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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.



A leaked manual on security measures at US airports reveals that Lebanese passport-holders are made to go through tighter screening when traveling to America.

Lebanese citizens will automatically be subject to greater security checks at the airport “unless there are specific instructions not to,” according to the secret Homeland Security document.

Extra screening measures could include being asked to remove footwear, body scanning by airport staff, lengthier questioning at passport control or an increase of hand luggage checks.

The document, marked as “sensitive security information,” is the first to let slip post-9/11 security details for American airports and reveals that travelers from certain countries are treated with greater caution.

Lebanon is one of a dozen singled out on the list, along with Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, and Algeria- all countries the US has experienced strained diplomatic relations with in the last few years.

Senator Susan Collins, a ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, called the release of the information shocking and reckless this week, saying the manual “provides a road map to those who would do us harm.”

Security at US airports has been significantly tightened since the September 11, 2001 attacks when hijackers commandeered four commercial planes, crashing them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Passengers are now more likely to experience being patted-down or thoroughly checked by screeners using hand-held metal detectors as part of a new policy adopted after the attacks.

Lebanon’s new cabinet has agreed on a policy statement that recognises Hizbullah’s right to use arms against Israel, despite reservations from the Western-backed ruling majority.

The cabinet had already met eight times in an attempt to iron out the clause which refers to the party’s substantial arsenal, with some ministers arguing it undermines the authority of the state.

The clause in question states the right of “Lebanon, its government, its people, its army and its resistance” to liberate all Lebanese territory.

Hizbullah is commonly referred to as the resistance in Lebanon.

Christian members of the majority, including the Phalange Party and Lebanese Forces, argue that group’s arsenal runs counter to UN resolutions.

However Hizbullah, which has two ministers in the new 30-member unity cabinet, has made it clear the group’s right to use weapons against Israel is not up for debate.

The Shiite group, considered a terrorist organisation by Washington, maintains that Israel poses a serious threat and it is necessary to protect the country against future acts of aggression, citing the 2006 war between Israel and southern Lebanon.

The body of British journalist Alec Collett who was executed by Palestinian militants has been found this week in Lebanon after a 24-year hunt.

The search for the 64-year-old’s remains, organised by the British embassy in Lebanon, began last week in the eastern region of Bekaa after the excavation team received a tip-off.

Alec Collett's body was found in Lebanon after 24-year hunt

Both the British Foreign Office and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) confirmed the DNA results Monday.

Collett, who was on an United Nations assignment covering refugee camps in Lebanon, was kidnapped at gun-point by a Palestinian terrorist group known as Abu Nidal during the height of Lebanon’s civil war in 1985.

The team of Metropolitan counterterrorism police and two forensic archaeologists found the bones at a site formerly used as a military base by the group near the border with Syria.

The UN gave their condolences in a statement released by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s spokeswoman. “He is grateful for the work done by the Department of Safety and Security in helping to determine what happened to Mr Collett.

“Although he is saddened by Alec Collett’s death, he hopes that the actions taken to find his remains can provide a measure of comfort to his loved ones,” the statement said.

Private arrangements are being made to fly the body back to his family, according to Britain’s Foreign Office, who said they were “pleased to have closure after so long.”

Abu Nidal’s leader, Sabri al-Banna, had reportedly thought that hostage Collett could be swapped for three members jailed in Britain after the attempted assassination in 1982 of Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador to London.

One year after he went missing with no exchange made, his captors killed Collett and released a grainy video showing a hooded figure that appeared to have been hanged, though no positive identification could be made.

Collett was one of at least 88 foreigners to be kidnapped in Lebanon between 1984 and 1991. Fourteen of which were British nationals, including television reporter John McCarthy.

Until this week, the United Nations had tried four times in vain to find the body of the missing Briton.

They expressed relief the body had finally been unearthed this week and that their searches had paid off. “The secretary-general appreciates the role played by the relevant authorities in the United Kingdom and in Lebanon to resolve this matter after so many years.”

