28 June 2008

* Khan Murjan in Dubai (badly managed?)

The place: Measuring only 50,000 square feet Khan Murjan won’t be one of Dubai’s biggest shopping centres but does promise to be one of its most unique. Situated at Wafi City, and connected to the Wafi City Mall and Raffles Hotel, it will be home to over 200 retail outlets. Unlike most other malls in Dubai, they will be occupied by craftspeople and small businesses rather than major retail outlets.

Unfortunately Khan Murjan was not to expectations from the services point of view: bad chefs, bad management, bad service, extremely expensive for nothing. You don't get what you pay for!
One of the visitors, Salim, paid Dhs98 for a kabab plate! what he received after 2 hours is a plate with plane single pair of small kababs... no accompanying fries, salads, pickles, sauce, not even a single peice of tomato!

After three hours, the servant comes to say that no Shawarma is available!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ambiance is good of course because of the decoration and the arabic band, that it!

They force you to have launch at Dhs125/person, while there is no food!

Sitting in the middle of the cafe, you can see the three managers sitting on a couch doing their math and accounting audaciously! 
One of the servers told us "one hand cannot clap" ironically criticizing the management! They simply don't have enough staff and no qualified ones. Someone just stepped into someone's else business?

* (#5) Tripoli Blast Rocks Residential Building /FLASH

At least one person was killed and scores were wounded in a bomb blast that rocked an apartment building in the northern city of Tripoli early Saturday, police reported.
Police said the blast, reported at 5:30am, struck the entrance to a building in Syria Street of Tabbaneh district.

Ambulances, sirens wailing, rushed to evacuate casualties from the building, and rescuers were facing difficulties in carrying out their duties due to sniper fire targeting the streets, according to police reports.

Medical sources said most of the wounded are children, women and old men.

The reports said gunmen also took to the streets in Tabbaneh after snipers in neighboring Baal Mohsen opened fire at the district.

Tripoli was the scene of bloody clashes between pro-majority Tabbaneh and opposition-backed Baal Mohsen that had killed 10 people and wounded 55.

27 June 2008

* Lebanese in UAE (How to spot one)

-Everyone is a Habibi or Habib albe for them

-They are always half and hour to one hour late for work

-They want their coffee to be ready before they arrive to the office

-They have the latest car models with a small Lebanese Flag at the back

-They have the latest mobile model

-They all pretend getting a very high salary, while they r getting about 10.000 AED which is not even enough to pay their accommodation and their meals/month

-They all have 3 to 6 credit cards from different banks and they can't find a way to pay their dues with interests while they are sending money to Lebanon to pay their dues to the banks in Lebanon

-Lebanese are known to be active people. Since they are abroad, they need to exercise, and to exercise, they are willing to pay about 12.000/ year to subscribe in a gym while in their mother country they never tried to go for a walk at marina dbayeh corniche or even to Manara corniche

-U can find Lebanese everyday in peppermint, trilogy, shosho's, 400... and when it's time to ask for the bill, they fight for who's going to pay: ou3a tjarreb 3ayb.. ana bedfa3... walaw mesh 7erzenine kellon 5000 AED 3ayb wlo please khalas gheir marra

-All Lebanese guys pretend being single, and continuously try to meet the biggest number of girls from different nationalities, while their fiancé, or girl friend are in Lebanon waiting for them to come for vacation and to fix the wedding date

-They are cigar smokers

-They are all ready to go each Tuesday at SAX - for the Lebanese night

-All Grandpa's Lebanese was a big history man in Lebanon

-All their parents are asked to be ministers or parliaments but most of them refuse

-They never go shopping if it's not from Armani or D&G

-They are Lebanese.... they are trendy and fashionable

-Most of the Lebanese are MANAGERS

-Lebanese are good talkers but never a good listeners

-They have 2 SIM cards... one for Etisalat and one for DU

-They all have about 20,000 DVD at home while they never sit at home

-They are all sushi lovers, although they never tried to taste sushi in Lebanon

-Lebanese call their parents to greet them by phone once every 2 weeks, they prefer to use MSN or SKYPE coz it's costless, while they are paying about more than 5000 AED/ month for their outings

-They all avoid living in Sharjah and suburbs while squeezing themselves & sharing apartments in International city or other boundaries to boast about living in Dubai

-They will all resign after three months of work pretending their indispensable talents deserve more; while they move to a much worse situation, biting their teeth out!

-They drive without a driving license once they arrive to UAE for the first time... w 3a ejron el dene kella! :D

* Taha Mikati (The World's Billionaires #407)

Net Worth: $2.3bil

Country Of Citizenship: Lebanon 
Residence: Beirut, Lebanon, Middle East; Africa 
Industry: Communications 
Marital Status: married, 
Education: American University Beirut Lebanon, Bachelor of Arts / Science 

Founded telecom company Investcom with brother at height of the Lebanese civil war in 1982. Company profited from tapping underpenetrated cellular markets in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Made his fortune when South Africa's MTN Group bought Investcom in early 2006 for a record $5.5 billion. Started career in construction industry in the United Arab Emirates in the late 1960s. Used his training as a civil engineer to help found Arabian Construction Company in Abu Dhabi. Sold company in 1992 to focus on growing telecom sector.


* Seizing Laptops and Cameras Without Cause

Returning from a brief vacation to Germany in February, Bill Hogan was selected for additional screening by customs officials at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. Agents searched Hogan's luggage and then popped an unexpected question: Was he carrying any digital media cards or drives in his pockets? "Then they told me that they were impounding my laptop," says Hogan, a freelance investigative reporter whose recent stories have ranged from the origins of the Iraq war to the impact of money in presidential politics.

Shaken by the encounter, Hogan says he left the airport and examined his bags, finding that the agents had also removed and inspected the memory card from his digital camera. "It was fortunate that I didn't use that machine for work or I would have had to call up all my sources and tell them that the government had just seized their information," he said. When customs offered to return the machine nearly two weeks later, Hogan told them to ship it to his lawyer.

