21 May 2012

* Lebanon's Arabic press digest


Hariri for holding accountable all officials responsible for killing the two sheikhs as Assad's tools try to drag strife to Beirut

“Stability government” fails Akkar test

Attempts to ignite strife in Tripoli upon instructions given by the Assad regime have moved to Akkar.

While the Army Command regretted the incident and announced the formation of an investigative committee, the killing attracted widespread condemnation from most north Lebanon regions and by the evening developed into the closure of roads in many areas of Lebanon as March 8 members tried to stir up trouble in Beirut by opening fire and blocking several roads.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri conveyed his condolences to Abdul-Wahed’s family. He also urged President Michel Sleiman and Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi to immediately set up a committee to look into the circumstances surrounding the killing and hold accountable those responsible for it.


Bloody Sunday leads to martyrdom of Sheikhs Ahmad Abdul-Wahed and Mohammad Mereb

Tension all over Lebanon from the north to the streets of Beirut, the Bekaa and the south

Heavy clashes overnight in Tariq al-Jadideh amid calls for a general strike

Amid a tense sectarian atmosphere that has prevailed over the whole of Lebanon for the past week, an unfortunate incident took place – the killing of Sheikhs Ahmad Abdul-Wahed and Mohammad Hussein Mereb at a Lebanese Army checkpoint in Kwaikhat, Akkar, by gunshots fired by Lebanese soldiers.

Subsequently, the atmosphere got very tense and residents and young men blocked several roads in Akkar as well as the main Tripoli-Akkar road with tires. Also as a result of the incident, the Lebanese Army withdrew from the Akkar region, leaving security in the hands of the Internal Security Forces.

While the picture seems to show tension and roads’ closure, the reality is that political tension is much more acute and the actual battle is to topple the government and put the weapons in the north in confrontation with the resistance's arms.


“Suspicious incidents” shake security from the north to Beirut

3 officers and 19 soldiers arrested in [Akkar killing] case ... Shaker Berjaoui’s headquarters in Tariq al-Jadideh surrounded

Hariri for thwarting strife and conducting a transparent investigation, general strike today

Suspicious hands shook security from Akkar to Beirut, and from Tripoli to all of Lebanon as the repercussions of the Syrian letter to the Security Council about turning north Lebanon into a shelter for armed groups and “Al-Qaeda” prompted three Gulf states – Qatar, UAE and Bahrain – to ban their nationals from traveling to Lebanon.

Also due to fears over the safety of tourists, hotels in Lebanon saw a decline in bookings.

The [Akkar killing] incident, which witnessed the burning of tires in north and south Lebanon as well as the Bekaa all the way to Beirut, underscored the tense political atmosphere.


Clashes in Tariq al-Jadideh and road closures in several areas following the killing of Sheikh Abdul-Wahed

Akkar and the Army confront strife ... with the truth

The Akkar region passed a difficult test Sunday that put Lebanon at risk of slipping into sectarian strife as discord began to spread in several areas during the day and night, which brought to mind previous bitter experiences that cost the Lebanese a heavy price.

Perhaps the worst thing this time is that the Lebanese Army, [basically] the sole guarantor of Lebanon’s stability, seemed to be threatened with becoming one of the most prominent victims of the turmoil that began in Tripoli more than a week ago and moved to Akkar where Sheikh Ahmad Abdul-Wahed and his companion Mohammad Hussein Mereb were killed at a Lebanese Army checkpoint in ambiguous circumstances.

Until the truth is revealed, recent events – clashes in Tripoli, the killing in Akkar and all the incidents in between – prompt the question of whether the spread of discord from one area to another was just a coincidence or falls within the framework of an organized plot designed to immerse Lebanon in chaos after crippling the Army's role.

20 May 2012

* Clashes in Beirut, 3 dead

BEIRUT: At least three people were killed and 10 wounded in pre-dawn clashes Monday between Future Movement supporters and their rival Arab Movement Party headed by Shaker Berjaoui, who is close to Hizbollah, in the Beirut neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadideh, security sources said.

The five-hour clashes with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades ended after Berjaoui agreed to evacuate his office near the Arab University in the densely populated district. A Lebanese Army force entered the area and pulled out Berjaoui and his supporters, al-Jadeed television station reported.

The TV station said soldiers deployed in the area after gunmen withdrew from the streets. It reported fires in two buildings and the destruction of several cars and shop windows.

Tension flared in Tariq al-Jadideh and several parts of the country after soldiers shot dead a prominent anti-Syrian-regime preacher and his companion at a Lebanese Army checkpoint in the northern district of Akkar.

