Fragmentation

The recent political and social situation in Lebanon is becoming more alarming day after day, Lebanon that was supposed to be a message about tolerance and common living is surfacing as a solid message about what to avoid and what to not become. We’ve grown to become a vertically fragmented society where communities have nothing in common other than the bad luck of existing together on the same piece of land. We ended up with xenophobic religious communities who elect and support xenophobic religious and political leaders who are in constant conflict over the share of power they can have, in order to control and loot whatever can be looted out of that ghost of state that is Lebanon.

The Lebanese society has proven in the last decade that it comprises a majority of zealots whose daily struggle in this country is about oppressing, controlling, and humiliating each other.

This situation is alarming because not only it’s killing the prospects of prosperity and growth in this country, it is dragging us down to levels that threaten the life and existence of the Lebanese people, it is suffocating them, but they stupidly continue their circus of bigotry and carelessness driven by a serious lack of ethics while judging things, and by brainwashed heads that cannot think outside the religious/ideological frame in which their minds are boxed since their infancy.

The whole recent wages problem is a direct result of this situation; we’re in a dilemma where without a wage increase even middle class people cannot meet their needs and a wage increase will force the companies employing them to go out of business. This is a direct result of a political class acting as a mafia that uses politics to serve its special and personal interests. Those politicians control the major economic sectors in the country and they run them in a way to serve their particular interests and to stay in control, and in parallel to that, they fight over how much each of them can control. And all that is happening while we are in a dire need for sound politics that build and develop the country and look into solving its flagrant structural problems that are all a threat to our national security.

I’ll give the example of the energy sector which should be at the top of the list, when a plant or a commercial company has a nano-gain margin because it pays an energy bill that is 4-5 times higher than the one paid by its competitors it’ll definitely go out of business if you force it to increase wages. And the problems in other types of basic infrastructure have similar effects, but where are we in politics from all these issues? We’re light years behind, no one is seriously working to solve them while we’re sitting on a serious threat that will grow exponentially out of control. With economic hardship comes increased misery, increased corruption and increased crime which all shoot back on the whole situation dragging it down furthermore, less growth, less attractiveness, less investments, and less jobs. Add to it lower quality of life, of education, of services etc.

My wish for the upcoming year is to see more fellow Lebanese getting out of the bigotry circle and expressing their refusal against this political class, starting by the ones they support before the ones they passionately hate, I wish to see a Lebanese youth feeling the urgency of the situation and working towards a healthy change, towards solutions for a brighter future on a national level and for a tolerant society that holds us together because the destiny of this country joins us together and the only other alternative is a black, dark one.
Happy holidays.

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Political activism on the internet, why it’s failing in Lebanon?

After almost one year of revolutions in the Arab world, some of them are already half finished and the others still need a lot of efforts and sacrifice, however, all of them had the igniting spark and started the one way journey for change, freedom and a better future.

After all what is happening around us many of us are starting to ask about why the political cyber activism was fruitful in our neighboring countries but not in Lebanon, even when in fact we weren’t late in adopting new technologies and political activists’ blogs have existed in Lebanon since almost the beginnings of blogs on the web. So then why the status-quo in Lebanon is that strong? New technologies have been a powerful vector that helped in organizing and giving momentum to popular movements seeking justice and change, why not in Lebanon?

Well the answer is again in the structure of the Lebanese society and the Lebanese political system. In all neighboring countries, daring to speak was a threat to the regimes, the whole existence of the regimes was built on installing fear in the citizens, “whoever dares to defy will cease to exist “ and in installing in the consciousness of their citizens that actually no one dares to defy and Big Brother is always watching. The political blogs came to break this wall by defying, talking, exposing and helping people to wake up and see the truth that these regimes are just paper barriers that can be easily torn if they had to face the people’s will. So the name of the game for these activists was hitting on forbidden spots that actually are an inherent part of their civil rights, namely, the freedom of expression and speech. They defied the unjust regime and that’s how it worked.

In Lebanon, blogging and talking doesn’t have this effect, freedom of expression has been a tradition since the independence and the whole political system has grown an immunity against it, you can talk as much as you want it’s just your opinion and there are hundreds of other different opinions that would disagree, even on the obvious, and this situation is what makes the efforts of a serious political activist go in vain.

In terms of defying and breaking walls of control and fear, it’s not the case in Lebanon, almost everyone can talk, blogging and talking and exposing the reality doesn’t make a difference and in terms of spreading political awareness, what you say is just your insignificant opinion because there are hundreds of others that are claiming different things.

So the question is how can we use the technologies available on the internet to drive a change in Lebanon? The answer is to look for forbidden things that are part of our civil rights and concentrate on them. I’ll leave it to you to think about such things, one person is not enough to figure it out; the power lies in the crowds. But when it comes to me, I’m planning on going to vote in 2013 in a box that is not dedicated for my sect, just to make a fuss and raise the voice, because it’s my right to be considered as a Lebanese citizen and not as a citizen of my sect.

So, who’s in with me?

RNA10M

في مكانٍ ما
فوق خدّكِ
تختبىء احلامي
وعند عينيكِ وثغركِ
وطيب ابتسامكِ

لا شمس لها
حول خصركِ تدور أرضي
ومن بين اناملكِ تولد ايامي

قد خبّأتُ لكِ ثوباً ابيضاً
واوراقَ وردٍ
واطفالاً
محياهم كمحياكِ
نبْضُ قلبي الذي كان سدىً
بات من اليوم لكِ
وايامي

RNA127001

There’s a fire
that kept on burning my days
fed on every minute
while I watch the flame
dance and play

Seconds ticking
smelling
like gasoline.

