Monday, April 22, 2024

AnNahar AI president? Great until things get real

So AnNahar introduced the first AI president for Lebanon. Look on the one hand this is a very laudable initiative in a country with no president, a caretaker government, and parliament which - well is not very active. In their own words: The new AI president of Lebanon has been created by training Large Language Models on 90 years of impartial journalism from AnNahar since the 1930's. It analyses not only the historical data provided through the pages of AnNahar but also current events, and formulates answers for all political, legal and government questions. By tapping into this vast knowledge base, the AI president has a deep understanding of Lebanon's past, as well as an unbiased perspective on the challenges that the country faces today.

Now, I am going to bypass the "impartial journalism" thingy because I know things that are not fit to print which might make one reconsider the term. But still, I can understand the hype and the innovative aspect of the operation. Good on them doing it.

Now, big question: Why not apply that to real life? I mean if you already did it in the abstract which not apply it on the ground. We already have the perfect president allegedly so let's go and just elect the "person" (note I am not specifying the gender - here's hoping!).

Which brings us to how murky the Lebanese politics is. I am often asked about the late Rafic Hariri and my answer is always that watching politics from the sideline in Lebanon is one thing, being involved in it is another. Hariri was a prime example of that - he was eager to join the Lebanese politics, until he did. And discovered how everything was a gigantic quid pro quo - every project, no matter how beneficial to the population became a quagmire of profit-sharing, every this, that etc.... Which again divorces the theory of politics from its practical aspect.

Actually the word politics stems from Greek - polis and ethos: polis is the heart of the fortress and ethos is ethics. So the word basically means "the ethics of living in a community", which basically does not account for the former and current and most likely future politicians in Lebanon. But still, here we are. 

In a post dating July 16, 2015 I suggested the following about Abou Fouad, the (now sadly dead) face of Yes detergent:

So there, Abou Fouad goes to Washington, or rather Baabda.... Our household extraordinaire is exceptional in being cost-efficient, multitasker, a good council, he is diplomatic, has a million tricks up his sleeve. And frankly, between the available options, I says "yes" to Abou Fouad (pardon the pun!)... The campaign is on ladies and gentlemen!

Alternatively we could always have... (image dated May 24, 2014)



Sunday, April 21, 2024

The line has been erased

Remember The Line? That major humongous project of 170 kms in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert? The one that flooded us with sci-fi imagery, a full city encased in reflective walls, where humans would not need cars because their needs would be met in a 5-minute walk? And a high-speed rail system would tie it from one end to the other? The one where all energy was renewable? The one that was 500 meters in height but only a width of 200? Yes, all that. Well, it seems that the project has been drastically scaled back. Scaled back to the tune of 2.4 kms by the end 2030, it would end up housing 300,000 people apparently instead of the promised 1.5 million by that time.

You can read what went wrong here. It follows the many projects which touted cities as lines, yes - the concept existed prior and no, it did not work out. You might enjoy this article in The Guardian (here) about the many predecessors to The Line and how they all ended up flat on their belly - no pun, because that's exactly what The Line is or to quote Edgar Chambless who himself dreamed of a linear city "the idea occurred to me to lay the modern skyscraper on its side".

Well, the positive in all this is that the "death trap" the city was to migrant birds is no more - not to mention the Howeitat tribe which will no longer be displaced from their lands (even if some of its members are already in jail for daring to disagree with the project). 

Still, when an architectural project hires people specialized in gaming imagery to release its concept, it does tell you how divorced it was from reality. Also, apparently the mastermind behind the project - Mohammed Bin Salman, the crown prince himself - kept changing his idea about the project which led to a rotating masthead all over the place.

So voila, seems the utopia was just that. And castles were built, not in Spain, but in the desert.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Wingwoman, are NGOs doing what someone else should?

All right, my sample is certainly biased, but whenever I ask any youth where they are working, 1 over 2 of them says the name of an NGO. And yet for many NGOs carry an incredibly bad rap - they are imperialist tools to take over Lebanon sponsored by soiled money, they are inefficient, bloated and self-righteous and carry little difference on the ground.

