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Preview: Lebanon Update

Lebanon Update



A blog about the current events in Lebanon



Updated: 2016-06-07T22:50:15.391+02:00

 



Tayyib, yalla bye

2008-08-12T15:28:59.343+02:00

Frequent visitors of this blog will have noticed a lack of new postings. Reason is that I have changed jobs which does not leave me with enough time and focus to keep up the blog. So, it’s time to say goodbye and to thank you, my reader, for giving this blog your time of day. It was a great experience and I’ll never forget the first time I was asked if I was the same Riemer as the guy that writes the blog. Ah, the sweet taste of pride:-)

Lebanon Update started in Dutch, and was a direct result from the outbreak of the July War in 2006. Later on, I switched to English to reach a larger audience. I am proud to say that this worked out well: after a while, Lebanon Update started to receive 500-700 hits per day. This might be small potatoes compared to the more professional blogs about Lebanon, but for this amateur the numbers showed that other people share my love and fascination for Lebanon.

Being a blogger was an interesting experience. Often, people would ask me how I came up with all the topics for my articles…a question that always amazed me: there is so much to write about Lebanon! Many stories have been left untold, lots of events have never been published.

I tried to limit myself to one article per day, so the articles would build up….often only to be permanently deleted because some major incident happened. All in all, any journalist suffering from writer’s block should stay in Lebanon for a while, there’s just too much to write about.

Another question people usually asked was how much time it would take to write a typical article. Without being snug about it, but the answer is that it wouldn’t take me much more than 5-10 minutes. After forming a blog entry ‘in my head’, the physical act of typing it up was simply that: typing it up. Lucky for me I am not a professional writer, so I could get away with the rough edges, the spelling errors and the grammatical mistakes that resulted from not polishing the articles.

Blogging is a highly addictive activity and it is with fear for withdrawal symptoms that I bide you all farewell. I had a great time writing the blog, hope you had a great time reading it. Tayyib, yalla bye.(image)



All Lebanese prisoners freed from Israel's jails

2008-07-17T10:16:00.449+02:00

Yesterday saw massive festivities in Lebanon to celebrate the release of all Lebanese prisoners from Israel. Sure, there are those who are quick to point out that the price of their release has been enormous, just as quick as Hezbollah leader Nasrallah was quick to point out that the release of all prisoners was the original goal of the July War.

And he made sure the rest of the Arab world knew that it was thanks to Hezbollah they were released. One can only imagine how the average Arab felt when watching a proud Nasrallah saying that resistance is often the only way to get Israel to act, as opposed to diplomacy as is so often suggested by their leaders. Most likely, they would have gotten the implicit message that their leaders are weak whereas Hezbollah was strong.

Still, it requires some mental acrobatic maneuvering to hear Nasrallah claim that this results vindicates Hezbollah for any blame for the July War. Gone are the days back in August 2006 when Nasrallah expressed regret for the ‘unexpected’ harsh Israeli reaction. In the end, the goal justified the means.

Now that all Lebanese prisoners (dead and alive) have been released to Lebanon, this chapter can be closed. There are still some remaining issues, though. Still, hopefully the coming home yesterday of so many Lebanese will contribute to a more solid quiet on our southern front and not the starting shot of yet another round of violence now that Hezbollah can freely revenge Mughnieh.(image)



First Lady's first visit to...Qartaba

2008-07-14T11:06:47.254+02:00

If you were the First Lady of Lebanon, where would you have your first public appearance as (incoming) First Lady? That's a no-brainer: Qartaba of course! That quaint little mountain village, dubbed The Bride of Jbeil and already home to so many first-things, was the proud hostess of first lady Wafa Suleiman last weekend, who opened an nargileh place and playing area/swimming pool for kids.

(image) Photo 1: First Lady Wafa Suleiman in Qartaba on July 5, 2008

Her visit can be described as highly efficient as it took less than 30 minutes to attend a few speeches by the locals and to cut the ribbon. Unfortunately Wafa didn't give a speech herself and she left right after the opening ceremony was concluded. But then again, being selected for the first visit is already a huge honor in itself.

