By Bassem Mroue

Mohammed Hussein has stacked 300 sandbags outside his coffee shop in Beirut’s southern suburbs to reassure customers frightened by a wave of deadly bombings there, but business is still down by half.

The once-bustling Shiite suburb’s streets are quiet and its residents on high alert after a series of six blasts, the first of which was in July, killed at least 57 people. They are blamed on Sunni radicals, retaliating against Hezbollah for sending its troops to fight in Syria’s civil war by attacking the Shiite militia’s base of support.

Hussein, 25, is one of many shop owners in the suburb, also known as Dahiyeh, who have been fortifying their institutions and banning unknown cars from parking in front of them for fear of blasts.

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By Richard Hooper

During the 1960s, the US and the Soviet Union competed for supremacy in space. But there was another contestant in the race – the Lebanese Rocket Society, a science club from a university in Beirut and the subject of a recently released film.

“My vision was to explore space – Lebanon could have done that.”

Manoug Manougian’s boast may sound unlikely, but 50 years ago he and a group of students found themselves as space pioneers of the Arab world. Despite a shoestring budget, they developed a rocket capable of reaching the edge of space.

“Here was tiny Lebanon, able to do what the rest of the Arab world hadn’t done,” Manougian says. “We were young kids, in our early 20s, doing something incredible.”

 

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Lots of people announce the birth of their baby on Facebook – but not many get a congratulatory tweet back from the president. Yet that’s what happened to Lebanese couple Kholoud Sukkarieh and Nidal Darwish.

Earlier this year, they became the first couple to have a secular, civil marriage in Lebanon. Now, their baby – one-month-old Ghadi – has reportedly become the first child registered there without a sect specified on its birth certificate. The pair announced the news on their Twitter and Facebook accounts, and the response from President Michel Suleiman came a few hours later. “It was nice surprise that he congratulated us – we didn’t expect it,” Ms Sukkarieh told the BBC.

In Lebanon, a person’s religious sect matters in everyday life. Military and public sector jobs are allocated according to a religious-based quota system. This approach extends to the top level of government too – the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia.

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8. Beirut, Lebanon
Boasts the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut Art Center and Sfeir-Semler Gallery. Artists like Ziad Antar, Marwa Arsanios and Ali Cherri live there.

Click here to read the article in full 

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Mashrou’ Leila are one of the most notable indie pop bands in the Middle East – and one of the most controversial. With a lead singer who is openly gay and lyrics sung in Arabic that satirise Lebanese society and politics, the band are overturning the status quo in Arab pop.

They formed in 2008, and their name means “the overnight project” – a reference to the night-time jam sessions out of which the band was born. Their sound is a mix of influences, from indie guitar music – the Arctic Monkeys, the Strokes and Radiohead – to Lebanese singer Fairuz (think the Arab world’s Maria Callas).

Mashrou’ Leila have come under fire for the candour of their lyrics, sung by frontman Hamed Sinno. Their bold decision to sing about sexuality in a region where this is not readily accepted is unprecedented. Take Shim El Yasmine (“Smell the Jasmine”), which is about a gay relationship and sung by Sinno as though torn between pain and ecstasy: “I would have liked to keep you near me/Introduce you to my parents/have you crown my heart/Cook your food, sweep your home/Spoil your kids, be your housewife.”

At the Baalbek music festival in Lebanon in July, Sinno referred to getting “a lot of shit for [his] sexuality”, and for song lyrics that were about gender and sexuality. Nevertheless, he dismissed the idea that the band deliberately courts controversy with their lyrics, insisting they just sing about what matters to their generation. “We go down those roads when we feel it’s necessary.”

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By Loveday Morris and Suzan Haidamous

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A powerful car bomb ripped through a busy shopping street in Hezbollah’s stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday, killing at least 21 people and injuring hundreds in the deadliest attack to hit the Lebanese capital in more than eight years.

The explosion early Thursday evening tore the facades off apartment buildings and set afire parked cars in the Ruwais neighborhood, an area of staunch support for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement that has been the subject of reprisal attacks since sending its militants in recent weeks to back President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria. A group that asserted responsibility for the attack threatened “more and more” to come.

With Lebanon deeply divided over the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah has appeared to be trying to divert attention from its controversial decision to send fighters to Syria by focusing on its sworn enemy Israel, claiming on Wednesday an attack that wounded four Israeli soldiers last week. However, Syrian rebel groups have vowed to continue to strike against the movement until it withdraws its forces from Syria.

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By Emily O’Dell

It’s easy to feel guilty when you’re creaming a kid with cancer in UNO or Fussball, but the Lebanese and Syrian kids with whom I play each week in Beirut love a tough match.

“No matter how bad they feel, you’ll see that the children want you to distract them from their pain — they know the healing value of play,” the volunteer coordinator said on my first day at the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon — affiliated with St. Jude’s.

As I handed her my volunteer forms a year ago, I could not have foreseen my future UNO battles with a Lebanese pre-teen from the south — or my competitive fussball matches with a ten-year old girl missing her hair, but definitely not her spunk.

“Children aren’t attached to their suffering — unlike adults who will go on and on about how sick they were with a cold two weeks after it’s passed,” she added.

 With his mouth obscured by a Mickey Mouse surgical mask, and his ski cap pulled half-way over his eyes, Mahmoud has a poker face I can’t match. But since our favorite game is UNO, it’s mainly just a matter of chance.

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As the only woman under 65 — and not wearing a hijab — I wondered if I’d found the right place. Just 15 minutes before, I’d hopped in a taxi in my pajamas — I forgot to set my alarm — and zoomed past army tanks and yellow Hezbollah flags.

“I’m here for acupuncture,” I said to the woman dressed in black behind the desk.

“Yes, please take a seat, the doctor will see you in a few,” she replied.

As I surveyed the room, a quiet woman in a navy blue hijab offered me some Arabic coffee. My pajamas and emerald Ottoman slippers weren’t the only sign I was strange — I was also the only woman who put sugar in my cup.

“I never put sugar in my coffee — I hate it,” one of the older women said, before grabbing her lower back and groaning.

When most people think of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, they don’t think of the Middle East — or Islam. I didn’t either, until I moved to Beirut and asked a colleague where I could find an acupuncturist — expecting to find none.

“Why, right here in our very own hospital,” she said, telling me about a young Lebanese doctor who had recently studied acupuncture in China.

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By Laila Bassam

Lebanon’s annual Baalbek music festival has been forced to move from its usual venue among Roman ruins in the Bekaa Valley because of rocket fire and a spillover of fighting from Syria, organizers said on Thursday.

Baalbek is a stronghold of the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, which is fighting across the border alongside its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against a two-year-old rebel uprising.

Rockets thought to have been fired by supporters of the Syrian revolt over the past few weeks have landed in Baalbek and Hezbollah fighters have fought Syrian rebels on Lebanese soil east of the town.

The town is home to some of the best preserved Roman temples, in which world-renowned musicians such as jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald and British singer Sting have performed.

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By Tafline Laylin

The founder of THIS – a small design company that is distributing a contemporary version of the Miswack, an organic, biodegradable, all-natural toothbrush that could potentially render both toothpaste and toothbrushes obsolete – is launching a Middle Eastern chapter of the AIGA design hub at the upcoming Beirut Design Week.

Leen told Albawaba that the Miswack project was initiated during graduate school at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

Her instructor encouraged Design Entrepreneurship MFA students to re-design the very first thing they threw away after class.

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By Ninette Kelley

MY eyes kept being drawn to the shoes. The tiny pink running shoes with Velcro straps, on the feet of the 2-year-old girl sitting quietly on her mother’s lap. She fidgeted only a bit — jostling occasionally with her 7-year-old twin sisters while her father told a United Nations worker what had driven his young family 20 miles from Syria to this small town in Lebanon. They did not merely leave; they fled. And not once, but three times.

They came from Zabadani, which sits in a green valley in southwest Syria, just 20 miles from Damascus. He was a house painter who made a modest living while his wife took care of their three daughters. Their life began to fall apart in early 2012, when their house was destroyed amid fierce battles between rebel and government forces for control of their city.

They fled up a hill, to the nearby ancient town of Bloudan. They found refuge with an elderly man who shared his home with them for more than seven months. When their safety was threatened again, they fled farther toward the border with Lebanon. When the conflict followed them again, they crossed over it. They now live in two small rooms in a town in the Bekaa Valley, while their modest savings are drying up. And they consider themselves the lucky ones.

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By NANA ASFOUR

The Attack': A clip from the film directed by Ziad Doueiri about a Palestinian surgeon who discovers secrets about his wife following a suicide bombing.

The Attack': A clip from the film directed by Ziad Doueiri about a Palestinian surgeon who discovers secrets about his wife following a suicide bombing.

Several months before his native country decided to ban his new film about the husband of a Palestinian suicide bomber, the Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri got into a car with tinted windows and set out to an undisclosed location in the southern suburbs of Beirut, headed for a meeting with Hezbollah, the Lebanese paramilitary group.

