Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Prostitution, brothel, pimping, nightclubs, cabarets, bars and pubs are unofficially legal in Lebanon, similarly as a number of Muslim nations. Amongst the Arab nations, Lebanon is known as “Brothel Country”, where prostitution and brothels are found almost everywhere. Twenty minutes north of Beirut, in the Christian heartland of Lebanon is Jounieh, the country’s little Las Vegas, where dozens of “super nightclubs,” Lebanon’s equivalent of strip clubs, line the main street. At least 9,000 females from Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Dominican Republic are working in the Lebanese adult entertainment industry, consisting more than 150 “super nightclubs”. According to Lebanese immigration law, these foreign girls are allowed to work inside the night clubs as “artists”. In addition to tourists, Lebanese men visit these brothels for casual sex instead of having extra wives. Lebanese men like the blondes, mostly from ex-Soviet republics and the average age of the customers range between 40-60 years. There is also substantial demand for women from Lebanon itself [though it is legally forbidden for Lebanese women to be engaged in sex industry] as well as Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Palestinian who also engage in a large number in sex industry.
Lebanon, a country where pre-marital sex is still frowned upon and where a young couple kissing in the street may be reprimanded by police, female sex workers – some of whom are still legally minors – can sometimes be seen on the hunt for wealthy clients, particularly men from the oil-rich Gulf seeking an outlet in a country dubbed the most liberal in the Arab world.
Lebanese super nightclubs are actually the pick up point of girls. Men are not allowed to speak with “artists” inside the super nightclubs unless they pay for it. Customers pick the woman they want to talk to by walking through the club or seeing the woman dance or perform on stage. Many clubs offer a “cabaret” beginning at midnight, where women perform dance routines to European and Arabic music and swing on polls dressed in a variety of tight, low-cut and short-skirted costumes. In order to speak with one of the female artists, a customer must order “champagne” or “picolot,” and select the woman he wants to sit at his table. The champagne has nothing to do with a bottle of alcohol: the term is merely super nightclub-speak for having one of the artists sit at a customer’s table for exactly an hour and a half. A “picolot” is similar “code” for having a woman sit with a customer for a half hour. Champagne usually costs around US$60 to US$80, and a picolot around US$30 to US$35. A customer may negotiate one or two drinks to be included in the cost of the “Champagne”. A “Picolot” usually includes one drink. The super nightclubs are not cheap places to grab a drink without sitting with a woman: a can of beer costs US$15. Once the women are ordered, they arrive at the customer’s table, sit down and strike up conversation. A waiter brings drinks. Few of the women speak English, but as one of the female “artists” at a super nightclub said, “Many Lebanese speak Russian.”
Often the women immediately initiate physical contact with a customer by putting a hand or arm on the man’s leg. Kissing is permitted in super nightclubs, as is light petting, but anything beyond that is strictly prohibited by most clubs, since it could get them in trouble with General Security. But with the purchase of “champagne,” a customer also purchases the right to make a “date” with the woman, supposedly with her consent, within a week of the purchase. The date is often code for sex. When an Executive staff member visited a super nightclub posing as a customer, Julia, the Dominican artist, made it very clear what services she could provide beyond dancing and sitting with customers.
If the customer purchased “Champagne”, he can spend exactly an hour and half with the woman enjoying drinks and talking. But sex inside the nightclubs is not permitted. Once the customer settles the “date” with the girl, she will meet him at customer’s own place or a place arranged by the super nightclub management. Generally girls are allowed to “date” with the customers during 1:00 – 8:00 pm, as according to Lebanese regulations, the “artists” are supposed to be available at the super nightclubs between 8:00 pm to 5:00 am. It is also mandatory for them to be available at the hotel they stay between 5:00 am to 1:00 pm, which allows the Lebanese police to keep the industry tightly regulated; it also allows the club owners to dominate the women’s lives and restrict their movement. To safeguard their investment, super nightclub owners keep a tight leash on their “product.” Club owners take their female employees’ passports, and it is regular practice for owners to lock the doors of the hotel between 5:00 am and 1:00 pm.
According to official estimation, every year more than 3 million pleasure-seeking tourists arrive in Lebanon, which is known as “Boobs and Booze Tourism”. Approximately 150,000 local and foreign “artists” are engaged in Lebanon’s ever-flourishing flesh industry. The billions of dollars generated by tourism are estimated to have contributed up to 25 percent of Lebanon’s GDP, although there are no precise figures available. Economists say the benefits are mainly being captured by wealthy elite of hotel, restaurant and beach club owners.
The nightclubs’ owners characterize their sector as a legitimate and legal business model that presents entertainment and brings women and men together. The super nightclub business is regulated by the government, with permits given by the Ministry of Tourism and oversight by General Security. A small super nightclub in Lebanon engages minimum 15-20 women while they have 15-20 customers buying “Champagne”.
A permit for a super nightclub is a one-time cost of US$1,000. Nightclubs pay the women anywhere from US$800 to US$1,200 per month, depending on their ability to dance and perform. A woman also receives US$5 for each “Champagne” she is hired for, and US$3 for every “picolot” sold to her customer. They can make up to US$400 to US$500 a month extra from the ‘bottles’ they sell. Owners must deposit around US$650 at General Security for each woman. Clubs must also pay around US$2,500 per month for the hotel where the women live. There are “two to four women per room, each one gets a bed, and some hotels have seven different clubs renting out the hotel rooms.
Club owners find women from around the globe through the use of what are called “impresarios.” These are the middlemen, the agents who find women in their home countries and arrange for them to come to Lebanon. George says he pays an agency based in Eastern Europe between US$200 and US$400 a month to find artists. Thousands of agencies are working in favor of Lebanese super nightclubs, that collects photograph and CVs of the girls and send them to the owners of the clubs in Lebanon for approval. In most cases, intending girls are required to provide their full nude pictures in different directions for such approval process.
Once recruited, women are required to pay for their air passage, while the recruiter pays for visa and medical fees which include a periodic mandatory pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease test. These women are issued six months visa to stay in Lebanon, under “artist” category. Most of the club owners either return the girls in 3-4 months, while there also is inter-exchange of girls within the clubs. In most cases, on an average, a woman makes US$ 100-200 a day from selling sex to customers during her free time, while she earns around US$ 300 a day from the club. During free time, generally the women sell sex for US$ 100 for every 30 minutes. In addition to prostitution under the cover of super nightclubs, there also is street-prostitutes, most of whom are locals and some are Syrians and Sudanese. A local hooker paddles sex on the street to customers for US$ 5-20. There also are some super nightclubs in Lebanon, which either has hotels right on the next door or maintain “special rooms” at the backyard, which is used by the customers for having sex with the woman picked up from the club. Such special rooms cost between US$ 30-50. In addition to the street-side hookers, there also are “high-class prostitutes” in Lebanon, who mostly target oil-rich Arab sheikhs. These high class prostitutes live in luxurious apartments, with chauffer-driven cars, thus entertaining the Arab sheikhs for a US$ 1000-1500 per night. Many of such high-class prostitution continue under the garb of escort service, interpreter service or even meditation centers.