27 Jul 2011

Zeid Hamdan and General Suleiman: The Authoritarianism of Fragile Egos

Message from Zeid Hamdan in prison: 'Dear friends, I am now in the prison of the police station of the palace of justice in Beirut because of my song "General Soleiman". They are prosecuting me for defammation of President Soleiman. I dont know, until when I am staying in prison. Please mobilize!'

The Lebanese musician Zeid Hamdan, recently back from participating in the Shubbak Festival in London, sent this message from his detention cell in Beirut earlier today. Shubbak was intended as a 'window on contemporary Arab culture', the bitter irony is that this incident has now given an all too realistic view of the contemporary culture of repression and arbitrary use of power in Lebanon. The song in question, General Suleiman, is a light-hearted reggae number that has has provoked the humourless authorities to go after Zeid Hamdan, in all likelihood for the 'offence' of demeaning the position of the President of the Republic. This archaic residue of the French mandate period has often been used by the authorities to clamp down on the freedom of expression. 

What's Happening to Beirut's Grand Theatre?

There's been a lot of speculation recently about the fate of one of downtown Beirut's historic buildings, the Grand Theatre, a 1930s cultural icon that has been abandoned since the end of the civil war in 1990. The recent demolition of a section of the Grand Theatre complex was perceived by many as a prelude to the demolition of the entire building, and rumours about this spread online very quickly. This came as a surprise to me as Solidere, the private development company in charge of the reconstruction of Beirut's city centre, had confirmed in 2009 that the theatre building was going to be restored and converted into a boutique hotel. The British architectural  firm Rogers Stirk Harbour had won the commission to design the hotel following an international design competition.

8 Jul 2011

A Premier League Guide to Lebanese Politics.

Lebanese politics can appear confusing to the outside observer. Indeed, most of the time, it appears confusing to the inside observer. However, Lebanese politics has inherent logic and rules and, once those are grasped, following it can offer hours of entertainment for the whole family. In an effort to demystify some of the conceptual and technical aspects of Lebanese politics, I offer you the Premier League Guide to Lebanese Politics. It’s a handy metaphorical guide that will help you tell the difference between a Jumblatt and an Aoun, and answer questions like why they can never be on the same side.  

5 Jul 2011

The Folly of March 14’s STL Gamble.

As the first day of parliamentary talks kicks off in Lebanon ahead of a vote of confidence in the new cabinet, the March 14 coalition began its first real stint in opposition. There were no surprises as its MPs took to the platform, the coalition had already announced that the government’s commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was going to be at the heart of its opposition to the ministerial policy statement. Despite the significant local, regional, and international shifts, March 14 seems to be intent on pursuing the tribunal as a central political goal. To complicate matters further, the new opposition is resurrecting the debate about disarming Hezbollah in conjunction with the discussion about the STL stance. This is an unwise move, March 14 is missing a chance to reenergise itself and find a renewed sense of purpose.

2 Jul 2011

Nasrallah's Reaction to the STL Indictment

Hassan Nasrallah’s speech about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s (STL) indictment was a spectacular display of political theatre. We have become accustomed to the Hezbollah leader’s master performances, and today he did not disappoint. The speech had all the usual ingredients: criminal evidence, intricate conspiracies, and a defiant but reasoned political message. It seems that Nasrallah is pinning his hopes on winning the public opinion battle by undermining the credibility of the STL and dissuading his opponents in March 14 from pursuing its agenda.  

1 Jul 2011

Lebanon's Ministerial Policy Statement -STL article

 The most contentious item in the new cabinet's policy statement is undoubtedly the one dealing with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. As-Safir newspaper has published a leaked copy of the full text in Arabic. I couldn't find an English translation, below is my own attempt at translating it myself. The paragraph is intentionally vague in Arabic, I hope I managed in capturing the exact tone. As I argued yesterday, PM Mikati is trying to perform a delicate balancing act between internal and external pressure with respect to the STL, an attitude clearly reflected in the leaked statement.