The Weekly Leaks: The Lebanese Sex Industry Up-Close

Here’s an article I wrote back in August, but never came around to posting it. Forgive me if there are now-outdated or redundant information. I hope this will shed some light and separate rumor from fact.

Your parents, probably your dad, will remember a time before the Lebanese Civil War when a whole district in Beirut was dedicated to the country’s sex industry. Neon lights would display the names of the mistresses and patronas that could cater to your sexual urges and it was the more erotic, explicit version of Gemmayzeh or Hamra Street today.

Establishments that have erotic female performers are not illegal in Lebanon, prostitution though, is very much illegal. In other words, one could go to a strip club and enjoy the show, but paying one of the performers for sexual favors would be breaking the law.

You might wonder why the government would’ve allowed such a sex district to flourish in the pre-1975 Beirut. Well, the answer is simple. If the whole industry were limited to that one street, it would be easier to regulate and control the trade. As with every controversial product or service, the government will seek to control it through either taxation or permits, or both.

After the war erupted though, the sex district withered away just like the government that used to regulate it did. Soon enough, the show houses turned into cheap whorehouses for the fighters filled with drugs, disease and violence.

The war came and went, and the early 1990s saw the reemergence of the over-the-counter sexindustry. The erotic business seemed to take refuge in a city North of Beirut, in a district called Maameltein in the city of Jounieh.

The seaside neighborhood is notorious for its dozens of “super night clubs” as Lebanese people call them. Young women from the region and the rest of the world flock to Lebanon under the title of “artist” and end up putting up a show for a dozen or so middle-aged men.

Just like any other business, there are some that cater for the lower-income strata and of course the premium payers.  In other words, beauty and luck of a girl will determine how much she’ll get paid to perform, and maybe more.

The girls’ nationalities are traditionally thought of as Eastern European. Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Belarusian, etc. However, the recent trend has seen these nationalities go down in the past few years, and more regional and local ‘talents’ emerge. The influx of Iraqi refugees was one of the main factors that pushed for the shift from the more expensive European labor to the Arab one.

If one passes through the alleyways of Maameltein, the Eastern European influence becomes obvious, with shops and businesses oriented towards the migrant sex workers’ needs. One example that caught my eye was an “Air Moldova” travel agent, the only one in Lebanon. A few minimarkets have signs with both Russian and English or Arabic writing on them.

Now, we come to the juicy part. Women are not allowed to go in for the show. The reason behind this is unclear and whether it is the establishment’s decision or the government’s is also not well understood. The reason we were presented with by the staff was that women other than the authorized performers had no business being there, unless they were looking to pick up guy for prostitution (sorry to all female homosexuals out there, but you won’t get any luck going into super night clubs).

Therefore, if you’re a male and over 18, you should have no problem going into these clubs (at least not technically, but would you really want to be going to these places?). You could go in and have a couple of drinks just like any pub or club (like we did). However, when you pay the extra $77, you get a champagne bottle that automatically entitles you to one of the girls sitting with you at your table. Here’s where the deals usually go down.

When the girl is at the table, the man will get to know her better and if he wants to, begins to plan their future encounters. Here’s the even more juicy part. Club owners do not allow their girls to leave with the customers, but they do allow them a portion of the day to go about and do whatever they want. The clubs we visited were usually from 8:00 AM till 1:00 PM.

Yes, you understood correctly, these girls do no have the freedom to leave their designated apartments. They need the permission of their employers, which are often not the club owners themselves. In fact, when we were there, a 24-passenger bus stopped and let its two dozen, bleach-blonde haired young women go down to the super night club they were scheduled to perform in that night.

The next day, the man who had made the plans with the girl will rent out a cheap hotel room in the area, or if he is more well-off, take her to his private chalet or condo. In other words, most of these girls are at the mercy of the men that pay the most.

Most of the men are that old, if not more

It’s not always that way though, for these women are not always the victims of fraud and abuse, but the fraudulent abusers themselves. A taxi driver we ran into was in tears, the reason was that one of the girls he had hired for oral sex had stolen his stash of savings in the cushion of his car’s seat. We’ve all seen the illegitimate children that force Lebanese men to marry their European mistresses, and the Lebanese sex underground was proving to be a ruthless, chaotic scene where the law is absent.

The law is not absent though, and we were shocked to find out that the Lebanese security forces have a special “ethics branch” that deals with illegal prostitution. The undercover operatives will often pose as potential customers at super night clubs and seduce the working girls. Later, if the girl agrees to go back home with the officer and accepts payment for sex, the girl will be arrested and deported if she is a foreigner or go on trial if she is Lebanese.

Though like with any seemingly functioning body of government, the agents can get corrupt. In one super night club we visited, the bouncers chatting with my colleague admitted “the adaab (ethics guys) get paid 10k (dollars) to stop investigating the girls” for after all, even if the club’s owner is not in on the prostitution game, he has much to lose if his performers get thrown in jail or are deported.

So, for only $77 you could initiate contact, the next day have sex between 8:00 AM and 1:00 PM, pay for it, make sure the police aren’t on your back and return to your normal life or work. In the process though, remember you are breaking the law and exploiting a woman who is probably doing this because she has no other option, or because her employer is forcing her to.

We are not assigning blame in this article, nor are we pointing out the victim from the oppressor, instead, we would like to call on the government to step up its efforts to regulate and maintain this industry. After all, prostitution is the oldest job in the world, and in many countries, sexworkers have syndicates and unions. Why not restore the good old days when Beirut had a sexdistrict, properly maintained, law-abiding and free from oppression, violence, exploitation and child abuse? The main issue is the Lebanese mindset though, and unless we begin to realize the severity of the situation and how deeply it is affecting so many people, we will not be able to improve the lives of those involved nor the bad reputation that goes hand-in-hand with injustice.

The views and opinions expressed above are author’s own, and not to be taken as a official release/statement/report.