A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘citizenship’ Category

Israeli zen.

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 1, 2009

I have a love-hate relationship with the Jerusalem Post. Love the easy access to its archives; hate its stance on many issues. But this afternoon I’m simply impressed with its Naharnet-like ability to put even the most inane statements to good use.

The Post‘s article about the ongoing two-and-a-half-way spitfest between the Lebanese government and/or Hizbullah, and the Israeli government, is interesting for several reasons. First, note how it describes Ziad Baroud:

Israeli spying devices on foreign soil are a clear violation of international resolutions, Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said during a visit to southern Lebanon on Sunday.

Baroud, a rising Maronite politician who was appointed interior minister in
2008 as a representative of Lebanese President Michel Suleiman’s bloc, expressed his “determination to continue to uncover espionage networks.”

Interesting. I can’t find any mention of Baroud as a Maronite in the New York Times – in fact, the only result I get when I search for “Maronite politician” is a  1993 article that mentions Michel Edde. To me it says a great deal about Israeli political culture (and, perhaps, the lingering presence of the SLA) that the Post can assume that “Maronite politician” is a term that readers will understand.

But what I really love about this article is the closing:

The Lebanese interior minister’s remarks came a day after Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced that Israel was gathering intelligence within Lebanon and would continue to do so until Hizbullah renounced its arms.

“During a conflict with an enemy, one must gather intelligence,” he said, adding that the conflict would end once peace with Lebanon was achieved.

The conflict will end when peace is achieved. Thank you, Mr. Ya’alon, for providing this Zen definition of the day.

Posted in Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, religion, Uncategorized, words | Leave a Comment »

another day, another Naharnet mystery

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 31, 2009

To be fair, today’s Naharnet “What?” looks like more of a Lebanese government “What?” – and its one I would love to understand.

Here’s the start of the article – this morning’s headliner, about the LAF’s recent arrest of a Fatah al-Islam figure (which in U.S. journalistic practice would be described as an alleged Fatah al-Islam figure) hiding out in the always-newsworthy Ain el Hilweh:

The Lebanese army intelligence has reportedly arrested a top Fatah al-Islam official after luring him outside the southern Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh.

As Safir and al-Liwaa dailies said Saturday that Fadi Ghassan Ibrahim, known as Sikamo, was arrested at dawn the day before. They said the man is very close to Fatah al-Islam leader Abdel Rahman Awad who has been out of sight since October 2008.

Both newspapers described Ibrahim as a “hefty catch.”

So much to love here. “Luring him out” – all I can think of are the lost-in-the-backwoods remedies for tapeworm. or, less graphically, my father’s many failed (but entertaining) attempts to get the family dog, Used Diamond, to go for his prescribed morning walk on days that UD considers less than temperate.

As for calling the lured-out Ibrahim a catch … “hefty”? I’d like to know the Arabic word for this. And also, just FYI, some catches aren’t hefty: they’re just big-boned.

But these bits, delightful morning teatime reading though they were, are not what caught my attention. What I would – sincerely – like to know more about is this:

… Ibrahim, who is a Palestinian and was given the Lebanese citizenship in 1994, is also linked to the blast that targeted the patrol of the Irish contingent in Rmaileh, north of Sidon on January 8, 2008 …

My understanding is that the only Palestinians with Lebanese citizenship are the Christian families given it in the 1950s (1960s?) to help delay questions like “shouldn’t we take a new census since our numbers seem to have shifted?”. Why was this man given Lebanese citizenship? And: How? What’s the process – in general – for granting citizenship to a non-Lebanese male?

Posted in Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, Lebanon | 1 Comment »

Separate but equal? Assessing Lebanon’s “dual” education system

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 11, 2009

Just checking in to clear out the spam bucket, respond to a few comments, and post this bit on public education:

Oxford Business Group’s latest piece on Lebanon, published last week, focuses on the need to put greater emphasis – not to mention political will – on strengthening its public education system. Its a pretty accurate assessment of the state of public education – low enrollments speaking to its poor reputation among parents and Lebanese citizens in general, and lack of vision speaking to the political challenges of developing and creating a standardized curriculum.

The UNDP report mentioned in this piece, “Towards a Citizen’s State”, was issued last summer. Its one of many, many, many reports of various kinds published about Lebanon, but I like its focus on the role of citizenship. And to be honest, I like the cover: it takes up the frequent appropriations of the Lebanese flag and puts it in service of citizenship rather than politics. (Well, to the extent that the UNDP can be seen as outside politics …) If you haven’t read it, you can download the report here.

