Friday, June 30, 2006

talk about overdoing it!

Ever wonder why services (taxis) in Beirut are so damn cheap - as opposed to the prices of almost everything else? Well... we always knew there were just too many of them! But how many?

According to Emerging Lebanon's 2006 Report, "there are estimated to be at least 30,000 registered taxis in Lebanon [most of which, operate in Bierut]." Again, according to the report, that number is around 30% more than the number of taxis in London - a city with a day-time population of 12-14 million people!!!

Go figure!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Could this be the beginning of something new?

I just visited a beacon of "medical tourism" in Lebanon. It felt great. Stepping inside the building was almost like stepping into a five-star hotel! The hospital is a block away from the Gefinor Rotana Hotel, and a five-minute drive from Le Phoenicia Intercontinental - two of Beirut's top hotels.

I should hand it to the owners though. At first, I was somewhat skeptical of the relatively obscure location of the building. But considering where it is situated relative to the aforementioned hotels, and the expected clientele, I doubt they could have found a better spot!

So now, I guess, when a Khaleeji princess or prince needs hospital treatment, they fly in, and admit themselves into the "five-star" Clemenceau Medical Center. Of course, their family flies in with them and get rooms at the Gefinor Rotana hotel, that is just two-minutes away, walking distance (or the Phoenecia - depending on what suits their tastes).

Family members take turns visiting their sick sibling, parent or child. While one or two are continuously present in the hospital, the others go shopping, head to the beach, or even go skiing. At the end of the trip, everyone's happy: the khaleejis for getting better and having a blast, the Medical Center for the paying client, the doctors because of increased employment opportunities and the Hotel, as well as other enterprises that benefited from the visiting family.

There, my friends, you have "medical tourism." Now the question is: can Lebanese milk it for all its worth? The potential is there, but we'll have to wait and see.

Coming soon:

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Living On Different Planets:Berri's Visit to Damascus

"Berri Travels to Syria for Talks with Assad on Eve of Dialogue"

This is how I was greeted today morning when I clicked on Naharnet. With all honesty: does this title make you want to read further? Because I refused to click on it and was satisfied with the it-says-it-all headline.

I am appalled by the dialogue and by Berri's visits to Damascus on the eve of the dialogue rounds. For God's sake, has the Cedar Revolution taken place, or was it just a term coined by the outsiders to depict a transient moment in our country's history? What Revolution? We have not advanced much since the Syrian forces left the country last year.

Our Speaker of the House, and most importantly, the Godfather of the so-called Al-Hiwar Al-Watani, visits Damascus for talks with President Assad, while on the same webpage, Naharnet writes: "Prime Minister Fouad Saniora has said...that a meeting between the two governments would happen 'sooner or later.'"

Who are we kidding? Lebanon is such a tiny country, yet its inhabitants can appear like they live on different planets. And while Berri is heading East to Damascus, Seniora has headed West to Europe. Go figure!

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Police Force Gets Unexpected Help

Ever since the Syrian Army’s expulsion from Lebanese territories, our eyes have turned to Western nations to see what kind of assistance, and how much of it, they provide to Lebanon in this very delicate stage of its history. Politically there can be no doubt; had it not been for, primarily, French and American pressure, Lebanon would still be under the thumb of Syria's occupation forces. Technically and financially, though, assistance to Lebanon appears rather sparse.

From a security perspective though, assistance has been considerable. The FBI contributed by helping investigate several assassinations that occurred over the past year, and also donated a forensics laboratory to Lebanon’s security services. French and British advisors took up residence in several police headquarters, and introduced such novelties as using police vehicles to encourage citizen cooperation by advertising websites and phone numbers. And only last week, acting Interior Minister, Ahmad Fatfat, returned from the United States with a considerable pledge of assistance. The Daily Star reports that Fatfat returned with promises from the US Department of Defense for approximately $14 million - $10 of which would go to the Army and $4 to the Internal Security Forces.

The unexpected assistance referred to at the title of this section has, figuratively speaking, come from right under our noses – and, as far as I am aware, not been highlighted in Lebanon’s (or in fact, any major) media outlets. The United Arab Emirates recently committed funds to construct over 200 police stations across Lebanese territory. Unfortunately, I do not have more figures to share with you, and cannot even confirm this snippet of information. However, my source over here, informs me that at least some of the police stations slated for construction are already on the ground, so to speak.