The casualties in Tariq al-Jadideh were transferred to the Al-Makassed Hospital in the area.

* Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Wahed: scholar, politician and philanthropist

BEIRUT: Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Wahed, who was killed at a Lebanese Army checkpoint Sunday, was a prominent figure in local politics, and a philanthropist. Born in 1969 in the town of Bireh in Akkar, he received his primary education in Bireh’s public school and his higher education in Islamic Shariah at Rashid Karami Institute.
He served as imam at Bireh Mosque from 1993 to 1998 and, at the time of his death, was the imam for Al-Majdel mosque in Akkar.
Abdel-Wahed established the Al-Nour Islamic School and the Al-Nour Educational and Charity Organization.
He served as a member of the Bireh municipal council in 2001-2004 and earlier this month, headed the Future Movement list “Support for the Syrian Revolution” during Akkar’s municipal by-elections. When the list won, he became the mayor of Bireh. He was also a candidate in an election set for later this month for head of the Union of al-Dreid Municipalities.
Following the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri, Abdel-Wahed frequented Future Movement gatherings alongside Akkar MP Khaled Daher and took part in the organization of many of the movement’s events.
He also spearheaded rallies in support of the popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Abdel-Wahed is survived by his wife and four children. He will be buried in his hometown of Bireh Tuesday at noon.

19 May 2012

* UAE, Qatar and Bahrain urge their citizens to leave Lebanon

BEIRUT: The UAE, Qatar and Bahrain called on their citizens Saturday to avoid travel to Lebanon and for those in the country to depart given the tense security situation as Prime Minster Najib Mikati, who expressed surprise on the development, urged the three states to reconsider their decisions.

Ambassador Isa Abdullah Masoud al-Kalbani, the director of the department of the Nationals' Affairs at the UAE Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the steps the Emirates had taken were out of its “keenness for the safety of its expats and citizens.”

Kalbani called on those presently in the country to depart and for those obliged to stay to call their embassy in Beirut to notify it of their whereabouts and contact details.

The UAE official also said it was important that citizens register on the ministry’s online Tawajudi program when leaving the Emirates.

Qatar and Bahrain also issued similar travel warnings, urging their citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon and that those presently in the country leave.

Unrest between the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli last week claimed the lives of 11 people and led to the wounding of scores more.

The Lebanese Army, which was deployed to the area Tuesday, brought an end to the fighting and a shaky truce has been enforced since then.

According to the office of the prime minister, Mikati contacted several officials of the Gulf Cooperation Council to seek clarification on the travel advisories by the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain.

Mikati, who expressed surprise over the decisions, said there “is no practical justification for it because the security situation in Lebanon is good and the events [in Tripoli] have been resolved.”

He urged the three states to reconsider their decisions and welcomed “all those visiting to Lebanon, particularly our Arab brothers.”

Mikati also contacted Foreign Affairs Adnan Mansour and requested that he follow up on the matter.

Earlier Satruday, Mansour, who left Beirut to participate at a forum in Doha, urged both the UAE and Qatar to revise their decisions.

“We hope that our responsible brothers in Qatar and the UAE will reconsider these two decisions because the situation in Lebanon does not require officials in these sisterly countries to take decisions such as this because the Qatari and Emirati brothers are as our other Arab brothers and they have a special place in the hearts of Lebanese,” Mansour said, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.

“The bonds of brotherhood that link Lebanon with them are greater than any transient incident and therefore they are welcome in Lebanon at any time because at the end of the day they are in their second homes,” he added.

10 May 2012

* IMF says Lebanon needs to do more to reduce debt

IMF concerned about the effect of Lebanon’s falling GDP growth on its debt pile.

Lebanon has not taken the necessary measures to reduce its debt following the drop in its economic growth in 2011, according to Nemat Shafik, the deputy managing director of Washington-headquartered IMF.

“Infrastructure and investments are long overdue, as are reforms in the business environment,” said Shafik during a visit to Lebanon on 9 May.

The collapse of Lebanon’s 14-month old unity government in January 2011 and the political unrest in Syria have had a negative impact on the country’s economy. As a result of the uncertainty, Lebanon’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth fell from 7 per cent in 2010 to 1.5 per cent last year.

The IMF is concerned about the effect of Lebanon’s falling GDP growth on its debt pile.  Lebanon has one of the highest debt levels in the world, with total government gross debt in 2010 equivalent to 134.1 per cent of its GDP.

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.