According to many key indicators, Lebanon’s education system receives excellent marks, ranking among the best in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The country has some of the highest retention rates throughout primary and secondary levels, some of the region’s best student-to-teacher ratios, and university enrolment levels far above the MENA average, World Bank figures show.

However, increasingly it is the private sector that can claim responsibility for this success, with standards of state schools apparently slipping, despite most of the 10% of budgetary expenditure being directed to the public component of the system.

Lebanon is failing to gain full value from its schools, with a lack of faith in state-provided learning and little cooperation between the public and private sectors combining to weaken the system.

The latest national human development report issued by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) cited a number of problems with Lebanon’s education system, in particular the public segment. These included high dropout rates of 10.7% at basic education levels and repetition rates of between 20% and 24% in public schools.

The report, titled “Towards a Citizen’s State” and released at the end of June, said there were significant disparities when it came to comparing state and private education in Lebanon, reflecting problems of equity and efficiency. Importantly, the report said that many poor students dropped out of school because they believed that they would occupy the same level of jobs irrespective of their educational achievements.

“This is not to say that all private schools are superior to public ones, as there are differences in the quality of education provided by private institutions as well,” the report said. “However, overall as a sector, it seems to be functioning more efficiently.”

The apparent loss of faith in the public education system has seen a further shift to private schools, always popular in Lebanon due to the multicultural nature of society and the right of religious-based learning enshrined in law.

Though there was a slight shift back to public education in the years following 1990, a reflection of a strengthened state, this trend was soon reversed. Having peaked at 34.5% of enrolments at the primary school level in 2000, the most recent World Bank studies show that student numbers at Lebanon’s state schools have now slipped to 32.4% of total enrolments.

By contrast, some 67% of primary students in Jordan, 95% in neighbouring Syria and around 90% in more affluent Saudi Arabia attend state schools.

While state secondary school enrolment rates in the country are closer to those of the private sector, accounting for around 46% of the total as of 2007, roughly the same as seven years before, it still means that well under half of all Lebanese school students benefit from the massive outlays by the state. The gap between public and private is far wider at the tertiary level, with just one of the Lebanon’s 41 higher education facilities being a public institution.

Though public and private education at the primary and secondary levels is supposed to be carried out under a standardised curriculum, there are widespread deviations from the regime issued by the Education Ministry. Added to this has been the inability of various factions to agree to universal textbooks on some subjects, such as history.

According to the economist Charbel Nahas, the Lebanese government has failed to delineate a strategic vision for education. In a paper dealing with the issue of financing higher learning in Lebanon, published in April, Nahas said the country’s education system was theoretically structured around a dualist system, under which both the private and public sectors were supposed to work hand in hand to bridge the gaps in the overall education of the country.

However, this was far from the case, with no real partnership having been established between these two systems to put in place institutional bridges and allow cooperation to take place, he said.

“Consequently, the most accurate description of ‘adjacent sectors’ is more exact than a ‘dual system’, since the two sectors function independently from one another, with minimum bridges and coordination,” Nahas wrote.

Given that private education is the preferred choice of the majority of families in Lebanon, if the government wants to make the dual system work, the provision of services in the public sector needs to be enhanced.

Posted in citizenship, Lebanon | Leave a Comment »

loving thy neighbor

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 29, 2009

Today’s post was intended to be a tour of Doha’s nightlife. But my eye was caught yesterday by two news stories – or rather, by the popular responses to each.

When it comes to Lebanon, I sometimes find it hard to follow Christ’s second commandment. And as a Christian, the neighbors I find harder to love are more often than not Lebanon’s Christians.

I don’t mean this post to be one of casting the first stone – after all, the United States has had its share of intra-Christian sectarian woes. I recall one of our childhood neighbors telling me that as a child his schoolmates demanded to see his horns, because as Protestants they had been told in church that Catholics have horns on their head like the Devil. But that was 50 years ago, and I am shocked by what I have read this week.

My first shock came from an article in Monday’s Daily Star about the current mayor of Broumanna, Waleed Rizk. Rizk, the town’s long-time vice-mayor, whatever that means, became mayor after the previous mayor, Pierre Achkar, stepped down in order to be eligible to run for Parliament in the recent elections.

