This is Beirut

This is Beirut is designed to give voice to the millions of Lebanese who are suffering while the world sits silently. We are not interested in propagating hatred. We want the world to witness through the eyes of Lebanese citizens the destruction and the suffering that has been brought on in the name of defense. If you have a story, poem or letter to share, please email We will work together to end this violence.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Regional powers fight over Lebanon

Regional powers fight over Lebanon
By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Beirut

In the southern suburbs of Beirut, pictures of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of Iran's Islamic revolution, are not an uncommon sight.

This is a stronghold of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shia guerrilla movement and political party which looks to Iran and its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for spiritual guidance and more.

In the aftermath of the summer 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, the group distributed around $300m dollars in aid, in crisp dollars bills. The money was thought to originate from Tehran.

We should respect all countries that offer help except those that have a political agenda, and try to take away people's dignity
Iranian engineer Hussam Khoshnevis

In one apartment in the area, the television is playing a song in Farsi and in a corner there's a big Iranian flag.

These are the offices of Iranian engineer Hussam Khoshnevis, sent to Beirut by the Iranian President Mahmound Ahmadinejad, to help rebuild south Lebanon after the war.

With his team, he is repairing some 50 bridges, 60 schools and 150 kilometres of highway and 30 places of worship, including churches - all destroyed by Israeli shelling.

Political stand-off

In total Mr Khoshnevis expects at least $250m to be spent on the reconstruction.

Some other governments are not quite so transparent and some of them don't even give their aid to legal entities but instead choose to use their assistance in ways to coerce or push people for political ends
Juliette Wurr
US embassy in Beirut

Many see this is as the Shia revolutionary state's attempt to increase its hold over Lebanon and boost the power of the Shia guerrilla movement and political party Hezbollah in its stand-off against the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The five-month long political crisis, in part over differing visions of Lebanon's future, is one of the worst that the country has faced in decades. The engineer says Iran has no ulterior motives.

"We help all people in need, we don't expect anything in return," he said.

"We helped Pakistan, Indonesia and our help fits in with the ideology of the Lebanese."

But is help from other countries welcome, such as the US, which unequivocally backs Mr Siniora.

"We should respect all countries that offer help to Lebanon, it's to the benefit of the people, except those countries that have a political agenda, and try to take away people's dignity."

Mr Khoshnevis did not have to spell out what country he was referring to. It seemed obvious he meant the US.

Transparent intentions

"The United States has pledged one billion US dollars in aid," Juliette Wurr told me at the US embassy half an hour north of Beirut.

Around $30m dollars is going to rebuild a massive bridge in the eastern Bekaa valley, one of the tallest bridges in the Middle East.

We are concerned that Lebanon would become a theatre for the actual conflict between Iran and the US
Mohammed Shatah
Advisor to the PM

Part of the aid has also been in the form of training and equipment, including Humvees, for the Lebanese army and the police force.

Critics say the US has an agenda when it gives aid and it is trying to influence the government and keep it firmly in the pro-Western camp.

"We've been very transparent with what we do, when we give money we talk about it, when we give military equipment we hold a ceremony, none of this is under-the-hand cash transfer," said Ms Wurr.

"Some other governments are not quite so transparent and some of them don't even give their aid to legal entities but instead choose to use their assistance in ways to coerce or push people for political ends.

"Neither Syria nor Iran have played a very positive role recently in Lebanon."

Strategic battle

The US and Iran are both vying for influence here, trying to win the hearts and minds of the Lebanese and backing different parties - while the US supports the government, Iran and its ally Syria, support Hezbollah.

"Iran is in a defensive state at the current time, it is positioned in a strategic axis, with Syria and Hamas, to confront US plans in the region," said Amal Saad Ghorayeb of the Carnegie Middle East think tank.

"I think it's a battle between two strategic visions, and you have two domestic camps within Lebanon which adhere to one or the other and that's the real problem."

In a country that often sums up all the complexities of the Middle East, it can get even more complicated.

Regional power-house Saudi Arabia has also been pumping aid and money into Lebanon.

The Sunni Muslim kingdom deposited $1bn in the central bank during the summer war to boost the Lebanese pound and paid fees for all pupils in state schools to a total of $30m, among other initiatives.

The Saudis are keen to keep Lebanon stable and prevent it from falling completely into the Syrian-Iranian orbit, at a time of Shia-Sunni tensions in the region.

No strings attached?

In a way, the Saudis are on the same side as the US in the stand off, but they also try to play a moderating role.

Many Lebanese are critical of the Saudi petro-dollars pouring into the country. But others, including the government say they welcome Saudi involvement and American aid because they believe it does not come with any strings attached.

