Lebanon "Facts" Debunked

Another day, another absurd patriotic and shallow video about Lebanon. How these recycled “facts” are still well-received by many is beyond me. In fact, these videos, "listicles", and PR pieces will probably contribute to why I am bound to get a stroke before I turn 30.

I thought I’d look deeper into some (and only some) of these “facts”, and debunk or elaborate upon them. These facts are from the latest video to go viral: “Facts About Lebanon” by the961.com has hit over 1 million views on Facebook in three days.

“18 religious sects”

Yes, Lebanon does have many religious sects. That’s not something to be proud about, given that this isn’t something Lebanese people have done. But what have they done with their interesting multi-sectarian make-up?

1. A sectarian and discriminatory political system that allows only a Maronite Christian to be president, a Sunni Muslim to be Prime Minister, and a Shia Muslim to be Speaker of Parliament.

2. A political culture based on feudalism and sect-based constituencies and a turf war-like approach to local affairs.

3. A 15-year civil war that left a quarter of a million people dead, and over 76,000 missing to this day.

The war might be over, but the same establishment and political culture remains to this day. Photo via Khalil Duhaini

The war might be over, but the same establishment and political culture remains to this day. Photo via Khalil Duhaini

“40 daily newspapers”

Lebanon does have many newspapers, and while we have a freer press compared to our regional counterparts, there are many problems with our press. Much of Lebanon’s newspapers are owned and funded by the political and business elite, some being the official newspaper of certain political parties. An independent press in Lebanon doesn’t exist, given that the establishment has taken hold of the Press Syndicate.

For example, Beirut Syndrome, an alternative media platform that I co-founded and run, is not registered, and therefore I don’t enjoy any rights that a “licensed” journalist has. If I take pictures during a protest, the riot police have every right to beat me up and confiscate my equipment, simply because I’m not a “licensed” journalist. That only scratches the surface.

“Over 100 banks”

When was having many banks considered a good thing? For the record, not all of the banks are Lebanese banks, and Lebanon isn’t exactly known to have the best reputation when it comes to corporate and financial transparency. You do the math.

“The biggest Christian population in the Middle East”

India has the largest Hindu population in the entire world. Sounds shallow and silly now, doesn’t it?

1 doctor for every 10 people

Suppose this is true: how many people have access to those doctors? Lebanon’s social security system provides very limited insurance for healthcare. The country’s public hospitals are in pretty bad shape, and private ones are getting more expensive and thus less accessible.

4 million Lebanese in Lebanon, 20-30 million abroad

Having a large expat population that fled Lebanon due to an Israeli and Syrian occupation, a brutal civil war, constant strike and corruption, and/or lack of opportunities isn’t something to be proud of.

Besides, I think it’s time we stop idolizing business and political leaders of Lebanese origin abroad, including current Brazilian president, Michel Temer, who supported a coup. More on leaders from the diaspora below...

Richest man in the world: Carlos Slim

Mexican multi-billionaire, born in Mexico in 1940, three years prior to the establishment of the Lebanese state, Carlos Slim happens to be of Lebanese origin. While he hasn’t been the richest man in the world since 2013, he never has been someone to look up to. With a net worth of around US$52.2 billion, 6% of Mexico’s GDP, Slim has monopolized Mexico’s telephone service (Telmex). Moreover, he has been accused by even the staunchest advocates of free markets and enterprise, such as Paul Roderick Gregory on Forbes, for playing a role in slowing down Mexico’s economic development and diminishing its standards of living.

15 rivers from its own mountains

All those rivers and mountains have been used as dumping sites for the country’s waste. Lebanon’s nature is used as false rhetoric in patriotic slogans. Also, many of those rivers are actually streams. 

When it comes to taking care of rivers and preserving them for public access, that’s just one of the country’s many so-called “red lines”. The Beirut River (picture below) is in a horrible state, and the Litani River in South Lebanon has impacted farmers and the communities near it, forcing some to even leave their homes due to pollutants and risk of disease.

The Beirut River as of 2013. Image by Talal Khoury

The Beirut River as of 2013. Image by Talal Khoury

70% of students in private schools

Lebanon’s public education system is filled with problems, including teachers not being paid on time, and many not being hired on merit. Students not privileged enough to attend private schools often suffer. Many private schools as well aren’t well-monitored and transparent, which raises many questions about the quality of education for students in Lebanon.

“Lebanon” and “Cedar” appears 75 times in the Old Testament

So what? Lebanon has been mentioned at least 10 times in this blog post. There are other words that appear in the Bible 75 times or more in the Old Testament, including hate and sin. Even if Lebanon appeared 700 times in the Bible or any religious text, how is that something that we can consider an achievement or something that we ought to be proud of?

Phoenicians landed in America before Christopher Columbus did

Not only is this “fact” a theory but it is a theory which archaeologists consider to be unlikely. The only proof that exists of Phoenicians possibly landing in America was an inscription in Paraiba in Brazil. However, archaeologists, some who even claim that it was technically possible, have reduced this to “clever forgery”.

Even if it were true...We. Are. Not. Phoenicians.

Lebanese speak 3 languages: English, Arabic, and French

Everyone speaks English, Arabic, and French fluently? If it were true, that would be rather impressive. I'm sure that most can speak a bit of all three, but only a minority can speak them all fluently.

I can’t say I speak French fluently, and I can say the same about many other Lebanese people. Some only speak Armenian and Arabic, some speak Kurdish, some only speak Arabic and French. But all three? Certainly not true.

In the springtime on the same day, you can swim and ski

Excluding the immense traffic and lack of reliable public transport, the constant loss of public spaces means that the fact could stand only if you have a car, the time to get through the traffic, and can afford to pay absurd fees to enjoy both activities.