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Lebanon - Health and safety
Generally speaking, Lebanon is a healthy country with life expectancy and infant mortality rates much better than other countries in the region, and you are no more likely to fall ill or contract an infectious disease than anywhere else in the Mediterranean region. The standards of healthcare are high with many medical personnel having been educated overseas, many in Europe, and several also speak English and French in addition to their native Arabic. Lebanon currently has some 174 healthcare and medical facilities around the country with around 33 doctors and 34 hospital beds per 10,000 of the population and spends some 7% of its GDP on healthcare; above average figures for the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. Emergency and routine medical treatment is available to overseas visitors, but as Lebanon does not have any reciprocal healthcare agreements with either North America or Europe, payment for any medical care received will be required at the time you are treated. It is therefore essential to have comprehensive medical insurance in place prior to visiting Lebanon.
As regards crime against the person, Lebanon is probably one of the safest countries in the world.
The words ‘Beirut’ and ‘Lebanon’ continue to resonate with images and reports of danger, terrorism and war nearly three decades after the end of the 1975–90 civil hostilities. Memories still linger in the minds of hostages such as John McCarthy, Terry Waite and a host of other individuals who had their freedom forcibly taken away during a period of utter chaos and hatred in Lebanon’s history. Thankfully, these events are in the past and, although it cannot be said that the country’s internal problems and wider Middle East peace issues have been completely solved, the fact remains that foreign tourists and visitors are not targets for abductions or violence.
Until the situation in Syria stabilises, when in Lebanon stay abreast of current developments by checking the daily press, or tuning into local radio stations and/or the BBC news website. But perhaps just as valuable is to get advice and information from local people. As regards crime against the person, Lebanon is probably one of the safest countries in the world, with a very low crime rate compared with countries such as the UK and USA. There have been reports in the past of occasional bagsnatching and a spate of robberies in shared (servees) taxis in Beirut, but these are rare exceptions and Lebanon remains an inherently safe country for visitors. Like anywhere in the world, however, it pays to be vigilant.
Whether travelling solo or as part of a group tour, female travellers will find Lebanon a breath of fresh air compared with some other Arab countries where women are often given less-than-fair treatment. In a country justly famed for its cosmopolitanism and hospitality and an extremely low crime rate against the person compared with many Western countries, female travellers constantly state that they have encountered an easy-going and safe place to visit without the constant pestering and hassles that they have experienced in countries like Morocco.
In terms of dress, pretty much anything goes in Beirut, and at times, with the revealing and fashionable clothing worn by many young women, you would hardly know you are in an Arabic country. That said, a short, skimpy top or skirt would be totally inappropriate attire in a mosque or in more conservative towns such as Baalbek, Sidon or Tripoli, though even here you can still see fashion-conscious and sexily dressed local women. If using taxis, it is probably a good idea where possible to sit in the back of the car in order to avoid potentially giving the wrong impression.
Though Lebanon has a certain machismo, bars are by no means a male domain and as a lone woman you should not expect any more unsolicited attention than you would get back in your own country. With a vibrant café culture in the capital, you often see many lone Lebanese females passing time over a beer or cappuccino in a relaxed manner, usually accompanied only by an iPhone, laptop or both.
Lebanon’s culture of openness and tolerance doesn’t generally extend to the gay community, with attitudes to homosexuality still lagging some way behind those in many Western countries. As is the case in Islam generally, homosexuality is illegal under Lebanese law with Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code stating that homosexuality is a sexual act ‘contradicting the laws of nature’; and the country does not have an overtly ‘gay scene’ where ‘outed’ homosexuals can freely mingle.
Public displays of affection are taboo, and could cost you your liberty, with up to one year in prison, though in practice as a visitor you are more likely to be subject to deportation and/or a fine.
There are, however, some recent positive signs of change including a more enlightened and supportive media, together with the groundbreaking statement from the Lebanese Psychiatric Society in July 2013 who declared that same-sex relationships are not a form of mental illness and require no therapeutic input, making Lebanon the first Arab country to announce that homosexuality is not a disease. However, whilst there are a number of what might be termed ‘gay-friendly’ establishments in Beirut, discretion remains for the foreseeable future.