"Iran has a certain affiliation with a community in Lebanon. We have a problem when that affinity between Iran and Hezbollah translates into a flow of weapons or an attempt to dictate a certain policy over Lebanon which is not agreed upon by other communities," said Mohammed Shatah, an advisor to the prime minister.

"We are concerned that Lebanon would become a theatre for the actual conflict between Iran and the US.

"In the past, Lebanon served as a theatre for other conflicts and this has cost the country dearly."

So once more, Lebanon finds itself at the centre of a regional power struggle and while the different outside players are helping to rebuild the small nation, their competing agendas may still bring it all down.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Beirut is Burning

I get so frustrated sometimes I don't know what to write anymore. Fresh from a meeting with Dr. Reinoud Leenders, assistant professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam and former analyst with the International Crisis Group based in Beirut, where we talked about identity, politics, and corruption in Lebanon, I go to CNN and find out protesters have shut down Beirut and a number of Lebanese cities by burning tires and cars, throwing rocks, and blocking traffic to and from the airport. Obviously, people are not satisfied with the current state of affairs but this is not helpful!!

Now, I am all for political protest and the peaceful protests of previous weeks seemed to indicate that it was possible to make a statement without harming each other or the city of Beirut or the country that so many Lebanese people profess to love. I feel like all this destructiveness is throwing the country into a time warp. If we condemn the actions of Israel for the destruction of Lebanon, we must also condemn Lebanese who destroy their own land and hurt their own people. How will Lebanon ever move forward otherwise. The violence has to stop.
My hope is that people in the west don't take this as proof that Lebanon is a lost cause or that these are "birth pangs" for a burgeoning democracy. I believe that when you are surrounded by violence and have had violence inflicted upon you for decades, it because a part of who you are and how you think. The conflict in Iraq is spilling over into other states and essentially, all these conflicts in the Middle East, Palestine and Israel, the war in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon transcend intra-state conflicts as they impact the entire region continuously. I want to write more on this but at the moment, I am just sad to see the effects.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

America's Double Standard on Democracy in the Middle East

Time Magazine joins the ranks of those questioning the true motives behind the U.S. policy in the Middle East. Some interesting insights in this article

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Post War Diaries

Dear World

I entered the Monoprix Concorde yesterday and a glittering sparkling
Christmas tree was standing at the door. Inside, life was going on in
an attempt to create a peaceful and happy Christmas mood maintained by
Christmas carols playing on the shop's speakerphones, Christmas
brochures handed at the door and small chocolate Santa clauses wrapped
in colored aluminum sheets. Fruits and vegetables were fresh and
colored, branded products were yelling to be bought, people were
shopping in a fake calmness and patience. These days, everything
around feels like a lie.

I wrote a month of war diaries upon the Israeli assault on Lebanon in
a shout of despair and helplessness, as an attempt to get a reaction
against violence and wasted lives. The war ended and all is as numb
and dumb, including myself.

Today, Lebanon could be on a threshold of a civil war. Is it? Isn't
it? I have no clue. People are talking here and there, wondering,
questioning or giving very certain answers from very reliable
sources. (I would like to note here that all reliable sources in
Lebanon can also be referred to as gossip.)

Whoever has been following up the news in Lebanon would know that
right now, the country is divided. Needless to say between who and who
because it is meaningless. Mainly between two sides both heavily
anchored to their ideals and not willing to make any compromises.
Stubborn and stuck. Manipulating and manipulated. Half of the people
are currently residing in tents and sleeping on the floor in the area
that, not long ago, was witnessing an immense waste of money by Saudi
tourists and Lebanese Bourgeoisie and Nouveaux Riches over abundant
food, ugly (but supposedly trendy) clothes and other useless things
that contribute in making you feel complete when you truly are a
complete fool. An area that was once the ground of expensive glossy
cars and huge Hummers bought or rented at a rate that, if spent in a
little more awareness, would solve the poverty problem on the face of
our planet. Downtown Beirut.

I don't know what to think. I don't know who to believe, whose side to
be at. Some people claim this conflict is that of the poor against the
rich. Others that it is the poor headed against the smart. Others
that it is Iran and Syria against the US, and others that it was all
planned by Israel, as usual. I have been living weeks of talks and
arguments, assumptions and uncertain certainties, intolerant
expressions and stupid remarks, irresponsible leaders and numb ones.
And I am fed up.

