Archive

Monthly Archives: October 2010

Talk of civil strife and government collapse has become rife as the intense pressure over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon continues to build. Paul Salem the Director of Carnegie recently wrote that, “The tensions over the special tribunal for Lebanon are threatening to push Lebanon to collapse.” You can be forgiven for thinking how did we get here again? What the hell are these “false witnesses”?! I thought Syria did it? Have they still not found the assassins? The STL has had a long and convoluted journey and you can be forgiven for forgetting all the different aspects. So here are 10 things you need to know about the STL:

1. Syria is pretty much now in the clear over the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. The STL is not likely to indict members of the Assad clique. Saad Hariri recently told the media that Syria did NOT assassinate Hariri Snr. and that previous accusations against Syria were “political”.

2. Instead the STL is expected to indict Hezbollah members for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005. Not surprisingly Hezbollah are pissed at this possible indictment.

3. Hezbollah meanwhile are pointing the finger at Israel and claiming that the STL itself is part of a Israeli-US project.

4. Central to the STL controversy is the issue of false witnesses. The UN led investigations took evidence from two self proclaimed Syrian intelligence officers Husam Taher Husam and Muhammed Zuhair Siddiq. It was from evidence from these two “intelligence officers” that the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) – the predecessor to the STL – arrested the four Generals. Gary Gambill best explains this complex drama: here. Syria has just issued 33 arrest warrants in absentia in the false witnesses case. This list includes Detlev Mehlis, former head of the U.N. commission investigating Hariri’s murder, and his aide Gerhard Lehmann….and round…and round….and round we go. The investigator becomes the investigated. One does wonder if this is a form of job creation. Any bets for an investigation of the accusations against the investigators being investigated?

5. The arrested four Generals went on to spend four years in jail without any charges being brought against them. Even the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in March 2008 called the four generals’ detention without charge “arbitrary” and “unjust.” Beautiful example of the UN’s inability to connect the dots…The generals were released from jail in April 2009. For more information on the Generals see here.

6. General Sayyed one of the released generals has caused a particular storm since his release. Apart from calling for the toppling of the Hariri government the General caused a great uproar in Lebanon when he was received at the airport by armed Hezbollah “bodyguards”.

7.Tensions are particularly high over the funding of the STL. Fifty-one percent of the tribunal is funded by voluntary contributions, while 49 percent is funded by Lebanon. Hezbollah unsurprisingly does not want the Lebanese government to continue to fund the tribunal. Thus far the Lebanese government has made four payments to the tribunal with cabinet debating whether to approve funding for 2011.

8. How did this begin again? The UN International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) was established to assist Lebanese authorities in their investigation of all aspects the terrorist bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut 14 February. This was part of UN Resolution 1559 (2005). In 2006 the tribunal was expanded to cover the eleven other assassinations and attempted assassinations since the Hariri assassination.

9. It was Resolution 1664 (2006) that established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that began operations on 1 March 2009.

10. The STL has got Lebanon, the region and the international community (i.e. the US and Europe) in a bit of a fix. It is going to take a lot of creative thinking and even more painful contortions to get out of this current fix. Stay tuned.

I have been very happy of late to see that Lebanese civil society is mobilising to save Lebanon’s built environment. While it is a little late (according to the Lebanese Culture Minister of the 1,200 old mansions and buildings inventoried in 1995 a mere 400 survive) there is an increasing awareness of the importance of architecture to Lebanese identity. Even the government has decided to step in on the act creating a hotline for people to call in and report historic buildings due for demolition. There has at last been an active response to the realisation that Beirut (in particular) has basically sold its historical urban fabric to  greedy urbacidal developers who subsequently destroy anything on their new plot of land and erect a 20/30/50 (depending on what they can get away with) tower. Hopefully the debate over Beirut’s – and Lebanon’s – built environment will increase before it is all squandered.

One added aspect that always frustrates me among civil society activists on this issue is that those buildings considered worth saving are always restricted to those of the Ottoman era. I have written extensively on Beirut’s rich built environment and the city has made an extensive, indigenous and important contribution to the Modern Movement. This is also rapidly being destroyed and I hope civil society activists will also expand their calls to preserve these buildings as well.

Here is an article I wrote for the Guardian a while back on the battle for Beirut’s buildings:

The built environment of Beirut is rapidly changing, and this transformation is destroying much of the city’s rich architectural fabric. Surrounded by the new towering Beirut is the unique and heavily scarred structure of the Egg.

Built by the Lebanese architect Joseph-Philippe Karam in 1965, and dubbed “the Egg” due to its curved form, it is the only surviving building in the downtown area from Lebanon’s vibrant avant-garde movement. Much of the rest of this heritage was destroyed during the civil war (1975-1990), a legacy marked on the outer skin of the Egg.

The Egg, after surviving the war, may not survive the recovery. Beirut’s booming real estate market is resulting in the removal of Beirut’s unique built heritage to make way for the ubiquitous skyscraper. The threat of the Egg being destroyed sparked a wave of emotion among many Lebanese increasingly distressed at the continued demolition of their architectural heritage. There has been substantial online activism andmedia attention to stop Abu Dhabi Investment House, the owners of the site, destroying the Egg. The activists are also vexed by the fact that it is a company from the Gulf that will decide whether the structure will be removed or not. Comments such as “Our identity and culture as Lebanese is not for sale for Gulf millionaires,” capture the frustration.

The Egg is at the centre of a battle over the future of Beirut and the type of city it should become. Beirut has a wonderful and prolific architectural heritage, as does Lebanon as a whole. Although the city has been plagued by successive urban planning failures, a quality urban fabric of Ottoman and French colonial-style buildings did establish itself. As an independent Lebanon entered the 1950s a layer of significant modernist buildings was added. This continued into the 1960s and Beirut, by the end of that decade, had a internationally significant and unique body of modernist architecture. This rich heritage, built mainly by Lebanese master builders and architects, is being squandered.

READ ON HERE