Doueiri’s 1998 feature debut, “West Beirut,” a largely autobiographical film about his childhood during the Lebanese Civil War, had played to great success at home and abroad. He wanted to gauge Hezbollah’s response to his third feature film, “The Attack.” Based on a best-selling novel by the Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra, the story follows a secular Palestinian doctor living in Tel Aviv who is trying to understand why his wife was driven to commit a heinous suicide attack. “I absolutely wanted the film to be shown in Lebanon,” Doueiri told a New York audience at an early screening of the film in April.

Doueiri sought out Hezbollah not solely because of the tricky subject matter of “The Attack,” but also because to make the film, the director had broken Lebanese laws prohibiting citizens from traveling to Israel or doing business with the Israelis. Doueiri knew he was going against the rules when he decided to shoot “The Attack” in Israel. “From the time that you are a sperm, you know about those laws,” he told me. But he was determined to tell this particular story as authentically as possible — which meant filming in Israel. “No other city looks like Tel Aviv,” he said.

With the help of his lawyer mother, he sent a certified letter to the Ministry of Information, intended for the Army, alerting them of his intentions to go to Tel Aviv and asking for their “guidance” on how to proceed. Doueiri didn’t want to be accused of being a spy. He never heard back. “Fifteen days later, I packed my bags and left,” he said. He used his American passport, which he had obtained during his two decades in L.A., where he worked as a cameraman on Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.”

The film has strong and sympathetic Israeli characters, played by some of Israel’s leading actors. Much of the film is actually in Hebrew, a language Doueiri does not speak. As a Lebanese living in West Beirut, “I grew up through one Israeli bombing after another,” Doueiri told me, and he saw the Israelis as “the Darth Vader of the Middle East.” But as an adult, “my view of them was demystified.”

While not “anti-Palestinian,” Doueiri told me, it is also “not anti-Israeli.” By presenting the complexities of the conflict in the film, he hoped to “try to enlighten people.” But he knew that this might prove problematic on multiple fronts.

Arab financers have since scampered to dissociate themselves from it, accusing its filmmaker of bias in favor of the Israelis. Doueiri says the Doha Film Institute and an Egyptian company that together had put up a substantial portion of the film’s $1.5 million cost, demanded that their names be taken out of the opening credits when they saw the film, because, as he put it, they said, “You show Israeli kids being blown up, but you don’t show any Palestinian kids being blown up.” (“We do not include our credits in every project we support,” an institute spokesman said.)

Doueiri’s decision to cast the Israeli actress Reymonde Amsellem, whose parents are Moroccan, in the role of the bomber has also caused wide consternation among his fellow Arabs. Because of the nude scenes, the director couldn’t find a Palestinian actress for the role. That character proved a challenge in other ways as well. Doueiri and his screenwriting partner, Joelle Touma, who is also his wife, tried to come up with a possible motive for the woman’s terrorist act, and at one point considered making her bipolar. (“It’s very trendy these days,” Doueiri said.) Ultimately they decided not to pin it on a single explanation. “We don’t think that someone can commit an act like that for one reason,” Doueiri told me.

When Doueiri met with Hezbollah last year, “The Attack” had not yet come under Arab scrutiny. On the day of the visit, Doueiri and his father (who insisted on coming along “ ’cause he knows I have a big mouth,” the filmmaker told the New York audience) met with one of the heavyweights in Hezbollah. “He sits down,” Doueiri said. “He says, ‘What do you want from me, from the Hezbollah?’ ” Based on the long conversation, Doueiri understood that Hezbollah could not support such a project but was willing to look the other way. Soon after, the Lebanese government informed Doueiri that they would allow the film to be released.

Then, a week before he came to New York for the screening this spring, Doueiri received news that “The Attack” was now banned in Lebanon. The movie won the grand prize when it was shown at the Marrakesh International Film Festival in December and will play worldwide, but no Arab country has yet agreed to release it. (The Israeli press has latched on to the ban, drawing attention to Lebanon’s hard-line approach to its neighbor.)

Doueiri has circulated an online petition against the ban. Having made an adoptive home in Paris with Touma, he faces potential prosecution if he returns to Lebanon. He’s now resigned to the idea that Lebanon is not going to rescind the ban and that “The Attack” will not play to the audience he most cares about and which avidly follows his work. He has decided to stay away for now. “It’s not the right time for me to get entangled with the Lebanese government,” he told me in Paris. “I have a 4-year-old daughter. If I were single, I would take that risk. But I can’t leave my daughter now.”

