Thursday, August 18, 2011

Warning: Angry and pointless anti-revolutionary rant

I'm angry... That's why I've been quiet for a while...
I just didn't want to share angry thoughts. Not in critical times like these. Then again in times like these noise takes over and I'm in no mood to whisper over the shouting. So I thought I'd give my self and my thoughts time to thaw. I thought I thaw... a pussy cat. Sorry, I had to do it..... Anyway this is supposed to be a serious angry post ... There's no room for Tweety... Or is there? Assad has a lisp, just like Sylvester, Tweety's let's start there.

Dictatorship must end in Syria. I already said this on April 1st (scroll down a few posts) and I stick by it for the most part. However, not all dictators end up in a hospital bed in Saudi Arabia or a hospital bed in an Egyptian court. Some actually, and contrary to what people want to hear, squash people's uprisings and rule happily ever after. It has happened in Syria before... It happened in Iraq... It happened in Saudi Arabia... Mubarak himself killed thousands of Egyptian soldiers and went on to rule for 25 more years. Sorry to piss on the parade, but the way things are evolving in Syria, in my barely humble opinion, is not in the revolution's favor. I can draw up a timeline of the "last nail in the coffin" references and they go back to at least April, hundreds of coffins ago. Sometimes the more people die, the more people die. That's it. Getting killed for a cause has been hailed as martyrdom in many cultures and ideologies throughout history, but even by that logic when death proves irrelevant to the progress of a cause, getting killed becomes pointless. Here's where a revolution resorts to plan b... and no, Hillary Clinton and Abdullah al saud don't count... If anything they might be the last nail in the revolution's coffin, even though they would love for nothing more than the status quo dragging on for a few months even years; "weaken the regime without toppling it", Michel Kilo's words not mine. Gulf war I comes to mind. 

What's next? Well clearly it would be unacceptable to go back to pre-2011 status; although whether I deem it acceptable or not is irrelevant as it is a real possibility. But in order not to completely crush the revolutionary spirit, what would be considered acceptable gains? Freedom of press would be my first preference. Of course, that's a bit selfish as that would affect press in damascus and beirut, but keep in mind that Egypt's revolution was prefaced by years of struggle that gradually led to people wrestling out many platforms of free-ish expression from the regime. The ongoing Egyptian revolution did not start on January 25, 2011 and did not end in 19 days. Just think what Syrian editions of al liwaa and al bayraq (widely unread beirut dailies) can accomplish. At some point street fatigue sets in even if the people know their way around the block. Of course the word "reform" is as overused by the regime as al jazeera's eye witness and frankly it has not exactly built a reputation of delivering on promises but when you have the upper hand you can afford to do so, at least temporarily. It's just the way power dynamics work. To demonstrate how it works here's an untrue story that could be true... There was once a....  Who am I kidding? I hate aesopean tales with morals, but I must admit they can be a quite effective propaganda tool. There's nothing like stripping a picture down to just the black and white points that prove your point while ignoring the palette of shades of gray that might raise questions. It's my angry rant so I can go off on tangents. I can bring Tweety back into it, or I can just end it here and hibernate again. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Regressing into the Future

I had a chance yesterday to take a look at Lebanon in 1980 through the lens of Maroun Baghdadi. The film is called Hamasat, or Whispers, and it captures the zeitgeist of that era. This film along with the rest of Baghdadi's films will be released by Nadi Likul El Nas later this year for those who are interested. One could go at length about the work this private initiative is going through to salvage some of Lebanon's visual history or about Maroun Baghdadi's life and mysterious death, but I will just touch a little on the content of this film.

You could take all the people who were interviewed in this film, add a few grey hairs to some, bury others six feet under as some of them have taken that route over the past 31 years; and ask them to describe Lebanon 2011. You'd probably hear them say the same exact thing they said in 1980. Actually this is not an assumption on my part, some of these characters still go in front of cameras and say the same things.

How's the banking sector performing in these difficult times, Mr. Central Bank employee?


How about you, Mr. young playwright? Where are things heading?

Now it's one thing for a critical playwright to continue doing the same thing 3 decades later... but when a head of state is stuck repeating the same lines from when he was wearing a John Travolta head of hair, you know that state isn't exactly progressing.

P.S. I'm not sure if there was an FBI warning about shooting in the Cinema, but if there was I did ask for permission from Nadi Likul El Nas himself to use these clips.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On the 25th of this year...

