15 January 2008

Gulf Arabs know better than to follow Bush's path to confrontation with Iran

US President George W. Bush used his speech in Abu Dhabi on Sunday to reiterate many of the same accusations about Iran that we have heard him throw around since his first weeks in office seven years ago. Back then, Iran's president was Mohammad Khatami, a reform-minded leader whose efforts to promote inter-cultural understanding earned him the recognition of international institutions such as the United Nations, which acted on his suggestion to proclaim 2001 the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations. The ensuing election of Khatami's hard-line successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made Bush's talk of the Iranian "threat" an easier sell, but Arab audiences still seem less worried today about the possibly nefarious aims of the Islamic Republic than they are about the US president's proven track record of stirring up chaos and instability in the region.

Indeed, fears that another Iraq-style calamity will occur on their doorstep have prompted several Gulf Arab leaders to reach out to their Iranian neighbors like never before in a bid to ease regional tensions. This development has ironically made Ahmadinejad the unlikely recipient of a series of rare warm gestures: He became the first Iranian president to be invited to a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the first to attend the hajj in Saudi Arabia in an official capacity, and last May he became the first to go on a state visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Nearly a year after Ahmadinejad's historic visit to the UAE, Bush used the country as a stage from which to issue his Sunday plea to the people of the region to "confront this danger [Iran] before it's too late." What Bush fails to realize is that members of his audience were probably cringing at the tone of his most recent message - and perhaps even planning another round of diplomacy to try to smooth over any new tensions the American head of state may have stirred. Bush showed enormous insensitivity to the concerns of the people of this region by choosing the UAE as a venue to deliver his anti-Iran message. Like its Gulf Arab neighbors who are also on the faultline between Washington and Tehran, the UAE is worried about Iran's rising influence, but it also has a vested interest in calming tensions and maintaining a semblance of regional stability. Indeed, the UAE's leaders have demonstrated skillful and creative diplomacy in simultaneously balancing their country's relations with the US and Iran at a time when the two foes have shown increasing hostility toward one another.

Bush is entitled to his warped opinions about Iran, but his message would have been better-suited for delivery to his deluded cronies in the White House than to his wiser allies in the Gulf. The average American might be fooled by Bush's latest attempt to lump Al-Qaeda, "freedom-haters," Hamas, Hizbullah, the Taliban, Iraqi insurgents and Iran into the same lot (which until recently included France), but the people of this region have a much better understanding of these phenomenons and forces. They fortunately also have a better sense of the real root causes of the region's challenges, as well as the required solutions. Thus the Iranian people can rest easily knowing that Gulf Arab leaders will respond wisely to Bush's latest attempt to stir up mischief.-(dailystar)

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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.