The extent of the program to confiscate electronics at customs points is unclear. A hearing Wednesday before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary's Subcommittee on the Constitution hopes to learn more about the extent of the program and safeguards to traveler's privacy. Lawsuits have also been filed, challenging how the program selects travelers for inspection. Citing those lawsuits, Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, refuses to say exactly how common the practice is, how many computers, portable storage drives, and BlackBerries have been inspected and confiscated, or what happens to the devices once they are seized. Congressional investigators and plaintiffs involved in lawsuits believe that digital copies?so-called "mirror images" of drives?are sometimes made of materials after they are seized by customs.

A ruling this year by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that DHS does indeed have the authority to search electronic devices without suspicion in the same way that it would inspect a briefcase. The lawsuit that prompted the ruling was the result of more than 20 cases, most of which involved laptops, cellphones, or other electronics seized at airports. In those cases, nearly all of the individuals were of Muslim, Middle Eastern, or South Asian background.

Travelers who have their computers seized face real headaches. "It immediately deprives an executive or company of the very data?and revenue?a business trip was intended to create," says Susan Gurley, head of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, which is asking DHS for greater transparency and oversight to protect copied data. "As a businessperson returning to the U.S., you may find yourself effectively locked out of your electronic office indefinitely." While Hogan had his computer returned after only a few days, others say they have had theirs held for months at a time. As a result, some companies have instituted policies that require employees to travel with clean machines: free of corporate data.

The security value of the program is unclear, critics say, while the threats to business and privacy are substantial. If drives are being copied, customs officials are potentially duplicating corporate secrets, legal records, financial data, medical files, and personal E-mails and photographs as well as stored passwords for accounts from Netflix to Bank of America. DHS contends that travelers' computers can also contain child pornography, intellectual property offenses, or terrorist secrets.

It makes practical sense to X-ray the contents of checked and carry-on luggage, which could pose an immediate danger to airplanes and their passengers. "Generally speaking, customs officials do not go through briefcases to review and copy paper business records or personal diaries, which is apparently what they are now doing now in digital form?these PDA's don't have bombs in them," says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. More troubling is what could happen if other countries follow the lead of the United States. Imagine, for instance, if China or Russia began a program to seize and duplicate the contents of traveler's laptops. "We wouldn't be in a position to strongly object to that type of behavior," Rotenberg says. Indeed, visitors to the Beijing Olympic Games have been officially advised by U.S. officials that their laptops may be targeted for duplication or bugging by Chinese government spies hoping to steal business and trade secrets.


* Dubai Rotating Tower

Designed to "go with the flow", aerodynamic rotation that rhymes with the wind direction... maybe power generation? power savings?, etc...

26 June 2008

* Sand Bags Are Back (after 33years)

A Lebanese woman sits on a table surrounded by sandbags that cover the exterior of a fast food restaurant in Beirut's suburbs, Thursday, June 26, 2008.


* FM meets with P.Suleiman

Mr. Fouad Makhzoumi meets with President Suleiman to congratulate him and to urge the maintenance of national unity and civil peace.

The head of the National Dialogue Party, Mr. Fouad Makhzoumi, stated his opinion that Lebanon needs, for the sake of its people, to get itself out of the crisis surrounding the formation of the national unity government and to work for the improvement of the social, health and economic problems facing the country.

Mr. Makhzoumi’s statement came during his meeting with President Suleiman at the presidential palace in Baabda, during which he congratulated him on his presidency, and reiterated the total confidence held by the National Dialogue Party in the president and his leadership abilities. Mr. Makhzoumi remained wary of the possibility that the role laid out for the president would be limited to simply managing the crisis and that Lebanon and the Lebanese people would face a new chapter of continued problems and disputes similar to those with which they have been battling for the past three years.

Mr. Makhzoumi stated that whatever the intentions of the various political groups behind the congestions and difficulties facing the creation of the government, whether personal, factional, regional of international, this state of procrastination which has gone on for so long and the devastation of the spirits of the Lebanese people must be dealt with. Mr. Makhzoumi emphasized that President Suleiman should serve as the guarantor of national unity and the keeper of civil peace. 


24 June 2008

* Apocalypse by 2012?

Thousands of people in the Netherlands say they expect the world to end in 2012, and many say they are taking precautions to prepare for the apocalypse.

The Dutch-language de Volkskrant newspaper said it spoke to thousands of believers in the impending end of civilization, and while theories on the supposed catastrophe varied, most tied the 2012 date to the end of the Mayan calendar, Radio Netherlands reported Monday.

De Volkskrant said many of those interviewed are stocking up on emergency supplies, including life rafts and other equipment.

Some who spoke to the newspaper were optimistic about the end of civilization.

"You know, maybe it's really not that bad that the Netherlands will be destroyed," Petra Faile said. "I don't like it here anymore. Take immigration, for example. They keep letting people in. And then we have to build more houses, which makes the Netherlands even heavier. The country will sink even lower, which will make the flooding worse."

The Mayan Calendar

The Maya civilization existed in Southern Mexico and northern Central America between from A.D. 300 to 900. Its population totaled 5-16 million people.

The Maya have been called the "Greeks of the New World" by many historians. The Maya had some knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, ritual ball games for entertainment, and the use of their complex written language. Unlike Europeans at the time, the Maya had developed the concept of zero.

The Maya used a yearly solar calendar that was fairly precise, using 18 months and 20 days per month, with five additional unlucky days at the end, which totals to 365 days. The Maya did not take into account the additional 1/4 day, which we take into account through leap year, because it was not important for them. They additionally had a 260 day ritual calendar which worked in conjunction with the 365 day calendar to create a 52-year cycle. They also used a Long Count calendar which counts the number of days since the creation of the world on August 13, 3113 BC. This calendar returns to zero in 2012, which has caused an Apocalypse scare. However, this stems from a misunderstanding of the calendar, because the calendar is generally abbreviated to 5 places, when in reality there are over 40, so the calendar will continue after this date. The calendar is written with five numbers with a period between each, such as Each of the numbers between the period represents a place, since the Maya number system was base-20. In this date, for example, the 1 represents 1 days, the 2 represents 2*20 days, the 3 represents 3*360 days, the 4 represents 4*7,200 and the 5 represents 5*144,000. Each digit except the second (2) and the last (5) goes to 19 before returning to zero. The second only goes to 18 and the last only goes to 13. The original date for the world was, which will be the same date on December 21, 2012, and the reason for the Apocalypse scare.


