The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for the ‘Lebanon’ Category

The Dashed Revolution: The Cost of the Arab Spring

Posted by vmsalama on January 25, 2013

Vivian Salama

Newsweek Magazine (click here for original link)

January 25, 2013

Ismail Ahmed passes much of the day sitting on a small wooden chair outside his grocery–cum–souvenir shop in Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, watching the cars drive by while smoking Cleopatra cigarettes, which crackle loudly with each drag. Gone are the days when busloads of tourists would pour into his shop near the Pyramids to pick up bottled water and $3 statues of the Sphinx. Since his fellow countrymen rose up against President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, Ahmed’s business has dwindled. Gone are his hopeful expansion plans for the tiny shop, and his son Mohammed, who used to work alongside him, is looking for other jobs, because income from the store has become but a trickle. “Now if I see two tourists in a day, it means it’s a good day,” Ahmed says as he lights another cigarette. “The tourists are too scared to come to Egypt now. My store is not receiving enough income to support the family.”

Dashed RevolutionTwo years after revolutions unsettled and redrew the political map of the Arab world, the hope that inspired so many has not brought the desired change. Across the region, economies are unraveling, opposition groups splintering, and promises for establishing democratic secular governments now seem like a pipe dream.

War rages on in Syria, with more than 60,000 people killed so far. On one single day recently, more than 100 people were shot, killed, stabbed, or burned to death by the brutal security forces taking orders from President Bashar al-Assad. Many Syrians lucky enough to have survived the fighting are on the run, and with no end in sight, the 22-month-old conflict threatens to reshape the region. Some 2 million people—more than half of them children—have already fled Syria for Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and beyond. Already there has been trouble in Lebanon, which has its own bloody history, easily recalled and ignited, and regional observers fear political and sectarian grievances will follow the flow of refugees.

Gomaa, a 35-year-old restaurant owner who prefers to go by one name for security reasons, believes his country was better off before the uprising, and certainly his family was. His hometown of Idlib, an opposition stronghold, has been battered hard by the government, and after snipers moved into his apartment building, his family’s life turned into a nightmare punctuated by volleys of gunshots. Fleeing to Egypt with his wife and two young boys, he found that work was scarce and impossible to come by for a foreigner, though eventually he found a lead on a job as a restaurant busboy in Morocco, where he’ll be living with a large group of men in an apartment in Rabat. With little money to his name, he has arranged for his wife and kids to stay for free with family friends in Algeria. “Of course, I wish to be with my family, but I thank Allah that we are alive.”

In Tunisia, where, in despair over government injustice, vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself, inspiring the wave of protests that came to be known as the Arab Spring, demonstrators flooded into the streets earlier this month. Marking the two-year anniversary of the ouster of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, this was no celebratory gathering, but rather a show of frustration by people who fear their new government is corrupt, religious, and self-serving. “Where is the constitution? Where is democracy?” they chanted, as police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. Tunisia has recently been rocked by a scandal dubbed Sheratongate, which centers on allegations that Tunisia’s foreign minister, Rafik Abdessalem, abused public funds to pay for rooms at the five-star Sheraton hotel in Tunis, where he would meet his mistress for illicit trysts. “There are fewer jobs, and corruption and crime is worse than before,” complained Yazid Ouerfelli, 19, a university student from Tunis. “The country is also more divided now because of religion—it didn’t used to be like that.” (click here to read more…)


Posted in Algeria, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Arab, Arab Spring, Bashar Al Assad, corruption, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Europe, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Bouazizi, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Newsweek, North Africa, Oman, Persian Gulf, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Salafi, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, Succession, Syria, Tourism, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United Nations, War, Yemen, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali | Leave a Comment »

Terry Jones’ Latest Insult? U.S. Embassy Protested Over Anti-Islam Film Promoted by Terry Jones

Posted by vmsalama on September 11, 2012

Chanting protesters attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Tuesday, enraged over a film that purportedly insults the Prophet Muhammad—and linked to U.S. pastor Terry Jones. Vivian Salama reports.

by  | September 11, 2012

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)
As Americans commemorated the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on Tuesday, protesters in Cairo shredded and burned the American flag and scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy.

