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Tag Archives: Lebanon

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

My latest piece for http://www.allvoices.com is on Lebanon’s built environment. The destruction of Lebanon’s built heritage is a very disturbing negative aspect of the very good business that is real estate development. Without an effective state the ability to enforce protection measures the continued destruction of Lebanon’s rich built environment will erode away to the chaotic city that is already emerging:

Lebanon has seen remarkable boom in real estate construction over the past two years. Construction sites dominate Beirut and the sound of drilling emanates from all parts of the city. Real estate investment is derived from a large part of the Lebanese economy which has achieved a growth rate of 7 percent in 2009 and looks to continue growing this year. While many have been enjoying the rich dividends from these real estate investments, the unplanned and unrestricted developments are causing many people to lament the state of the built environment in Beirut.

READ ON

Sari Hanafi, a sociology professor at the American University of Beirut, has done an incredibly brave or stupid act (depending on your perspective) co-editing a book with Israeli academics. This is particularly perplexing considering that Hanafi has put his name to the Lebanese Campaign for the boycott of Zionism in solidarity with the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. This includes boycotting Israeli academics and their institutions, as the statement reads:

Specifically, we ask our colleagues worldwide to support the call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to comprehensively and consistently boycott and disinvest from all Israeli academic and cultural institutions, and to refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joining projects with Israeli institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid.

The book is called The Power of Inclusive Exclusion and looks fascinating. The website details that the book is about:

The Power of Inclusive Exclusion analyzes the Israeli occupation as a rationalized system of political rule. With essays by leading Palestinian and Israeli scholars, a comprehensive chronology, photographs, and original documents, this groundbreaking book calls into question prevalent views of the occupation as a skewed form of brutal colonization, a type of Jewish apartheid, or an inevitable response to terrorism…. The Power of Inclusive Exclusion uncovers the structural logic that sustains and reproduces the occupation regime.

I imagine that Hanafi would take the argument that this project does not contribute to the continued occupation.

The Israeli co-editors of the book are Adi Ophir is Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University and Michal Givoni is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University.

The move by Hanafi has caused a quite a stir at the AUB campus and a petition has been created against normalisation of relations.


The parked car that was smashed up by a drink driver the next morning

I admit to drinking and then driving home in Lebanon. It is something I would not even contemplate doing in the UK and shows how stupid and lemming like I can be. And I don’t want to be a hypocrite but far too many people drink drive in this country and drink to levels where they cannot even walk straight and then drive home. For the second time outside my house a car smashed into one of the cars parked alongside the street. I was woken up by the now to familiar screech and bang. The guy could not even walk straight when he got out of the car, he was completely wasted. Matt Nash did a nice article on Lebanese roads in 2008:

The law has been amended but remains flawed. For example, it does not make seatbelt use mandatory, and only in 1995 was driving drunk outlawed, though the amendment concerned does not define “drunk.”

When this guy got out the car completely wasted he was not arrested by the ISF who were promptly on the scene but instead ordered to give his insurance details. This will not be a great suprise to anyone, as Fady Gebrane, president of the traffic-safety-focused NGO Kunhadi told Nash:

“First of all it doesn’t tackle everything,” he said. “For example, drunk driving is not included, which is the second [leading] reason for accidents in Lebanon.”

What is amazing is that there is so little discussion about this issue. Type into google “drink driving lebanon” and little to nothing comes up concerning Lebanon, it is all about drink driving in the US. It is amazing that in a country where around 2/3rds are not even supposed to drink alcohol that there is no outrage at the number of accidents that are caused by drink driving. In the UK drink driving is a mortal offence and a subject that gets a lot of air time. That guy who crashed outside my apartment in Beirut would have been dragged out of his car and marched straight to jail in the UK; not asked for his address and his insurance details like it was an ordinary accident!

For those of the social democratic persuasion, like me, it will not come as a shock that neo-liberal fundamentalists such as Bush and Co feed off disaster to spread their ideology.

Klein destroys the theory of Milton Freidman’s free market ideology and that the state should be as minimal as possible. Klein exposes how proponents of free market fundamentalism far from extending freedom as they claim. The proponents of totally free markets use extreme measures of oppression to ensure that their privatization schemes and rolling back of social welfare can be implemented. Klein illustrates her theory in country after country starting from Chile and Argentina in South America, and then to Russia, China, South Africa, Sri Lanka…

In the Middle East Klien focuses on Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.

In Iraq Klein notes that it was the Freidmanite economic policies that the Bush regime was pushing through in Iraq that really got the insurgency going. The reduction of the state that included the now famous “de-Baathification” that left 500,000 Iraqis jobless, angry and ready to fight. Further to this, Klein documents how most of the reconstruction work went not to Iraqis or the Iraqi state but to private contractors from the US again leaving hundreds of thousand of Iraqis frustrated and jobless.

In Israel Klein remarks how since the Oslo accord Israel has never been interested in peace but security. This Klein argues is primarily becuase Israel moved from a country that relied on high tech computer technologies in the global economy to security, especially in the world of 9/11.  While a convincing argument Israel did not suddenly come up with the idea of security as the main goal, as opposed to peace, in 1993. If Klein picked up a copy of the Iron Wall by Avi Shlaim she will find that ‘security’ has been Israel driving ideology since its inception, with Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his Revisionist Zionism that has dominated Zionist thinking since Israels inception.

As for Lebanon Klein does not give the country the time it deserves and in fact misunderstands the very nature of the beast. Klein rightfully praises Hezbollah for the efficient way they were able to deliver Iranian funds to their constituents after the July 06 war. But Klein  does not grasp that Hezbollah are the representatives of the Shia in Lebanon. Thus, stating that the Shia population took Hezbollah’s money because if they did not they would be left to the mercy of privatization and Solidere, while not wrong does not really grasp what was and is happening in Lebanon. “If the residents of Lebanon were grateful for the results, it was also becuase they knew the alternative. The alternative was Solidere.”

It must be said that many residents of Lebanon were not ‘grateful for the results’ (mainly the non-Shia) and that Lebanon was left bitterly divided that led to a crisis that is only just beginning to be solved today. There was not a Kenysian vs. Friedman economic debate/war. Instead it was while Bush was in power a confrontation between the US, Israeli and Saudi axis against the Syrian and Iranian one. In short there was to economics than what was going on in Lebanon during and after this period, even if Klein can strongly argue that Israel went to war with Hezbollah for economic reasons.