(My Middle East)

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

Posts Tagged ‘Lebanon Blogs

Story on EC trip to North Lebanon

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Patrick Laurent speaks with a teacher and town leader in Denbo

Patrick Laurent speaks with a teacher and town leader in Denbo | Stephen Dockery

On Thursday I went on a press trip to North Lebanon with the delegation from the European Commission for a story for The Daily Star. We road around in black SUV’s with the Head of the EC Commission Patrick Laurent and stopped at community projects that the EC was funding through ESFD, an aid organization. We made stops at al-Mina a coastal town in Tripoli And then Mhammara, Majdala, Mar Touma, Deir Dallloum ,and Denbo in Akkar.

Akkar district

Akkar district

Akkar is one of the poorest areas in Lebanon and theres not much there besides trees shrubs and large hills/ small mountains. The most impressive part of the trip was seeing what looked like the whole town of Denbo (which was the poorest and most isolated town we visited) come out to cheer Patrick Laurent as he arrived to tour the area. I guess its not that surprising as the EU has funded millions of dollars of programs in the area.

One thing I wondered about when I was walking around the area is what would happen to this area if the aid stopped coming from international and individual donors. As we were riding back from Denbo I scribbled in my notebook “Is this a young area for instability?”. I didn’t think about it much afterward but when I spoke to the head of ESFD Haitham Omar later he said the same thing, heres the copy from my transcription:

“The acute disparities in living conditions in Lebanon is causing social instability and insecurity.

If we do not want to have the North of Lebanon specifically the Akkar area drop into fundamentalist extremities then we should deal with the situation from an economic basis.

Of course. Because in my opinion what is more important than frequency of poverty in Lebanon, what more important than that is the intensity of poverty, it means the distance from the national average, the standard of living. And the farther you go from the national average the more you will likely get instabilities and fundamentalists.”

While its a bit of a stretch to point to Fatah al-Islam and Nahar al-Bared as the result of a lack of funding (because there are so many factors invovled because its a refugee camp), it should at least be considered.

I didn’t fell like I could include a reference to the potential for instability in my story because it would be tackling too many topics.

Anyways I tried to make my story something besides a PR piece for the EC so I attempted to turn it into something more like news anaylsis… kind of. Hopefully the jump to talking about the role of aid organizations is not too contrived. Here it is:

Laurent tours community building programs in north Lebanon

” BEIRUT: Head of the Delegation of the European Commission Patrick Laurent visited northern Lebanon Thursday on a tour of community building programs the European Union funds in the area. He announced an additional 18 million euros of funding from the European Commission for the northern region at the end of the tour.

Local mayors and dignitaries along with dozens of people gathered in cities like al-Mina near Tripoli and Majdala and Denbo in Akkar for a brief glimpse and short speech by the French diplomat. Laurent and his delegation from the European Commission visited a cultural center, water filtration plants and vocational schools in the terraced foothills of the Akkar.

Besides being a publicity stunt to build support, Laurent’s visit to Akkar, one of the poorest areas in the nation, brought up issues of class disparity and the question of what role international aid plays in place of the Lebanese government. These issues have recently been the center of debate after a report of high levels of poverty in Akkar.

The programs Laurent visited are all funded by the Economic and Social Fund for Development (ESFD), a mostly EU backed project aimed at poverty reduction. Laurent said the additional funding of 18 million euros provided by the EU would be used for the development of agriculture programs with local authorities in the north, but provided no further details.

Over a hundred people came out to see the delegation in Denbo the last stop on the delegations trip and location of Laurent’s longest speech. Denbo was by far the largest gathering of all of the delegation’s stops and one of the poorest towns in Akkar. Town members played traditional music and showered the delegation with sweets and cheers when Laurent approached the town’s community center.

“The European Commission will continue to support this movement and will make sure the voice of local communities is well heard,” said Laurent to the audience packed in a small gymnasium. “Reinforcing the state while strengthening local actors is the best way not only to build up a democratic state in Lebanon but to ensure a development process involving and benefiting to all citizens,” he said.

These contributions from international organizations like the European Commission are crucial for the well being of cities and towns in the northern region. The contributions have also largely filled the void of the government in the poorer areas of Lebanon where the state building has not done much to provide for the people of northern Lebanon.

