notes from beirut

Archive for the ‘Lebanese politics’ Category

الحمص مرّة ثانية

In Lebanese politics on January 10, 2010 at 7:38

Going from silly to stupid: round III in the Lebanese-Israeli fight over hummus. Apparently the Israelis beat the two months old Lebanese record of making the world’s biggest plate of hummus, triggering a response from the Lebanese minister of tourism Fadi Abboud. Israel should find another name for the dish, says Abboud, as hummus is the name for a Lebanese dish.

Blogs and news media speak of chickpeas replacing bullets in a third war between the countries – drastic language but I guess the analogy is too good not to be made. Lets just hope this dispute stays in the kitchen. Anyhow, I’m sure phone lines to chefs across the country are busy right now, as the Lebanese taking-back of the record probably won’t be long.

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الدولة اللبنانية

In Lebanese politics, Lebanon on January 5, 2010 at 7:38

An interesting piece from Now Lebanon on the bomb that killed two in Haret Hreik, south Beirut, last week. This part of the city is not only the strongholds of Hezbollah, but also largely out of reach of Lebanese authorities. According to a deal with Hezbollah, police have restricted access to the area and are allowed in to investigate routine crime like car theft and robbery only, not incidents like the one on the eve of Ashura. Thus, the police like all Lebanese mainly gets their information from the press.

Now Lebanon also writes about how authorities don’t even have access to updated maps of the area, which was rebuilt by Hezbollah after the 2006 war. The labeling by many of Hezbollah as “a state within the state” for sure seems very accurate in the light of such facts, but it also highlights other crucial issues, like the (absence of) control and strength of the Lebanese state, and, the ever so important future shape Lebanese domestic politics. Recently, both president Michel Suleiman and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, have voiced calls for an abandonment of sectarianism, putting the issue on the table. And with Hariri off to Damascus before Christmas, anything could happen, right?

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.

العربي الغاضب

In Lebanese politics, Middle East politics on October 27, 2009 at 7:38

Alia’s friend told me yesterday about the brilliant Angry Arab News Service, a blog written by Lebanese As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University. Can’t believe I haven’t found him earlier, but I’m very happy to have him in my RSS feed now. The blog is an invaluable source for news from the Middle East: the Iraqi war, Lebanese domestic politics, various Israeli-Arab disputes and much more, all provided with wit and edge by fearless As’ad.

I especially love the translation of al-Akhbar column about this weekend’s hummus and tabbouleh spectacle, Glory of Lebanon Given to Tabbouleh, in his Monday post. Gotta be one of the funniest comments on contemporary Lebanese society ever!

حمص و تبولة

In Lebanese politics on October 24, 2009 at 7:38

Heard from my Alia, who I’m sharing the flat with, that there was this big event in Beirut today setting a new world record in making the biggest plate of hummus. An open gesture to the Israelis, who held the previous record, this gigantic plate is more than a piece of food, it’s a political statement. Hummus is an ancient (well, very old anyway) Middle Eastern dish which exact origin is unknown, but Lebanese (as do Egyptians by the way) often claim the dish to be particularly theirs. Fair enough, it’s like the debate about Greek fetta cheese, which ended as a triumph for the Greek now having the sole right on selling cheese under the name fetta.

The extra spice to the hummus quarrel is that the dish is very popular also across the southern Lebanese border, in Israel. The making today of the massive hummus plate was under the slogan “Come fight for your bite, you know you’re right”, and by making it into the Guinness book, Lebanon thus kicked out the former record holder, the Israelis. Hm. Something tells me this is not the end to the story. Also, the cooking class is gonna continue tomorrow, when the gathered chefs plan to set another record by preparing an equally gigantic plate of tabbouleh. Aliya told me they offer everyone a taste, so I’m definitely heading there tomorrow. Yummie!