Beirut’s sex tourism, sex industry, sex work - and a pimp’s voice

Laura Agustín's picture

I notice that more of these reports from around the world are asking pimps for information, particularly about money issues. The voice of the pimp usually brags, claims terrific success, high earnings. Sex workers sound like passive objects indeed. Take, for example, the report from Malaysia. But rather than discount everything these businessmen say, I listen to the logistical information they provide. Note in this story about Beirut how arrangements are made between tourists and sex workers - not so different from those mentioned in a recent post about seamen, ships in port and party girls. Note, too, that the first sex tourist mentioned is a young Saudi woman who enjoys freedom and night life in Beirut: no mention of paying for sex in her case.

The concept of sex tourism is another that gets thrown around without much investigation about what it means in specific circumstances. Many people on holiday feel like experimenting, want to go wild, enjoy breaking their hometown’s sexual norms. Paying may be involved, but payments may be made to guides, translators and natives who present as pick-ups. To say sex tourist is to imply that someone conspired to travel abroad for the express purpose of having sex; more often tourists buy all sorts of services, sometimes including sex, and sometimes not getting what they bargained for.

I talked not long ago about different prices for sex workers from different ethnic groups, in relation to a sign in Hong Kong. This issue arises here, too.

Beirut’s seamy side offers sex and fun for Arab tourists

22 August 2009, dpa

Beirut: On the surface, the Mediterranean coastal city of Beirut is an upmarket tourist destination, offering Arab tourists good weather, good food, and good times. But beyond the tables heavy with food and the shining lights, Beirut’s greatest attraction is sex. Arab tourists flock in the thousands to Lebanon from Gulf countries every summer. More and more, Arab men seem to be attracted by the growing opportunities to engage in sex tourism.

Lebanon has long been known to cater to all desires: a place where Arab tourists can break taboos they must contend with in their home countries. Some just want some freedom. Hind, an 18-year-old Saudi girl, is spending her summer in Lebanon, enjoying the chance to show off her striking red lipstick, large black eyes and black veil. She cruises in her three-wheel all-terrain vehicle at midnight in the overcrowded main streets of Aley, a town 30 kilometres from Beirut, where most of the cafes and restaurants are packed with Gulf tourists and Lebanese expatriates.  “For me this is total freedom, I can meet people and enjoy the night life as well,” Hind told the German Press Agency dpa.

But much of the growing tourism industry is still focused on men interested in sex. One man from Saudi Arabia, who requested not to be identified told dpa, “in Beirut there is good life, good weather, good service and most of all beautiful girls.” Lebanese women - with their outgoing characters, love of life and, most of all, their trendy European looks - have in recent years become central to attracting more Arab tourists into the country.

One of the hottest spots for such tourism is Maameltein, the red- light district of Lebanon, 20 kilometres north of Beirut. It’s a place where Arab tourists can watch beautiful women from Belarus, Ukraine, and Romania performing naked on stage. A night out with one of the dancers can cost 1,000 dollars.

One pimp in Maameltein, who asked to be identified as Carlos, told dpa that there’s no shortage of women, either local or from Europe, in Maameltein. ‘The rates vary, the Eastern European girls are the most highly paid, Lebanese come next, and then Iraqis,’ Carlos said. ‘During the summer our main clients are men from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states, while in winter we have many Lebanese clients,’ he said. In his late 40s, Carlos is often described as the best pimp in the district, catering to a clientele of mostly rich Saudi men.

Touring Maameltein with Carlos, one can see dozens of cars packed with young and middle-aged Gulf tourists cruising the area to get what Carlos describes as a ‘good catch.’ During the drive, Carlos receives calls from his clients. ‘My friend, I need three Ukrainian and one Lebanese for tonight to come to a party at my residence,’ Carlos quoted the caller, whom he said was from Saudi Arabia. This would cost ‘between 5,000 and 6,000 dollars per night because this is delivery to the residence,’ he said, puffing a large cigar.

Elsewhere, many of the women are Iraqis who have fled their wartorn country and discovered prostitution as an easy way to earn money. ‘I fled to Lebanon after the war in Iraq, with my mother and sister after my father and two brothers were killed,’ said one woman who wanted to be identified as Noura. ‘We were without money, so we started working here.’ Noura, her mother and sister work in three different bars. I know this is not a good job but we want to live and this is the easiest way to earn a living,’ she said, waving goodbye as her client arrived.

Noura’s pimp, who asked to be identified as Kamal, said Iraqi women find that ‘this is their only means of survival, especially if they have no other training or skills in which to support themselves.’ Asked the rate for an Iraqi woman, Kamal says: ‘If they are virgins and it is their first time, I can get a good price: between 1,000 and 1,500 dollars. If they are experienced, then it’s between 400 and 500 dollars.’ As for Lebanese women, ‘we sell them only to foreign men for fear that one day their families would know about their secret job,’ added Kamal. ‘I can tell you this has been a good season this year for us here,’ Kamal said as he drove away.

Prostitution in Lebanon is practised undercover after a 1998 law forbidding brothels. Legal licenses are limited to places offering sex shows. Many local groups are have started to work with young girls working in the industry. Dar al-Amal, or ‘House of Hope,’ was established in 1969. It says part of its main mission is to help children and adults ‘re-establish their dignity and recapture the meaning of their lives’ after leaving the sex industry.

‘In the old days prostitution houses were closely observed by the government. But now? Chaos. The rise of the sex industry in Lebanon is a threat to Lebanese society and Lebanon’s reputation in the Arab world and Europe,’ says Hoda al-Kara, head of Dar al-Amal.

(Posted at Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex)

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