That isn’t the shocking part – I think that requiring candidates for one post to give up their current post is not a bad idea, and one that the United States  might consider. What shocked me is the reaction of some Broumannis to the fact that their new mayor is Greek Orthodox and not Maronite:

Traditionally the mayor of Brummana is Maronite, usually running along family lines with Pierre’s own ancestors Georges, Chachine and Georges standing before him.

But, for the first time in Brummana’s history the position has been given not only to a vice mayor but to a Greek Orthodox candidate.

“Usually they say in Brummana the mayor has to be a Maronite, and the vice is Orthodox but now what has happened is I am the mayor and I am Orthodox,” says the newly-appointed Rizk. “When people come into the office surprised that I am Orthodox, I say ‘no, I am not Orthodox, I am simply Brummanese.’”

Rizk says this couldn’t have happened unless the last mayor was forced to step down to run in the parliamentary elections and forfeit his job, leaving little time for a new election.

But now Rizk is having to battle people’s perceptions. “Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my religion, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget this issue,” Rizk says. “And I do believe the Brummanese will soon forget about it.”

This was shock number one: that the sense of sectarian entitlement extends to the municipal level, and is so deeply felt. For an American equivalent, try substituting race:

“When people come into the office surprised that I am African-American, I say ‘no, I am not African-American, I am simply a New Yorker’.”

“Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my race, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget the issue.”

Lovely. But there was a second shock – Rizk the sectarian under-dog is also Rizk the very self-entitled member of a big family:

He says that there have always been two families in Brummana who had the ambition to be mayor – the Achkar family and the Rizk family, which caused many years of rivalry. “Our ancestors always used to fight, but now we need to put the past behind us – we are doing what is best for the municipality.”

Right. What if ‘what is best for the municipality’ were the creation of a mayoral position open not only to residents with varied religious backgrounds, but varied family backgrounds as well?

The third shock, as some of you may already suspect given the theme of this post, has been the reaction on assorted blogs and other websites to the wedding of Nayla Tueini and Malek Maktabi, such as these. (I don’t mean to pick on the Ouwet Front exclusively, but the Orange Room’s website is currently down and I’m searching primarily for comments in English.) There are a few voices of reason, but what I notice most is the vitriol of those unhappy with her marrying a Shia – some because she is a Christian MP, and some just because she is Christian.

I personally am not a great fan of Ms. Tueini (or of Mr. Maktabi’s talk show), but the explosive hostility of some of the commentators leaves me with a deep cold pit in my stomach. This type of irrational anger can be  deeply corrosive. On the other hand, both their Facebook pages are filled with congratulations, and at least those posting their anger online are still in conversation with others more sanguine about the ‘mariage’.

I don’t have a good conclusion to this post. I hope for better things in the future, am glad to see  any movement in the political system, and think that mixed marriages could be a major source of strength for the Lebanon of tomorrow.

And I’m looking very much forward to writing a nice quiet post about Doha nightlife tomorrow.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, Lebanon, politics, religion, vanity, women, words | Leave a Comment »

the Lebanese takeover begins with skincare

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 5, 2009

Last night I was talking with H about a number of things, all somewhat Lebanese’y, when the conversation took an unusually cosmetic turn.

I forgot to mention to you before, H said, but last night I saw this infomercial for a new Cindy Crawford lotion, and her secret Hollywood facialist was a “French” guy called Jean Louis Sebagh. One more piece of the puzzle is now in place for the eventual Lebanese domination of the world.

Let’s leave aside the larger puzzle of just why H was watching an American infomercial rather than the Arabic news broadcasts he usually favors, and ignore entirely the fact that this was an infomercial addressed to middle-aged women looking for ‘hope in a jar’. My initial reaction was to laugh: after all, who tries to take over the world through skincare?

But when I turned back to the magazine I had been reading, I saw this advertisement:

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There was another Lebanese man, Dr. F. Frederic Khoury, advising me that “Your cosmetic surgery is only as good as your cosmetic plastic surgeon.”

I’m not in the market for any of his services, thankfully (“ear plasty?”). But I am starting to wonder now whether H’s comment was less of a jest, and more of a warning :).

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, fashion, Lebanon, Paris | 3 Comments »

the two-week vacation

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 23, 2009

Here in the United States, a lot of media talk recently has focused on how inexpensive air travel has become, thanks to the tanking economy. Summer flights around the country have dropped to mid-2000s levels, and flights to Europe, the Caribbean, and even Asia are much cheaper than even 2007 prices.

