Lebanon has had a difficult year. AFP
Lebanon has had a difficult year. AFP

Dysfunctional Lebanon limps towards a new year



Beirut traffic is the worst I have seen it in 20 years. During the rush hour downtown on Tuesday, it took me 45 minutes to go 250 metres.

Tourism, normally a big earner for the economy, has suffered a shock this year - a dip of 40 per cent across the board by most accounts - but there is clearly a late rush to put a bit of shine on the year's woeful figures, with Beirut hotels - and presumably car rental people - reporting excellent business.

But all in all, it was not a great year. I would struggle to think of a standout moment for Lebanese business or the economy in general, but if pressed, I would have to cite the arrival of faster internet, which arguably meant more to fans of YouTube and other online video streaming services than to anyone else.

As recently as September, internet users had to wait for videos to "buffer" before they would play. Now most clips can be watched in real time except during rare periods of high activity, when the old gremlins reappear.

I say "faster" because we have not yet matched the rest of the world, but something had to be done. In February, it was discovered that Lebanon had the world's slowest uploads (0.10 megabits per second) and the second slowest downloads (0.47mb/sec) of the 185 countries listed by Speedtest.net.

Yes, that's about it really.

But Najib Mikati, the prime minister, should not be too worried by my admittedly subjective assessment of his 1-year-old government, which came to power in a bloodless coup. The simple truth is that I cannot think of a single Lebanese government, with the exception of those headed by Rafik Hariri in the 1990s, that actually did anything useful in the 20 years since the end of the civil war. And to be fair, considering that back then Beirut looked like Dresden in 1945, it was hard for Hariri not to do anything.

Still, in the past five years annual GDP growth has averaged about 3.5 per cent, fuelled by tourism, construction and that pillar of the Lebanese economy the remittance transfer. The Beirut skyline changes by the month as a property boom - or is it a bubble? - throws up new luxury apartments that are apparently all sold off-plan.

But much of the important stuff has not been touched. Most Lebanese still do not have 24-hour electricity. There is no state education to speak of and the nation's health service hangs by a thread. Yet private education and health care are considered the best in the region. It is a case of entrepreneurial energy let down, not only by public-sector incompetence, but also by political agendas that will destroy or compromise any business initiative in the name of naked power.

No wonder that in Mercerhuman resource consulting's end-of-year annual survey on the quality of living in cities around the world, Beirut was ranked 170th out of 221 cities for overall global living standards (it ranked 16th of 25 in the Middle East and North Africa).

So what do we expect next year? Apart from biting the bullet and embarking on a huge privatisation plan, we could also follow Dubai's lead and, instead of censoring films with what is clearly a medieval vigour, try to sell Beirut to the world's film-makers as a place actually to make movies. The potential benefits of such an initiative are obvious as long as the subject matter does not tap into the darker side of Beirut's reputation.

Tom Cruise went to Dubai for the world premiere of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, much of which was shot in the emirate. This is what he told the world: "Many people have asked us about travelling here and what it was like. People are very interested to come here and shoot." Pure guff, but at the same time pure gold dust.

The Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons visited the southern Lebanese city of Sidon this year to do research for an environmental documentary charting the world's biggest garbage dumps, one of which sits on the city's outskirts. I guess that's about all we deserve for now.

Happy New Year to you all.

Michael Karam is a freelance writer and communication consultant based in Beirut

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The specs

Engine: four-litre V6 and 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbo

Transmission: six-speed and 10-speed

Power: 271 and 409 horsepower

Torque: 385 and 650Nm

Price: from Dh229,900 to Dh355,000

SPEC SHEET: APPLE IPHONE 15 PRO MAX

Display: 6.7" Super Retina XDR OLED, 2796 x 1290, 460ppi, 120Hz, 2000 nits max, HDR, True Tone, P3, always-on

Processor: A17 Pro, 6-core CPU, 6-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine

Memory: 8GB

Capacity: 256/512GB / 1TB

Platform: iOS 17

Main camera: Triple: 48MP main (f/1.78) + 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2) + 12MP 5x telephoto (f/2.8); 5x optical zoom in, 2x optical zoom out; 10x optical zoom range, digital zoom up to 25x; Photonic Engine, Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 4, Portrait Lighting

Main camera video: 4K @ 24/25/30/60fps, full-HD @ 25/30/60fps, HD @ 30fps, slo-mo @ 120/240fps, ProRes (4K) @ 60fps; night, time lapse, cinematic, action modes; Dolby Vision, 4K HDR

