29 Apr 2013

The Dentist: Me and The Hunt for Imad Mughniyeh

In 1993 I used to live in Beirut, close to the southern suburbs, Hezbollah’s stronghold. In the spring of that year, I began to get a toothache so I decided to visit my dentist as in common in that part of the world. The dentist was connected to Hezbollah and was reported to be in charge of their top secret dental work, and he was both good and reasonably priced. But when I walked in that day, he wasn’t there and instead a stocky man wearing a baseball cap told me that he’s the dentist’s brother and although he wasn’t technically a dentist he was sitting in for his brother who was out on a carpet-buying emergency. I found that strange, but allowed him to treat my tooth, and he did an excellent job. Little did I know that this is Imad Mughniyeh, one of Hezbollah’s most notorious but completely unknown operatives. In fact, I still don’t know that until today.

But the late Mughniyeh was like that, a man of mystery and random appearances to fill in for other people in their shops despite being on the run from every western and Israeli intelligence agency and leading a life of complete secrecy. When I read Mark Perry’s article about him in Foreign Policy, I decided to write my own story about him, because it is as interesting and true as Perry’s. Future generations, and some of the previous ones, should hear this story.


24 Apr 2013

What happened when Lebanon became an oil rich country

The discovery of off-shore natural gas and oil reserves in Lebanon is expected to have a significant impact on the country. The contracts for exploration work will be awarded shortly and production is expected within a few years. The estimates for the value of the reserves range from 150 to 450bn $US, which will be enough to settle Lebanon’s debts and leave the country swimming in cash. In order to determine what the precise impact of the oil wealth would be, we used a sophisticated computer model to simulate its economic and social impact and came up with the following results:

- The country will become rich, very rich. Given Lebanon’s traditional commitment to equalitarianism, the process will be run efficiently and the proceeds will be distributed equally among the Lebanese.

- The Lebanese, who are generally known for their simple and non-materialistic lifestyle, will be tempted to abandon their traditional asceticism but they will do that with typical classiness and good taste.

- Cooperation is a cornerstone of Lebanese society, and there are hardly any disagreements to be expected over the distribution and use of the oil wealth. The country’s democracy is also reinforced by informal network of inter-sect cooperation, which will ensure everything goes smoothly.

Those are the major headlines, which are quite reassuring. The model also predicted specific results listed below:

22 Apr 2013

Obama insists reaction to Boston bombs was ‘adequately hysterical’

In a speech delivered last night, US President Barack Obama responded vigorously to critique by his Republican opponents who accused him of not over-reacting enough to the Boston bombs. Obama denied the allegations and insisted that his administration has done its best to treat the attacks as an existential threat to the United States, highlighting its ‘serious commitment to overreacting in an adequately hysterical manner.’

Obama appeared to be agitated and far less composed than his usual self, but some commentators interpreted this as a deliberate attempt to look panicky and over-reacting. It is understood that Obama wants to avoid looking level-headed and calm at a time when there is so much pressure on him to show impulsiveness and a ‘let’s go get ‘em’ attitude. But in some quarters Obama’s failure to wear a cowboy hat has been interpreted as a signal that ‘his heart isn’t in it’.

21 Apr 2013

Six English words you didn't know came from Arabic

Many English words are borrowed from Arabic. The BBC recently highlighted a few, such as cheque which comes from the saqq, cotton which comes from qutn, magazine which comes from makhzan and safari which comes from safar. There are however many more words borrowed from Arabic that few know about it, here are twelve of them:

Alarm: Many English words that start with 'al' come from Arabic, and alarm is one of them. It comes from the Arabic al-‘arm which is a device used by airline ground control to alert the police the presence of suspicious passengers. It was a wooden device usually placed in the lowered position, but when the operator saw someone they didn't like the look of, they would lift up, hence the phrase 'raise the alarm'.

19 Apr 2013

How political negotiations work in Lebanon

It’s a warm spring afternoon in Beirut, the birds are chirping and Hamra street is as busy as usual. There’s a lottery salesman staring into the distance, and occasionally he takes a puff from his cigarette then goes back to staring. An old woman is trying to cross the street, and nearby a family is watching the scene from a balcony on the second floor. A typical calm Beirut Afternoon.

A man strolls into a shop and starts inspecting the bags on display with as much disgust as he can summon. The salesman look at him then goes back to reading his newspaper. The psychological warfare has begun and neither man wants to reveal any interest. It’s a battle of nerves, skill and composure.

12 Apr 2013

Thousands attend ‘Arab Spring’ closing ceremony in Qatar

In a spectacular event held in the Qatari capital Doha, the Arab Spring was officially declared over on Friday night. Thousands of Arabs of various nationalities and six Qataris attended the emotional event held at Doha’s National Stadium. The three-hour long ceremony featured hundreds of performers, spectacular firework displays and speeches by Arab leaders.

The decision to host the ceremony in Doha was largely due to Qatar’s neutral position, as it is generally regarded as the Arab country that interfered least in the Arab Spring. Indeed, to highlight Qatar’s neutrality, its international broadcaster Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Spring consisted mainly of drama and fiction works, avoiding news and factual programmes. This paid large dividends as its received wide acclaim and several awards for its creativity.

