A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

the sounds of silence: Beirut without mopeds

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 28, 2008

Yesterday the Interior Ministry decided that mopeds, motorbikes and motorcycles were to be banned from the city’s streets, starting at 6 pm.

This happens every so often around the region – in fact, it may happen less in Lebanon than in Jordan or Syria, where motorcycles were believed to facilitate quick getaways for would-be assassins and other opposition activists.

In this case, the intent seems to be to prevent tensions from escalating, since the ban also includes “provocative motorcades” and flag-waving. Not the Lebanese flag, and not official motorcades, although they are often fairly provocative. The ban is against the unofficial, semi-impromptu processions of cars filled with young men, holding their party’s flag out the passenger window and honking like mad as they drive through neighborhoods affiliated with an opposing party.

When H and I went out to Gemmayze last night to celebrate my friend A’s birthday, the spectacle of watching the ISF impound motorbike after motorcycle bedazzled us all. As we drove home, we saw an ISF-owned flatbed truck parked on the side of the road near the end of Riyadh al Solh, half full of designer motorcycles – and with three more lined up next to it, waiting to be loaded.

Life without mopeds certainly has its advantages: less stressful driving, for one thing. Moped and motorbike drivers tend to drive in between cars, often heading in the opposite direction. And when there is a sidewalk, they tend to consider it their “lane”.

But mopeds and even motorcycles fill a real need in Beirut: they are the transportation of those who cannot afford cars, and want more independence than the bus or services system provides. I was told that the fine for driving one now is one million Lebanese pounds, or $670. Moped drivers can’t afford a fine this steep.

I feel deeply sympathetic to the young men whose investment and whose independence have suddenly been taken from them. But I must admit that I am enjoying the equally sudden silence in my neighborhood. Beirut’s mopeds are often shy on mufflers, and some drivers actually work to increase the vrrooom-vrrooom sound.

Without them and the flag-waving rah-rah boys, the night is much more tranquil.


5 Responses to “the sounds of silence: Beirut without mopeds”

  1. Enjoy, this is a measure that would last for a couple days as usual.

  2. moose said

    Simon and Garfunkel said it best…enjoy

  3. I enjoy riding my bike as often as I can. Now I can no longer. Yes I do agree that bikers an moped riders can be a nuisance most of the time, but this does not make this law fair. This is nothing but one more example of a government that has no respect for civil liberties. I who have muched preferred the ISF or army to arrest and prosecute all those thugs who wreak havoc than to take the easy way out.

  4. […] del pais del cedro decidió que las motocicletas no pueden circular a partir de las 18:00PM. Segun adiamondinsunlight es algo más o menos común en paises cercanos como Jordania o Siria en los que las motocicles son […]

  5. Kheireddine, you are so right! Its already been modified: people with jobs can register with the interior ministry and use their mopeds between 5 am and 6 pm, and delivery drivers can use theirs until midnight.

    Moose, I do enjoy the sounds of silence, very much – but I also appreciate the need for people to get around the city. My irritation is less with the fact of motorbikes than the way people drive them here: with no muffler, and on the sidewalks/going the wrong way in traffic.

    Tfeh, your point is a good one. This decree is the case of the government letting a few bad apples spoil the barrel – which is unfair to the good apples. As we all know, the decree wasn’t about a street safety issue, or even a quality-of-life issue – it was meant to deal with a political issue.

    Blog motos, gracias por incluir mi poste en su blog 🙂

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