THE scent of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution has carried across the Arab world and spread to neighbouring Egypt and most recently Libya.

What were once unthinkable uprisings against entrenched regimes are beginning to force through change. But Diaspora in Wales are worried about just what will come next.

Libya-born Suleman Hawas, businessman and former town mayor of Bridgend, said what the country is witnessing now will change the North African country forever.

“Egypt was a shock to people in Libya, as they thought the [Hosni] Mubarak regime would never fall. What it did was embolden people and gave them the courage to go out onto the streets,” he said.

Mr Hawas, who set up his company Libya Wales Exchange to build trade and cultural ties between the two countries, said he was very concerned by leader Muammar Gaddafi’s ruthless crackdown on protesters.

In a state TV address on Tuesday, Gaddafi called anti-government demonstrators “cockroaches” and “rats” controlled by foreign powers, and warned he would use every last bullet he had to eradicate them.

The country has seen up to 500 people killed in the last few days as protesters, spurred on by other Arab revolutions, call for the dictator to resign after 42 years in power.

“For a while people thought he would be good for Libya, now hundreds of our people have been killed. It seems as though the idea that Gaddafi cares for his people is a lie,” he said.

Mr Hawas, who has family living in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, visited last year and met with Gaddafi’s second son Saif al-Islam.

Mr Hawas said the LSE-educated dictator’s son talked about plans to dismantle the whole system, transform Libya and remove the “Fat Cats” who were exploiting the country’s rich oil reserve.

“He told me he wanted to strip them of their power and make them stand trial [… ]We waited and it never happened,” he said. “If he doesn’t step down, the country will be in turmoil, if he does, the country will be in turmoil – it’s a worrying time.”

Omar Salamat, a 20-year-old dentistry student at Cardiff University, was born in Swansea but his immediate family still live in Tripoli.

He is worried for his brother, parents and grandparents, whose village has seen security forces open fire on protesters on the streets.

“They’ve been terrified, surrounded by the gunfire of Gaddafi’s men. They are not armed, none of the protesters are. Gaddafi has ordered attacks on his own people and killed 500 in just a week,” he told the Mail.

The Arab country has long lived under the hawkish rule of Gaddafi, who took power from the ruling royal family in a bloodless 1969 coup, and is the only ruler Omar and much of the country’s young population have ever known.

“Gaddafi has ruled over Libya for four decades, and for most people in the country that is their whole life,” Omar told the Western Mail. “I was born under the regime.”

Omar joined Libyans from around the country at a protest held outside Downing Street on Tuesday, which saw thousands-strong crowds turning up to show solidarity with anti-government demonstrators at home.

“What’s happening in Libya is a genocide,” he said. “My fear is that it will go unnoticed, they’ve cut off the internet and the phone lines. They are killing people in darkness.

“We are not demanding everything we are just demanding democracy, and for Gaddafi to be eradicated immediately.”

A further protest was organised in Queens Street, Cardiff yesterday, where protesters called on the British Government and the UN to act over what they called a genocide of the Libyan people.

A hundred protesters, some as young as three, waved the old flag of their country used before Gaddafi’s rule and demanded an end to his “brutal dictatorship”.

Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Libya yesterday that its leaders would be held to account for alleged human rights abuses and blocked licenses to deliver arms as violence continues to escalate.

While Egypt may have faded from the media glare, the country could soon be used as a template for post-revolution democracy in the Arab world.

But Egyptians across the country fear that Egypt, which has been ruled autocratically under emergency law since 1967, has a long and bumpy road ahead to free and fair elections.

Eva Abdullah, a member of Newport’s St Mary’s and St Mercurius Abu Saifain Coptic Orthodox Church, said after weeks of worry watching her TV she can do nothing but wait to see what will happen.

Ms Abdullah, who works at the Welsh Refugee Council, said:  “My husband and I had terrible times during the protests, we are scared for the country.

“No one has any idea how the country will bring about the change we were fighting for.

“I was personally worried when Mubarak stepped down. As a Christian, I think he helped keep peace between us, Israel, America and rest of the West,” she told the Mail.

“Whoever will be elected now may not have the same political views and we could see the country completely change.

“But, people are suffering under him. There are massive gaps between Muslims and Christians, between upper class and lower. Change that is needed to make the future fairer.”

Dr Amir El-Sheikha, a surgeon with the Ysbyty Gwynedd NHS, said that his family in Tripoli were optimistic, but were worried that vying political parties would steal what was a people’s revolution.