Front camera: 12MP TrueDepth (f/1.9), Photonic Engine, Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 4, Portrait Lighting; Animoji, Memoji

Front camera video: 4K @ 24/25/30/60fps, full-HD @ 25/30/60fps, slo-mo @ 120/240fps, ProRes (4K) @ 30fps; night, time lapse, cinematic, action modes; Dolby Vision, 4K HDR

Battery: 4441mAh, up to 29h video, 25h streaming video, 95h audio; fast charge to 50% in 30min (with at least 20W adaptor); MagSafe, Qi wireless charging

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC (Apple Pay), second-generation Ultra Wideband chip

Biometrics: Face ID

I/O: USB-C

Durability: IP68, water-resistant up to 6m up to 30min; dust/splash-resistant

Cards: Dual eSIM / eSIM + eSIM (US models use eSIMs only)

Colours: Black titanium, blue titanium, natural titanium, white titanium

In the box: iPhone 15 Pro Max, USB-C-to-USB-C woven cable, one Apple sticker

Price: Dh5,099 / Dh5,949 / Dh6,799

A QUIET PLACE

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★

How does ToTok work?

The calling app is available to download on Google Play and Apple App Store

To successfully install ToTok, users are asked to enter their phone number and then create a nickname.

The app then gives users the option add their existing phone contacts, allowing them to immediately contact people also using the application by video or voice call or via message.

Users can also invite other contacts to download ToTok to allow them to make contact through the app.

 

Prop idols

Girls full-contact rugby may be in its infancy in the Middle East, but there are already a number of role models for players to look up to.

Sophie Shams (Dubai Exiles mini, England sevens international)

An Emirati student who is blazing a trail in rugby. She first learnt the game at Dubai Exiles and captained her JESS Primary school team. After going to study geophysics at university in the UK, she scored a sensational try in a cup final at Twickenham. She has played for England sevens, and is now contracted to top Premiership club Saracens.

----

Seren Gough-Walters (Sharjah Wanderers mini, Wales rugby league international)

Few players anywhere will have taken a more circuitous route to playing rugby on Sky Sports. Gough-Walters was born in Al Wasl Hospital in Dubai, raised in Sharjah, did not take up rugby seriously till she was 15, has a master’s in global governance and ethics, and once worked as an immigration officer at the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi. In the summer of 2021 she played for Wales against England in rugby league, in a match that was broadcast live on TV.

----

Erin King (Dubai Hurricanes mini, Ireland sevens international)

Aged five, Australia-born King went to Dubai Hurricanes training at The Sevens with her brothers. She immediately struck up a deep affection for rugby. She returned to the city at the end of last year to play at the Dubai Rugby Sevens in the colours of Ireland in the Women’s World Series tournament on Pitch 1.

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

The specs: Fenyr SuperSport

Price, base: Dh5.1 million

Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo flat-six

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Power: 800hp @ 7,100pm

Torque: 980Nm @ 4,000rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 13.5L / 100km

The language of diplomacy in 1853

Treaty of Peace in Perpetuity Agreed Upon by the Chiefs of the Arabian Coast on Behalf of Themselves, Their Heirs and Successors Under the Mediation of the Resident of the Persian Gulf, 1853
(This treaty gave the region the name “Trucial States”.)


We, whose seals are hereunto affixed, Sheikh Sultan bin Suggar, Chief of Rassool-Kheimah, Sheikh Saeed bin Tahnoon, Chief of Aboo Dhebbee, Sheikh Saeed bin Buyte, Chief of Debay, Sheikh Hamid bin Rashed, Chief of Ejman, Sheikh Abdoola bin Rashed, Chief of Umm-ool-Keiweyn, having experienced for a series of years the benefits and advantages resulting from a maritime truce contracted amongst ourselves under the mediation of the Resident in the Persian Gulf and renewed from time to time up to the present period, and being fully impressed, therefore, with a sense of evil consequence formerly arising, from the prosecution of our feuds at sea, whereby our subjects and dependants were prevented from carrying on the pearl fishery in security, and were exposed to interruption and molestation when passing on their lawful occasions, accordingly, we, as aforesaid have determined, for ourselves, our heirs and successors, to conclude together a lasting and inviolable peace from this time forth in perpetuity.

Taken from Britain and Saudi Arabia, 1925-1939: the Imperial Oasis, by Clive Leatherdale

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Equestrian

Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).

Judo
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Cycling
Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Swimming

Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Athletics

Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).


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