You Cannot Censor the Web. Now Lebanon Removes Article Critical of Mr. Hariri. [Update: Article Restored]

This morning I read a reasonable opinion piece on Now Lebanon which criticized Mr. Saad Hariri and preferred Mr. Mikati’s leadership over his. I was so impressed with the fresh independence of that piece that I shared it both on twitter and on facebook. One friend, Elias Muhanna who blogs over at Qifa Nabki, presciently predicted that the piece can’t last much on Now Lebanon, a website that is at least partly owned by Mr. Hariri.

And as he predicted, by the evening the piece was gone [see update]. But I was prepared. They had done it before. So now, because it was censored, I think it deserves a much larger readership. I took a screenshot of the article (see below, click to enlarge). If you want to read the transcript, head over to Qifa Nabki.

Spread as widely as you can. They need to know once and for all that censorship doesn’t work.

[update]

After writing this post, I received messages from very well placed sources that convinced me that what happened was less a power play by a politician and more an act of bumbling self-censorship by higher-ups in NOW Lebanon who wanted to score brownie points with Mr. Hariri.

It is important to note that the removal of the article was a blow to the journalists who work at NOW, many of whom expressed their anger to me privately, noting that it made them look very bad given how often they argue in support of freedom of speech .

Gladly, the uproar caused by the exposure of the censorship here and in other places had the desired effect (thank you very much for sharing widely). The post is now back up (actually, technically it was re-posted, with a new link). The post also carries what passes for a face-saving disclaimer:

NOW Lebanon has intentionally removed this article from the site. It was not removed because of censorship, but rather because of the lack of proper arguments. We would like to repeat, again, that NOW is not owned, in whole or in part, by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, nor any other political party or figure.”


The Ultimate Challenge to Lebanon's Censorship Bureau

How do you take on Lebanon’s notorious censorship bureau, a seemingly unaccountable body that relishes in randomly banning cultural works from local productions to Lady Gaga’s albums?


Ban this!

Challenging them and making fun of them through a successful web mockumentary sounds like a great plan. And this is precisely what mamnou3.com is trying to achieve through a well produced, pitch-perfect office-style web series. I encourage you to check their very promising trailer and then immediately subscribe to future episodes (I just subscribed by email).

Why this is a great idea

There are two ways in which the censorship bureau can react to this series:

  1. Leave it alone
    This option will embolden the makers of the series to tackle more and more sensitive topics and gather online momentum and become a web hit. If lucky, the mainstream media will pick it up.
  2. Attempt to ban it
    This will immediately prove the series’ point and give it more notoriety (as per the Streisand effect). But the attempt will also fail, highlighting the bureau’s incompetence and ill understanding of the way the internet works

But none of this will happen if we don’t actively try to spread the word about the series. This is why I encourage you after reading this post to a)Subscribe to Mamnou3.com’s future episodes and b)spread the word by sharing this post.

❊ Defending Censorship

Radwan Al Deeb from Aldiyar:

The noise in reaction to the censorship of Hotel Beirut is undeserved. Those who are making this noise should know the amount of reputational damage they are doing to Lebanon and to the Lebanese security bodies, unless of course the aim of these campaigns is to serve narrow political interests that have nothing to do with freedom

Mr. Al Deeb is missing the point of the “noise”. The freedom of speech campaigns are not specifically for “Beirut Hotel”, a film that may well turn out to be bad, tasteless and boring. The campaigns are aimed at the trend of censorship that has been taking hold in Lebanon for the silliest, most embarrassing of reasons.

Mr. Deep talks about soiling Lebanon’s reputation, but he forgets that it is the act of banning itself that is putting Lebanon’s name in the gutter. The amount of damage to Lebanon’s reputation that came from censoring Lady Gaga and Dan Brown, two of the world’s best-selling creatives who have legions of fans, is immeasurable. In fact, the loud campaign against censorship is improving the reputation of Lebanon because it’s telling the world that many of us are not happy about what’s going on.

We have the right to ask: Who is deciding to censor what and on what basis? What are the criteria being used? Did we sign on to that?

Frankly, the language employed by Mr. Deeb is similar to that of the censors themselves: Condescending and patronizing. As an opinion writer, he should have known better.

Lebanese Movie Banned for Explicit Sexual Content

Beirut Hotel Movie Poster

-The instigator-

I haven’t seen Danielle Arbid’s “Beirut Hotel” , but from watching the trailer, it seems to me that the film was banned from Lebanese movie theaters not for “endangering national security”, as was claimed by our ever intelligence-insulting censors, but because it features a double-whammy of a taboo: Explicit sex between a Lebanese woman and a foreign man.

I was toying with the idea that Danielle Arbid could be Lebanon’s Aliaa Mahdy , and apparently Arbid herself is not far from that thought. In her facebook page, there is only one other page that she ‘likes’: That of Aliaa Mahdy.

We all know in advance the result of Arbid’s cleverly placed bait: More Lebanese than ever will now want to watch “Beirut Hotel”. Well played Danielle..

Related: How Censorship Actually Works in Lebanon.
And: Don’t Blame the Sureté Generale for Censorship. 

Now Lebanon Kills Blog Post Showing Lebanese Leaders Kissing

This morning while browsing Now Lebanon’s blog I saw a post (now removed, but you can see a screenshot I took here) featuring a Lebanese version of the now-infamous Benetton unhate campaign, with a couple of posters that pair together Lebanese politicians in a similar kind of steamy embrace.

I said to myself: There’s no way this is going to stay here. I was sure Now Lebanon was going to kill it (after all, they’ve done it before). So I wrote a comment on that post saying “let’s see how long those will last”.

My comment never showed up (but you can find it in the cache). The post was removed less than an hour later. At the time of the page’s removal, the post was seen around 6500 times. What was seen cannot be unseen.

Update: I wrote a follow-up post speculating on why it was censored.

Don't Blame the Sureté Generale for Censorship

Claudette Naufal, director of the Beirut International Film Festival, says that it is politicians, not law enforcement that should be blamed:

Every time we have had problems with censorship, it’s not [the Sureté Generale's] decision. They always give us the permits, and then something happens like it did in June, when the Iranian ambassador intervened and had [the film Green Days] stopped. [...] If a minister interferes and says they should block it, they can do nothing about it. This is what we should worry about.

I confess that before reading that, my anger was directed at the wrong culprit.

Even in Lebanon, Online Negative PR is Starting To Bite

While mainstream media is busy criticizing Mr. Saad Hariri’s “Amateurism” for engaging with his supporters on Twitter, here’s a little story that reminds everyone why we should take such things a bit more seriously.

A few days ago, an average Lebanese guy took a picture in a movie theater in Beirut. He blogged about it, and three days later, the Washington Post is calling the Lebanese embassy in Washington and asking for an explanation.

Playing smarty pants with existing laws and exercising discretion on whether or not they’re enforced is silly. Bad laws should go away for good and idiotic censorship should stop once and for all.

You never know when a camera is around the corner and your embarrassment becomes a global sensation.

Steven Spielberg's Name Blacked Out in Lebanese Movie Theaters

This is insane. But thankfully, the Sureté Generale is open to talk about it: First, you have to visit their directorate, fill an application form and if it got approved, they’ll be able to talk about the matter.

Update: L’Orient Le Jour spoke to an SG official who said that they did not ask Cinema City to cover Spielberg’s name.
“Spielberg’s name is on the black list, and we could have legally banned the movie.” he said. “But these days we’re being flexible in implementing the law”