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Lebanon: Women's Anger At New Tourism Campaign

The Lebanese Ministry of Tourism has just launched a new campaign called “Lebanon Blues” that targets potential tourists from around the world. The idea behind the campaign is to show what tourists who have just come back from a holiday in Lebanon will be feeling.

In the American version of the television advert, a man is depicted as having completely lost focus at work because he is still thinking about gorgeous, scantily clad Lebanese women:

Screenshot from "Lebanon Blues" television advert. By  Lebanese Ministry of Tourism.

Screenshot from "Lebanon Blues" television advert. By Lebanese Ministry of Tourism.

The television advert has caused a lot of annoyance and anger online, and a women's group has written a letter of response to the Ministry of Tourism, which some bloggers have put online:

جانب وزارة السياحة،
نحن مجموعة مواطنات لبنانيات منذ أكثر من عشر سنوات، ونشهد منذ مدة على عملية اهانة ممنهجة لنا كنساء في الأغنيات والاعلانات وشاشات التلفزيون والمقالات المختلفة في مختلف وسائل الاعلام وعلى اللوحات الاعلانية في الطرقات. مكانتنا محسومة: ستات بيوت، مع احترامنا لكل ستات البيوت، شكلنا محدد سلفا ومفروض: شقراوات، نحيلات، ذوات صدور عارمة وشفاه منفوخة، وأجسادنا منتهكة اعلانيا بغرض الاستهلاك وزيادة الأرباح. وقد كنا ولا زلنا نحارب ونكافح لمنع مثل هذه الاعلانات والرسائل المهينة.
في بلد كلبنان، نتوقع كل شيء وأي شيء في أي وقت، نتوقع اعلانا من جانب وزارة السياحة يدعو الى “الضحك رطلا تا يجوا السواح ضحكتهن رطل ويفلوا ضحكتهن رطلين”، مع أن لا شيء يسر في هذا البلد ويبعث على الضحك، واعلانا آخر يدعو الى عدم استخدام الزمور. لكن ما لا نتوقعه ولا نقبله، هو الاعلان الأخير الذي اطلقته وزارة السياحة لتستثمر فيه أجساد اللبنانيات ل”شد” السياح والزوار والمغتربين. فهل يعقل أن تلعب وزارة السياحة على وتر “لبنان كاباريه الشرق الأوسط” كي تجتذب السياح؟ ألا يمكن ان تنشط السياحة من دون الاتجار باجساد النساء؟ كيف نرضى وترضون، يا وزارتنا الكريمة، أن تصبح أجسادنا هي الهدف والمقصد لشهوة أصحاب المال الآتين؟ كيف نفهم ونتفهم أن يصبح “الحنين الى الوطن” مرتبط بأجسادنا العارية الممشوقة؟ كيف تروج وزارة السياحة لرسالة ترسخ في أذهان الجميع في الداخل والخارج، أن لبنان هو بلد يعرض نساءه للبيع كرمى لعيون السياح؟

Dear Ministry of Tourism,

We are a group of female Lebanese citizens, a group that has existed for more than ten years, and for some time we've been experiencing continuous insults and humiliation to us as women from video clips, advertisements, our television screens, all kinds of articles in all kinds of media and on billboards as well. Our occupation has been predetermined: housewives (with all due respect to housewives). Our shape has been predefined and imposed on us: blonde, skinny, with big breasts and pouting lips. Our bodies are violated in the media to increase profits. We have been and still are fighting these kinds of humiliating ads and messages.

In a country like Lebanon, we expect anything and everything at anytime. We expect an advert from the Ministry of Tourism that tells us to “Smile to tourists so they can leave smiling more”, although there's nothing to smile about in this country. And we expect another advert that asks us not to use the car horn. But what we don't expect or accept is the latest advert published by the Ministry of Tourism which uses Lebanese women's bodies to “pull” tourists and the [Lebanese] diaspora to the country. Is it acceptable for the Ministry of Tourism to promote Lebanon as the “cabaret of the Middle East” to tourists? Can't it revive tourism without selling women's bodies? Dear Ministry, how can either we or you accept our bodies becoming the goal and target of the lust of the arriving spenders? How are we supposed to understand that “Lebanon Blues” is connected to our naked bodies? How can the Ministry of Tourism promote a message to the whole world that Lebanon is a country which sells its women for the sake of the tourists?

