Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Crossed lines

This has been doing the rounds for a day or so, I’ve been holding off on posting about it as it’s all been a little unclear.

So, a telephone operator working for one of Lebanon’s two big telecommunications companies has been arrested for spying for Israel. Ok. So far, so what? This kind of accusation and arrest actually happens quite frequently in Lebanon, Google it, seems that some poor sod gets accused and spoken to every couple of weeks.

Only… looks like this one has some meat to it. He’s accused of tapping into the phone network and thereby allowing Israel to eavesdrop on all sorts of juicy gossip, learn your location via your phone and generally snoop about.

“Yes, that’s one large taouk plate, fries 
and a Coke, please.”

Telecoms security is a serious issue in Lebanon, Hezbollah came out in force to defend their private, presumably secure, network in the face of calls for them to be regulated a while ago. Seems that they were right to be worried.

On the plus side, I hear MTC are offering an exclusive, one time only deal if you want to switch over from Alpha. Hurry, lines are limited.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Recommended reading

If you haven't read this, you really should.

The Runaway General
Stanley McChrystal, Obama's top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House

Your lips are sealed

It appears that three people have been thrown in jail after they insulted Lebanese President Michel Sleiman on Facebook.
Worrisome, no?
I for one would never insult a Lebanese politician. I think they’re all wonderful people who do a fantastic job.

Monday, 28 June 2010

I’m with Argentina

The World Cup, Le Mondial, Kass Al Aalam, whatever you call it where you are, has brought home to me the multi-faceted nature of identity. One person defines themselves by religion, another by political party, another by place of birth, another by adopted country. If you’re Palestinian, you can define yourself by a date (’48, or ’67, corresponding with two waves of refugees). It’s a confusing, and, as a foreigner, often frustrating exercise.

For example, I spent all day yesterday explaining, for the hundredth time, that I could be British, while not being English… all while the English football team crashed out of Le Mondial. This distinction is lost on most Lebanese. Apparently, it’s a concept that is totally beyond them. Nevertheless, when one says, “Ok, if I’m English, then you’re Syrian,” it all gets a little traumatic. Actually, if you’re British, and not English, as I am, chances are that your history isn’t all that different from the Lebanese when it comes to invasion, territorial claims and nationality.

Simple fact of the matter is that Lebanon was a part of Greater Syria that, due to political agitation, secured its freedom.


The point is that nationality, or even identity, is an ephemeral thing that means something different to everyone.

At this World Cup, it’s also struck me that there’s no tradition of supporting the underdog here. When asked, “Why do you support Argentina?” an acquaintance replied, “Because they’re the best.” Isn’t that a little dull? British, and, I think, Western culture, is to support the underdog, not the champion-elect.

What do you gain when Brazil collect another cup for the cabinet? Precious little. Now, supporting Slovakia and seeing them win, that’d be a different matter.

When it comes to football, my only hard and fast rule is that I’ll support anyone who’s playing the Germans or the French. I don’t think that needs an explanation. As a result, and against half of my natural inclinations, I’m with *shudder* Argentina.

But, Las Malvinas = Falkland Islands. Losers don't get to name places.

So, for future reference, my Lebanese identity is this: I’m an irreligious Northern Irish man, from a little town outside Belfast, I am politically apathetic due to there being a lack of parties which inspire confidence in the UK. I support no specific football team, unless they are playing against the Germans or the French. And I am certainly not Phoenician.

I think that ticks all the Lebanese boxes.

Friday, 25 June 2010

An old enmity

It seems that the Sudanese aren’t the only ones sticking the boot into the Lebanese about their attitudes to foreigners. Blogs, news sites and online newspapers are awash with criticism of Lebanon’s treatment of the Palestinians.

It seems that it’s de rigueur to tar the Lebanese with the racism brush.

Well, ok … but there are a few things that aren’t being said in amongst all this righteous indignation.

Take, for example, this article by a Palestinian American in my favorite bleeding-heart Lefty newspaper, The Guardian:

“The Arab world is rife with hypocrisy when it comes to the Palestinian issue. Arab leaders frequently and rightly cite the chronic human rights violations in which Israel engages, but fail to address the marginalisation of Palestinians within their own societies. Historically, Lebanese citizens have declared that naturalising Palestinians will act as a disincentive to their eventual repatriation and the exercise of their inviolable right of return. But this is a specious and cynical misrepresentation of the issue.