If true (I have no reason to doubt the credibility of my source), I wonder how much of an impact new facilities would have on our police force. Of course, nothing supercedes training, and with that in mind, I am grateful to the French and British for sending their advisors over (and the FBI for the forensics lab - and required training). However, considering how much coverage international ususally receives from Lebanon's media outlets, I also wonder why this particular aid package does not even come up in a Google search.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) vs. Ministry of Public Works and Transportation

The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation could very well be the most important ministry in Lebanon. But thanks to a combination of incompetence, corruption and bureaucratic manipulation, it is one of Lebanon’s weakest. Four (as opposed to the usual one) Director Generals are housed in the Ministry: 1) a Director General for Civil Aviation, 2) a Director General for Land Transportation, 3) a Director General for Maritime Transportation, and my personal favorite 4) a Director General for Urban Planning (yes, such a job actually exists in Lebanon).

Theoretically, therefore, the scope of the Ministry’s responsibilities could be quite broad. Practically though, the fact that hardly anyone in Lebanon knows that the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation actually houses a Director General for Urban Planning is, in and of itself, quite telling. Even its most prominent task, that of building and maintaining Lebanon’s land transportation network, suffers from major short-change.

The Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) was created by the late Hariri in the early (or mid) 1990s to play the role of a Parallel Bureaucracy that would help him bypass state institutions that were ravaged by war and rife with corruption. Ultimately, he wanted a quick way to process the loans and grants coming into Lebanon, and did not want to go through the headache of reforming or improving existing state institutions. Consequently, all foreign assistance targeted at improving public infrastructure would funnel into CDR, which in turn reported directly (and conveniently) to the Prime Minister’s Office. The relevant ministries that were deprived of these resources would be left with tax revenues (i.e., the scraps) to fulfill their own responsibilities.

This arrangement resulted in a division of labor between the CDR and the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation that looks as follows: 1) CDR implements all new infrastructure projects or upgrades, and 2) the Ministry uses tax revenues to maintain the existing transporation network and whatever the CDR eventually adds on to it.

The problem with this particular arrangement is that the revenues allocated to the Ministry are nowhere near the amount necessary to maintain the roads, bridges and tunnels already in place! A Ballpark estimate of the resources needed to do so stands at around $100 million dollars a year. The actual budget allocated to the ministry for ground transport stands at around $25 million (make that $10 million because the other fifteen finds its way into several very deep pockets!). Ultimately, the result is a public office that only commits 10 percent of what is needed to maintain existing transportation infrastructure.

So here we have two major issues to swallow and think through: 1) Was it really necessary for Hariri to create the CDR as a facilitator of infrastructure development - especially considering the condition of bureuacratic institutions back when he created it? And, is it necessary today? 2) It amazes me how immoral and unscrupulous Lebanese can be! They find it perfectly acceptable to steal even from vital ministries that have a fraction of the resources needed to function.

Public Service vs. Private Selfishness/Corruption: The money that could have been used to save a fourteen year-old child's life, had the ministry of public works installed proper safety amenities at a particular street, went into purchasing an official’s or contractor’s BMW X-3. I hope those son’s of bitches enjoy their cars! They paid for them with other peoples’ blood!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Invitations A La Lebanon

I've been following the news in Lebanon, but nothing appetizing to write about. I felt that following closely the World Cup football matches was not only a highlight of this summer for me here, but also for many back in our country--a pleasant break from a lot of nonesense and a chance to sit in front of the TV screen, at home or in a cafe, united with fellow Lebanese for a different purpose than politics.

I must say that I couldn't get myself to even read the latest Brammertz report. I saw its weblink glaring at me through the computer monitor, yet I didn't click it. I just read that the Syrian regime applauded the report's objectivity, and that on its own led me to believe that there is not interesting to follow up on.

And for the past few days, I've been following a truely nonesensical, only-in-Lebanon type of headline news: the whole fiasco around what representative of state Romania should have invited for the Francophonie Summit.

Today, Annahar dedicated some three or four articles just dealing with the Francophonie invitation. Politicians are scrambling to take a position: to condemn Romania for inviting only PM Seniora, as opposed to President Lahoud. Even the Romanian Foreign Minister appeared in the Grand Serail to discuss with PM Seniora this issue and claim that final preparations to the invitation list has not been finalized. Naharnet attempted to summarize the fiasco in the following headline, Romania's Snub to Lahoud Raises Concerns Among Christians.

