When I heard about the deployment of 4G in Lebanon, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, who wouldn’t want a blazing fast internet connection on his phone? On the other I was perplexed; do we even have the bandwidth infrastructure to support this? It felt wrong and surrealistic, but in a way it was a very Lebanese thing to do.
Glamor before substance
In Lebanon, the Ferrari always comes before the highway. The Ferrari is the flashy products that everyone is immediately impressed by. The highway is the unglamorous backend, the infrastructure that requires long-term planning, painstaking maintenance and incremental upgrades, the infrastructure without which a Ferrari can’t really shine.
But everywhere we look in Lebanon, we see Ferraris but no highways:
- We have tablets in schools, but we still don’t have electricity, adequate classrooms or textbooks.
- We have democracy and voting, but we don’t have real civic institutions, independent media and rule of law to make it work.
- Women have all the trappings of liberation without any of the real, actual empowerment in law.
In Lebanon, everyone loves the Ferrari and nobody wants anything to do with the highway. Ministers love to show off the ferrari because it’s less work and it’s immediate proof that they have achieved something. The population loves the Ferrari because it can be used as shorthand for progress, a nice little trick we do to tell the rest of world that Lebanon is actually a modern place.
Revenge of the Highway
Today the highway is fighting back. Not even the sexiness of the Ferrari can hide the complete ugliness that is our highways. The roads are all choked with traffic and the rain literally cut off electricity from the entire country. Lying to one’s self can only go so far, and it won’t take long before people realize that 4G is worthless if it doesn’t come with cheap and abundant internet.
Update: Do read Minister Sehanoui’s response in the comments section.