Racist Business as Usual at Beirut Airport

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“Even if you complain, this will be thrown away and we dare you to do anything about it.” (Photo: Bilal Jawich)

By: Leah Caldwell

Published Monday, October 8, 2012

Beirut - On October 6, this past Saturday, Abed Shaheen was waiting at Gate 11 in Beirut’s Rafik Hariri Airport to board a late afternoon Dubai-bound flight.

To him, there was nothing exceptional about the passengers waiting to board the Air Arabia flight; it was the usual diverse mix of people that often travel from Beirut to Dubai, and vice versa.

Then, an airport employee, a woman in her late 20s wearing the signature turquoise blue of Middle East Airlines (MEA), stood at the counter of Gate 11 and made an announcement. Shaheen could hardly believe what he heard next. “Filipino people stop talking,” she shouted in English. She then turned to her male counterpart beside her and laughed.

She continued with a slightly modified warning, in what Shaheen described as a sarcastic tone, “Filipino Nepal people – talking not allowed here.”

She directed her comments toward a group of women, who, once in seemingly high spirits, were now silent. The other passengers who had queued for boarding weren’t impressed with the employee’s “joke.” Shaheen, unwilling to let her continue, approached the counter and “made a scene,” as he described it. The male employee threatened to void his ticket and the female employee chimed in, “Management doesn’t even want this kind of people on the flight,” and, “Even if you complain, this will be thrown away and we dare you to do anything about it.”

The employees then went about business as usual, validating boarding passes for the already delayed flight.

As is custom with stories so repulsive that they border on unbelievable, Shaheen posted it on Facebook. He also filed a complaint with Air Arabia – even though it was not their employee – and then wrote an email to MEA Ground Handling’s general manager Richard Mujais.

In a phone call with Al-Akhbar, Mujais said of the incident, “This is not acceptable. It’s not within our culture – our staff are not trained this way. We have to investigate the situation and see what has happened.”

Mujais wouldn’t give details on what an investigation would entail nor how long it would take, but he said, “We’re not going to ignore it if that’s what you’re worried about. It will be taken into full account, that I can assure you.”

Asked if this has happened in the past, he said no, that this was an “odd” and “most unusual” case. “In our profession the customer is right – he’s always right – but we have to check and see,” he said.

Even if Mujais doesn’t see this incident as indicative of wider trends at the Beirut airport, one look at the arrivals terminal would prove otherwise.

When planes offload at the Beirut airport, most arriving passengers – after immigration and customs – are free to leave the airport. Female domestic workers, who arrive mostly via Doha and Dubai, are not. They are escorted off the planes by tan-uniformed officers to a room marked “General Security” where they wait to be retrieved by their future employers.

In the makeshift waiting area facing the holding center, rows of metal chairs face a flat-screen television that reads, “Claim Domestic Workers” in Arabic. Below it, a ticket dispenser assigns numbers to Lebanese who have arrived to “claim” their worker. The electronic display uses the Arabic word istilam for claim – the same word employed at the nearby baggage pick-up.

The Lebanese who have taken a ticket from the dispenser sit patiently in the chairs and look on as dozens of women enter the restricted room. Over the course of an hour watching the room, only three women are “claimed” by their future employers. The moment of tradeoff is sealed when the General Security officer leads the woman from the room and hands the new arrivee’s passport directly to the employer. On this day, two of the three Lebanese returned the passports immediately to their rightful owners.

The General Security outpost at the airport is just one of the physical nodes of global labor control designed to keep track of incoming workers, but it also helps explain how the MEA ground employee’s action wasn’t just another example of casual racism. While there’s no doubt that the employee was acting on her own deplorable racist sentiments, she might’ve felt that a little rough talk to keep these “Nepal Filipinos” in line was a part of her job. Even sadder is the realization that the airport employee, in her assessment of management not wanting these “kind of people” on the flight, might have been speaking the truth as she knew it.