As I was browsing Instagram lately I came across the case of Wingwoman and their reusable diapers case. The statistics are mentioned in the imagery above. Just to be clear I know no one who works at Wingwoman, and since I have have a long career in development I studied the numbers they offered, the case study - all in colors and well-designed I must admit - and the end result of it. And by Jove they make sense. 

The numbers are all logical, they do not pretend their work was fully adopted by the sample, and yet the marked difference between the before and after of the study (distributing reusable diapers and how this alleviates economic hardship on families) makes total sense. You can see the whole thing here. In their own words Wingwoman are about "Elevating women; Reducing waste; Increasing long term access to reusable diapers, period pads & period education". 

Look, I know some of you might find this risible, but yes, even women need "period education" and no, for a woman to go into a shop and buy sanitary pads is not a socially-approved mission. Many - and I mean many - still face a "stigma" as if menstruating monthly is something to be ashamed of. As I said I hear and read many cases, one girl when she had her first period and ran to her mother not understanding what was happening to her, saw her mother slap her violently as a retaliation.

So, again, as "normal" state agents in Lebanon - read that ministries and official bodies - are hanging by a thread, as their work has been sporadic and not exactly efficient, what if NGOs are actually filling that space on the ground and going what "must be done", one sanitary pad at a time, one reusable diaper at a time? Wingwoman certainly seems to prove the case.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

And now we are commemorating the war again...

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

In case you have been living under a rock, Lebanon is having a... challenging week (yes, again). You can go elsewhere for all the details. Suffice to say the Christian quarters seem to feel targeted again. Interestingly, what's with the engrained paranoia they have (I say they and not we as I feel un-paranoid) they are taking aim in their revenge on every moving entity that seems to be Syrian - haphazardly, without discrimination.

Kind reminder: when the Syrian forces entered Lebanon, Christians (read that Phalangists) welcomed them by throwing rice on them on the Nahr El Kalb tunnel. But memory - as with politics - is very fickle. And painting everyone with large (as in very large) brushstrokes only makes things worse. Maybe, just maybe, we should go micro rather than macro. Look at Hussam. He comes and cleans my house every fortnight. He has three kids. Works 5 different jobs to pay his rent, send his children to school, and put food on the table. When Easter came about 2 weeks ago he sent me a whatsapp greeting along with - not an Easter bunny photo or anything - but a proper Religious imagery (note that he was fasting for Ramadan at the time!).

And yet here we are again. Stereotyping and putting everything and everyone under a large parasol - neither Hussam nor Ibtissam (whom I met as a lovely vendor in a store) nor Manar were the perpetrators of the tragic events that occurred in Lebanon recently (with all my respect for the late Pascal Suleiman and my understanding that his abduction and killing were indeed very unacceptable). 

And now what? Are we still on the Ain El Roumaneh bus? Are we still passengers in that journey to nowhere? Did we not learn anything? I have a deep feeling we did not. And of course, economic issues do nothing but exacerbate this - in times of political and economic downturns people turn to what they know. And tribalism in all its shapes is what Lebanese know.

Above, in the imagery is the license plate of the Fargo Ain El Roumaneh bus which ignited - or rather was the final straw that ignited - the war in Lebanon on April 13, 1975. I do hope we are wiser at this point because certainly we are older.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

