Thursday 11 May 2017 - Viviane Akiki
[Translated from Al-Akhbar: http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/276990]
It was not enough for the owners of "C Flow", a beach resort in Byblos, that they engage in class discrimination after trespassing and confiscating public land, by publishing an advertisement inviting students of private universities to enter the resort free of charge, which excludes students of state-owned Lebanese University, but they claimed in a call with Al-Akhbar that this offer is based on commercial agreements concluded with private universities in exchange for the latter to hold their graduation ceremonies at the C Flow resort, something the universities categorically denied when asked about such agreements.
In the view of the resort owners, and as the advertisement's subtext as published on the Byblos resort's Facebook page, expresses, "the seafront is not public property, and it is not an acquired right. It is a privilege to be enjoyed exclusively by those with money." It informs the students of the wealthiest and most expensive private universities in Lebanon that they can benefit from free admission to the resort throughout the summer season.
The advertisement almost went unnoticed, just like many advertisements that expose the vertically stratified class structure in Lebanese society, were it not for the uproar it caused by its exclusion of Lebanese University students who are the largest contingent of Lebanon's students, many of whom are from families with modest means. Yet, this class discrimination is the foundation of all private resorts in Lebanon: they have raped Lebanese beaches, trespassed over public property, and imposed high payola fees [money paid to somebody for helping you make an illegal profit] to ensure that only upper class snobs enter, not to mention their long history of racism against marginalized segments of society such as the domestic workers (foreign maids) who continue to be denied, according to the backward racist Lebanese model, swimming in the same pools and the same ocean as their Lebanese masters who bring them along to these resorts.
Resort Owner: This is my House
The owner of C Flow, Alain Mattar, says "This advertisement if the product of agreements signed by the resort with a number of private universities". He tells Al-Akhbar that "there are 16 beneficiary universities, which means there are other private universities that are not benefiting from the offer in addition to Lebanese University. We are not targeting Lebanese University or its students who should complain to their administration for failing to sign similar agreements [with us]".
Mr. Mattar, the nephew of Maronite Bishop Boulos Mattar, says, "The resort is my house and I have the right to admit whomever I wish", adding, "we began by concluding agreements with the universities three years ago, in which they hold their graduation ceremonies with us in exchange for summer-long free admission for their students. We began with 7 universities, then last year we had 12 universities, and this year we have 16 universities. This is part of doing business, and as such it has nothing to do with class discrimination or racism." Even so," adds Mattar, "This resort is my house and I have the right to admit to it whomever I wish," ignoring the fact that his resort is built on property owned by the Maronite Church which itself occupies public property owned by the Lebanese people on the beach, like other resorts, and therefore whatever Mr. Mattar considers as his house is the usurped right of the Lebanese people, a right that denies them access free and unhindered access to the beach.
The Universities Respond: We Don't Know Anything!
The attempts by the resort owner to justify his discrimination against Lebanese University students under the guise of "doing business" and "concluding commercial agreements" is blatantly denied by the very universities whose names are mentioned in the advertisement. In a call placed by Al-Akhbar with the media official at Lebanese American University (LAU), Christian Oussi, the latter says, "graduation ceremonies for our students are held at the university, and we do not conclude any such agreements with touristic resorts. We have not heard anything about this affair until now." This same information was confirmed by the Department of Student Affairs at LAU, indicating "there are no agreements or contracts with the resort in question". This is also corroborated by Therese Meraab, the head of the Department of Student Affairs at American University of Beirut (AUB), who told Al-Akhbar "There are no advertisement or commercial agreements with the resort in question, and we have nothing to do with this matter."
We are therefore faced with a blatant insolence with serious social consequences, whereby a special class of people with lots of money and connections feels excessively powerful, in collusion with State administrations and agencies and with sectarian religious institutions, to be entitled to usurp people's rights and property, in addition to be able to vent their class and racist discriminatory social diseases and protect their interests and ensure their survival, while the State plays deaf and protects these interests. Al-Akhbar tried to contact the concerned ministries, but to no avail.
The Tourism Ministry, which has oversight authority over these resorts and is responsible for monitoring any conduct that is counter to applicable standards, refrained from replying to our request. So did the Economy Ministry which is supposed to fight any monopoly over certain commodities (the beach) by a certain group (the affluent class), and the Public Works and Transportation Ministry which is considered the direct guardian over these usurped seafront public properties.
But what about Lebanese University and its stance on the discrimination against its students? The University President, Fouad Ayoub, who is known for his opposition to class discrimination, refused to discuss the matter and asked that the students be polled on the matter.
Legally, discrimination is a criminal offense punishable under the Penal Code. Typically, preferential offers targeting specific groups cover all those included in these groups. For example, weekly evening Happy Hours that offer free entry or reduced fees are open to anyone at specific times of the day, or Ladies Nights where young women are admitted free of charge without discrimination on the basis of their social status.
The President of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, Wadih Al-Asmar, says, "There is clear discrimination against Lebanese University students, since the advertisement mentions only the largest and wealthiest private universities, and the offer is not extended to students of other universities," adding, "usually, when preferential treatment is extended, it is done within specific terms and conditions in which the criterion is geographic or age-related, as for example for university students within the vicinity of the facility, which is not the case here because the resort is in Byblos and the universities targeted are distributed in remote areas of Lebanon. If indeed the resort has concluded deals with the universities, why doesn't it publish them?Why didn't it make a similar agreement with Lebanese University? What the resort owner is doing falls within commercial pratices, but even commerce has standards and laws against monopoly and discrimination."
So what are the options for confronting this practice? Al-Asmar says, "The legal response is possible because the Penal Code prohibits all forms of discrimination, but this is a long process. The fastest solution is boycott. Just as they claim it is within their right to make offers to whomever they wish, all those who reject all forms of discrimination are equally free to boycott these institutions".