notes from beirut

Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

كل عام و انتم بخير

In everyday life, Lebanon on November 27, 2009 at 7:38

Weekend started early this week, due to the Eid el Adha, a three day holiday which together with Eid el Fitr, at the end of Ramadan, make up the main Islamic holidays. The university is closed of course, and the city is wonderfully quiet and calm. Unlike most mornings, I didn’t wake up today to the noise of honking cars trying to make their way through the morning traffic.

The holiday is a major family event of course, and the Lebanese that I know are all heading to see their families today. Not an option for someone thousands of kilometers away from her relatives like me. But I have something else to look forward to, dear Caroline is coming to Beirut for the weekend, and I look forward to spending time with her. She’ll be my pseudo family for the weekend.

Eid el Adha takes place on the tenth day of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The people over at Al Jazeera have been writing easily accessible and interesting about this year’s Hajj on their Middle East blog, making a nice complement to the prevailing images in much of Western media showing little less than the masses of pilgrims jammed around the kaaba.

Omar Chatriwala for instance, tells us about the railway being laid as we speek by thousands of Chinese guest workers – the Chinese have for quite some time now been investing massively in both Middle Eastern and African countries – to facilitating the three or so millions of pilgrims doing the Hajj every year. Also interesting is the huge facelift of Mecca that Ayman Mohyeldin writes about, where modernizing and expanding the Grand Mosque is the biggest of some forty construction ongoing projects in the holy city

I’ll leave you with that for now. Eid mubarak and have a nice weekend – even if it’s just your normal Saturday and Sunday off, which is not too bad either.


معمر القذافي

In Middle East politics on November 25, 2009 at 7:38

Apparently Libya’s eccentric leader Muammar Gaddafi is called in to mediate between Algeria and Egypt in the heated tension spurred by the World Cup play-off game. Al Jazeera quotes Arab League head Amr Moussa speaking of “the high, distinguished position that the leader enjoys”, hoping Gaddafi will be able to solve the quarrel between his two neighbours. Who knows, he might be able to. And for sure he’ll come up with some unconventional and disputed solutions, he always does.

Apart from the ruling of Libya for 40 years through a homemade mix of Islamism and Socialism, outlined in detail in his 1975 Green Book, he’s recently called for a one state-solution to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and called the UN Security Council “illegitimate and undemocratic” to it’s face. Not to mention the usual habits of his, insisting to stay in his tent when on official visits – he raised it inside the Kremlin last time in Russia – or surrounding himself with only female bodyguards.

Because of eccentricities like these, he’s been everyone’s favorite mockery object for long, especially international media’s. World leaders though, have made quite some u-turns lately, one by one letting him in from the cold. Of course, in exchange for favors like letting foreign companies back in the country, or signing juicy oil contracts and trade agreements, as in last year’s UK rapprochement. Basically, this is a good thing. Talk and exchange is always to prefer over isolation, not least because it provides opportunities for pressuring him to lessen his grip on Libyan society. After 40 years of suppressive rule, it’s not a second to late to soften up.

بيروت ليلا

In Beirut on November 24, 2009 at 7:38

Det är vackrast när det skymmer – it’s most beautiful at dusk. The Beiruti sky was amazing the other day.


The Corniche

فن شوارع الحمراء

In Beirut on November 24, 2009 at 7:38

Thought I’d post some shots with street art from in and around Hamra. This first one is very classical, not a fascinating piece of art maybe, but I like that it’s in Arabic. What better language to do graffiti in than stylish and beautiful Arabic? For those of you who having trouble deciphering the letters, the text says “Graffiti from Beirut”.

Stencil art is hugely popular here. Love it.

The classic silhouette above belongs of iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, here saying “boos elwawa” meaning “kiss the wound”, or, a qualified guess, like the English expression “kiss and make it better”.

And finally, a message of love. Yalla!