Maid in Lebanon found hanged from her employer's balcony

It is being called modern-day slavery by human rights groups, and is claiming the lives of hundreds of women each year in the Middle East.

You wouldn’t think it, but domestic labor is a deadly business for migrants here, where up to 30 women have committed suicide, or died trying to escape intolerable working conditions in the last few weeks alone.

Rather than being anomalies, unfortunately, their deaths are the most recent in an alarming trend.

The women, mainly from developing countries Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, come in their millions to the Middle East in search of better pay and opportunities, but soon discover the move comes at a higher price.

Last month, 26-year-old Ethiopian Matente Kebede Zeditu, was found hanged from an olive tree in southern Lebanon. Kassaye Atsegenet, 24, jumped from the seventh floor of a Beirut building days later, having left a suicide note. Another, a Madagascan named only as Mampionona, leapt from the balcony to escape her high-rise virtual prison, tired of the daily grind of cleaning and minding the children.

Without the legislation to protect their basic human rights and with little access to justice in their host countries, sadly it is not uncommon for many women working as maids to experience forced confinement, food deprivation, excessively long hours and even sexual abuse at the hands of their employers.

One of the girls left a simple parting message for her employer, reading “Here are your f***ing bedsheets, Madame. I will not be cleaning them today,” before tying a noose around her neck and jumping from the balcony.

“She is one of the brave ones,” a young woman named Angelique working as a maid for a Lebanese family in Beirut tells me. “I think about killing myself almost every day. When I am hanging clothes out to dry, I watch the tiny people going by from the seventh floor and wonder how long it would take me to hit the ground.”

At 19-years-old, Angelique should not be thinking about ways to end her life, but that is all she has done since leaving her home in rural Ethiopia eight months ago.

“Anything would be better than my life as it is now,” she says, during the first time out of her employer’s house in over two months.

Angelique, who did not wish to give her full name, has had her hair cut short by her female employer, who complained she looked too pretty with it long. She is forced to wear the traditional pink maid’s uniform six days a week, 14 hours a day, and sleeps on the floor of the kitchen.

Like many other women in her situation, she was lured to the Middle East with false promises made by the agency that employed her. These agencies sell women to “sponsors,” or employers, who then pay wages depending on their nationality.

The newest on the market; Nepalese women can earn as little as $150 a month, while the older hands, the Filipinos, known for their good English and affable manner, can make as much as $300.

Angelique gets just $175, which she sends home to support her family each month. “But I don’t get paid if I am ‘bad’,” she says, “or when Madame is not in a good mood. I didn’t get any money for four months when she was arguing with her husband.”

It is not surprising human rights workers in the region are calling it slavery when these women are literally being worked to death, often for nothing in return.

US-based organization Human Rights Watch has found that at least one woman dies a week in parts of the Middle East, while many more are injured trying to escape their abusive employers and harsh working conditions.

Lebanon, Jordan, UAE and Kuwait have seen the highest suicide rates, where it is not uncommon for women to have passports confiscated or to be locked inside the house for years at a time.

In the past year, both Ethiopia and the Philippines took the step of banning all travel to Lebanon and Jordan due to the high number of suspicious deaths among the domestic worker community.

 The ban has only pushed the trade underground, however, and agencies in the two countries now smuggle women through third countries like Yemen. As long as there are women from developing countries desperate enough to be smuggled in, the onus should be on the countries letting it happen to pass the legislation ensuring their basic human rights.

Yet all but three countries in the Middle East have refused to sign the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers, as cheap labor makes up an integral part of the region’s economy.

Not even the needless deaths of hundreds of women have given governments the impetus to sign; leaving migrant workers’ rights the gap in the law that seems no one is willing to fill.

Middle Eastern countries should sign the convention, or at least introduce their own labor laws, in order to stop more women returning home to their families in coffins.

A Beirut school has removed a textbook containing excerpts of The Diary of Anne Frank from its syllabus after Hizbullah claimed it promotes Zionism.

annefrank

Anne Frank

“The book focuses on the persecution of Jews during the war, but even more dangerous is the theatrical and dramatic method employed to narrate the diaries in an emotional way,” MP Hussein Hajj Hassan said on Hizbullah’s TV station, Al-Manar.

