Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Hamra Street

Policeman in Beirut: Photography is “illegal” in Hamra?

Are the latest car explosions and threats to “leaders” launching the security forces into a period of tight control over whatever might be considered as intelligence gathering by the various factions (internally and externally:?

posted in The Beirut Report this January 30, 2014

A few minutes ago I was taking this picture when a policeman shouted at me.Cop: “Hey, stop, stop! What are you doing? Don’t you know photography is forbidden?”Me: [Pointing to intersection] “Photography is forbidden here?”

Cop: [Looking exasperated] “Of course. It is illegal to take photos, not just here, anywhere in Hamra! Even anywhere in Beirut!”

Me: Are you serious? What does it matter if I take a picture?Cop: Yes of course I am serious! Don’t you know about the terrorism? I can call this in and they will come here and pick you up and take you away. There is a jail sentence!Me: Is this a new law, what law is it?

Cop: Yes. It’s a law, I don’t know what it is called! I didn’t say anything after the first or second photo, but then you took two or three! But you seemed like a nice guy so I will let it slide. Just don’t take any more, okay?

Me: Do you know what you are saying? Do you know how many people you need to arrest to enforce this law? Do you know how many buses you need to arrest everyone taking photos today in Hamra or the rest of Beirut?”

Suddenly our conversation is interrupted by a loud police siren.

A big black suburban with black tinted windows comes careening into the intersection in front of us and hangs a left onto Hamra street. Inside are two college-aged boys. The license plate has only three numbers.Me: Why don’t you arrest those people? They are not police, they are kids and they have a police siren?Cop: [wry smile] Oh no, I can’t touch them. Every number in 600 (i.e. 600-699) belongs to Berri. (Chairman of the Parliament for over 3 decades.)

(The plate actually began with number 1)

I then point to a car with no tail lights, a motorcyclist without a helmet, the traffic lights around us, each one illegally festooned with a flag of a certain Lebanese political party that has claimed this intersection as its territory. See red circles:

Interrupted panorama shot. I couldn’t get a better one because of the new “law” against photography

Me: So all this illegal stuff is going on right in front of you, every minute, and you want to stop me for taking a picture of it?

Cop: Listen. [Pulls out tiny folded up piece of paper from his pocket] You see this? It says here my duty today is “traffic management.” I can’t issue tickets until after this shift is over tonight.

(I didn’t think of it at the time, but why then was he trying to arrest me if technically he had no right?)

Cop: Let me tell you a story. Once I stopped this guy who was harassing a woman. He was Syrian, he had no ID papers. I got a phone call from headquarters. They said release him immediately. You see people have “waasta” (connections), there are people you can’t touch.”

I bid the cop farewell, wishing him more success at his job in the future.


Of course, I have been harassed for taking photos before, but ironically the police once actually tried but failed to help.

I’ve also been physical assaulted for taking photos, not by authorities, but by private developers and political hooligans.
Flags are also routinely hung by all parties in Lebanon as I documented in ZalkaAin El MreiseAin El Remmaneh and elsewhere. But this is the first time I am told there is an actual “law” prohibiting photos on public streets.  

Share your experience in a Lebanese Prison

I am not sure from whom Cedric got this story and decided to share TS post on FB. Sounds like a story of a girl who was attacked in the street and she fought back… and was incarcerated in the Sakiyat Janzir police station near Ain Tineh.

Actually, a police official was rambling tonight on the TV news that reforms are underway to correct injustices and brutality committed in (makhfar Hobeich) police station on Bliss Street in Hamra, particularly injustices done on foreign maids and immigrants…

Apparently the British ambassador contributed to the renovation of station prison in order to be designed according to human dignity standards...

The Experience of a Lebanese Prison: The Glittering Moments

“I feel no need to recall the tale here.

Although that sentence is the antithesis of storytelling, I’d rather describe what is on the surface of my soul before digging deep and recalling quick and confusing events.

I walked the long way home today, after visiting Salman for reassurance and his yummy curry. I chose to walk.

I clenched my fists and walked right in the middle of the street. There were no cars around. The streets were extending their arms in apology after they betrayed my trust.

I was chased after, hid, was found and  caught while the people in Hamra Street were simply watching.


I clenched my fists, ready to pummel anything with that glint of malice that pudding and her husband pinned in their eyes.

The air was different. I felt no matter what they do now, I have my fists, which were lauded by my friend’s fiancé as potent in dealing damage, and I have Salman.

Above all, I have righteousness on my side, a technicality as I was told later.

