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The MENA Blogs Part 4 – Driving Lessons in Lebanon

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This blog post is the fourth in a series of posts from =mc’s Senior Associate Consultant Laurence Brady, who is currently undertaking an exciting piece of fundraising work in the Middle East and North Africa. During his time on the project, Laurence will be writing regular blog posts in a series called ‘The MENA Blogs’.


In the second of the Bourne films starring Matt Damon, Jason Bourne is pursued by the authorities on the streets of Moscow. Taking the wheel of a taxi he causes carnage and mayhem in the city centre before eluding both the FSB and the police.

Arriving in Beirut, I wondered whether learner drivers were required to memorise this film sequence as part of their driving test. At least Jason Bourne had the excuse of being shot, half-crazed and suffering from amnesia before he got in the taxi. Unless all of Beirut’s drivers are making a conscious effort to model their driving style on Bourne’s Russian example, they have no such excuse.

Not wishing to distract Gussmut, my driver, too much, I tell him I come from Scotland. ‘Ah yes. Stockholm’, he says.
‘No. Stockholm is in Sweden’.
‘Yes, yes of course. George Galloway’.
‘George Galloway. I love George Galloway very much’.
‘George Galloway, the politician’?
‘Yes. George Galloway for President’.

Badly shaken, I arrive at SHAMS, the performing arts organisation that I am visiting and I ask Fadi, the chairman who is an actor and director works in television and theatre. He confirms that George Galloway is ‘an anchor’ on Lebanese television. An anchor, he repeats, staring at me.

Later, my host, Abdo, whose own car has a dent the length of the rear back door, tells me that in Beirut you have to be aggressive on the road. ‘You have to push, push, push’, he says. ‘If there is a space in front of you, you go for it’. There are no rules, except your own, it seems. ‘If you don’t take that approach on the streets of Beirut, you cannot drive here’.

Coming from such a gentle, mature, softly spoken and artistic man, I am taken aback. I shouldn’t have been. Abdo lives in a city of one million people where there is constant struggle between competing political and religious groups, where instability is the norm. You have to stand your ground, whether you are driving or just trying to get something done. Abdo gives me the example of trying to set up a meeting with one of the socially responsible banks for me. He left messages, sent e-mails and got no response. His next step was to leave the most angry and aggressive answer phone message he could muster. The lady called back in less than 10 minutes he told me.

I think back to my first Lebanese driving lesson with Gussmut. We fired through another red light into the oncoming traffic when Gussmut reached for his mobile phone. ‘Let me show you a picture of my son, Hadi’.

Laurence Brady

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