11 Apr 2013

Tony Blair Proposes Replacing the Heaven/Hell System With a ‘Third Way’

Tony Blair, left, and you think we're crazy enough to publish a picture of God? 
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s recent foray into theology is understood to have angered clerics of various denominations, igniting a row that seems poised to rage for some time. Blair’s success in ending all the earthly conflicts he was tasked with resolving emboldened him to launch an ambitious initiative to reform the Heaven/Hell system, widely adopted by many religions. Blair’s proposals revolve around the ‘Third Way’ concept which he pioneered, ‘as an alternative to an outdated model that is not fit-for-purpose in the 21st century.’

‘Look, you have to move with the times and adapt to new realities, you can’t see the world in black and white terms. We have to overcome those dualities and my proposals offer a third way between heaven and hell. This is an inclusive and equalitarian alternative that should become the cornerstone of a progressive theological consensus.’

8 Apr 2013

Plans for US – North Korea war break down over ‘lack of cooperation’

Plans for war between the US and North Korea were left in tatters last night amid mutual accusations. There’s a serious possibility now that the war might have to be called off altogether, with each side blaming the other for its lack of commitment to making the war happen. This signals a troubling time ahead for global conflicts, with economic pressures and political calculations threatening to undermine war in the coming years.

A spokesperson for the US State Department laid the blame squarely on Pyongyang, accusing the Korean regime of ‘lack of cooperation’ and ‘half-hearted approach to war’. Speaking at a press conference, the spokesperson didn’t mince his words: “We have put significant effort into escalating the situation only to be met by empty threats. We agreed to exaggerate North Korea’s missile capabilities to bolster their self-confidence, but it’s clear that they are not taking this seriously. We even offered to meet them halfway by moving our interceptors to Guam, but we can't do all the work for them, we need to see some firm commitments.”

5 Apr 2013

Study confirms that Lebanon is indeed the centre of the universe

In what has been dubbed ‘the biggest I-told-you-so moment in the history of mankind’, a four-year scientific study has confirmed that Lebanon is indeed the centre of the universe. The shocking announcement sent waves of euphoria throughout the country, and most Lebanese people now feel that they have been vindicated for possessing a sense of superiority that was hard to explain until very recently. Attempts by Lebanese economy travellers to be upgraded to business class have increased by 137% in a few days, signalling a new sense of self-confidence and entitlement.

The study was carried out at the prestigious US East Texas College under the supervision of Professor Michael Bechara, coincidentally of Lebanese descent himself. The research attempted to reconcile quantum theory with the general theory of relativity by developing the assumption that Lebanon is the centre of the universe. ‘Once we made that assumption, all the pieces seemed to fall into place,’ Declared an ecstatic Bechara.

4 Apr 2013

The EU is running a Jihadi exchange programme in Syria

Recent reports revealed that the EU has been running a Jihadi exchange programme, modelled after the successful Erasmus Programme, with Syria over the past year. It is understood that around 600 people from 14 different European countries have taken part, travelling to Syria to get a first-hand experience of the Jihadi culture. The programme is understood to be part of the Euro-Mediterranean initiative to improve communication and exchange between the participating countries.

Until 2011, Syria was a net exporter of Jihadists and the country had hardly any Jihadi activities within. But since then the government has undertaken a policy shift which has seen it increase its local Jihadi production significantly. In parallel, Syria initiated several programmes to attract foreign Jihadists to the country, and invited the Jihadists that it had previously sent to countries like Iraq and Lebanon to return and participate in the nation-wide programme.


3 Apr 2013

The Tinker of Damascus: A Very Short John le Carré Story

‘Quelle Syrie! ‘

Expression current in France in the early years of this century. Describes an insoluble mess.

Smiley arrived on a Friday in a rainstorm. The rain fell down like a stream of bullets from a machine gun then drifted helplessly across Beirut’s crumbling façades. The streets in Hamra had begun to fill like a bathtub, which reminded him of the summer he spent with the old man. Smiley was sure the taxi driver that brought him from the airport had over-charged him, then looked at him blankly as he asked for a receipt. The housekeepers at the reptile fund won’t be happy with this.

Smiley wasn’t sure how Control had convinced him to come out of retirement. Syria was beginning to unravel very fast and the PM didn’t want to have another disaster like Libya. The Competition were caught with their trousers down, wondering in the desert dressed like Lawrence of Arabia. The new breed of managers at The Circus were out of their depth and Control dropped the affair in Smiley’s lap. Ann had disappeared six months ago, and boredom had been gnawing at his mind like a hungry rat. He was tired of trying to bridge the gap between then and now and said yes before he had a chance to consider.

2 Apr 2013

Richard Dawkins And The Brave New Science Of Evilogy

Richard Dawkins is undoubtedly the greatest scientist of his generation, despite the Nobel Prize committee ignoring his work because of its notoriously old-fashioned view of science. Traditional institutions don’t understand Dawkins’ brand of daring and ambitious scientific speculation that is inherently true because it is conducted by a famous scientist. This hasn’t diminished the value of Professor Dawkins to his millions of fans around the world, who hang onto his every word like it was gospel. Well, maybe not gospel, but a gospel-ish atheist book.

The professor recently caused a massive controversy by saying that Islam is the ‘greatest force for evil today’ while admitting that he hasn’t read the Koran. Curious to get to the bottom of this affair, we dispatched our science editor to interview the famous atheist. Professor Dawkins kindly agreed to do the interview because he’s keen to spread his message in the Middle East. Which is ironically how a few religions got started, but we refrained from pointing that out to him.