A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘Lebanon’ Category

that old black magic …

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 25, 2009

Several years ago, my aunt pointed out something I had never noticed: the great frequency with which articles about – and editorials against – magic and sorcery appear in Gulf newspapers. I thought of her observation when I read earlier this month that Ali Sibat had been sentenced to death for his work as a television psychic. Sibat is Lebanese and lived worked in Lebanon, but was arrested in Saudi Arabia while there on a religious pilgrimage last year.

Here’s an excerpt from the latest Associated Press article on the story:

Saudi Arabia should overturn a death sentence imposed on a Lebanese national convicted of practicing witchcraft during a visit to the conservative kingdom, an international human rights group said in a report late Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch also called on the Saudi government to halt “its increasing use of charges of ‘witchcraft,’ crimes that are vaguely defined and arbitrarily used.”

The report highlights the ongoing complaints over the Saudi justice system, which, while based on Islamic law, leaves a wide leeway to individual judges and can often result in dramatically inconsistent sentences.

Ali Sibat, a Lebanese psychic who made predictions on a satellite TV channel from his home in Beirut, was arrested by religious police in the holy city of Medina during a pilgrimage there in May 2008 and then sentenced to death Nov. 9.

Sibat is one of scores of people reported arrested every year in the kingdom by local papers for practicing sorcery, witchcraft, black magic and fortune-telling. These practices are considered polytheism by the government of this deeply religious Muslim country.

Sibat seems to have been arrested somewhat by chance: he was recognized while in Medina, and those who recognized him informed the local authorities.

Here’s a September article from Arab News, the English-language Saudi newspaper, that addresses the issue of magic (or sorcery, as it is often called in the Gulf papers). It incorporates several common themes: the sinfulness of magic and its historic omnipresence; the connection between sorcerers/magicians and 1) Africans or dark-skinned people, 2) avarice, 3) women; and the real presence of evil in this world, which religion can address but magic cannot.

JEDDAH: Hardly a day passes without a local newspaper reporting the arrest of a sorcerer in the Kingdom, something that is indicative of the widespread meddling in sorcery. It is, however, not just sorcerers who make money — those who treat (or claim to treat) magic and the evil eye are also rolling in dollars. While there is mystery surrounding how magic is done, some weak-hearted people end up resorting to sorcerers to mend troubled marriages, ensure husbands remain faithful or cause harm to adversaries.

At the same time, magic is an old human practice, which has existed in many countries and religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism.

Sara Mohammed, a single 28-year-old woman, said a sorcerer once told her she was unmarried because someone had cast a spell on her. “I have been facing problems all my life and I was looking for something to change my fortune for the better. A relative told me that she knew a man who could help me because I may be under some kind of spell,” Sara said.

The man who her relative introduced her turned out to be an African sorcerer who had been residing in the Kingdom for some time. Sara visited him at his home, which she described as a “rotten place with a terrible stench.”

Afraid to go alone, she took her cousin along. “I went in and his wife offered us tea. We refused to drink anything there. My cousin was laughing and giggling as she felt the entire setup was just a big joke. The man then began asking me about my situation and held up a small cup filled with olive oil,” she added. Sara laughs for a few seconds and then explains that the sorcerer then began acting strange by whispering into the cup. “He then said my ex-fiancé had cast a spell on me and that he could undo it for SR1,800. I told him that he was asking for far too much money. He held the cup up once again and started talking and haggling with this supposed jinn inside,” she said, laughing.

“That was four years ago. I now only seek Allah’s help,” she said.

People underestimate how serious a sin magic actually is. Some people pay large amounts of money to sorcerers, believing they will eventually give them happiness. Abeer Saleh said some members of her family are so infatuated with magic that they act strange and perform nonsensical rituals.

