Meeting the Minister of Agriculture

Originally published on Hummus For Thought on July 7th 2012.

We, the Environmental and Public Health class of AUB, just came back from our visit to the Bekaa where a food safety ‘debate’ took place between our Microbiology Teacher, Dr. Rabih Kamleh, and the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Hussein Al Hajj Hassan. In light of recent events that took place – I’m talking about the visit to the Karantina slaughterhouse – we were all very curious to find out what this man has got to say for himself.

After some introduction by some lady (I didn’t really pay attention) and our dear national anthem, Dr. Kamleh got up and started his presentation. It was concise, accurate and well presented. The information was clear and accessible to all, even to those with a weak Arabic such as myself. All seemed to be going well until he was cut off but the minister himself. This happened many times during Dr. Kamleh’s presentation. The minister kept on interrupting him over and over again and refused to let him continue. After some heated comments between some politicians and the scientists – the former being impolite and the latter respectful – and lots of voices of complaints from ourselves (the AUB students), the minister finally sat down and let Dr. Kamleh finish.

But this isn’t the whole story. During the extremely impolite interruptions in which the minister treated Dr. Kamleh with plain rudeness and disrespect and kept on trying to silence the voices of protests (us) with all the authority he could gather – he failed – some bodyguards or security personnel were walking up and down the line asking us to be quiet. One lady who’s some sort of official in the Bekaa came and rudely asked me whether I thought I was in the classroom. “No,” I responded, “we don’t bark at each other in class”. Another man tried to pressure us and threatened us in a not-too-direct way. We told him in a very direct way that he wasn’t scaring us. Another man came and told him to calm down as he looked like he was about to jump on me.

We gave a standing ovation every time someone defended Dr. Kamleh’s right to talk against the political pressure that the Minister and his lackeys were trying to inflict and gave another one at the end of his lecture.

Then came the minister’s presentation. Describing it would be relatively simple: it was bullshit. He neglected Dr. Kamleh’s findings, indirectly (and sort of directly) insulted his credibility and kept on talking as any politician would: saying a lot without saying anything. I simply can’t think of any valuable information I got from his speech. He kept on repeating everything twice, addressed us all as if we were complete idiots and got basic information relating to public health terribly wrong.

Despite being told to leave questions to the end, we were not given the opportunity to do so. When we went over to talk to him ourselves, we found that our Water and Waste Water Management Teacher Dr. Jurdi was already ahead of us. My friend Karim and I took out our cell phones and showed the video of the Karantina slaughterhouse that we filmed last Monday. I was pushed by one of his body guards but did it again, and so did Karim.

We left angry and ashamed. Ashamed that such a high level politician acted in such a disgraceful way. We know and understand completely that the complicated mess that is our sectarian system paralyzes all possible developments. We understand as well that the minister could mean well and is asked to deal with a very hard situation. That being said, that does not justify the minister’s extremely rude behavior. It does not give a good impression and certainly doesn’t make us feel better when a bunch of old mafia-looking men that are responsible for the Lebanese civilians’ health start shouting at the scientists, trying to intimidate them – something they’re very good at.

We have filmed the whole encounter and will release an edited version (it’s too long) soon. I’ll post it on this page as well as on YouTube itself.