At least 2,000 demonstrators, enraged over Innocence of Muslims, a little-known film produced in the United States that allegedly insults the Prophet Muhammad, shouted, “We will sacrifice ourselves for you, Allah’s messenger!” A group of men managed to mount the embassy’s walls waving a black flag with the words “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his messenger.” Many of those gathered did not know the name of the film, nor did they know the details of their grievance against the U.S. pastor linked to it, Terry Jones, whose 2010 threats to burn the Qurantriggered deadly riots in Afghanistan. Similar attacks were reported on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where an American was killed and part of the consulate burned, according to Al Jazeera.

Al-Azhar, one of the Arab world’s most elite centers for higher Islamic learning, reportedly condemned the film on Tuesday, citing a scene in which a character based on the Prophet Muhammad goes on trial. The Wall Street Journal reportedthat Innocence of Muslims’ writer, editor, and producer is a 52-year-old American, Sam Bacile. Jones is promoting the film, whose new 14-minute Arabic-dubbed trailer on YouTube depicts the Prophet as a deranged womanizer calling for massacres.

The organization standupamericanow.orgran a live stream on Tuesday of a press conference featuring Jones in what he dubbed “International Judge Muhammad Day,” during which he listed reasons why, in his opinion, the Prophet should be put on hypothetical trial.

Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet, be it in an illustration or film, to be a violation of Islamic belief. Similar protests were staged outside the Danish Embassy in Cairo and across the Muslim world in 2005 after the daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten published satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Censorship, Christian, Christianity, Clinton, Coptic, dictatorship, Economy, Egypt, Employment, Film, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Islam, Lebanon, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Qaddafi, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Terrorism, Tunisia, United States | Leave a Comment »

The Algerian Rose; A Singer Who United the Arab World

Posted by vmsalama on June 12, 2012

Hello from Vienna International Airport where I am passing the time with my good friend Riesling, trying to drown out the sound of disgruntled babies by focusing on my trip to Egypt. I’ll be there for the next few weeks covering the historic presidential elections (and the inevitable fallout). Egypt certainly knows how to keep the drama alive, pitting two of the least likely candidates against each other — one, a member of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the other, a Muslim Brotherhood strongman. Already the folks I talk to and the people writing on Facebook and Twitter seem to be echoing the same sentiments: regardless of the outcome of this week’s vote, the revolution continues. But who, then, is voting? And how could a potential boycott skew the outcome?? Are Christians voting for Ahmed Shafiq, terrified of the prospects of electing a Islamist president? Are young, disenfranchised Muslim youth or theEgyptian expats in the Gulf helping to bolster Mohammed Morsi?? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I wrote the following article in this week’s Newsweek International, exploring the powerful influence of Warda Al-Jazairia and singers from her genre. If only Arab leaders could command such a regional following.

The Algerian Rose

Newsweek International (click here for original link)

By Vivian Salama

June 10, 2012

The release of the song “El Watan El Akhbar” (“The Great Nation”) seemed to capture the sentiments that were running wildly through the hearts of young people across the Arab world. Longtime rulers were falling victim to an outcry for liberation. The lyrics, by legendary Egyptian composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab, read: “Nothing but the triumph of the Arab people, my country, my beloved. In Yemen, Damascus and Jeddah, you are sweet, oh victory … Between Marrakech and Bahrain, the same tune for a perfect unity. Oh you, whose soil is the makeup of my eye; my country, O fortress of freedom.”

The year was 1960. An air of emancipation was sweeping through Arab nations, as people sought to free themselves from colonialism and to embrace an era of nationalist resistance movements. Pan-Arabism was a concept championed by Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and it seeped into the political discourse of countries across the region, urging Arabs to come together in the face of tyranny. “El Watan El Akhbar,” a collaboration by some of the Arab world’s most famous singers, including Algerian legend Warda Al-Jazairia and Egyptian heartthrob Abdel Halim Hafez, stirred the vehemence and imaginations of people from Morocco to Bahrain.

Decades later, Arabs are once again fighting tyranny—this time, from within. While leaders have become targets of discontent of their citizens, the legacies of many singers, like Warda, Egypt’s Oum Kalthoum, and Lebanon’s Fayrouz, with their gallant, patriotic lyrics, continue to inspire and unite the Arab people in a way many politicians tried—and failed—to do. And they will continue to do so even in death, as evidenced by the massive outpouring of grief at the death of Warda, the Algerian Rose, at the age of 72 on May 17 in Cairo.

