A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘explosion’ Category

more on Iowa newspapers and the Obsession with radical Islam

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 29, 2008

Its been an up-and-down weekend, both in my own life (I was meant to spend the weekend at a family wedding in Vermont, but thanks to a trifecta of flight cancellations, spent a good chunk of it in the airport without actually getting anywhere, bah humbug) and in Lebanon’s. We cheered the removal of all the party posters and flags that started the weekend – cheered, and wished that we were there to see the removal (and the change in street feeling) first hand.

And this morning the cheers stopped when I sleepily turned on my laptop to read the news over breakfast.

At first I didn’t quite believe it. I saw “Deadly blast rocks Lebanese city” on the BBC news site and thought: there’s something wrong with the BBC today. Its broadcasting old news – this bombing happened in August.

But it didn’t. I’m so sorry for the people of Tripoli, who already face the challenges of deep poverty and political powerlessness. And I am terribly sorry for the Army, whose soldiers and commanders do not need these terrorist attacks when they are trying to build a strong institution for all Lebanese to be proud of.

This weekend also brought a funny Iowa connection to my Lebanon experience. When I clicked on the “Letters to the Editor” section of Saturday’s Daily Star, I found one that mentioned a familiar newspaper:

I love that someone with such a typically Scandinavian name (which is more typical of Minnesotans than Iowans, but there is a lot of overlap) can read a Lebanese paper, thanks to the Internet.

Mr. Johnson’s letter prompted me to return to the Des Moines Register‘s own website, where I found a few more reader responses to the paper’s decision to include copies of Obsession in its Sunday issue.

This letter appeared just yesterday – a happy sign that the debate continues:

We received a copy of a right-wing terror propaganda DVD bundled into our Sept. 14 Sunday Register, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” I checked out the distributor, the Clarion Fund, and found that it is a New York-based group, an outfit that claims a 501c(3) nonprofit status despite an article recently on its Web site, since removed, that backed Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

We wondered when the scare tactics of the 2004 campaign would return. To coincide with Sept. 11, 28 million copies of the 60-minute film went out bundled with the ads in 70 newspapers in 14 swing states, including Iowa. First shown on Fox News during the 2006 mid-term elections and on college campuses, the production shows a long series of unsubstantiated experts equating radical Muslim movements with the German Nazis.

Despite two mild verbal disclaimers that not all Muslims are radical, there were two printed and verbal “quotes” about Muslim radicals planning to eventually occupy the White House. This is a not-so-subtle tie-in to the ideas behind the hate e-mail frequently passed along over the Internet this past year depicting Barack Obama as a Muslim, along with other supposedly despicable traits.

I would have thought the Register knew better than to pass along such drivel.

– Joann Estle, Washington

(It appeared with another letter, whose writer had a very different opinion. Gerald Haas of Alba wrote: The DVD included in the Register Sept. 14 provides insight into radical Islam that is lacking in the mainstream media. It is to our peril that we do not understand the threat before us. Thank you for providing this. I disagree with Mr. Haas wholeheartedly, but I appreciate his decision to write a professional letter that does not describe all Muslims as terrorists, backwards, or children of Satan, as some of the reader comments have done.)

This letter appeared in last Friday’s paper:

The wisdom of Jesus should guide us when he says, “Fear not! Do not be afraid.”

It is when we are afraid that we make irrational and tragic decisions such as the war in Iraq. The DVD recently distributed inside the Register, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” seeks to foment fear and cause us to make electoral decisions based on that fear.

The Clarion Fund, which financed the DVD, seems to be a reincarnation of the Swift Boat hate, fear and lies campaign.

Equating Islam with radicalism is no more rational than equating Christianity with torture because some of its adherents have engaged in those practices.

– Cora Bartemes, Urbandale

Bartemes’ letter has been up long enough to have attracted reader comments – almost 60 when I last checked. Some are thoughtful comments by people wrestling with their feelings about ‘others’ in the world, and some are, er, not.

I’ll spare you the truly bigoted anti-Islam and anti-Christianity barbs and just give you a sample of the goofier comments:

From a reader who obviously appreciated neither the DVD nor Bartemes’ invocation of Christ: Religion is a distraction to really enjoying life. Plus I didn’t waste my 75 cents on this crappy paper.