Flights to Lebanon and the rest of the region, on the other hand, seem to have stayed stubbornly high. I’d like to book a ticket to visit my aunt in Kuwait and assorted friends in the Levant, but in my head I keep expecting those delightful 2002 prices to crop up whenever I hit “go” on my favorite search engine.

Instead, what crops up are 2002 prices, doubled.

Sigh.

These are the times when I wish that I were Lebanese.

For once, Robert Worth has written a story about Lebanon worth reading: a piece in today’s New York Times about vote-buying and other “typically Lebanese” (or maybe “typically Saudi”, given what his Saudi source says) electoral activities. Here’s a sample of what is a horrifying yet highly readable article:

The parliamentary elections here in June are shaping up to be among the most expensive ever held anywhere, with hundreds of millions of dollars streaming into this small country from around the globe.

Lebanon has long been seen as a battleground for regional influence, and now, with no more foreign armies on the ground, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region are arming their allies here with campaign money in place of weapons. The result is a race that is widely seen as the freest and most competitive to be held here in decades, with a record number of candidates taking part. But it may also be the most corrupt.

Votes are being bought with cash or in-kind services. Candidates pay their competitors huge sums to withdraw. The price of favorable TV news coverage is rising, and thousands of expatriate Lebanese are being flown home, free, to vote in contested districts.

They sure are. My friend S, who knows of both my desire for a “big summer” vacation and my penny-pinching habits, sms’ed me last week with the news that:

8 March will send you back for ten days. 14 March will send you for three. Get your voting card!

S didn’t mean me, of course: I’m not Lebanese. But if you are, and you seem neutral enough to be courted by both parties (and why is March 14 being so cheap, anyway? Where are all the hundreds of millions of Saudi dollars that Worth’s source mentions going?), you could start your summer with a nice two-week vacation.

Bring on the suntan oil and the sequins (and a listing of your favorite candidates, if you have them). Lebanon awaits 😀 .

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, citizenship, friends, politics | 2 Comments »

the Shia of Bcharre: fun with election stats

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 18, 2009

OMG I love Tayyar, B wrote during a Sunday morning chat. Hunh, I thought – B has never seemed particularly Aouni. But it wasn’t the party’s political views he was embracing: it was the interactive elections map available on the Tayyar website.

Its a great map: you scroll over each electoral district to see the number of electoral votes and the number of registered voters.

To be honest, seeing the stark reality of the Lebanese electoral system gives me a chill. Seeing voters divided into categories as:

Orthodox

Armenian Orthodox

Armenian Catholic

Minorities

Evangelists [the Arabic term for Protestant]

Druze

Sunnis

Shiites

Alaouis

Catholics

Maronites

turned my stomach. It appears uncomfortably close to what I imagine a voter registry from Nazi Germany would look like – although I was of course happy to see that the voter lists make the theologically correct distinction between Catholics and Maronites :).

The map could use a little tweaking: there’s no legend, for example, so its up to you to figure out that the dark grey numbers listed after some of the sects indicate electoral seats. And its not the only elections map around – a number of organizations have been creating them, with slightly different voter counts.

As I scrolled over the different districts, a few numbers began jumping out at me.

Does this map’s table mean that there is only one Druze voter in Akkar? I asked B.

Druze voter? B replied. I suppose. Not sure where they are getting this information, but I really want it to be legit.

I do too – and I want the study of election maps and voter registration to become a regular part of Lebanese elections.

And in the meantime, B and I would each like to get to know some of the solo sect voters.

Who is this Druze guy living in Akkar? B asked. I kind of want to meet him.

I do too, although I am guessing that “he” is really a she. My understanding is that Lebanese women are required to transfer their voter registration to their husband’s village when they get married, so I imagine that this lonely Druze is the wife of a native Akkari. (Please, please, please correct me if this is no longer the case. I would be thrilled to have one example of a way in which Lebanon does not discriminate against its female citizens.)

As for me, I’d really like to meet the one Shia of Bcharre 🙂 .

Posted in advertising, citizenship, Lebanon, politics, women | 1 Comment »

getting readiest: more elections prep

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 7, 2009

Thanks to Blacksmith Jade and Jester for passing along the ads I’ve been finding about voter registration – and thanks to those of you who find this kind of stuff less engrossing than I do.