مغامرات الأمير أحمد

In everyday life on November 22, 2009 at 7:38

Friday night, I had a very nice cinematic experience when I went to see The Adventures of Prince Ahmed with Hanna and two Danish girls working in the Palestinian refugee camp Ain al-Hilweh (the largest of Lebanon’s 12 camps). Unlike your usual visit to the movies, this was a cine-concert: a screening accompanied by live music. And a very nice one, indeed.

First, getting the cheapest tickets like we did turned out to be a good move since they put us in the very front: not ideal maybe for getting the perfect view of the screen, but excellent since we were close to the band and the live performance. The movie itself is a German film from 1926, all animated with the story being told through images, silhouettes on colorful backgrounds, and a few written sentences appearing now and then to let us know what the characters are saying and thinking. And, of course, through the music. I like the idea of mixing these two art forms, especially the letting a contemporary band put music to a film from 100 years back.

And the animation is just amazing. The film is based on themes from One Thousand and One Nights, so we get to meet familiar characters like Aladdin, a magic horse, the stereotyped Arabic sheik and your usual Oriental femmes fatales of course. Though in line with the Orientalist – that is, the idea that the Orient is antithetical and, consequentially, subordinate and inferior, to the West – image of the Arab world that so persuasively has shaped Europe’s ideas of the region for decades, the film is nevertheless very cute and a beautiful piece of art, and you should definitely see it if you get the chance.


In Beirut on November 21, 2009 at 7:38

For every day that passes, I like Hamra, where I spend most of my time since this is where both my place and the university are, more and more. Gemmayze on the other side of downtown Beirut has definitely got a nice vibe as well, with pretty buildings, winding little side streets and excellent drinking and clubbing. I love to go there, during the day for killing a few hours at a café, or at night for some of that first-class Beiruti party life.

I’m very happy to be in Hamra though, for being conveniently close to AUB of course, but also for the unmistakably friendly and folksy atmosphere. And, the very best cafés in the city. Favorite spots are combined library and café/pub Ta Marbuta, artsy De Prague, hugely popular and laid back Café Younes, and Bread Republic, not least for their excellent lentil soup and super delicious homemade crispbread. I bought the goodie bag below the other day for only 3000 Lebanese pounds ($2), filled with crispbread of different flavours: thyme, cumin, paprika or sesame and poppy seeds. Delicious!

عطلة الاسبوع الماضية

In everyday life on November 20, 2009 at 7:38

Autumn has definitely come to Beirut now. It started getting colder a couple of weeks ago, which means you need a scarf or a sweater also during the day, and something to keep you warm in the house at night. It’s usually nicer outside actually, I haven’t really been cold at all outside, but the flat gets quite chilly late at night and in the mornings. Don’t want to think about how it’ll be in a month! Hopefully, inshallah, the heater will be doing a good job and we won’t suffer too much.

What Beiruti winters are known for though, is not really the cold but rather the rain. The city gets lots of rain during winter, flooding the streets, stopping traffic and making walking an interesting act of skipping pools and jumping across streams of water. Usually though, the showers are heavy but quick. Not like that perpetual damp and grey and icy cold stuff that we Swedes are used to at all. So, think I’ll be quite alright spending the winter here!

Speaking about rain, Alia made these the other day, when her shoes got wet from a sudden shower. Cute, aren’t they?

Here’s the shoe designer herself. Friday afternoon I think, at De Prague in Hamra.

Went out dancing Friday with some people including sweet Hanna and Isabell, friends from AUB. When leaving the club, some random guy came up and gave us this huge chocolate cake. Odd, but very nice!

This is what the cake looked like before we even made it back to their place!

Sunday, we went for a hike in pretty Qadisha valley in northern Lebanon.

Qannoubine monastery hidden among the mountains.

Finally, a shot from Caroline’s visit to town last week with friend Johan who’s also in Damascus to improve his Arabic.