From another reader who would have liked a free copy, “crappy” or no: I guess the hate group who put it out is cheap. I didn’t get it in my paper, just 70 miles out of Des Moines.

And from one reader to another, in a charming display of mature conversation: I suggest you adjust your meds.

I laughed when I read that comment, but today I am also thinking of the people of Tripoli (as well as the people of Damascus), and hoping that they find comfort despite the brutality of this weekend’s bombs.


Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, explosion, Iowa, Lebanon, politics, Tripoli, words | 8 Comments »

media watching

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 14, 2008

We were both shocked by the car bombing in Lebanon this past week. Neither of us had heard of Saleh Aridi before his assassination, and I worry that targeting a “senior aide”, rather than marquee-name politicians themselves, may indicate a new trend.

Declaring Aridi’s assassination a “message” gave all the usual pundits the chance to air their views as to what that message was. Car bombings do send strong messages, but their details are rather vague – giving those members of the fourth estate with particularly fanciful imaginations free range to discern increasingly convoluted messages.

Not that the politicians were innocent, either. Talal Arslan, Aridi’s boss and the current Minister of Youth and Sports, yelled “message received” in the press conference he gave after Aridi’s murder. And while Arslan did not directly accuse the Israeli government of assassinating Aridi, Wiam Wahhab certainly did.

Given the historically cozy relationship that the Israeli government has enjoyed with its Druze population, I can’t imagine that it would order the assassination of a relatively minor Druze political figure – the costs seem to far outweigh the rewards. But then again, no media outlet has been asking me for my opinion, so what do I know :)?

In any case, I enjoyed the chance to see Arslan in his usual fine press conference form. And I especially enjoyed the chance to see the collection of bodyguards and “look Mama, I’m on television!” fame-seekers who crowd around him when he (or any politician) speaks.

This photo is from the press conference he gave after Aridi’s funeral on Friday. Notice the bodyguard on his right, who is not only way too cool to remove his sunglasses but is also so utterly professional that rather than pay the slightest attention to Arslan’s speech, he is focusing only on whatever danger might come from that one fixed point in the distance.

And notice the man on Arslan’s left, who is reading the text of the speech that Arslan is giving – ready, perhaps, to jump in and take over if needed:

And lest you think that the photo above captured a fluke moment, here is another one, taken a minute or so later. Neither the bodyguard nor the speech-reader have moved an inch. In fact, almost none of the men standing behind Arslan have moved. After all why jeopardize even an instant of those fifteen minutes of Lebanese television fame?

Posted in Beirut, explosion, Lebanon, media, politics, words | 1 Comment »

seven years of fat, seven years of lean

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 11, 2008

This is a sad day for those of us who were in New York, Washington, D.C., or rural Pennsylvania when the planes hit seven years ago. What I remember most clearly is the confusion of it: I was walking home from the gym when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, and so I had no idea that anything had happened until my friend K called from work.

Diamond, something big has happened, she said tightly. We don’t know what exactly, but a plane has hit the World Trade Center.

That’s awful, I said sympathetically, while thinking to myself: oh, K is always a bit dramatic. I’m so sorry for the people in the plane, and those who witnessed it – but I’m sure that the building will be fine.

No, I remember her saying to me. You don’t understand – our cell phones aren’t working and we can’t get any of the news sites to open.

At the time, I had just moved into a new apartment with a roommate. We had no television and no radio, and only a dial-up internet connection. When K hung up, I tried to go online, but it took ages to connect. And she was right: I couldn’t get any US news website to load.

My mobile phone wasn’t working well either, but I was finally able to reach my father, who had been on his way to vote in their town primary election when he realized that what he was hearing on the radio was not a replay of the 1993 World Trade Center attacks but breaking news.

Later I learned that my sister, who lived in Washington, had also been able to get through to my father. She had been at the doctor’s office when the plane hit the Pentagon, and didn’t know whether she should continue to work or return home. 

It was still early enough that people wondered whether more planes might still be in the air and heading towards unknown targets, so my father cautioned her: try to avoid walking near any building that looks like it might be a target.

