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.]
"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