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LEBANON: Beach clubs blatantly discriminate against African and Asian workers [Updated]

Summer in Lebanon is beach season, especially among the leisure class and wealthy expatriates who travel extensively and often complain of racism in the West.

But some of the country's top beach clubs that cater to these same spenders are enforcing discriminatory policies against migrant workers, most of whom hail from Asia and Africa, who work in Lebanese homes as maids and nannies.

Debate about the blatant discrimination recently reached new heights with an undercover video (above) taken of a popular Beirut beach club. The video, taken at the beachside Sporting Club, shows a cashier repeatedly refusing to grant entry to an African woman from Madagascar, described as a maid, despite the pleas of her Lebanese friends.

Waleed Abu Nasser, public relations manager at Sporting Club, defended the club's policy, pointing out that African and Asian clientele who work in the embassies or the United Nations peacekeeping forces are welcome, and that the club's policy against help extends to bodyguards and personal assistants.

"Most of my clients will not swim in a place with their employees, regardless of their color," he told Babylon & Beyond.

But, he conceded, short of examining the working papers of every person who comes to the club, the only means of determining who might be a maid is through racial profiling.

[Updated, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 7:05 a.m. PDT:  Sporting Club spokesman Waleed Abu Nasser responds extensively to the criticism in a fresh comment below.]

Lebanon-beach-clubs "Have you ever seen a Sri Lankan tourist in Lebanon? If you're Lithuanian or Russian, you are probably a working girl in a cabaret," said Abu Nasser, referring to the adult entertainment clubs where prostitution takes place.

"If one of these people were to present themselves to someone working here he would probably turn her away as well," he said. "It's not based on race. It's based on statistics.... The day we have equal amounts of tourists from these countries you will not be able to ask the same questions."

The video was shot as part of a "shame and blame" campaign against the worst-offending beach clubs, of which Sporting is just one, said Farah Salka, one of the organizers from IndyACT, a local activist group.

It has been widely circulated in the usual socially-conscious corners of the Internet, but, more importantly, said Salka, it reached a much wider audience when it was shown on several local television stations.

"At this point we are working on awareness ... we have not called for a boycott yet, but we have published a list of beaches and their policies. We do expect people not to go to those beaches, or to go but to make a big hassle," Salka told Babylon & Beyond. "We just want people to not be blind to the situation."

The rules of who is allowed in, and who is considered a maid, vary from place to place. The local news site Now Lebanon followed up on IndyACT's research by contacting several beach clubs and asking them to clarify their policies.

The report found that some establishments explicitly ban "maids," most of whom are African and Asian, regardless of whether they are coming with their employers or on their days off. Others allow them inside, but not in the pool. A representative for The Riviera, another local hot spot, told Now Lebanon that maids are allowed in as paying customers, but only if they come on their own without their employer's family and "look decent."

In the featured video, the clerk refuses to answer the Lebanese activists who accompanied the Malagasy woman as to whether she was denied entry because she was a maid or because of her skin color.

"They’re not welcome because they are maids, even on their day off," explained Abu Nasser.

Salka was not surprised by the reaction.

"When you tell them they're racist, rather than explaining they're not, they give classist or sexist arguments to replace the racist ones," Salka said. "They say that since our customers have a problem with other people from different classes, we don't let workers enter because they are from a different class, and it has nothing to do with their being black."

Salka said one beach club told her that it denied entry to nannies because "women should be taking care of their own children."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Video: A woman from Madagascar accompanied by two Lebanese activists tare turned away by a popular Lebanese beach club. Credit: IndyACT via YouTube

Comments () | Archives (17)

REPLY. to waleed abu nassar.
it is my understanding that people who require a visa into various countries are asked to offer proof of their intensions ie how much money they have with them who they are going to stay with and so on because a very large amount, do not intend to return home but get lost and hide with others that know how to work the system a huge amount of people will go to a country with a few pounds and no other form of suport yet intend to stay for months and when their stories are checket they are caught in a lie their whole reason to stay is to work cash in hand and take what they can from the country they are in , i also understand that people from australia can not enter the uk without a visa yet they fought with england in the great war.
most private clubs if they do not have memberships available will let a member bring quests race creed and colour does not come into it,of course some clubs do have outdated rules mainly places like golf clubs but the idea that this is a game only for the rich has mostly gone people from all walks of life play together even though some older members dont like it, also the pompus no longer have the money to wave in front of the working mans face as the man that collects the rubish has more in his pocket than they do. thank you

Agree that it is not about racism but rather about how rich you look. I am a businessman and dark-skinned, but have never had problems getting into Sporting or any other beach club. LOL @ Waleed Abu Nassar's comment by the way that Sporting is an elite beach club. It is mediocre, the facilities/pool have an outdated look and the only people you will find there are 40-50+ Lebanese with huge bellies and an abundance of back hair. The place is in desperate need of repainting, the pool is small, overall it is not an interesting place, doesn't look clean, and not worth your money.