Today, very little else links the highly contrasted Arab people beyond music and art, particularly that which touches upon three very basic sentiments: love, God, and nation. Even now, as several countries across the Middle East and North Africa usher in a new hodgepodge of leaders, nostalgia remains for the triumphant era of pan-Arab awakening. (more…)

Posted in Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, dictatorship, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Foreign Policy, Gaza, Hosni Mubarak, Iraq, Islam, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Media, Middle East, Mubarak, Music, Newsweek, Oman, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Warda | Leave a Comment »

Egypt’s Historic Vote is Underway!

Posted by vmsalama on May 24, 2012

At long last, voting is underway in Egypt!!! Citizens queued from early hours to vote for the first president since overthrowing Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. It’s been a tumultuous road to get to this day, but even from thousands of miles away I can sense the excitement of my Egyptian friends and family, many of whom voted today for the first time in their lives. I happen to be a junkie of political cartoons and have been collecting many along the way to Election Day.

Here are a couple I wanted to share. (I will be writing an editorial on the election in a few days when we have a better indication of how the people voted).

Which one is your favorite?!! (I think the one of Obama is my favorite!)


Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Bahrain, Bloggers, burqa, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, halal, Human Rights, Internet, Islam, Lebanon, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Obama, Persian Gulf, Politics, Protests, Religion, Salafi, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, Succession, Syria, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »

Al Jazeera’s (R)Evolution?

Posted by vmsalama on May 20, 2012

Here’s a study I was pleased to contribute to a new-ish e-zine called Jadaliyya which focuses on Arab affairs.

by Vivian Salama

Jadaliyya (click here for original link)

In March of 2011, an unusually forthright editorial by an anonymous writer made its way into The Peninsula Qatar, an English language daily bankrolled by a member of the emirate’s ruling family. At the time of publication, protesters had already toppled the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, uprisings were in full swing in Libya and Yemen, and in the Persian Gulf, Bahrainis were gearing up for what would prove to be a bloody battle, only days after the op-ed ran.

“Businesses and institutions are treated as ‘holy cows,’” the author wrote in the editorial, entitled “Why are we so timid?”

“What essentially ails the Qatari media (English and Arabic-language newspapers) is the absence of a comprehensive law that specifies its role in a clear-cut way and seeks to protect it against the people and interests opposed to free expression or those who cannot appreciate criticism,” the op-ed read.

It was at about the same time that this editorial ran that Al-Jazeera Arabic, the renowned television network that essentially put Qatar on the map, started facing a dilemma. The network has found it increasingly difficult to distance itself from the growing political ambitions of its patron, Qatar, particularly as it is kept alive by the one hundred million dollars it receives annually from the Qatari government. Moreover, the wave of information now available to the masses via the Internet and satellite television has exposed the gaps in its reporting of issues that do not fall in line with the government’s agenda, while also highlighting its biases in the various uprisings. (more…)

Posted in Al Jazeera, American, Arab, Arab Media & Society, Arab Spring, Arabic, dictatorship, discrimination, Dubai, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Film, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Journalism, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians, Politics, Qatar, Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Gulf Rulers Welcoming Arab Democracy Anywhere But Home May Store Up Unrest

Posted by vmsalama on April 14, 2011

By Alaa Shahine and Vivian Salama

Bloomberg (click here to view original)

Persian Gulf rulers say they understand that this year’s wave of pro-democracy uprisings has changed the Middle East. So far, they haven’t allowed it to change their own countries.

(l to r) Bin Ali, Saleh, Qaddafi, Mubarak

None of the region’s monarchies has taken steps to broaden political participation that match the spending pledges they have offered since the start of the unrest that toppled Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali andEgypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the rhetoric about a new era in the Arab world, and the cash handouts for homes and social security, have been accompanied by police repression.Protests have already reached Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia this year. The reluctance of the Gulf Arab leaders, who control about two-fifths of the world’s oil, to loosen their grip on power may leave more of them vulnerable to the wave of unrest that has already pushed crude prices up more than 20 percent.“What we have learned from the uprisings in general, and from Tunisia and Egypt in particular, is that it’s really a matter of when,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, in a telephone interview. “Autocracies don’t last forever.”Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah told Arab counterparts in Cairo last month that regional leaders need “new thinking” to deal with the “Arab renaissance.” In Abu Dhabi, then-GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al-Attiyah said that “political participation has become a key demand for development.”