“I personally would love to see El-Baradei as president, he is a civilised lawyer and in his 70s, which is good because he won’t rule for decades like Mubarak,” said Dr El-Sheika, who lives in Bangor.

“The problem though is that he put his name up against Mubarak during elections a few years ago. The regime’s machine tarnished his name by saying he was pro-Israel and pro-US. Mr Average in Egypt doesn’t know what’s happening in the world and will believe that.

“On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood are overestimated. If they field a candidate they will lose and if elections are held in a year they would see their support drop down to 5%,” he said.

“Egypt is known as the Hollywood of the Middle East because whatever happens in Egypt is copied across the region, so we don’t want to set a bad example, whatever we do.”

As part of the Telegraph’s graduate scheme training with PA we mocked up a page in the paper using InDesign.

Here’s the result:

The Telegraph trainees have been in Howden, East Yorkshire for the past five weeks learning how to become journalists with PA.

We’ve had sessions on everything from legislation on sex offences with David Banks to how to operate a Sony HVR-A1E camera with Andrew Glover.

Paul Bradshaw, a visiting lecturer from City University, taught us how to make heat maps by mashing stats from government and police departments with geographical data.

Here’s my attempt at video and data journalism:

Sarah Rainey and I edited this video about the minster in Howden:

I then produced this visualisation of the number of Twitter users in the Middle East:

http://bit.ly/9Dxpu6

LEBANON, Mleeta: Shimon Peres sits at the top of the chain of command, his name printed in Arabic, bolded and underlined. The names of every infantry and their position in the Israeli army branch out from the president like a military family tree.

“We have mapped out everyone from the leader down to the smallest soldier,” says a tour guide explaining a display at the new Hizbollah tourist complex in the previously occupied hills of south Lebanon. “This is to show we are watching and we know everything,” he adds, boasting that –thanks to Hizbollah intelligence -the details on the chart are accurate to May 20,2010.

The rest of the centre gives off a similar warning. Filled with war booty from the month-long 2006 conflict with Israel, the exhibition room catalogues various Israeli weaknesses and failures.

Inaugurated last week to mark the 10th anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from the south, the new multimillion-dollar complex is the first permanent Hizbollah war museum and has already seen tens of thousands of visitors.

The Lebanese triumph of the 2000 unilateral withdrawal features heavily in the displays. Weaponry and fatigues left by Israeli troops are victoriously splayed across the museum. A single hair can even be seen on the helmet of an Israeli soldier – all that remains after he was killed by Hizbollah mortar. Another exhibit proudly displays trinkets left behind: photos of loved ones, half-finished tubes of toothpaste, and Israeli brand chocolate bar wrappers.

On the adjacent wall are satellite images of Israeli targets in the eventuality of another war: Haifa train station, Ben Gurion International airport, and key electricity stations across the country, replete with their exact aerial co-ordinates.

Once outside, the Hizbollah heritage trail begins with a series of mangled interactive sculptures collectively called “The Abyss.” So-called because it is built inside a crater made by Israeli bombs during the height of the invasion, it parades a tank abandoned by the forces when they withdrew. Upturned and swallowed up by the earth, it is meant to represent the occupiers’ defeat.

The centrepiece is a tombstone carved from volcanic rock with a Star of David at its head, surrounded by metal Hebrew letters spelling out the Jewish State’s future: “This is to warn them that they may have struck here once but it will be their graveyard if they come back,” the tour guide tells his group.

“The Abyss” leads onto “The Frontline” – a real life former Hizbollah hideout in the thick shrubbery of the southern village of Mleeta. Hizbollah militants used to camp out in the hills, watching over Israeli army bases and planning their attacks.

Hizbollah’s leader Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has likened the new tourist centre to Israel’s many Holocaust museums: “Everywhere you go there are memorials [to the Holocaust}, regardless of its authenticity, accuracy or magnitude,” he told supporters via video link at the inauguration ceremony last week.

“We hope this tourist jihad center will be the first step toward preserving the history of our own heroic resistance,” Nasrallah said. Several top government officials attended the event, alongside prominent Jewish American academic and critic of Israel Noam Chomsky.

The anniversary and inauguration of the new centre has come amid US and Israeli accusations that Hizbollah is acquiring advanced weaponry from its backers Syria and Iran, though the group has neither confirmed nor denied the claims.

The latest sabre-rattling has only stoked concerns of another war in the region.Hizbollah officials almost gladly admit that the center – a sprawling 60,000 sq meter site- will likely be flattened in any future war, but say they will rebuild and come back bigger and better. They are already planning two smaller “Resistance tourist centres” and a chain of hotels in the surrounding area, overlooking the tense border with Israel just miles away.

