A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for the ‘Libya’ Category

Libya on Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 16, 2009

Bloomberg published an absolute gem of an article about Lebanon’s new spot on the Security Council. The reportage was fine, the analysis was appropriately Bloomberg’y, and the quotes were out-of-this-world. If you want to read the full piece, you can do so here. If you just want the highlights, keep scrolling.

Here’s Nawaf Salam, demonstrating the fine grammatical clarity that one expects of a Harvard grad:

“It was long overdue,” Lebanon’s Ambassador Nawaf Salam said in an interview. “We are on the path to recovery. That makes it more comfortable assuming this role.”

That, it, and this. What? I’m coming to expect bad editing from the New York Times, now that all its staff is either gone or working on reduced wages. But Bloomberg? And yes – its more than just that sentence. Here’s another excerpt: Lebanon was last elected to the 15-nation body, the UN’s principle policy-making body, in 1952. Does one need to use “body” twice in the same sentence? And while I might indeed describe the Security Council as principled, the correct term here is principal.

Salam gets a lot of air-time in this article, including the following:

“It is not a government in crisis, just a delay in formation because of domestic balances in a pluralistic society, and because of regional interferences,” said Salam[.] I agree that at some point we will all need to recognize that Lebanon’s normal is a state of crisis – and that many political actors there prefer this. But by ascribing this to both the (positive) effect of pluralism and the (negative) impact of regional interference, he weakens his case.

Although Salam works hard, the article’s best quote comes from Libya’s UN Ambassador, who assesses Lebanon’s progress in its four-month-and-counting-long quest to form a government as follows:

“This is the main concern, so I hope it will be resolved as soon as possible,” Libya’s Deputy Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said of Hariri’s bid to form a unity government. “But they are making a lot of progress. It was impossible before. Now it is completely different.”

Completely different? Really? I admit that the world of men’s fashion is brighter because of Qadhafi, and that the Arab League would be unbearable without him. But I don’t think his style of governance gives his deputies any credibility as analysts of even the most dysfunctional democracies.


Posted in Arab world, Lebanon, Libya | 2 Comments »

history repeating itself, as tragedy and as farce

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 12, 2007

My friend R sent me this link with the very kind subject line “I’m sure you already know this”. I did not – and passed a gripping 9 minutes watching this video when I ought to have been editing a piece on electricity in the Mandate-era Levant.

The video is called “Planet of the Arabs”, and it is an assemblage of film clips, most from the late 1970s to mid 1990s, of or about Arabs. Unsurprisingly, the Arabs portrayed are violent, dark, speak with terrible accents, eat bad food, and lust after Western women. They carry guns and talk about Palestine, hating Jews, and dying for Allah.

The subject of this film is not new – Elia Suleiman did a brilliant, longer version more than fifteen years ago, Introduction to the end of an Argument (muqqadima li nihaya jidal). If you can find it, I suggest watching it after Planet of the Arabs – the cinematography and the argument are sophisticated and deeply compelling.

My favorite moment in Planet comes during a break in the film clips, when a (I presume faux) movie review blurb passes across the screen, saying “”Planet of the Arabs is even more racist than the New York Post” – New York Post“. I wonder what the Post thought of that – or whether the film even registered on its cultural radar.

Planet‘s creators describe it as based upon – or perhaps created in homage to – Jack Shaheen’s Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, a groundbreaking characterization of Arab depictions in American film published, felicitously, in 2001.

And since I have no connection to Hollywood I will end by mentioning the one small tie I (might) have to the world of Arabs’ American film critiques. Decades before Jack Shaheen began writing about Arabs in the media, I believe he knew my aunt and uncle when they all worked in Amman, Jordan.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, art, Beirut, Damascus, film, friends, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, media, Morocco, politics, religion, Syria | 4 Comments »

at the opening of the year: the country version

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 9, 2007


The Oxford Business Group has posted 2006 Year in Review analyses for the many countries its analysts cover. All are available online at OBG’s website – select a country from the list at the right, and look for the Year in Review analysis on the left, under the “[country name] – news briefing” heading.

As a sample, below is the OBG’s review for Lebanon:

The first half of 2006 saw the Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora make some progress in rebuilding confidence in the economy and announce measures to reduce the country’s massive debt, which was running at 183% of GDP. Steps were also taken to revive the stalled privatisation process, carry out further state reforms such as boosting accountability, transparency and government spending cuts.

Heading into the summer months, Lebanon was looking to a bumper year in the tourism sector, with direct receipts of $2bn or more predicted. The ongoing political stability and the favourable expectations for the economy had seen a strong movement of foreign investment into the sector, with well over $1bn committed to new developments. There were also a series of announcements that a similar figure would be invested in Lebanon’s real estate market, with the majority in both cases coming from cashed up Gulf states riding the oil price boom.