IAA Lebanon chapter finally looks where it should be

Well, so the IAA (Lebanese Chapter) is announcing the relaunch of the International Advertising Association Young Professionals chapter. Per their own words: "The IAA YP chapter is dedicated to nurturing and empowering young talents aged below 35, providing them with opportunities for growth, networking, and professional development. To kickstart our relaunch, we are organizing a gathering where attendees will have the chance to learn more about the IAA YP and participate in a Creative Masterclass titled "The 5 C's of Creativity." The participation is free of charge."
Let us be honest, when one says IAA one not think young advertising people, it is more like elderly individuals who already had flourishing careers. Actually at the recent IAA Hall of Fame induction ceremony (here), there were 2 tables for young NDU students - I can think of that student dressed in a suit (not exactly fitting) along with white New Balance sneakers. But I actually looked at them with pride, I mean it is important for them to know the history of communication and advertising. And truth be told, since I moved to the field at the age of 27, I think it would have been crucial for me to have someone tell me a few words about it rather than me rolling my sleeves and do my own digging.
Which is why I am excited the IAA Lebanese Chapter is looking where it ought to be - at the new young generation. As I said previously, too few people from the new breed even know how much they owe to the many many generations that came before them. Many move to Dubai not knowing that there was a crop of ad people who did so when moving there was akin to going to a land which only had the Toyota building as a landmark (here). Heck, in one of my courses (technical English) an assignment was a motivation letter to join Saatchi in their Beirut office and the student wrote "I will help make your company famous" - yes, it is that bad. And yes, all universities are included.
So I am truly glad the IAA is now guiding the new crop of people entering the fray. They need it, believe me.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

IPT and World Health Day

Well IPT seems to be on a roll. First watch their World Health Day here. Then a lovely reminder of what they did on Mother's Day here. OK, so I am going to disregard including McDonald's in an ad for World Health Day (which they did), but - I also don't know if these cute people featured in the ad work at IPT - but damn it they are so model-cute and well chosen! The whole ad has this very suave feeling to it, so I am glad IPT seems to be running on some tight strategy (it is obvious everything is coming from a specific place, not just placed haphazardly). Interestingly the whole thing is branded "so7a w saleme" (health and safety) which - whereas am usually not pro hashtags actually seems to work in this instance.

Abed Tahan, the Mother's Day ad which slipped through the cracks



Ah all apologies to Joe Fish, this one slipped through the cracks for Mother's Day (which was March 21 in Lebanon). The ads are really cute to be honest. They present the problem and the solution at once. So how do you remediate eating peas to a child? An air fryer. A bad hairdo? A good electric brush. The traces of a iron on clothes? A new version that would not leave such burns. But at the heart of it, "you know she always had the best intentions". There's also, in smaller font "mothers, we love you" just in case the main message went astray. Still, this was a good one to come one and again, did not see it pop up in my feed till today. 

Saturday, April 6, 2024

In Lebanon, barely anyone is advertising anymore

In a previous post dated June 22, 2021 I wrote the following story (here):
"You know the old adage, that in times of crisis brands should advertise more. So that when the crisis ends their name would be top of mind for the consumer. In 1989 the father of a friend was working on a very upscale banquet area in a resort in Kaslik. Of course, everyone thought the owner of the resort was bananas. Why invest in such a luxurious thing when the war was raging? Fast forward to 1991 and the war ended, and guess where everyone who was anyone wanted to throw their wedding reception?"
Well, this is indeed a time of crisis in Lebanon and everyone is advertising, not just less, but barely anything. Recently I read this figure that Nestle has seen its sales drop from 300 million to 70 million USD a year in Lebanon. Sure, most of its brands that vanished at the beginning of the crisis - think Nescafe - are back on the market. But people have switched to other brands in the meantime what's with everyone being price sensitive and brand loyalty is no longer a factor in purchase, not to mention local alternatives which popped up in the meantime (this could be debatable though as shown in this previous post - here).
Now, we all know that the advertising landscape is changing globally. But somehow this is more acute in Lebanon as many crises are hitting the market - not just one after the other but in parallel and at the same time. 2023 was supposed to be the beginning of the recovery, but the second half of the year saw a nosedive in activity and that's even before the Gaza events wiped everything starting October.
But the malaise is big. One can feel it. Sure, the situation is "noticeably" better than when the crisis broke in October 2019 when already existing ads lingered for a long time on billboards eventually not to be replaced by anything, and banks - which were injecting massive amounts of money in the advertising sector basically stopped (here). 
But still, TV ads are almost non-existent. Ads for specific occasions - anything from Christmas to Back-To-School are barely there (my round up of Christmas ads last year had a melancholy element to it - here). It's like everyone is trying to wing it and just try to see what sticks - advertising haphazardly, if at all, with no strategy or clear focus behind it.
I clearly remember Army Day in 2018 or so. I honestly had to pick and chose which ads I needed to talk about - and still ended up with around two dozen posts that day. Anyone who is anyone wanted to be part of the fray. With results usually far below what was acceptable. And again, there was a time when ads were plastered on trees or any surface that could handle them. Now OOH companies are begging ad agencies to book their billboards with prices incredibly low (of course, no one admits this publicly but it is true). 
I know I sound pessimistic, and that perhaps as someone is bound to say - everyone went digital anyway (here). But as I asked prior, if they moved digital, where are they? Which brings us to...
In Lebanon, barely anyone is advertising anymore.