كل شيء مهم

In everyday life on November 19, 2009 at 7:38

So, I’ve been kind of quiet for a while, and apparently I haven’t written a word here for ten days or so. The reason for that is I’ve written a lot stuff elsewhere: assignments and reports on Frantz Fanon and anti-colonial movements in Algeria and Ireland, interviews and grammar for the Lebanese class and all sorts of random things for the Fusha, or classical Arabic, class. Somehow I’ve had a very busy week, not because we’re in a super busy period or so because we’re not, but because things just added up. It’s especially the colonialism and post-colonial class that keeps me busy at the moment. Traboulsi, the teacher, is both challenging and inspiring and I leave class every week intending to read and read and read to get a better picture of stuff I don’t know nearly as much about as I’d like to: the Russian revolution, colonial India, Foucault, Chinese-Japanese relations, German philosophy, the inter-war period in Europe, Hegel of course, and Sartre and Nietzsche and Habermas, and Wittgenstein and… Latin American politics, Canadian politics, decolonization of the African continent and… well, world history in general of course and… yeah, you get it. Lots of things on the to-do-list. Or actually, it’s more of a will-do-sooner-or-later-and-will-then-be-a-smart-and-insightful-person-list. You have such lists as well, right? I like them! Mine is very fluid and keep getting reconfigured all the time, and so long and extensive as well, and not possible (or meant to) at all to get through, so there’s no real pressure on ticking things off it all the time. It’s more like an imaginary challenge, a never-ending reminder of how much there’s to know out there. Ideas, traditions, contradictions, fantasies, stories, knowledge, images, representations – it never ends! Exciting. Yep. What I’m very excited about now though, is to head home, have a snack, relax and maybe chat a little with Alia or watch the next West Wing episode. Think I’ll save Foucault for tomorrow.


In Lebanon on November 10, 2009 at 7:38

“Reliving the terror, once again” is a little piece written by Najla Said, daughter to Edward Said, about violence, war, and people getting caught in it. It’s from a couple of years back, just after the 2006 conflict with Israel, but very very beautiful in a timeless way. Do read it, you really should. It’s real and true and might bring you just a little little bit close to understanding that which can’t be understood.

أخيرا حكومة جديدة

In Lebanese politics on November 10, 2009 at 7:38

The Lebanese politicians have finally, after a five months deadlock since the elections back in June, agreed on how to form the government. Having quarreled for months on who’s to get which post, they now seem to have reached some sort of power sharing agreement that for the mean time settles their disagreements. It remains to be seen however, how long it’ll last. Politics in this country is, well, volatile. To say the least. Alliances and agreements change in the most unexpected ways, and only keeping track of this would be a full time job.

As politics work in a very special manner here, politicians don’t play by the rules applied in a system based on ideological contest and left-right polemics. The major parties are not socialist, conservative or liberal, but instead set out to represent the country’s different confessional groups: the Sunnis, the Shi’as, the Maronite Christians and the Druze. This odd system is a creation of a number of historical circumstances that would require the length of a couple of heavy books to try and sort out, and even then is it contradictory and hard to grasp.

To be very brief though, was the system imposed when the country gained independence in 1943 and then reinforced with the 1989 Taif Agreement ending the decades-long civil war. The Taif Agreement stipulated an end to political sectarianism, but without a set time frame or way to reach that goal, Lebanon is still a place where religious identities and group interests determine politics.

Not to mention how it is shaped by major powers in the region and outside. Syria, Saudi Arabia, USA and Iran all have a handful of strings to pull when they feel like. Which they do, to the despise and frustration of many Lebanese. There are signs that things are changing around here though. Couple of weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s king Abdullah paid the first visit to Syria and president Bashar Assad since the (allegedly Syrian-plotted) assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, and publicly announced that both Saudi Arabia and Syria wants to see a Lebanese unity government. What kind of effects this will have on Lebanon remains to be seen, but the reconciliation is likely to mean more peace and quiet here on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. When things are chilly and hostile between Syria and Saudi Arabia, Lebanon is bound to be caught in the crossfire.

Finally, if we in the coming years will see a thawed relationship between the White House, now inhabited by a president who seems serious in engaging with the Middle East other than through the barrel of a gun, and Iran, that would be equally good news. If being trapped between Saudi Arabia and Syria is problematic, the designated role Lebanon’s had in last years US-Iranian quarrels has been devastating and polarized the country.