My sister looked around and saw government buildings, IMF buildings, embassies and other political headquarters. 

But Dad, she said, this is D.C.. Every building here could be a target.

Three years ago CNN replayed its full coverage of the day on its website, and I watched it from 8:30 am, curious to see what I had missed by being away from the television that day. What I realized was that there was as much confusion on the television as I had experienced on the ground. The news didn’t break immediately, and when it did, the newscasters were unsure how serious – or how big a story – it would be.

The coverage evolved gradually from breaking news into a morning newscast to full live coverage of a story that superceded all others – but even then, confusion reigned. The screen clearly showed the second plane hitting the second tower, but the commentators missed it entirely – and when they were informed of eyewitness accounts reporting the second hit, they initially dismissed them. None of us could believe what happened at first, I suppose – which one could call a gut response or a “failure of imagination”.

Just like 2001, its a beautiful sunny day today, although several degrees cooler than it was then, and the clouds are a bit thicker in the sky. I’m seeing my city with two sets of eyes today, both a bit misty – and its hard to reconcile the seven years that separate them.

Posted in Americans, explosion, home, neighbors, New York, politics, time, weather, women, words | 1 Comment »

shopgirls and rebels: the 1958 ABC bombing

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 26, 2008

Kheireddine’s comment about the 1958 bombing that targeted the ABC in Bab Idriss made me curious to know more. So I did a little online investigating (thank you, once again, New York Times archives!) and found an article about the bombing, dated July 9, 1958.

Its a long article, reprinted from United Press International, a US-based international news agency – meaning either that the Times didn’t have someone stationed in Beirut at the time or that perhaps its correspondent was out of the country. The length suggests that the story was reprinted in full, so the paper’s editors believed that readers would find it interesting. But it was printed on page 9 – not page 1.

Here it is:

Rebel Bomb Rips Big Beirut Store

Explosion and Fire Kill 2 Persons and Injure Fifty in 5-Story Building

BEIRUT, Lebanon, July 8 (UPI)

A rebel bomb blasted and set fire to a five-story department store thronged with shoppers in downtown Beirut today in the biggest bombing incident of the nine-week Lebanese revolt.

Police said at least two persons had been killed and between fifty and sixty injured in the explosion and fire that ripped through the big ABC store during a peak shopping period. Many of the injured were teen-age shop girls.

Twenty of the wounded were hospitalized with serious injuries. Police said fourteen were in “grave” condition, including six who were not expected to live.

The department store, one of Beirut’s largest, was a favorite shopping center for Americans and other members of the foreign colony. But the United States Embassy said it had received no reports of any American casualties.

[I don’t think this paragraph was meant to imply that Americans might have been the intended target of the bombing – just to add a “local interest” element for American readers.]

The combined dynamite-incendiary bomb exploded just as the first wave of morning shoppers poured into the store. The blast smashed the ground-floor plate glass windows of the store, broke other shop windows for a block around and shook buildings a mile away. Sheets of flame raced through the first two floors of the store.

Bomb Believed in Truck

Police believed the bomb had been hidden by rebel terrorists in a soft drink delivery truck parked alongside the store. The truck was turned into a blackened pile of scrap and one of its wheels was blown across the street. Bottles of soft drink exploded in the heat and whistled through the streets like high-explosive projectiles.

The driver of the truck was at first believed to have been killed. But police later theorized that he and his assistant had parked the truck, set the bomb and then disappeared, carrying cases of bottles on a faked delivery.

The local manager of the soft drink plant was taken into custody by police for questioning after the blast.

Two other bombs exploded in Beirut during the day. One went off in a flower shop fifty yards from the department store. But no casualties were reported in these incidents.

Firemen fought for more than two hours at the ABC story before bringing the flames under control. Six persons were injured, two seriously, in three private cars that were driving past the store when the bomb exploded.

The heat of the flames prevented firemen from entering the building. Fiery debris pelted down from the burning building to hamper further the efforts of fire-fighters.

The top two stories of the building were rented by the Middle Eastern office of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. There were no reports of casualties among personnel of the office.

