Dom Research Center   News Clippings: Lebanon

"They come in their big cars and make promises they never keep"
in The Beirut Daily Star, June 13, 1998
By Nada Al-Awar and Morshed Dandash

Mohammed Nouri may not be able to read the letters and figures on his quarterly electricity bills but he prides himself on always paying them on time, "even when I have to sell something from our home to do it."
He keeps the folded and now fading pile of bills in a plastic bucket in the corner of the living room, covered with a heavy blanket for safe-keeping. Spread out on the worn carpet before him, the sight of the bills inspires satisfaction. "Other people in the village steal their electricity but we never wanted to do that," he said.
His wife, Fawzieh, is equally in awe of the written word. She produces a laminated Lebanese identity card that is fraying at the edges and looks on while it is being read with a mixture of wonder and anxiety. Although she does not know exactly what the card says, she is aware of its importance.
But despite their citizenship status the Nouris, and their brood of 14 children, are barely able to eke out a living. And since moving in the early 1980s into a three-room concrete house in the village of Qasr on the desert plains of northern Hermel, they have felt like outcasts. As settled gypsies and Sunnis in a predominantly Shiite district, they have been unable to integrate into the local population. Not surprisingly, their status as outsiders becomes particularly apparent during electoral campaigns. "They don't even say hello to us except just before elections," said Mohammed. "Then they come in their big cars to tell us to vote and make promises they never keep." Mohammed has no illusions about political parties in the district, regardless of what they claim, "they always take care of their own first." He is also convinced that on the rare occasions Qasr receives financial aid for development projects, local zaims help themselves to most of it.
Tomorrow's elections will make little difference to the 100 or so gypsies-all relatives-who live in the village. "We've tried a lot of officials, and none of them has been willing to help us," Mohammed said.
The Nouri family may have the electricity to keep their two TV sets on all day-with the sound turned off when guests arrive-but they have no running water or connection to a sewage network. And some of the youngest of the ever-growing family, that now includes six grandchildren, sleep in a tent by the house in the summer.
The scarcity and expense of health services have had an immediate effect on the family. Four of the children, two boys and two girls, are disabled due, Fawzieh said rather vaguely, to "a terrible fever" during infancy. She said they had not been immunised. The boys, both of whom are unable to walk, have been in a hospital in Beirut for the last couple of years. The girls, Fatimeh, 14, and Samaher, six, are both deaf.
Abbas and Adnan, ten and nine respectively, are proud to be the only two of the children ever to have had any schooling. Both in first grade, they wrote their names on a piece of paper as the whole family looked on. They will remain in school until the generosity of a local benefactress wears out, said Fawzieh. And if they have to stop going to school? "They'll have to work as labourers like I have," Mohammed said with regret.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of each individual author. The views and opinions do not represent those held by the Dom Research Center.

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