“Two elderly members of my family who are sisters met a sorceress who told them that their sister-in-law had cast a spell on them. They believed everything that she told them,” said Saleh. She added that the two sisters were experiencing some domestic problems and in the course of their fascination with magic even claimed to have seen the ground split open and their sister-in-law appear and cast a spell on them. “They then began selling their personal belongings and even furniture to pay the sorceress to break the spell,” said Saleh, adding that other members of the family even tried to explain to them that magic was forbidden in Islam, but to no avail. “They’re still, even to this day, engrossed in weird rituals. They burned coriander and black pepper at my sister’s wedding to protect her wedding dress from harm,” she said, adding that her relatives are educated women and not ignorant.

Reports surfaced in July that divers searching for the body of a young woman who drowned off Jeddah’s Corniche discovered 22 bottles containing papers with names scrawled on them, as well as pieces of jewelry and locks of hair. It is thought these items were spells cast into the sea as part of some magic ritual. Some sheikhs cure those afflicted with magic by reciting verses of the Qur’an over Zamzam water, olive oil or honey which they then administer to those affected.

Some of these people have even developed reputations of being very proficient in what they do and are known to charge around SR100 or more per visit. One sheikh who helps fight black magic and the effects of the evil eye said that magic is everywhere. The sheikh, who asked not to be named, charges SR100 per visit. He even has an office where he receives clients.

“Black magic is widely practiced nowadays. It’s all over the Internet and even in toy stores,” he said giving the example of Ouija boards, which are sold in stores.

A woman told Arab News that she went to this sheikh after her son decided to break off his engagement. “I just felt my son was behaving strangely. It was out of character. The girl he was engaged to was suitable for him,” she said. “The sheikh treated my son with verses of the Qur’an and Zamzam water. He then abandoned his intention and then married that girl. They are very happy,” she added.

I’m personally not a great fan of astrologists, psychics, etc. But this story is rather horrifying: a man goes to the holiest cities of Islam to perform an act of piety, and is arrested and sentenced to death for breaking the law – a violation that occurred in another country, under a different set of laws. Talk about a guardian state …


Posted in Arab world, Arabic, education, Islam, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia | Leave a Comment »

“Call me back”: Alfa’s $.09

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 3, 2009

This morning, H sent me the link to a new service that Alfa, or rather “Alfa Active Light“, is offering its pre-paid customers. Called “Ehkineh“, its basically a missed-call service for those with balances too low to send a SMS, who think that a missed call won’t send the right message.

It sounds like a joke: an April Fool’s Day gag, or a Qnion piece. But it isn’t – and that’s the beauty of it for me: its yet another workaround that helps people navigate the country’s many dysfunctional telecomm issues.

Here’s what Alfa has to say:

About the service

Out of credit or you have less than $0.09 in your balance, and your line is still in the active period? Now you can use “Ehkineh” a free service from Alfa, to send up to 40 Free predefined “Ehkineh” SMS per month asking an Alfa user, whether Prepaid or Postpaid, to call you back for urgent matters.

How to use the service

In a text message, compose the letter “E”, followed by the 8 digits Alfa number of the person you wish to send the SMS to, & send the SMS to 1339 for free.

Alfa in return, sends “Ehkineh from Alfa: Please Call me Back” request through SMS on your behalf to the person you are trying to reach.

Note: Once the SMS is sent, you will receive a confirmation message & the remaining number of free SMS you can benefit from.

Useful tips

  • You can only benefit from the service when you are out of credits or you have less than $0.09 in your balance, and your line is still active.
  • Ehkineh” Service is:
    • Automatically renewed and absolutely free of charge
    • Available exclusively for Alfa Prepaid subscribers,
    • Every month you get 40 Free new “Ehkineh” SMS, which you cannot accumulate from one month to another.
    • Not functional outside Lebanon. However, if the destination number is abroad and subscribed to Roam-In service, he will be able to receive the SMS.
  • Happy haka’ing, Alfa pre-paid users :).

    Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics, Lebanon | 2 Comments »

    Logorrhea, Mufti-Style

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 2, 2009

    When it rains, it pours. and pours. and pours. and sometimes pours out so much that it starts to sound rabid. or maybe just very, very, very post-modern.