“These respected, established schools are teaching the so-called tragedy this girl lived — how long will Lebanon remain an open arena for this Zionism?”

Attorney Naim Kalaani, a member of the Committee for the Boycott of Zionist Goods, told the channel the use of the book in a school constituted a violation of Lebanese law, which bans the import of Israeli goods and cooperation with Israeli institutions, and is “tantamount to a step toward normalisation” in ties with Israel.

Soon afterwards, a private English-language school removed the book. Others are still discussing the possibility. The Diary of Anne Frank was recently translated into Arabic and Farsi by the Paris-based Aladdin Project, which aims to spread awareness of the Holocaust among Muslims.

The project said in a statement that it “condemns this campaign of vilification and intimidation by Hizbullah’s TV.”

Thousands have downloaded the project’s translated versions from over 50 countries, including Lebanon.

This marks the second campaign by the group in as many weeks against material in textbooks, after it forced a leading Lebanese school to remove pages from a history book that described Hizbullah and Hamas as terrorist organisations.

The road to equality is still a long one in Lebanon. The promises following the period of civil peace were betrayed, especially those intended to forge equality for women, which was a fundamental demand of Lebanese civil society.

Lebanon ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1996 in response to continuous pressure from civil society organizations. 

Despite this, the Lebanese state continues to maintain reservations on nationality, arbitration and marriage and family life, and the Lebanese Penal Code still discriminates against women in a number of its provisions, including rape, adultery and impudence.

I publish here a list of key legislation restricting women’s rights in Lebanon, and breaches of the laws aimed at upholding them.

Lebanese Penal Code 1943

* Rape is permitted within marriage [Articles 503 and 504].

* If a man rapes a woman but then offers to marry his victim, he is given a pardon [Article 520].

* An adulterous woman is sentenced to three months to two years of imprisonment [Article 478] .

* “Honor killing”: Men benefit from an extenuating excuse if he catches his wife, daughter or sister during the act of adultery or sexual intercourse and kills or unwillingly injures one of the two people involved [Article 562].

Nationality Law

Lebanese citizenship is granted to:

– The children of a Lebanese father

– The person born in Lebanon and did not prove that he/she has acquired on birth another foreign nationality by filiation.

– The person born in Lebanon from unknown parents or parents whose nationalities are unknown[Article 1, Law 1925].

 Personal Status and Family Rights Law 

* In all sects, the father is the mandatory custodian over children. He is, therefore, the only one entitled to authorize their travel or open banking accounts [Family Rights Law].

* Couples cohabiting outside of marriage have no legal protection [Personal Status Law]. 

For Sunni and Shiite sects:

* The testimony of one man is equal to that of two women [Family Rights Law: Article 34]. 

* The husband has the right to forbid his wife from leaving the home of the married couple, to watch her visits, to bring her back to the house against her will and to educate her [Family Rights law: Article 73].

* A man has the right to inherit twice the amount that a woman does.

 For Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Evangelical sects:

* The man must protect his wife and the woman must obey her husband and follow him to wherever he sees appropriate for her to live. 

Key International Conventions on Human Rights signed by Lebanon:

* The Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women in 1996: reservations on Article 9 pertaining to nationality, Article 16 pertaining to marriage and family life, and Article 29 pertaining to arbitration 

* The Convention for the Political Rights of Women in 1948 (ratified in 1955).

* The Convention against Discrimination in Education 1960

* The Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of other in 1956

* Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women

* Universal Declaration of Human Rights

* The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1972

 Lebanese Constitution:

* “Lebanon is … based on respect for … social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination.” [Paragraph (c) of the Preamble]

* “All Lebanese are equal before the law. They equally enjoy civil and political rights and equally are bound by public obligations and duties without any distinction.” [Article 7]

Lebanon is to mark occupied Jerusalem’s appointment as “Arab Culture Capital 2009” with events across the country for the Palestinian diaspora next month, as Israeli authorities quash celebrations at home.