I am happy.  I feel proud to know I was in the company of inmates for a whole day. People who defend human rights should step away from textbook Philosophy and make-believe situations. You want to be an activist? Get your head in the grit and fight from your heart.

My newest cause may be the condition of inmates in Lebanon, or just the entire criminal justice system.

I must say though, all the policemen, investigators and detectives were very nice and polite with me. They were a very welcome surprise after so many tales of insult, rape, and battering, that one so often hears from distraught friends.

My inmates were 5, very nice as well. Each deserving a fair dose of justice… except the guy who killed a guy… who, sadly, is my favorite.

 I shared my tale, and they sympathized. They treated me to what little they had.

They gave me a blanket, a sandwich, and water, and told me how my situation will play out.

I never felt more fulfilled.

My suspicions were correct. I was in jail.

My handcuffs were made in Taiwan. Police can be nice when you seem polite, cultured, and timid.

I was falsely accused by that entertainingly furious woman.

But, I turned poison into wine.

How fulfilling it is to know you can turn what was meant to harm you, relish it, sulk in it, make it yours, wear it as a badge on your chest, and of course, recall it as a colorful thread in what has been woven of your life.

Thank goodness I have so many of these glittering, gem-encrusted threads, and by the looks of it I’ll have many more… though hopefully, less frustrating.

T.S. is a regional intern at the World Youth Alliance Middle East.

Beirut: Crazy Demographics (April 3, 2009)


Beirut counted five thousand inhabitants in 1821.  Tripoli and Sidon (Saida) were far more populous and more prosperous. 

When the Egyptian General Ibrahim Pasha defeated the Ottoman armies in Lebanon and Syria and ruled the Near East region (from 1830 to 1840), many Egyptian soldiers married and settled in Beirut. Beirut experienced the highest expansion and wealth for centuries.

The European consulates, mainly France, Britain, Tuscany, and Sardinia, selected Saida for headquarters but the Ottoman governor Ahmad Pasha restricted their commerce.  The foreign traders moved out to Beirut, followed by their respective consulates.

 By 1841, Beirut counted 30,000 inhabitants.  Still, the European insisted on modernizing the port of Saida instead of Beirut.  The problem was that the people in Saida would not hear of it on the ground that the European mariners would ultimately destroy the conservative moral character of the city.

Thus, the Europeans reluctantly were forced to modernize the port of Beirut in 1887.  

In 1859, a road was built to link Beirut to Damascus and then followed by a railroad linking Beirut to Damascus and Houran. 

In 1877, the US Protestant clergy established a university in Rass Beirut and the French Jesuits followed suit by relocating their college from Ghazir to Beirut. It is worth noting that the US Protestants initially contemplated their university to be located in Homs (Syria) because it had many more Christians to convert. Thus, most employees and educators of the American University were from Homs in origins such as the families of El Khal, Refka, Yaziji, and Barakat.

By 1887, the Ottoman Empire decided to concentrate its administrative headquarters in Beirut from where it managed the other provinces (sonjouk) such as Acre, Tripoli and Lataquieh.

Author Ussama Al Aref in his “This Life, my Sweetheart” said that his wife was frustrated for marrying a resident of Beirut.  She was from Beirut but her family was of Crete in origin. Ussama was from Beirut but his family was Turcoman from the neighboring city of Dyar Bakr in Turkey. The family had relocated to the northern borders with Syria of the town of Zara. They had no relatives outside Beirut to flee to during Lebanon civil war (1975-1991).  They were stuck in Beirut and had to dance the dance from street to street.

Not a single resident of Beirut is of Beirut in origin.

Ussama’s friends from Beirut have various origins; Kamal is of Orfeh in Turkey, Jalal from Mardine (Turkey/Syria), the Armenian Gerar from Adana (Turkey), and Jamal an Albanian.  Most of the famous families in Beirut that produced Prime Ministers and political leaders are not of Beirut and most of them not of Lebanese descendents.

The Moslem families such as Hariri, Seniora, and Solh are from Saida and south Lebanon; the families of Itani, Hoss, Biham, and Idriss are from Morocco; the Chatila from Wadi Taym, the Tuweiny and Fara3un from Houran (Syria), the Majdalani from Rashaya, the Sehnawy and the Kassatly from Damascus; and the Bustross from Cyprus.

The Christian families of Tutunji, Obaji, and Kneider are new comers from Aleppo and they considered the Lebanese Maronites as peasants compared to their bourgeois ranking. 

