Friday, June 22, 2012

Party Boats in Gaza: New Revenues for Fishermen

The Gazan Entertainment Industry

The Gazan government is known to have a tight grip on the entertainment industry. Alcohol is available on black market only. Women are banned from smoking waterpipe in the public, and several approaches of gender segregation are enforced in public. Still, we can expect a significant part of the population to be less observant than the strict regime tries to impose on them -- not only the 5% Christian minority whose religious ruleset is more compatible with entertainment, but also a larger group of Muslims that prefer to find their own way of belief instead of having other people's interpretations imposed on their lifestyle. Because of the tight governmental grip, nightlife has moved into private spaces, and people need to be restrictive in inviting strangers, being afraid of getting denounced by part-time spies. Prostitution is -- as in most parts of the world -- widely available through taxi drivers that act as middlemen. The booming restaurant business in Gaza serves mainly for family gatherings but it is hardly an environment where people can freely mingle in whatever way they like. A boat out in the sea, even if Israel lets it go only 6 miles away from the coast, provides enough privacy to get a taste of the freedom that most Gazans are so deprived of.

Fisher boats in the port of Gaza -- soon to be equipped with loudspeakers and cocktail bar?

The Market Size

The target group is mostly young, relatively wealthy and possibly unmarried, possibly living in conditions with limited social surveillance of their families. Wealth often accumulates around government and influence, which is valid in Gaza as well, as the economist points out in a recent article:
In the meantime, Hamas leaders seem increasingly content to enjoy the fruits of splendid isolation. The parliamentary car park, full of rickety bangers when Hamas first took office, now gleams with flash new models hauled through the tunnels under the Egyptian border. Two Hummer H3s and a golden Porsche were recently spotted cruising the streets. Ministers and members of parliament seem unbothered by the lack of accountability as well as reports of money-laundering. “We’re hunted and targeted,” explains a self-pitying MP on Hamas’s parliamentary ethics committee, who recently spent $28,000 on a new car with the help of a $12,000 loan from the movement.
Pure-minded Islamists accuse Hamas of forsaking its official name—the Islamic Resistance Movement—for the pursuit of power. Hamas has relaxed the summer religiosity campaigns that marked its first years in power and has suspended its plans to apply sharia law. Gazans mockingly call its female adherents “the 2Js”: they wear an ascetic jilbab, or nun-like cloak, for public view, but they sport skin-tight jeans underneath.
Apart from customers related to the government, you might want to look for wealthy businessmen (construction and tunnel logistics companies for example), and academia -- Al Azhar University, Islamic University and others. Those two Universities alone have 40.000 Students. There are maybe 50.000 Christians in Gaza. Maybe 10%, of the population is gay, i.e. 150.000 people, of which maybe 10% would be daring enough to live out their sexual orientation given a safe environment, i.e. 15.000.

The real number of potential clients is hard to guess, but given the lack of alternatives, those customers that you find are probably willing to pay a good price for a short trip into the freedom of the open sea.

Canvassing Your Customers

A closed club of selected members, possibly organized through closed groups in socal media is the way to go. To start off, you might want to talk to existing underground clubs, gay communities, as well as the few posh restaurants and hotels in Gaza, where you can recruit your first customers.

Gay events you might want to handle separately. For hetero events, I would expect to find more demand from male club members, so you might have to introduce a policy of "couples only" so people are encouraged to bring along their sisters or female friends.

How to Protect the Business from Interventions of Authorities

Club members should prove their confidentiality, to avoid them from whistleblowing to family members or local authorities about what those might find morally inacceptable. Ways to prove confidentiality can be either a large cash deposit that they have to leave you for the duration of club membership, and also you can have other member vouch for them, to build a network of trust.

In terms of technical measures, you might want to connect your club membership with an iPhone/Android app. Local authorities might be closely monitoring the Gaza port for suspicious activity, but you could give your customers directions to drive to a new location each time, some lonely beach or so, and have a rubber boat pick them up from the beach and bring them to the party vessel. The iPhone app can make sure that this communication takes place encrypted and leaves no traces for investigators.

Another way would be to collaborate with the authorities and let them "tax" your business. Due to the nature of the business, it is more likely that the tax will have the form of a bribe under the current government.

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