(My Middle East)

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

Posts Tagged ‘stephen dockery

Story on Aisha Bakkar

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As I mentioned yesterday in my post about reporting from Aisha Bakkar, where street clashes broke out Sunday, heres my story that ran in The Daily Star today. It was my first story of this kind (conflict reporting directly after the conflict) so it was a bit of a struggle to write, but I think it turned out alright and I’ve figured out what I can do in the future. Heres the main story on Aisha Bakkar by Nicholas Kimbrell that my story was the sider to.

<UPDATE> 9:02 PM Beirut, Went by Aisha Bakkar on my way home from work. The whole area is still on lock down, but a little more relaxed, people and LAF wise. Although I did see a few checkpoints where LAF were stopping and searching cars and talking to people.

I heard the Sunni side had a funeral today for the woman killed, and when I walked through the area there was a group of about 100 people who were having a group meal, I’d assume as part of the funeral. So maybe things can go forward with out retaliatory violence

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June 30, 2009 at 9:37 am

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.


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.

Half way in Beirut | an Update

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It’s hard to believe but I’ve now been in Beirut 33 days (today is the 34th). I’ve got 33 more left and I’ve got to say things have gone very well. I’ve found a great place to live, met some cool people and I absolutely love Beirut. Although the newspaper is understaffed, and a bit disorganized, I’m starting to enjoy it.

Also contrary to some peoples belief, I’m not just writing bagel and book stories, I’m starting to be trusted with bigger stuff, and I’m working on an enterprise story of my own. Oh I’m also heading up to Akkar and Tripoli tomorrow with Patrick Laurent the head of the European Commission delegation on a press trip.

I start Arabic classes in the beginning of July, which I’m looking forward to. But to be honest my Arabic hasn’t gotten that much better. I think you really need to set aside time to learn the language like a whole year (Damascus Arabic school? Who knows)

Progress on my summer reading list is right on schedule. I’ve finished my first three books, and I’m starting my fourth, Engaging the Muslim World today. I’ve also started the process of applying for scholarships, fellowships and graduate schools for post SU. It’s a rather daunting/not fun process, but hopefully it will pay off in the end.

Oh I also discovered a fantastic drink yesterday its called Freez, and its made in Lebanon. It’s a mix of sparking water and fruit juice, and comes in lots of flavors including Lemon and Blackberry which are the two Ive tried so far. It reminds me a lot like Izzle (spelled correctly), but more soda like.

Anyways thats all I’ve got for now. Thanks everyone for reading

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June 24, 2009 at 5:09 pm

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.

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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.

News on the Stephen front

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Not as exciting as the Iranian elections I know, but things are going well as usual. I have a byline tomorrow, not really a story (although I would have liked if it was one) but I was told to write 600 words on a recent report on Palestinians in Lebanon. So 600 words they got. I also will have a story in the paper the day after tomorrow on a niche magazine shop that just opened in Mar Mikhael. Not my favorite kind of stories to do, but I enjoyed talking to the owner and drinking some flower tea with a French name I couldn’t pronounce. Here comes a feature lede.

Excitement of the day: I was told to “make sure not to take the day off tomorrow.” I have no idea what that means, but I feel like it could be something good. With bated breath, I wait.

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June 18, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Election coverage : Jbeil, Batroun, Koura

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I’ve been very busy these past few days so I haven’t had much time to blog

Lebanons 26 districts

Lebanons 26 districts

. Mostly because the elections are coming up Sunday. We had a staff meeting Thursday evening to go over district assignments and what we are going to

be producing for the day. I covering 3 of the total 26 electoral districts. My districts are Jbeil, Batroun, and Koura (Check the map for locations)

So the seat breakdown goes like this.

Koura 3 Seats: Greek Orthodox

Batron: 2 Seats: Maronite

Jbeil: 3 Seats: 2 Maronite 1 Shia

I’m almost done with my research and I will post a more complete breakdown of the districts tomorrow. But for the coverage, myself and staff member Dana Halawi will be leaving early Sunday morning and driving up to Jbeil, we

will visit poling places all over each district, going to places where there are disturbances (if any) observing the environment/general mood, talking to people and politicians. Then by 6 that evening we will make our way back to Beirut and write a 800 word rap of the 3 districts.