Monday, April 1, 2024

De22ou el Chamasi - and the convoluted copyright laws in the Middle East

Heard about the De22ou el Chamasi issue? 

First look at the ad - here. It is for Al Ahli Malak - and I thought it was cute as a button (lovely, lively, well-styled, bubble gum colored, and youngish....). 

OK, I am also sure you know the original song by Abdel Halim Hafez from the movie "Abi Fawka Al Chajara" (my father above the tree). Here is a reminder.

Ever since the ad started airing, the estate of Abdel Halim filed a motion to stop it (A kind of "cease and desist"). The issue? Well, it was written by Moursi Jamil Aziz and the music is by Mounir Mrad. Meaning that Abdel Halim Hazef (for all his greatness) and his estate have nothing to do with the song - at all. And yet, they prevailed. The ad stopped airing but as with everything, the saying goes "كل ممنوع مرغوب" - everything that is banned is desired, so this did not stop people from watching it over and over on the net.

Years ago, Jay-Z and Timbaland were sued for sampling Baligh Hamdi's "Khosara Khosara" (ironically the song was a hit for Abdel Halim Hafez as well) in Jay-Z's hit "Big Pimpin', the issue - filed by Baligh Hamdi's nephew - was that the music was sampled in a song promoting promiscuous behavior. Interestingly, whereas the two artists cleared the track with BMI Arabia for 100,000 USD, apparently the estate of Hamdi thought they could sue on "moral grounds". Timbaland (born Tomothy Mosley) eventually asked in the court - "So, who did I pay 100 grand to?"

Well apparently Egyptian law allows suing for infringement of "moral rights" of the author of a work. A concept which does not translate in the United States law. But all of this is very murky. Who owns the song (or the piece of art)? Who is allowed to sue? Under what grounds? 

So when Lebanese singer Elissa (truth be told, she has a limited vocal range even if she knows what works for her voice) sang "Awal Mara T7eb" by Abdel Halim Hafez - the latter's nephew Mohamad Chabana issued a statement saying that his family was not contacted by Elissa and that they had no right to object since songs can be sung by other people publicly since this is not enforced under Egyptian law, yet this is enforced for lyricists and composers.

And yet this does not apply to De22ou el Chamasi.

Go figure!  


Sunday, March 31, 2024

Zero Waste Day is lovely, but what is sustainability was elsewhere?

Apparently yesterday was "International Zero Waste Day". I was an environmentalist even before the word. I grew up in a family where nothing was thrown away, everything was "make do and mend", we lived by "waste not, want not" without even knowing it existed. We "recycled" and "upcycled" even before any of this became a fad. And even at AUB, I used to speak of all such topics way before any of this reached media and hype.

The reason though I speak of all of this today is because apparently yesterday was "International Zero Waste Day". I saw a nice segment from Spinney's - here. But it shocked me. It pretends people waste food massively. First, it ignores the ongoing crisis since 2020 where poverty have soared to almost 80% of the population (extreme poverty at 60%) and these are not just "numbers". People look in garbage containers in broad daylight.

The other thing is assumes is that people all go to supermarkets to get their food. Do you know how I get my fruits and vegetables? There is a van that passes by weekly or bi-weekly and it stops all along the village and it sells its different products. His name is Zakaria if you must know. Do people care if an apple has a small dent on it or a lettuce is not hunky dory? No they do not. Once more, the idea that everyone flocks to giant supermarkets to get their fruits and vegetables is not applicable.