I might not be capturing all the information I need to talk about this issue, but I said to myself that there is no way I'm clicking on the headlines to read further; I do not need to read further to know what the problem is all about.

What a waste! There are more important things I can do this morning. Better: there are more important things that our politicians can be doing.

But heck, this is Lebanon for you; invitations to any event is an important component of our daily lives. I'm sure you've overheard or even engaged in a conversation in your lifetime that included criticism of a certain invitation: why werent' we invited? Aren't we noteworthy? They sent the invitation late, therefore I won't go. How come I was invited via phone and without sending me a card?....and the complaints a la Lebanon never end....

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Official News from CDR in Lebanon

Here's some news I'd like to share with you. Over the past couple of months, the Council of Development and Reconstruction (CDR) launched around $1 billion worth of infrastructure projects throughout the country.

Most of these projects are funded by low-interest loans and grants from a myriad of sources including the World Bank, the European Union and the Arab Development Fund. They were supposed to have been completed by now, but that $1 billion has just been sitting there, waiting to be spent for god (uhhum, I mean Nasrallah) knows how long.

The reason? Politics.

Apparently, it was revealed to the great and mighty Lahoud that he would do his fellow Lebanese a favor if he refused to sign off on the purchase of land necessary to implement the projects funded by that handsome sum of money. Well, we can all thank you-know-who that the man has apparently changed his mind!

Now, let us not start wondering how much of other peoples' money still floats around the Lebanese political twilight zone just waiting to be spent, or else we might just all collapse from heart attacks!

Anyways, if you would like to know what that $1 billion finances, I am aware of two, I mean three, major projects:

  1. The first major project is the installation of traffic lights in 250 intersections across Beirut as part of a traffic management plan for the city that will be implemented with the help of a new state-of-the-art building that is currently being constructed somewhere between Beirut and Dora.
  2. The second major project is actually an accumulation of seventeen smaller projects. The CDR is currently building or upgrading seventeen overpasses and underpasses across Lebanon. Two major examples of these projects are 1) the destruction of the Dora overpass, and its replacement with a concrete structure (the current steel structure was built in the 50's on a "temporary" basis); 2) and the building of either an over or underpass at the Gallerie Sema'an intersection.
  3. The third, and most important, major project that the $1 billion dollars currently funds is a coordinated and meticulously planned effort by all the contract managers involved in the projects to refurnish their apartments, buy new cars and new LCD television sets for their salons. Of course, this buying spree is all in the national interest, since it helps tens of retailers make that much more money; and in doing so contributes to the expansion of Lebanon's GDP

Friday, June 16, 2006

Lebanon. A thought.

Lebanon, the land where nobody does what they want to, but what they think they have to.

Maybe this reality is why Lebanese so eagerly vent at each other (witness the driving). Maybe it is also the reason short-cuts, cheating, cutting lines and all the other unsavory traits common among Lebanese are almost considered as virtues.

If you're never doing what you really want to (because you aren’t even given the chance to discover what exactly that is), but rather what you feel you have to, why shouldn't you celebrate idleness, disrespect of others and others’ own passions and the easy or quick buck?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Take it to the next step, damn it!

My dad's best friend is a priest. His other best friend was born into a prominent Beiruti family. My brother's closest friends are from all over the country, and the same applies to my sister. Beirut is host to thousands individuals who share similar relationships - real friendships that cross sectarian and familial lines.

Since the beginning of my visit here in Lebanon, I have sat in on several social gatherings in which almost all of Lebanon's sects were represented. Every one who sat in on those gatherings was having fun, cracking jokes, poking fun, and generally having a good time. In one particular gathering, I thought to myself: where in the Middle East do you find a Shi'a, Sinni, Marooni, Orthodox and Dirzi sitting around one table, having a blast? Iraq? Saudi Arabia? Kuwait? Egypt?

Iraq is even richer in its sectarian diversity than Lebanon, but we all see what is transpiring over there. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia host Shi'a minorities, but in countries as traditional and religiously conservative as those two, I have serious doubts with regards to how much leisure-time their different communities spend with each other. Besides, the oppression of Shi'as by Wahhabis and the Saudi ruling family is a well-known fact. All of that leaves us with Egypt - host to the Middle East's largest Christian population. And despite the resurgence of Muslim Fundamentalism there, I am certain that a significant minority of Egyptians are liberal to the extent that religious differences are irrelevant. However, Egypt hosts only two major sects, and one Egyptian acquaintance of mine informed me of a Shi'a minority that lives in some villages of the Nile Delta, who are not even recognized by the authorities - i.e. the government does not recognize Shi'i Islam.