The history of the Singer Sewing Machine Company in the Middle East and other parts of the world is quite interesting – but its not my focus here. The story of the bombing is quite gripping – and it must have been a nightmare to live through for the store’s employees and shoppers.

I know that ABC has a store near Bab Idriss today – one that focuses exclusively on cosmetics and beauty products. Does anyone (hint, hint, Kheireddine!) know whether this is the same building – or at least, a building on the same footprint – as the one that was bombed?

Posted in Beirut, explosion, Lebanon, women | 2 Comments »

one year ago

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 20, 2008

the Nahr al-Bared conflict began. I haven’t seen this “anniversary” mentioned anywhere today – not in the morning newscasts, not in the blogs, and not in the newspaper. But its been hanging in my heart all day.

I remember being sad then, and the memory of the conflict and how long it lasted makes me sad now.

Posted in al-Qaeda, explosion, Islam, Lebanon | 2 Comments »

Monday morning grumpies

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 12, 2008

Duhnuh, duhnuh, duhnuh duhnuh duhnuh: imagine the Jaws theme. As I type, the USS Cole (“mudammara” in Arabic, which really drives home the meaning of the word “destroyer”) is sailing up from the Suez Canal to an undisclosed location “in the Mediterranean”, according to the AFP and all the morning newscasts. I wonder where it could be going, I say to myseld, tongue in cheek. And I wonder what State Department idiot thought that sending the Cole back here was a good idea.

American battleships and Lebanon go way back – and their relationship is not a happy one. The Chouf was already bombed yesterday – no need to bring back Civil War memories of the USS New Jersey doing the same twenty years ago.

On the other hand, perhaps this is the “private watercraft” that the last warden message mentioned …

I’ll let you know when the Cole arrives. Meanwhile, its another beautiful morning here in the non-shot-out hills, although a bit hazy. Here’s a slightly shifted view of the city, focusing on the deep downtown and the coast:

As the days wear on, I’m handling the situation less and less gracefully. I’m grumpy – I miss my routine, my apartment, my wardrobe, my neighborhood. But I am gaining new respect for one of my least favorite za3ims: Walid Jumblatt. What happened yesterday in the Chouf was awful – and Jumblatt stepped up and showed real leadership.

There are too many egos in Lebanese politics – too many men who use their constituencies to feather their own nests and to defend imagined slights to their big-man image. Jumblatt did the opposite yesterday: he put his own ego aside in order to keep the people of the Jebel from sparking a full out conflagration with one another and Hizbullah.

(For those of you who don’t speak Arabic, he gave an interview on Al Jazeera English’s Inside Story that aired this morning around 7:15. I can’t find it on the channel’s website yet, but it should be up soon. He’s unshaven and dressed in his usual one-step-above-homeless style, but he speaks well. And this morning he has been on the phone with every news channel I have flipped to, from New TV to Arabiya, explaining his decision and the importance of civil peace.)

Thanks to the shoot-out in the Jebel and the crisis generally, I have a new mini-za3im to snicker at: Jumblatt’s cousin, Talal Arslan. What a goober. He has never had such media attention before, and with each press conference he looks more and more self-important, talking about how the Jebel is and will remain “lil-muqawama wa al-muqawamin”. Right. And the muqawama is lil-Arslan and will remain so as long as he is a useful alat.

Oh well – he’s getting his 15 minutes of fame, and clearly reveling in it. Here is is giving press conference number four or five yesterday evening, with an entourage of men:

Wherever there is a cameraman in the Middle East, there are men. Sometimes young, sometimes old – but always there. They are the same men who halt their conversations when I walk by – men with nothing better to do than 1) watch girls and 2) stand patiently behind the person being interviewed for the fleeting pleasure of appearing on satellite television. Not to be sexist, but women seem to have better things to do with their time.

Of course, some of these men were probably encouraged to stand behind Arslan – big men need big entourages. But they enjoyed it – whenever Arslan shifted position, the men nearest him shifted as well, to make certain that they were still on camera. My favorite was the cool guy in sunglasses on Arslan’s left. Sunglasses at night and a black Hizbullah-style baseball cap – star qualities indeed.