    When I clicked on Naharnet’s evening headline, Jouzo: Let the Lebanese Maronite and the Rest of Lebanon Go Back to Syria, what I hoped to find were a few mis-translation gems. It never crossed my mind that this headline might in fact actually be what Mufti “dare to spell differently” Muhammed al Jouzo said. But apparently it was.

    So. Let’s take this step by step.

    In a statement on Sunday, Lebanese Sunni Mufti of Mt. Lebanon Sheikh Muhammed al-Jouzo said that “Lebanon has turned into an Arab Babylonian tower with its folkloric leaderships and new parliamentary faces only fit for exhibitions and decorations while the losers turn into sectarian symbols standing on the government’s doors” with their conditions hindering the formation of the government.

    It must be hard to be the Sunni mufti of Mount Lebanon, an area historically low in Sunnis and high in other groups with elevated senses of their own importance. But sometimes getting up on a soapbox does more harm than good. Ancient Babylon was not Arab, and Lebanon’s leaders are not folkloric, unless “za’imi” now translates as “folkloric”. On the other hand, a MP campfire singalong would make for a priceless photo op. And I bet Sheikh Saad has a guitar.

    “There are politicians who move from right to left and vice versa while their slogans change with the stock exchange. One day you see him a Gulf Arab and another day a Persian Iranian when a third time he becomes an American and then again a Russian. One day you see him an enemy of Syria and then again Syria’s best friend and so on. There are no principles, no morale, no charters and the ‘unity’ presidency stands bewildered before the political “Sufi-sectarianism”; next to the allies or to the opposition!” he added.

    The Lebanese stock exchange changes basically only when Solidere does. The U.S. stock exchange, on the other hand, has been on a pleasant upward tick, Friday’s 250-point decline aside. Which bourse is he referring to here? And the only political figure who might possibly qualify for the bewildering khaliji-ajami-amerki-russi raqs is, of course, Yoda Bey. But even with him I’m skeptical. As for “Sufi-sectarianism” … hunh. I just don’t get it, but I’m trying. (Sunni Mevlevis twirl with hands up, Shii with hands down?)

    “There’s no civilized nation in the world like that of our Great Lebanon. The Lebanese people abhor this category. To those I ask you, what’s your true identity? Who robs the electricity money, the foreign, internal, sea and land telecommunications’ money? A nation that lives the culture of hate with leaders leading them to sectarian wars, hating each other; hatred in the name of religion, in the name of sectarianism and in the name of the parties,” he added.

    I’ve read this bit several times now, and I’m still wondering: which category is it that the Lebanese people abhor? Civilized? Nation? Great? Lebanon? And are they the “those” whom al Jouza addresses? (I think we all get the point of his question about robbery, but I don’t understand its connection to this bit about categories and abhorrence.) Condemning hate sounds more equitably distributed – “hating each other” – and hate is a good thing for a religious leader to condemn, even if his words are a bit vague.

    “Our educated youth is faced with only one exit, that of emigration. They have grown to hate their country and their nationality and have traveled in quest of finding another one keen to protect their integrity and protect them from the politicians and their resentment,” he continued.

    What? I’m not questioning the fact of emigration, but what other types of exits might there be? Mental? And as for “hating their country and their nationality” and journeying on some heroic quest to find another (a much nicer way of putting it than “trying for the American passport”), most overseas Lebanese I’ve met want nothing more than to return home.

    This is the Lebanon of today, so why don’t all the people emigrate and offer our country as a gift to Syria and their infidels? Did not the Maronite come from Syria, so why not go back to it and along with them all of Lebanon and not just those who have missed Syria?,” he concluded.

    Ah, the sectarian fun begins. Here’s where an Arabic original would be helpful (and here’s also where we reach and exceed the limits of back translation …), as well as a history lesson. By “infidels” does he mean the Alaouites who run Syria, or is suggesting that Syrians in general are irreligious? And what’s with the jibe at Maronites?

    Finally, and just as a minor point: historically speaking, the Lebanese who wanted Lebanon to go back to Syria were the Sunnis. And only the Sunnis.

    Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, Islam, Lebanon, religion, Syria, Uncategorized, words | 1 Comment »

    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 »

    hummus: where satire and reality blur

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 25, 2009

    Have you ever heard about someone reading an article from the Onion and mistaking it for a genuine news article?

    Today J sent me a genuine AP article whose headline made me wish the reverse were true:

    Lebanese to Israel: Hands off our hummus!

    Ah yes: another bizarre Lebanese food contest. Poor Zeina Karam, having to report on this.

    BEIRUT — Lebanese chefs prepared a massive plate of hummus weighing over two tons Saturday that broke a world record organizers said was previously held by Israel — a bid to reaffirm proprietorship over the popular Middle Eastern dip.

    “Come and fight for your bite, you know you’re right!” was the slogan for the event — part of a simmering war over regional cuisine between Lebanon and Israel, which have had tense political relations for decades.

    [I agree that having Israelis and pseudo-Israelis try to correct my pronunciation of “hummus” as “KHumus” – say it with extra phlegm for full effect – is beyond irritating. But claiming a dish by cooking an obscene amount of it? And being PROUD of this? And creating an embarrassingly lame slogan – in English, no less? Good God.]

    Lebanese businessmen accuse Israel of stealing a host of traditional Middle Eastern dishes, particularly hummus, and marketing them worldwide as Israeli.

    “Lebanon is trying to win a battle against Israel by registering this new Guinness World Record and telling the whole world that hummus is a Lebanese product, its part of our traditions,” said Fady Jreissati, vice president of operations at International Fairs and Promotions group, the event’s organizer.

    [Ah yes, the Guinness World Record: a world-renowned battleground.What, the UN Security Council wouldn’t hear their case?]

    Hummus — made from mashed chickpeas, sesame paste, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic — has been eaten in the Middle East for centuries. Its exact origin is unknown, though it’s generally seen as an Arab dish.

    [Ooooooooooooh. An Arab dish. Zeina, did you warn your AP editors about the flow of Phoenician hate mail that’s about to start flooding them?]

    But it is also immensely popular in Israel — served in everyday meals and at many restaurants — and its popularity is growing around the globe.

    The issue of food copyright was raised last year by the head of Lebanon’s Association of Lebanese Industrialists, Fadi Abboud, when he announced plans to sue Israel to stop it from marketing hummus and other regional dishes as Israeli.

    But to do that, Lebanon must formally register the product as Lebanese. The association is still in the process of collecting documents and proof supporting its claim for that purpose.

    [I can’t wait until someone tries to register olives. We could witness a full-on Mediterranean war.]

    Lebanese industrialists cite, as an example, the lawsuit over feta cheese in which a European Union court ruled in 2002 the cheese must be made with Greek sheep and goats milk to bear the name feta. That ruling is only valid for products sold in the EU.

    Abboud says that process took seven years and realizes Lebanon’s fight with Israel is an uphill battle.

    Meanwhile, he says, events like Saturday’s serve to remind the world that hummus is not Israeli.

    “If we don’t tell Israel that enough is enough, and we don’t remind the world that it’s not true that hummus is an Israeli traditional dish, they (Israelis) will keep on marketing it as their own,” he said Saturday.

    [Someone needs to tell this man that in the United States, the hummus contest is not between Lebanon and Israel. Its not between Lebanon and anyone. Hummus here is sold by nationality as Greek or Israeli, and by region as Arab or Mediterranean. No Lebanon. No cedars. No national dish awareness whatsoever.]

    Some 300 chefs were involved in preparing Saturday’s massive ceramic plate of hummus in a huge tent set up in downtown Beirut. The white-uniformed chefs used 2,976 pounds (1,350 kilograms) of mashed chickpeas, 106 gallons (400 liters) of lemon juice and 57 pounds (26 kilograms) of salt to make the dish, weighing 4,532 pounds (2,056 kilograms).

    It was not clear what the former Israeli record was, and organizers gave conflicting reports on when it was made.