Do people waste food? Not as much as one thinks at this point. Just to be clear, no, the majority of the Lebanese population does not have a degree in circularity and environmental studies. But they do have - at least since the crisis broke and devaluation (now estimated at 128%) hit - is a sense that nothing is to to be wasted. 

I spoke extensively about the "Middle Class" (here, as an example) and how it ought to be reshaped and re-labeled and reformed. And there is no shame in that. But again, where I am - that's a village, which - yes - indicative of how people purchase or behave. As I said, one does not need a university degree or major environmental theories for "sustainability" to happen. It could be, simply, a way of life to many.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Le Charcutier plays its patriotic card

Photo by Natalia Nasser

Well, this might have several meanings. But let's recap. First this is taken right next to the entrance of City Mall in Hazmieh. So? Le Charcutier does not have a branch in that mall. But, competitor Le Carrefour does. So? Well, people have been calling for boycotts left and right ever since the whole Gaza issue exploded (sadly literally). So? Well, Le Charcutier is saying "From you and part of you (local expression), Lebanese from generations" (the actual words are "abban 3an jedd" - from father to grandfather - a term that TeleLiban used masterfully in the past - here). Now if you join all these dots, what do you get? Le Charcutier (at the time the name was Le Charcutier Aoun) which started as a small shop in Ashrafieh right across where the behemoth Spinney's is located, is actually sending a subliminal message to shoppers. If shoppers will connect to the emotionality and logic of it is a different matter. Since brand loyalty is out the window as of late (and this I pointed it out several times), and since shopping is more based on convenience (the closest supermarket etc....), I doubt people will click to it.
Anyhow let me tell you this story, when Spinney's implanted itself in Achrafieh - a supermarket literally 3 streets away (St. Louis) put on banners that said: "the sons and daughters of Achrafieh will shop local and will not go to the foreigner". Well, that supermarket which for a long time was actually part of the fabric of the several streets in which it was anchored, did close not long after the banners were put.
I am not accusing "the sons and daughters of Achrafieh" or the Lebanese at large of anything. But consumers are what they are.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Potion Kitchen goes.... Jacquemus?

Remember those Jacquemus Bambino bags cruising in Paris in April 2023 which made everyone wonder if they were real of fake? (actually they were fake and the 3D artist behind them is called Ian Padgham - here). So guess who cruised the streets of Downtown Beirut? Some Potion Kitchen kits a la Jacquemus. Body-Face-Hair the kits say along with Potion Kitchen logo. Well, the difference between the two is that, in the Potion Kitchen thingy you never ask yourself "are these real?" (you actually do in the Jacquemus activation). I mean I do appreciate the effort, but the fact that is like a year too late and minus the wow factor makes it sort of redundant even if technically relatively well-done.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

IPT scores a hit for Mother's Day

IPT has nailed it indeed... What's more interesting than road signs? Road signs written by mothers! "slow down sweetie there's a curve ahead". "promise me not to go fast baby", "don't overtake cares and make me worried", "ring me once you get there", "stop darling", "I am not budging before you put the seatbelt on". "Sustainable love, nurtured by moms, fueled for life". And guess what? It works splendidly (do note, some of the terms of endearment in Arabic language could not transposed into English, so I did my best). And with this happy mother's day to all concerned.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Aramex delivers a punchy one this Ramadan

So Aramex has spoken. And spoken eloquently indeed. What seemed a "package" sent by an elderly man ends up having a very different story indeed. Whereas we do not know what is in the package, we can - from the get-go feel it is something emotional. The journey the package undertakes - one immediately assumes it is a special gift for a grandchild, or a personal memento - ends up quite different indeed. After taking us through the machinations of how the package is treated, we eventually realize it was being stocked up in an chamber with other such packages. The reason? it is destined for Gaza. But since delivery there is sort of impossible, Aramex is proposing a message of peace (log on to deliverpeace.global and register your own "salam" (peace) message). Incredibly well-played from Aramex if you ask me! See the full ad here.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Vegans, now that's a campaign with no meat in it