Nostradamus also predicted that the apocalypse will happen in 2012. But Nostradamus predicted the world is going to end all the time... so why 2012 should be the year many ask ?


* No automatic residency for property buyers in Dubai

Property buyers should not expect an automatic residence visa upon purchasing property in Dubai, a top official clarified.

"There is no direct link between property ownership and residence visas. Developers should not lure investors to property sector with a promise of residence visa," Marwan Bin Galita, chief executive of Dubai's Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera) told Gulf News on Monday.

Bin Galita said a proposal has been submitted to the concerned authorities to issue property investors a visit visa that allows them to travel in and out of the country to follow up their investments in the property market.

"The suggestion, if approved, might be implemented at a federal level, especially that the local laws of most emirates allow foreign ownership of property.

"The visit visa could replace the residence visa, which was issued by some developers in Dubai for those who bought property in their projects."

Bin Galita said the suggested visa is similar to visas issued by foreign countries for property investors as in the US there are more than 250 kinds of visas.

"Those visas will be of many kinds. For example, it could be for two weeks for the person to come and collect the rent or it could be for another specific time to follow up the issue of the investment," he said.

"The visa will have various privileges in line with the size of the investor's investments, and expires once the owned property is sold. Those who earlier acquired residence visas linked to their properties, could have their status amended, should the new legislation take effect," he said.

He added that if the suggestion was approved, then the visa for those who own properties here and want to enter the country will be applied through the residency department and it will be issued in accordance to the volume of the investment also.

"We have to think about the future and about all the possibilities," he added.
He said there is a need to regulate this matter and to look at it from all the sides in order to avoid any problems in the future. "Investors must understand that owning property in Dubai is not a pre-requisite for having a residence visa," he said.

"I need to repeat to people not to mix between the residency visa issue and buying property," he said.
Major General Mohammad Ahmad Al Merri told Gulf News there is nothing called "own property and get life-long residency visa".

He said there are rules for issuing residency visa or visit visa and those rules and regulations are from the Ministry of Interior and nobody else. "We are not dealing with property owners. We are issuing our visas as usual as per the law," he said.

* Rising Gulf inflation could push foreign workers home

Lured by tax-free jobs and cheap living, foreign workers have long gravitated to wealthy Gulf Arab states to earn a better living, but rising costs are now forcing many to go home.

Inflation has soared to record or near-record levels across the Gulf Arab region, where migrants ranging from high-paid Western executives to low-wage Asian labourers have formed the backbone of oil-fuelled development since the 1970s.

Already pinched by rising rents and salaries, firms are finding it increasingly hard to recruit staff to countries like the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf trade hub where wages paid in the dollar-pegged dirham have eroded the value of remittances.

Inflation helped drive Indian journalist Stanley Carvalho to end a ten-year sojourn in the UAE this year to rejoin his family.

"The cost of living in the UAE, particularly Abu Dhabi, has been rising steadily, led by soaring house rents....Salaries haven't risen commensurately. So if I had to move my family from India to the UAE, my savings would be meagre," he said.

"Also, as in the case of most Indians, we are hit by the rising Indian rupee against the US Dollar. Given the dirham's peg to the dollar, our remittances to India are now lower by at least 8% to 10% in value. A double whammy so to speak."

With economic growth of 9%, India now creates more jobs at better pay, prompting skilled workers to stay home.

While Gulf Arab economies are reaping a windfall from a near seven-fold surge in oil prices since 2002, analysts say soaring inflation could undercut rapid economic growth.

"The pace of growth of the economy is going to be limited by inflation....Qatar and the UAE have difficulty bringing in workers from India because their salaries will be eaten away by high inflation and high rent and they won't be able to send money home," said one Middle East consultant.

In the UAE, foreigners comprise over 80% of the population, which includes 1.5 million Indians alone. Migrant workers dominate the population in Qatar and Kuwait too.

Manual labourers are feeling the pinch most acutely, their wages now scarcely enough to feed families back home. Last year, the mainly Indian and Pakistani labourers building the sky-scrapers of Dubai rioted to demand more cash.

Yet inflation, particularly in rents, is making life harder even for Western white-collar workers who came to Dubai to save.

"The price I am paying I could live in central London," said Henry Charles, a Dubai-based British business consultant. "It's eroded the financial incentives to move here. I've had to dip into savings at various times to meet rent cheques."

"It works out for people who get a housing allowance that reflects the rental market but in my case my housing allowance doesn't cover the cost of renting a room in a shared villa," he said.

Expatriate parents say school fees are rising fast too and Middle East employment portal Bayt.com found almost two-thirds of employees in the Middle East and North Africa think their salaries are not rising fast enough to keep up with inflation.

Rental increases have forced Qatar, Oman and the UAE to impose rent caps. The UAE government has also agreed with some supermarket chains to freeze prices on a range of foodstuffs.

Expatriates worry that plans to introduce value added tax across the Gulf by 2012, and talk of a tax on luxury goods ranging from yachts to cigarettes, could tip the balance.

The saving grace for Gulf countries, say expatriates, is that inflation is biting just as hard elsewhere. Even after the credit crunch, British property prices and taxes are daunting to many Britons who enjoy the sun and glamour of Dubai.

"It is getting more expensive. You are not saving any extra money. I pretty much live hand to mouth," said Tariq Ali, a British car salesman who moved to Dubai in 2004.

"On the other hand I could not afford a big flat with a pool and gym in central London like I can here."

In Dubai, expatriates workers occupy 99% of jobs in the private sector and 91% in the public sector out of a total 3.1 million employees in the UAE, said a Dubai Municipality official in April.

"Going by the trend, by 2009 UAE nationals will account for less than 8% of the workforce and by 2020 UAE nationals will account for less than four per cent," said Jasem Ahmad Al Ali, a human resource specialist at the Human Resources Department of Dubai Municipality. He said the private sector accounts for more than 52% of the total jobs in the UAE.


22 June 2008

* Clashes Erupt in Tripoli

A pro-government gunman, holds his AK-47 as he sits on his scooter at Bab el-Tabaneh district, in Tripoli, north of Lebanon, on Sunday June 22, 2008.