Somewhere, I feel everyone is right but on another hand, this whole
scenario is still hard for me to comprehend and accept. A waste of
time, money and human energy to fulfill the huge inflatable egos of
the political leaders. Leaders whose photographs carry so much more
weight than the people themselves. All of them. Greed and arrogance,
delicately coated in flaming speeches, rich in style but devoid of any
sane human content. Does it take really that much for people to live

I walk on the street and I don't recognize the people anymore. Some
political, religious, intellectual or social identification has taken
over their brains and they refuse to see that there is no real problem
in Lebanon, but only trouble-makers. I look at the infinite posters
hanging here and there, on the poles, on the billboards, over
balconies, on the walls, on the doors, on the windows, on the people,
on the cars, etc. Posters of leaders, dead leaders, surviving leaders.
Colored sheets of paper with some slogan that, repeated over and over
again, is emptied of its meaning and reduced to the status of some
cheap expression we throw to shut somebody up.

Do you want the truth? Of course you do.
What truth is it?
How valid is some truth when there's nothing true within us?

We have become mirrors of somebody's ideology and we are proud of it.
We go on the streets and shout it loud and clear as if it is a truth
for us. Is it?

And it kills me because, in the middle of all this mess, it is
becoming harder and harder for me to find myself. And I love it
because it is making me look. I love it because I am more confused
than ever, but I would rather be confused than sure from a "truth"
that could be nothing but utter nonsense.

Dear Leaders
Get off your stands and go home. Take a deep look at what you are
saying, doing and not doing and ask yourselves: what do you want? what
do you want to make out of this country? Because as long as you are in
a position where thousands of people are willing to execute your
orders, you better be clear and unselfish since anyways, someday you
will die and any profit you could have had out of this will go with
you to the grave. I am not being arrogant, I apologize if I sound so,
but if I were you, I would, as the French say, "rotate my tongue 7
times before speaking" and have a long and deep thinking about the
repercussions of my actions.

But hey, then again, aren't the international forces deciding everything for us?
Hell! I really know nothing!

Peace 'n' love
An air-headed Lebanese Citizen.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A plea for reason

"If my leader is to show disrespect to any Lebanese party or sect I will not follow him. If my leader calls for a protest which divides our Lebanese ranks, no matter the cause, I will not follow him. If my leader is to show hatred, even if rightful, I will not follow him. If my leader hasn't learned the lesson I have from 30 years of war, Lebanon comes first, may our leaders fight their wars alone!"

Please don't rise to or be source of provocation. Let's not be victims of international stimuli again. Our leaders may sell their souls to the devil, but Lebanon was never theirs to sell. It belongs to those of us who STILL believe in one united people. Dear Lebanese, I would like this message to be a wake-up call to all Lebanese everywhere; whatever our political beliefs, religion or sect! Please hear this plea:Lebanon is going through a very difficult period on many different levels but most importantly on a street level. I URGE everyone to try your best to calm the people around you. Now is not the time to 'talk' or to inflame friends and neighbours. Please practice restraint! If we allow them, the political crisis our politicians are putting us through will soon spill onto our streets! If WE, as sovereign and independent Lebanese citizens, do nothing to stop it, we will have a civil war on our hands again! We have to use our rational and our common sense and not be manipulated into hatred of one another and street expressions! None of us want to see our children fighting and killing each other on the streets again! None of us want to witness a new wave of death, hate, destruction and humiliation again! None of us want to be manipulated and treated like sheep without any will or conscious again! None of us want to live in fear of sending our children to their universities and schools where students are being bullied and bitten for expressing an opinion again! Please talk to your children and friends and convince them:

Not to rise to provocation
Not to allow anyone to push their buttons
Not to be source of provocation
Not to inflame other's political and/or religious loyalties
Not to get into a war of words with others over politics or religion
Not to get into fist-fights or feuds with others over politics or religion
Not to destroy or assist in the destruction of another's properties/cars over politics or religion
Not to be influenced into expressing their opinions in our streets!

If you love our Lebanon, please forward this message to as many Lebanese as you possibly can that we can help calm and defuse a highly explosive situation and maybe avert a crisis! Our country's survival and the lives of our children depend on our collective efforts!
Peace be upon us all!

A Patriotic Lebanese

On behalf of all Lebanese

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Funeral for a young Shiite

Mourners carry the coffin of Ahmad Mahmud during his funeral in Beirut. A sea of angry mourners converged on southern Beirut for the funeral of the young Shiite murdered amid mass rallies aimed at toppling the government, which have sparked fears of new sectarian violence.(AFP/Ramzi Haider)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Protest Day 3

Hezbollah supporters wave their flags in front of Al Amin mosque in Beirut December 3,2006. Lebanon's political crisis showed no sign of easing on Sunday, as thousands of pro-Syrian protesters pressed on with a sit-in aimed at ousting a Western-backed government intent on holding on to power. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)