Photo credit: AP/Mohammed Zaatari

 

    

Photo credit: AP/Mohammed Zaatari

 

A mob of angry Lebanese villagers stabbed to death an Egyptian man and then lynched his naked body in the centre of town over allegations he killed four members of a local family.

Mohammed Msallem, a 38-year-old Egyptian who worked as a butcher in Ketermaya, had been arrested a day earlier on suspicion of shooting to death an elderly couple and their two young granddaughters, aged seven and nine.

He was leading police investigators through a re-enactment of the killings when dozens of residents attacked him with sticks and knives, security officials said.

Police rushed Msallem to the intensive care unit of a nearby hospital, but residents broke in, dragged him out and pounded him with sticks.

A security official said police at the scene could not stop the attackers, who blocked streets in the village to prevent police reinforcements from reaching the scene. 

After killing Msallem, the attackers stripped his bloody body down to the victim’s underwear and drove it through town on a car hood, with several local men standing on the hood cheering. 

They then hanged the body from a pole in the centre of town as hundreds of residents cried ‘Allahu Akbar,’ or God is great. Some villagers even took photos of the dead man with their mobile phones.

His body hung from the pole for about ten minutes before Lebanese army troops took him down and drove him away in a jeep.

The rare mob attack shocked many, and security officials said police who were escorting the man at the time were unable to prevent the killing in the Chouf mountain town of Ketermaya.

Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud ordered an investigation and said such vigilante justice was ‘extremely dangerous’.

ecurity officials said Msallem had confessed to killing the four family members, but the motive was not immediately clear. 

One official said Ketermaya residents also believed Msallem had raped a 15-year-old local girl a month earlier, but that report could not be independently confirmed.

There was no immediate word of arrests in the attack. 

Crime has been on the rise in Lebanon but such vigilante mob killings have been rare since the end of the 1975-90 Civil War, during which political violence was common. – The Daily Mail

When it was first performed at London’s Royal Court Theatre in the wake of the 2008-9 Israeli incursion on Gaza there were cries of blood libel by certain pockets of critics and academics, who called Caryl Churchill’s play “Seven Jewish Children”  “horrifically anti-Israel;” accusing her work of being ‘”beyond the boundaries of reasonable political discourse.” One year on and there was no such outcry at this week’s performance at the Lebanese American University’s Gulbenkian Theatre.

“Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza” is an ambitious 10-minute play that attempts to chronicle 70 years of turbulent Arab-Israeli history, taking us seamlessly through pivotal events: from the Holocaust, to the Jewish immigration to Palestine, the creation of Israel, the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs, the First Intifada and finally takes us up to the most recent – Operation Cast Lead, in which 1,417 Palestinians died.

The work is made up of seven scenes, which see parents, grandparents and relatives debate how much their children should be told, or not told. “Tell her there’s dead babies,” one mother instructs in her monologue. “Did she see babies? Tell her she’s got nothing to be ashamed of. Tell her they did it to themselves.”

The nameless protagonist, portrayed by diminutive yet feisty Assil Ayyash, who channels the confused ramblings of the seven guardians, is referring to the media coverage of the invasion of Gaza. Should she let her child watch? Of course she shouldn’t. But if she doesn’t then she won’t be able to come to terms with it. “But tell her they’re filth,” she then reasons, then accedes: “Don’t tell her that/ It will frighten her.” Her schizophrenic dialogue is a reasoning with herself that she and her fellow countrymen have the right to defend the land that was promised to them. A troubled post-war analysis that she can’t seem to conclude.

But her battle is not only with herself. The entire performance sees her fighting for center stage with antagonist and only other actor, a young mute Palestinian played by Hussein Nakhal. The physical battle for space that takes place between them for the length of the play is too obvious a metaphor to miss.

While Nakhal writhes on the stage, slamming his body on the floor in a hypnotic self-flagellation, covering himself with the soil of the land – in a vain attempt to claim it as his own – it is ultimately Ayyash’s howls which triumph. Nakhal denied the last word by virtue of his muteness.

“Tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel?” she screams. “Tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her/Don’t tell her that.” The urgent repeated refrain ‘Tell her/Don’t tell her” demands most of the short script and Ayyash ensures it is delivered forcefully enough to tear us away from whatever else may be going on down stage.

But perhaps British playwright Churchill’s use of voicelessness is not meant to represent eternal subjugation. The LAU production’s director Fuad Halwani suggests that the suppressed have other tools at their disposal –or as he sanguinely puts it: “We try to fight for home with words, but when words fail us there is only music and action.”