    But chefs and visitors broke into cheers and applause when a representative from the Guinness Book of World Records presented Abboud with a certificate verifying Lebanon had broken the previous record. The plate was then decorated with the red, green and white Lebanese flag.

    A similar attempt to set a new world record will be held Sunday for the largest serving of tabbouleh, a salad made of chopped parsley and tomatoes, that Lebanon also claims as its own.

    *Sigh*. So much food in one short weekend. But again, a bit misguided. Before Lebanon can claim tabbouleh, it needs to take it back from all the U.S. cooks who think of it as a bulgur-based side dish.

    Since I’m now in mourning at missing my chance to attend an all-you-can-eat tabbouleh fest, I’ll let my friend B have the last word. B found Al-Manar’s take on the hummus-a-thon, which described it as “mark[ing] a new victory on Israel” and noted that “organizers have hailed this event as “a patriotic event of national scale”.”

    Finally, B noted, Mughniyeh is at peace.

    Posted in advertising, Arab world, food, friends, Israel, Lebanon | 8 Comments »

    window-shopping the want ads

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 21, 2009

    Most days I love my current job – just like I love each and every pair of shoes in my closet. But just like with my beloved shoes, I’m always on the lookout for a new pair of heels – er, job – to love.

    Hence I eagerly scroll through the job postings that AME Info sends my way. I’ve never seen a job that I would actually 1) qualify for and 2) be interested in, but I do love reading the descriptions.

    The latest featured position – that of general manager of a Saudi Arabian radio station – caught my eye at once:

    Our Client in KSA is urgently looking for a General Manager for their radio station. The general manager would be reporting directly to the CEO of the Media Group. Salary will not be a bar for the right candidate.

    “Salary will not be a bar for the right candidate”? Since when did radio become such a lucrative field?

    At least with that job, the applicant knows the industry. Here’s a more mysterious want ad:

    Location : Kabul – Afghanistan
    Salary:  $100,000 – $150,000 per year
    Applicants should have over 15 years experience and be prepared to be based in Afghanistan. This is a challenging yet rewarding role for a senior candidate.

    “Challenging yet rewarding” – I bet. Challenge number one: identifying just what you will be the CEO of.

    Finally, I took a peek at all the jobs currently listed with a “Lebanon” location. There were three:

    Finance Analyst – Dubai

    Senior Business Planning Analyst – Dubai

    Human Resources Manager – Lebanon.

    Um. Just to recap: I chose the “narrow by location” option and selected “Lebanon”. Guess the sour economy hasn’t soured the Lebanese on the Emirati exodus.

    Posted in advertising, Afghanistan, Arab world, Dubai, economics, Lebanon, radio | Leave a Comment »

    Sunni Love, take two

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 19, 2009

    I bet that you thought that “Sunni Love, take one” was going to be about Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s parents, didn’t you? I did too, to be honest. But the failed romance between Sultan and Alia was a pretty good story on its own. And happily Time paid the same media attention to the next Saud-Solh love story: that between “brawny, globetrotting” Talal and the “sparkling” Mlle. Mona.

    I’m still not sure where Tola is, but I do love the $8 dowry. Happy Monday-morning reading!

    SAUDI ARABIA: Trinkets from Tola!

    For years, as he watched his 40-odd sons (the exact number has never been reliably checked) grow to strapping manhood, Saudi Arabia’s wily and sentimental old King Ibn Saud cherished a wish—to unite one of them with a daughter of his old friend and champion, Premier Riad El Solh of Lebanon. After El Solh fell before an assassin’s gun (in 1951), Ibn Saud sent his boy Prince Sultan, 29, to offer sympathy and a small token of affection ($79,000 in cash) to the Lebanese Premier’s widow.

    During the course of these amenities, a romance flowered between young Sultan and dark-eyed Alia El Solh, eldest of El Solh’s daughters. But disillusionment set in. Alia, a Western-educated 22-year-old, learned to her chagrin that Sultan already had at least one other wife, two sons and four daughters. Sultan hired a private eye and discovered that his bride-to-be was a feminist agitator with a firm determination not to hide herself behind a veil and live in a harem. One month after old Ibn Saud went to his grave, the marriage plans were canceled (TIME, Dec. 21).

