(My Middle East)

77 days with a journalist, Lebanon, and a list of non sequiturs

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Election Maddness

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No time for a full post, because I’m still at work. But quickly:
I spent the day with Dana driving around Jbeil, Batroun and Koura.
1)Almost fell of the mountain in Jbeil (which means mountain) a few times, White knuckled the entire way up. But once we got to the top ridge it was incredible, beautiful towns nice people waving flags and wearing orange and red shirts (the opposing parties) camping out and celebrating right next to each other.
2) Batroun, went into more election areas (went into about 12 total) met with Antione Zahra at the Lebanese Forces stronghold, asked him a tough question which he dodged.
3) Went to Koura saw the Greek Orthodox who talked completely different and didn’t understand what I was saying. Saw SSNP and Lebanese Communist Flags and all sorts of different political parties. Very unusual place.

The jist: AOUN, everywhere. If I had to predict just by the amount of Orange Green and Yellow I saw on the street (FPM, Marada, Hezbollah) I would say March 8 wins by a landslide in the districts I was covering. I heard the same for Baabda and Aley and other districts around the office. So if I had to make an early prediction it would be March 8 and just a determination of by how much

Turn it Aoun

Turn it Aoun

Written by stephenddockery

June 7, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Business Section, Page 4

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I got my first byline today which ran on page 4 of the business section of The Daily Star. It isn’t anything much, but I guess you have to start somewhere.

Apparently they have a story for me to work on over the weekend so hopefully I will see that today. I feel like I need to go seek stories out right now and try and get them published, but I guess I should give it time and get a better feel of the city.

Speaking of stories, friend Brian Pellot who helped me out so much when I got here has a good story on women in the Lebanese elections thats worth checking out.

Written by stephenddockery

May 29, 2009 at 8:56 am

Posted in Uncategorized

In Beirut, 36 hours later (Part 2)

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I’ll keep this brief since we are starting a new day right now (drinking fresh OJ and eating a nutella bagel at the Euro Cafe on Bliss street)
To finish up yesterdays events: On our way back from visiting Deen Sharp Brian and I stopped off at the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque.

Mohammad al-Amin Mosque built by former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, he is burried next to it

The mosque is HUGE, so massive that the mosques construction supposedly created sectarian tension because it dwarfed the other nearby religious buildings.

The interior was stunning, it has 3 massive crystal chandeliers, one which is the most massive I’ve ever seen, It would have filled a large sized living room.

We then stopped by the Rafik Hariri burial site right next door. Where the former prime minister was buried in 2005 after his assassination outside the St George Hotel.

It was quite the scene , there were around 200 people in the tented memorial,

ranging from covered women wearing the future party scarf ( Rafik’s son Saad’s party) to westerners like ourselves. It was as much a social atmosphere as one of memorial, people posed for pictures next to his tomb and chatted with their friends who also came to visit.

The tent itself had dozens of photos of Hariri, his face looked over every part of the tent. Gazing over Hariri’s flower covered tomb was a stack of around 12 flower wreaths each containing the same picture of Hariri’s face. Behind Hariri’s tomb were the burial site of members of Hariri’s entourage who were killed with with him in the bombing, all with a photo of Hariri super imposed on

a photo of the deceased.

Arab funerals and ways of memorial are things I’m still trying to figure out, and thats no different if Lebanon. In fact, it may be even more complex. Martyred political and religious leaders live on throughout the city in posters and billboards and give life to the next iteration of their movement (see Saad Hariri)

On Beirut

I definitely don’t want this blog to be a day to day r

ecounting of things in my life, hopefully I will be able to share some insights into whats going on in Lebanon. For now though while I’m still figuring things out, I don’t think I can say too much without feeling like I’m talking about something I don’t have a grasp of.

But, a few things that I have noticed in the 24 hours

I’ve been in the city.

The city is incredibly diverse, you are very likely to hear arabic french or english being spoken on the street, and the mix of religio

ns is really striking (Fridays and Sunday’s are the weekend and you work a half day on Saturday, which I thought was a nice religious compromise).

The city is also very divided, there are apparently some people in East Beirut who never go to West Beirut and vise versa. This is something I’ll be exploring much more in the future.

The history of the city is incredible, there are old mosque

s and churches, roman baths and bullet hole marked buildings everywhere giving the city an

incredible energy.

On the note of bullet hole marked buildings, there are quite a

number of police and soldiers all over the city, which are mostly all touting well oiled machine guns that look something like an M16. It’s interesting to compare the military presence here to how it was in Cairo. In Cairo the police were mostly there to

fill jobs, maybe direct traffic and on the off chance stop a protest (although that is not to say Egypt didn’t

have a very strong security apparatus that violently suppressed dissen

t), but you weren’t sure if their guns even worked let alone if they were loade

d. But here, you are sure, or at least it feels like it. The police have much more of a ‘we mean business attitude’

Mohammad al-Amin Mosque built by former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, he is burried next to it

Written by stephenddockery

May 23, 2009 at 9:54 am

In Beirut, 36 hours later

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I finally arrived in Beirut this morning after what I thought would be a grueling 36hrs of traveling, that ended up being actually not that bad. The 12 hour leg from Dulles in D.C. to Doha, Qatar went by relatively quickly I got to watch 3 movies which rated out of 5 were Frost Nixon (2.5), Transporter 3 (2) and The Express (3.75).

