30 June 2007

Beirut: Chill!

A woman sunbathes next to a swimming pool in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday June 22, 2007, in front of two buildings damaged in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Miister Rafik Hariri. Tiny Lebanon seems to endure, despite the snowballing political and security crises. The army is locked in brutal fighting with Islamic militants in the north, rockets were launched on Israel from the south, Palestinian refugee camps are boiling with tension, Beirut area bombs have killed a prominent politician and a political impasse is threatening to split the country behind two governments. (AP)

Say farewell to Lebanese halloum

"The (Cypriot) Agriculture Ministry said yesterday they were progressing as scheduled with their application to the European Union to register halloumi cheese under the Protected Designation of Origin scheme.

Once received by the EU, a further six-month period must elapse, when other countries have the right to appeal.

A major issue in registering halloumi under the PDO term has been an ongoing row over what percentage of each type of milk (cow, sheep and goat) should be used in the product. Since countries like Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Denmark are now producing cheese with the indication ‘halloumi’, this has for a long time been a pressing issue for the industry.

The EU last week decided to cut subsidies on the export of dairy products to non-EU countries.

The EU Committee on Dairy Products decided to adopt the proposal in order to combat the lack of milk production.When subsidies were in place, the government would receive 22.57 euros for every 100 kilos exported to non-EU countries.

The decision has come with halloumi exports on the rise in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.

It’s also been said that Turkish Cypriot and Turkish halloumia are becoming increasingly popular in the market, as they are being subsidised by the Turkish government, meaning they are retailing for lower prices.

PROTECTED Designation of Origin covers the term used to describe foodstuffs which are produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognised know-how.

It is designed to protect the names of regional foods and ensures that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed in commerce as such. Its purpose is to protect the reputation of regional foods and eliminate the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour.

Products include the names of wines, cheeses, hams, sausages, olives, beers, and even regional breads, fruits, and vegetables.So, how do producers and processors go about registering a product name? A group of producers must define the product according to precise specifications.

The application, including the specifications, must be sent to the relevant national authority, where it will be studied first and thereafter transmitted to the European Commission. Here the application will undergo a number of control procedures. If it meets the requirements, a first publication in the Official Journal of the European Communities will inform those in the Union who are interested. If there are no objections, the European Commission publishes the protected product name in the Journal."

A small note: If Cyprus obtains the PDO for Halloumi, then the Lebanese dairy manufacturers will still be able to make Halloum, but not to call it Halloum. The same thing happenned with Greece and Feta. Feta-type cheese is still made in Denmark and elsewhere, but it cannot be sold as Feta anymore. Meanwhile in Lebanon, the PDO project funded by the Swiss government (and in which I am a consultant) is trying to survive in spite of the political deadlock, and the PDO law is still waiting to be passed.

Beirut: Parallel Government

Friday saw a flurry of words and meetings concerning Lebanon's almost nine-month-old political impasse Friday as politicians from both camps continued to voice warnings about the negative impact of the formation of a parallel government. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea described the formation of a second government as a "criminal, illegitimate and unconstitutional act," adding that attempts to form such a government were "extremely dangerous and threatened civil peace."

"Some groups in Lebanon wish to stage a coup in Lebanon through suggesting the formation of a parallel government," Geagea said after a visit to Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in Bkirki on Friday.
The specter of a parallel government also dominated the speeches of various Lebanese politicians; National Dialogue Party head Fouad Makhzoumi warned on Friday of the "drastic repercussions" the formation of such a government might have.

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Travel ban for Lebanese opposed to Saniora government

Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons Responsible for Policies and Actions That Threaten Lebanon's Sovereignty and Democracy

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

"In order to foster democratic institutions in Lebanon, to help the Lebanese people preserve their sovereignty and achieve their aspirations for democracy and regional stability, and to end the sponsorship of terrorism in Lebanon, it is in the interest of the United States to restrict the international travel, and to suspend the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of aliens who deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, or benefit from policies or actions that do so, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence and intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, hereby find that the unrestricted immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of persons described in section 1 of this proclamation would, except as provided for in sections 2 and 3 of this proclamation, be detrimental to the interests of the United States.