Lebanese security and medical officials said that fighting has broken out in northern Lebanon between pro-and anti-government supporters wounding at least 10 people. The security officials say tension has been on the rise for several days between pro-government supporters in Tripoli's Bab el-Tabaneh district and opposition supporters in the neighboring Jabal Mohsen. They say machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades are being used in Sunday's fighting.

The clashes raged as of 6 a.m., two hours after unidentified assailants in the pro-opposition stronghold of Baal Mohsen hurled hand grenades at Tabbaneh, a predominantly Sunni Muslim district backing Saad Hariri's Mustaqbal Movement.

A police source said most of the wounded were Tripoli citizens hit by sniper fire from rooftop nests in Baal Mohsen.

Mortars, Rocket-Propelled Grenade launchers and automatic rifles were used in the confrontation, police reported.


* Shebaa Farms view

A general view of the village of Shebaa near the junction between Lebanon, Israel and Syria. The residents of Shebaa dream of the day when they will be able to return to Shebaa Farms, the land where they grew up before Israel occupied the disputed territory which is now at the centre of international attention to determine its fate.

16 June 2008

* Rice unannounced Visit to beirut

Rice made an unannounced visit to Lebanon's capital to meet with Western-backed leaders of an emerging coalition government, which the country's factions are still negotiating over. The U.S. regards Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah as a terrorist group and has no dealings with it

* Amitech Brazil expands its production capacity

Amitech has just completed the expansion of its plant in Ipeúna city, in the interior of São Paulo state. From now on, the company – the largest Brazilian manufacturer of fibreglass reinforced polyester pipes (FRP) – will have the capacity to produce 330 km/year of pipelines with diameters of up to 3,000 mm. “The total investment was US$ 9 million”, comments Flávio Marçal, commercial manager.

Most of the funds were invested in a Flowtite® machine developed by Amiantit, a Saudi company that controls 30% of Amitech – the Colombian group Inversiones Mundial hold the rest. “Flowtite® technology allows us to produce 36 meters/hours of FRP pipes with sections of up to 14 meters long”, explains Benedito Buso, Amitech’s industrial manager.

Up to now, the company used exclusively centrifugation technology, that allowed it to produce an average of 18 meters/hour of pipes of up to 1.200 mm in diameter. “With the new machine we have supplemented our portfolio. Although Flowtite® equipment is outstanding because of its production speed and it ability to produce larger diameters, centrifugation ensures us more flexibility since we have six independent workstations. That is, we are able to produce pipes with different diameters at the same time”, explains Buso, emphasizing that in both processes Amitech’s pipelines comply with the same manufacturing requirements that are included in the NBR 15536 standard.

Before expanding, the company had a production capacity of 120 km/year of FRP pipes, with diameters between 400 mm to 1,200 mm.

Greater water output
By increasing the diameter of its pipes, Amitech has become more assertive in the markets that require large fluid outputs. The main example, says Buso, is the electrical energy production sector, more specifically the Small Hydroelectric Plants business. “As a rule, FRP pipes serve to transport water from reservoirs to the machine room, producing energy. Thus, the bigger the diameter, the greater water output,” explains Amitech’s industrial manager.

The new equipment’s capacity is already full for the next three months due to agreements signed at the end of last year with two Small Hydroelectric Plants. For Marçal, the continuous funding under the Brazilian Economic Acceleration Program (PAC) should help Amitech to quickly occupy the new installed capacity. In addition to the Small Hydroelectric Plants, the company furnishes pipes for basic sanitation and irrigation projects. “We are optimistic about the market prospects for the next two years”, affirms Amitech’s commercial manager, who estimates an increase of 70% in the company’s earnings this year.

The installation of the new equipment enabled Amitech’s production area to open up forty new jobs. The company has a total of 120 employees. “Half of these new jobs were filled by women because of the large amount of automation in the Flowtite® machine”, completes Buso.

About Amitech
Controlled by two international groups – Inversiones Mundial, from Colombia, and Amiantit, from Saudi Arabia – Amitech is the largest Brazilian manufacturer of fibreglass reinforced polyester (FRP) pipes. Established in 1999, the Ipeúna’s plant, in the state of São Paulo, produce kilometres of pipes monthly, which are used by the agricultural, industrial, energy industries and water treatment.

(Amitech Brazil)

15 June 2008

* Lebanese convicted on US terror charges: "hayda illi na2isna"

A federal jury in Ohio convicted two American citizens and a Lebanese man Friday of plotting to attack US troops in Iraq, the US Justice Department said. Mohammad Zaki Amawi, 28, Marwan Othman El-Hindi, 45, and Wassim Mazloum, 27, were found guilty of conspiracy to kill or maim persons outside the United States and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

Amawi, a dual US-Jordanian citizen, and El-Hindi, a US citizen born in Jordan, were also convicted of distributing information on making or using suicide bomb vests and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Prosecutors had charged that the three Ohio residents had conducted firearms training and accessed instructions on building and using explosives.

The defendants had also conspired to recruit others to participate in "jihad training," solicited funds to pay for the training and proposed sites to train potential recruits in the use of firearms, explosives and hand-to-hand combat.

Amawi traveled to Jordan in August 2005 with laptop computers for insurgents who were preparing to cross into Iraq, the Justice Department said.

The accused also distributed a guide on how to make chemical explosive compounds and a video entitled "Martyrdom Operation Vest Preparation," the department said.

For his part, El-Hindi distributed a slide show demonstrating how to make and use IEDs against apparent US military vehicles and soldiers and the same suicide vest video, it said.

They face life in prison for conspiracy to kill or maim persons outside the United States, 20 years for distributing information on explosives and 15 years for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.

"Today's verdicts should send a strong message to individuals who would use this country as a platform to plot attacks against US military personnel in Iraq and elsewhere," said Patrick Rowan, acting assistant attorney general for national security. "This case also underscores the need for continued vigilance in identifying and dismantling extremist plots that develop in America's heartland," he said.


* Syria and Lebanon Relations

Lebanon's former premier Rafiq Hariri was killed in 2005 by a huge explosion in Beirut. French relations with Syria worsened over charges that Damascus was involved in the assassination of Hariri. Damascus has denied the claims. France and Syria have now agreed on the need to strengthen relations and work together for peace in Lebanon and the Middle East, following talks in Damascus.


