Guide to Lebanon Blog Posts

It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since I was in Lebanon. Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday and other times it feels like it was all a dream (yes, I know that sounds cliche!). Whenever I think back to those incredible ten days in Lebanon I always have a smile on my face.

In a few weeks I will be presenting again on my time in Lebanon. This presentation will be at the Hudson Library and Historical Society on Tuesday February 5th at 7:00pm. Again, I hope for those of you in the area, you will consider attending.

For anyone who is new to my blog I thought it might be helpful if I repost the links to each blog post that I made while in Lebanon. I have included a brief summary of each one.

Enjoy!

Oreos with the Ambassador = Pre-departure, reflection on orientation in Washington DC

Details from pre-departure = more information on our pre-departure orientation sessions

Walking Tour = Our first day in Lebanon we took a walking tour of downtown Beirut

All around Lebanon = Big day of touring including Khalil Gibran museum, the Cedars, and the Roman Ruins at Baalbek

Day 4 – Our first meetings = met with Michael Young, Hanin Ghaddar, Ousama Safa and Lokman Slim

Day 6 – More meetings = met with Youssef Fawaz from Al Majmoua (microfinance NGO) and toured American University of Beirut

Parliament Meeting = met with Simon Abi Ramia, member of Parliament and head of the commission for Youth and Sports

Tour of Byblos = visited Jeita Grotto and Byblos

Just Checking In = photos at the border with Israel and with UNIFIL

Music in Lebanon = details on Najwa Karam performance at the Achrafieh Music Festival and our visit to Skybar

Visit to the US Embassy in Beirut = details on the life of US ambassadors in Lebanon

ANERA = met with Bill Corcoran, president of American Near East Refugee Assosciation, who does work with Palestinian Refugees

 

Flower at Baalbek

Visit to the US Embassy in Beirut

It was a real treat to visit the US embassy in Beirut. Security to get into the Embassy was very intense. We waited around for everyone to go through individually. Getting our whole group through security took almost as long as our meeting with the State department employees. I was lucky to be one of the first through security because once we were through there was an informal conversation with two relatively new Foreign Service Officers. One of them was from Ohio and did the Peace Corps! They were very open with us about their process to the State department. A helpful tip they gave us for the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) was to make sure to know the US Constitutional Amendments, as well as extensive as possible background in History. I was surprised to learn that one woman had only studied French before her appointment to Lebanon and was not required to study Arabic at all. One of the new employees had gotten their Masters in Public Policy. This was helpful to learn since I have been looking at Masters Programs.

Four main goals for the US Embassy in Beirut were outlined for us:

  1. Push back against Hezbollah – because the United States has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization the Embassy is essential in the region.
  2. Fight counter-terrorism
  3. Aid in the Middle East Peace Process
  4. Help US Citizens in the country

Overall, the visit to the US Embassy was very informative and I really enjoyed it. We learned that the employees at the Embassy are not allowed to leave the Embassy whenever they want. They need to schedule their movements a few days in advance and be outside the Embassy for a maximum of six hours two times per week. Also they theoretically can’t have predictable movements, like going to the same bar every week, but in practice this might not always be true. It is certainly an interesting lifestyle! Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to bring our cameras into the Embassy so I don’t have any photos (the photo is from the bus on one of our many drives around Beirut). Here’s their website if you’d like more information: http://lebanon.usembassy.gov/

Details from Pre-departure

As promised I am going to go into more detail about the meetings that I had in DC at the National Council on June 21st.

From Dr. Anthony’s opening remarks, I was surprised by his comment that the Lebanese lack empathy. He believes this is why there is conflict in the area because people are not able to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. Obviously this is not true for everyone, but it seems to be one factor.

I learned that the Shia in Iran look up to the Shia in Lebanon. Also Saudi Arabia pushed for greater representation of Shia in Lebanon because of security and stability. Security and stability are the key terms of the day.