First, many diaspora Palestinians who have been naturalised in foreign countries, including myself, still seek to return to Palestine. Second, an individual ought to have the right to lead a complete and fulfilling life in his/her country of birth, irrespective of national or racial identity; it is not up to the Arab leaders to safeguard the Palestinian right of return against the prospect of a meaningful life lived outside Palestine.

More plausibly, Lebanon's miserable record regarding the human rights of Palestinian refugees (and others) is a result of the country's sectarian structure. Lebanon has never been a cohesive political entity and remains divided by sectarian allegiances. Most Lebanese citizens are members of one of three communities: the Sunni community, the Shia community and the Christian community (each of which is further subdivided into competing forces). The country is less divided today than it was in 1991, in the aftermath of the 15-year-long civil war, but it remains fractured.

In this context, it matters that the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are mostly Sunni Muslims. There is a fear that if Palestinians are integrated, they will upset the delicate confessional balance that prevails here. It is therefore difficult to see how Lebanon will undertake to improve the lives of the refugees before the Lebanese solve their own sectarian problems.”

Right, notice that the author doesn’t answer the question he poses in his title, “why”?

Following the 1967 War (The Six Day War) large areas of Lebanon were filled with Palestinian refugees who had fled from Israel-Palestine. In 1970 the PLO was expelled from Jordan at gunpoint during what is known as Black September. They moved en-masse to Lebanon.

What happened next has sparked much of the anti-Palestinian feeling within the country.

The following extract is taken from a Palestinian-run website:

“Under the guise of preparing armed resistance to Israel, the PLO insisted on political, police, and economic control of the refugee camps, as well as access to large areas of South Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley that were used for training. This generated increasing friction with the Lebanese population. Clashes over who was in charge between the Palestinians and Lebanese security and military led to armed incidents flaring up all over Lebanon, as the Palestinians were operating from refugee camps in the South, in and around Beirut, and in the North.”

And all that’s before the most famous event when it comes to Palestinian-Lebanese relations, Sabra and Chatila.

“For 40 hours in September 1982, members of the Israeli-allied Lebanese Phalangist militia raped, killed, and injured a large number of unarmed civilians, mostly children, women and elderly people inside the encircled and sealed Sabra and Shatila camps. The estimate of victims varies between 700 (the official Israeli figure) to 3,500.”

Suffice it to say that there are reasons for Lebanese hostility toward Palestinians and likewise, reasons for Palestinians to be hostile toward Lebanese. This hostility is obviously ongoing and both sides have been guilty of pushing the boundaries. Most famously was the attack on Nahr el Bared camp.

The camp issue is a sensitive one. Simply put, the Palestinians hold weapons to ensure their safety. An understandable attitude given that they’ve been pushed from pillar to post by every Arab nation with little in the way of real, concrete assistance. However, the Lebanese are anxious to demilitarize the camps, again, an understandable desire.

The question is, how do you grant a group extended civil liberties without taking their weapons from them? Additionally, the Lebanese state has the thorny issue of Hezbollah’s weapons and their place with Lebanese society.

It’s a complicated situation that the West does not fully comprehend.

This region is an ethnic, religious mosaic. There are little in the way of the unifying factors and the chasms that divide communities lie close to the surface. The illusion of “Arab unity” or solidarity can be shattered in an instant.

The reality of the situation is this:
1.   1. No Arab country truly cares about the Palestinians. They use them as a political football.

2.   2. The Palestinians and Lebanese both have reasons to distrust each other.

3.   3. Both the Palestinians and the Lebanese have been catastrophically failed by their political elites since the creation of Israel and Lebanon.

4.   4. It is the Lebanese and Palestinian people who have suffered as a result, not the leadership.

Racism exists in the Middle East. Racism exists in every country the world over. That such a violate region is home to such attitudes should strike every intelligent individual as blatantly obvious. However, it does not help the situation when the media presents only one side of the story.

Is it wrong? Of course. Is it surprising? No.

Why am I not surprised that I’ve typed that sentence twice in a matter of days?

One thing’s for certain, it makes my homeland look uncomplicated.

However, the issue is being considered, so maybe there’s room for hope.

Something in the air

Just in. Vital news. Must read. Must tell all. Civic duty.
*Draws a deep breath*
Ok? Ready?
*Steadies himself*
Sit down. Trust me, you’ll want to be sitting down for this.
Beirut is dangerously polluted.
*Collapses into his chair*
As you were.

Seriously? This is news?

As if you can’t see it when you look out over the mountains surrounding the city.