‘Hydrocarbon Dictatorships’

Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, said in February that change was coming to the region and that Europe shouldn’t support “hydrocarbon dictatorships” in return for economic benefits, according to Al Sharq newspaper. He didn’t say which countries fall into that category.Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the other three Gulf Cooperation Council members are listed as authoritarian regimes in the 2010 Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit.The region’s leaders must convert ideas about change into concrete steps that will “improve the relationship between the state and the people,” said Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. “We have to change words into actions, actions that are arduous,” he said in a lecture in Abu Dhabi March 21.Some countries have begun to act. Sultan Qaboos of Oman agreed last month to boost the powers of the nation’s consultative council; the United Arab Emirates announced Sept. 24 elections to the Federal National Council, an advisory body; Saudi Arabia said it will hold municipal elections in September, while backtracking from earlier signals that women would be allowed to vote.

Saudi ‘Counter-Revolution’

Those measures, though, don’t involve real transfers of power, Hamid said. Repression has been a more typical response, with Saudi Arabia as “the leader of the Arab counter- revolution,” he said. “They are fighting change tooth and nail.”Saudi Arabia’s Information Ministry declined to comment and no one was available to comment at the Saudi Foreign Ministry or the U.A.E.’s federal government or Federal National Council, in response to repeated phone calls over two days.The prospect of unrest spreading to the world’s biggest oil exporter drove the benchmark Saudi stock index into a 13-day losing streak through March 5, the longest since 1996. Crude for May delivery rose above $112 a barrel last week, the highest since September 2008.

‘Not Very Worried’

The political upheaval in the Middle East has left markets “pricing in an element of uncertainty,” said Arthur Hanna, an industry managing director at Accenture Plc.Saudi oil wealth will help it escape the wave of unrest even though unemployment is high and civil rights limited, said Kai Stukenbrock of Standard & Poor’s. “We are not very worried about that scenario,” Stukenbrock, S&P’s director of sovereign ratings for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said March 7.Simon Henry, chief financial officer at Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), also backed the kingdom to navigate through the political tensions. “It has the resources, it has the established capability to handle some of the unrest it may face,” Henry said on March 8.One risk to Saudi stability is the succession to King Abdullah, who turns 87 this year, Henry said. Crown Prince Sultan is also in his 80s. Next in line is Prince Nayef, the septuagenarian interior minister who filled central Riyadh with police to block a planned demonstration March 11, after rallies by Shiite Muslims in the oil-producing eastern provinces.

Bahrain Crackdown

Saudi rulers offered asylum to Ben Ali, backed Mubarak before his ouster, and sent troops to Bahrain to support a crackdown by Sunni royals that has left more than 20 protesters dead, mostly from the country’s Shiite majority.The violence in Bahrain showed unrest can be expensive even when it doesn’t lead to regime change. It pushed borrowing costs more than 150 basis points higher and Bahrain’s credit rating at Standard & Poor’s three steps lower, and dented efforts to compete with Dubai as the region’s business hub.Qatar and the U.A.E. both sent troops to Bahrain to help the government quell protests. InLibya, they are on the opposition’s side, backing a U.S.-led military campaign to help the rebels fighting Muammar Qaddafi. Qatar will “look at” the possibility of providing defense equipment to the insurgents, Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim Al-Thani said yesterday.

‘Digging In Heels’

Dubai police on April 8 arrested Ahmed Mansour, a human rights campaigner, promptingHuman Rights Watch to criticize the U.A.E. for “digging in its heels” against democratic reforms. Two more activists, including an economics professor at the Abu Dhabi branch of France’s Sorbonne university, were arrested in the next two days. In Oman, two people have been killed as police broke up protest rallies.Saudi Arabia has also led the spending spree. King Abdullah ordered $128 billion of measures, including $90 billion on house-building and home loans, that will help the economy grow 6.6 percent this year, Standard Chartered Plc estimates.“The enormity of the stimulus package will help the region overall,” as it’s too much for the Saudi economy to absorb alone, and reduce the risk of civil unrest, Said Hirsh at London-based Capital Economics said in a March 21 report.GCC spending is another reason to expect high oil prices, according to John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Bank Saudi Fransi. Saudi Arabia needs a price of at least $80 per barrel, higher than previous breakeven figures, to finance its budget, he calculated.

‘Money Lying Around’

The GCC has promised $10 billion apiece to Bahrain and Oman to help assuage protesters. The U.A.E. allocated $1.6 billion for water and infrastructure projects in northern emirates that lag behind Dubai and Abu Dhabi.Spending conceived as a way of avoiding political change may end up fuelling popular demands, said Christopher Davidson, author of “Power and Politics in the Persian Gulf Monarchies.”