ثم أن اعلانكم هذا ينضوي على تناقضات خطيرة، نود لو تجيبون عنها:
أولا، نحن كنساء لا يمكننا منح الجنسية اللبنانية لأولادنا وأزواجنا، نعتبر بنات لرجال لبنانيين ولسنا لبنانيات، وبالتالي لا يمكنكم استغلالنا في دعايتكم السياحية.
ثانيا، انطلاقا من احترامنا لعاملات الجنس، ومطالبتنا الدائمة بقوانين تنظم عملهن وتحميهن وتحمي سلامتهن وحقوقهن وكراماتهن وسلامتهن الصحية، نطالبكم كوزارة للسياحة، اما بوقف هذا الانفصام الذي يروج للبنان كبلد للسياحة الجنسية فيما عاملات الجنس فيه يعانين أسوأ الأوضاع وأبشع انواع الاستغلال والاهانة والاستبداد والظلم، أو اطلاق حملة لتنظيم عمل هؤلاء النسوة وتشريع عملهن بمراقبة واشراف السلطات المختصة بعيدا عن الفساد.

Your ad contains serious contradictions that we would like you answer:

Firstly, we as women cannot pass our nationality to our children and husbands; we are considered daughters of Lebanese men and not Lebanese women. Therefore you cannot use us in your tourism advert.

Secondly, based on our respect for sex workers and our ongoing demands for laws to regulate their work and protect their safety, rights and health, we ask you as the Ministry of Tourism either to: stop this two-sided stance whereby you promote Lebanon as a country for sex tourism while sex workers in it suffer and are exploited horribly and subjected to humiliation and injustice; or launch a campaign to organize the work of these women and legalize it with proper supervision by specialized and non-corrupt authorities.

ثالثا، انطلاقا من ايماننا بحرية الملبس والحريات الجسدية، بعيدا عن الاتجار بالجسد والاستغلال لأجسادنا كنساء، نود أن نسأل عن موقف وزارة الداخلية من اعلان كهذا تطلقه زميلتها وزارة السياحة، في وقت تجهد هي لتطبيق “قانون الاحتشام” ومراقبة أجساد النساء اللبنانيات وتغريمهن في حال “تجاوزن خطوط الاحتشام الحمراء”. كما نود ان نستفسر، واعذروا جهلنا، كيف تروجون للبنان على انه بلد “الحريات الجنسية” وان لم تكتبوها حرفيا في نهاية اعلانكم، في وقت لا زال جميع المواطنين والمواطنات تحت سيف المادة 534 وغيرها من المواد التي تراقب حياتهم الجنسية وتقرر ما هو “الجنس المقبول” وما هو “الجنس غير المقبول”، وتفتح الزنازين لل”مخالفين” و”المخالفات” من صاحبات الاجساد الممشوقة الواردة في الاعلان، وغيرها.
رابعا، كيف تسمح وزارة السياحة لنفسها باستفزازنا كنساء والاتجار بنا، في وقت ما زلنا فيه نتعرض للعنف والتحرش والاغتصاب ولأجور غير عادلة وغير مساوية، في غياب أي قوانين تلغي التمييز الجندري ضدنا وتحمينا من عنف وتسلط المجتمع الذكوري؟ كيف تستفزوننا بهذه الصور الوهمية والكاذبة عنا لجني الأرباح على حساب آلامنا وحقيقتنا البائسة؟

Thirdly, based on our beliefs in physical freedoms, far from human trafficking and the exploitation of our bodies as women, we would like to ask about the position of the Ministry of Interior regarding such an advert published by its close associate, the Ministry of Tourism, at the very same time it is striving to impose the “decency law“, watching Lebanese women’s bodies and fining them in case they “cross the red line of decency”. We would like to also ask, and excuse our ignorance, how could you promote Lebanon as a land of “sexual freedom” (even if you didn't write or say as much explicitly at the end of your advert) at a time when every citizen is still subject to article 534 and others that monitor their sex lives and decides for them what is “acceptable sex” and what is “unacceptable”? And also opens up its jails to the “outlaws” amongst the owners of the bodies portrayed in their advert, and others?

