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

Parliament Meeting

This morning we met with Simon Abi Ramia, a member of Parliament who is the head of the commission for Youth and Sports. As always, this was a very interesting meeting. Abi Ramia worked in France for 23 years and returned to Lebanon about six years ago. He is a member of the Free Patriotic Movement party. I was very surprised when he immediately stated that the source of Lebanon’s problems are their neighbors, Syria and Israel. Blaming others is an issue that we have focused on among the students in the fellowship. Placing the blame on other groups for problems within Lebanon is common, but creates a much larger issue because it avoids the reality of the situation and the real actors.

Abi Ramia informed us that his goal and the goal of the parliament is to make laws and examine the work of the government. He said that he is not directly involved with the people, in the sense of direct aid. He is very involved though in a social aspect with the people of his district. Abi Ramia shared that in the past two days he attended seven funerals and weekends are filled with weddings, baptisms, and other various celebrations. When he first came to office Abi Ramia did not want to spend time on these social things because he wanted to focus on actual policy making. However, the Lebanese society does not accept avoiding these social functions because of the importance of family and community. Therefore, Abi Ramia’s weekends and free time are filled with social events.

The budget for the Ministry of Youth and Sports is only $2-3 million in Lebanon, which Abi Ramia compared to France which he said was approximately $1 billion for the same ministry. For this reason, we can see that youth and sports are not considered one of the top ministries. However, Abi Ramia has a good argument for why Lebanon should spend more money on this ministry. He argues that sports cross sectarian lines and more youth sports groups and even adult sports groups would help unite the people on a different level than religion.

Changing the voting age from 21 to 18 was mentioned again. I’m not sure if I mentioned this on my blog before, but in one of our previous sessions we heard from someone who spoke on this issue. Abi Ramia simply stated that he supported moving the voting age to 18 and did not go into any details. However, our earlier speaker had mentioned that there had been groups trying to work with students to change the voting age, but students did NOT want to change it. The reasoning for not wanting to change the voting age to 18 was that the students are already so divided into sectarian lines and neither group wanted to unbalance the machine.

PS The photo is from sunset at the restaurant we ate dinner at, Pepe Abed.

Day 6 – More Meetings

Today we had two more meetings. I will tell you a little about each, but first I want to talk about electricity.

I haven’t mentioned electricity so far on my blog. Beirut has the appearance of a modern European city, however the infrastructure is seriously lacking. When the Israeli’s pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, they did their best to destroy as much of Lebanon’s infrastructure as possible. Some things have been repaired and redeveloped, but the electric grids have not. The issue of electricity is really coming to fruition this summer while we are here because people are unbearably hot without AC. There have been protests with people burning tires in the streets. Our very first night in Beirut we experienced two power outages while we were at dinner, each lasting less than one minute. Nearly everyday we have experienced similar power outages for short amounts of time. Anyone who is slightly well off and all restaurants and businesses all have their own generators for back up when the electricity is out. The issue of electricity shows that while Beirut is trying to become a modern European city and travel destination it still has a ways to go.

So for our two meetings today:

Our first meeting was with Youssef Fawaz, the Executive Director of a non profit called Al Majmoua, which is a micro-credit program founded by Save the Children in 1994. In 2003 Al Majmoua became financially self-sustainable and is the leading microfinance NGO in Lebanon. I really enjoyed this meeting because Al Majmoua primarily gave micro-loans to groups of women in the beginning. The loans that they give run from as low as $100 to $5000. Starting in 2001 they began giving loans to men and individuals. Al Majmoua currently has 32,000 clients with a $32 million portfolio. The average loan for a group of women is about $600 and usually goes towards hairdresser or food processing supplies. The average loan for an individual is around $1500 and for men usually goes towards woodworking or some other similar handicraft. Al Majmoua has grown to 19 offices across the country and a staff of 225. One of the issues they currently deal with is recruiting female loan officers. They must have a certain number of female loan officers so that they can go out and meet with the groups of women who are applying for loans. Although Lebanon is more liberal and progressive than many other Middle Eastern countries, it would still be unacceptable for a male loan officer to meet alone with a group of married women.