What's disturbing and the reason it's so important that this is getting attention is because it's the tip of the iceberg. Human rights abuses of migrant workers in Lebanon (and other Arab countries! the rest of us are not innocent either!) happen on a daily basis and on a household level.
Maids are physically abused, they're imprisoned in homes without access to their own IDs and without access to phones or other means of communication. They work ungodly hours, they are robbed of pay and holiday and work with no form of health insurance. The problem is exacerbated by barriers in some countries to forming unions. Some organisations have been formed recently to lobby for this like mafiwasta (love the name) in the UAE.

Couldn't agree more with both Lara and Lina.

I feel ashamed that racism got to this point in Lebanon, although I know worst stories.
As a Lebanese, I'd like to apologies on behalf of the racists in this article.

Mr. Abu Nassar,

By reading about you in this article, I thought that there's no way for you to show more ignorance and racism, yet somehow you managed to pull out more in your comment.

In your own words you say: "The Sporting Club is a private business, not a public beach and YES making money is the main and only objective".
I like the way you insist "YES", do you have to scream here or what? Well, let me remind you, money and only money is the motto of thieves and criminals. I don't think that "making money"is the only motto of sporting club. Yet you still refuse a costumer according to color.

Concerning your question, When you are asked to show a bank statement and income statement for a Visa application, this to make sure that you can support yourself financially during your stay in a given country and so you don't take advantage of the health care system there and so on. It is not racism nor it gives you the right to be racist.

You insist that SADLY, social discrimination is part of everyone daily life. well, let me enlighten you brain here. NO IT'S NOT. It's you and probably the environment you're living in.

First class and business class tickets for airplanes are a product which, no matter who you are, if you pay for you will get it. It's not a relevant example at all. In you case sir, you are refusing a person which already agreed to pay the fees to enter the beach (that you should not own), you're refusal is based on racism.

Instead of having Sporting Club apologizing for the incident, you come and comment more to make things worst.

I used to have sympathy for the Lebanese people as well as the legion of Lebanese-Canadians who have been welcomed to our country. No more. There are more Lebanese people OUTSIDE of Lebanon than inside. They are living all over the world. If these people cannot ask their cousins back home to treat "foreigners" with respect, then why should we. Next time a war breaks out in your country and you need Canadian tax payers to foot the bill of your untimely exit, I'll remember this before lobbying for your help. Shame on you.

Manal, to answer your question..

NO, we will not let in to the Sporting Club ANYONE, Lebanese or foreign who does not fit the profile of a higher spend individual.

You can come stand at the door any day of the week and count the number of individuals, male & female, and familes that we turn away at the door.

Most (99 percent) are Lebanese.

To become a member at the Sporting Club, you are required to fill out an application form that we use to screen our new members.

Questions asked are: Job title, Education & reference.
Nowhere is there mention of color or race, any suggestion or reference to the opposite is pure fabrication and lies.

The Sporting Club is a private business, not a public beach and YES making money is the main and only objective.

There are clubs that do not allow children under 18, others that are for women only, others that do not like to host families, because families will not spend money, some have vip, vvip and private areas which neither you nor I can afford.

Racism exists in countries where that are two or more different races fighting over some resource or some right. Similar to sectarian feuding in Lebanon.

I insist that social discrimination, SADLY, is part of what each person practices in his/her daily life. Such social issues will definitely not be solved with a "bikini revolution" starting at the Sporting Club.

I would love for someone to explain to me why do any person applying for a visa from Lebanon to Europe or the USA, need to present a bank statement and an income statement. Is that not discrimination?

To get Rid of Discrimination, I propose that the righteous start in their own countries and set the example for the rest of us to follow. For a start, maybe you should consider getting rid of private schooling, including Ivy league Universities, get rid of elitist Clubs and associations, Get rid of reference to "first class, business Class, and coach" on airplanes and just maybe get rid of airport " random checks", that so happen "randomly" target exclusively people of darker complexion, of middle eastern origins, odd looking and with muslim names.

I am so happy this is finally out!
I love it! So well done!
I am saying this because I love my country and I want us to improve.
It does not end with discrimination, but of course there is a lot of abuse and mistreatment of domestic workers.

But the west is not better. A huge amount of racism and discrimination on a deeper level, where
Social determinants of health research has proven that poverty now is becoming more and more radicalized
This means if u look like you have a color in canada you are more likely to be poor because white people who have less education than you get the higher paying jobs.
And when u r poor ur health is worst because u have less access to healthy stuff.
There is a lot of good research on this site.
In the west the immigration system is used to create a huge class of a new form of slavery.
The research also shows that in communities where there is a lot of class discrimination( money income difference) both suffer, the richer and poorer, the richer show more morbidity rates when u compare with a society with a more equitable income distribution. The reasoning behind it is that income inequality weakens social infrastructure and cohesion.
I am reading this research now for work

My good friend and co worker who is of carrebean origin once told me she would love to visit Lebanon
I explained to her a little what the article says....-- just so that she is not shocked!