I can’t tell time,
a thick carbon dust
on the clocks
is all what I can see.

And no don’t call
the fire brigade
let the orange glow, let it glow
let it come closer
burn in anger
as it watches me grow,
let it see how out of my hands
lights, colors and a scented breeze
like a drunk with love proposing on his knees;
will flow.

>Startups in the middle east

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There’s a vibrant scene of startups that is starting to emerge in Lebanon and the Middle East in general, and this fact is naturally good news for the present and future of the region on both the economic and social levels. But one can’t help but noticing the fact that this entrepreneurial activity is still constrained to a large extent in one aspect: “online services”.

I wanted to talk about this issue after reading a tweet that mentioned the remark by which “Fadi Ghandour” has closed his keynote at the arabnet conference. (Fadi Ghandour is the founder of Aramex and a prominent figure in the Middle Eastern entrepreneurial scene). He was trying to stress the importance of the internet and how much essential it has become by saying: “instead of megawatts, you want megabytes!

I totally understand how much essential internet has become and I guess we all agree on that, however I couldn’t understand this contrast between megawatts and megabytes, two quantities that belong to two worlds that are not in conflict with each other, and I don’t think that there are situations which necessitate a tradeoff between investments in electrical power and connectivity and internet, in reality the near future will further weave an interdependence between them with the advent of smart grids.

I didn’t have the chance to completely hear the keynote of Fadi Ghandour, so I can’t be sure about what he meant exactly by this comparison or what he exactly meant by megawatts and I’m not writing this post as a reply to what he said; this is just an attempt, to shed some light on “the startup” issue in the ME region and to give my personal opinion on it.

We have this habit in our region to follow the trend, and as a result we’re always behind the trend setters at least a couple of years, the time needed to figure out what is trending worldwide. And up till now that is how things are going in the Middle Eastern startup scene, we are trying to repeat success stories on the web that happened in the world by trying to tailor some solutions or services appropriate to our social and cultural environment. But I guess it’s about time that things move ahead, we need to start thinking in a more independent and creative way to create and deliver novel solutions that are not constrained to online services.

My disagreement about axing “megawatts” comes from my belief that the energy sector is where the next boom will be taking place. Renewable energies, energy storage and development of fuel cells, the electric X, whether X is a car or anything that depends today on fossil fuel, in addition to the developing mechanisms that aim to improve the low efficiency of energy conversion at the electrical power plants are very active fields that should not be ignored. And we have the smart grid, which will be rolling out in the future to provide a tighter and smarter grip on power generation, distribution and consumption.

So megawatts are a serious issue for the future, and people around the world are trying to bring in the next solutions to feed the hunger for power supply while in our region no one even thinks about it just because it’s not the trend yet. I would like to stress here on how much important it is to see the fertile ground for startups that this sector is, just Google “energy startup” to see how much effort is put in it, megawatts are very important and we want them too.

The second issue after the energy sector that I would like to talk about is the communications infrastructure, internet is not only about software products and online services it’s about the network and the infrastructure too, we see the bit rates growing from 56 kbps all the way up to 300 Mbps with FTTH, we see generations of cellular networks coming 2G, 3G, 4G and how much do we have to do with this development, nothing. To bring in the Megabytes, we need startups working in this field providing new technologies and services to improve the connectivity in the region and to lower its price. Startups have always played an important role in this field providing technologies that have driven this continuous available bit rate growth, we have world class experts and specialists in this field but they’re outside the Middle East for two simple reasons, lack of vision in the region (and the follow the trend mentality) and lack of funds. This brings me to the third issue I would like to talk about, technology investments in the Middle East and venture capitalism.

The third issue is funding and venture capitalism in our region, I believe that conferences such as the Arabnet should start to think about inviting important investors to be in direct touch with the technical and startup scene in the region. Funding is still scarce because investors are more interested in financial products and do not know about the existence of these investment opportunities. But it’s about time that they notice the importance of this field especially now that dictators have been toppled with social networks as the main tool of communication. Venture capitalists and angel investors exist around the world, searching to find the next investment opportunity while in the middle east which is one of the richest regions of the world, investors are more interested in western governments’ treasury bonds! This has to stop and it’s up to the young people and the digital sector community to approach them and lure them in.

So at the end I believe that we need startups we need growth, but we need to open our eyes to all the opportunities beyond online services. Energy, digital infrastructure, and online services are all important fields for investment and development and we need to put an important amount of energy on drawing the region’s capitals to fund this nascent startup scene.

>Sectarian regime operational chart

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Click on image for a larger view

-The sectarian structure of the lebanese administration and governing bodies not only is a catalyst for corruption, but it also creates corruption.
-It leads to social fragmentation and provides a fertile ground for civil wars and internal clashes.
-One of the results of this structure is that the governing bodies are totally dysfunctional.

It’s heart breaking to see how much time is being wasted and how much talent and potential are lost while this structure is hindering Lebanon from being what it should be, a country with loyal citizen instead of a pseudo-conglomerate of heterogeneous sects that are in constant conflict.

That’s why this hideous structure must go down.

>RNA10B

>It’s been
an awful long while;
beautiful flower of the Nile
homesick for your eyes
without you
everywhere is a bitter exile;
your smile
is still living in my head
and I can’t forget
out of it
all the sweetness that spread
and then, the rush of my blood
and my veins that were almost burned
by all the words you said
and since I fell
for that spell
come back I want more
and I’m sure
it’s not too much to ask for
there must be something
that can be done
to end the echo of my voice;
it’s dreadful
when it’s coming back
from that closed door.