But the most important man in this group – aside from Arslan – was the ceremonial Microphone Holder. No metal microphone rack for Arslan, but rather a 21st century version of the king’s chamberlain:

And unlike the entouragers, the microphone-ji was taking his responsibilities quite seriously. He didn’t make eye contact with the camera once – he was focused on his job. (And for the curious: the microphones belonged to Manar, OTV, and LBC. I don’t know why New TV wasn’t included, or NBN, or the satellite news channels – maybe he could only hold three microphones.)

I’m going to go and sweat off some of this grumpiness at the gym in a bit. Until then, I’ll be the one hissing at the screen while sending some Monday morning emails. After all, in the rest of the region (excluding poor Sudan) its a normal work day.

Posted in Druze, explosion, Lebanon, media, mountains, politics, words | 2 Comments »

getting out

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 8, 2008

I have a confession to make:

I went to work this morning. H thought I was insane, but for a while it seemed normal. More people were at the gym than yesterday, and more people were at work as well – so the day started off companionably.

But by 11 the “normal” was falling apart. I stuck it out until 2:30, but the report that Nasrallah would be speaking at 4:00 seemed to have sent most people home already.

This was the street that crosses Hamra, taken looking up from the barbed-wire encrusted Tourism Ministry:

This was Hamra, location of my bank (I thought extra cash might be a good idea). Even Costa was closed:

H met me at the apartment a little while after I finally got home, and we packed “just in case” bags to take up to his parents (as in, “just in case we decide to stay over once we get there). As I loaded my bag into the car, we both heard a boom. Not in my neighborhood, but not so far, either.

The roads initially seemed deserted:

So out of habit we took Spears towards the ring road tunnel. The ring road was beautifully empty, and had we brought marshmallows it might have been worth staying a while.

We’re safe at H’s – the port road was open, and we joined the traffic jam of cars exiting stage left.

Charles Malik tells me that Hamra is full of gunfire and masked men, and I can see from the “breaking news” bulletins on the television that my next-door-neighborhood is filled with clashing young men.

And I see that the White House has issued an announcement urging Hizbullah to stop “spreading tension” in Lebanon. This is far beyond the point of tension.

I’m not tense – I’m tired. And I’m sad. On the way up we heard man after man speaking on the radio, each introduced as the head of a Civil War-era militia turned political party – parties that haven’t been major players in years.

I don’t like going backwards, and I don’t like this sinking sense that I am deja vu’ing. So many things are suddenly the same: packing up clothing and passport, trying to find alternate routes to safety now that the airport is closed off, and chatting online with Charles Malik about the security of our respective neighborhoods.

Yalla, Charles M – get out when you can, bring the latest collection of vintage bottles, and I’ll get A to find us another embassy party to crash. It will be just like 2006, only this time the country might truly be destroyed.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, explosion, Lebanon, politics | 6 Comments »

rumors from the grounds up

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 23, 2008

I thought you would already have left the country, the neighborhood coffee vendor said to me this morning as I walked past him.

What? I said, snapping out of a hausfrau-like but pleasant daydream about which stores I would go to on my Saturday morning grocery run.

Aren’t you planning to leave? he asked me again.

I assumed he was asking about my reaction to the “situation” here, and the increase in gunfire & scuffles over the past few weeks.

No no, I said, trying to snap myself from “do I need peanut butter?” to “calm, reassuring foreigner” mode. I’m fine here – and I’m busy with work.

But you must leave, he said, shaking his hands and frowning. By Wednesday. On Wednesday, Israel will attack.

Um, WHAT? The peanut butter debate whisked itself to my mental back burner.

Yes, he continued, with bombs and airplanes. And just in case I didn’t get it, he made “boom boom” and fighter jet noises.

Mmm, I said. Yes, I remember those sounds from the 2006 war.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t take invasion predictions from my coffee vendor terribly seriously. But earlier this week a Lebanese colleague told me about the homeless man who lived in her neighborhood during her childhood. He was sweet, harmless, and slightly touched in the head – and when the Israelis invaded Beirut in 1982, he turned out to be one of their top brass.

Although I appreciated his warning, I can’t imagine that Israel wants anything to do with the words “Lebanon” and “invasion” these days.

