Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘waasta

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.  

Pearls of wisdom: And Arabic wisdom to boot it…

Across cultures and languages and even religious traditions, words and often concepts can get lost in translation.

Nuances and subtle undertones don’t stand a chance on border crossings and cryptic idioms, well they can just forget it!

The “Arabs”, as much as the next people, maybe more, have their own unique phrases and peculiar linguistically- contained notions that cannot conceivably be translated into any other frame of reference.

Neologisms and international-speak are a force for universal understanding, making languages more transferable and providing solutions for the overlaps and fringes, yet some vestiges are still intrinsically owned by the language and its people.

Published August 21, 2013 by

Mardi Aalai the Arabic mother blessing

Image 11 of 12:  To have parental blessing – the highest accolade of all, is Mardi Aalai

Once you have secured ‘ridda’, the mother’s blessing, you sit back and enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling that your mom approves your lifestyle. Reaching this blessed state of being ‘mardi’ in planet Arab is more crucial to life happiness than waasta (intermediary); wretched is he who foregoes ridda.

The German and Japanese languages are renowned for their untranslatable turns of phrase.

In German, they have a word for the cowardly individual who wears gloves during a snowball fight: ‘Handschuhschneedballwerfer’. Try saying that with a mouth full of kanafe (a sweet)!

In Japanese, they have the beautiful ‘yugen’, which occurs when you have an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and mysterious to be described.

Arab unity?

With the lyrical nature, poetic nuances of Arabic and the zaney notions of its speakers, there are plenty of words or idioms that simply have no precise equivalent in any other language.

A few turns of phrases in Arabic are idiosyncratic to Middle Eastern culture – they have their origins in Islam or a bedouin tradition that isn’t replicated elsewhere.

The denizens of Araby have their own esprit d’escaliers and we are taking away their exclusive rights to them for a moment to share a dozen of our favorites.

From Inshallah (God willing) to being able to tell someone they have heavy blood as an insult to their sense of humor, check out our editors’ picks of the most untranslatable or precious Arabic words and phrases that wouldn’t work anywhere else but the colorful, rowdy and sand-swept Middle East!

Indeed, some Arabs won’t have a clue, since, need we remind you that the Arabic language groups loosely different dialects and speakers across the board who speak in variations of the classical, formal tongue.

If you enjoyed these Arabic classics, join the conversation! Have we missed out any goodies?

“You glassed me” or “burning your guts”?

Got any of your own to add? 


Share some of your favorite hard-to-translate Arabisms in the comment space below!




June 2023

Blog Stats

  • 1,522,411 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by

Join 770 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: