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The New Arab Woman Forum kicked off Feb. 1 under the patronage of Wael Abou Faour, Lebanon’s minister of social affairs, and was opened by a speech by Bahiya Hariri, a member of parliament and the sister of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
It didn’t bode well for the content and impact of the forum.
Both personalities represent the Lebanese confessional system, which emphasizes and upholds the political sectarian divide of Lebanon and leaves civil matters such as inheritance, marriage and divorce, among other things, up to clerical authorities. This creates a discriminatory society where citizens, especially women, are not equal before the law.
Spotlighting these two figures–who represent the system as it is, and not how many Lebanese would like it to become–set the deeply conciliatory and mainstream stance of the New Arab Woman Forum, which was supposed to address the burning and somehow controversial theme of women and the Arab Spring.
Next Wednesday activists will hold a public forum to democratically demand access to the Horsh Beirut urban park.
In 1696, the Horsh Beirut Pine forest used to be as large as 1,250,000 square meters but the Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, and World War II allies each took their turn plundering its timber in order to build ships and weapons. Further damage has been done since then to such an extent that today one of the only urban parks in this concrete jungle has shrunk to a mere 255,000 square meters. Although significantly smaller than it once was, Horsh Beirut could still offer residents of Beirut a retreat from the city smog – if the city hadn’t denied access to it for the last two decades. Activists are now speaking out against what they say is a denial of their inalienable rights. Public property
Ten years ago Beirut’s municipality rehabilitated the park (presumably using taxpayer money) but it still hasn’t been re-opened to the public and no decent explanation has been given.
Lebanon’s peculiar brand of democracy, dysfunctional and widely unpopular, is a perennial source of national vexation, debated over Sunday lunches and in the press.
Voters in Beirut, Lebanon, in June 2009.
Since the Taif agreement of 1989, which helped end the civil war, half of Parliament has been reserved for Christians, the other half for Muslims, with each half distributed among 11 of Lebanon’s 18 officially recognized sects (Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, Sunni, Shiite, Druze, Alawite, etc). Each of Parliament’s (pdf) 128 seats is sect-specific: only members of that sect can run for it. (Voters, however, can cast their ballot for every seat in their district regardless of their own religious affiliation.) The president must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of Parliament a Shiite. Hundreds of bureaucratic appointments are also subject to sectarian apportionment under the Constitution.
The imposition of religious representativeness in politics is a scourge. In the best of circumstances, it is vulnerable to the demagoguery of religious leaders; in the worst, it breeds civil violence and paralyzes the government. But others fear that a more open system would not provide the guarantees of power-sharing among religious minorities that the current model entails.
Photographs by Ambroise Tézenas Beirut sprawls along the Mediterranean.
On a balmy night this April, when young people in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain swarmed the streets to protest repressive regimes, Beirut’s 20-somethings were partying on the rooftop of a new American-style restaurant. It was opening night for this latest branch of the country’s popular Crepaway restaurants, and because it sits right on the city’s former Green Line — the no man’s land that separated the Christian East from the Muslim West during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990 — there were slickly designed posters depicting army tanks with the words the art of peace on every wall.
During the presidency of George H.W. Bush, some of the chief’s staffers referred to Portland, Oregon as “Little Beirut.” The joke was thought to be clever because the highly liberal enclave of Portland saw massive demonstrations when the president came to town, and everyone knew, presumably, how hostile and incendiary a place the capital of Lebanon was.
Israel likes to portray itself as a stable country unfortunately positioned among bellicose neighbors, but Lebanon is truly a country that has served as the military playground of neighboring powers.
Lebanon, with “an amalgam of religious communities and their myriad sub-divisions…is the sectarian state par excellence,” wrote David Hirst in “Beware of Small States,” and “was almost designed to be the everlasting battleground for others.”
In 2011, though, Lebanon looks like a comparatively sturdy system, exhibiting calm highlighted by successful overthrows in Egypt and Tunisia, and forceful challenges to power in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and unrest in typically quiet Oman.
Syrian refugees have started to arrive in the Lebanese border town of Wadi Khaled, presenting the most visible sign yet that the unrest is pushing people to flee the country
By JOSH WOOD
WADI KHALED, LEBANON — Walking over a small bridge — or trudging through the shallow, narrow stream it crosses — about 1,000 refugees fled the violence in the Syrian border town of Tal Kalakh last week to Lebanon, according to local residents.
The arrival of Syrian refugees to this northernmost tip of Lebanon — an area reputed as much for its verdant surroundings as its residents’ smuggling ventures back and forth across the Kabir River — is the most visible sign yet that Syria’s seven-week-old uprising is having an impact on its neighbor.
