With Lebanon’s security situation worsening every day, business is booming for the country’s illegal arms dealers. With a porous border with Syria next door and vast stockpiles of weapons left over from the country’s civil war, anyone with enough cash can buy any weapon they want, no questions asked - so VICE News went window shopping to see what’s availableG
Assaad Awad makes fashion that scares the living shit out of people. This Lebanese-born, Madrid-based designer spent 14 years in advertising before quitting to open up his own workshop, and today he specializes in outfits and accessories that wouldn’t be out of place in a Flash Gordon villain’s filthy rape basement.
Assaad has made reflective gold and silver armor for a Thierry Mugler Paris Fashion Week show, a dress made out of wood for Lady Gaga, and ancient Egyptian-esque crowns for Madonna’s 2012 Super Bowl halftime performance. He also crafts bondage gear for a less famous and much odder private clientele, which is mostly what I wanted to talk to him about when I met him (at his suggestion) in the cellar of a Madrid fetish shop.
VICE: How does someone raised in a very conservative country like Lebanon become a luxury fetish designer? Assaad Awad: It doesn’t matter where you’re born—if the fetish is inside you it will come out at some point in your life. You simply cannot hide it. It will come out sooner or later. And sooner is better, because we only live once.
What’s sex like in Lebanon? There’s a lot of respect. It’s like cooking in a microwave versus three hours on a low flame—the way it tastes is better, you get to where you want to be, and everything explodes.
I’m not sure I get what you mean. In Europe, you go out for a drink, you get tipsy, flirt with someone, take them home, have sex, and don’t even ask for his or her name. That is microwave sex. On the other hand, because of the taboos in the Arab world, fetish sex [in Lebanon] has a totally different approach. It is cooked on coal, the old-fashioned way. As we all know, the longer you cook on a low flame, the more the taste is enhanced. This is the way it’s done where I come from. You heat up your partner, meet them more than once, and then invite him or her to taste your recipe. That’s what I call a hot dish.
With the rule of law no longer in effect in Tripoli, Lebanon, warlords like Sunni commander Ziad Allouki are now the city’s real rulers. VICE News hung out with him and his fighters for a week to discover why they’re fighting, and if the country really is on the brink of civil war.
War in Syria is dragging neighboring Lebanon to the edge of the abyss. Nowhere is the growing chaos more stark than in the second city of Tripoli. Sunni militants aligned with the Syrian rebels clash with fighters from the city’s encircled Alawite minority—who support the Assad regime—in bitter street fighting that the country’s weak government seems powerless to stop.
With the rule of law no longer in effect in Tripoli, warlords like Sunni commander Ziad Allouki are now the city’s real rulers. VICE News hung out with him and his fighters for a week to discover why they’re fighting and if the country really is on the brink of civil war.
I Spent Six Months in Lebanon’s Most Notorious Prison
VICE: Hi Khodr. What were the reasons for your detention? Khodr: It was related to my activities and connections with members of the Free Syrian Army, particularly from al-Zabadani [a city in south-western Syria, close to the Lebanese border], who were probably under surveillance. They were buying weapons from Palestinian militias in Ain el-Hilweh [the Palestinian refugee camp in the southern city of Saida] and others, including Shia groups who supported Assad but wanted the money.
And they thought you were involved? They suspected me of being part of Free Syrian Army logistics, not a fighter. I denied any connection to the people they mentioned in my interrogation, but they found their numbers and names in my phone, as well as on my Facebook and Skype. In the military court they accused me of obtaining a counterfeit visa and activities assaulting the security of the Lebanese state. At that moment, I realized the seriousness of the situation.
What were the first couple of weeks like inside Roumieh? It was really hard to adapt. I suddenly found myself in this incredibly shady place, surrounded by hardened criminals and drug abuse. I’d never been in a place like that. I was very depressed and scared.
How rampant was the drug abuse? I’d say 90 percent, or higher, of the inmates were using. It stretched from prescription drugs, like benzocaine and Tramol, to hashish, cocaine, and heroin. Everything is available: benzocaine being the cheapest, with heroin and cocaine the most expensive. There is no chance of rehabilitation. I remember one inmate saying to me, “The only thing they have imprisoned here is my dick.”
I Was Abducted by Hezbollah at Beirut’s Bombed Iranian Embassy
Yesterday, at around 9.30 AM, two suicide bombers attacked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut. The building is in Bir Hassan, a Hezbollah-controlled suburb in the south of Lebanon’s capital. Targeting the Iranian embassy sent a clear message. Iran is a major supporter of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as the Shi’a political and paramilitary organization Hezbollah. At least 25 people were killed in the blast—including the Iranian cultural attaché, Ebrahim Ansari. About 145 more were injured.
Within hours of the bombing, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades—a Lebanon-based jihadist group with links to al Qaeda—claimed responsibility for the attacks over Twitter. Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the group’s religious guide, described the twin bombings as a “double martyrdom operation carried out by two heroes from the heroic Sunnis of Lebanon.” The attack marked the third time this year that areas in Beirut’s Bir Hassan suburb have been targeted, with previous attacks on July 9 and August 15 killing a total of 27 people.
Lebanese politicians were quick to present a united front in condemnation of the attack. Caretaker Prime Minster Najib Miqati described the twin blasts as a “cowardly terrorist” attack, suggesting that foreign agents were using Lebanon as a “mailbox” for their own agendas, while opposition leader Saad Hariri stated that “the blasts should become a new impetus to steer Lebanon clear of the fires in the region”. Iran, as it does with everything from political instability to natural disasters, pointed the finger at Israel.
How Jihadists Are Blackmailing, Torturing, and Killing Gay Syrians
Even between the plush sofas and mood lighting of one of Beirut’s hippest bars, Ram shook with fear as he relived his ordeal. He turned his large green eyes from me to the translator and then back to me again, speaking in a low voice, even though we were the only people in the room.
"I think I was targeted for two reasons: because I’m a Druze, and because I’m gay," he said. "They told us, ‘You are all perverts, and we are going to kill you to save the world.’"
Ram’s nightmare, which unfolded on a hot summer’s afternoon in Damascus, forced the then 19-year-old to flee his home for Beirut, with just a few hundred dollars in his pocket. Even in Damascus, the stronghold of Assad’s regime—where the elite still dance and drink cocktails in exclusive nightclubs—society has broken down into a chaotic quagmire where criminal gangs operate with impunity and radical Islamist groups are strengthening their stranglehold.
Maybe it was only a matter of time before Ram was picked out as a target. He is a Druze—a member of the small religious group that makes up just three percent of the Syrian population—and comes from a wealthy family well known for supporting Assad’s regime. From the beginning of the revolution he had known that these things could put him at risk. But his homosexuality was always a secret between him and his gay friends; he never thought that it could finally force him to flee.
"I got a phone call from my friend," he recalled. "He asked me to come over to his house because he’d lost all his money and he needed my help. I could never refuse him anything, so I went there straight away."