So now we're back in Lebanon. A country where an influential minority, that I call the cosmopolitan population, finds that it can mix freely and enjoy leisure time together without regards to sectarian lines. But is that as far as it goes in Lebanon? Leisure and Friendships? What about the more serious matters in life? Why don't we find more business partnerships that cross familial and sectarian lines? What about Politics? And Marriages? Why the red line?

Lebanon's cosmopolitan population could potentially be the most powerful segment of Lebanese society. Economically, it leads the way. Socially, it sets the trends that the rest of the country follows. They act as counterweights to traditionalists (the elderly in villages - men especially - and imams as well as clergymen). Now if only they can muster the courage to take this trend-setting power and put it to good use! They have the power to do so. So why not? Trend-setting can go beyond merely clothes, hairdos and cars. It can have serious repercussions for the entire country!

Selective Swiftness!

Oh, how surprised I was to learn that our authorities have caught a terrorist ring working for the Mossad, which allegedly is implicated in the latest killing of Mahmoud Majzoub, an Islamic Jihad official, among other assassinations targeting Hizbullah officials in the early '90s.

It's amazing how swift that was; Majzoub was assassinated about two weeks ago.

I ask: How come we still don't know who killed Gebran Tueni? Samir Kassir? George Hawi?... For God's sake, it is disheartening to know that until now we don't have an investigative team in place competent enough to start probing into Tueni's assassination.

But this is what I call: Selective Swiftness!...there's not more I can say; facts speak a million words.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Public Space

One of the biggest clich├ęs in Lebanon (and I suppose, the rest of the Middle East), is the following: "the streets may look and feel terrible; the sidewalks and parks may not exist; the buildings may look filthy, old and decrepit; but step inside the apartment, and you'll be taken by the beauty, cleanliness, luxury and hospitality."

Another saying says that "wherever you see smoke, there must be a fire." In this particular case, I prescribe to that saying. Lebanese homes are probably some of the most extravagant in this world (relative to income, of course). The private domain is rich, cultured, usually spotless and sparkling. Enter most homes, and you'll be amazed at the contrast between what you saw outside, and what you experience when you are actually on the other side of the door.

The question that nags at me is the following: could this particular phenomenon actually be a problem? A follow-up question would be: why is the private domain so overwhelmingly dominant in importance compared to the public? Could one infer social conclusions from this reality? Is it reflective of an inherently selfish social order, where people only care for themselves and those closest to them, but could not care less about strangers who, nevertheless, are compatriots, or worse, anonymous neighbors who deserve assistance.

On the other hand, could an aesthetically pleasing and functional public space point to a healthy public domain in an abstract political sense? One in which people are too invested to simply ignore or not care about.

The following pictures were taken during the same trek in which the pictures of the previous entry were taken. They focus on Beirut's visible public infrastructure. Or, rather, the state of some of the "goods" that the public offers itself through taxation - irrespective of income or identity.

This first picture is of Hamra Main Street. It serves as a model to other neighborhoods in Beirut. Notice how the street is not paved, but rather made of cobble stone. Also notice how the side walk, trees, and street lights appear to be part of a master plan - as opposed to being placed haphazardly (as is usually the case in Beirut).

This street appears to be a little less planned, friendly, or aesthetically pleasing. However, I took this picture because of the trees. Beirut is a concrete jungle. Trees are rare. These particular trees are especially noteworthy because of their beautiful blossoms. I am afraid this picture may not do them justice.

Could these two pictures signify the beginning of a new movement in Beirut? The conversion of the city's public spaces into areas that all residents can appreciate and enjoy? Or are Lebanon's rapidly deteriorating beaches and mountains going to continue to be the only sanctuaries from a dysfunctional city subject to abuse from individuals and entities who (or that) care for nothing but the private domain?

P.S. I have a lot more pictures, but uploading them is hellish because of the slow internet connection. I will try to post them with time.

More posters and grafitti from the streets of Beirut

I took the following photographs as I walked through Ras Beirut, Hamra and Koreitem. It is a small selection of pictures, but nevertheless quite revealing. My path began at the Popeye's restaurant which is located on the Corniche (facing the old TGI Friday's); it then took me to Sadat Street in Hamra, then Koreitem and finally, Sakiet el Janzeer.