Fourth, how dare the Ministry of Tourism provoke us this way and “sell us”, when we are still subject to violence, harassment, rape and unfair and unequal wages, with an absence of any laws prohibiting gender discrimination against us and protecting us from the violence of a male-dominated society? How could you provoke us with these delusional and lying images to simply make profit, disregarding our pain and miserable truth?

The letter concludes:

الحقيقة ليست أننا نساء “متحررات” نرتدي البيكيني ونسهر طوال الليل في المنتجعات. الحقيقة هي اننا محرومات وفقيرات ومظلومات ومقموعات، وأجسادنا التي تتغنون بتحررها، ما زالت تخضع لألف قيد وقيد اجتماعي وأسري وقانوني واقتصادي.
اننا كنساء متضررات ومهانات، نطالب وزارة السياحة بسحب هذا الاعلان فورا، والاعتذار عنه، لأن أجسادنا ليست تفاحا بلديا تعرضه وزارة السياحة على المشترين كي يزوروا “الوطن” ويختاروا منه ما لذ لهم وطاب.
كما نؤكد اننا سنكون بالمرصاد لأي اعلان آخر سيء لنا ولحريتنا وكياننا الشخصي المستقل، وسنحرص على ملاحقة المسؤولين عن هذه الاعلانات قضائيا من الأن فصاعدا.

The truth is that we are not “free” women wearing bikinis and partying all night. The truth is that we are deprived, poor and oppressed. Our bodies which you say are free, are still subject to many social, domestic, legal and economic restraints.

We, as injured and humiliated women, ask the Ministry of Tourism to recall this advert immediately and to apologize for this insult. Because out bodies aren't delicious fruit to offer to consumers so they will visit the “homeland” to pick out what they desire.

We also assure you we'll be watching out for any other adverts offensive to us and our independent and free selves. And from now on, we'll be after whoever is responsible for this type of advertising and will be prosecuting them as well.

Below are some of the reactions on Twitter to the advertisement:

@SamerKoussa: Is this what you think #Lebanon is all about? #Tfeh

@migheille: oh wow lebanese ministry of tourism has officially put leb women on sale #mustCheck #WTF

@abzzyy: Shame on Lebanese Ministry of Tourism #Fail #ImpactBBDO

@UxSoup: Lebanon is not exactly mecca or the vatican. They are advertising what is really happening.Sex sells. Live with it.

@migheille: @UxSoup no country is mecca or vatican – all ladies in all countries are hot – show me another ministry that did same ad?

@Fishful_Thinkin: Creativity has taken a back seat to capitalism. #Fail. Shame #Lebanon.

Lebanon has now spent a second month without a government; will Lebanese women feel more respected by the upcoming one?

  • Doha

    This is not the first time to watch such ads,
    the most provoking ads are those put in the MEA airplanes
    it’s all about girls, bikinis, and nightclubs….


  • Mich

    A lot of bloggers wrote about “Lebanon Blues” too. You can see my take and that of other bloggers at Mich Cafe —

    I actually ask the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism to give me the job of advertising Lebanon! :-)

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  • Christine

    I can’t believe that someone is actually finding any logic between a simple tourism ad and the women’s rights cause!!!!!
    I am a woman and i would like to have my rights! defenitely!!!!
    But linking a cute/funny ad to this cause and making a fuss about it????? that can’t be right!
    Honestly, I’ve reviewed the ads several times and I’m still not feeling offended. Actually they portray a nice and vibrant vision of Lebanon, close to us (young educated generation) and I feel I can relate to them. The ads are fun and it’s illogical to turn them into a drama issue!

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  • rida khodr

    Even if the american blues is true, the minister and his general secretary (miss know-it-all), could have refused their adv agency’s cheap idea that is embaressing for both leb males and females.
    Btw, did u ever think that u are setting high expectations for the experience in lebanon (this is very wrong from a communication point of view)?? hello, we still have no roads or electricity

    And who said the americans would care for such an ad and fly 20 hours to see nice girls in a club – did you hear of las vegas or miami …??????

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