Lebanon removes security barriers in downtown Beirut

A man walks along a street in downtown Beirut, after Lebanese security forces removed roadblocks and barbed wire barriers surrounding the commercial district. (AP Photo)
Updated 03 January 2018
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Lebanon removes security barriers in downtown Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces have removed roadblocks and barriers surrounding Beirut’s downtown commercial district, which for years had been choked by security measures.
Parliament speaker Nabih Berri ordered the roads leading to Parliament Square open days after the square witnessed its largest New Year’s Eve celebration, with thousands of revelers, as part of a government initiative to revive the area.
Berri on Wednesday urged business owners, restaurants, hotels and offices in the area to reopen after many of them had closed down, having given up on the area attracting visitors again.
The downtown area is home to Lebanon’s parliament and government building and has in the past often been the scene of anti-government protests, prompting security forces to close down the premises to pedestrians with concrete barriers and barbed wire.
Security forces removed metal barriers and heavy concrete slabs which had blocked all entrances to Beirut’s showpiece Place d’Etoile quarter and forced most shops and restaurants in the once thriving district to shut down.
The security measures had been in place for a number of years, but were significantly tightened in 2015 following large-scale protests over a garbage crisis.
Crowds thronged the Place d’Etoile for the first time in a decade on Sunday night to usher in the new year with fireworks, music and dancing in the streets.
The speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, who issued Wednesday’s order, said he hoped businesses, restaurants, hotels and offices in the area would now be able to resume work.
“There were many times we thought about closing, but we said ‘no, maybe things will pick up’,” said Zeina Hasbini, who runs a chocolate boutique just off the square.
She and her son, who runs a small grocery store next door, said they were sure lifting the barriers would boost business as footfall and investment increased.
Though Lebanon still faces daunting challenges, it has seen some progress over the past year despite continued conflict in neighboring Syria and rising tensions elsewhere in the region.
Its squabbling politicians clinched a deal that ended a two-and-a-half-year period without a state president and installed a new government under Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri. The government also approved its first budget in 12 years and awarded its first offshore oil land gas exploration licenses.
In August, Islamic State and other militants were cleared from the Lebanon-Syria border area after separate offensives by the Lebanese army and Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah militia.
The Petit Cafe overlooking Place d’Etoile reopened in mid-2017 after shutting its doors as the Syrian crisis erupted.
“The country ground to a halt: you no longer saw tourists, or people from the Gulf countries, so we closed for about 6-7 years,” said Muhammad Faris, the restaurant manager.
He said the new year’s celebrations and the lifting of the barriers were signs that the area “can flourish again.”
Despite such signs of hope, Lebanon remains a politically fraught country.
Tensions flared in November when Hariri unexpectedly resigned as prime minister in a shock broadcast from Saudi Arabia — a move linked to conflict in the wider region between Riyadh and Tehran. He subsequently withdrew the resignation and the government resumed business as usual. 


Migrants in Lebanon seek to break stereotypes with new radio show

Updated 18 July 2018
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Migrants in Lebanon seek to break stereotypes with new radio show

  • Migrant domestic workers can be treated like they are invisible, and this radio show can change the way they are perceived by illustrating and highlighting the multi-faceted dimensions of their identities and lives
  • Projects like the Lebanese radio program could be used across the region to change attitudes toward migrants

BEIRUT: Since arriving in Lebanon, Sudanese migrant worker Abdallah Afandi has been turned away from beach resorts, mistaken for a cleaner and prevented from renting an apartment — all because of the color of his skin.
Now he is hoping to challenge the “racism and prejudice” he says he has encountered by taking part in Lebanon’s first radio show to be hosted and produced by migrants from countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Philippines.
The aim is to give Lebanese people a greater understanding about where migrants come from to create the tolerance and respect that local migrant rights groups say is lacking.
“Many Lebanese see Sudanese only as cleaners and workers — we want them to see us in a different way,” Afandi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The 27-year-old came to Lebanon seven years ago when he no longer felt safe in his home of Darfur in western Sudan, where conflict had raged since 2003.
He now earns a living preparing food in a restaurant and doing maintenance work in a Beirut residential building.
Afandi’s episode is one of a series airing on Voice of Lebanon, a popular independent radio station, featuring migrants talking about their own food and culture as well as the issues they face in Lebanon.
In it, he and two other Sudanese migrants discuss their country’s pyramids and interview Sudan’s ambassador to Lebanon on migrant rights.
“I want to use my voice so that people in Lebanon understand where I come from, my culture, music, food — so they will look beyond what I do for a living, and the color of my skin,” he said.
KAFALA
Migrant workers in Lebanon and much of the Middle East work under the kafala sponsorship system, which binds them to one employer.
Rights groups have blamed the system for abuse of migrant workers and say it leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by denying them the ability to travel or change jobs.
Race is also a factor — last month two Kenyan women migrant workers suffered an attack that Lebanon’s justice minister condemned as “shocking” and “abhorrently racist” after footage of them being beaten was circulated on social media.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said projects like the Lebanese radio program could be used across the region to change attitudes toward migrants.
“This radio show is a brilliant example to be replicated across the region, and to bring attention to stories ‘by migrants’,” said spokeswoman Farah Sater Ferraton.

’NOT FOREIGN’
The show — whose name “Msh gharib” means “not foreign” in Arabic — has been in the works since 2017 and was created by the Anti-Racism Movement, a local non-government organization, with the help of migrants from the community center it runs.
“The title of the show really communicates its purpose — migrants are not ‘the other’. Their voices and stories shouldn’t be ‘foreign’ to Lebanese,” said Laure Makarem, spokeswoman for the center.
“Migrant domestic workers can be treated like they are invisible, and this radio show can change the way they are perceived by illustrating and highlighting the multi-faceted dimensions of their identities and lives.”
The 15 episodes will air in the next few months and are mainly in Arabic, with small sections in the hosts’ native language — particularly when talking about their rights in Lebanon.
Tarikwa Bekele, a 33-year-old domestic worker, is working on one episode with fellow Ethiopians, who make up the biggest migrant group in Lebanon at more than 100,000 people.
They are planning to talk about Ethiopian traditions, famous athletes and a famous model in the hope of showing Lebanese that Ethiopians are not “just working in houses and cleaning bathrooms,” said Bekele.
“There are so many Ethiopians working in Lebanon,” said Bekele. “Once they can see that we are like them — like any other country — I think they will treat us better. Treat us with respect.”

Funding for this story was supported by a fellowship run by the International Labour Organization and the Ethical Journalism Network.