I therefore hereby proclaim that:

Section 1. The entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of the following aliens is hereby suspended:

(a) Lebanese government officials, former Lebanese government officials, and private persons who deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon;

(b) Syrian government officials, former Syrian government officials, and persons who meet the criteria for designation under section 3(a)(i) or (ii) of Executive Order 13338 of May 11, 2004, who deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon;

(c) Persons in Lebanon who act on behalf of, or actively promote the interests of, Syrian government officials by deliberately undermining or harming Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon;

(d) Persons who, through their business dealings with any of the persons described in subsection (a), (b), or (c) of this section, derive significant financial benefit from, or materially support, policies or actions that deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon's sovereignty, its legitimate government, or its democratic institutions, or contribute to the breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon, including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence or intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon; and

(e) The spouses and dependent children of persons described in subsections (a), (b), (c), and (d) of this section.

Sec. 2. Section 1 of this proclamation shall not apply with respect to any person otherwise covered by section 1 where entry of such person would not be contrary to the interests of the United States.

Sec. 3. Persons covered by section 1 or 2 of this proclamation shall be identified by the Secretary of State or the Secretary's designee, in his or her sole discretion, pursuant to such procedures as the Secretary may establish under section 5 of this proclamation.

Sec. 4. Nothing in this proclamation shall be construed to derogate from U.S. Government obligations under applicable international agreements.

Sec. 5. The Secretary of State shall have responsibility for implementing this proclamation pursuant to such procedures as the Secretary, in the Secretary's sole discretion, may establish.

Sec. 6. This proclamation is effective immediately. It shall remain in effect until such time as the Secretary of State determines that it is no longer necessary and should be terminated, either in whole or in part. Any such determination by the Secretary of State shall be published in the Federal Register.

Sec. 7. This proclamation is not intended to, and does not, create any right, benefit, or privilege, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, instrumentalities, or entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty eighth day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first."


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29 June 2007

Image of U.S. drops but Lebanon is the exception

Beirut - The image of the United States has "plummeted" in many parts of the world, with mounting distrust of President Bush and U.S. foreign policy expressed not only in Muslim countries but also among traditional allies

.. according to a survey of global attitudes released yesterday.

Still, majorities in 25 of the 46 countries surveyed said they had positive views of the United States, with particularly positive sentiments coming from Africa, suggesting that anti-Americanism has grown "deeper, but not wider."

Those surveyed expressed little confidence in other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And China's increasing economic and military might is "triggering considerable anxiety," the survey found, though President Hu Jintao "remains largely unknown in many parts of the world."

"The image of China has slipped significantly among the publics of other major nations," the study concluded. "Opinion about Russia is mixed, but . . . the Russian leader's negatives have soared to the point that they mirror the nearly worldwide lack of confidence in George W. Bush."

The research was conducted this spring by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Pew Research Center and covered 46 countries and the Palestinian territories. The study assesses global attitudes concerning policy, leadership and world threats. The organization conducted its first major global survey in 2002.

A majority of respondents in 30 of the 46 countries criticized the United States for what they saw as acting without taking the views of other countries into consideration. Support was strong for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, and there was "considerable" opposition among those surveyed to U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Among Americans, 56 percent said they favored pulling troops out of Iraq, and 42 percent said the same for Afghanistan.

A consistently negative view of the United States persisted in Middle Eastern and Asian countries with Muslim majorities. Favorable views of the United States among Pakistanis dropped to just 15 percent, and among Turks to 9 percent.

Lebanon ( Map pictured left) stood out as a notable exception in the region. Forty-seven percent of Lebanese said they had a favorable view of the United States; the number was 27 percent in 2003. But Lebanese opinions of the United States varied according to religion. Eighty-two percent of Christians surveyed expressed positive views of the United States, compared with 52 percent of Sunni Muslims and only 7 percent of Shiite Muslims.

