Herbal cream televangelist Zein El Atat has moved off the television informercials and onto the streets of Hamra.

His image now occupies every street pole over two blocks of the busiest section of the commercial district.

I wonder how much money the municipality of Beirut is making from these ads and whether they will now become the norm.

Or is there another authority profiting from these ubiquitous panels? Anyway how can Zein even afford to pay for them when his website is so 1996?

One thing is for sure. These new spots make for some rather curious visual combinations.

El Atat’s b-boy stance competes for the attention of pedistrians with martyr banners belonging to the Syrian Socialist National Party, a former civil war era militia that is still influential in the neighborhood.

***

As expected, a policeman stopped me for taking these photos, but not because he had a problem with the militias or the herbal healer. He demanded to see my ID and then brought me over to another officer standing on the corner having his shoe polished by a young boy.

The two examined the photos above on my phone. When I asked why they were so concerned, the senior officer raised his eyebrows and said it was “forbidden” to photograph the police.

But why? So what if they came out in the shot? Why on earth does it matter if a policeman is captured in the corner of my shot?

The senior officer stared at me as if he was about to reveal something important. “I’ll tell you why,” he said.

“What if we are doing something wrong?”

“Like what,” what I exclaimed.

“Well this is wrong,” he said, pointing to his shoe being shined. “It’s not allowed.”

At this moment I felt like banging my head on the telephone pole. The officer asked how I liked my coffee, motioning someone to fetch me some.

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