As for predictions on how things will go, everything that I am seeing and reading points to the fact that no one actually knows. The poling that has been done is not reliable and there are many variables (fraud, vote buying, expat voting) that could have an effect. As for if things will remain peaceful, people are equally ambivalent… although the c

onversation/article usually ends with ‘it could happen this is Lebanon’

Also I did a lot of reading on the opposition today. Most notably how the Free Patriotic Movement, led by former civil war player (but hey who’s not?) General Aoun , is what the opposition really hinges on. Hezbollah may not even gain seats during the election, and if the opposition does win, the people carrying most of the weight will be the General and the Aounees.

Lebanons 26 districts

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June 5, 2009 at 9:36 pm

So much journalism!

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Full of  journalism today: My story on Sawt Ashabab, the youth media outlet ran today in the paper. Page 3, Lebanon section in the upper right.

University students launch independent media outlet

Sawt Ashababs logo

Sawt Ashabab's logo

BEIRUT: Around 100 students from eight universities in Lebanon are coming together to create an independent youth media outlet just seven days before the parliamentary elections….[the rest]

Unfortunately the copy desk put in 1 error. The paper will be published once, on Thursday. Not once per week, on Thursday. Oh well.

More news on the journalism front I covered the Samir Kassir award for free speech today at the Phonecia Intercontinental Hotel. The Phonecia is the 6 star hotel in Beirut, it has  marble stair cases, royal sitting areas and amazing service.

Samir Kassirs funeral

Samir Kassir's funeral

Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian journalism won for best Opinion article and Carole Kerbage, a Lebanese journalist won for best investigative report.

The award was in honor of Samir Kassir who was assassinated in 2005. Kassir was a liberal intellectual and journalist and strong proponent of Lebanese democracy, without Western interference . His killing was one of many assassinations of opponents of the Syrian occupation in Lebanon. You can read more about Kassir on his foundations website. And I’ll post my story tomorrow, when it will be in the newspaper.

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June 2, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Need help understanding the Lebanese elections?

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March 8 and March 14,  Hezbollah and Amal, Lebanese Forces and Kataeb. Lebanese politics is layered in history and can be very unapproachable. For anyone starting to figure it out Deen Sharp, a Beirut free lance journalist ,has some great resources, including background on Lebanon’s main political parties, an explanation of the parliament and a Lebanese media guide.. (Speaking of which my story on the independent youth media  outlet got pushed to tomorrow)

As a British business professor at AUB was explaining to me, politics here is  absurdly labyrinthine for a country with the population the size of Houston, TX. But what Houston is not, is a battleground country for the biggest players in the Middle East and  the world.

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June 1, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Whats on a Ray’s hot dog?

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Franks Hot Dog

So on my way home from work today I stopped off at a road side stand called Rays Hot Dogs, theres a few of them all over Beirut. I figured it would be worth a shot. I ordered the “Special Hot Dog.” Heres the steps that go into preparing Ray’s special dog.

1) A choice of pork or beef (religious compromise at its best)

2) Pop open a jar, yes jar, of hot dogs. I guess these are pickled? and only need to be warmed. The hot dog is then placed on those hot rollers, the kind you see at 7-11

3) Remove bun from bun warmer

4) Spoon on a layer of yellow corn into the bun

5) Sprinkle corn with small potato chip slivers

6) Add small pickle slivers

7) Dress pickles, chips and corn with mustard and ketchup

8 ) Remove hot dog from rollers and place on bed of pickles chips corn mustard and ketchup

9) Dress hot dog (again) with mayonnaise mustard and ketchup

The end result is pretty delicious, and impressive.I wouldn’t have believed you could have cramed that much into one bun.

Needless to say this may be one of those Beirut treats that I only have once. (Like the Tawouk which included mayonnaise French fries chicken and ketchup in a wrap)

Anyways I took the long way home from work today and walked by the Gran Serail, the roman bath house, the shot up (literally) 50 or so floor vacant Holiday Inn. The abandoned Synagogue (complete with star of david), Saad Hariri’s house, more roman ruins, The Ministry of Information and Hamra Street. It takes about 10 minutes longer but is much more scenic and has a lot fewer cars.

Also, I have a story showing up in the paper tomorrow about Sawt Ashabab (Youth Voice) a new organization ran by students targeted at young people that will be distributed in the 2 big daily newspapers, An-Nahar and Al-Akhbar, before the elections. It was a fun story to do and might get decent play in tomorrows paper.

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May 31, 2009 at 5:05 pm