These neighborhoods form only a small section of Beirut. A section that is nevertheless quite diverse, both socio-economically and in a sectarian sense. As I walked through Koreitem, for example (next to the Saudi Embassy), I walked passed a small group of teenagers. I was pleasantly surprized to hear one of them refer to the other as "Danny." I hope you enjoy the pictures and the accompanying commentary.

The slogan on this one reads: "The Imam of freedom, sovereignty and Independence." He is the late Mufti Hassan Khaled. He was assassinated in 1989 by the Syrians. It is quite obvious who put up this poster.

The current Syrian struggle is to try to appeal to the Sunnis by playing the "Arab card." This collection of posters harkens back to the grandaddy of Arab Nationalism, and then plays on Sunni sentiment by highlighting the two Sunni Martyr-Leaders.

I found this grafitti on the walls of a fomer Syrian army base. The base was situated around halfway between the Croniche (where I started my mini-treck) and Hamra. I believe the authors of this piece of work are the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) - Habash's group - not Jibril's.

On the right it reads, literally, "The Country Remains" (referring to Palestine)
On the left it reads, again literally, "Revolution until Victory, or Martyrdom"

Yup, you'd better believe it! He's in town, and I'm missing his concert. I hope he doesn't shoot anybody! ;-)

And this little pamphlet was actually on another 50 Cent poster that was right next to the one above. Ufortunately, it's not so obvious, so you're gonna have to take my word for it. Lebanon: A country of amazing contrasts!

Friday, June 09, 2006

At Bay From Iraq, Or On The Brink Of An Iraq

"Sheathed in powder-blue body bags are the remains of 72 men, many of them bearing signs of terrible torture--holes in the skull made by power drills, mutilated genitals, burns. They are the signature of the shadowy Shiite groups that have been kidnapping and murdering hundreds of men and boys, most of them Sunnis, in a campaign that has terrorized Baghdad's neighborhoods."

As I read that in the Time magazine, on the train heading to the capital this morning, I quickly turned the magazine onto my lap and held my stomach closely afraid I would hurl.

This is real; this is what is going on in Iraq...not so far away from Lebanon. Sunnis and Shiites are murdering each other daily, and the Iraqi government still does not brand all this a civil war.

We have grown up in our part of the world hearing (and witnessing) of deaths and murders in Lebanon during the civil war and of brutal killings and torture of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers on a daily basis. No wonder we have become as a generation so desensitized to descriptive sentences such as the one above.

However, for some reason, as I sat comfortably in my train seat, I felt a shiver of fear inside me. How can someone distinguish between a Sunni and a Shiite? If now, we lined a Maronite, an Orthodox, a Shiite, and a Sunni next to each other, how can we tell them apart by their looks? Or demeanor? That's what is so scary about civil wars, what's so brutal.

Regardless of what many might say of the Lebanese national dialogue meeting that took place yesterday--that the "pact of honor" is a tribal mode of political operation--at least the leaders at the roundtable are still meeting face to face and have not ordered their followers to take positions behind war trenches.

This pact of honor is necessary, necessary because if leaders do not keep tabs on their followers, and leave them to take matters into their own hands, we will inevitably relapse to war. Once political leaders lose the grip, just like in Iraq, no government decree can stop the bloody domino effect.

If it wasn't for the above Time quote, which struck a cord inside me, I would have sat in front of the computer today morning to write a post that ridiculed the dialogue. But today, I sit before you to express gratitude that "our" leaders are still sitting to talk and still at least agreeing on a lowest common denominator.

Forget the government and making it accountable of security matters in the country. We should face it: we are operating in a tribal context and at the moment the political leaders on the table are stronger than a Lahoud, stronger than a Parliament, stronger than a Cabinet...stronger than state institutions. They have the keys to keep us at bay from Iraq, or to bring us close to the brink of an Iraq!

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

First thing I actually noticed in Lebanon

Found it on the pillar of an over-pass while on the Airport Highway. It basically tells me that at least some Hizballah supporters equate LF/LBC with Israelis.

Most Lebanese equate Hizballah with Iran... but Iran does not have the sort of baggage that Israel has in the minds of staunch Hizballahis. In other words, most Lebanese won't strangle the first Iranian they see. On the other hand...

This equation is frightening!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Was it Zarqawi or...

A visting opera tenor?..Hmm...

Zarqawi Dead!

Yes... it has finally happened (or, at least I hope so!)