Places in the interior of Akkar like Denbo don’t have the mountaintop or seaside resorts that draw industry to many other parts of the country. In 2008 a report by the International Poverty Center Akkar was listed as having the highest level of poverty and unsatisfied basic needs in the country. Towns largely live off what agriculture can provide and remittances from Lebanese working abroad. The rest comes from aid programs…

Read the rest

Yes. I think the government after all, they put to law. the acute disparities in living conditions in Lebanon is causing social instability and insecurity.

If we do not want to have the North of Lebanon specifically the Akkar area drop into fundamentalist extremities then we should deal with the situation from an economic basis.

GOV DO MORE?

Of course. Because in my opinion what is more important than frequency of poverty in Lebanon, what more important than that is the intensity of poverty, it means the distance from the national average, the standard of living. And the farther you go from the national average the more you will likely get instabilities and fundamentalists.

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Story on Lebanese detainees

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Made it on to the front page of The Daily Star today. I wasn’t so crazy about a few of the edits, but hey, who is. It’s nice to move up from page 3 through.

The story is about detainees who were supposedly released from Syrian prison after being held most likely since the Civil War. They say supposedly, A: because they don’t know exactly where they all are and B: because some people who have been “released” before have not been found. Although in this case it looks like they will get back to Lebanon. The organization SOLIDE helps lobby for the detainees release. I called the Justice Minister and the SOLIDE founder, the rest of the quotes were added by my editor.

Written by stephenddockery

June 24, 2009 at 8:46 am

Story on Paper Cup

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Inside Paper Cup

Inside Paper Cup

My story on Paper Cup, a new niche book/magazine shop that just opened in the Mar Mikhael neighborhood in Beirut ran today in The Daily Star. It got some good play too, the story took up about 1/3 of the page on page 3 including a photo by yours truly. It’s still nothing more than a one source story, but I did enjoy talking to the owner and finding the store.

Written by stephenddockery

June 20, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Palestinians in Lebanon | IDRC report

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My story ran in the The Daily Star today.Well, really its not a story, just a long brief about an IDRC report on what can be done to improve the fragile relationship between the Palestinians in Lebanon and the Lebanese.

First some background: many Lebanese, particularly Christians. blame the 1975-1990 Civil War on the Palestinians, also several Palestinian camps were destroyed by Christians during the Civil War (including the Sabra and Shatila massacre) so the relationship between the two communities is not a healthy one.

The Lebanese military is not allowed into the camps, meaning they are administered by Palestinian groups, usually armed ones. Previously these militias were present outside the camps as well as inside. Now besides for a few exceptions, like the PFLP- General Command, the armed militias mostly stay inside the camps.Still, inside the camps, these militias have caused problems most recently in the killing of a Fatah member in Ain al-Hilwah refugee camp on Tuesday, and attempted smuggling of explosives into the same camp. (was the car booby trapped or just bomb laden? We may never know. Lets go reporting!)

Palestinians are not given basic rights like land ownership or ability to hold specific jobs. Most don’t have access to public services like schools or medical treatment. Part of the reason this situation exists is because of the issue of right of return and identity. Many people feel that by giving Palestinians citizenship, or giving them full rights, is in so many ways recognizing the legitimacy of Israel. That if these people were given a new home, Israel would no longer have to acknowledge millions of people without a state. So the questions becomes how many rights and services do you provide Palestinian’s before they become too much like citizens of your own? Its a dangerous game to play with the quality of life of so many people.

My “story” hopefully explains some of the other history

Sometimes my favorite thing about these reports is the footnotes and source material. Heres some of the background material that the author Rex Brynen recommends in the report’s footnotes:

  • For an overview of conditions and attitudes in the camps, see Samaa Abu Sharar, Study on the Conditions of Palestinian Refugees in Camps Across Lebanon (Beirut: Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee,June 2008), online at http://www.lpdc.gov.lb/php/Uploads/2008-06/Report19_1.pdf.
  • Given the complexity of this history, only a very brief overview can be provided here. For a fuller examination, see Rex Brynen, Sanctuary and Survival: the PLO in Lebanon (Boulder: Westview Books, 1990); Rosemary Sayigh, Too Many Enemies: The Palestinian Experience in Lebanon (London: Zed Books, 1993); International Crisis Group, Nurturing Instability: Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugee Camps, Middle East Report #84, 19 February 2009, online at http://www.crisisgroup.org.
  • UNRWA, UNRWA in Figures, 31 December 2008, online at http://www.un.org/unrwa

Heres the link to the full report.