Nakhal’s violent thrusting and thrashing takes on a counter-rhythm of its own, possessed by music that only he can hear.

A patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Churchill says she intended her play to be a political event, and LAU’s cast and director see the vision through with more than a little verve. The audience was handed slips of paper at the end of the performance with the message: “Dear Europe, Sorry about that cloud of ash over your heads and that you can’t travel anywhere. We feel just the same. Sincerely, Gaza.” “Seven Jewish Children” shows that fog may work to quieten the people of Gaza, but they will not be silenced

George Galloway remembers telling a friend back in 1977 that Israel was a liability, a leech on the blood supply of the US and all countries that support it, and that one day the world would see.

Almost 35 years later and US General David Petraeus, in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, used the exact same word to describe the state – a day Galloway had long been waiting for.

Like Petraeus, Galloway believes that Israel, until the US actually uses real leverage against the Netanyahu government, will continue to work against American interests, and said as much at a press conference in central Beirut Tuesday.”The realisation is beginning to dawn that this Frankenstein monster of British creation called Israel is out of control,” Galloway said.

“In the last two weeks the US has been embarrassed and insulted by the very people they are funding and now this has become a decisive moment for the US to make a decision on whether Israel can really act in its interest any more.”

Galloway is of course referring to the latest settlement building debacle with the announcement that thousands of new houses will be build in occupied territories that coincided with the arrival of US Vice-President Biden in Tel Aviv, and the illegal use of British passports in the February Mossad hit in Dubai.

As I write this, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is about to address the House of Commons over the reported expulsion of an Israel diplomat – reportedly Mossad’s London representative. US and UK relations with Israel haven’t been quite so strained in living memory, and it seems judging by this latest inimical overture that the Middle East ally has pushed them to their limits.

Tuesday’s press conference was a rallying of troops, or more precisely a rallying of Arab troops. “Who is more affected by Israel’s actions than its Arab neighbours?” Galloway asked. “It is now time for you to stand up against Israel and for the Palestinian struggle.

“It’s time for the Arab world to join this battle, to act as their own public opinion,” Galloway said.

The British MP has launched the newest and possibly most important Gaza aid convoy to date. “Viva Palestina Arabia,”  follows the lead of Viva Palestina UK, Ireland, US, Malaysia, and South Africa before it, and if it goes to plan will see tens of cargo ships setting sail from Turkey and docking at the Gaza harbour in May.

“The ships will be loaded this time not with bread or medicine, which is all that has been allowed in across the land borders, as if the Palestinians in Gaza were animals in a zoo to be fed and kept alive; this time the ships will be loaded with building materials to rebuild houses,” Galloway said Tuesday.

With almost half a million Palestinians living in Lebanon and millions more across the Middle East – none of which allowed to return home, many unable to gain citizenship in their host country and some of whom still unable to enjoy their basic human rights, the Arab aid convoy is more than a little overdue.

Hundreds gathered to hear imparted wisdom from the world’s richest man; Mexican-Lebanese entrepreneur Carlos Slim at the American University of Beirut Wednesday.

Speaking on his successful career and business experience spanning over 50 years during a lecture titled “The New Civilization of Knowledge and Technology,” Slim said his trip had shown Lebanon to be a promising country for development.

Born in Mexico in 1940 to a Lebanese father from Jezzine, Slim was named the world’s wealthiest tycoon by US business magazine Forbes last week, overtaking Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates with his $53.5 billion fortune.

“However, there are areas of problem in this country such as electricity and telecommunications,” he told the American University of Beirut’s Olayan Business School. “I believe both should be open for private investment,” he added, receiving rapturous applause from the packed-out auditorium.

Slim acquired Mexico’s state telephone company in a 1990 privatization, spinning off American Mobil to become the world’s No.4 wireless operator. Having made his millions in the telephone industry, Slim lamented the poor state of Lebanon’s own telecommunications sector.

“Phone prices are very high, which is unfortunately not matched by quality. Selling parts off to private companies may fix some of the problems in service,” Slim said, without elaborating.

Addressing a problem both developing countries Lebanon and Mexico face, Slim said the two must fight growing problems of poverty with greater job opportunities for young people and early education. “Education, education, education is the main support of any society,” Slim said while praising the high standard of teaching at AUB.

Slim then noted Lebanon’s rich history rooted in industry and trade: “It started with exports, and the Phoenicians traveling through Byblos show how society can be developed through technical advances.