(image) Photo 2: Toute Qartaba went to see the First Lady

The first speaker made a passionate plea to improve the quality of the road leading up to Qartaba, hoping perhaps that the First Lady would bring up the topic with her hubbie later that night.

However, none of such 'wafa-wasta' was needed as the next speaker, the chairman of CDR, was quick to mention the planned road improvement project: within two to four years time, Qartaba will be connected to civilization by a much wider road. Blessing or curse? Only time will tell.

(image) Photo 3: The World Bank funded the nargileh place...sahtain!
(image)



Sowar: Snapshots of the Civil War

2008-07-14T09:40:12.722+02:00

As part of the "Let Us Not Forget" campaign to keep the memory alive of the Lebanese Civil War, the Sowar magazine (lit: "photo's") has dedicated its latest edition to war photography. What is it with photo's from war zones that always make them so fascinating to watch, to study, to absorb?

Sowar's choice is no exception: the pictures are carefully contributed by top photographers, including Pulitzer prize winner Bill Foley, and show the various stages of the Civil War. My favorite is included below, and if you are in Lebanon, be sure to pick up a copy of this magazine at your local bookstore.

(image) Photo 1: A militia member playing the piano at the Holiday Inn rooftop restaurant in 1975
(image)



Berri likens SSNP to justice squanderers

2008-07-11T10:03:19.997+02:00

Naharnet quotes Berri as saying that "Whoever squanders justice and the justice ministry should accept the whole Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) in the cabinet, not just Ali Qanso". In other words, once you start squandering justice, you might as well invite the SSNP to the party.

....Hrm...Interesting to see how Berri likens the squandering of justice to SSNP's participation. Slip of the tongue, error of the journalist, or a heart-felt opinion?
(image)



So who's blocking who?

2008-07-08T09:18:25.458+02:00

Finally and after much delay, the Opposition has given its names and posts it wants in the new government and still there is no cabinet. Why? Because now it's March 14's turn to bicker about the distribution of their seats. What on earth have they been doing the last five weeks?

For once, Aoun is making sense when he says that they don't have the right to delay for even five minutes the line up of the new government.(image)



Syria hints at disarming Hezbollah

2008-07-08T07:25:38.410+02:00

The other day, this blog was speculating about the possible rift between Hezbollah and Syria and presented four pieces of 'evidence': the killing of Mughnieh in Damascus under the eyes of the always alert Syrian secret service; the documents president Suleiman suddenly found regarding Lebanese ownership of the Shebaa farms; the canceling of the national strike by the Syrian controlled Labor Union early May, after which Hezbollah took over West-Beirut; and the resurrection of Fatah al-Islam leader al-Abssi

Now, we can add a fifth piece: Syrian president Bashar Assad openly saying that Hezbollah should disarm once peace in the Middle East has been reached. With Syria and Israel talking, such peace might be closer by than you'd think. Hezbollah must be feeling the pressure to disarm, hence they started adding new conditions, such as liberation of all Lebanese and Palestinian detainees from Israel's prisons.

A simple regional peace alone is no longer good enough for Hezbollah, while Syria is now saying that such peace actually should be good enough reason to put down their arms. If any March 14 politician says the exact same thing, Hezbollah is quick to label him as a traitor to the Resistance. Now let's see how they will react to Assad's words.(image)



Composition of new cabinet according to Nahar

2008-07-08T07:10:11.190+02:00

If we are to believe Nahar, the new cabinet is pretty much a done deal now that the Opposition has formally stated the seats it requests. Unless I (and Nahar) am missing something, it would be a no-brainer for Siniora to accept their suggestions. The Opposition does not want any of the core ministries, such as Justice, Foreign Affairs, Finance, or Economics. How come?

Take a look at Aoun's shopping list, e.g. His bloc wants to have the following 5 posts:
  • Telecommunications (Gebran Bassil);
  • Social Affairs (Mario Aoun);
  • Agriculture (Elias Skaff);
  • Energy (Alan Tabourian);
  • Deputy Premier (Issam Abou Jabra).