Obama mania, one step too far

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Let me preempt a days work, five years from now. Five years from now when the this Obama honeymoon is over and instability breaks out again in this region when radicals or resistance organizations come to power. People like Thomas Friedman will be scratching their head, saying ‘What happened, everything was going so well‘.

Well I hate to be the first one to break the news to Friedman and everyone who thinks the same of the Obama effect, but little has changed and projecting your own western morality and oversimplifications on this region isn’t going to do anything except delude yourself to thinking the world cares just as much about your liberal idealisms as you do.

Whats changed? you have a stalled peace process with a right-wing Israel that is reticent as ever to even start moving forward. You have popularly elected Hamas thats shunned by the rest of the world and locked up in Gaza facing off against a propped up West Bank government just waiting to fight it out. You have a fundamentally unstable confessional system in Lebanon and increasingly divisive voting blocks pulling the country in opposite directions. Not to mention the elections being partially bought by Saudi money.

So while current stability has a positive outlook, and the Lebanese elections went off with close to zero violence. The initial benefits of a new U.S policy shouldn’t be confused for long term success.

The new Obama policy of engagement is opening up new ground on several issues, but it has yet to address any of the core issues that destabalize this region. These gains are important, but should not be overstated.

The problem is the same one that mars Western idealists calling fraud in the Iranian election. Analyzing any situation by what you would like to see happen, rather than by any standard of fairness is dangerous. You can’t just project other nations local politics into your livingroom.

Written by stephenddockery

June 14, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Contrary to popular belief, things are looking up

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Theres a lot of baseless information getting tossed around right not about the elections and its potential aftermath. The Western media really tries to simplify everything to its lowest common denominator. I’m sure there were section editors everywhere begging to write “Hezbollah loses election” headlines. These kind of things are understandable, theres only so much complexity an audience wants until it loses interest. But a lot is getting lost when things get boiled down that much. Dean Sharp and The Angry Arab do a great job of pointing out the misconceptions that are making rounds in the press right now.

Too add some of my own to the mix:

There is this conclusion that has been added on to numerous analysis pieces that says the next phase of politics of prime minister and cabinet making will plunge Lebanon into instability. Its the violence refrain, we heard it before the elections and now we hear it again Its the “hey this is Lebanon, people are bound to start shooting” line. Well frankly I don’t see it.

The players in Lebanon have made a conscious effort to keep violence out of the equation. Theres anything from the normal platitudes during press conferences, to Slieman Frangieh calling his supporters donkeys for thinking about arming themselves. It’s obviously a PR stunt, but thats the thing, its popular to be seen as non-violent right now. Adding to that, the people who are armed, Hezbollah, has expressed no interest in mixing their arms with their  local politics. Even the sorting out of the blocking third and Hezbollah’s weapons seem to be going forward without much friction.

That brings us to the next level of stability in Lebanon. The regional players. Even a basic analysis of your regional players shows you that by and large the cards aren’t there for destabilizing Lebanon. At least for the time being.

First you have Syria. By acceptance  of engaging with the U.S. via Mitchel’s visit to Damascus, and calling for Turkey to restart talks with Israel. Bashar is clearly showing that he wants to be on the Obama Middle East peace train and start  improving relations. Realizing that, and then recognizing that creating instability in Lebanon or not recognizing their sovereignty  would be a non-starter with the U.S. you can rule out Syria as a destabalizer.

Next you have Iran. Iran is in the middle of its elections, violence would be a wild card for either candidate, and at the moment it looks like the Grand Ayatollah wants eyes firmly on Tehran. Petty political squables between Michel Aoun and Michel Murr are no interest to Iran who has bigger issues on its hands.

Israel is the last one, and I think they most unpredictable for a lot of things right now in Middle East politics. Netanyahu seems very attached to his right-wing base, and that doesn’t seem like its going to change. He could be a stumbling block for the peace process and he could be a stumbling block for general stability. But seeing as Iran’s line right now is playing it cool, so is Hezbollah’s and so the trigger to set off the Israel right-wing doesn’t look like its there at the moment.

But I did leave one person out.  “The General” Of all the people on the local level ,  Aoun seems like the biggest wild card.  He seems the most upset with the way things are progressing. He didn’t get close to the 70% of the Christian vote in 2005, and with his registering of complaints and demands of proportional representation he seems the least satisfied with the election in general. Not to mention his 20 years of desire to become president. But honestly the likelyhood of the FPM taking to the streets still seems low to me.

