This story was originally published by Al Jazeera.
June 24, 2015
Beirut, Lebanon – Less than a year ago, 24-year-old Tareq Hebbewe was a militiaman wielding an AK-47 and participating in bloody clashes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
The fighting pitted Bab al-Tabbaneh, Hebbewe’s predominantly Sunni neighbourhood that supports the Syrian opposition, against the largely Alawite population of Jabal Mohsen, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I used to think that if I saw someone from Jabal Mohsen I’d kill him,” said Hebbewe. “Now, I love them a lot.”
Today, the only gun Hebbewe carries is the fake one he takes on stage when he acts out the role of the sniper in “Love and War on the Rooftop – a Tripolitan Tale”.
The pen is mightier than the sword, so the saying goes. In Lebanon, Zeina Daccache is trying to overcome modern warfare’s guns, shells and barrel bombs, armed with nothing more than an arsenal of therapeutic theatre techniques.
Since 2011, more than three million Syrians have fled their homeland to escape the continuing violence. In Lebanon, theatre techniques are being used as a means of empowering these displaced people, both intellectually and psychologically.
In a society where therapy is taboo, drama workshops serve as a socially acceptable means for refugees to talk about their experiences and emotions. Amid growing tensions between displaced Syrians and their Lebanese hosts, theatre productions also allow refugee voices to be heard by a wider public.
It has all the makings of a fairy tale: something beautiful, fragile and irreplaceable, saved from destruction by a painter with a vision. Earlier this year, the crumbling edifice of La Maison Rose, perhaps Beirut’s most iconic Ottoman villa, was brought to international attention after British painter Tom Young held an exhibition there, opening it up to the public for the first time in its nearly 150-year history. The overwhelming response helped convince the new owner, a property developer, to restore the mansion and turn it into a museum.
The story stimulated debate about the status of Lebanon’s vanishing architectural heritage. But La Maison Rose is simply the latest in a line of historical houses that have found new leases of life as cultural spaces.
BEIRUT: Archaeological museums are a bit like buses, it seems. You wait ages and then two come along at once. At the Venice Architecture Biennale this summer are plans for an archeological museum, designed by Lebanese firm GM Architects. The curator, Rem Koolhaas, invited the firm to present a project on the theme of “Fundamentals,” for his exhibition “Time Space Existence,” now up at Venice’s Palazzo Bembo.
“I had the option of showing one of my [existing] projects or trying to think out of the box and create something from scratch,” GM founder Galal Mahmoud told The Daily Star. “We thought, ‘We’re not going to show a hotel in the biennale. It’s ridiculous. Let’s be architects and try and think of something that’s beneficial to Lebanon.’” Continue reading →
TRIPOLI: As we drive slowly across the paved walkways of the Rashid Karami Tripoli International Fair, tires crushing the weeds that have sprouted between the regimented slabs of stone, a pack of six large wild dogs comes bounding out from the shelter of a derelict concrete construction, barking furiously. The virulent weeds and wild animals that are gradually encroaching on this surreal space are just two of the signs that the site is gradually returning to nature.
The Tripoli International Fair was conceived in the wake of Lebanon’s 1958 civil conflict, one of two grand projects dreamed up by then-President Camille Chamoun to unite citizens and discourage sectarian divisions. The fair was originally slated for Beirut, explains architect and urban planner Mousbah Rajab, but Tripoli’s residents protested and when Fouad Chehab came to power plans for the fair were shifted to the country’s second city.
“Before Lebanese independence, Tripoli used to have many networks with Syrian cities and trade with the whole region,” Rajab explains. “When independence came … these networks were cut and Tripoli was obliged to reinvent its structure and its economy, so the idea of the fair, for the Tripolitans, was the equivalent of everything before independence.” Continue reading →
BEIRUT: For years, a startling statistic about Middle East literacy has made the rounds. On average, it suggests, Arabs spend six minutes a year reading – about six pages. This vague figure has been attributed to UNESCO, the Arab Thought Foundation and UNDP, but the source of the figure remains unknown. A 2007 study by the Next Page Foundation “What Arabs Read: A Pan-Arab Survey on Readership,” uncovered quite different results. Of the 1,000 Lebanese polled, 44 percent spent an average of 31 minutes a day perusing newspapers and magazines and 50 minutes a day reading online. They spent an average of 49 minutes about 12 days each month reading books.
Najwa Sahmarani was shocked when she read the six-minute stat in a 2011 Arab Thought Foundation report. A passionate advocate of reading for pleasure, she decided to do some research of her own. The Tripoli-based entrepreneur polled 550 students and young professionals resident in the northern city – half through an online survey spread via social media, the other half in person at the Tripoli Book Fair.
She asked respondents the last time they’d finished a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, for pleasure.
“Seventy percent chose the answers either: ‘I’ve never finished a book’ or ‘Before last year,’” Sahmarani recalls. Another 44 percent said they’d read more if part of a reading club or literary community, had easier access to books or received guidance on what to read. Continue reading →
BEIRUT: As we troop awkwardly through the narrow streets of Khandaq al-Ghamiq, our guide gestures to the decaying facade of a once-stunning building.
The balconies are crumbling, their wrought-iron rails rusted. The masonry is pocked with bullet holes, window frames empty or fringed with jagged, lethal-looking shards of glass.
As if unaware of the devastation that has been wrought on the building, the guide orders us to take note of the beautiful architecture. The derelict-looking structure is occupied, he notes in passing, but the inhabitants in the area are forbidden to hang washing outside to dry.
Pointing out one building where residents have blithely ignored this stipulation, he complains that he has called the police several times but no one ever shows up.
The washing, he claims, ruins the area’s historic appearance.
“Watch Your Step: Beirut Heritage Walking Tour,” is an interactive, site-specific performance directed by actress and AUB theater studies lecturer Sahar Assad and written by Robert Myers, cultural historian and AUB professor of English and Creative Writing. Continue reading →