Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Daily Star: DSL is outdated technology

Every time I promise to myself not to make fun of the Daily Star anymore...yet every time it's just too tempting not to make fun of this newspaper. Take a look at today's article on the selling of the mobile phone companies. It describes the Minister of Telecom, Marwan Hamade, talking about the achievements of his ministry during the last year.

The last paragraph is a jewel:
"Expressing pride in work carried out by his ministry, Hamadeh said "all of the 11 lines concerning the work of the ministry mentioned in the ministerial statement have been fully implemented." He also emphasized this year's introduction of DSL internet service, an outdated technology that has been replaced in most advanced countries."

Uh-huh?! DSL is an outdated technology that has been replaced already just when Lebanon is rolling out this service? If true, why would the minister express pride in this?

The fact is that DSL is not an outdated technology and that it is far from being replaced in the most advanced countries. Whoever wrote this article had no clue what s/he was talking about.

Worse, the editor should have picked up on this illogical conclusion. Even if you have no idea what DSL is, how could you let slip by the statement that the minister is proud of introducing an outdated technology?

Anyway, for the truth on DSL in Lebanon, see my previous posts here and here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Will the House meet?

Lebanon is currently speculating whether a new parliamentary session will take place as scheduled for Tuesday, October 23. The latest news seems to indicate Berri might be postponing the meeting until November 6 or even November 13.

The most likely reason March 8 does not want to call for a session is that there is still no unanimity over a consensus candidate. If Berri was to call for a session, it could be seen as the first voting round. If this round does not give any candidate a 2/3 majority, a new session must be called for...and that next round only requires a simple majority. So by postponing the first session, March 8 likewise postpones the first voting round.

See also here for an in-depth analysis saying that the 2/3 majority is only needed to vote for a president, but that the quorum to hold the presidential election only requires a simply majority of the members of parliament.

What's interesting now is the call of March 14 upon Berri for him to announces that there will be no session in order to avoid being killed en route between the Phoenicia hotel, where many March 14 politicians are staying these days, and the Parliament. Surely, March 14 could decide to stay at the hotel in anticipation of no session taking place, but that would give the opposition the ammunition to accuse them of not being democratic. The world upside down? Nah, just another day in Lebanon:-)

Nabih Berri has just announced that the parliamentary session is postponed until November 12.

Jumblatt: we should kill them like they kill us

And we have another winner of the Quote of the Week: Walid Jumblatt who called out for a tit-for-tat policy regarding the killing of March 14 people: He was quoted in L'Orient as having said that "like in the Mafia, every time they kill one of us, we should kill one of them!".

And no, don't wait up for the obligatory statement that 'we won't do such a thing because we're decent and we value life while they prefer death' or a similar statement to reduce the obvious hatred contained in his statement. Nope, this time it was full stop.

It was unfortunate that the journalists present during his speech in the USA didn't follow up on his statement. Simple questions as "In what way will your statement contribute to solving the situation?" or "Just exactly how would you select your revenge targets and who would be topping your list?" were not asked.

Was it out of fear of asking the obvious? "To restore the balance" would possibly be his response to the first question, thereby forgetting that March 8 got the seat of murdered Pierre Gemayel, so revenge killing might feel good to Jumblatt, it most likely wouldn't really solve anything; let alone that the idea in itself is simply disgustingly short of basic moral.

It's yet another sign on the wall that things are getting more and more tribal here in Lebanon. What's even more disturbing is that most people, including journalists, seem to accept statements like this from their leaders. Jumblatt is seriously proposing revenge killing, or at least he didn't make any effort to pretend he wasn't serious, and he gets away with it. It certainly seems like a breakdown of leadership as well as a equally disturbing lack of critical attitude among the Lebanese journalists.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Great Confusion: state and religion in Lebanon

Lebanon must be a perfect country to study for political science experts: an almost incomprehensible mix of religion and state. Add to this a solid dose of tribalism and you reach the conclusion that religion, which is often regionally defined, is very much political in Lebanon. How useful can that be?

Any foreigner in Lebanon who is truly interested in politics will be disappointed sooner or later. This country does not have a left and right wing, it hardly has a political party structure and politicians typically don’t feel the need to publish their programs. This allows for a unique flexibility for politicians seldom seen elsewhere in the world. Coalitions in Lebanon are as flux as water and no one really seems to hold politicians accountable for their ever-changing positions.

As an example of this behavior, one has only to look at Walid Jumblatt. When he appeared on BBC’s program Hard Talk, he stated that he wanted a referendum among the Lebanese to decide if Syria should leave Lebanon. This was early 2004 and went against the taboos at the time. Sure enough, he was questioned about this on arrival in Lebanon…where he denied everything he has said in London. “Why did you change your mind?”, a journalist wanted to know. Jumblatt’s answer is a classic: “It was not me who changed, it was the problem that changed!”

As this anecdote shows, Lebanese politicians are not well known for their steadfastness of their convictions. So how come state and religion are so intensely mixed in Lebanon? After all, why would religious leaders, who represent the eternal truth, want to deal with people as flexible as water?

