LEBANON: A Mayor in Lebanon has hired dozens of attractive young women as police officers and gave them hot pants as part of their uniform to attract rich tourists from Western countries.
Mr. Pierre Achkar, the Mayor of the Lebanese city of Broumana, bet on the good looks of his new traffic cops to boost tourism.
He hopes to change perceptions of Westerners who avoid the Mediterranean country because of its reputation for violence, terror attacks and political instability.
And its vicinity to war-torn Syria raised fears among those willing to travel to Lebanon the conflict could spill over the borders.
But Achkar believes potential tourists will find a new reason in the new female officers to visit the town.
We want to show that we have the same way of life as the West. You wear shorts and we wear shorts, said Mr. Pierre Achkar, the Mayor of the Lebanese city of Broumana.
Arguing the girls’ role will play a role in driving Lebanon closer to the Western culture, he said: “People in the West don’t visit Lebanon because they think it’s a country of Islamic extremism.
“We want to show that we have the same way of life as the West.
“You wear shorts and we wear shorts.
“We have democracy. Our women are free.”
MrAchkar’s decision to effectively exploit the look of young women has split opinion.
While some were pleased, others said the bizarre hirings exposes the girls to sexual harassment, which is not regarded as a crime in Lebanon.
Some also argued they could be more of a danger on the road rather than ensuring motorists’ safety, as both their appearance and uniforms could be quite a distraction for drivers.
But MrAchkar was untouched by the criticism.
He added: “Why would we hire ugly girls?”
Among the new hires, there is Chloe Khalife, 19. While speaking to media, she said she believes to be an example of Lebanon’s open society.
But feminist organisations disagree with her point of view, arguing the country is still ruled by some barbaric laws.
LinaAbirafeh, Director of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, said: “It’s a cheap PR exercise that only serves as a reminder of how far from equality, rights and respect we really are.”
According to the country’s rules, rapists can marry their victims if they are aged between 15-17.
And the courts ruling on divorce and child custody cases follow religious laws, wrongly discriminating women against men and making difficult for an abused wife to leave a violent husband.
This is not the first time the Ministry of Tourism uses women to promote the country.
In 1975, before the beginning of the civil war, they bought an advert in Playboy magazine where a woman in bikini promised tourists to make their “Arabian Nights fantasy” true.
The mountain town of Broumana is located 12 miles from the country’s capital, Beirut.
Thanks to its relatively cool climate and natural beauties, it has historically attracted both Lebanese visitors for day and weekend trips and Arab tourists looking forward to escaping the heat of the Persian Gulf.
The number of people visiting Lebanon plunged in 2013, where the 2,168,000 arrivals recorded in 2010 was slashed to 1,274,000.
Among the reasons that saw the number of visitors almost drying out, there were the escalation of the war in neighbouring Syria and the hundreds of people killed in bombings and assassination during that period of time.
But according to the Minister of Tourism and latest data, the country is recovering.
Avedis Guidanian said: “I know the region is going through very difficult times, but Lebanon has gotten lucky.”