Josh Wood

A journalist's observations on Lebanon and elsewhere

Tripoli’s Slow Decline

leave a comment »

Image

The abandoned Rashid Karami International Fair in Tripoli, Lebanon. Photo by Sam Tarling. December 2012.

Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, has not had an easy time.  Once destined for a great future, the city is now plagued by poverty, corruption and violence.  When Tripoli is mentioned, it is usually to highlight the fighting between the city’s Sunni and Alawite militias, which has increased dramatically this year as the civil war next door in Syria has continued and turned more sectarian.  In my latest piece for the International Herald Tribune, I took a look at Tripoli’s once-promising past and where the city ended up instead:

 

The neglect and decline seen here at the renamed Rashid Karami International Fair mirrors that of Tripoli. Once the seat of Crusader, Mamluke and Ottoman provinces and a major port serving Syria, Tripoli is no longer known for its meandering souks, its commerce or its culture: Modern day Tripoli is known for its widespread poverty, high levels of corruption and repeated bouts of violence.

 

“I don’t understand why Tripoli is like this,” said Mira Minkara, 33, a tour guide from the city. “It’s a city that has a lot of potential — if it was developed in the right way it would be a great city.”

 

While Beirut still had its problems after the civil war, there was at least an effort to rebuild and develop the city. Tripoli, a city of half a million, was left to its own devices, abandoned in the eyes of many.

 

Read more in the International Herald Tribune here

Written by woodenbeirut

December 17, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tripoli fighting, yet again

leave a comment »

A child holds a Kalashnikov assault rifle in Tripoli’s  Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood amid clashes. Photo by Sam Tarling. December 2012.

Tripoli’s militias were at it again last week.  This year, both the frequency and intensity of clashes has increased dramatically.  In the latest round, munitions were hitting downtown, raising fears that the fighting could spread.  Check out my story from Monday’s New York Times below.

TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Clashes between Sunni Muslim and Alawite militias have killed at least 17 people here recently in perhaps the worst spillover of violence from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Read more in NYT here

.

Written by woodenbeirut

December 12, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Syria’s Kurds

leave a comment »

Image

Kurdish fighters man a checkpoint in Derek, northeastern Syria. Photo by the author. September 2012.

In September, I traveled to northeastern Syria’s Kurdish-majority Hassake province to get a firsthand look at the role the Kurds are playing in the country’s civil war.

The 30 million Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran represent the world’s largest ethnic group without its own state.  The Kurds seem to get little attention, though their role in the region is growing.

In Syria, after decades of mistreatment and marginalization under the ruling Ba’ath Party, Kurdish groups have taken advantage of the chaos of the civil war to take control of many Kurdish-majority areas.  Many want autonomy in one form or another, but it’s not that easy.  Recently, Kurdish groups began fighting with the rebel Free Syrian Army and, of course, there’s the issue of all the oil that they are sitting on top of.

Next door in Iraq, tensions between the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad continue to rise over oil revenues and the role of the Kurdish military force, the Peshmerga.  In southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq’s Qandil Mountains, there has been an uptick in fighting this year between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK) and Turkish forces.

For the region’s Kurds – and especially Syria’s – the stakes are high in these interesting times.

Below are some articles by me that dive into all this a little bit more

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/syria-kurds-derek-protest.html

http://www.executive-magazine.com/economics-and-policy/syria-kurdistan-survive-economically/5337

http://www.executive-magazine.com/op-ed/syria-kurdish-autonomy/5290

Written by woodenbeirut

November 29, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

The Bus That Started it All

with one comment

Image

The bus that was ambushed by Christian gunmen on April 15, 1975 – an event that sparked Lebanon’s 15-year-long civil war. Photo by Sam Tarling.

The Lebanese civil war was perhaps inevitable.  In the mid 1970s, Lebanon was primed for conflict, just waiting for that final spark.  The spark could have been anything, but it turned out to be this bus, which was carrying Palestinian passengers from Tal Zaatar refugee camp to Shatila refugee camp in south Beirut when it was ambushed by Christian gunmen belonging to the Phalange Party.  Fifteen years of hell followed.

Today the bus is parked in south Beirut and looked after by a very interesting historian/activist/curator named Lokman Slim.  For this month’s issue of Esquire Middle East, I took a look at the history of the bus and talked with Lokman about its significance and the country today.  

These days, tensions continue to rise in Lebanon over the war in neighboring Syria.  Some groups are arming up, others are looking for an escape. During the “incidents” as they are called here (such as after last month’s assassination of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan) the guns come out, the balaclavas go on and the country braces. Lokman said it best:

“We are living in a kind of country which is filled with civil war triggers, where everything – every object, every word – could become a bus.”

Check out the article here

 

Written by woodenbeirut

November 29, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

On the fighting earlier this month in Tripoli

leave a comment »

On the fighting earlier this month in Tripoli

From The International Herald Tribune, May 31, 2012

Written by woodenbeirut

May 31, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Remembering Shadid

leave a comment »

Image

A piece from last month’s Esquire Middle East I wrote about Anthony Shadid’s memoir House of Stone.  RIP man, you’re missed.