When I got to Doha at 630 p.m. I prepared to hunker down for a 13 hour layover
, but was pleasantly surprised to find a hotel was booked for me free of charge with dinner included.

A bus took me to downtown Doha (looks kinda cool but very boring) and to the Movenpick Hotel.

The Beautiful Movenpick hotel

The Beautiful Movenpick hotel

The Hotel was incredible, especially for a free one. There were 2 beds, with down comforters, a kitchen with granite counter tops, spot lit lighting a glass desk and a large marble bathroom (which included a speaker feeding from the TV, so you didn’t miss a word).

For my free dinner it was a very extravagant hotel buffet , I sampled all the exotic salads (including white bean and turkish salad) and dined on the braised lamb leg, the chicken kabob and the seared cauliflower, and then I sampled a selection of 8 cakes and other confections.

In all it was a $150 value all courtesy of the Doha international airport.

In Beirut
I arrived in Beirut at 11 a.m. and had to figure out how to get to the diner I was to meet my friend Brian Pellot at. The taxi drivers pounced on a lost looking white boy (myself) and made negotiating a fee very difficult. After some bargaining, I got in a beat up cab with its plates and cab stickers in its rear window.

The cab driver had more going wrong than just missing plates, on the way out he stopped at the police check point and gave a young looking officer 2 sandwiches and 2 pepsis, which he promptly informed me were his bribe for being allowed in the taxi line. Which a coordinator for the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections told me was a fitting welcome to Beirut.

I finally made it to the Euro cafe where I met Brian (who was my roommate last summer for the journalism program in Egypt and Oman). We went to have lunch with one of his friend from LADE, which was great for me to start getting my bearings and figure out this incredibly complex political landscape.

Brian and I then walked around the AUB campus, which is amazing, and includes a rec facility swimming pool and private beach. and then caught a taxi downtown to meet Deen Sharp, a British journalist and freelancer for numerous magazines in Beirut. He among other things specializes in architecture writing, a niche that he says he has carved out for himself in Beirut. We had a beer (the local Almaza) at Cafe 43′ a cool hidden cafe that you had to knock to enter in Gemmayzeh a more affluent east Beirut district.

That is only half of my first day but Pizza Hut is about to kick us out so more to come tomorrow.

Ma Salama.

Written by stephenddockery

May 22, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Beirut Bound (Finally)

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Drug wars in the Bekaa valley? The first elections since Syrian withdrawal? Things are looking up for my internship in Lebanon. I booked my ticket yesterday to Beirut with a steal

Gunmen kill four army soldiers in Bekaa Valley

Gunmen kill four army soldiers in Bekaa Valley

from priceline.com.  I head out on May 20th arrive on the 22nd and return to D.C. on August 8th.

Unfortunetly Leading up to the internship wasn’t quite as smooth as I had expected:

January 14 – January 31 :  The Daily Star is closed down by the Lebanese government after a court order was issued because of financial troubles. 

I thought I was up  a creek when this went down given the state papers are in these days . When I asked for advice from an Arab media expert who works in Egypt,  heres what he had to say:

” While they have been having economic problems for a long time, this appears to be political. The court suddenly decided to enforce an old judgment and there is reason to believe this is because someone else wants the paper’s license, which is valuable. But I wouldn’t bet my summer on it getting resolved.”

I heard rumors that Lebanese police or soldiers were sent to the paper. Fortunately the paper opened back up in February and has been publishing daily ever since. Crisis avoided. 

April 7 : The editor who gave me the internship no longer works at the newspaper. After several unanswered emails I finally get my act together and give The Daily Star a call. Turns out the managing editor Marc Sirois has left the paper.  Fortunately when I call back the new managing editor, Kristin Dailey, is incredibly nice and says everything is OK with the job. Only small problem now, the receptionist spoke a whole lot of French and little English, which means I’m going to have to brush up on my French (as in learn star to learn some).

Now thats all behind me, things are looking up. I booked my flight on
Qatar Airways
 which I’ve heard good things about.  And any Arab airline always beats American when it comes to hospitality, at least in my limited experience.


Heres my itinerary: 


May 20:

Departs  Dulles Intl (IAD)  –  10:40 P.M

Arrives  Doha – 6:30 P.M  (12h  50m , 6908mi)

Departs  Doha – 7:55 A.M (the next day)

Arrives Beirut May 22 – 11:00 A.M   (3h  5m , 1130mi) 

77 days

August 7: 

 Departs Beirut – 12:00 P.M

Arrives Doha – 2:45 P.M  (2h  45m , 1130mi)

Departs Doha – 9:00 A.M (the next day) 

Arrives IAD  May 8  – 4:20 P.M  (14h  20m , 6908mi)

Written by stephenddockery

April 22, 2009 at 9:11 am