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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.

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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 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 James Scarborough

The Sharjah Biennial and Art Dubai are taking place this week and next. Showcasing the quality, relevance, and complexity of Middle Eastern art, it makes sense as well to investigate the achievement of contemporary Middle Eastern theatre. What follows is an interview with Lebanese Director Hadi Tabbal. Mr. Tabbal is directing After, a play which examines the travails of an Arab-American family in New York City, which will open at CUNY (City University of New York) York College on March 15
JS: How did the York College production of After come about?

HT: After submitting my resume to teach at CUNY, three years ago, I was contacted by professor Tom Marion a year and a half later, asking me if I would be interested in directing the spring production of 2013 as adjunct assistant professor. Tom specifically approached me because he was interested, on behalf of the department of performing arts, to produce a play that would involve the Muslim/Arab/Middle Eastern community of Jamaica, Queens, where the campus is. Jamaica is a very diverse part of Queens, NY. It is on the last stop of two, if not, three subway trains, and includes a wide variety of ethnicities. The definition of Arab/Muslim/Middle Eastern was and still is hazy, as anywhere else, but the main incentive was to produce work that would encourage that specific community on campus to be involved: whether in the production or as an audience; basically, to produce a play that pertains to the targeted culture. Being a NY theater artist originally from Lebanon, born and raised in Beirut, and theatrically educated in New York under a Fulbright Scholarship, I believe I was the right candidate. Regardless of my religious affiliations (or the lack of, to be specific), I am familiar with the culture, and indeed, I am.

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By Magda Abou Fadil

Alexander McNabb outdid himself in his second novel, Beirut, An Explosive Thriller, another adventure-filled story loaded with intrigue, espionage, love, murder, international hoods and plenty of violence.

The book traces in meticulous (and sometimes gruesome) detail the adventures of a British intelligence operative in the Lebanese capital, and beyond, describing his antics, brushes with death, hangouts, and people with whom he associates — often to their fatal ends.

Lynch flicked the newspaper on the floor with his foot: The Beirut Times, 22nd March. Five days old. He reached towards the piece of expensive-looking paper folded on the bed, halted by the sound of Palmer puking. Lynch wheeled, the rebuke dying on his lips as he took in the opened cupboard and the thing, once human, slumped inside. Pulling the paper tissue over his face, he shoved the retching man’s bulk aside and stared into the cupboard. The corpse stank, even through the scented tissue. Fat bluebottles crawled over sightless eyes. Dark rivulets crazed the marble white flesh. The slashed throat, an obscene second mouth, grinned blackly at them.

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By David Constable

For a largely Arab country it’s a bizarre thing that in Lebanon (Beirut specifically), women care more about their appearance than men. Males lead a rather sullied existence, priming their closely cut mini-beards and, from my own observations, eating rather a lot. The formula in Lebanon’s capital for women is fashion-forward, from their choice of cloth to the decisions they make surgically.

Fashion and religion, they’ve never led a happy existence. Muslim, Christian and Druze women in Beirut dress surprisingly skimpy. There are vests and silks and bikinis and cashmere and come-hither off-the-shoulder numbers. Then there are the fashionable alterations to the body: lifts, tucks, laser etc. which is evident everywhere. The female body is the greatest canvas, the sculptor’s workable clay to which they can add/remove, inject/suck-out. Beirut is glitz and glamour through money and surgery. The exploration for eternal youth.

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By Sara C Nelson

Blood red river: The river, which divides the east and western suburbs of Beirut turned an eerie shade of red last week

Dye illegally dumped by a factory is apparently responsible for turning the Beirut River an eerie shade of blood red.

An investigation began last week after the river, which separates the eastern and western suburbs of Beirut, turned a deep red, prompting fears there had been a mass dump from a slaughterhouse.

The river, which flows into the Mediterranean, was visited by government and local officials, with preliminary test indicating dye to be the culprit, the Daily Star said.

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View of Beirut skyline

By Marissa Cortes

Back in December, when the Santa Ana winds blew through Southern California, I heard that a celebrity had off-handedly described his neighborhood as left “like Beirut.” This was at the same time I was traveling through Lebanon with my toddler daughter. It occurred to me then that when most Americans think of Beirut, they still conjure images of the war that consumed the city from 1975 to 1990.

Saint George Cathedral and Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque sit side by side

People are slow to change their minds about places. Twenty years have passed since Beirut began rebuilding.

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By Patrick Gakey

It was a scene Beirut residents hoped they would never have to see again. A mound of twisted metal and concrete, ambulance sirens masking the desperate cries for help coming from beneath the rubble.

The deadly collapse of a five-story apartment block in the east Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh last Sunday brought with it hellish images of devastation previously confined to wartime in Lebanon.

As the death toll continues to rise, so do the questions.

An investigation has been launched and, until its results are known, it is unhelpful to speculate on the precise reason for the building’s collapse. For those who have lost loved ones in the tragedy, precipitating factors are of little use now.

Playing the blame game may appear superfluous when contrasted with the devastation the incident has wrought. But even if last Sunday’s collapse was not a direct result of poor maintenance and structural neglect, it has brought into the sharpest possible focus the systemic failure by authorities to ensure that buildings, old or new, are safe to inhabit.

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By Patrick Galey

The prolonged and increasingly menacing dispute over eastern Mediterranean oil and gas reserves is not going to start a war between Israel and Lebanon. The stakes are far higher than that.

Many have somewhat predictably come to the opposite conclusion; that the two long-time enemies, each of whom continually talk a good fight, will eventually come to blows for fossil fuel because the continued potential for war makes it inevitable. Under normal circumstances, that would be difficult to argue with. But these are far from normal circumstances.

The dispute dates back to 2007, when Lebanon and Cyprus agreed to a preliminary maritime border. Then, two years later, a consortium of U.S. and Israeli companies discovered the Tamar gas field 90 kilometers off the coast of Haifa. In early 2010, the Leviathan gas field was discovered. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the eastern Mediterranean basin could hold up to 1.7 billion barrels of oil and 34.5 trillion cubic meters of gas which, if it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. We are talking serious potential future revenue here.

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By Patrick Galey

Ali Akil Khalil sounds like a man in need of sleep. His sentences are pained, largely monosyllabic, and he repeats himself often. As a representative of inmates in Lebanon’s most fearsome prison, he has just spent all night appealing for clemency from security forces eager to smother the latest round of rioting to sweep Roumieh jail.

“We went to the prison and they did not allow us in,” Khalil says. “Then they [the police] attacked the prisoners.”

One inmate was injured after Internal Security Forces personnel stormed Roumieh’s B and D blocks, themselves still baring scars of a four-day riot earlier this month, which saw three prisoners killed and more than a dozen wounded. This week, more than 50 Roumieh inmates were waylaid with food poisoning and several more complained of being denied medical attention. It is small wonder another mutiny broke out among ill or incensed prisoners — for all of Roumieh’s 3,700 occupants, there is but one full-time doctor.

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By James Denselow

Lebanon, again bereft of a government and with the country split down the middle into pro- and anti-Syria camps, now faces the repercussions of instability in Syria.

There is a saying in the Middle East that “chaos in Lebanon does not mean chaos in Syria, but chaos in Syria is guaranteed to destabilize Lebanon.”

This Friday all eyes will be on the potential for protests and the government response in Syria. However there is also a flashpoint looming in northern Lebanon where both pro- and anti-Syrian regime protests have been planned. Lebanese Security officials in the north have rejected requests for permits to hold the two demonstrations in Tripoli, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears with both protests being advertised widely.

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Lebanese Internet users are mad as hell and won’t take it anymore, so they’ve launched a campaign to gripe about the country’s disgracefully sluggish access to the World Wide Web.