Good post and thanks for sharing this!here

People should put effort in reducing such violent thing as racism. We are all people and should be treated equally.

I am unsure if people reading and commenting about this article are aware of this, but the racist and unprofessional woman who made this clearly unacceptable announcement has now been fired by Beirut, quite appropriately.


I think it is unfair to label all Lebanese as racist, especially given that the airport authorities have taken appropriate action.

I worked with a lady from the Philippines years ago and I was recently on a course with a lady from the Philippines. Sweet natured and intelligent and make good friends. The Sudanese Arabs are another people that I have enjoyed good relations with and favour above the rest of the Arabs.
The Lebanese I avoid like the plague. They are loud, racist and hate other Arabs and each other. I'm generalising and feel for them through all their suffering but they are annoying to say the least.

I wonder exactly who is being racist now.

This is absolutely astounding , unprofessional , condasending and requires immediate action and investigation. As this trend of racism is absolutely unacceptable and contradicts with the cultural norms and core values of our society and humanity at large . In the 21st century .......can't believe this ????

To the stupid racist talking about filipinos , I don't think you are a Swiss and talking about them remember you are Lebanesee the loudest people in the world who have never been trained to wait in a line. Go to any airport in the world and you can recognize the Lebanese chaos.
That's our problem we think we are on top of the world although we know nothing about civilization.

From another lebanese, amen. Our smart people left the country and only the dumb are left.

Your too racist to pinpoint only the "Filipinos" are stubborn and have a terrible attitude, please check yourself if your civilized enough to treat other nationality with your own standard, if you have some bad personal experiences from the Filipinos please dont generalize it since your nationality is also NOT PERFECT as what you expected, or it is worst than you think....

Every time i think we hit the lowest level then something happens and we sink even lower. It seems there is no bottom to the pit.

In the end though all these people from all these countries we feel superior to will manage to build respectable nations for themselves while we continuously fail our human decency test.


Well, they probably ask for such treatment and they got what they deserved, Filipino "people"!

From a very close personal experience with Filipinos, they have a problem comprehending gentle and polite requests, they're stubborn and have a terrible attitude in general, hence why she had to say it to them million times, did they stop talking? Most definitely not, I bet.

Add to that that they have one of the loudest and most annoying voices on earth, especially when they're in groups. It's a very good treatment for those who have low blood pressure, after hearing them talking/shouting for few minutes your blood pressures will hit the roof.

They don't show any respect or understand simple rules of public spaces or behave themselves at all, so I don't think they deserve any better treatment than what they're getting everywhere, not just from Lebanese.

Once they start to act and behave like civilized human beings, they'll be treated like ones, till then they will continue to be treated like they deserve.

Respect is gained and not demanded, period.

no wonder you posted as 'Anonymous'... honestly, i think you're so narrow-minded, you could peep through a key hole with both eyes... what you need is to travel some more, get to better know the peoples of the world, and maybe read a few books to become slightly more civilised. until then, take care.

ive never written a comment to anything anyone has ever said, but i have to say you are the MOST pathetic human being i could ever imagine... seriously... clearly the only uncivilised "people" here is YOU.

Seriously!!!!! what kind of person are you!
I dnt even know what to reply to your comment because am sure your little mind won't comprehend it!
Do me a favor and renounce your Lebanese nationality and please grab any book related to human rights and racism or about stereotyping a whole nation and ethnocentrism (yes its a big word I know google what it means),and read it! I know with your thick head you will find it hard at first but you will get used to it. And if that doesn't prove to you how racist your comment is, well dear anonymous i believe your a hopeless case!

If you can't respect other cultures, at the very least, be civil. CIVILITY, apparently, is very elusive with people like you.

Is your comment serious??
Talking about Fillipinos as if lebanese are quite and civilized
They are the most annoying and THE loudest!!
I cant believe people like you even deserve to live!
The rest of the world shouldnt respect Lebanese when there's people like you talking on the behalf of us

Go die or something ! Seriously!!

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