14 June 2008

* Army Patrols in Beddawi

Lebanese soldiers patrol the destroyed Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in 2007. Lebanese forces arrested 10 people after gunnmen opened fire on an army patrol near the Beddawi refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

* Post-Doha Decision Analysis

Since 2005, Lebanon has gone through various stages of what have described as a cold ‎conflict. The reason has been, and remains, the two competing visions espoused within the ‎country. On one hand, we have the so-called March 8th vision embodied by the political and ‎armed wings of Hezbollah, which uses Lebanon to strengthen Iran's regional role and promote ‎the ideology of the Islamic Revolution.. On the other hand, we have the vision of March 14th. ‎Though far from being a perfect group, this ideology sees Lebanon as a sovereign, multiethnic ‎state independent from its neighbors and based on democratic principles. ‎

After 18 months of political deadlock, and a so-called "civil disobedience" movement led by ‎Hezbollah and the Shia party known as Afwaj al-Muqawmat al-Lubnaniyya (AMAL) --staged ‎largely to remind Lebanese leaders and other involved parties of the group's military might--the ‎two sides agreed to a compromise in Doha, Qatar. Many observers, however, agree that ‎though, the Hezbollah and its allies obtained what they asked from the very beginning. ‎
As part of the arrangement, Hezbollah agreed to dismantle the tent city that closed many ‎businesses in and around downtown Beirut, and promised to refrain from (again) using its ‎weapons internally. In return for its extraordinary good will it received the veto power over the ‎new national unity government. In its most recent formation, Hezbollah led opposition hold 11 ‎seats, the majority 16, and President Michel Suleiman will nominate three ministers. ‎Furthermore, Hezbollah was left with its arms, autonomous communication system, control over ‎the Beirut airport, and perhaps most importantly, the idea that it can do whatever it wants with ‎little or no repercussions. Negotiations and compromise are preferable to internal conflict, but ‎does Hezbollah's bullying offer Lebanon a stable foundation to move forward? Most agree not.‎
In a recent speech, Hezbollah's Sheikh Nasrallah's denied any such allegations. "If we wanted to ‎stage a coup, you would have woken up this morning in prison, or in the middle of the sea," he ‎said. Hezbollah, however, did stage a coup, but its political and militant leaders had little interest ‎in throwing the Lebanese into the sea. Walid Jumblatt, a leader of the Druze bloc, pointed out ‎this confounding question, wondering aloud what Hezbollah would do following a hypothetical ‎military occupation of Beirut.‎

The Khomeinist Islamic Revolution reached its peak in Lebanon. It cannot go any further ‎without starting a Sunni-Shia conflict. From now on, the Shia political leadership should look "to ‎redefine its role within the system far from resistance and open struggle with Israel," emphasised ‎Nadim Koteich, a Lebanese political analyst. "Hezbollah 's problem is that it embarked on ‎‎'mission impossible'. There is no way for its political and ideological project to prevail in a ‎country like Lebanon where even tiny sectors have the ability to veto less dangerous projects. ‎These are facts that Hezbollah is having problems grasping. Sooner or later Hezbollah will be ‎going through a very complicated transformation, however it is still unknown what price we ‎would have to pay before the party understands this fact." ‎

Aside from militias roaming the country, a major problem for Lebanon is the complex and ‎sectarianpower sharing system reminiscent in some aspects of the European Middle Ages. The ‎leadership of political parties and movements is hereditary, passed on from father to son, with ‎few exceptions.. Not surprisingly, clan leaders are more concerned with their own well being ‎and wealth than that of the people. The immediate consequences are the lack of accountability ‎towards the constituency, and the severe political factionalism that has plagues Lebanon ‎throughout its history. ‎

"The immediate challenge is to get the state institutions back to functionality. Electing the ‎President of the Republic was a big step in this direction. The government has to be formed and ‎the electoral law finalized for the parliamentary elections of 2009. These are necessary steps in ‎order to replace the violence in the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon with political and ‎democratic dispute within the institutions," said Nadim Koteich. "The long-term challenge will ‎always be the ability to reach a national consensus over Hezbollah 's weapons. This issue has ‎been weakening the state and the prospects of peace and stability in Lebanon since May 2000. ‎Now that the region is witnessing dramatic shifts, be it the Syro-Israeli talks or the U.S.-Iranian ‎understandings over Iraq, it is essential that Hezbollah comes to common terms with fellow ‎Lebanese on the weapons and the future of struggle, truce or peace with Israel,"

Neither the political system nor the mentality that sustains it will change overnight. Nonetheless, ‎the best bet for Lebanon to truly become what it already claims it is, an independent state, and ‎not a protectorate of countries that are on imperialistic quests. Only by continuing to fortify state ‎institutions, encouraging development and transparency, and keeping the country neutral can ‎such goals be attained.‎

(foreign policy association)

12 June 2008

*Does Syria want to finish off Hezbollah?

Rumors about Syria wanting to get rid of Hezbollah have been spreading increasingly since the killing of Hezbollah strategic mastermind Mughnieh in Damascus. Now that Shaker Abssi (back from the dead) has vowed revenge against those who started the sectarian war that has lead to the takeover of West-Beirut, saying that suicide bombers would not spare God's enemies wherever they are.

Assuming Syria's sponsoring Fatah al-Islam, it seems natural to conclude that Assad has had it with Hezbollah. They must be wanting that peace with Israel pretty badly.

Another argument was added in favor of the idea that Syria is trying to ditch Hezbollah, namely the "new documents" that president Suleiman apparently has received that would provide additional support for the claim that the Shebaa Farms belong to Lebanon. A plausible theory would be that these documents came from Assad. Is this Syria's way to make Hezbollah even more irrelevant?


*Get Ready for Being Stripped, Virtually!

How do you feel about being strip-searched for no probable cause? I can guess you would not like it.

Well, how about being viewed through a screen, semi nude, by security agents using a see-through body scanner, again, for no probable cause? I am sure you would not like it either.

"Body-scanning machines that show images of people underneath their clothing are being installed in 10 of the nation's busiest airports in one of the biggest public uses of security devices that reveal intimate body parts.

