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 30km 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 said.
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 said: “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, 20km 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 US$1,000.
One pimp in Maameltein, who asked to be identified as Carlos, told said there is 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 US$5,000 and US$6,000 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 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.