And if it does, I sure hope it doesn’t happen on Wednesday. I have two morning meetings and a heap of other things to do that day – and no time to deal with an onslaught of Israelis.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, childhood, espionage, explosion, Israel, Lebanon, politics, rumors, time | 4 Comments »

Checking in: the mysterious Beirut Hilton

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 18, 2008

My parents are coming for a visit next month, and I am counting down the days. I can’t wait to see them and show them “my” Beirut, including the ishtirak and/or generator I am about to break down and buy. (And if there is anyone I can pay off to ensure a tranquil, bomb- and protest-free week, please let me know.)

I bet there’s a Hilton, my Hilton Honors-loving father said brightly when they first decided to come here.

Well, yes and no.

There is half a Hilton on Edde Street, in Hamra. I don’t think it will be ready by next month. In fact, I don’t think it will be ready, ever. Its been in the same half-finished state since I moved to Beirut.

And apparently there was a Hilton, or at least almost a Hilton, until the war broke out in 1975. The building was complete, but the hotel hadn’t officially opened … and once the war broke out, it stayed closed.

Professor Jeff Andrews of the University of Texas posted a photograph of the destroyed Hilton (taken during his 2001 visit to Beirut) on his webpage:


No, parents – you are definitely not staying there. The never-quite-open-for-business hotel hosted assorted militia-men during the civil war, and when the war ended, the building apparently sat unused, like many of Beirut’s buildings still do today.

Like the Holiday Inn, the Beirut Hilton seems to have become an iconic reference-point for visiting journalists. A January 2004 Travel + Leisure article about Beirut had this to say:

Above the fashionable seaside promenade known as Avenue de Paris, the towering Beirut Hilton still stands in all its bomb-damaged ignominy (“It’s an eyesore,” a disgusted pedestrian said when I stopped to snap a picture of the abandoned hostelry).

And, also like many Beirut buildings, by the early 2000s, the Beirut Hilton had investors and a restoration plan. Lebanon’s Investment Development Authority’s (IDAL) website reports that:

In August 2003, IDAL concluded a Package Deal Contract with Hilton Beirut for the US$46-million refurbishment of the five-star hotel in the Beirut Central District. The project will be completed in 2004/2005 and will create around 200 full-time jobs.

You can see drawings of the planned hotel here – just ignore the “estimated completion: 2006-7”.

The Hilton has missed its chance to open in 2007, but it seems that hope still floats for a 2008 opening. In December, 4Hoteliers, a hospitality industry publication, described the new Beirut Hilton as a “first”:

The scheduled opening of the Hilton Beirut in June 2008 represents another first for Hilton, this time in Lebanon. With 158 rooms, this prime business property overlooking the capital’s corniche will have a very contemporary look and feel.

And if you want to match your household fixtures to those of the new/old Hilton, you can do so. Hans Grohe outfitted the hotel, and describes its’ work here.

Before I continue, I would just like to recap what I’ve written thus far. In 2003 the hotel was about to be renovated, and in 2004 Beirut residents were complaining that it was an eyesore.

This is very interesting, since Britain’s Controlled Demolition claims that it demolished the hotel in 2002:

The Beirut Hilton Hotel, which was built in 1975, but never occupied, was imploded on Sunday, July 14, 2002 by NADC Charter Member, Controlled Demolition, Inc. (CDI) of Phoenix, Maryland and their client, Optimal Engineering Consulting & Contracting, SARL, (OECC) of Antelias, Lebanon to make room for a new hotel. Twenty-seven (27) years ago, just days before the grand opening, the Hilton Hotel became the site of fighting in Lebanon’s Civil War. Christian and Muslim militiamen fought room to room for control of the building and other nearby hotels. The Hilton, two (2) other major hotels and other high-rise buildings were ravaged by the fighting. The building was one of the three (3) major hotels badly damaged, but not rebuilt, in Lebanon. Located in the City Center, the Hilton stood out in a major redevelopment area which, in recent years, had erased the scars of the fifteen (15) year long Civil War.