In fact, each of the families of Solh, Salam, Bustross, Tuweiny, and Sursok owned a dozen towns and villages in south Lebanon and north Palestine; they sold most of their vast real estates to Zionist organizations and removed to Beirut to purchase political power.

Beirut prospered with the influx of foreign and Arab oil money. With each military coup in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt (and they were many and frequent), more political and “financial” refugees flocked to Beirut.  Beirut became the hotbed of various political parties and a center for freedom of opinion, dailies, and publishing.

As the Palestinians were organized under the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), they moved its headquarters to Beirut along with the millions of dollars in contribution and support from Arab States.

The cost of living in Beirut skyrocketed by the 70’s. Beirut was invaded by all foreign mafiosos who transformed it into an international bordello and a Carrefour for flesh and slave trading The original residents of Beirut vacated it to the suburbs such as Aramoun, Burj Barajina, Ghobeiry and Dahiya: they could no longer afford its high cost of living. 

Every Prime Minister or politician who claimed that Beirut is the heart of Lebanon was not worth a penny of charity in his heart; they never contributed a dime from their own money. Those residents that vaunt Beirut the loudest are the strangest in it. They are the ones staunchly resisting social and political reforms.  They oppose administrative decentralization. They oppose equitable distribution of funds to all the districts in Lebanon. They oppose equitable distribution of electricity; they want to enjoy power 24 hours while the rest of Lebanon has to be satisfied with only six hours.  

Beirut has lost its popular souks and business versatility around Martyrs’ Square where dozens of movie theaters showed movies of every nationality; it lost its cosmopolitan character around the triangle of the American University, Hamra Street, and Rass Beirut.  Foreigners of all nations lived in that triangle and didn’t feel strangers and out of touch with their home states.

Beirut was a cultural center of the Arab World and there were more dailies than Arab States. Beirut is currently the depot of mounds of detritus and its seashore welcomed thousands of massacred civilians during the civil war. Beirut is a carcass of tall modern buildings built by investors lacking the Levantine soul and spirit and trying hard to submit us with illusions of modernity that no one sees or can afford to taste and experience.

Beirut is not for the Lebanese anymore. Ask any former middle class citizen if he can afford to buy any items in Beirut.  Ask any former bourgeois if he can rent a studio in Beirut. 

Beirut has suffered many earthquakes that destroyed it through the ages.  It has not been spared wars and plagues.

Beirut has never been a port until recently. Beirut has lost its character and its spirit.

As far as I am concerned, Beirut is a cursed city.  Anyone who wishes to own a piece in it he can have it all; stock and lock.

Horrors of civil war, (Ch. 33)

In 1984, I experienced bombing while on the road and close to home; I think I parked my car for less than a minute and resumed my drive.  

I was once taken to interrogation by the Mourabitouns (a Sunni militia) as I was crossing to West Beirut.

Patrick, my cousin anesthesiologist, was accompanying me in that trip and he believed that we would be eliminated and our bodies dumped; “no see, no hear, never existed”.

We were whisked behind a building for interrogation, and there was a tree in the dirty courtyard.  We were set free (ejet 3ala salameh)  

I visited West Beirut many times to see cousin Jihad and Nada, to have a feel of that section of Beirut, and I tried to link up with a political Party.

The leaders objected to any communication with them, and warned me never to set foot again in West Beirut, on account that the Party could not protect me if I was apprehended in East Beirut.

They said they lacked any leverage  (incapacity) to swap me with other much more important prisoners. 

And All that I wanted is a change in environment and people and “quality” time off. Life was then terribly boring and insecure in the Christian sectors.

I also witnessed in the street of Mazraa in West Beirut a militia tank of the Druze warlord Walid Jumblat driving hard, back and forth , in a show of force to the Amal militia of Nabih Berri (he is currently the head of the Parliament, for life it seems).  I felt worried but not terribly afraid.

I was under the impression that the Druze militia took advantage of a few firing shots to check the functionality of their unique tank. (I reserved a category on my blog for eye-witness accounts on the horrors of the Lebanese civil war and many other articles in the category Lebanon/ Middle East).

It was a period of relative peace in our district of Metn after the Israeli vacated Beirut in 1982.

I remember vividly that about seven soldiers of the Israeli “Defense” force (a force that has never been on the defensive since the creation of the Zionist State in 1948) camped for over two weeks at the entrance of lower Beit-Chabab, (my hometown and one mile from my location in Koneitra) but they never installed a checking point (at least not when I visited my town during the day).