Written by stephenddockery

June 12, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Shuffle

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The elections are over, March 14 won their “surprise” victory, that left them with 71 seats pretty much exactly the same as they had after 2005. Nasrallah gave a realitively low key speech last night accepting the results and calling for solidarity. So whats next? Forming a cabinet and choosing a prime minister, and both issues go hand in hand.

Oh before I get into that: Here is my story from Batroun and Koura on Sunday. It had a different lede on it, but then at press time the results for Batroun and Koura came in so they slapped that on there. So after the first two graphs the rest is me.

Back to PMs: As a brief primer, there are 30 cabinet posts which are selected by consensus from the parliament, except for a few posts like the Ministry of Interior which most likely will go back to Ziad Baroud, (who most are happy with after his handling of the elections) all posts will be up for grabs.

The big question in the cabinet is whither a 1/3 of the picks will be given to members of the opposition known as a blocking third, enough for a veto. Before that can happen, the parliament has to select a prime minister. The parliament makes a recommendations to the president who then selects the prime minister who forms the cabinet.

These two issues are tied together because depending on who the prime minister it will most likely determine if a veto third is given to the opposition.

So who are the candidates for prime minister:

Najib Mikati

Najib Mikati

Najib Mikati: Before the March 14 win, it looked as if Najib Mikati was the unanimous choice for both parties. At the time people were assuming there would be a small March 8 victory, a hung parliament and the need for a moderate like Mikati to step in. Mikati began to serve in parliament in 1998 and took his first cabinet position at the Ministry of Public Works and

Transportation. He is a very wealthy businessman a member of the AUB board of trustees and most importantly he was appointed as prime minister in 2005 by then president Emile Lahood. He took the position after beleaguered PM Omar Karami and his government resigned in 2005 due to the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Mikati was a consensus PM that satisfied the pro-Syrians at the time, as he is considered to be moderately pro-Syrian and had a good relationship with Bashar Al-Asad. He was PM for just 3 months, in which he composed a government and held elections in which PM Foud Siniora was elected the next PM. Now that March 14 has squeaked off a victory it looks less likely that

the pro-Syrian Mikati will be selected.

Saad Hariri: Saad Hariri is the leader of the Future Movement and the face of the March 14 coalition. He is the son of Rafik Hariri, a former businessman, and was thrown into politics after

Saad Hariri

Saad Hariri

his fathers assassination. He is very much a novice on the political scene but has huge support. He won the Beirut 3 district with a convincing 78382 votes. The whole Hariri family are owners of Solidaire, the company responsible for redeveloping post-Civil War Beirut. Solidaire has drawn criticism for its mishandling of the development and losing touch with the essence of Beirut. Rafik derived much of his wealth from Saudi business contracts, and eventually became envoy for Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd. The connection to the Saudi’s is said to still be strong. Hariri has become a front runner for the premiership, but would have a difficult decision ahead of him if he accepted it. On one hand part of his base does not want to grant the opposition a veto block in the cabinet. They see it as counter productive and continuing the weak government and stagnation that has been the trend. On the other hand if Hariri were to grant the opposition the veto block he could avoid the civil strife that would surely ensue and be seen as a peacemaker. He does have a third option, as do most of the candidates for PM, and that is to grant President Michel Sleiman the choice of a handful of independent cabinet members.Thereby giving the opposition and the president a combined veto. That option would greatly increase the executive powers and might not please all parties, like general Aoun, but it could be the best alternative for reducing tensions.

Fouad Siniora: Lastly there is the current PM. Siniora is a March 14 member and the

Fouad Siniora

Fouad Siniora

PM of choice following Rafik Hariri’s death. He was PM during the 2006 war, the 2007 boycott, the 2008 opposition uprising and Doha agreement. Siniora was a businessman who was very close to Rafik Hariri. He ran and won in parliament this year in Sidon, running with Bahia Hariri (Rafik’s sister) for the two Sunni seats. He is considered by some the favorite choice of some in the West (like the U.S.) for the seat.

I’m sure thats not all the names being tossed around for the seat now. Send an email or leave a comment if you know of more, and let me know if I got anything wrong or didn’t make it clear enough.