    Last July, for the observance of the third anniversary of El Solh’s murder, another Ibn Saud heir, brawny, globetrotting Talal, son No. 18, journeyed to Lebanon to pay his respects to the bereaved. His piercing eye soon singled out Mona, the dead Premier’s sparkling 18-year-old third daughter. After one quick glimpse. Talal invited himself to dinner on the following day. A day later, he proposed marriage. Mme. El Solh said it was up to Mona, and Mona cast down her eyes and murmured yes. Last week, after agreeing to pay a modest dowry of 25 Lebanese pounds ($8), Prince Talal signed his name in the marriage register alongside that of Mona El Solh.

    Oil-rich Talal provided his bride with a few trinkets as well. Items: a necklace containing 263 diamonds and an emerald; an engagement ring with a marquise diamond approximately an inch long, half an inch wide; a gold mesh bracelet, a diamond-studded necklace, and a hunting-case wristwatch adorned with seven large diamonds and several smaller ones. More important, Talal bought himself a 20-room mansion on the mountain road to Damascus, which suggested that Mona would not be cooped up all year round in a Saudi Arabian harem.

    And there was one other matter. “I don’t like to make conditions, and I made none. But I’m sure he won’t marry any other girls,” Mona said confidently.

    Posted in Arab world, Lebanon, romance, Saudi Arabia | 3 Comments »

    Sunni Love, take one

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 18, 2009

    I should be calling this post “Lives of the Rich and Famous: 1953” – but “Sunni Love” was too much fun. While poking around in Time‘s online archives, I found this December 1953 gem about the non-marriage between a son of Ibn Saud and a daughter of Riad al Solh. Its a bit overwrought in parts (“with dark eyes that pierced like a Bedouin’s”, not to mention “he paled and muttered to himself” – seriously?), and a bit stereotyped in its views of Muslim Arab women (after all, the piece is titled SAUDI ARABIA: Western Woman) but its a good story, and Mlle. al Solh certainly sounds like someone I would have wanted to be friends with. Enjoy!

    The bullet that killed Lebanon’s first and greatest Premier, brilliant, little Riad el Solh (TIME, July 30, 1951), distressed the generous heart of old Ibn Saud, autocrat of Saudi Arabia. The old lion of the desert could always count on an ally when El Solh was representing Lebanon. Ibn Saud wept and vowed to look after his old friend’s widow and four daughters. Tragically in the patriarchal Arab world, El Solh died without leaving a son.

    So in the summer of 1953, when 29-year-old Sultan Al-Saud arrived in Lebanon, he bore his father’s sympathy to the bereaved family and an offer of $79,000 to the widow so that she might finance the mansion her husband had begun. Then Emir Sultan’s eye lighted upon 22-year-old Alia Solh. She was slender and bright, with dark eyes that pierced like a Bedouin’s when she was talking and crinkled when she smiled. She was also the big girl on campus at the American University of Beirut, where she studied political science and practiced it by leading demonstrations for women’s rights, daring hapless cops to shoot her down.

    The Spark. Though Sultan was Ibn Saud’s 16th son, he was one of his favorites. Unlike some of the other 43 sons, he was able and hard working. As mayor of the capital city of Riyadh, he had done a first-rate job, and in negotiations with Aramco he had amazed the American oilmen with his quick mind. Matchmakers suggested that Alia and Sultan would make a good couple; Ibn Saud and El Solh’s widow agreed. Sultan heeded his father and in traditional Arabic style delicately indicated his wish to Mme. Solh through go-betweens. Unaware of all this, Alia went off to England, then to Paris for a holiday. Quite by chance, Sultan appeared in Paris, too, and inquired around about his bride-to-be. What he heard alarmed him. He hired detectives, who reported that Alia was indeed no strict Moslem maiden but was gadding about the Left Bank with a young crowd, behaving herself like a thoroughly emancipated, Western-style 22-year-old.