"The Transportation Security Administration recently started using body scans on randomly chosen airline passengers in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Denver, Albuquerque and New York's Kennedy airport.

"Airports in Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas and Miami will be added this month...

"The TSA says it protects privacy by blurring passengers' faces and deleting images right after viewing. Yet the images are detailed, clearly showing a person's gender...

"Passengers scanned in Baltimore said they did not know what the scanner did and were not told why they were directed into the booth...

"Passengers can decline to go through a scanner, but they will face a pat-down."


BALTIMORE — Body-scanning machines that show images of people underneath their clothing are being installed in 10 of the nation's busiest airports in one of the biggest public uses of security devices that reveal intimate body parts.

The Transportation Security Administration recently started using body scans on randomly chosen airline passengers in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Denver, Albuquerque and New York's Kennedy airport.

Airports in Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas and Miami will be added this month. Reagan National Airport near Washington starts using a body scanner Friday. A total of 38 machines will be in use within weeks.

"It's the wave of the future," said James Schear, the TSA security director at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where two body scanners are in use at one checkpoint.

Schear said the scanners could eventually replace metal detectors at the nation's 2,000 airport checkpoints and the pat-downs done on passengers who need extra screening. "We're just scratching the surface of what we can do with whole-body imaging," Schear said.

The TSA effort could encourage scanners' use in rail stations, arenas and office buildings, the American Civil Liberties Union said. "This may well set a precedent that others will follow," said Barry Steinhardt, head of the ACLU technology project.

Scanners are used in a few courthouses, jails and U.S. embassies, as well as overseas border crossings, military checkpoints and some foreign airports such as Amsterdam's Schiphol.

'The ultimate answer'

The scanners bounce harmless "millimeter waves" off passengers who are selected to stand inside a portal with arms raised after clearing the metal detector. A TSA screener in a nearby room views the black-and-white image and looks for objects on a screen that are shaded differently from the body. Finding a suspicious object, a screener radios a colleague at the checkpoint to search the passenger.

The TSA says it protects privacy by blurring passengers' faces and deleting images right after viewing. Yet the images are detailed, clearly showing a person's gender. "You can actually see the sweat on someone's back," Schear said.

The scanners aim to strengthen airport security by spotting plastic and ceramic weapons and explosives that evade metal detectors and are the biggest threat to aviation. Government audits have found that screeners miss a large number of weapons, bombs and bomb parts such as wires and timers that agents sneak through checkpoints.

"I'm delighted by this development," said Clark Kent Ervin, the former Homeland Security inspector general whose reports urged the use of body scanners. "This really is the ultimate answer to increasing screeners' ability to spot concealed weapons."

The scanners do a good job seeing under clothing but cannot see through plastic or rubber materials that resemble skin, said Peter Siegel, a senior scientist at the California Institute of Technology. "You probably could find very common materials that you could wrap around you that would effectively obscure things," Siegel said.

'You have to go along with it'

Passengers who went through a scanner at the Baltimore airport last week were intrigued, reassured and occasionally wary. The process took about 30 seconds on average.

Stepping into the 9-foot-tall glass booth, Eileen Reardon of Baltimore looked startled when an electronic glass door slid around the outside of the machine to create the image of her body. "Some of this stuff seems a little crazy," Reardon said, "but in this day and age, you have to go along with it."

Scott Shafer of Phoenix didn't mind a screener looking at him underneath his shorts and polo shirt from a nearby room. The door is kept shut and blocked with floor screens. "I don't know that person back there. I'll never seem them," Shafer said. "Everything personal is taken out of the equation."

Steinhardt of the ACLU said passengers would be alarmed if they saw the image of their body. "It all seems very clinical and non-threatening — you go through this portal and don't have any idea what's at the other end," he said.

Passengers scanned in Baltimore said they did not know what the scanner did and were not told why they were directed into the booth.

Magazine-sized signs are posted around the checkpoint explaining the scanners, but passengers said they did not notice them.

Darin Scott of Miami was annoyed by the process.

"If you don't ask questions, they don't tell you anything," Scott said. When he asked a screener technical questions about the scanner, "he could not answer," Scott said.

TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne said the agency is studying passenger reaction and could "get more creative" about informing passengers. "If passengers have questions," she said, "they need to ask the questions."

Passengers can decline to go through a scanner, but they will face a pat-down.

Schear, the Baltimore security director, said only 4% of passengers decline.

In Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where scanners have been tested since last year as an alternative to pat-downs, 90% of passengers choose to be scanned, the TSA says.

"Most passengers don't think it's any big deal," Schear said. "They think it's a piece of security they're willing to do."

There are some security measures that are extremely intrusive and should only be used when there is good cause to suspect that an individual is a security risk. See-through body scanning machines are capable of projecting an image of a passenger's naked body.

Passengers expect privacy underneath their clothing and should not be required to display highly personal details of their bodies such as evidence of mastectomies, colostomy appliances, penile implants, catheter tubes and the size of their breasts or genitals as a pre-requisite to boarding a plane.


10 June 2008

*Intermittent Clashes

A Lebanese gunman loyal to the government stands in a street in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa valley during sectarian clashes in May 2008. Four people were wounded in armed clashes in Lebanon overnight between supporters of the anti-Syrian majority and the opposition, hospital sources have said.


Lebanese soldiers take position during clashes between armed groups in the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in 2005. A would-be suicide bomber who was shot dead last month outside a Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon was "probably" a Saudi national, a senior Palestinian official said on Monday


09 June 2008

*Ein Mreyseh Cool Waters

Lebanese man jumps in Ein Mreyseh into the cooling sea on Sunday, June 8, 2008.

08 June 2008

*Future Pipe to borrow $150mn after shelving IPO

Future Pipe Industries Group plans to borrow $150 million from around 12 banks after last month ditching an initial public offering (IPO) at the last minute due to unfavourable market conditions.

The Dubai-based fibreglass pipe maker is looking to refinance old debt and HSBC Holdings and Mashreq are helping the company get the three-year loan, its Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Omar Ashur told newswire Bloomberg on Sunday.

"We've got about $250 million of shorter term loans that we're partially refinancing with medium-term debt,'' Ashur said.