In Africa, more than "three-quarters of participants in Ivory Coast, Kenya, Ghana, Mali, and Ethiopia say they have a very or somewhat favorable impression" of the United States, the report said.

But in several African countries, a religious divide was also evident. In Ethiopia, for example, 77 percent expressed a positive view of the United States. Among Ethiopian Christians the number rose to 93 percent, while Muslims were nearly evenly divided. In Nigeria, 70 percent of those surveyed held positive views of the United States. But when religion was taken into account, 94 percent of Nigerian Christians expressed a positive opinion while Nigerian Muslims were also nearly evenly divided in their views.

Respondents in a "diverse group of countries" listed environmental degradation as a serious global threat. "In North America and Latin America, majorities in every country -- except the U.S. -- say global warming is a very serious problem," the study found.

A majority or a clear plurality branded the United States as the country "hurting the world's environment the most."

In China, where a booming economy has contributed to severe pollution, 70 percent of respondents cited environmental concerns as a top global danger and 42 percent said global warming was a very serious problem.

China came in a distant second as the country seen as most hurting the environment.

Among Americans, 37 percent listed the environment in general as a top concern, a figure lower than in any other advanced industrialized country, and 47 percent said global warming was a "very" serious problem. One in three Americans blamed the United States for pollution problems.

In other areas, there was disagreement on what constitutes the world's gravest dangers. The spread of nuclear weapons, for example, troubled 68 percent of Japanese and 66 percent of Israelis surveyed, but just slightly more than 20 percent in France and South Africa.

AIDS and other infectious diseases drew the greatest concern in Africa, perhaps a reflection of high rates of HIV and the related loss on that continent. A widening gap between rich and poor was also a primary concern in Africa and several other regions.

Overall, Americans said they believe the United States offers a better life to immigrants. And despite the low image of U.S. policies around the world, most people surveyed in other countries also viewed the United States as a land of opportunity. "The perception that America provides good opportunities for emigrants is common even in countries where U.S. favorability is low or has dipped in recent years," the survey found.

More than 45,000 people were interviewed by telephone or in person for the study, which has a margin of error of two to four percentage points for each country.

Sources: Washington Post

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in Fisk's World

In Fisk's world, Shiite Hizbullah is kind charitable organization, born out of the natural and historically repressed aspirations of the Lebanese Shiite population to defend them from Lebanese militia killers such as Samir Geagea - yes, Fisk actually has in his writings recently described the Lebanese Forces leader as "killer Geagea."

Most strikingly for a professional journalist, Fisk is certain that that Sunni "semi-Al-Qaeda-satellites," whatever that may be, were behind the bombing that killed the UN soldiers, breaching security in the Lebanese Hizbullah stronghold. Inexplicably, Fisk suggests that many Lebanese consider the UNIFIL forces to be really a NATO force.

Fisk's intrepid reporting reveals to us that a secret meeting between French, Spanish and Italian officers and Hizbullah officials took place three weeks before the bombing, in which the latter assured the UN that they would do their best to protect its soldiers on the ground. Alas, the "Al-Qaeda-type groups" were too clever and the tragic result was six dead peacekeepers. Now Fisk states with confidence: "We shall now find out if America believes this - and it is the truth - or whether Western governments decide to blame Iran by claiming Hizbullah was behind the bombing of the UN troops." For the readers that missed it, Fisk writes "AND IT IS THE TRUTH." The capitalization is for effect but the result is the same. Our long-serving Beirut correspondent has in the mist and fog of Middle East politics seen the light. He knows the truth.

This is all extremely worrying. Fisk's writings have consistently tried to absolve Iran, Syria and Hizbullah in the same way others have blamed them for everything. His reluctant descriptions of Al-Qaeda accept an increasing recognition that it is not a single tangible group with a defined structure operating from above the clouds somewhere. With the leadership driven out of Sudan and then severely restricted in Afghanistan, what is left is in fact a loose network of extremist cells that needed another state structure to provide it with cover, logistical support and intelligence guidance. Each cell invents a name for itself, tagging on the words Islam or Jihad for added value, and then claims allegiance to Al-Qaeda. A simple but seemingly successful formula by states that need proxy groups to fight their battles against stronger opponents.