“You have the people in Saudi Arabia, for example, now asking: ‘If all that money was lying around all this time, why wasn’t it used on us earlier?’,” Davidson said. “These rulers are just reacting to the events around them, and their citizens know it.”

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Labor, Lebanon, Libya, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Oil, Palestinians, Politics, Qaddafi, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite, State of Emergency, Syria, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Explaining Israel’s Military Strategy

Posted by vmsalama on December 30, 2008

by Vivian Salama

PostGlobal – WashingtonPost.com

It can be suggested that the build-up to this crisis in the Middle East began in 1967, when Israel earned itself a reputation – regionally and globally – as a military power to be reckoned with. In just six days, Israeli Defense Forces advanced to the edge of the Suez Canal, and in one foul swoop, gained control of Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, and the whole of Jerusalem.

It was not until the Yom Kippur War of 1973 that Israel’s military would fall from grace, not by a decisive defeat or loss of land, but more symbolically in the face of a somewhat attenuating Arab military resistance.

In 2006, Israeli forces launched an unforgiving attack on Hezbollah strongholds in Southern Lebanon responding to the abduction of IDF officers both in Lebanon and in the Gaza Strip. The savvy and unexpected resistance campaign orchestrated by Hezbollah fighters during the month-long war earned the group global recognition, with the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah hailed a hero across the Muslim world.

While the Israeli government maintained that its heavy-handed response was warranted in the face of an Hezbollah uprising, the Jewish State received staunch criticism for use of unnecessarily brutal force which claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians. For Israel, the 2006 conflict bore scars far deeper than its government may have anticipated as the world watched Hezbollah fighters defiantly take on the 600-pound gorilla.

Today, Israel may have earned itself another reputation – not just as a military power, but one that might be considered particularly merciless.

The images of smoke plumes, destruction and death emanating from Gaza over the past few days are a somber reminder of the country’s 2006 clash with Hezbollah and the great reality that years of neglect are wearing heavily on any hope for Arab-Israeli peace. Israel’s deadly response on Hamas and residents of the Gaza Strip is increasingly looking like an attempt to regain an air of indestructibility, and less like a defense strategy. The embattled government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, still reeling from the ineffective military campaign of 2006, has but a few months left to salvage its reputation, as well as the beset image of Israel.


This point was illustrated in an analysis by Yossi Sarid, published over the weekend in Israel’s Haaretz Newspaper. Sarid wrote: “A million and a half human beings, most of them downcast and desperate refugees, live in the conditions of a giant jail, fertile ground for another round of bloodletting. The fact that Hamas may have gone too far with its rockets is not the justification of the Israeli policy for the past few decades, for which it justly merits an Iraqi shoe to the face.” [http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1050451.html]

Gaza has already been shut to the outside world for some 19 months, making it more of an open-air prison for its 1.5 million residents. Now, according to international aid agency Oxfam, most humanitarian work in the territory has been forced to a standstill and a program that would feed 25,000 people had also been put on hold.

The repercussions of Israel’s retaliatory attack on Gaza this week may come back to haunt it if it does not show mercy in the face of a humanitarian disaster. With its message now reverberating across the Gaza Strip, Israel should halt all attacks and give Hamas a hard deadline for compliance.

They say in life, timing is everything. For Israel, the timing could not be more ideal to wage this unforgiving show of strength on Hamas and with it, residents of the Gaza Strip who, in early 2006, may have cast a vote for Hamas. For one, the military campaign came sandwiched in between Christmas and New Year celebrations when much of the Western world is off from work, away from their television sets, and unwilling to acknowledge any bad news that does not directly involve them.

Further, much of the world is now busy piecing together what is left of the global economy and Washington has entered a twilight period where neither the lame duck president nor the president-elect is willing to make any significant statements or policy decisions that may alienate the other. This latest eruption of violence in the Middle East sends President George W. Bush out the door, tail between his legs, with a staunch reminder of his failed promise to revitalize his “Roadmap to Peace” plan before the end of 2008.

President-elect Barack Obama, meanwhile, has a unique opportunity to make history in the Middle East, just as he made history at home. The road to fixing the diplomatic disaster created by the Bush Administration in Iraq runs through Jerusalem. This new outbreak of violence should, if nothing else, move the Arab-Israeli conflict back to the top of the incoming administration’s “things to fix in the Middle East” list. The first step toward winning the hearts and minds of people from Morocco to Pakistan lies in a fair and genuine solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Posted in Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Lebanon, War | 1 Comment »

The Other Christmas Rush Is Christians Fleeing Arabia

Posted by vmsalama on January 7, 2008

 As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts!