He said Future Pipe was unlikely to return to the debt market before the end of the year.

He also said the cancellation of the IPO would not affect its corporate needs as the money raised was due to be paid to shareholders.

Future Pipe had hoped to raise $554 million through the IPO, selling up to 35% of the company and listing the stock on the Dubai International Financial Exchange (DIFX).

Future Pipe's net profit almost doubled last year to $69 million on a 57% surge in revenue to $556.4 million, Chief Executive Rami Makhzoumi said in March.

In 2006, it controlled 11.6% of the $3.5 billion global market in fibre-glass pipes. In the Gulf, that share was more than 50%, Makhzoumi said.


07 June 2008

*Jumblatt opposes Assad's visit to Lebanon

Beirut - Democratic gathering leader MP Walid Jumblatt expressed his objection to the visit of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to Lebanon in light of the current division among the Lebanese

"If this visit is inevitable, let President Michel Suleiman meet Assad at the Lebanese-Syrian border, just as happened when the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser met with the late Lebanese President Fouad Chehab in 1958. This will be the first step toward Syria's recognition of Lebanon," Jumblatt told the Euronews Television.

He also renewed his accusations against the Syrian regime for the political assassinations in Lebanon, "for they only targeted those who objected to the extension of the term of former President Emil Lahoud, and those that demanded the independence of Lebanon and correcting our relations with Syria."

Jumblatt was asked if the assassinations will continue : Re responded "Everything is possible."

Jumblatt warned against any delay in the establishment of the Special Tribunal to try the killers of former PM Rafik Hariri . "Any delay in this regard means that the UN or another party is seeking a deal with the Syrian regime at the expense of Hariri ."

He also noted the lack of unified vision within the European Union over Lebanon and the Middle East.

Jumblatt criticized president Sarkozy's invitation to the Syrian president to participate in the celebrations in the French National Day on July 14 during the meeting of the Heads of the Mediterranean countries. He said Assad's presence during such an occasion is an insult to the French people."

04 June 2008

*Ta7ya Indeed!

*Soldier Kills Girlfriend, Commits Suicide

A Lebanese army soldier shot and killed his girlfriend before turning the gun on himself in Beirut's Zarif neighborhood.
Security sources said the soldier exploded in rage on Tuesday when he saw his girlfriend with an army mate, firing four gunshots killing her instantly.

His colleague also suffered serious gunshot wounds. The soldier then shot himself in the head.

In a separate incident, four gunmen shot and wounded Lebanese citizen Imad Zaghloul near the Kuwaiti embassy in Beirut's Bir Hassan district overnight.

Zaghloul was admitted to the nearby Rafik Hariri hospital where he lay suffering from critical wounds.

Security sources said two men in civilian clothes and another two disguised in police uniforms and driving a black X5 BMW approached Zaghloul and opened fire on him, wounding him in several parts of his body.

Zaghloul was identified as a supporter of MP Saad Hariri's Mustaqbal movement.

Police found that the car plates belonged to Lama N.J., wife of Mohammed B., residents of the Shiyah neighborhood.


*Water Management Issues (North Africa)

Analysis: North Africa drought season brings global issues to the fore

Morocco, just like most parts of North Africa, is facing another drought year. While the biggest victim is agriculture with its negative impact on economic performance, households are not likely to suffer from water shortages. This is because the nation's 116 major water dams have been well planned to supply enough drinking water for the population at this stage.

At present, Morocco is well prepared to face what appears to be a more permanent state of drought but is it the case longer term? Should the country's leaders worry about what can happen in a decade or more? Analysts fear that the situation can worsen if the proper measures are not taken.

Given the nation's current water and infrastructure policies, combined with demographic trends and reduced precipitations, Morocco could face more acute shortages by 2020. With less rain, reduced water collection means the possible reduction in available volumes in the mid terms. Losses and leakages are also sources of major problems, areas that Morocco will need to address to maximise water collection, retention, distribution and consumption. It is estimated that of the 13 billion cubic metres of collected surface water, 8.8 billion are lost, either through the evaporation process or are not fully captured for consumption and lost to sea. Included in this figure are important volumes lost through leakages along the distribution system. This represents a massive 68% of lost resources.

These figures are not challenged by the country's government authorities, and that's a good step toward recognising the problem. Furthermore, official figures show that even today, the 1,000 cubic metres per individual per year required as minimum standard is not even met. The availability of water in Morocco at present is 745 cubic metre per capita per year, a level obviously below the minimum requirement. Projections for the 2020-2025 horizon call for a mere 500 cubic metres, only half of what is considered minimal normal supply.

But this is not the only problem. Availability and supply of water are not evenly distributed across the entire country and population. The populations of the north have an average of 2,000 cubic metres of water supply per person, compared to 150 cubic metres in the southern provinces. Some 79% of water resources are concentrated in 27% of the territory. What this means is that by 2020, more than 13 million Moroccans will face chronic water shortages.

For Morocco, the long-term outlook does not look so good. This is despite the fact that it was among the first countries in Africa to tackle the water issue and establish a roadmap for a secured water supply. The reality, however, is that the outcome and problems related to water shortages as they are predicted are not necessarily confined to Morocco only or even to its own direct neighbors. This is indeed a global issue that is affecting even the most water-rich geographies. With the ongoing climate change and its resulting global warming, water is expected to be a source of tension, and Africa, in particular could be the first victim of drought.

The continent has suffered the most from reduced rainfall, a problem compounded by the lack collection and storage infrastructure. Considered a semi-arid country, Morocco has not had major problems in its modern history and as recently as the 1960s the population benefited from a per-capita of 2,560 cubic metres per year. Since then demographic pressure did no help, with the population nearly tripling to today's more than 30 million people. The concentration of the population in the cities and the expansion of the number of households accessing water have led to added pressure on the water supply. In the cities, the number of households accessing fresh water through modern water distribution systems grew from 52% in 1970 to 91% today. In rural areas, 70% of the households have running water at home, compared to just 14% in 1994. All of this growth is bound to have consequences, the most logical being a reduction in supply.