Written by woodenbeirut

May 12, 2012 at 1:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Brewing Problems of Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugee Camps

leave a comment »

A Fatah fighter stands guard in front of the party's headquarters in northern Lebanon's Beddawi Palestinian refugee camp, April 3, 2012. Photo by Sam Tarling (http://samtphoto.blogspot.com)

While many in Lebanon are warily eying the possibility of Syria’s conflict spilling across the border, potentially explosive issues facing the country’s large Palestinian refugee population have yet to be resolved.  Next month will mark the five year anniversary of the battle at Nahr al-Bared, where the Lebanese military laid siege against radical Fatah al-Islam militants, ultimately destroying the camp.  Today, the camp has yet to be rebuilt and the episode has scarred Lebanese-Palestinian relations.  Additionally, the kind of environment that allowed Fatah al-Islam to operate in Nahr al-Bared still exists today.  Last month, the Lebanese government uncovered an Abdullah Azzam brigade cell within the military’s ranks that was planning attacks.  Some have called for the Palestinian camps – particularly Ain al-Helweh where the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and several other Jihadi factions are based – to be forcibly disarmed and for wanted men to be turned over to the authorities.  But in the fragile patchwork of Lebanon and the camps, there are no easy solutions to such problems.

Check out my story regarding security issues facing the camps for the International Herald Tribune here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/world/middleeast/05iht-m05-lebanon-camp.html

Written by woodenbeirut

April 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

In Northern Lebanon, a Potential Syria-related Flashpoint

with one comment

A little more than a week ago I traveled to Tripoli to take a look at tensions between the city’s Alawite and Sunni populations.  Tensions between the groups have always been high, but with the added stress from Syria, renewed conflict in Tripoli is becoming a major fear.  Northern Lebanon and Syria are very interconnected.  Downtown Tripoli can feel a lot more like peacetime Homs than the Lebanese capital, Beirut, and economical and familial ties have always kept the areas close.  But more importantly, allegiances, sympathies and memories of Syria’s occupation of Tripoli (for good or bad depending on which group you speak to) make the conflict in Syria very real for those living in Lebanon’s second city.


Lebanese Fear Syria’s Violence May Spill Over

TRIPOLI, LEBANON — In the hilltop Alawite neighborhood of Jebel Mohsen, bullet holes, charred sites of rocket-propelled grenade impacts and posters showing Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, line the main drag. Beneath the ridge of the hill — within earshot — the impoverished Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh bears similar scars, but its posters, positioned to face uphill, show martyrs killed in battle with their neighbors.

As the Syrian uprisings enter their eighth month, the language of the conflict is turning increasingly sectarian. Tensions are high in Tripoli, Lebanon’s gritty second city, where Alawites, belonging to the same Muslim offshoot as the leadership of the Syrian regime, have a long history of armed conflict with their Sunni neighbors. While sectarian tensions are nothing new here, the added weight of events in Syria could plunge the city back into violence if given the right spark.

Continue reading the story here http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/10/world/middleeast/10iht-M10-LEBANON-TENSIONS.html

Written by woodenbeirut

November 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Lebanon

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

leave a comment »

Last week I headed up to Wadi Khaled in northern Lebanon to take a look at the situation of the thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled there since the Syrian uprisings began.  Before I departed, the Lebanese military had told me that I was not allowed to enter the border area, but refused to explain why I was denied the permission I requested from the Ministry of Defense in Beirut nor why journalists now required permission to visit the area at all.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Still Face Peril

WADI KHALED, LEBANON — In Lebanon’s northernmost corner, in a valley that juts into Syria on the map, surrounded by the country on three sides like a landlocked peninsula, thousands of Syrian refugees have arrived from Homs Province since uprisings against PresidentBashar al-Assad’s regime began in March.

While the refugees in Wadi Khaled have escaped the immediate threats in Syria, their ordeal is far from over: They are constantly nervous over an ambiguous legal status, inadequate relief efforts, Syrian troop incursions, small-arms fire from across the border, and even rumors of kidnappings of Syrians in Lebanon by Syrian forces.

“There is no safety in Lebanon,” said Mohammed Ibrahim, 35, who owned a restaurant in the Syrian border town of Talkalakh that has since been destroyed in the fighting there. “The government in Lebanon is loyal to the Syrian regime, and that is not a secret.”

Continue reading the story here http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/world/middleeast/syrian-refugees-in-lebanon-still-face-peril.html 

Written by woodenbeirut

October 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

In Cairo, Street Art Matures

leave a comment »

Egyptian street artist Keizer tags a fresh stencil in an underpass in the Cairo neighborhood of Zamalek. Photo by Sam Tarling.

I’m in Cairo for a while at an interesting time for Egypt.  Tahrir Square has been reoccupied by protesters for three weeks now.  The reoccupation stemmed from frustrations with the way the interim leaders of Egypt, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – or SCAF as we say out this way – were leading the country.  Last Saturday, protesters tried to march on the Ministry of Defense and ended up in some pretty nasty street battles with SCAF supporters and local residents of the neighborhood where the ministry is located.  Sam Tarling has some pretty intense photos of the fighting here.

Beyond Tahrir, some of the most visible criticism of SCAF on the streets is the graffiti that has exploded all across the city.  I wrote about Cairo’s emerging street art scene for The International Herald Tribune.

The Maturing of Street Art in Cairo

CAIRO — Not too long ago, large concentrations of good street art in the Arab world were hard to come by: The typical, universal proclamations of love declared in spray paint and the very rare stencil or more developed piece were about as good as it got.

But in the six months since the Egyptian revolution began on Jan. 25, Cairo has suddenly emerged as the street art capital of the region, and its graffiti scene — one that primarily started with hastily scrawled slogans calling for the overthrow of the Mubarak regime — has evolved into one characterized by well-crafted motifs, both aesthetic and politically provocative.

Read the rest here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/world/middleeast/28iht-M28-EGYPT-TAGS.html

Written by woodenbeirut

July 29, 2011 at 11:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized