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The air is thick with stale cigarette smoke, and the mirror-lined walls are smeared and cracked. A gold crucifix gleams on his chest. Every so often, an attractive, young, Slavic-looking woman walks over, and he opens the notebook so she can sign her name. Jad owns a "super nightclub," one of approximately in Lebanon, most of which are located in the town of Maameltein — just 20 minutes away from the glitzy clubs and high-end boutiques of Beirut. Owners import women, usually from Eastern Europe or Morocco, to work in their clubs under an "artist" visa.
Lebanese law stipulates that these women can enter the country only after signing an employment contract, which has to be approved by the Directorate of General Security. That might be only the tip of the iceberg, however, as the industry also generates under-the-table income through prostitution. Therefore, any prostitution that occurs in super nightclubs is nominally illegal. As a result, a complicated ritual takes place in these establishments in order to stay on the right side of the law.
The women are always fully dressed, and while kissing is allowed, further sexual contact is strictly prohibited. However, a bottle also buys you a "date" with the woman sometime during the next week. Although there are clubs that will allow customers to take a woman on the same night for an extra fee, Jad says, this is rare since the penalties for such offenses are severe. At first, Jad is evasive when asked whether the "dates" purchased by customers usually include sex. We sell time with the girls.
I only make money from the transactions at the club. Although Lebanon is widely considered to be one of the more sexually permissive countries in the Middle East, large portions of the country remain culturally conservative. According to Jad, most of his customers are wealthy, middle-aged Lebanese men, usually Muslim, who are looking to bypass the restrictions of Lebanese society. When I ask whether it would be possible to speak with one of the women, Jad is initially reluctant, but he seems to relax as the interview continues.
At one point, he is interrupted by his cell phone and, after a brief conversation in Russian, indicates that one of the women will be coming downstairs to answer a few questions, though he insists on being present.