Leakages all along the water distribution system are a real problem in Morocco. The systems in many cities have long needed modernisation as water is lost in the upstream, long before it is supposed to reach the consumer. It is estimated that of the 915 million cubic meters of water pumped into the Moroccan water distribution system in 2005, only 70% of that volume (600 million) actually reached the taps. The remaining 30%, or more than 300 million cubic metres, was just lost along the way in form of leaks.

Agriculture and the biggest waste of water

But household consumption and leakages in the distribution system are not the only culprits. They are not even the biggest ones. Agriculture is Morocco's biggest consumer of water. It literally absorbs a massive 88% of the water collected by the country's dam and reservoir system, leaving only 12% for both households and industrial consumption.

If farming is a major user of water it is because it has grown to become an important contributor to the Moroccan economy, employing millions of people and generating substantial export revenues. Such growth could not have happened if irrigation were not used in industrial scale. In 1960 only 150,000 hectares of land were irrigated. Today it is 1.4 million hectares. While the bulk of this land (600,000 hectares) uses small and medium scale irrigation and another 300,000 hectares use seasonal irrigation, the amount of water used is still significant. Most of the irrigated land (80%) uses the old gravity technique just as someone would water his or her garden. This technique requires 36 litres of water to properly cover a single square metre. The more efficient technique known as trickle irrigation or drip irrigation requires only 7 litres to reach the same outcome. The consequences of not using the drip technique mean that Morocco is wasting so much water. In fact, 60% of the water it uses to irrigate its farm lands is purely lost. That's 5.5 billion cubic metres per year.

So while Morocco can do better by revisiting its irrigation techniques and modernising its water distribution system, it still needs to recognize that what it is collecting is by far below what it can technically mobilize. Of the total rain fall of about 140 billion cubic metres of water per year, 80% is considered out of reach since it is naturally evaporated or absorbed by the vegetation and the flora in general.

Scientists estimate that Morocco's available water from rain is 22.2 billion cubic metres annually, of which 17 billion can be captured. Most of that (13 billion) in form of surface water and the remaining 4 billion as underground water. But already of the 13 billion cubic metres of surface water, 25% find their way to sea. However, theoretically, Morocco's 116 dams can store up to 16.8 billion cubic metres, a volume never reached.

In addition to the challenges of collecting and storing water, there is also the issue of shrinking rainfall. Diminishing rainfall is largely due to climate change with the outcome being rain deficits of 20% and even all the way to 35% over the past decades according to climatologists. In 45 years, rainfalls in Morocco dropped by 26%, raising the number of no rain days. The situation is expected to worsen over the next decade.

From a regional perspective, not all provinces are equal. When there is no drought, the best areas for rain are Tangiers and along the Atlas Mountains, which receive 800 millilitres per year over a period of about 70 days of rain. In the other regions, the amount of rain received during non-drought years fluctuates between 600 mm/year in the north and 200 in the South, where it only rains approximately 30 days annually. But with longer and more frequent drought periods, these average figures are increasingly difficult to reach.

Acknowledging the issue, government and experts organised a conference in November 2006, which called for the need to mobilise more water by focusing on the actual infrastructure, while introducing more rational and better techniques for water management. The use of water in agriculture is of particular concern, likely to receive top priority with focus on crops that use a lot of water. Singled out as the main culprits, tomatoes, sugar cane, and citrus fruits are called the virtual exporters of water, since a large volume of these products are exported to Europe. For each hectare of land used to grow the clementine mandarin crop, between 8,000 and 10,000 cubic metres of water per year are needed. A single kilogramme of wheat uses 1,000 litres of water. Interestingly, Morocco considers wheat as a strategic product, at least in terms of human impact even though its yields remain low.

Recycling waste water

Morocco will also have to focus its attention and resources on reusing waste water. The case of Marrakech illustrates how a well-planned and implemented strategy can result in a positive outcome. Several years ago, the region used to be a troubled spot, expected not to be able to supply sufficient water to its citizens to having water-intensive projects such as golf courses currently in construction. The Marrakech "miracle" is the result of the ongoing construction of a waste water treatment plant which will bring additional volume of recycled water into the market.

Moroccan analysts also expect the agricultural sector to benefit from the use of recycled waste water. The country's potential in terms of waste water reuse is around 700 million cubic metres per year, instead of the current volume of just 10% of that. The major issue however is cost. Waste water treatment is as expensive as seawater desalination.

Increased storage

Storing more water will be necessary and will require substantial investments. The goal sought by the Moroccans is to up their storage capacity with new infrastructure investment to handle a total of 25 billion cubic metres.

The pace of dam construction will have to be upped in the next years but the cost could mean Morocco will have to borrow money in the international market. The last dam constructed in Morocco was inaugurated in the Essaouira region in mid-April this year. The Imam Ben Slimane El-Jazouli dam cost Morocco MAD 320 million (US$43 million).

Morocco disposes of three major dam concentration zones, encompassing a total of 19 basins. These zones are those of the north-northwest, central-east, and south. With the potential to capture 10 billion cm, the north-northwest cluster of basins captures only 3.7 billion cm. In the two other clusters, water collection is respectively 3.4 bcm versus a capacity of 4.4 billion and 2.5 billion for a capacity of 3.6 billion. Additional efforts have to be made to maximize water collection, in particular in the north.

Governing structures and water management

The issue of sustainability in water supply is largely dependant on three primary factors. They are the amount of rain the country gets, demographic pressure, and the difficulty in capturing and storing the water for future distribution. But there is also a management and governing aspect to the problem. Progress in solving the water problem has been hampered by plethora of institutions and governing bodies that influence policy and planning.

There are so many players involved, from the Ministry of Territorial Management (Ministère de l'Aménagement du Territoire) the national water administration (Secrétariat de l'Eau), the Ministry of Agriculture, the Office of Agricultural Improvement (ORMVA), the basins authorities (Agences de Bassins) and others where rivalries and competition often lead to the freezing in making the right decisions at the right time. This multiplicity of agencies overseeing the water sector leads to debilitating bureaucratic red tape.

The issue is so important that the World Bank attached an important condition to its recent US$100 million loan. The condition is that Morocco will have to streamline its water management institutions and simplify decision making. The country has not yet achieved this objective, but it is surely running out of time as the clock is ticking.


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.