Photo: Bassam Karam

Now, how do you tell a campaign without a backbone? It is firing on all fronts but missing most - if not all - if its targets. Let's recap. Vegans went all out, I covered the first unipole thinking it is a stand-alone (here). Turns out there is more where it came from. The first installment was very provocative, reaching to negative psychology. The second, above, goes "did I bother you saying vegan? What if I said vegetarian, Better? OK what if I said lent food?". Just to be clear, vegan has no Arabic equivalent and "vegetarian" is "nabati" (as mentioned in the ad - and up to my knowledge vegetarian and vegan are completely different diets). As for "lent food", I am not sure it is judicious to play on religious sensibilities in a country like Lebanon. 

So between the first installment and this, I can feel that the notion was "let's fire on all angles". Or as I called prior "the spaghetti theory" - you throw the ball at the wall and see what sticks.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Decathlon: Why do companies change their logos?

Here's a thought, when a company changes its logo, it is either because it is changing its line of products, its target audience, and therefore its target market, or it has changed its whole mission statement. So when luxury companies rebrand, as in the chart below:


It was, almost always to announce the arrival of a new creative director. But such is the musical chairs play of creative directing that the turn over is so far it was not even worth it to rebrand the shops, the labels, the collections, the bags and whatever all else paraphernalia that needed rebranding. Most of the press releases when a new logo is born stress words like "humanizing" and what not. The reason is more simple. Social media. You need your logo to be as 2D as possible to be seen in places like Instagram or Tiktok.

The wave of car manufacturers who reworked their logo to fit social media is below:


 Obviously, the "flatter" your logo is, the more visible and easy to read it will be online.

With this in mind, lately, Pepsi rebranded, with a beautiful new logo (here). Chloe (the fashion house) also has a new logo which harps back to its 70s iteration (a beautiful one at that). Zara did the same - for truly unknown reasons (here). 

Which brings us to Decathlon, the latest in the chain of - I am changing my image, won't tell you why, you won't feel any difference, but let's see if it works. The old and new logo are posted on top: Here's a funny story. A friend of mine has three kids - each has a different sport hobby. She often shops at Decathlon accordingly. When I whatsapped her the image above, her reaction was: Which is which? She had no clue which was the new one (OK, to make it easier the one below), even if as a customer if should be "top of mind".

Seriously however, why bother? Sure, Decathlon phased several of their own in-house brands keeping "just" 80. People do not care about the sub-brands and just know Decathlon to be honest. And if my friend's example is of any worth - not even that well. And yet, the exercise continues - barely a week passes without any behemoth announcing they are rebranding, changing logos, changing identity - yet, I see very little of it trickling down to how their products are evolving, or how their target audience is morphing, or their positioning is.

I honestly don't get it - with 1700 shops in the world, Decathlon is up for a huge investment in changing their logo and applying it on all possible and imaginable products. What for? I have no idea.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Vegans go public in Lebanon

Photo credit: Bassam Karam

So this is an ad, not just for vegetarians - but for out and out vegans. Well, thankfully no nudity (I'd rather go naked than wear fur for Peta comes to mind). But hey, well the ad uses negative psychology by starting with "don't be a vegan" (interestingly, vegan has no translation in Arabic because "نباتي" means vegetarian "only"). So voila, once the negative psychology deployed, it continues with "because whatever is happening in the slaughterhouse resembles you". A few months ago a close friend came up with the joke "how do you know that someone is vegetarian or an AUB student? They'll tell you this right from the get-go". Well, I am an AUB student... Ooops. OK, fine, and I tried to be a vegetarian (not even vegan) long ago but well, did not work, so what I do now is really, really decrease meat as much as I can. However, I heard many reactions to the ad above, the strongest was "I just ordered a steak out of spite". I guess this covers it.

