THE LEBANESE sense of humour is “as dark as a politician’s pocket”, says Bernard Hage, a cartoonist. In hard times—and there have been plenty of those in the past year—it can be a survival mechanism. Since last September the Lebanese pound has fallen by more than 80% against the dollar. Citizens have watched their savings vanish as banks have restricted dollar withdrawals and blocked overseas transactions. Government infighting has hindered international aid. Persistent power cuts have left homes and hospitals reliant on private generators; soaring food prices pushed many to the brink of starvation. Through all this, the robust Lebanese sense of humour endured. Then came the explosion.
On August 4th a blast caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate—a chemical used to make fertiliser and bombs—stored improperly in a warehouse in Beirut’s port killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and left 300,000 homeless. No one is laughing now. But “catharsis humour”, as Mr Hage calls it, has made a satirical board game called “Wasta”, released two months before the explosion, a surprise success.
In a small, soundproof rehearsal room in the mountains just outside Beirut, Lebanon’s first all-female metal band, Slave to Sirens, is getting ready to make some noise. Shery Bechara and Lilas Mayassi, the five-piece’s lead and rhythm guitarists, respectively, unzip cases to reveal their V-shaped axes, and vocalist Maya Khairallah warms up with a practice growl, the raw sound ripping out of her small frame with startling volume. Bassist Alma Doumani is tuning up her instrument while drummer Tatyana Boughaba shakes her thick, waist-length hair out of the way, adjusts her leather jacket and gives her sticks a twirl.
This story was originally published by Al Jazeera.
December 30, 2015
Beirut – In the early hours of the morning, Lebanese artist Jad El Khoury, who goes by the name Potato Nose, entered the carcass of Beirut’s abandoned Holiday Inn through the military base that now occupies the ground floor.
He climbed the 26 flights of narrow service stairs, then descended down the side of the building on ropes. Over the course of the next two hours, he painted a series of cartoonish, blue-and-white creatures on the building’s facade, composing them around the bullet holes and craters caused decades ago by shelling.
When Beirut residents awoke to discover Khoury’s artwork last month, they responded passionately, with many expressing anger at his alteration of the landmark building.
“It was really surprising,” Khoury, 27, told Al Jazeera. “But I understand that many people will see it like I am doodling over history, which is not the case. I opened up a debate that was already there – should we fix all the scars of the war, or should we keep them?” Continue reading →
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 →
“To become a great writer – regardless of which Arab country one is in – one must be truthful; to be truthful, one must be free; and to be free, one must be alive; yet to be alive, one must hold one’s tongue!” – Syrian poet, dramatist and radio journalist Muhammad al-Maghut
In the Arab world, words are used as weapons. First occupied by colonial powers then presided over by authoritarian rulers, in many countries in the region literature has become a battleground between the state and those seeking to voice a perspective that challenges the status quo. Novels, stories and poems have been both exploited by the state as a vessel for spreading propaganda and feared as a means of smuggling subversive messages to the public. Continue reading →
BEIRUT: Mohammad says he’s 13, but it’s hard to believe him. With his tiny, hunched form, cavernous cheeks and emaciated limbs, he looks closer to 8 or 9 years old.
Having fled Syria without his family, Mohammad works as a shoe-shiner on the streets of Hamra, beginning at 7 a.m. every day and working until 7 p.m. At the end of his 12-hour shift he will have earned a total of LL 5,000 – just over $3.
As the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon continues and the economic situation in the country declines, the number of child laborers is increasing.
Thousands of Syrian children are working to support their families, while the country’s declining economy has also had an effect on Lebanese and Palestinian children, who are increasingly expected to work. Continue reading →
BEIRUT: Adoption is often seen as a benevolent act. Rather than being brought up in an orphanage, a parentless child is given a home, stability and a loving family. In Lebanon, however, the closed adoption system has helped to transform the practice into something less than benign: a business. When Daniel Ibn Zayd was adopted in 1963, the details of his biological family were fabricated. “In the paperwork we have from the orphanage it lists family name, mother, father, birth date, birthplace,” he explains. “You grow up thinking that this is true.
“It was my fellow adoptees in France who enlightened me to the fact that these [were] false names … There was a kind of comfort in knowing that link was there if I needed it, and the minute it was ruptured, then I felt this need to establish that link.” Continue reading →