“Lebanon needs to start to expand and become more global, but like most small countries it cannot do this with plane or steel factories, it must go global in a way that is good for them.”

The self-made billionaire credited his father as the single biggest inspiration on his career. A Lebanese immigrant who left the Middle East in the early 1900s, Julian Slim Haddad taught Carlos his first lessons in business, while opening the “Star of the Orient” general store – named in honor of his homeland – and buying properties cheap during the Mexican Revolution.

“My father was part of the first wave of immigrants from Lebanon. He didn’t speak any Spanish when he moved, but used a keen business acumen to build a life in Mexico,” he said.

Slim stressed that media reports of possible investment deals in Lebanon remain open, but the primary reason for his visit was to explore his heritage.

Arriving last Thursday in Beirut for his second visit to Lebanon since 1964, the magnate said: “The trip has been very important and very emotional. I came not to see my country but to know it. I feel an affinity [with the Lebanese] and their great characteristics are maintained even after four or five generations.”

When asked about what role the Lebanese disapora should play, Slim said: “They should come back more often than tourists do and not lose the spirit of the country.”

A widower with six children, Slim has handed over the daily operations of his companies to his sons, who he hopes will one day visit Lebanon.

Unlike most of the super-wealthy on the Forbes’ list, Slim enjoys a low-key family lifestyle: living in the same house for almost 40 years and driving an ageing Mercedes Benz.

“Well we leave here with nothing,” he said during Wednesday’s lecture. “A greatness of wealth is only temporary … it is not the only measure of success.”

A friend and colleague of mine at the paper Sam Tarling went to south Lebanon to watch the final day of the Shiite Ashura festival and took some spectacular photos.

While the Beirut suburbs have long-abandoned the ritual of self-flagellation and bloodletting that continues to take place in Amal strongholds, thousands took to the streets of Nabatieh to honour Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD.

I went to Hizbullah-dominated south Beirut instead in the wake of the bomb explosion killing two Hamas operatives and the article can be found in the last post.



Security was beefed up for the final day of the Shiite Ashura festival Sunday in south Beirut and any rumours of Hizbullah leader Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah making a rare public appearance were quelled following Saturday’s car bomb explosion.

The heartland of Lebanon’s militant group Hizbullah was under tight surveillance in the wake of an attack on its doorstep, many concerned of another serious breach of security after two visiting Hamas operatives were killed in the blast.

While the Beirut suburbs have long-abandoned the annual ritual of self-flagellation and bloodletting that continues to take place in Amal strongholds of south Lebanon, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to march in honor of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD.

The crowd – overseen by hundreds of plain clothes security guards – watched the giant screen projecting the image of Nasrallah, who spoke via satellite link from a hiding place instead of making a much-anticipated appearance. He did not mention the attack, but rather spoke of the continuing Israeli threat and called on Egypt to stop the blockade of the tunnel to Gaza on the final day of the 10-day festival.

A Hizbullah security official at the scene said they were on heightened alert after the blast that ripped through the Haret Hreik neighborhood, which took place on the first anniversary marking the Israeli war on Gaza. “We are being very careful after the blast,” he said, “there are lots of people here who could be targeted in an attack, especially today and especially here.”

Explosions in the area, which is almost completely controlled by the Shiite Hizbullah, are very rare and it is still unclear who is behind the attack. Nasrallah said that “there are no boundaries for Israeli terrorism, and let’s remind the world today about its crimes in Gaza and in Lebanon, its continuous threats to Jerusalem and the Palestinian population,” while calling for a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

He then said on the occasion of Imam Hussein’s death: “I tell Israel again that we will fight like Karbali and Husseini soldiers and we will only have victories,” while the crowds in the Haret Hreik square in Dahiyeh chanted “Death to Israel,” in their thousands.

There has been an intensifying of political rhetoric during the group’s nightly speeches over the last week, with Nasrallah accusing Israel and the US of practising “psychological warfare” against Lebanon and warning followers to defend themselves against the two states.

The blast on Saturday killed three and wounded five more. A Hamas official confirmed on local Al-Arabiya TV that two operatives of the Palestinian Islamist group were among the dead.

Police officials say explosive devices were planted in the car of Hamas representative to Lebanon Ali Barakeh, exploding just meters away from a community center where hundreds were gathered to watch Nasrallah’s televised Eve of Ashura speech.

The Sheikh has appeared in public only twice in the last three years- at the last day of the Ashura festival in 2008 and in September 2006 at a “Victory Rally” marking the end of a month-long invasion of Lebanon by Israel.