Yes. This is bad news. However, it’s also bleedin’ obvious.

Beiruti air: Thick enough to chew on

And, guess what causes it? Now, this'll shock you: Cars. 

Didn't see that coming, did you?

I guess someone’s got to find jobs for all these PHDs. There's no money/interest in the country to fix the roads/electricity/citizenship issues/political infighting etc., etc., but there is money to investigate the fact that Beirut has a pollution problem.

To surmise:  Beirut is polluted. Beirut has too many cars. Cars are polluting Beirut.

You could bring someone from outside of the city, tell them to walk around Hamra for twenty minutes and they'd tell you the same thing...


Ok, yes, it's a good thing that people are looking into it.

Picture from here.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Crocodile tears?

Following the mistreatment of a group of Sudanese living in Lebanon, which I alluded to here, there’s been an almighty uproar. Hezbollah, the Sudanese and Lebanese governments and the almighty Guardian have all got in on the act.


I can’t help but be cynical here. Seems like a lot of hot air and that everything will blow over with no end result.

Racism is rife in Lebanon. It’s a fact of life. That it occurs in the security forces is hardly surprising. Amid all the sanctimonious waffle, at least that’s become blatantly obvious.

But … they can’t all be bad… they’re considering giving Palestinians a few more rights… yeah, right.

Time for this honky to sign off.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Grand ambition

Electricity, or the lack of it, is something of an ongoing problem for Lebanon. For years the country’s providers have been unable to meet demand. The power stations are either blown up, people are leeching off the grid, or there’s no money to pay for the fuel.

Regardless, there’s never enough juice to go around.

Beirut by night

As a result, the vast majority of Lebanese homes and apartment blocks have generators to make up for the shortfall. Everyone pays a small fortune to some shady guy who hooks you up to the local machine.

It’s been going on for years.

But, after all this time, there’s suddenly a way to fix the problem inside of four years. Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil has rocked up and declared that all is well and that we’ll have 24/7 power inside of four years.

Ahem. Sure. This has been met with outright disbelief from many media sources. The Daily Star, Lebanon’s biggest English-language daily, called him a liar, pure and simple.

You’ll have to excuse the cynicism. Two nights ago I was putting the washing out to dry with the aid of a torch with a windable dynamo. Ah, the 21st Century, don’t you love it?
A Beiruti's best friend


Well, turns out that Charbel and co. allowed Oublie la voiture to go ahead, albeit under a new name. The play went through a series of name changes, including, bizarrely, Meryl Streep, before being released under the title of Stoflo.

Ahhh, the trials of posting live news. We live and learn.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Sail away with me, honey

And the final one for today concerns a ship.

Can you guess what’s going to happen?

Yes, it’s the Lebanese solidarity vessel that’s going to head down south and try to run the Israeli blockade on Gaza. And it’s full of women.

It might be a humanitarian mission, but that 
doesn't mean we can't travel in style, habibi.

Now, I wish the Palestinians all the best, and think that the blockade is vile.

That said, I also remember 2006.

Let’s not pretend that the Lebanese government care about the Palestinians. All they’re doing is jumping on the latest bandwagon.

Step back in time

There have been a few events in recent weeks that hint that all is not well in the heart of the country. Heavy-handed treatment of refugees and the closing of a play hint at something quite disturbing.

Rachid Al-Daif’s play, Oublie La Voiture, was closed down and people ejected as it was a little too racy for staid (?!) Lebanese views. Hmmmm. Apparently every play has to be vetted by the Lebanese General Security and given a permit. This one had been rejected, ran anyway and was shut down.


Charbel felt that the work of Pier Paolo Pasolini had been 
underrated, and if you didn't agree, he'd kick the shit out of you.

Risqué plays are one thing, but violence toward refugees entirely another.

A group of Sudanese refugees were holding a charity fundraiser for a sick child. It’s been described as a “party”. Well, fresh from their turn as avant garde art critics, the police proceeded to break up the gathering.

People were dragged from the building pushed face down on the pavement and generally pushed about. Nice. Not only that, but it was reported that some less-than-pleasant language was used. “Nigger” is a term that most people deem to be disgusting, myself included, unfortunately it is heard quite frequently here. Oh, and the Sudanese are Arabs.

I’m sure I recall hearing Lebanese complain about the Syrians doing similar things when they were in town. Surprised? No. Disappointed? Yes.

But, not to worry, there’ll be an enquiry. And, after all, they got to arrest some illegal immigrants.


Time to check my papers methinks.