now I guess the denial is over: I am no longer someone who blogs often about Lebanese politics. This post is about why it happened and what happens next.

I first want to say that Beirut Spring is not dead. This will always be the place where I sound off and think about issues I feel strongly about. But lately I’ve noticed that the things I get worked out about, the things that I usually write posts about, are becoming less and less about Lebanese politics. This blog was born out of anger and passion in February 2005, but it grew and thrived because I found the sports of Lebanese politics intellectually stimulating. The crazy mix of Machiavellian cynicism, treachery and tribal alliances caused some people to despair, but for me it was the source of profound fascination. No longer. It’s still fascinating. I still am interested in Lebanese politics, but I am no longer interested in writing about it.

But this is the best time to start blogging about Lebanese politics

Indeed it is. We are on a cusp of major regional realignments and major changes are upon us. As a matter of fact, more blogs on Lebanese politics are being born everyday (examples here, here and here). But I have to be honest with myself. I am more interested in other things these days, notably Tech news and its own fascinating game of thrones. I knew something was wrong when I realized that I spend more of my leisure time reading Techmeme than Naharnet

What now?

If you’re a person who has the habit of browsing to beirutspring.com every day (and I still see hundreds of you despite the low frequency of posts), may I suggest that you switch instead to Lebanese Blogs (lebaneseblogs.com) as a habit. It is a small website I put together for browsing the latest posts from my blog and from blogs I have chosen myself. It is mobile friendly and easy to browse, bookmark it now!

The reason I put this together is that I realized that many bloggers don’t write very often, but when they do, they usually have great things to say. Another option for you to try is The Beirut Dashboard (beirutspring.info), also something I wrote in my diminishing spare time:

I’m happy to get feedback about these project anytime

Crickets?

As I said, this blog is not dead, and it will remain my main vehicle for expression. But the pace of posts will be more relaxed, the topics will be more personal and more about Lebanon in general than Lebanese politics, and perhaps I’ll yap a bit more about Tech. As always, thanks for reading.