It was disappointing that Fawaz came off as very pessimistic in his hopes for the Lebanese government. He said the “country is politically bankrupt” and that it is a zero sum game trying to get anything done through the central government.

Our second meeting was at An-nahar which is the primary Arabic newspaper. It was very interesting to hear their optimism about the future of newspaper. When many say that newspaper will obviously face an end, they believe that through adapting to new conditions the newspapers can still exist. The men we spoke with shared that they future role of newspapers is more focus on analysis and less on breaking news because breaking news can easily be shared on Twitter and other online media. Our primary reason for meeting at An-nahar is a program that they have called Youth Shadow Government (YSG). This is a very cool program for youth approximately ages 20-26 to shadow the actual Lebanese government. These youth are assigned Ministers or more than one depending on what makes sense. They follow what policies these Ministers are focusing on and then develop their own individual projects that are often picked up by the Ministers and given national focus. The purpose of the YSG is to empower the youth to be active and involved in their government. The program has been very successful so far in accomplishing its goal and has had alumni of the program go on to many levels of government involvement.

A new program that has grown out of YSG is Lebanese Young Leaders for Tomorrow. The young man who was speaking with us had graduated from the YSG and is currently in the new program.

Oh in between our two meetings we had a tour of American University of Beirut’s campus. It’s very beautiful and just a minute walk from the beach. If I had longer than one year left in my undergrad I would love to study abroad there. Explanation of photos: 1. Graffiti in Beirut outside of Al-Majmoua office. 2. Me on AUB campus in front of main entrance. 3. Banyan tree on AUB Campus. 4. Pretty flowers on AUB campus. Well I think that’s enough for today! Peace and blessing 🙂

Day 4 – Our first meetings

Yesterday was our first day of meetings. We went to this super swanky office building where the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation has their offices. We met with four individuals:

  1. Michael Young who is an editor at Reason magazine and also an editor at the Daily Star. He has also written a book, which I am going to try and get when we return called “The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggles.”
  2. Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of Now Lebanon. She was very friendly and honest with her comments.
  3. Ousama Safa who is a Social Affairs officer at UN ESCWA. He also has experience with think tanks, lobbying and public policy.
  4. Lokman Slim is an activist trying to raise awareness about the collective amnesia regarding the Civil War. He co-founded Umam Documentation & Research and has helped publish several reports related to the Civil War.

All of the panelists were informative and interesting. We started off looking at the Arab Spring. One of the panelists shared that he believes there is a false sense of belief that things can happen in Lebanon as well post Arab Spring. The reality is that the Lebanese beast has multiple heads and so it is impossible to rally for one specific officials resignation or something similar because are so many issues at different levels.

The major topic on everyone’s minds right now is Syria. Syria has a very direct influence on events in Lebanon, therefore it is a question of how, not when, things might change in Lebanon.

Another topic which we discussed was the amnesia related to the Civil War. The Lebanese Civil War officially ended in 1990 with an official amnesty. It is called into question how the war ended and, more importantly, if it ended? It is surprising that a unified history book has not been decided on in Lebanon. There are three different history books depending on which region you live in. The panelists had different views regarding the issue of the textbook. Ousama believed that it was ridiculous that the country could not decide on one book and it should be remedied as soon as possible. However, Lokman, who spends a lot of time on the topic of the Civil War in his work, though that the textbook was irrelevant and advocated a curriculum based on all different perspectives. The attitude of many in Lebanon is that the war wasn’t their war, it was a “war of others.” All panelists agreed that the Lebanese need to take ownership of the war in order to truly move on.

A big issue in Lebanon is the sectarianism. All panelists agreed that the confessional system is flawed and needs revisions, however they did not all agree on what the revisions should be.

I was surprised by the panelists opinions towards the US and especially US foreign policy. One panelists commented that there is a huge vacuum left by US policy in the region. He wanted the US to show global leadership with diplomacy and use their musclepower to forced people into dialogue because the time for dialogue may be missed. With the shrinking space for dialogue and diplomacy, there is a growth of radicalism. One panelist seemed fearful that Obama would likely be stepping back from the Middle East if re-elected.