The Israeli soldiers just read books under the shade of large trees.  A few girls visited them on evenings while taking walks and a few chatted with them.  I made sure not to drive frequently to Beit-Chabab while the enemy was there.

The Palestinian resistance forces were shipped out to Tunisia on French boats; but it was not that peaceful in the Chouf or south Lebanon. In the Druze Chouf district the Israelis encouraged the Maronite Lebanese forces to re-enter that district after they were chased out when Kamal Jumblat was assassinated a few years ago. 

The “Lebanese Forces” humiliated the Druze under the watch of the Israeli forces. 

In south Lebanon, many kamikaze martyrs exploded cars in Israeli headquarter and check points.

The first such martyrs were young girls, about three girls in three successful attacks.

Something on my university period in Lebanon, (continue 15)


I had thus to enroll in PC (physics and chemistry) at a preparatory French university and could not join any formal university for engineering. My life of failure started big time in education, and my self-esteem was bruised badly, but I persisted and managed years later, out of sheer stubbornness, to grabbing a PhD in industrial engineering at the University of Oklahoma at Norman in 1991.


From 1970 to 1975, I didn’t focus on studying and loafed around, participating in political demonstrations and sit in and student elections: it was the most effervescent and active period in the drive to effect drastic changes in the social and political structures in Lebanon. 


Backed by a dynamic force of the Palestinian factions, firmly established in Beirut and the south, the Lebanese leftist movements surged ahead and defied the status quo, a reality that scared the hell out of the political and religious elite.  The elite classes of feudal, financial, and religious sect-caste decided to burn Lebanon by a civil war, instead of agreeing to reforms that would impinge on their interests.


I spent much time boarding buses to burial ceremonies of martyrs and getting all confused when the Party split; two factions claimed variations in philosophical positions that I had no idea what was the angle.  The split was basically meant to convey the extent of political affiliations to the Baath regime in Syria.  For example, should the Party be a mousepiece to Syria or ally to the Palestinian factions? This confusion carried out with strong-arm tactics affected deeply all those naïve and well-meaning comrades who invested so much time and effort to grow and be accepted within an organized body.


All alone in Beirut


I roamed Beirut alone, all alone, attending theaters and movies.  For all my convictions I was just an added number or a fill in because of my lack of rhetorical or conversational abilities and my endemic shyness. With all the new comrades and university acquaintances I could not find the courage to befriend even one companion to roam Beirut with me. 


From morning to late evening, I kept moving from one location and one street to another, mostly walking since Beirut is not that vast for a young body, and because the important theaters and gatherings were located around the Hamra Street area or Ras Beirut in general.  The fares for buses, taxis, theater, and food were cheap and inflation was nonexistent then; the dollar was worth less than two Lebanese pounds because the Palestinian movements invested and poured in large sums in the economy.


After failing many courses and repeating them I finally graduated with a master’s in Physics from the University of Lebanon in Choweifat. The next chapter would resume my grueling higher educational experience in the USA.


I recall, while in my second university year, my cousin Nassif Ghoussoub lived with us while he was studying for his final secondary class or “matheleme” year.  Nassif was extremely studious in studying “deb shoghl” and used to spent most of the night in his tiny room solving all kinds of math and physics problems, all the exercises and problems, no exceptions.  Nassif ended up ranking second among all the Lebanese students that year and was first in his promotion in the university and received a grant for higher education to Paris.


I failed my second year at the preparatory university and transferred to the Lebanese University in Chouwefat majoring in Physics.  My dad used to go to the university to check on the results of my exams and he was disappointed many times. I graduated with difficulty in May 1975 with Nassif who majored in math; thus Nassif overtook me by two years.

My shyness maybe due to lack of practice in conversation and my silence among gathering lasted for a long time.  I still feel a huge fright standing in a gathering or a lecture and asking a question, even though I have lately taught classes at universities.

I am always questioning the validity of my queries and how stupid I would sound: I guess I lacked rhetorical classes and verbal abilities to expressing myself. That is why I prefer to express in writing and sending written questions when feasible.

Right now, my shyness in asking questions might be due to large knowledge base and my traditional humility for not showing off as an erudite.

The period of 1970 to 1975 was the most glorious period for university students in Lebanon, and I failed to taking all the opportunities and advantages that were available to enterprising souls.  I refused to demand a weekly stipend, though my family could afford it, and I might have rented an apartment and cultivated a higher sense of entitlement and liberty…




June 2023

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