    The Flame. When Alia returned to Beirut this fall and learned of the marriage negotiations, she laid down conditions. She would marry Sultan if he would join the foreign service and live in Washington, Paris, London, Beirut or any other civilized place. She would not live in Saudi Arabia, where women stay in seclusion. She would never wear a veil. Sultan must marry no other woman and must agree to live his entire life with her. Sultan must put a large sum in escrow just in case he should decide to leave her.

    When Sultan heard these terms, he paled and muttered to himself. Added to what he had learned about Alia in Paris, this was too much. Though he wished to honor his dying father’s dynastic wish, he wanted a traditional Moslem wife, not a Western woman. Meanwhile, in Beirut, Alia did some fast research on her own and discovered that Sultan already had at least one wife, as well as two sons and four daughters.

    Last week it was all over. The matchmakers bowed out. Alia was back in her political science classes at the American University of Beirut. Sultan tended to his job of governing Riyadh and seemed a good bet to become Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Agriculture. Both heaved great sighs of relief. Their families were disappointed, but also aware that times have changed in the Middle East.

    Posted in Arab world, Lebanon, media, romance | 2 Comments »

    more firsts: Hariri in Time magazine

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 18, 2009

    I’d like to say that Rafiq Hariri’s first appearance in Time magazine was just as much a non-sequitur as his first appearance in the New York Times. But it wasn’t. In fact, Hariri’s first appearance in Time heralds many later associations: construction wealth, civic generosity, an interest in ridding the streets of garbage, and a focus on Beirut’s downtown.

    Hariri was first introduced to Time readers in a November 8, 1982 piece called “Coming Back to Life“, which is excerpted below:

    Beirut rebuilds, but old wounds are slow to heal.

    The flower shops are open again, with their carnations and birds of paradise spilling out of the open stalls and onto the sidewalks. Fruit and vegetables are once more being hawked on nearly every street corner, and coffee wagons have again sprouted their gaily colored umbrellas along the avenues. The sound of a car backfiring is likely to be exactly that and not the blast of gunfire. And early every morning, joggers of every description—Lebanese and foreigners, students and businessmen, paratroopers and housewives—swarm along the Avenue de Paris, popularly known as the Corniche.

    Beirut, slowly, is coming back to life. It is a remarkable feat, considering what the city has endured. For most of the summer Beirut was a bloody battleground for Israeli troops and Palestinian guerrillas …

    Nonetheless, recovery has begun. Aside from the gradual revival of commercial life, an extraordinary transformation has taken place in the shattered western section. Every day dozens of bulldozers clear away rubble, and convoys of trucks cart off debris. Shell craters have been filled, sidewalks repaired. The result: West Beirut is cleaner than at any time since the beginning of the civil war in 1975. The Corniche Mazraa, site of some of the war’s heaviest shelling and once littered with broken masonry, is well groomed, and the four-lane high way to the airport has been repaved.

    Most of the credit for the cleanup operation belongs to Rafiq Bahaeddine al Hariri, a wealthy Lebanese businessman from Sidon. Owner of a construction firm called Oger, which has headquarters in Paris, Hariri has donated the services of hundreds of workers and a small army of equipment, including 40 bulldozers, 60 trucks, ten garbage trucks, five excavators and a pair of cranes, each able to hoist up to 40 tons. The estimated tab so far: $7.5 million, all of it paid by Hariri.

    The siege has also created a chance to rebuild the old city center, which was reduced to rubble during the 1975-76 civil war. By cleaning up this section, Hariri hopes to bring life back to a no man’s land that most people in Beirut did not dare visit for seven years.

    (The inflation calculator at http://www.dollartimes.com tells me that $7.5 million in 1982 dollars would be worth $16.77 million today.)

    1982 was a very rough year for Beirut and its inhabitants. I’m tempted to say that I wonder how grateful the (Amin) Gemayel government was for this in-kind donation, but I’m not sure that one can wonder when one thinks she can already guess at the answer.

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