By Vivian Salama


Jan 14, 2008 Issue 

Christmas is usually a time to celebrate the arrival of Christians in the Holy Land. But this year, as Patriarch Michel Sabbah of the Latin Rite Catholic Church revealed during his Christmas sermon in Bethlehem, local leaders are currently concerned with the opposite phenomenon: exodus. Speaking to the legions of Arab Christians fleeing the region, Sabbah said, “I say to you what Jesus told us: do not be afraid.”But there’s reason to be. Last year, dozens of Christians were slain in Iraq and a Syriac Orthodox priest was beheaded in Mosul. Two prominent Christian Palestinians were recently killed in Gaza. A political stalemate in Lebanon and the increased dominance of Shiite Hizbullah has made Maronites fear their traditional perks, like control of the presidency, are slipping. Even in Egypt, where religion has played little role in government, Christians now worry that the increasing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood could lead to new restrictions.

Thus many are voting with their feet. There are now just 12 million to 15 million Arabic-speaking Christians left in the Middle East, and this could drop to 6 million by 2025. Countries are being transformed: in 1956, Lebanese Christians made up 54 percent of the country; today they’re about 30 percent. Iraq’s Christian population has fallen from 1.4 million in 1987 to 600,000 today. And Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was 80 percent Christian when Israel won independence in 1948; now it’s 16 percent. Fred Strickert of Wartburg College estimates that hundreds of thousands of Christian Arabs have been displaced in the recent years, including half a million from Iraq alone. Christian Arabs emigration isn’t new. But according to Drew Christiansen, editor of America Magazine, the tide has increased since the second intifada in the Palestinian territories and the Iraq War. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute says most Christians chose to relocate to Europe and the Americas. Some 75 percent of the United States’ 3.5 million Middle Easterners are Christian, as are large slices in Canada, France, and Brazil. Many new exiles hope to relocate to the United States: no small irony given that the instability they’re fleeing was set in motion by the United States itself.

With the exodus, ancient practices and cultures are being lost, and Middle Eastern Christians risk eventually being “amalgamated into Western Christianity,” says Christiansen. The result will be “a dilution of the diversity of Christian traditions.” But given the life or death choices many Arab Christian emigrants now face, that looks like a small price to pay.

Posted in Arab, Christianity, Christmas, Egypt, Hamas, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East | Leave a Comment »

How the World Sees America – Beirut

Posted by vmsalama on November 24, 2007

On the subject of Lebanon, my friend and colleague Amar Bakshi is currently in Beirut as part of his wonderful series “How the World Sees America,” Washingtonpost.com. 

Click here to watch Amar’s story and read his blog as the country attempts to sort through the current political crisis and appoint a new president.

Posted in Lebanon, Middle East, Politics, United States | Leave a Comment »

Constitutional impasse in Lebanon

Posted by vmsalama on November 24, 2007

Over the coming days, I will be writing a lot about the upcoming Annapolis “get together” (as White House officials are calling it) as well as the escalating crisis in Lebanon.  In the meantime, BBC’s Kim Ghattas provides a great summary of the political situation in Lebanon and what it could mean for the country’s ever-fragile stability.

Constitutional impasse in Lebanon

Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Beirut

As Lebanon continues to wait for a new president and inches closer to the possibility of a constitutional vacuum, a sense of doom is settling over the country.

Issam – a 50-year-old owner of a large business – sends his wife to stock up on tinned food for their mountain house in fear of a possible war.

At a jeweller’s shop, the talk is all about the rising price of gold. “Every time the price of gold rises like that, there’s a war in the region,” says one woman.

Trying to make appointments with people is sometimes impossible – “Call me tomorrow, who knows if we’ll still be alive then” is often the answer.

And then there are those who have postponed all their plans, from going on holiday to buying new clothes, until after 24 November – the date on which the current president, pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud is meant to leave office. Parliament needs to elect a new president before then or the country will plunge deeper into a crisis that has paralysed political life for the last year.

The election has been postponed twice already because of a lack of quorum, as rival camps – the anti-Syrians and the pro-Syrians – try to hammer out an agreement outside parliament. The next attempt has been slated for 12 November but is most likely to be postponed again.


