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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[LINK] Is Beirut’s Reputation for LGBT Tolerance a Myth?

Is Beirut’s Reputation for LGBT Tolerance a Myth?Feargus O’Sullivan article at The Atlantic Cities suggests that tolerance of GLBT populations in Beirut is real, but that it’s important not to confuse toleration with acceptance.

Since the Civil War ended in 1990, Lebanon’s various governments have been keen to present a Western face. This yen has a long history in Lebanon, where much education beyond primary level takes places in French and English. It taps into a tendency among some Christian Lebanese to identify themselves not as Arabs but as descendants of the ancient Phoenicians, a self-identification only strengthened during interwar French rule. In more recent years, this Western orientation has exhibited itself through cautious social tolerance mixed with neo-liberal economic policies, a shift that can be seen clearly on the streets of Beirut.

Beirut’s high-end consumer culture and party scene have consequently boomed, attracting tourists from elsewhere in the Middle East who are keen to wear fewer clothes and drink alcohol more freely, as well as Europeans discovering cafes, bars and beach clubs that wouldn’t be out of place in Barcelona or Mykonos. This liberal attitude has had some interesting side effects – it has helped, for example, the spread of reality TV made in Beirut throughout the Arab world, as Big Brother-style shows that mix genders are easier to produce there without raising social hackles. Accompanying this post-war reboot have been many problems residents of Western cities will also recognize. Beirut’s city center has seen a contested land grab by government-linked companies, the displacement of poorer Beirutis from the area and an ongoing speculative building boom that has seen old structures bulldozed to make way for luxury high-rises.

This anything-goes approach has appealed to some Lebanese governments’ Western allies. It has also helped to promote Beirut’s hedonistic reputation within the Middle East (the city and its environs are also a regional center for the sex industry), a reputation that has proved lucrative. Coupled with brave campaigning activities from LGBT activists, it has given some currency to the idea that permitting activities traditionally considered unsalubrious can have its advantages as long as they remain reasonably covert (and, allegedly, as long as those involved pay off the right people).

Lebanon’s complex inter-community politics have also helped. With a population divided into many religious and ethnic groups, there is a long history of leaving people to police themselves providing they don’t step beyond the confines of their group. Managing the divisions within Lebanese society takes so much energy and focus that politicians are usually too busy to sweat the presence of a few low-key gay bars.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 31, 2013 at 3:39 am

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