The much-contested capital Jerusalem was chosen by UNESCO and the Arab League this year to receive the annual award for its unrivalled contribution to Arab culture, despite Israeli protestations that the holy city is its own.

A Palestinian girl celebrates the Al-Quds honour

With Lebanon home to almost half a million Palestinians, the Culture Ministry has decided to celebrate the achievement with two months of cultural and artistic events to begin next week in Beirut, which was itself last awarded the honor in 1999.

The ministry’s coordinator of the Arab Culture Capital events, Dima Raad, said that with large number of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon it was important the country mark the occasion.

“What we are doing with the events is highlighting the Palestinian cause. Its people should be allowed back, but because they are not we have to make it like home for them here in Lebanon,” Raad said.

“We plan to start the events now and carry on until the last day of 2009, so that every moment until then is a celebration for Palestinians in Lebanon.”

The first event is scheduled for November 9, which will see a week of film screenings at ARESCO Palace on various Palestinian themes, produced by Lebanese directors.

International touring dance troupe “Wishah” will then perform at Palestinian refugee camps across the country, aimed at sharing the Arab cultural history with those unable to return.

The last event on the agenda, “Made in Palestine,” will exhibit installation work, famous paintings and poetry readings in early December. The event will explore the modern history of Palestinians and their national struggle to liberate, as told by artists living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, however it is recognised by all members of the Arab League as the Palestinian capital.

Most of the celebrations in the capital have either been dispersed or banned in advance, as according to Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, the events would constitute a violation of the interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which includes a clause that forbids the Palestinian Authorities from organizing activities in Israeli territory.

Many Palestinians living in the occupied territories are now making the trip to Lebanon to join with the some-400,000 refugees in the country’s festivities.

Raad, however, expressed regret that two top visiting speakers have been stopped from leaving Israel to attend the events.

Lecturer Mohammad Atta and Islamic history professor Nazmi el-Jabah of Birzeit University in Palestine were programmed to speak during a series of talks, but have been forced to pull out.

“They stopped them just at the last minute which is a shame because it is people like these that have given Jerusalem its culture.”

However, Raad stressed that the 60-day-long series will not be dampened by the travel ban. “The celebrations must go on and the Palestinians are very grateful for these events. It is something for their destiny, something to show they will exist always.”

Simultaneous ceremonies took place in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Gaza, Nazareth, and Al-Rashadiyeh and Mar Ilias refugee camps in Lebanon via satellite link at the official opening back in March, after its January start was delayed by the 22-day Israeli offensive on Gaza.

The synchronized celebrations were aimed at building a cultural bridge between Palestinian people in the territories and those living in the diaspora.

Memorial postage stamps bearing the Arab Culture Capital motif, designed and created in honor of Jerusalem’s appointment, have also been released in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Qatar.

A celebration was held earlier this month under the auspices of President Michel Sleiman at the headquarters of UNESCO in Beirut to launch the program for the Jerusalem Arab Capital of Culture 2009.

The general director of the Lebanese Culture Ministry Omar Halablab gave a speech in which he described the city of Jerusalem as “the true representative” of Arab culture and praised the Arab League’s choice.

Any good comedian will tell you that from great tragedy you must make laughter. Dom Joly, a Beirut-born British comic heavyweight would know the technique a little better than most.

A comedian and writer who found fame a decade ago with his hidden camera show “Trigger Happy TV,” Joly was born high up in the mountains overlooking east Beirut, giving him the panoramic view of the Lebanese Civil War that would shape the course of his life.

Returning to Lebanon after a long lull for research for his new unusual travel book “The Dark Tourist,” Joly reflects on whether his deep-seated need to laugh in the face of danger came from this moment; watching the chaos unfurl beneath him.

To merely say he had a strange childhood would be an injustice to its true absurdity. The 40-year-old comedian spent his early years at prestigious Lebanese Quaker school Brummana High with Osama bin Laden’s brothers.

The humorist jokes that somewhere out there is a grainy school photograph of him with the bin Laden brood.