The 6-year-long mandate of President Emile Lahoud was extended for three years by a vote in parliament in 2004.

The extension required a constitutional amendment which legislators approved after much pressure and arm-twisting from Damascus. At the time, Syria was still the political power-broker in Lebanon, where it maintained more than 10,000 troops.

The vote extension turned out to be the start of Lebanon’s worst crisis since the end of the 15-year-long civil war in 1990.

Since 2004, there have been eight assassinations of high-profile anti-Syrian figures, including legislators and the former prime minister Rafik Hariri, massive demonstrations by both Syria’s opponents and its supporters, and a devastating war between Hezbollah and Israel.

Today, the situation is as follows:

The anti-Syrian camp has a majority in parliament for the first time in decades and wants to use it to install someone from its bloc as president, thus reclaiming one of the last vestiges of Syrian influence in Lebanon.

Four anti-Syrian legislators have already been assassinated, and to avoid being deprived of the slim majority they still have in parliament, members of the anti-Syrian bloc have checked in en masse into a highly-secured hotel until a president has been elected.


The pro-Syrian opposition accuses the majority of doing America’s bidding in Lebanon and insists on a compromise candidate, someone who will protect Hezbollah and its weapons.

The two sides have been in a stand-off for two years, with the opposition maintaining a sit-in in the centre of Beirut, effectively besieging the prime minister’s offices and other government buildings.

For such a small country, Lebanon commands a lot of international attention.

The country’s presidential election was on the agenda of the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she held talks with some of her European counterparts in Turkey over the weekend, on the sidelines of a summit on Iraq and its neighbours.

Lebanon also came up in talks between US President George W Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Washington this week, and French presidential envoys have been sent to Damascus and Beirut.

The Arab League regularly sends representatives to Beirut and the Russians have also weighed in with a call on Lebanese leaders to “realise the historic responsibility and reach accord” at this “fateful” moment for Lebanon.

Regional tensions

Many of the regional issues and tensions come together here and often threaten to boil over: the Arab-Israeli conflict, Shia-Sunni tensions and more importantly the US-Iran stand-off.

The battle for influence over the Middle East is being fought not just in Iraq but also in Lebanon, and the election of a new president has in effect become a showdown between the US and Europe on one side, backing the parliamentary majority, and Iran and Syria on the other, supporting the opposition, led by the Shia militant group Hezbollah.

There are fears that if Lebanon fails to elect a new president, it could plunge into a constitutional vacuum and possibly civil strife.


The fate of Lebanon is in the hands of Bush and Sarkozy
Headline, Al Akhbar newspaper

This in turn could have implications for the wider region, with the possibility that a conflagration could start in Beirut and spread throughout the Middle East.

Many observers, including some members of the anti-Syrian camp, advocate a compromise solution in the form of a consensus candidate to avoid rocking the boat at a time when the region is unstable and talk of war between the US and Iran is in the air.

Staunch members of the anti-Syrian camp say a compromise candidate would mean giving in to Hezbollah, however.

Rival administrations?

The US, worried about the possibility of losing Lebanon to the Syria-Iran camp, is sending strong signals – in statements by Condoleezza Rice and the US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad – that it believes the majority should choose the president.

If no president is elected by November 24, the Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, an ally of the West, takes over executive power under the constitution.

But the opposition has already warned it will not recognise Mr Siniora’s powers and there are fears it might form a rival cabinet.

The parliamentary majority has also threatened to elect a president by a simple majority vote in the assembly, instead of the required two thirds – a move the opposition rejects as illegal.

Such a split could also lead to the setting up of two rival administrations, a sad reminder of the last few years of Lebanon’s civil war when a similar situation arose.

“The fate of Lebanon is in the hands of Bush and Sarkozy” was the headline of the opposition al Akhbar newspaper on Wednesday – and in the hands of Syria and Iran, the anti-Syrian camp might retort.

What is clear is that as so often in its history, Lebanon finds itself – or allows itself to be – at the centre of a tug-of-war between world powers, a struggle that is probably not going to end on November 24, unless signs of a regional agreement somehow emerge.

And so holidays and clothes-buying will most likely be postponed again and more tinned food bought.



  • If no president is elected by November 24, the Prime Minister Fouad Siniora takes over executive power under the constitution

  • The president must be elected by a two-thirds majority in parliament

  • The current president had his term extended by three years in 2004

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