Well, Siniora, by all means, give it to him...and quickly before he changes his mind and realizes that these posts aren't really that important. Being responsible for Energy won't get you any votes since most people complain, rightfully so, about the lack of electricity for often 12+ hours a day. And the post of deputy premier doesn't come with much power either.

Hezbollah is even less demanding and is willing to settle for only two posts, namely that of Labor and that of Youth & Sports. Ayup, that's the right set of posts to promote one's platform! And what a 'reward' for May's actions.

Berri is equally modest when requesting the usual Health ministry and Interior. No more talks of Foreign Affairs for his brother Mahmoud. Was he used as a threat to get the Interior ministry? Not likely, Berri would have gotten Interior without much problems anyway.

If Nahar is correct, it would imply the Opposition has pretty much given up on this cabinet. Why is that? Do they know it's not going to last long? Don't they want to take on responsibility to create some form of deniability during next year's elections? If so, then why take the Energy position?

It doesn't make sense: after all the delays and objections to settle for something so little as this. Only future will tell what the real reason is behind this unexpected and sudden submissive behavior.
(image)



1960 Election law won't benefit Christians

2008-07-04T10:01:38.418+02:00

What better day to talk about democracy than on the Fourth of July? And yes, let’s leave it as an exercise to the reader to decipher if this is meant ironic or not. In any case, the other day L’Orient-Le Jour’s columnist Emile Khoury provided a highly interesting analysis of the impact of the 1960 Election Law the opposition wants to be reinstated. Conclusion: While marginally better than the current one, it still would leave the Christian candidates at the mercy of the Muslim voters.

The reason for this is that most electoral districts under the 1960 law still would have a majority of Muslims in them and thus they would ultimately decide which Christian candidate they’d like the best. According to the stats quoted by Khoury, roughly 40 out of the 64 "Christian" districts are dominated by Muslims. In other words, only 24 out of 128 seats are directly decided by Christian voters whereas the Constitution grants Christians 64 seats.

So why is that a problem? Personally, I would favor the abolishment of the confessional voting system which in my view undermines democracy. In fact, it has been argued that Lebanon is not a democracy for this very reason. [Note to self: blog about this in the near future.] Still, if a country wants to have a confessional system, it better be a representative one.

All Lebanese would agree that the current law used during the last election was anything but a fair law. But the thing is, the new law won’t bring much improvement. Yet, especially Michel Aoun is lobbying feverishly in favor of the 1960 Election law, which in his mind would address the problems of the current law.

So what’s wrong with the current law? For starters, it didn’t get Aoun the expected victory, which according to his followers, is already a major indication something is fundamentally wrong. But seriously (which I already was, actually), the 1960 Law won’t change the fact that Christians will be overruled by Muslims…again.

The opposition must know that their fight for the 1960 Law is merely a fight for fight’s sake. Is Aoun used again by Amal and Hezbollah into fighting for something that won’t improve the situation of the Christians and perhaps would only benefit the Shiites? Now that we know the 1960 Law won’t bring much to the Christians, it would be interesting to see whether it would strengthen the position of the Shiites.

See also this blog for another analysis of Aoun’s position.(image)



So Mughnieh is now revenged?

2008-07-03T09:02:46.161+02:00

Ever since the murder of Hezbollah's leading operative Imad Mughnieh, the Lebanese and the Israeli's have been concerned about the act of revenge by Hezbollah. The organization was expected not to take lightly the killing of one of its most important fighters. Many feared that a gruesome attack against Israel by Hezbollah could easily trigger another round of war.

"Luckily", it seems the revenge wasn't as bad as expected, assuming the news is correct that the bulldozer attack yesterday in Jerusalem was meant as retaliation for Mughnieh's death. Letting a new organization claim responsibility gives Hezbollah the freedom to distance itself from the act and yet hurt Israel where it hurts, namely in the capital Jerusalem.

Icing on the cake would be Hezbollah's present to the Palestinians of demonstrating them a brand new tactic that might inspire plenty of others to creatively use similar vehicles to wreak havoc.

