To be fair, ‘Hakuna Matata’ is Swahili for ‘There are no worries,’ which is Lebanese for the feeling you get while eating Falafel. It’s an amazingly crunchy vegan, gluten-free sensation that is usually prepared by a very funny man behind a colorful counter of vegetables, pickles and tacky ornamentation. The walls of a falafel shop are exhibition spaces for faded pictures of different types of faded glory. You see the funny man’s serious father framed next to downtown Beirut when it was an actual downtown. In equally flashy frames, you see the funny man pictured next to a fat, happy politician and subsequent headlines in local newspapers in others.
The Arab world has reacted to the CIA torture scandal in two ways: 1) the regimes were completely silent. Neither the Syrian regime (the only regime that now stands in opposition to the Saudi-US regional order) nor the members of the Saudi-led coalition reacted to the scandal. The Iranian Supreme leader issued a strong denunciation of the US government while the new Afghan president disingenuously feigned “shock” as if he never heard inside of his country of the various war crimes committed by US troops and contractors. 2) At the popular level, there was close attention paid on social media and many circulated the various links to the full text of the report as well as to the analysis of the scandal from American and European media.
This is going to sound like a self-help post, and it could somehow qualify as such. It’s a call for a buildup of self-helps for Beirut. People and cities shape each other on a daily basis, and this relationship could be used to create a better city with happier people. Last week I moved from Beirut to Beirut. I moved for many reasons, most tangibly the building being built in front of my balcony was killing every last drop of my empathy towards this city. After having lived in the Mar Mikhael area, north of Gemmayzé, for around four years, I can say that I sadly witnessed its fast decay from a cozy, interesting neighborhood to a trendy hotspot. With the exponentially increasing attention to Mar Mikhael, investments left the corpse of Gemmayzé to its northern extension: eating, digesting and eventually spitting it out as waste.
Long before there was Edward Said, there was a man named Fayez Sayegh. He was one of the most visible spokespersons of the Palestinian cause in the West. There is very little about him on the web (he died in 1980) but I was able to watch a full hour of an episode of Firing Line featuring Sayegh (available on Amazon Instant Video). He clearly was a masterful debater and knew how to speak to a Western audience. Sayegh and Sami Hadawi also worked through the Arab Information Office to disseminate information and arguments in defense of the Palestinian cause in the Western world. Their booklets and pamphlets on the Palestinian question remain classic in the field. Hadawi’s “Bitter Harvest” is still one of the best introductions to the Palestinian problem.
Last Sunday was my first trip to the souks of Tripoli after the city’s most recent war. I had heard they were damaged, and part of me couldn’t stand the sight of more harm done to this place. I had postponed my visit long enough, and throughout it, I often found myself humoring the situation with little games to cope with the decision to actually embark upon this journey of catching up. I spent my time comparing bullet holes on the buildings with those in my memory, mapping the changes between then and now, pretending it’s minimal. I walked through the alleys, hoping everything was intact, and was happy that at least at the level of its inhabitants, life is somehow continuing.
Make no mistake about it. The Sisi court which reversed previous court and government decisions in Egypt regarding the culpability of Hosni Mubarak and his family in cases of murder and corruption did not only come from inside Egypt. It was part of the package deal that installed Sisi in power. Saudi Arabia is now in charge of arranging and re-arranging the Arab regional order according to its wishes and the wishes of Israel. Saudi Arabia expelled Qatar’s influence from the Arab world and is now making sure, by force, coercion and diplomacy that the Qatari regime would no longer pose a threat to its influence. In Tunisia, the Saudi regime funded the As-Sibsi political party as a way to reintroduce the Ben Ali regime but without Ben Ali.
Last Saturday, on November 22, every Lebanese that has a device with Internet access rejoiced with a rare sense of pride, “Google has celebrated our independence!” Every day, the electronic deity adorns its search engine’s homepage with ‘Google Doodles,’ illustrating and animating the Google logo to pay tribute to country-specific and thematic subjects. Last Saturday, Google doodled three men and three women wearing traditional, provincial Lebanese costumes, holding hands and dancing a Levantine Arab folk circle dance, known as the Dabké.
As I was filming a dirty toddler wobble around her mother begging for money from passersby next to a signage pole on one of the corners of Hamra Street in Beirut, something attacked my camera with “Click. Stop. Now!” a baseless command I complied with in fear for my lens. “Everything could be solved with a conversation,” I repeated to myself until I looked up to find out it was an unhappy policeman that thought I was filming him: big trouble. Conversations sometimes don’t solve things with policemen.
When I came to the US back in 1983, Richard Cohen (The Washington Post columnist) was considered one of the most liberal voices on the subject of Israel. He used to be a rare liberal who was willing to express criticisms of Israel. He was never courageous as was Marcy McGrory, but he was quite consistent in his criticisms of Israel. In fact, I remember when critics of Israel used to invite Cohen to college campuses to share his views on the brutality of Israeli occupation.