The world is now a better place.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Praise the Lord!

I once watched a Western, dubbed in Farsi. Getting onto his horse, the good cowboy would say "Ya Hussein". Today, reading this article about Faith Nights in sports reminded me so much of that.

"You can assume, however, that when the crowds exercise their lungs at the World Cup it will not be "Amen" or "Praise Jesus" that echoes most often around the stands.
Yet, these are the chants increasingly being heard at sporting events in the United States. "

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Story of Double Standards Continues...

So on, we read that in response to the "riot-like" incidents that took place last night, Aoun urged the government to disclose publicly more details on these incidents and who was behind them in order to dispel any rumors and establish facts. He also reminded the Interior Minister of his duties, holding the Ministry accountable for disclosing such information.

Great, I say! Aoun is so good with the issue of accountability and of playing the government blame game, but Mr. Aoun: what about your alliance with Hizbullah? Could you shed some light on your thoughts about what happened yesterday? Do you condemn it, or condone it? Isn't your party base so different from that of Hizbullah's? You're depicted in caricatures, comedy skits, like so many other politicians; some laugh, and some get annoyed, yet life moves on. How do you reconcile such a "black-white" difference with Hizbullah?

Just a couple of days back, Hizbullah parliamentarians abstained en masse on a vote reasserting the right to free speech in Lebanon, and now this upheavel yesterday. I'm with freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate, but can someone explain why Hizbullah supporters have to block the highway leading to the airport and even harrass drivers heading to the airport? According to the Al-Mustaqbal daily, MP Ali Ammar even took part in such demonstrations; well...instead of trying to calm down his party base.

Just imagine if we saw in the infamous February 5 Achrafieh violent demonstrations some parliamentarians walking amongst the demonstrators who were destroying cars and torching buildings; imagine MP Ahdab or MP Ido were there then, what would have been Aoun's reaction?....I leave it at that! Another passage in a long story of double standards.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I am confounded!

My dear Hizbo-Lala supporters,

Last night you all took to the streets to express your outrage because an LBC show poked fun at your revered leader. You blocked streets and highways. You burnt tires. You yelled your hearts out. And, you fired your weapons into the sky (FYI, those bullets obey the laws of gravity too!).

I am confused. What exactly is Hassan Nasrallah to you? Is he your holy, sacred and revered spiritual leader? Or is he your political representative in a relatively democratic and plural political system? Oh yeah... you don't need to answer those questions; I know: he has the privilege of being both.

Well let me convey the following to you: Hassan Nasrallah the politician is, in my book, subject to the same treatment afforded to Lahoud, Hariri, Franjieh, Aoun, Jumblatt and the rest of the clique!

I do not see Hassan Nasrallah as my spiritual leader. I see him as a politician - pure and simple: A Politician. I did not force him to become one. He chose that path, and just as a soldier must reconcile himself with death every day he is on the battle field, a politician (and his or her supporters) must reconcile themselves criticism.

I do not see Nasrallah as holy. He is not “muqaddas.” Your attempt to force that aspect of Nasrallah onto me smacks of tyranny, intimidation, bullying and everything that can go wrong in a democratic and plural environment. In the final analysis, if you want your “holy men” to represent you in the political system, I cannot do anything to stop you. You, on the other hand, need to accept the baggage that comes along with politics.

Urgent News

It seems Hizballah supporters have taken to the streets to object to LBCI's "Basmet Watan" making fun of Nasrallah. Al Jazeera posted a newsflash. Check things out as the story develops.

Update-1: I called a friend of mine who works in a local TV station. There doesn't seem to be any violence so far. Whether this "midnight rally" will remain peaceful remains to be seen.

Update-2: It seems Charbel Khalil, one of the show's makers and main characters, issued an apology and said he respected Nasrallah a lot. Also Hizballah issued a call for the people to go to their homes.

On another hand, there seem to be similar events in other parts of Beirut, namely near Phoenicia Hotel, Ain El-Mreisseh. It is unclear whether this is a retaliation or a continuation.

Update-3: I was with some friends when I posted the original post. I got a call from one of them, who lived in Ashrafieh, saying that some guys were gathering in Sassine Square. I don't think there is much truth to that. All seems ok and calm. I trust you will find all news in the local papers in a few hours. You may also want to follow this "exchange of thoughts" as it seems to be updated quicker than the blogs. Or just stick to Jamal. He says it well. Good night.