All innocent deaths are terrible, obviously, and anyone in their right mind would feel sorry for the victims of yesterday's action, but still, it's a safe bet to assume many people on both sides of the Lebanon-Israel border will sleep a little bit better tonight...unless of course Hezbollah wouldn't be using a third party to do their revenging for them, after all, what's the honor in that? If true, we still have to wait for its own response.(image)



Waiting for the big quake

2008-07-01T10:15:10.657+02:00

Officials are denying it, so it must be true: the next big Lebanese earthquake is right around the corner. The last few months has witnessed already some 500 (!) minor shakes and tremors, according to Israeli experts. If they can feel it over there, then maybe these quakes are not so minor after all.

For those Lebanese who don't like to panic (um, yeah, right, as if there are any!), please tune to your local expert. Lebanon's National Council for Scientific Research chaired by George Tohme who recently received an honorary doctorate from AUB, has stated there is no reason to worry. Their secretary said that earthquakes are impossible to predict. He then continued that there is no evidence to suggest a large earthquake will strike soon.

Uh-huh. Makes you wonder what he would have said in case there was evidence. Would earthquakes be predictable then, after all? Anyway...

Some people claim that the best method to predict an earthquake is to look at its history because earthquakes tend to happen with a certain frequency. In Lebanon, e.g., major earthquakes happen every 80 years, or so history teaches us. The last big one occurred in 1927, already 81 years ago. Yes, that's right: if history's any guidance, we're one year late for an earthquake!

The pattern for the truly big ones, shows yet another disturbing rhythm, namely every 1500 years, give or take a few. The last superquake to hit Lebanon was back in 550. It wiped out the coastal line of Lebanon and completely destroyed Beirut and Tripoli. Experts claim that 4 such quakes have hit Lebanon during the last 6,000 years before.

Lots of things to worry about. Good thing we have our beloved politicians to keep our mind off of things!(image)



So where is that heat wave?

2008-06-25T09:20:57.372+02:00

Two days ago, the weather girl of one of the Lebanese TV stations showed it would be a whopping 37C on Thursday. That would be extremely hot for Beirut. I once downloaded he temperature data from the website of the Beirut airport and the maximum was 37C, which happened only once in the covered period of 20 years. Most common maximum temps in summer are 32-33C.

Today, it's hot but not that hot. What makes it bearable in Beirut is the breeze. So what gives with the expected 37C for tomorrow? Well, rest assured. The Accuweather website shows a high of 26C only for Thursday! The forecast was off by 11C.

(image) Photo 1: No heat wave, only a cool 26C expected for tomorrow

BTW, check the expected temperature at the end of the forecasting period: 35C! Yup, it's going to be bad, real bad! Just for fun, check this graph for the coming days/weeks and you'll notice the temperature always goes to extreme highs towards the end in summer and to extreme lows in winter. They must be accommodating their Lebanese customers who thrive in a climate of fear mongering!

See below for the following expected temperatures for the coming period:

(image) Photo 2: Feel free to PANIC: heat wave expected 15 days from now!!!
(image)