Doueiri is currently trying to find financing for two Middle East-related projects he has been working on for some time; Gérard Depardieu has expressed interest in one of them.

“We’ve tried armed resistance, and it did not work,” Doueiri told me. “But when you win intellectually, when you win artistically, culturally, when you make movies that get seen, and you tell your story and you’re honest about telling your story, you’re more likely to create change.”

Click here to watch the preview

source: link

By Anne Barnard

 

A man awaited medical attention Sunday in the Beirut suburbs. Hezbollah said it suspected Syrian rebels of firing the rockets, but opposition officials denied it.

Two rockets crashed into southern Beirut suburbs controlled by the militant Shiite group Hezbollah on Sunday, wounding four people. The attack, the first on the group’s Beirut stronghold since the hostilities in Syria broke out two years ago, raised anxieties here that the fighting next door was beginning to revive Lebanon’s own sectarian conflicts.

Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah,declared Saturday in the strongest terms yet that the group had become a major combatant in Syria, taking the side of President Bashar al-Assad and vowing to fight to the end to defeat the rebellion and defend Lebanon and the region from jihadist extremists.

Some Hezbollah supporters said Sunday that they suspected Syrian rebels, who are mainly Sunni Muslims, or the Lebanese Sunni militants who support them, of mounting the rocket attack. A Hezbollah official said the attackers were part of a single “chain of terrorism” forged by Israel and stretching from Baghdad through Syria to Beirut.

But it was unclear who launched the rockets, which the Lebanese authorities said were fired from a primarily Christian and Druze area in the hills southeast of the city. No one was killed and no group immediately claimed responsibility.

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By Rima Abushakra

Nidal Darwish and Khouloud Sukkarieh, who were married in Lebanon’s first civil union.

Nidal Darwish and Khouloud Sukkarieh made history last month when they became the first couple to have a civil marriage performed and registered on Lebanese soil.

Like most matters of political and civil life in Lebanon, marriage is a sectarian affair. There is no civil-marriage legal framework, and religious leaders in individual sects are loath to sanctify an inter-faith marriage outside their jurisdiction.

“We knew we were compatible, but we did not know the battles that we would face,” said Mr. Darwish, 29 of his marriage to Ms. Sukkarieh, 30.

The Lebanese state only recognizes citizens as members of sects. It does not administer civil matters independently outside that framework. Lebanese courts defer personal matters and disputes to the religious courts of each of its 18 recognized sects. These courts handle issues pertaining to marriage, divorce and inheritance.

 

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Kebabs: the food of ancient Ottoman emperors, Persian courts and, in recent times, inebriated persons.

In much of the Western world, particularly Europe, the kebab has become the must-have meal for all variety of people falling out of pubs and clubs between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

This couldn’t be further from the situation in the Middle East. Here, grilled meat served with salad and flatbread or rice is a meal for all the family.

Here’s where to find some of the world’s best kebabs.

1. Barbar in Beirut, Lebanon

Even at 5 a.m., Barbar’s chefs smile while preparing chicken shawarma.Beirut is a cosmopolitan city where food standards are high.

When it comes to kebabs, Barbar is a Beirut institution. It’s a snack bar with branches throughout the city, but its flagship store is in trendy Hamra, where it takes up a whole block and overflows with customersnight and day.

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By David Gardner
Just over 20 years ago, a construction tycoon named Rafiq Hariri arrived back in a Lebanon pulverised by a long civil war to take over the government. Fouad Siniora, the finance minister who years later succeeded him as prime minister, recalled arriving in the postwar ruins of a Beirut starved of electricity, amid a swirl of rumours that Hariri had moored a fleet of ships in the port with the generating capacity to light up the whole city.

That city has been mostly rebuilt, mainly through the agency of Hariri, who was assassinated by a vast bomb in 2005, confirming that reconstruction did not extend to Levantine politics. Yet the physical rebirth of Beirut was something of a glittering façade, too. The cracks show.

The Hariri power ships were, indeed, just rumour. But as of last month, there is a so-called electricity “barge” anchored on the edge of Beirut harbour, the first of several to be provided by a Turkish company to help make up Lebanon’s chronic power-generating deficit.

Two decades on from the war, and despite the professed aim of the Lebanese elite to reclaim Beirut’s prewar mantle as the capital market of the Middle East, the city struggles to keep the lights on. Behind the first-world pretensions lie third-world solutions.

