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
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
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
My report for Esquire on the time that Sam Tarling and I spent in Egypt during the country’s revolution ran in the March edition of Esquire Middle East. It’s a snapshot of three days of the revolution, as the carnival atmosphere of Tahrir Square was wiped away by violence, fear and paranoia. Amid the chaos, I even managed to work in a Ke$ha reference.
Apologies for the long absence from the blog. I took a much needed vacation to Asia for part of March and have been busy with work as events here in the Middle East continue.
At the beginning of March I wrote an article for The International Herald Tribune on Palestinian work rights in Lebanon. While August 2010 legislation passed by the Lebanese government was supposed to finally grant Palestinians working rights in Lebanon, more than six months later, little has changed.
BEIRUT — Lebanon hands out and renews hundreds of thousands of work permits every year to people from Africa, Asia and other Arab countries. But until now, only a handful have been given to the country’s large Palestinian refugee population.
Six months ago, the Lebanese government was internationally applauded for passing legislation granting the Palestinian population the right to work. But real changes remain to be seen.
On Feb. 22, the caretaker labor minister, Boutros Harb, signed a decree on carrying out the August 2010 labor law amendments. Final approval by the Shura Council, the country’s highest court, is now awaited. Meanwhile, questions about the potential effectiveness of the legislation and the employment situation of the refugees linger.
Since the March 8-imposed collapse of the Lebanese government last month and the ousting of Saad Hariri from his prime minister post, momentum has shifted in Lebanese politics to say the least. As the March 14 coalition finds itself in the opposition, its strategy has not yet been made clear. Supporters of the alliance have also remained quiet, shying away even from Martyrs’ Square on the anniversary of Rafik Hariri’s death – an anniversary that acted as a popular show of force for the party in previous years. The question is does this show waning support for Hariri and March 14 or is this simply a change in tactics?
In today’s International Herald Tribune I look a little deeper into this topic. Link is below the few introductory paragraphs I have included here.
The Balance Shifts in Lebanese Politics
BEIRUT — On the sixth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, Martyrs’ Square in central Beirut was largely empty, in striking contrast with past anniversaries.
In the early afternoon drizzle on Monday, the crowd reached only into the hundreds as the son of the slain leader — the outgoing Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri — paid his respects at his father’s tomb beside the blue-domed Mohammad al-Amin Mosque on the edge of the square.
On previous anniversaries, Martyrs’ Square has had tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of supporters of Saad Hariri’s Future Movement and the March 14 Alliance that he led, itself named after the date of mass anti-Syrian protests in the square a month after his father’s death on Feb. 14, 2005.
Last night, Omar Suleiman appeared on television to announce that Hosni Mubarak would step down and that power would be handed to the Egyptian military. Today is a new day for Egypt. Though my time in Cairo was brief this time around, covering the revolution was one of the most intense and inspiring things I have ever done and I am glad that I got to see some history in the making. Best of luck to the Egyptian nation and the Egyptian people.