The end of the Doha truce

2008-06-25T07:52:34.366+02:00

For those who were optimistic that the truce reached in Doha last month would put Lebanon back on track, the recent events must have come as a surprise: everybody was so optimistic and didn't we expect a new government to be formed within "a few days"? Berri was certainly right with his analysis a few days ago that the cabinet should have been formed within the first week.Not that Suleiman seems to be worried. According to the president-elect, he is "not in a hurry to form a cabinet", the reason being that the government is "the doorway to national reconciliation and not to national dispute". In other words, he intends to adhere to that good old Lebanese tradition of no winners, no losers. By pushing forward too rapidly, he might lose the opposition in the process.Berri in the mean time has suggested to form a transitional government, which is code-speak for having another round of presidential elections a year from now. It sure would be nice for Aoun as it would give him another shot at the presidential seat. Given his high age, waiting another six years for Suleiman to step down will be next to impossible.Not that such a transitional government is too likely, mind you. The Constitution does not mention any deadline for forming a new government. In theory, Suleiman can be president-elect indefinitely.One can only wonder what the purpose was of the fighting in Tripoli during the last two days. Was there a purpose or was it just some local resentment boiling over, a possible pay-back for the events in May when pro-Syrian groups in and around Tripoli were attacked by Future movement supporters. Given the fact that it were Hezbollah supporters who started the fighting, it would be logical to assume an invisible hand steering the events.Hezbollah has gotten under increasing pressure recently to give up their weapons in case the Shebaa farms will be either liberated or placed under UN command. A few years ago, Hezbollah used to state that this liberation was the condition under which they would disarm. However, they have changed their mind. Not only has Hezbollah announced they will keep their weapons regardless of the outcome of the Shebaa issue, it has added a new condition, namely that all the Palestinians should return home; which is code-speak for never ever ever I promise I swear.Just for good measure, Hezbollah has accused the government to conspiring against Hezbollah. In all reality, it seems the positive atmosphere of Doha is no longer here. Worrisome articles of a mass weapons influx in Lebanon, Hezbollah expanding its territory, possible another round of clashes in the Bekaa and the actual fighting in Tripoli add to the renewed feeling of doom. But please don't tell the tourists.[...]



So why did Hezbollah use their weapons?

2008-06-16T09:15:32.363+02:00

There's this question that still needs answering: why did Hezbollah rock the boat back in May? After all, things were going just swell for the Party of God. Downtown was comfortably occupied, a political solution was not anywhere in sight and the government of the hated Siniora was brought down to its knees.

Hezbollah's violent overtaking of West-Beirut changed all that. Downtown is booming once again, leaving the Hezbollah followers empty-handed and quite possibly increasingly angry as most of them can't even afford a coffee in the expensive restaurants. A political solution is within reach and March 8 is talking to Siniora with all the due respect they can muster. So what exactly did Hezbollah gain?

As Michael Young has pointed out, by using so much violence against their fellow Lebanese, Hezbollah has effectively rendered itself toothless. Sure, last week saw the warning by the Opposition of escalation if the new government wasn't formed soon, but no one is taking this seriously. It's hard to imagine another round of airport blockade or another battle in West Beirut. In fact, the Opposition's warning could be read as a heart-felt plea for PM Siniora to start sooner rather than later!

So now that the dust has settled and the last echoes of Hezbollah's weapons have faded away, it's time for that simple question: what, exactly, has Hezbollah won by its actions back in May?(image)



Syria ready to finish off Hezbollah?

2008-06-16T08:57:30.108+02:00

Rumors about Syria wanting to get rid of Hezbollah have been spreading increasingly since the killing of Hezbollah strategic mastermind Mughnieh in Damascus. Now, good ol' shaky Abssi (back from the dead) has vowed revenge against those who started the sectarian war that has lead to the takeover of West-Beirut, saying that suicide bombers would not spare God's enemies wherever they are.

Assuming Syria's sponsoring Fatah al-Islam, it seems natural to conclude that Assad has had it with Hezbollah. They must be wanting that peace with Israel pretty badly.

Addendum: a friend wanted to add another argument in favor of the idea that Syria is trying to ditch Hezbollah, namely the "new documents" that president Suleiman apparently has received that would provide additional support for the claim that the Shebaa Farms belong to Lebanon. A plausible theory would be that these documents came from Assad. Is this Syria's way to make Hezbollah even more irrelevant?

Addendum II: someone pointed out another event that supports the theory that Syria has had enough of Hezbollah, namely the cancelling of the national strike by the Labor Union on May 7. Interesting enough, I had written about this angle, but subsequently forgotten about it.(image)



La guerre des autres; or...THE MEDIA DID IT!!!!!

2008-06-09T12:28:21.465+02:00

Nothing in Lebanon is ever the fault of those actually responsible. Accountability has been trdade down a long time ago for accusability in this country: don't worry about who did what, rather focus on who to blame the easiest.

As a mere theoretical example and for illustration purposes only, let's assume we have a political party laying siege to half the capital through military means, would we blame this party for using arms against fellow Lebanese?

Hah, that one's easy: of course not! How about spreading the blame: all politicians are to blame leaving no one in particular to pinpoint the blame upon, you say? Good thinking, you're getting the hang of it. But, but, but, we'd rather see someone or something actually receiving the blame, we don't want any loose ends.

So how about the press?! Let's blame them for the violence, the hatred and the destruction Lebanon suffers from. The press is weak, always divided and, most importantly, they can't fight back because they depend on us, the readers for their existence. This means they care for us, unlike politicians who do fine without us. In fact, they'd prefer to have as little as possible to do with the ones voting them in office.

Good, so the press it is. Now that we have established our victim, let's see what we should accuse them of. Not that it really matters all that much because usually the accusation alone suffices for most Lebanese, but let's wrap things up nicely. No loose ends, remember?

This one is a bit tricky. Sure we can accuse them of being biased, but whoever said the press needs to be neutral, right? So let's first come out and claim just that: the media are supposed to be neutral. If we say this loud enough and repeat it frequently enough, people will accept this preposition without a problem. After that, we'll be able to blame them for being biased.

"Too obvious, Riemer. No one's gonna buy that!", you say? Well, think again. And psst...be sure to ignore the quote of professor Nabil Dajani who had the nerve to say that "The Lebanese media is only reinforcing existing attitudes and accentuating them, but not forcing them". Tsk, too much common sense is not a good thing, especially when it would lead to the clearly unwanted conclusion that perhaps the Lebanese get the press they deserve...oops!(image)



Learning English the hard way

2008-06-06T08:00:38.914+02:00

The Lebanese impress many a foreigner with their superb mastery of languages. In fact, quite a few Lebanese are more fluent in English or French than in their own (step)mother tongue Arabic. That's even more amazing considering the study material. Take a look at the below pictures, that come from a Strawberry Shortcake picture book so little kids learn English while they play.The first picture is innocent enough, even making the Arabic sound more flowery in English. Quite a feat since Arabic is known for its beatiful and colorful expressions.Photo 1: The Arabic says: Strawberry loves to study", the translation in English is certainly more flowery:-)Photo 2: A study that loves, a candy that provides...notice your mind understanding already!Photo 3: Now try to figure out this one...and don't peak at the Arabic!Photo 4: Increasingly difficult to translate: the Lebanese friends I asked had no idea what 'hamadryad' means, but were able to tell me that the Arabic text says that kitties are very happy in the spring. They must have heard about the Doha Truce!Photo 5: What??? Strawberry getting kinky??Photo 6: Ah, that explains all![...]



It’s official: inflation Lebanon reaches 35%

2008-06-04T09:08:53.215+02:00

The Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics has published the inflation figures for the first quarter of 2008, see L’Orient of last weekend (link already gone). They confirm what all Lebanese already knew, namely that the inflation is seriously out of control. The costs of food and non-alcoholic drinks, e.g., have increased with over 35% on annual basis.

One can only hope that our beloved leaders will take actions to bring the inflation back under control. A very good first step would be to allow supermarkets to compete with one another in Lebanon. Ever noticed that most prices are pretty much the same every supermarket you go to? Experts have told me that no one is competing with one another.

There’s this unwritten agreement to keep the prices as high as possible. This results in profit margins between 15 to 40% for most items whereas in, say, The Netherlands, margins are typically less than 2%. Dutch supermarkets compete heavily with each other and often sell various items at a loss. These items, the so-called loss leaders are used to get customers inside the store who then would also buy other, profitable items.

Not so in Lebanon. The best offer you can get are those bundled offers whereby they literally bundle a free item to another item with adhesive tape. This is the result of strict agreements with the distributors who set the prices and bundling is a way to circumvent it. In comparison, the Dutch supermarkets are free to sell items at any price they want which results in significantly lower prices.

A first step would be easy to do for the next government: curtail the power of the distributors by allowing supermarkets to compete on prices. If, say, Spinneys wants to sell Coca Cola at a (near) loss, then by all means it should be allowed to do just that. Given the average profit margin of 25% for Lebanese supermarkets, imagine how many customers a new player could attract by accepting only a 5% profit margin.

Until the Powers That Be read this blog (and they just might!), we’ll simply have to keep forking over up to 40% profit to the supermarket owners.(image)



One photo, all the Lebanese problems

2008-06-03T08:25:13.495+02:00

Now with downtown open again, the sight of the Lebanese parliament at Place d'Etoile against the backdrop of the Al-Amin mosque explains the problems with Lebanon: with religious buildings being taller, bigger and certainly considered more important than the Parliamentary building, it's no wonder peace will always be the next step.

(image) Photo 1: Al-Amin mosque in Downtown Beirut with on the left (somewhat out of sight) the Parliamentary building

And please, don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Sunnis, it's just that this huge mosque makes the buildings of the Lebanese state so insignificant. If the Lady of Lebanon church was not at Harissa but in Downtown, it would have made a similar picture.
(image)



ABC ad gone wrong

2008-06-02T10:17:18.732+02:00

The latest ad of ABC's shopping mall is either very humble or just plain wrong. Take a look at the text of the ad below:

"Step into a world of glamour and style where the ordinary becomes extraordinary and the standard becomes spectacular"

Hrm...shouldn't that be the other way around, namely that the extraordinary is standard at ABC? It's like a car rental company saying that their compacts are called full-size from now on:-)

(image) Photo 1: Recent ABC add...humble or just plain wrong?
(image)



Interview with me in German magazine

2008-05-29T08:32:00.720+02:00

For those who read German, here's an interview with me for the German magazine Readers Edition. Memorable quote:
“Es ist traurig festzustellen, dass es so viel leichter ist den Frieden zu beenden als die Gewalt zu stoppen.”

translation: "Unfortunately, it's easier to end the peace than to stop the violence".

In German, it sounds much better obviously. No wonder they had so many philosophers:-)(image)



Well, someone's reading this blog:-)

2008-06-02T10:20:55.240+02:00

Just in: the Internal Security Forces will be banning all political flags in Beirut. This announcement came a few hours after my post on the SSNP flags in Hamra that offend many Lebanese. Coincidence? Of course not!

Well, erm, perhaps, but hey, if the Lebanese can make believe that peace is just around the corner, so can I believe the Powers That Be read this blog:-)

It's quite an amazing decision btw: not only does the ISF prohibit political flags, they also ban motorcycles as of 6PM today and provocative activities. What's next? Put 'm up against the wall? And all that for a government that's no longer in power after Suleiman got elected president.

It sure is a reminder of the mid 1990's when the government started censoring the press and shut down all TV stations except 4: The only 'political' TV station that was still allowed back then was Future TV because Hariri was the Prime Minister at the time. LBC could continue broadcasting but was forced to cut its ties with the Lebanese Forces, whereas such demands were not made upon Future TV.

They made it even illegal to report anything else than the scores of sports events because of riots that occurred among the fans. Any description of how the match went would only inflame people.

So, here we are today: no more political flags, no more motorcycles and no more "provocative activities". Now see, that last one is kinda tricky. People tend to find many activities provocative, most certainly when they don't agree with the thoughts behind it.

An orange tie? Up against the wall! A PLO shawl? Up against the wall! A picture of your favorite religious leader on your car window? Up against the wall!

You might think why does this blog article have such an innocent title, even has a smiley in it? Surely this topic is too serious for that?! Yes, i know, but that's only to throw them off track! With a title like this, they might skip it (fingers crossed), which would be a Good Thing™ this time since it doesn't look they can handle criticism all too well.