I can’t say enough how interesting Miriam’s presentation was on the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. She has focused on getting past the generalities and looking at why the situation is the way it is. Personal and unique experiences are the also important to her in her research. There are approximately 455,000 registered refugees and 12 camps in Lebanon. However, not all refugees are registered. You are only allowed to be a registered refugee if you left pre-1948 or are a direct descendant of someone who did. I was surprised to learn that not all refugees have the same socio-economic status. Some never live in camps and are actually quite well off, although this is certainly a minority. Also Miriam pointed out that the stereotype is that all refugees are miserable in the camps and want to leave. According to Miriam most refugees have turned the camps into their homes and therefore are very attached to them.Naji Ali

The issue with the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is that the balance between Christians and Muslims is so delicate. Giving citizenship to the 455,000 mainly Sunni Muslim Palestinian refugees would tip the scales in favor of the Muslims because the population of Lebanon is small, less than 4 million. Interestingly from 1950-1960 all of the Christian Palestinian refugees were naturalized, approximately 50,000 at the time. Then later in 1994 all of the Shia Muslim Palestinians were naturalized. However, the Sunni Muslims have been ignored all the time.

Another issue for the refugees is that they can not work in Lebanon for the most part. In 1961 the Law of Reciprocity became the primary labor law and it said that only citizens of countries with work exchanges with Lebanon are allowed to work here. However, the Palestinians have no country to make this sort of exchange with and therefore they are not allowed to work here.

Pre-Civil War, circa 1968-1982, the 1969 Cairo Agreement said that Palestinians can do whatever they want in the camps. The PLO created jobs and built up their militia. However, after the Civil War, everyone in Lebanon blamed everything on the Palestinians in order to recover from the war. This negative attitude towards refugees still exists today.

From 1991 to present has been the rise of the NGO. There are two types of NGO’s active in Lebanon: relief work and memory preservation. The major policy issue in Lebanon that is currently debated is that women can’t pass their citizenship/nationality to their children in Lebanon. I am very interested in this issue since my focus next year will be on women in the Middle East.

The cartoon is called Handala by Naji Ali. Miriam said that he represents the Palestinian refugee and you never see his face.

Walking Tour

The highlight of Saturday was a walking tour of Beirut. We went inside two churches and one mosque. I had never been in a mosque before. The men in our group were able to walk right in after taking off their shoes. The women however had to put on black smocks and cover our hair with black scarves, which were all provided by the mosque. We put our shoes in a cubby along the wall. There was a huge gorgeous chandelier in the mosque and several smaller ones too. The mosque cost $22 million and was completely paid for by Hariri before he was assassinated in 2005. Hariri is buried right next to the mosque and there is a tent with lots of photos of him on display. Rafic Hariri was Prime Minister of Lebanon 1992-1998 and 2000-2004. He is regarded as a hero in Lebanon for reviving the country and especially the city of Beirut after the civil war.

Some other random things to note:

I learned that Pepsi has the corner on the market in Lebanon. Coke usually has less than 20% of the market. I can’t remember when exactly Coke pulled out of Lebanon, but I’m guessing sometime around the civil war and then they came back later than Pepsi. Also Pepsi gives store owners more incentives to purchase with them, like a free case for every ten you buy.

Everyone in Beirut drinks bottled water instead of tap water. For this reason bottle water is very cheap. My roommate and I bought 6 large 1 liter bottles of water for $3.

Also everywhere takes US dollars and the exchange rate is accepted to be $1 US for 1500 Lebanese in all small shops.

I’ve been surprised by how much French is spoken. But this has been a plus for me! I’ve used a little Arabic so far, but I know more French so I’m able to use that too.

Tonight we are going to a music festival so I’m going to get some rest before we go to dinner at 9PM! Tomorrow will be a long day too so I may not update for a while.

Safe Arrival

I’ve arrived safely in Beirut. Overall the travel experience was great. Turkish Airlines was awesome! The few previous international flights I’ve been on were on US based airlines and were not as great. The flight from DC to Istanbul was spacious, had great food and amazingly there were no screaming children. Also there was free wine!

The hotel is nice and better than expected based on the reviews I had read on TripAdvisor. Here’ s a link to the hotel (trust me it’s better in person!): http://www.hotelalexandre.com

Today we had an orientation with the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation and met Sabine, Melkar and Fadi. We’re going for lunch now and a walking/bus tour this afternoon.

I promise more updates later tonight!