This memory is supposed to be joyful... Land and people liberated from brutal Israeli occupation is definitely worth remembering as it is no small feat, specially as it is an unfinished job... A step towards the end of an apartheid state that has plagued the region for decades.
What changed this year is that the question of the chicken or the egg arose. Along with the Israel came a crop of dictators that piggy-backed on the Palestinian cause into iron fist rule. Historically, the priority seemed to always be Israel first then the dictators. Today, there's no reason not to think that they can't go hand in hand. Check that, they can only go hand in hand. With that said; May 25, 2000 and February 11, 2011 go hand in hand. These dates while significant and worthy of celebrating are nothing but steps along the way towards complete liberation.
It's still a long road ahead, and for many reasons it's hard to be joyful today...
However, it's a happy memory and should continue to be so and not allowed to be hijacked by opportunists and conspiracy theorists.

Happy resistance and liberation.... and freedom day.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Labor Unions are big business

Last week, the elections of Lebanon's Order of Engineers took place. You know the people with that black and yellow, black and yellow, black and yellow sticker on their car. It was pretty clear why the Hariri's future movement would invest a lot of resources in making sure this labor union answers to them. After all, Hariri is one of the biggest investors in the real estate sector in Lebanon and naturally he might need some favorable regulations to carry the Order's signature. What best way to guarantee that signature than making sure a party loyalist is the one who controls the ink well.

It turns out the Future campaign was one 737 load short and Michel Aoun's candidate won. Aoun celebrated very enthusiastically and I couldn't understand why. It couldn't have been just the political victory over a fast decaying movement, the General was too happy for this particular feat.... and then as I strolled down the alleyways of Beirut I found the answer....

Move over Solidere, there's a new real estate tycoon in town.
...and Yes, I just wanted an excuse to post this picture.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Syrian Dictatorship, Beginning of the End

Last week, I micro-expressed my disappointment (on that micro-blogging twitter thingie) in Al Akhbar for carrying  news of Syria's protests off their "Arab Dictatorships, Beginning of the End" pages. Al Akhbar did eventually move Syria's news to join the news out of Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen for a few days before the editorial team decided to give Syria it's own title-less coverage section. Now my disappointment in that particular newspaper is because I have high hopes for that young publication which despite its flaws and growing pains has risen to become one of the best Arabic newspapers in a very short period of time. Needless to say I've given up on the other 15 or so Beirut dailies not to mention the lack of any serious competition outside of Cairo and London. Of course by London, I don't mean Abdul Bari Atwan's paper version of a bad spam infested facebook wall.

But back to the main issue, Al Akhbar will be fine. However, when it comes to Syria's dictatorship; it is the beginning, albeit a slow beginning, of the end. I still think the protest movement in Syria is not up to the revolutionary levels of Tunisia and Egypt, which isn't something to be ashamed of but it has to be taken into consideration by the pro-democracy camp. The regime's crimes against protesters in Deraa and other towns should never be forgotten, but emotions alone aren't enough to topple the regime and move Syria forward. I believe the opposition still needs better organization and clearer plan based on a mature political thought process to deal with the post-dictatorship transition. This could be months away or it could be years away depending on many factors. Wednesday's charade at the parliament was discouraging, to say the least, to anyone who believed that transition to democracy can be a voluntary and smooth process by Assad and his Baath party. Which is a shame really, because it did seem that Bashar Assad was given some leeway by the Syrian people to do the right thing and lead a peaceful drive towards democracy. He could've had an honorable exit and retired after his current term, or maybe even a third term, while statues of his father and brother still stood. Although that's still a possibility, I must say it's looking less and less likely. People might choose to forgive the various forms of oppression practiced by the authorities, but shooting protesting citizens is not a forgivable offense. I guess we still have to wait a bit longer to see if any of the remaining Arab dictators can be the one exception that doesn't try to punish his people for having ideas.

In the meantime, I really hope Syrians don't put all their hopes on Today's or any other One day "revolution". Change is a never-ending process. Just look at Tahrir Square in Cairo today for proof. That process started in Syria and it's up to them to dictate its course. 

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

There is a chance....

Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances? Mary: Not good. Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred? Mary: I'd say more like one out of a million. [pauseLloyd: So you're telling me there's a chance... *YEAH!* 
That's of course from the Farrelly brothers' classic "Dumb and Dumber" (1994) which most of the participants in the Anti-sectarianism movement have never heard of because they were either too young and too unborn when this film came out. That's a good thing they have going for them. In a political era dominated by Dumb and Dumber discourse, youth naivety and enthusiasm not only have a chance but would be a great upgrade over the existing decayed state.

Mistakes abound and the potential for failure and a devastating long lasting trauma for a whole new generation of anti-sectarian rebels exists. That said, I fully endorse the movement and think they truly have a chance for the following reasons:

It's the only march in March that marches. While March 8's and March 14's crowds stand still, the Anti-sectarian movement actually moves. Not only does it move beyond the one plot of stolen land in Beirut... it actually sacrilegiously goes to other towns.