You think they stop at motorcycles? Hope you're right, but don't be too surprised if you wake up one day to find that media such as newspapers, TV stations and blogs are next.(image)



Designer weapons in Lebanon

2008-05-27T10:52:31.899+02:00

Just received some pictures from a friend that show designer weapons, apparently from this blog. Given the Lebanese penchant for fashion and violence, there must be a market for this:-)

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Syrian Social Nationalist Party going strong in Hamra

2008-05-27T10:23:14.862+02:00

Right after Hezbollah's take over of West-Beirut, flags and graffiti of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party appeared everywhere, especially in Hamra. Despite the name, it was founded in Beirut by the Lebanese journalist/philosopher and Greek-Orthodox Antoun Saadeh.Every year, the party organizes a memorial celebration for one of its main achievements: the killing of two Israeli soldiers in Hamra. Interesting enough, they don't celebrate one of their more remarkable achievements: the killing of Bashir Gemayel by an SSNP member 1982. Anyway...Below are some pictures I took today that shows the SSNP is still going strong in Hamra, despite the fact that many Lebanese don't hold warm feelings towards their black flag.Photo 1: Our new president anxiously looking at the SSNP flag in front of AUB's Main GatePhoto 2: A brand new banner in Hamra: "the SSNP congratulates Michel Suleiman for holding the army together and is sure he will also hold Lebanon together in unity"...hrm...so much for the SSNP's ideals of joining Lebanon with Syria?Photo 3: Even an SSNP flag right in front of the 'Hariri building' which was just finished before the fighting and subsequently demolished. Apparantly, the building was a donation of the Hariri foundation to some syndicate and thus no longer belongs to Hariri. Still, the glass front was completely smashed anyway. It seems that the SSNP have set up offices in the abandoned gas station a few meters before this building. Be careful when trying to take pictures, though: the men hanging around there sure didn't appreciate me taking a photograph, so I didn't.Photo 4: A common sight these days: freshly washed flags of the SSNP everywhere you go in Hamra.Photo 5: If the SSNP flags get to you, just walk 50 meters further to enjoy a nice view on the Mediterean Sea. You'd have to ignore the billboard though, showing a model in a cute SSNP-black bikini. One more color that has been politicized...sigh[...]



Suleiman’s balancing act

2008-05-26T10:42:34.102+02:00

If anyone still doubted that general Suleiman would not possess the necessary political skills to run this country, they’d be reassured by his inaugural speech yesterday. A first hint appeared right at the start of his speech: he called for a minute of silence to remember all the martyrs, but continued speaking after only 20 seconds. Military precision has made way for political flexibility.

More seriously, his speech was a careful mix of all the necessary ingredients to keep everybody happy. When speaking about the resistance, e.g., he was (deliberately?) speaking in the past tense: the Resistance played an important role; it did accomplish many things in the defense of Lebanon.

But he didn’t go overboard in praising the Resistance. And how could he? It would be equal to admitting that the Lebanese army he headed for so many years was not doing its job of protecting its citizens. Compare Suleiman to Lahoud and the difference is clear: Lahoud never had a problem with the army’s subservience to Hezbollah’s arms.

By doing so and by stressing the past tense when speaking about the Resistance, Suleiman seemed to make it clear that the resistance’s role lies in the past. From now on, it’s time to formulate a national defense strategy that would incorporate Hezbollah’s arms.

At the same time, Suleiman was clever enough to recognize the importance of the continuing occupation of the Shebaa farms (and the Kfarshouba farms? - is there a renewed focus on the the last group of farms, now with the Syrian-Israeli peace talks possibly leading to placing the Shebaa farms under UN control?) in order to please March 8.

A similar balancing act could be seen when talking about Syria. He stated that diplomatic relationships should be established as well as demarcated borders, but he was careful to only speak of Lebanese held in Israeli prisons and thus avoiding the thorny issue of Lebanese in Syrian jails.

Also, he was clear in stating that the UN Tribunal will be fully supported by his government. Sure enough, the March 8 politicians were not applauding while their March 14 colleagues almost gave Suleiman a standing ovation at this point during his speech.

Another point of interest was his support for the Lebanese Diaspora, saying that they should have a right to nationality. It’s unclear what this entails exactly, but it could be seen as support for giving the Lebanese abroad voting rights.

Suleiman’s political litheness shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, he was the army commander who ignored president Lahoud’s direct orders to prevent a (back then) anti-government demonstration and who prevented the removal of the first Tent City by March 14 supporters. If anything, the Lebanese should take comfort in the fact that having a political able person as the president is a soothing thought.(image)