Lebanon has one of the slowest Internet services in the world. Adding insult to injury, it also ranks up there in terms of stratospheric costs, so users are doubly penalized, and furious.

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By Brad Haskel

This is a story of history, both ancient and recent, geography, family struggle, loss, tragedy, and redemption. Somewhere woven into this Biblical story, about this Biblical place, is the Ghosn’s family story, that takes place in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Sami Ghosn describes his childhood, and the radical twist it took:

The Tanail Estate was acquired by my parents Michel and Amal in the early 1970s. We grew up there, playing in the fields, riding horses, chasing our dogs and pets, hunting, enjoying endless festive mezze and barbeque lunches with homemade arak. In 1975 (civil war had erupted) we were forced to evacuate from the Bekaa Valley estate when shooting started. We rushed away in my mother’s white Volvo… uprooted, in tears and fears, leaving our childhood memories and dreams behind. I was eight years old, and my brother Ramzi was six.

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Beirut # 7

Paris may be sexy and Rome may have its charms, but a new poll has ranked Athens as the most flirtatious city in the world.

As Reuters is reporting, the Greek capital topped the “World Flirtation League,” which ranked cities by the number of online flirtations initiated per month on the popular social networking and dating site Officials analyzed 12 million “flirtatious” contacts made on the site over the course of a month, with 108 million unique users flirting in 180 different countries.

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By Patrick Galey

Thousands gathered in the capital’s central square, waving the national flag, wielding banners and demanding their right to freedom. They said millions came to voice decades of grievances, buried for years under mountains of bureaucracy and repression.

This scene, splashed across newspapers the world over and one which became an icon for a nation finding its feet, was not from Tunisia, Egypt, or even Libya. It came from Lebanon, from the tiny Mediterranean state’s 2005 Cedar Revolution. Read more…

Poolside at Phoenicia

It has been a few years since I visited Beirut, but it is a city once seen never forgotten. Nestled at the crossroads between three continents and with a history that dates back over 5,000 years, it has the remnants of Ottoman, Mamluke, Abbasid, Byzantine, Roman, Persian, Phoenician and Canaanite dynasties under its downtown area. The combination of the most beautiful and fashionable people in the Middle East, the best cuisine and the most vibrant nightlife and beaches on the Mediterranean make Beirut a city very hard to beat. The weather is gorgeous: sunny and warm with lovely trade winds and clean taxis (mostly Mercedes) with taxi drivers that are educated and fluent in English, French and Arabic. How can anyone top that combination? Add to that the fact that it reminds most people of the South of France without the costliness, the dollar actually takes you quite far here.

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By Adla Massoud

Many Lebanese fear their country is on the brink of another major confrontation. The public feud between politicians over the past few weeks shows no sign of slowing down.

The bickering between the opposition group led by Hezbollah and the March 14 bloc all boils down to the Special Tribunal of Lebanon (STL). Even though the indictments have not been issued yet and no individual or party has been officially accused of the murder, rumors have been swirling around that the party of God – Hezbollah – is implicated in the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri and 22 others.

Hezbollah launched its own preemptive campaign to discredit the U.N. appointed Special Tribunal for Lebanon and blames Israel.

Meanwhile, Syria is officially back on the Lebanese political scene and the STL’s credibility is slowly diminishing.

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By Magda Abu-Fadil

“Today we vote, tomorrow we cry,” read one headline this week.

“Melhem Karam: Half a Century of Appropriating Power,” read another, in a piece describing Karam’s monopoly as one of several calamities befalling the Lebanese Journalists Union (LJU), whose administrative council was clueless and detached from journalistic reality.

“Can the LJU be saved?” was another headline.

“What’s the use of maintaining this dying institution?” Al Akhbar daily asked rhetorically about the LJU, whose president Karam headed the organization for 44 years, effectively turning it into his fiefdom before succumbing to a heart attack last May.

LJU’s late president Melhem Karam (Abu-Fadil)

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