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By Janis Powers

Before I left for my trip to Lebanon this December, my 84-year-old neighbor told me about the fantastic nightlife in Beirut. She had visited the city after World War II, while her husband was stationed in Europe. She told me about Beirut’s unique blend of European sophistication and liberal leanings in an Arab milieu. Just about 150 miles from Cyprus on the Mediterranean, Beirut served as a gateway to the Middle East.

Flash forward to today. A generation of Lebanese disenfranchised by 15 years of civil war, a technical state of war with Israel, the presence of the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the war in Syria have contributed to the decline of Beirut as a safe, reliable point of entry into the Middle East. As a result, the soul of Beirut’s Western-leaning temperament was mimicked in Disney-esque style by the city of Dubai. And it’s a crying shame.

It’s sad because Dubai is now viewed as the preeminent, culturally westernized city in the region. Dubai, as an urban personification of the West, is the spoiled little boy who has to have the biggest piece of candy. It’s a place with Texas-inspired adoration for the new, big and sparkly; a town with a New Yorker’s greed to have more. Cops drive in Lamborghinis. Visitors party at nightclubs imported from Las Vegas, Amsterdam and… Beirut.

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By Hania Mourtada

Tammam Salam spoke to journalists at Lebanon’s presidential palace on Saturday after being asked to form a government.

Tammam Salam, scion of a prominent political family, was officially named the new prime minister of Lebanon on Saturday after receiving a string of endorsements from the country’s warring factions over the past few days.

Mr. Salam, 68, was named to the post by the Lebanese president after he garnered 124 of the 128 votes in Parliament. A Sunni whose father, Saeb Salam, served six times as prime minister between 1952 and 1973, Mr. Salam will head a new government that many hope will overcome a dangerous political stalemate that last month led to the resignation of his predecessor.

Lebanon’s government is based on a delicate sectarian system, in place since the end of the civil war in 1990, that is meant to balance power among the country’s multiple sects. The formula requires that the president be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the Parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.

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By  Kenji Magrann

Chef Philippe Massoud is Lebanese, a fact that  has made both his life and his cuisine complicated. While the times now are at a dizzying high (his restaurant, Ilili, has grown into a rave hit for the midtown crowd and is attracting executives, celebrities and royalty alike), he was also forced to flee his home country when he was a child in 1985, during the Lebanese civil war. Prior to that, he had been living in his family’s hotel in Beirut that had been started by his grandfather, Alexander, and passed down to his father, George. While the hotel was idyllic, the surrounding landscape was anything but, and the civil war was coming to a head on all sides of the seaside resort. “It was like the Wild West out there,” he recalls. “People walking around with AK-47s all the time. It was really bad.”

His family had been forced to evacuate to the hotel, where he lived for eight years and spent time wandering, often finding himself in the kitchen. It was here, barricaded inside, that Chef Philippe fell in love with cooking, and the cuisine of Lebanon. After death threats and stray bullets became too intense, Mr. Massoud’s parents decided to send him to visit his relatives in Scarsdale, New York. It was only when he had arrived stateside that he was told he was never going back. “It was like coming from a land of chaos to the civilized world,” he says. He was enrolled in high school, and well on his way to becoming a normal American teenager, when one year into his high school experience, he was told that his father had been assassinated.

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By Ben Rooney

The first thing that strikes you about the Lebanese capital is the traffic. As far as you can tell there appear to be few, if any, rules.

Traffic lights appear at best advisory, lane markings—where they exist—are little more than decoration, and the concept of right of way is utterly foreign.

But despite that, it flows. It is a great example of a self-organizing system. Sure there are one or two badly-pranged cars, but Beirut’s drivers cram five cars into the space that would only fit two in Europe. So not only is the traffic self-organizing, it organizes itself in a more efficient way than other models. In fact citizens complain that the only time the traffic flow breaks down is when the police turn up to try to control it.

Like its traffic, the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region appears to outsiders to lack structure, but perhaps it is just that it works in a different way.

One of the building blocks of a startup ecosystem is e-commerce. The first wave of Berlin’s startups was dominated by e-commerce; most of Turkey’s most successful companies today are e-commerce, or at least transaction-based. Can the MENA region follow suit?

It should be an attractive market. It is home to some 380 million people, larger than the U.S. With three nations—Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait—in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region among the top 20 highest per-capita incomes in the world, according to the IMF, there should be opportunity.

However, so far the region’s e-commerce has yet to take off. PayPal, which launched its Middle East service in November 2012, put the 2012 market value at only $9 billion. A 2011 estimate by Discover Digital Arabia valued it at only $5 billion. Online retail in the U.K. alone was worth $102 billion in 2010, according to Boston Consulting Group.

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