I couldn't agree with Lara more... She really spoke my mind.... I'm lebanese american and I have lived in Los Angeles most of my life... We, arabs in America are always complaining even if someone just happens to look at us in a strange way, yet we are the most racist people on earth...If this place was in Califiornia, it will be out if business in no time believe me...I have been in Beirut for few months now and I see how most lebanese treat their workers like crap... They look down on them like they're animals or like they're from another planet... It's just a shame...

Such articles make me ashamed of being Lebanese...
Shame on us for being so superficial.
Our kids and the newer generation should be taught how to respect others regardless of their race, religion, social background.
Lebanese people kneel down when they see a European or American in their country and spit on anyone who comes from Eastern Asia.
Lebanese should know they are not any better than anyone on earth, for all its worth Lebanese are hypocrits, ignorants and arrogant.
A deadly combination

There are all kind of racism in Lebanon: racial, religious and social one.
Lebanese (and Arabs in general) are a very racist people. And before someone accuses me, I am an Arab.
Arabs tend to think THEIR religion is the best (no matter christians or muslims), THEIR way of life is the best, THEIR traditions are the best. It's always their , their, their...
Lebanese are more extreme. Very selfish, only caring about their world, what they want and need.
And despite there's skin colour and religous discrimination in Lebanon, the social discimination is far more visible. It's a sick society, hypocratic.
People judge you by your appearance, like if someone wears an Armani suit, a rolex thuis person has money. They are very stupid, it's very easy to deceive the Lebanese. They live a sad life because they hide behind money. At the end they are not happy at all. These beaches are full of men and women that deceive themselves and ae relly relally sad with lots of pshicological problems.
So, these guy. Mr. Nasser, is probably a sad person who feels powerful discriminating others because if he was to go abroad he would be sadly discriminated only by the fact he's lebanese.

Someone should tell Mr. Waleed Abu Nasser that he is a narrow minded, racist, stereotypical man who characterizes people according to nationality, but how would he like it if someone classified the Lebanese population with negative characteristcs? Not so much. As if we Lebanese don't have anyone who works as a maid/nanny/housekeeper? Or who work as prostitutes/dancers in a cabaret? The only difference is they blend in more easily than those from another nationality. I only pray, Mr. Abou Nasser, that one day a diplomat/doctor/lawyer with dark coloured skin or of a 'questionable' nationailty attempts entrance to your beach and you get the slap on the face that you deserve.

I visited Lebanon a few years ago with my ex-husband, who is Nubian (which means dark skinned). And the whole week we spent there we were looked at as if we were Aliens. People would stare at us and look behind their shoulders. Not more not less.

Many Lebanese immigrants face discrimination outside their country. Ironically their own people discriminate against others at home. What a disgrace.
Racism, classism and any other type of discrimination based on national origin, occupation, etc. is WRONG!
Wasn't it Lebanon considered a progressive country in the Middel East? Shame! Shame! Shame!

I don't know what this activist is trying to do...and the translation isn't even accurate..the guy never said she cant go in because she's black. In Lebanon the only racism that exists is discrimination against your social class and how much money is in your pockets..I go to Lebanon almost every summer and have seen people of all races on beaches (Blacks, Asians, Khalijis, Europeans, Latins.. all kinds of tourists) provided they have the money to spend. On many occasions Lebanese are not allowed to go in these beaches if they look like they wont spend money once they are inside like paying 10$ for a beer or 8$ for a bottle of water. My cousins that still live in Lebanon have been denied entry on many occasions because they didn't look "rich enough" It's like there is a constant dress code everywhere everytime.

Sorry Manal but I couldn't disagree more. What do you call a society where another word for maid is "srilankieh" or "philipino". This is pure racism and being in denial does not help.

Shame on Lebanon, if you know what I mean! Shame!

Well for starter I didn't think that there are anti-racism activists in Lebanon. Didn't even quite believe that Lebanese people are racists... They're not. They discriminate according to social class and status!
Do you think those Beach clubs would deny an African-American tourist from going in if he/she looked hip, cool and got lots of money to spend?
Also, consider who is being racist here, do you think that lower to middle-class Lebanese would act discriminatory or racist? I doubt it because a poor or a working-class Lebanese family would never have maids, nannies, etc. and thus look at them as people who are equally just trying to make a living...
So I agree with you that discrimination in Lebanon is at a critical level, but that it's more based on status (and how much money you got) rather than your skin color... To be more blunt, do you think that Sporting Beach Club would let in a white laborer from a neighbouring country, if you know what I mean!


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