Frankly, I have no clue and I doubt anyone truly has. Most, if not all, issues the state has to deal with, have no bearing on religious considerations. Collecting garbage, providing electricity, making sure people have drinking water, all these issues should be dealt with in a proper manner without a role for religion. Even the more political topics, such as reducing the public debt, allocation of medical and educational services across Lebanon, privatizing state activities and so on, can easily be dealt with without religion interference.

If you ask each and every clergy and any politician from any sect, they will all fully agree that drinking water, electricity, medical services etc should be distributed equally across all of Lebanon. Assuming that the religious leaders are not hypocrites and assuming they trust the elected politicians, they can stay out of the allocation process itself, which is political in nature and as such the result of compromise.

Suppose, however, that they do not trust the politicians, would that warrant their mingling with politics? If yes, that would mean that they are simply keeping check on things and when the political process gets out of hand (i.e., does not provide the desired results), they would step up and speak on behalf of their community. Would that be the role of institutionalized religion?

My answer to that question would be a solid “No”. Politics is the game of reaching compromises with your opponents, while religion is all about converting the other. Sure, Muslims and Christians can coexist, but would either of them be willing to reach a deal on religious topics? Imagine Christians willing to accept there is no Holy Spirit and in return Muslims will accept Jesus was the son of God. Imagine that indeed!

In other words, religion by its very nature is not about reaching compromises, while politics by its very nature is exactly about that. Introducing religion in politics will only serve to polarize the political process and thus making it next to impossible to carry it out.

There is no Christian foreign policy or a Shiite health care strategy or a Sunni approach to running power plants. The sooner the politicians and the religious leaders realize this, the sooner Lebanon will become a slightly saner country.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Lebanese campaign to end sexism

Lebanon’s female population is under constant pressure to look the best possible, to get nose jobs, boob jobs and other jobs done if falling short of reaching the highest standards and to do all of this with a smile. But no more!

As the picture below shows, a campaign has been launched to emphasize that Lebanese women don’t have to be Pamela Anderson look-alikes and still can have self esteem: you can be flat and proud!

The campaign seems to be sponsored by a flat screen TV distributor, but don’t let that distract you from the message. In fact, it’s a smart move attracting funds like that, companies love to associate themselves with good causes. Just to help the campaign team along, here are some more suggestions:

Get plastic bag producer Sanita to sponsor a campaign called “Not too proud to puke!” for the unnatural thin women.

Get a burqa store to contribute to the campaign “Invisible yet present!”, for women who want to leave the beauty rat race altogether.

Ask Hummer to cosponsor a campaign “Big & Strong!”, addressing women suffering from overweight and/or big noses.

Finally, to also target the insecure male audience:

Ask Mini Cooper for a campaign “Small is the New Big!”

Monday, October 8, 2007

Power to the People…not!

How difficult it is to abstain from irony in Lebanon! Look at the reactions to the speech of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah on the occasion of Jerusalem Day. He suggested during his speech that the people of Lebanon should elect a new president if the members of parliament fail to do so. Seems reasonable, right?

Actually, for once, the March 14 leaders agreed with him that this was the best solution. Saad Hariri went even so far as to say that he was all in favor of it and that he was sure March 14 would win such an election…but…and there’s always a ‘but’, he added with regret in his voice…we can’t simply change the Constitution every time we see fit. Who said that irony is dead?

Or rather, changing it for the benefit of one person’s presidential ambitions, namely army commander Michel Suleiman who cannot become president under the current Constitution, would not be a real problem. After all, that would only be a small change. But changing the Constitution to give the Lebanese more influence in who will run their country for the next six years is obviously way too much.

The arguments used against Nasrallah’s proposal are curious to say the least. On the one hand, March 14 is fully confident that they would win such a popular vote, yet on the other hand this proposal will only lead Lebanon into unknown territories. Huh? March 14 is sure they would win, but they are still afraid the outcome would lead Lebanon to uncertainty.

Looks like they’re not that sure after all. Perhaps they’re even a bit afraid of the people they represent. And they should be. Right now, they can push through their own candidate without risking much, except a new round of killing of MPs. However, going back to the public and asking the opinion of the Lebanese could result in an undesirable outcome, namely Michel Aoun as president.

Whatever you might think of Nasrallah, one thing is for sure: he is no dummy. In fact, his latest proposal made it painfully clear that March 14 no longer believes it enjoys the majority of popular support. This sheds new light on the presidential elections. Theoretically, the government should elect a president as the Constitution prescribes. Practically, however, things have changed and politicians claiming to represent the people should never be afraid of acknowledging such change.

Obviously, you can’t have elections every day, but with the upcoming choice for the new president, a natural moment presents itself to reevaluate the current situation. Hiding behind the Constitution is not very brave, especially when realizing that March 8 and March 14 combined, have the power to change the Constitution and can do so legally. March 14’s arguments against changing the Constitution therefore do not make sense, but I suppose that goes back to the irony in Lebanese politics.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Aoun’s followers arming up

An alarming article on Naharnet today: the police have arrested followers of Aoun for receiving arms training. As the article mentions, this is in clear violation of the Taif agreement that prescribed the disarmament of all political parties except Hezbollah.