This morning something even more useful found its way into my inbox: the same advertisement I posted on Wednesday, framed by a note from the Ministry of the Interior and Lebanon’s baladiyas, a set of FAQs (with answers!) and a list of numbers to call for questions regarding personal status and voter eligibility:

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This is a great, great PSA. It educates voters and it empowers them. (Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that calling any one of these numbers will put you in touch with someone helpful and/or motivated. That’s a global problem, as those of you who have dealt with such legendary U.S. institutions as the driver’s license, post, and/or Social Security Administration offices know all too well.)

The number of Lebanese friends I have who participated in some pro-Lebanon activity in 2005 is very high. But the number of Lebanese friends I have who voted in the 2005 election is very low. Some felt that their votes would not count; some faced discrimination when they tried to register at the baladiya; and some felt that regardless of who won the elections, their voices as citizens would be ignored. Their stories – and the turnout number – break my heart. I would love to see a record voter turn-out in June, on all sides, because people who vote are more likely to see themselves as stakeholders in other aspects of civic life as well.

For me each election brings the promise of a new beginning and the chance to reaffirm the meaning of democracy. As an American, I feel that I honor my ancestors and the ideals of my country when I cast my vote – even when the candidate or proposition I support doesn’t win. As a woman, I feel that I honor the men and women who struggled to make this country a real democracy, in which all citizens, regardless of race or sex, can participate.

I hope that those of you who can vote in June feel similarly (well, with obvious adjustments for my male readers), and I hope that you do vote. And if you haven’t double-checked your registration, please do so before Tuesday!

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, citizenship, education, Lebanon, politics | 2 Comments »

Getting ready-er

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 4, 2009

Last week I posted two PSAs created by the Elections Commission (still don’t know what its proper name is), which Blacksmiths of Lebanon very kindly picked up. Another one, with a different design scheme (was the red necessary?) appeared on Monday:

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This one asks would-be voters to make sure that their names are correctly entered in the voter registries, “so we see you at the elections”, and suggests that they do so by visiting the mukhtar of their local baladiya or by visiting the website of the “General Directorate of Personal Status”, which despite sounding like Facebook’s status vetting board is apparently Lebanon’s equivalent of an elections commission.

As I’ve said before: I love elections. I love the power of the vote. If you are a Lebanese citizen, I hope you vote this June; the low turnout in 2005 broke my heart. If you – like others I know – haven’t voted before, start the registration process now: the deadline is March 10. And if your mukhtar doesn’t want to register you because he (or she, theoretically) thinks you might vote a certain way, raise a fuss. The right to vote is an incredibly precious treasure – don’t let it slip away.

Posted in advertising, Arabic, citizenship, Lebanon, politics | 5 Comments »

Are you ready? The Lebanese elections

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 25, 2009

The Daily Star, which seems to be back for the  medium- if not long-run again, has been running a series of PSAs from the Interior Ministry and the Elections Commission (not sure if that is its proper name, but its a similar idea), reminding people to update their registration and identity cards so they are “ready” to vote during the June elections.

The first PSA I have seen just asks “Ready?” and shows an image of a hand showing with a purple ink mark to indicate that the person has voted:

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I didn’t realize that Lebanon used purple ink, or any ink – I thought that this was done in Iraq as something of a stop-gap measure to prevent people from casting multiple votes, since the voter registries were so confused. But aren’t things a bit more structured – in fact, aren’t they highly bureaucratized?? – in Lebanon? Do any of you know more about this?

This one says: “Ready for your requests” – or maybe more like “Ready to serve”, and identifies the “27 centers at your service for processing [literally, implementing] identity cards in all cazas”:

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Look how many there are on the western half of the country, and how few there are in the Bekaa and the north-east. Is the population distribution really this lop-sided?

Seeing the little cedar in the top right, for Hirmel, makes me blush. A few weeks ago, a fellow midwesterner emailed me about a recent visit to Hormal, Minnesota, home of “Spam”. Since there are so many Biblically-based connections between American towns and Levantine ones, I spent a good deal of time trying to find a connection – all for nothing. Apparently, Hormel was the family name of the company’s founders – no Lebanese connection at all.

In any case, I am glad to see these PSAs, and I hope that they are running as billboards as well. I love elections, and I am looking forward to seeing how the June elections play out.

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, citizenship, Lebanon | 6 Comments »