You can almost picture it – Joly pulling the sort of ridiculous face that makes him so instantly recognizable today, and the young bin Laden boys with their more cerebral smirks.

“I’ve tried looking them up on Friends Reunited…but nothing,” he says, disappointedly

It is his off-the-wall humor that has gained Joly international recognition, exemplified by sketches in Trigger Happy TV where he shouts at obnoxious volumes into an oversized telephone in inappropriate public places. Another gag sees Joly casually perusing the aisles of a china shop dressed as a bull. To this day he says he still can’t shake off the show’s more memorable catchphrases.

It turns out the show could have gone in an altogether different direction; Joly says his original plan to film in Lebanon was scuppered by problems in getting insurance. It is doubtful it would have enjoyed quite the same success over here: The comedy mostly derives from the friendly sending up of characteristic British reserve.

Dressed as a giant snail, another skit shows Joly slowly crawling along a zebra crossing at a busy intersection, with not the merest toot of a horn or the ultimate display of

Dom Joly in front of the Hariri mosque in downtown Beirut

British displeasure – a dramatic exhale of breath – to interrupt the farce.

“In England it’s like ‘just don’t stab me and I won’t get in your way,’ whereas in Lebanon people would get involved,” Joly jokes. “If I did that same sketch here I would have been run down and then probably shot by hunters.”

Joly’s return to his birthplace marks the end of a long absence. He says much has changed in the intervening time.

“I am seeing Lebanon in a completely different way than how I remember it,” he says, taking in the sites of a newly-restored downtown. “It is a country of constant renewal.”

Joly’s new book will document his travels in the world’s least popular destinations.

Having always had a penchant for holidays in hazardous locations, Joly has already paid a weekend trip to the eerie site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in northern Ukraine and visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

It is odd for Joly, who spent the first decade of his life in Lebanon, that its inclusion in his book about “dark tourism” does not feel out of place.

“Beirut is still seen as a place for hardy back-packers,” he says. “Most people still think it is a war zone or, more peculiarly, a country made up of nothing but desert and camels.”

Joly admits to being happiest when he is off the beaten track and wants to fill his upcoming book with stories from places as far-flung as Rwanda and Hiroshima. He had also hoped for Libya, but had to strike it from the list after being denied a visa last month.

“I thought it had something to do with the whole Lockerbie bomber Scottish government fiasco, but no, they were actually just banning me.”

It turned out the Libyan government had taken offense to a piece Joly had written some four years earlier in his weekly column for British paper The Independent about the Syrian secret service, making him persona non grata.

“I love that it is a personal ban against me,” Joly says. “It feels like a badge of honor.”

He admits to being a danger junkie, constantly thinking of how he can add more excitement to a situation: “I think it all began in my childhood. Living in Beirut you had to face things that scared you or they would get the better of you.”

Joly thought growing up in a conflict zone was a normal part of life until he moved in England at the age of eight.

“On my first day of school I flipped open my suitcase ready to swap my M16 shrapnel with the other boys as you would do in Beirut to make friends,” Joly recounts. “It wasn’t long before an ex-SAS guy came and quietly disposed of my collection.”

Joly is not used to being set such boundaries, and says that apart from arrests in America for small traffic offenses he has never been in any trouble, which he calls “quite disappointing.”

“But I know deep down I’m chicken,” he says. “If I ever actually have a bad experience I would probably stop immediately, run home to my family, break down in tears and promise never to go away again.

“I am a coward and that’s the note on which I am going to start the new book.”

“The Dark Tourist” is just one of many projects the busy comedian has lined up. Joly is also planning to take Trigger Happy from the small screen to the silver screen by next year, but is worried about the particulars.

“We need to avoid … taking something that is essentially great on TV and giving it a storyline. All of a sudden [Trigger Happy’s] big mobile guy has a romantic interest and then it wouldn’t work,” says Joly.

So long as he emerges unscathed from his adventures in international danger zones, fans of Joly have much to look forward to.

Photo courtesy of fellow Daily Star staffer Sam Tarling