Freedom and Class

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In Beirut Airport there is only one company enjoying the right to rob travelers. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Rami Zurayk

Published Saturday, September 15, 2012

In this weird and wonderful place that we call Lebanon, there are mysteries that cannot easily be unravelled. Some carry great significance and go right to the core of our lives, such as the secret behind our blind submission to sectarian leaders despite knowledge of their rampant corruption and hypocrisy. Some are minute, of no consequence if taken each on their own, but there are so many of them that they drown us in a sea of anxiety and distress.

For example, who can shed light on the collective inability to explain certain prices, such as the cost of refreshments at the Beirut International Airport coffee shop? Who can explain why a cappuccino, served in a paper cup in a self-service cafe, without the need to employ a waiter, costs 7,500 LL ($5)?

No one will give us the answer in a country that has its own unique free market rules, based on giving absolute monopoly to those who control the country, thereby limiting competition to those powerful people and the leading politicians who support them.

In Beirut Airport there is only one company enjoying the right to rob travelers. The obvious result of this systematic robbery is that travelers are separated out according to their social class: the rich sit in the cafe while the poor watch them from afar, dreaming of a cup of coffee to wake them up a little.

Although the class division is clear, the company running the cafe does not practice social Apartheid.

It is a civilized company, aware of its social responsibility and careful to play its part in protecting the environment. It is also concerned enough to educate its customers by printing valuable information on caring for the environment and the company’s green credentials such as lowering emissions from greenhouse gases, sustainable forest management, recycling and reusing resources.

The company boasts about its revolutionary stance and calls itself an “environmental warrior” – in English, since anyone who can afford to pay ten times its worth for a small bottle of water has to be fluent in English. And to those who can only speak Arabic, we say “hard luck” (in English). And no coffee.

Rami Zurayk is Al-Akhbar's environment columnist and author of the blog Land and People.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Excellent article. Not only are these cafes a rip-off the people who work there are grumpy and surly. One can only wonder which greedy politician owns them!

you forgot an important category in ur framework. the super rich don't go to the cafe at all. they go straight to the lounge, where they get to drink coffee and anything else for free. one of the other very strange phenomena that exist in lebanon (and elsewhere) is that the richer you are, the more help you get from ur peers.

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