What’s more, Aoun is not the only side arming up. The army has also shutdown a training camp used by Walid Jumblatt’s party in the Chouf area.

Photo 1: Aoun followers receiving training, from Blacksmiths of Lebanon

Now, these camps might not amount to much. After all, there is no indication of any large scale rearmament. If anything, the picture clearly shows a shortage of guns since only half of the people carry one.

Still, there are signs which are not very positive. Just look at the increase in the production of cannabis. Back during the Civil War, the proceeds were used to finance the purchase of arms. Who is to say history will not repeat itself?

Also, the reaction of Aoun’s MPs to the arrest of a few of their followers for receiving arms training was quite provocative: they called the army a militia and said they would “save no efforts to combat this militia”. Are these MPs really calling to attack the state?

There is an atmosphere in the country that doesn’t bode well. The thing is that every single aspect is something to shrug off. Combined, however, they show a pattern that is dangerous. It feels like events have been set in motion and before you know it, they take a course of their own.

Any analogy is inadequate, but it feels like the buildup towards the second Iraqi war. Everybody was saying all options for peace should be explored, but deep down, people knew a war was coming. God only knows whether this is the case now. This blogger can only hope that all this is just your typical Lebanese showing off that ultimately doesn’t result in much.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Funny, or a sign of increased intolerance?

Just received the below picture via e-mail, apparently it is going around. It might be just an innocent, funny picture. Then again, it might be a sign of increase intolerance whereby pictures such as this are used to inflame differences between 'us' and 'them'. To note, the picture is called "C'est romantique", pointing to a Christian Maronite background. As always: the reader is the judge...

Picture : C'est Romantique!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

“Let M14 have the president, we’ll have the House”

People in Lebanon always seem to have a rock solid faith in good times that are just around the bend. Take the upcoming elections, e.g. Many here feel that once a new president is elected, the car bombs will stop, peace will dawn upon the country and the economy will pick up again.

Not surprisingly, these hopes are mostly expressed by those belonging to the March 14 camp. As always, to get a full understanding of the situation, one should try to see the other side as well. What possible options are left for March 8?

Well, first, to try to influence the election to see that the new president will either be sympathetic to your viewpoint or so weak it doesn’t matter anymore.

Second, and this is the scary part, what is there left to do if March 14 ignores the feelings of March 8 and chooses a strong, very much pro March 14 president? Then what can be done?

Only one answer: see that you get a blocking minority in Parliament. “Let March 14 have the president, with a few more killings, March 8 will own the House”, as somebody said the other day over an otherwise fine cup of coffee. If he is right, it could be that electing a president is only the start of more killings.

Monday, October 1, 2007

DSL in Lebanon: Only 11 hours a month

After many years of delay, DSL has finally arrived in Lebanon. The subscription rates are among the highest in the region, see also my previous article. Just to get a quick understanding of how bad the situation is in Lebanon: even Syria has cheaper and faster DSL.

And that’s not all. Every subscription option comes with a maximum of how much you can download. If you were to download only up to this maximum, you would have surprisingly little time to make use of your DSL connection: the most expensive option comes down to 11 hours a month of download time.

That’s right, less than half a day per month if you were to download non-stop. The following table shows you the maximum amount of time you have per each subscription plan:


Maximum hours







1 Gb


Table 1: Maximum hours of Internet per month at full speed

“Ah, but Riemer”, you might argue, “downloading non-stop, whoever does that?”. Well, suppose you want to download a movie in DVD quality. This would be some 4.5GB, which is already very close to the maximum allowed download of the highest price plan, which is set at a meager 5GB.

To sum it up: you pay almost 80 USD a month and you can hardly download 1 movie. That’s an expensive movie, alright.

But wait, there’s more. Suppose you don’t keep track exactly of how much you download and you exceed your limit. This is allowed, but your Internet provider will charge a penalty fee of 500 LL for every 10MB. That’s when the Lebanese mockery of DSL really starts hurting. Imagine you use your download limit to the max and do so 24/7. The result would be upsetting to say the least, see below table:


Penalty Fee in USD


450 USD


900 USD


1,800 USD

1 Gb

3,600 USD

Table 2: Penalty Fee in USD after exceeding limit

Yep, that’s right: you could pay up to 3,600 USD if you don’t keep track of your usage. The DSL providers are using the Gillette marketing technique: give away the razor and sell the blades. Of course, the Lebanese Internet providers don’t really give away the connection, and they sure as hell sell the blades, but that must be a leftover of the Phoenician trading skills.

Now, you might say that you don’t use the Internet all the time for downloading movies and such. But what about your neighbors? If you have wireless Internet (WiFi) and you don’t put a password on it, your neighbors can use your connection. And they can do so as much as they want at your expense...

So, even if you won’t ever reach the limit, that 16 year old kid next door could easily exceed it. And from Table 1 you can see just how fast exactly that would happen: after 11 hours only, you start paying the penalty fee.

The solution is simple: install monitoring software to keep track of your limit and make sure that you apply passwords in case you have wireless Internet. Do all this and you still pay way too much in subscription fees, but at least that will be all you pay.