BEIRUT — As thousands of Lebanese joined in weekly protest marches in the past month, their shouts rang familiar, mirroring those heard across the Arab world in the recent uprisings: the people want to overthrow the regime.
Inspired by the wave of revolt in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other Arab countries, some in Lebanon have begun their own rebellion.
But while their chant may be the same as in the other countries, their target is different.
In Lebanon there is no single dictator to confront. Rather, protesters are challenging the powerfully entrenched fiefs of sectarian politics.
Thousands of Lebanese turned out on Sunday in Beirut to protest the tribal and religious figureheads that embody the country’s entrenched sectarian political system.
Critics say the confessional power-sharing agreement enshrined in the constitution and laws of Lebanon allows a small elite to dominate politics, dividing the spoils of the state among themselves and weakening the government while strengthening the systems of patronage that keep them in power.
Rawi Hage, a writer and visual artist, was born in Beirut and lived through nine years of the Lebanese civil war. He lives in Montreal.
My house in Lebanon is in what was historically known as the green hills of Achrafieh. Although this whole Beirut neighbourhood is now a jungle of condominiums, concrete and a disproportionate number of cars, I can still walk its streets with knowledge of the past.
It was here, not too far from my place, that the Russian fleets landed in 1773, building a small base before they were chased away by the Ottoman Turks the following year.
For the second week in a row, Lebanese took to the streets of Beirut on Sunday to protest against the country’s sectarian political system, waving Lebanese flags and chanting Egypt- and Tunisia-inspired slogans such as “People want to topple the regime” and “Revolution.”
Some demonstrators carried signs saying “For the good of the country: secular democracy” and “We are all equal” while others had written “No to sectarianism” on their foreheads and wrapped their heads in the flag.
Supporters of Hezbollah waved Lebanese, Egyptian, Tunisian and Hezbollah flags at a rally commemorating the annual Hezbollah Martyrs’ Leader Day in Beirut’s suburbs on Feb. 16, 2011.
BEIRUT — On the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 11, I received a text message from a colleague. The dinner she was hosting would be delayed a hour “on account of revolution.” The delay was not a surprise since everyone I know had been riveted by the dramatic events shaking the Arab world. As scholars of Middle East politics and culture we have been following them since long before 9/11. And in recent weeks, we have formed a transnational social network tracking, taking part in and commenting on events in real time.
Like most of our American academic friends, both my wife and I have lived in various countries in the Middle East — including Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. It was largely a desire to more closely follow and experience the ongoing geopolitical changes in the region that drove me last September to relocate from a previous academic position in Baltimore to the American University of Beirut. It is both challenging and exhilarating to teach international relations and U.S. foreign policy here. The students come from many different national backgrounds and political orientations. Lessons about war and geopolitical change are not abstractions here; they penetrate our fears and hopes on a daily basis.
To visit Hezbollah officials, you turn left off the airport road, just past a billboard that shows Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad coyly waving at motorists. You then enter a neighborhood known as the “southern suburbs,” which is the dense street fortress of the Shiite militia.
Here lies the headquarters of the group that now forms the strongest bloc in Lebanon’s parliament. It’s an unusual situation, to put it mildly: The Lebanese government is dominated by an organization that the United States and Israel designate as “terrorist.” What’s more, Hezbollah’s ascendancy has given its patrons in Tehran what amounts to a beachhead on the Mediterranean, whose sparkling waters are just west of the militia’s stronghold.
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…
Despite the media’s recent focus on Egypt, events in Lebanon may well tell us more about the troubled prospects for Middle Eastern democracy. The fall of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government, replaced by a Hezbollah-dominated coalition, dramatically imperils Beirut’s democratic Cedar Revolution.
Financed and dominated by Iran, terrorist Hezbollah has consistently refused to disarm and become a legitimate political party. Instead, it enjoys the best of both worlds, contesting elections while retaining the military ability to enforce its will against uncongenial results. History will rightly blame the West for the tragedy of the takeover in Beirut, because of its unwillingness to stand against Hezbollah and its Iranian puppet masters. Washington must withhold recognition from any Lebanese government that relies on Hezbollah support. Read more…
An aerial view of Beirut showing the city’s main Sunni Muslim mosque and the main Maronite Christian church.
On June 2, 2005, at about 10:30 in the morning, Samir Kassir left his home in Beirut’s Ashrafiyeh neighbourhood and headed toward his Alfa Romeo parked opposite the building. The moment he turned the ignition key, the bomb hidden under the driver’s seat exploded, killing Kassir instantly.
Even in a country accustomed to political violence, Kassir’s murder shocked the nation. Kassir’s death was not only an enormous loss for Lebanese journalism and the country’s democracy movement. Beirut lost one of its most passionate and knowledgeable champions.