Friday, March 15, 2024

2023 A year of "Middles" - Tarek Chemaly's for Arabad

Copyright Arabad

And in Case you did not read it yet, please check this year's round up about advertising in Lebanon in the yearly issue about the country from ArabAd. Long but worth it. Here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Undo the damage. A look at the (Syrian) refugees

At this point, I have crossed the 100th Syrian refugee family asking to rent the upper floor of my house. My answer from the get-go was no. I can already see your judgement - you are "racist" (even if Syrians are not a race). OK you are "xenophobic" - and guess what? I am not. Here's my logic, the upper floor contains furniture from three different houses (dismantled beds, 3 sofas, 1 salon, 2 dining room tables with their chairs, 1 living room apart from the knick-knacks (mattresses etc...)). So, what do I do with those?

Long story short it is easy to jump to judgement when one does not know the story. Thing is, what if you twist the facts and rearrange them so that they tell the story you want? Welcome to "undo the damage before it's too late" - a campaign against Syrian refugees.

First let me tell you a story: In 2022, during the parliament elections Farid Boustani, who was campaigning for a seat in the Chouf area plastered his message in Kesserwan. What? But the logic is simple: During the war many, many, people from the Chouf area got displaced, a lot of them eventually ended up in Kesserwan (to be clear the displaced people were Christian), and despite the whole surge of rebuilding their houses in the villages they left, basically they remained in the areas they migrated to - using the Chouf houses are some sort of weekend/summer escape. 

Statistics clearly indicate that 90% of displaced people never go back home. Worse? What if they have nothing to go back to? Our immediate neighbor who is renting the house below mine had 2 restaurants and 2 houses. He lost all of them. He is now employed at a very famous restaurant in Lebanon as a chef. He is trying to build a new life knowing that back "home" there is nothing.

What about those required to serve in the Syrian army, want it or not? As soon as they cross back the border, they are wanted again. I know, I know, this is a simplistic argument but this does not mean that the original statistics used by the "stop the damage" campaign are correct (example, they claim that refugees are 40% of all Lebanese inhabitants whereas the correct number is 15%, the use photos taken from Turkey claiming they are in Lebanon etc...).

Whereas I claim no easy answer, when one goes back to what happened in Lebanon - that a major fragment of the population became displaced, one can only sympathize. But perhaps sympathy is selective.

Can it ever be Ramadan without Sherihan?

So the month of Ramadan is upon us and may it be blessed on everyone. Here's a fact: I grew up in what was known as Eastern Beirut - the Christian quarter. So I was not exactly involved in Muslim rituals. But I knew that "Ramadan" was a thing. The reason I knew is because each and every afternoon - Sherihan would show up on television to ask riddles. I can think of her "amthal" (proverbs) in 1986 when LBC was merely in its infancy and teleliban was the screen to watch still. Honestly, the riddles were sometimes too easy (like, how difficult it was to pick Spain or Japan as an answer). But beyond the riddles, it was her. Talented, mesmerizing, dancing, singing, with some gimmicky computer tricks. She managed to be the center of the show, without it even looking like she was trying hard.

Of course, I knew Sherihan as an actress as well from several programs she was in (I can think of Rahma, or the epic Daouni Aeish among others). Sure, back then I was much more interested in shows such as Magnum, or Hunter, or Night Heat. But as a testament to her talent, she would be brilliant in whatever she was in (OK, just to call a spade a spade, one of her TV shows in the 90s was... ahem, not exactly classic). Still, a lot of other actresses have done fawazeer (riddles) in Ramadan. I can think of Nelly for example. Not to throw shade on anyone any time you mention the fawazeer, people of my generation would gravitate instantly to Sherihan.

Funny, last year someone asked me when I posted a video of her on instagram "min hayde?". A young person from a much more recent generation. I explained and linked one of her Fawazeer intros. He came back aghast "this existed and I had no idea?". I always go back to the same thought, pop culture will always be the bridging gap in a society. Even when I was in East Beirut someone like Sherihan was being watched (on teleliban) by someone else in West Beirut. And if we met today, I suppose we would say "A2olak ah ah, a2olak eh eh".