They don't listen. With no podiums or speeches to tell the crowds what can and cannot be done, imagination dictates the course.

They're not on TV. Sectarian TV stations are ignoring them which for one means they feel threatened by the images, or at least by the taboo words being chanted. More importantly, it means rebels won't waste time watching themselves on TV and worrying about how they look and which camera angle would make them look bloated.

They're not on TV. That means they have to actively look for the news rather than passively being fed the news inter-venously. Nothing against hospital bed ridden masses, I do feel bad for them but they are missing out on a lot.

They are copycats. Lebanese originality has led to huge debt, huger ego, part time electricity, a freelancing work force, and full time war. Being second best to the Egyptians isn't exactly something to be ashamed of.

The regime is already down. Thankfully, sectarian forces already doomed the regime and most probably the whole experiment called Lebanon. It is just a matter of time, but it would be nice to see the last nail in the coffin coming from the anti-sectarian crowd for the sake of what's next.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Sanayeh live

Modest start, but who knows... more the topic in the upcoming days...

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A revolution for each taste

People in media are quick to draw parallels between things that are happening at any given time. You see, most of the time they are strapped for time and want to simplify their work by copy-pasting stories together. The reality though is that Arab dictators aren't a product of a cookie cutter. They're more like pop corn.

So let's look at them country by country.

Tunisia: Laila Traboulsi was a hair-dyer turned tyrant who knew how to divert attention away from her by letting an old man take the fall for her. She couldn't fool the Tunisian people though who shipped her along with her husband to the worst place a fashion-obsessed woman can go to. How did they do it? Protests started in a fringe town and snowballed into a mass movement that is well on its way to create a new Tunisia. Their chances of finishing the job are excellent considering that the counter-revolution is led by none other than Dear Jeff of March 14 fame.

Egypt: Hosny Mubarak still does not know he's been deposed. Some blame it on age, others blame his son and top advisor Gamal. The ongoing Egyptian revolution was really not fair, because the revolutionaries lived on earth in the year 2011, while the regime is stuck in some black hole circa 1960.

Libya: The protests were scheduled for February 17th. Muammar Gaddafi's regime fell on the 16th. The clown is still running a bloody circus from his tent bunker, but he won't last long.

Yemen: Ali Abdullah Saleh was going to be the first to fall a year ago, but the leaders of the free world kept him up with their F-16s. He's Next.

Bahrain: When the Prince of Bahrain reached a dead end in his career and saw no prospects of promotion, he renamed the country the Kingdom of Bahrain so he could be king. Now the people want to demote him to a figurehead.

Jordan: King Twat and Queen Tweet are the darlings of the glamor, biker, and Trekkie magazines. Their demise has a hint of irony in it which I'm always a fan of. You see the king's dad gave up the kingdom's water for "peace", the kings wife paraded truckloads of water in areas the kings (current and dead) had neglected. Not wise. So here's where you get to pick the headline for the downfall, will it be "Drowning in the Desert" or "Sinking in the Dead sea"?

Syria: Bashar Al Assad crushed a coup attempt a couple of years ago proving his worth among the regions dictators, and thus his regime is still on high alert; but squashing Abdel Halim Khaddam and friends is not the same as oppressing a whole population. One thing is for sure though, when the Syrian people decide to move, it won't be to bring in Khaddam or any other March 14th figure.

Oman: Qaboos has been around for a while, yet the movement in Oman surprised most people including myself, so I can't claim I know what's going on there. I don't even know who would be a good source on Bahrain, but I'm pretty sure Thomas Friedman isn't the one.

Algeria: Bouteflika panicked at first, but it seems his regime, which isn't really his, has more control than he does. He might be thrown to the wolves if there's an escalation. 

Iraq: George W Bush and Ali Khamenei still reign in post-Saddam Iraq. That won't be the case for long as Iraqi voices which have been Shocked and Awed into silence started to emerge one shoe-throw at a time.

That Kingdom in the Arabian Peninsula: I'll turn superstitious here and not say a word in order not to jinx it, but the Milky Way would be grateful if the people there get rid of the most despicable ruling clan on the planet.

Sudan: Omar Al Bashir got a free pass from the unquestionable International Justice system  by selling the resource-rich southern part of the country. The only problem for Al Bashir is that he struck the deal in 2010. It's 2011 now, the rules of ruling have been slightly modified.

Iran: Ali Khamenei hides behind god and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. An imaginary friend won't save him and neither will a speed bump; however, the fact that he's the only pure dictator in the region, as opposed to the dictators who happen to also be dictatees to foreign intelligence agencies, means that he has slightly more sticking power.  Not too much more though.