We therefore find an emerging unholy alliance between militant Islam (both Sunni and Shiite) and the secular anti-Western forces in the region. The tactic is to create violent anarchy in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories and terrify the international community out of the Middle East. The motive of all these cells and the state or states that sponsor them is one and the same: to violently eliminate all reform-minded elements and to keep the region in the dark ages of tyranny. Robert Fisk's dubious journalism, under the comforting sheepskin guise of anti-war campaigner, makes his motives more difficult to grasp.

Political scientist Talal Nizameddin is writing a book on Russia and the Middle East

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Hizbullah Preparing for Next War with Israel

Hizbullah is busy preparing for its next war with Israel keeping in mind that the Jewish state will not rest easy with the results of last summer's 34-day conflict, military analysts in Beirut believe.

Since the U.N.-brokered ceasefire came into force last August 14, the pro-Iran Shiite militia has been steadily gearing itself up for the next round with the same determination and secrecy that have made its reputation, the experts say."Immediately after last summer's war Hizbullah began re-fortifying its positions and working on new ones," said Judith Palmer Harik, author of the book "Hizbullah: The Changing Face of Terrorism." "They are rearming... In fact, there has been no interruption in their receiving of more arms," she told Agence France Presse.

The only Lebanese militia allowed by the government to have weapons, Hizbullah has moved most of its weapons out of the border area with Israel to conform with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended the conflict.

A Western military observer in the Lebanese capital, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hizbullah was now redeploying its arms farther north. "They left the (border) zone at once," he said. "Last summer, much to their surprise, they found themselves fighting well in front of their strongest lines because the Israeli army halted near the frontier. "Hizbullah has far stronger positions in the rear, north of the Litani river, that no one knows about and that they are fortifying all the time."

For 24 years Timur Goksel was the public face of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, and the former UNIFIL spokesman says it is only a matter of time before war between Israel and Hizbullah breaks out again. "Israel can't live in the Middle East with the impression that they lost to Hizbullah, a militia," said Goksel, now lecturing at the American University of Beirut. "Since 1949 they lived on their reputation of the unbeatable Israeli soldier, the invincible Jewish army, the legend. And here comes the Hizbullah who says 'We beat you.' They have to set that correct. They have no other option -- they have to restore their credibility." He says further conflict is inevitable but not imminent. "Not now, it will take Israel time to be ready. I'd say two years. Hizbullah knows that very well and they are working on it full-time."

Even in the border zone, patrolled by blue-helmeted international peacekeepers and the Lebanese army, Hizbullah is busy preparing for the next round of hostilities. The militants are so accepted by villagers in the area that no outsider gets to know what is really going on there. "Iron discipline reigns within the Hizbullah ranks," the Western military observer told AFP. "Promotion is only on merit and security vetting draconian. They're almost impossible to infiltrate and extraordinarily professional."

Retired Lebanese general Whebe Katisha has no doubt that Hizbullah "has retained its military potential and is preparing for the next assault. "UNIFIL knows nothing about what's going on in the Shiite zone. It's not an easy situation for the Lebanese army -- we don't have enough numbers, equipment or vehicles." He said that last month a container full of shells and missiles, sent by Iran via Turkey and Syria, was intercepted. "Hizbullah is Iran's vanguard against Israel," Katisha said. "If Iran is attacked, everyone knows that the response will begin with Hizbullah."

Shortly after last summer's devastating conflict ended, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the militant group's arsenal had been replenished, and that it now includes new weaponry. "Knowing their organization, their planning, I think they are going to go more on sophisticated air defense," Palmer Harik said. "Hizbullah is a great mixture of traditional guerrilla warfare and very advanced and efficient weapons." According to Goksel, "Hizbullah knows very well that next time it's going to be different. What did we do wrong last time, what will happen next time? They know the other side is studying too. If it happens tomorrow, they're ready."


Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.