CDI’s international affiliate, CDI UK, Ltd., supervised preparation operations being performed by OECC at the site. CDI’s preparation plan called for explosives to be placed on 6 (SIX) floors in the structure: two (2) lower floors consisting of heavy concrete column and beam construction and; (4) upper floors, constructed of reinforced concrete shear walls. By working in so many locations throughout the structure, CDI was able to beautifully fragment the debris, facilitating OECC’s ability to meet their six (6) week schedule to prepare the site for new construction.

Utilizing approximately 350 kg of high velocity explosives, in 880 locations, CDI felled the structure at exactly 10AM before thousands of spectators with no harm to surrounding buildings. The entire sequence lasted only ten (10) seconds.

The Hilton property and building were abandoned long ago by the US-based hotel chain and a group of Lebanese businessmen purchased the structure two (2) years ago. A new 5-story hotel will be constructed in its place.

(And yes, if you click through to the Controlled Demolition page, you can watch a video of the Hilton collapsing.)

A 2000 article in the Pakistan Economist confirms that the Hilton had been purchased and was scheduled for demolition, and I have found several other similar reports:

A feast was being prepared for the inauguration party of the Beirut Hilton when the civil war erupted in April 1975 and the 400-room hotel found itself in the middle of a battle zone.

Management took out a small advert saying the party was postponed indefinitely. The hotel never opened, turning instead into a looted and burnt-out edifice like the rest of the hotel district along the Mediterranean seafront.

Now, 25 years later, the Saudi-run Societe Mediterraneenne des Grands Hotels has obtained a long-awaited permit to demolish the ruin and build a new 20-storey Hilton at a cost of $70 million.

I don’t get it. Were there two downtown Beirut Hiltons operating before the war? The video doesn’t give the impression that there was much of the old Hilton left to renovate or restore. And I’m definitely not holding my breath for the Edde Hilton to open its doors – or install windows – any time soon.

Posted in Beirut, construction, explosion, family, holidays, hotels, Lebanon | 5 Comments »

the 80s are back: Civil War geography in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 17, 2008

Last night H, C and I went for a lovely, flavor-filled dinner at – where else? – Monks. We left around 9:45, heading back towards Ras Beirut via Bishara al-Khoury and the Basta road.

We weren’t the only ones out last night, but we were the only ones not pumped up with testosterone and aggression and/or wearing army uniforms. The swarming mass of fighting shabab and ring of soldiers was difficult to miss.

Fi action tonight, H said as we all turned our heads left to get a better view. It was a strange sight – to me it looked no more impressive than a scuffle in the parking lot after a high school football game. But the soldiers were taking it seriously – and trying not to get involved. I saw two soldiers pull their fellows back when the latter tried to intervene.

If the Army is afraid to intervene when 20 year olds are fighting with their fists, I understand why it did nothing on Thursday when we heard the machine guns.

We drove cautiously along the road towards Bishara al Khoury, until we heard the distinctive sound of rock hitting Army helmet.

Enough spectating, H said, hitting the gas. We’re getting out of here. I saw the look on that soldier’s face, and I don’t think we want to be here any longer.

It was a rough night in Beirut – not in terms of shooting (I didn’t hear any gunfire, surprisingly enough) but in terms of the number of hot little fights that erupted in the border areas of the city’s many neighborhoods.

You know, C said to me as we waited in the car a bit later, this is all just entertainment for a bunch of unemployed guys with time on their hands.

I think that’s true, but I wonder: at what point does the entertainment get serious – or at what point does it become more fun to fight with real weapons?

And what I also wonder is why the Lebanese media are egging them on. Today’s Naharnet article says:

West Beirut clashes wound 20 people amid mounting tension

West Beirut? Geographically, we were nowhere near the west side of town. We were one block from Sodeco – in what I consider Achrafieh.

Where we were can only be called “West Beirut” if the reference point is the Civil War. Then yes, technically what we saw took place in West Beirut – except for the rock throwing, which took place on the East Beirut side of the Green Line.

Green Line geography, Naharnet? Did your writers miss the 1980s that much?

(Naharnet is the English and Arabic language news site for An Nahar, a mildly right-wing, storied Lebanese newspaper. I check it for news updates, but its headlines are usually more slanted than the paper’s.)

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