Wisconsin: Some are crediting the Wisconsin workers' movement to the Arab uprising. Others are mocking this notion.  While Wisconsin workers deserve full credit for their fight for their earned rights, it should be natural that Arab people are the inspiration for rights' fights. After all, they recognize the erosion of rights better than anyone after years of painful experiences fighting the same forces who now have their eyes set on Wisconsin's workers' benefits.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Friends or Foes?

I'm still having a hard time that anyone close to Hariri would sign off on this billboard design. The way I see it; surrounding a dead man's picture with flames and an "Allahu Akbar" isn't exactly an expression of love. Then again, maybe it's just me. Who else would associate flames with hell and the "Allahu Akbar"chant with divine justice?

One thing is obvious. Elie Khoury and Saatchi don't do business in Saida.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Joseph Smaha, 4 years later

(This tribute was originally published on this blog on February 26th, 2007.)

Today We Must Think a Little Harder

Life Goes On, but it must not go on dumber, less informed, mentally poorer. We were privileged to have our collective minds enriched on a daily basis by a ten minute read each morning that encapsuled decades of knowledge, a philosophical library, and a strategic eye that saw beyond all horizons. No single pen can replace these lines. We, each of us, must make up a little of this loss on our own.

Who are we and us? The commies raced to claim an old comrade. The Arab nationalists have anointed him above Abdel Nasser. Muslims, Christians, Secular, and Infidels as Ziad put it say he was their voice.

To me he was Free Lebanese Thought. Scratch that, make it Free Thought period, for free thought can not be bound by geography. A school of thought based on deep-wide-long-fat knowledge, smart-logical-surgically precise analysis, and genetically gifted vision that can not be acquired or taught.

We have a void to fill, a void that can only be filled with a collective effort. So today we, each of us, must think a little harder, read a little bit more, make that read a lot more, dig a little deeper, look a little bit further.

Today we graduated. It is now time to work.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another Siniora achievement

A dozen decades-young trees chopped down to make room for a few extra meters of luxury treeless housing in Beirut. (Brought to you by Fouad Siniora, the developer)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

To Egypt....

I've been to Egypt twice. Each time I took notes so I could blog about
the trips but never got to it. Now I kinda have to do it...
My last trip to Cairo was just last October. To get there I had to go
through Rafiq Hariri airport in Beirut. Why should I start there?
Well, it's because of this idiot who was sitting behind me at airport
cafeteria. I was sipping an overpriced Almaza when I hear someone
loudly ordering Foie Gras. I was so tempted to turn around and see
what the biggest douche on earth looks like, but I opted to leave it
to my imagination. I didn't want to risk recognizing him and having to
talk to him over airport cafeteria foie gras. 90 seconds later, douche
yells at waitress, "What happened to the Foie Gras I ordered?" You
see, the people at the end of the bar didn't get to hear him the first
time around. Finally, there are many globally recognized ways of
asking for the bill. Most of them are silent and involve hand signals
that look like air signatures. In case of douche, it's a very loud
"Here's a $100 bill to pay for the Foie Gras I had." I never saw his
face, but I'm pretty sure he had a goatee.
During the revolution, Egyptian TV was accused of blatant propaganda.
It must have been the panic of the regime that led to that because
back in October the propaganda was a lot more subtle. As you board
Egypt Air and take a look at the flight map you'll find something
striking about Libyan-Egyptian border. You can easily see where one
country ends and the second starts because as we all know Egypt is a
vast expanse of Green while Libya is where the Sahara starts. I know
you've seen pictures of sand around the pyramids in Giza, well these
were taken before Mubarak's agricultural policies were implemented.
Today, the Sphinx sports a full head of green Hair.
There was someone sitting in my seat, but before I expressed myself
there were passengers within a 5 row radius telling the guy that he
should move over because he's in the wrong seat. This is a bit scary
because even before they enjoyed freedom of speech, an average
Egyptian would go through my average daily quota of words before
breakfast. So I can't fathom what things are like today.
The traveler's prayer, which apparently is common ritual on Arab
airlines, is supposed to put your mind at ease; but personally I'd
rather see the captain blow through a breathalyser. The flight was
sponsored by Talaat Mustapha, isn't he the corrupt father of that
convicted killer? Not very reassuring, but I arrived in Egypt. Spent 3
days. Loved every moment. The End.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

To Bouazizi

3 Months ago I wrote this blurb about Fayrouz and Ziad's latest CD and the concept of Hope. I stated my preference for Hope that rises from hopelessness rather than the false hope that often dominates. Little did I know that a street vendor from Sidibouzid, a town I had never heard of in Tunisia, will personify  that Hope that I was imagining. I imagined it powerful, but never in my most hopeful dreams did I imagine this.

There's a long and tough road ahead, but I can now throw my cautiousness aside and say... Yes, there is Hope.