However, all of this changed in July when Israel launched its military strike against Lebanon, or as Tel Aviv put it, against the Islamic group Hizbullah. While the 34 day war, and the extended blockade imposed by Israel may have hurt Hizbullah, it was the Lebanese people and the country’s economy which bore the brunt of the campaign.

Months after the war, the cost of the direct damage caused was still being added up, but a conservative estimate of the destruction of 35,000 homes and businesses, a quarter of Lebanon’s road bridges and overpasses, much of the country’s electricity network and sundry other havoc has been put at $3.5bn.

Additionally, the economy has been hardly hit by the trade embargo applied by Israel, lifted only in early September. With estimates that GDP will fall by as much as 7% for the year, driving the Lebanese economy into negative growth, some predictions have put the total long term losses brought by the war at up to $15bn.

However, Lebanon’s woes didn’t end when the guns fell silent on August 14. Simmering tension between the country’s many political factions came to the boil, with the Syrian- backed Hizbullah withdrawing from the government and, along with its allies, including the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), led by Christian politician Michel Aoun, pushing for a national unity government.

By December, the efforts to unseat the government of Prime Minister Siniora had seen six cabinet ministers resign and President Emile Lahoud refusing to accept the legitimacy of the ruling coalition. Hizbullah, which was in part staking its claim to a greater say in the running of the country on its self proclaimed victory over Israel, called its supporters out into the streets of down town Beirut.

This show of force, which at times saw more than 100,000 pro-Hizbullah demonstrators camp in the central business district, dealt yet another blow to the country’s economy. Retailers in Beirut’s CBD saw sales fall by more than 30% in December, in what is usually one of the busiest seasons. The catering, tourism and hospitality sectors were also hard hit by the ongoing political instability, which has been little eased by efforts at mediation by the Arab League and other parties.

Despite the instability, there were still some positives for Lebanon at the end of the year, with Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh tipping a balance of payments surplus of $2.5bn at the end of December and a 7% increase in deposits held by Lebanese banks, giving holdings of $63bn by the end of 2006.

Salameh said that Lebanon’s foreign-currency reserves had risen to $13bn during the year, up from the $12.5bn at the close of 2005. He also said this would allow the Central Bank to weather any fluctuations in the markets, as would a predicted fall in interest rates in 2007.

However, the long running political infighting appears likely to offset any advances in the economy, threatening a positive outcome of the international donors’ conference scheduled to be held in Paris in late January to try to drum up more financial support for Lebanon.

Another more immediate victim has been the government’s privatisation program, which has stalled amidst the year’s battles, both military and political. The program’s cause was not aided by the assassination in November of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, yet another factor that added to the destabilisation of the country.

Though talks are continuing over forming a new government, there are no guarantees that Lebanon’s deeply divided factions will be able to work in harmony if they do join forces, imperilling the recovery of the economy from the blows it suffered in 2006.

Posted in economics, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, politics, religion, research, Syria | Leave a Comment »

reading my way around the world

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 17, 2006

Yesterday was a very long day: counting from where I am now, it began Friday at 9 pm and finished Sunday a little past 3 am. Such are the joys of global and domestic travel, particularly in the winter.

Avoiding ‘personal treatment’ from Ben Gurion’s security staffers not only made my trip more pleasant but also allowed me enough time to visit the airport’s bookshops. They offered a tremendously well-edited collection of English language books – exponentially better than the bodice-rippers and ancient management texts that seem to crop up in non-English friendly European airports.

With the help of a friendly and equally bookish shop clerk, I selected two, which proved fine and well-appreciated travel companions for each of my two long-haul flights.

The first, Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men, is set in late 1970s Libya. I must confess that Matar is the first Libyan author (in this case, Libyan with years spent in the United States and Egypt) I have ever read, and that Libyan fiction of any sort is entirely new to me.

What I liked most about Matar’s writing was his ability to describe the fear under which people in newly created authoritarian regimes live without turning to didacticism or pedantry. There was no heavy-handed political or human rights message here – just the confusion and anguish of one family, seen through the 9 year old son’s eyes.


The second book was Shifra Horn’s Four Mothers, whose own cover described it as “in the tradition of Isabel Allende and Amy Tan”. The comparisons are apt, but both fail in some way to capture the depth of Horn’s writing. Her characters live and breathe; their lives escape the narrative. This is what I loved about her book: that at the end I still had questions about the characters’ lives. Their lives spilled beyond the book’s boundaries; rather than an artificial denouement tieing up all loose ends, Horn respects her characters’ lives enough to let them continue past the page.

I want to know what happened to Muhammad, and how Sara forgave Edward for running away from her in horror when he saw her haggard from missing him, but at the same time I am thrilled that Horn does not answer these questions for me. I am left to puzzle out these details and their significance myself, without any indication whether my suppositions are correct – just as in real life, with real people. Horn’s captivating mixture of restraint and vividness kept me enthralled across the continental United States – and what a joy that was.


Posted in books, family, Israel, Libya, politics, time, women | Leave a Comment »