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February 20 2014

Parlez-vous français? Learning French According to Global Voices Translators

Bangui, Central African Republic. The French language retains some of its former influence in the former French colonies in Africa.

Bangui, Central African Republic. The French language retains some of its former influence in the former French colonies in Africa. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

I never fully understood the challenges of learning French until my girlfriend decided to take up the language. She would ask me – a native French speaker – questions that I had no answer for. 

My girlfriend speaks Mandarin and English, and as she asked more questions, I began to realise the extent to which the language I had grown up with in Madagascar is loaded with exceptions. Learning a new language can be a daunting prospect for beginners, but for newcomers to France who are starting from scratch, learning French can be especially challenging. 

French was important as a lingua franca until the middle of the 20th century, but its influence has since waned. Some experts blame the relative decline of French worldwide on the the complexity of the language. 

There have been several attempts over the years to reform and simplify the French language, notably at the level of orthography, but they were mostly ignored. A policy introduced in 1990 put forward general rules and lists of modified words, though institutions have been slow to adopt them

Still, the global influence of French language influence in the world should not be dismissed. French, spoken as a first language in France, Monaco, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, and some parts of Canada and the U.S., has an estimated 110 million native speakers. 190 million more speak French as a second language, and it's registered as an official language in 29 countries. The largest numbers of French second-language speakers reside in Francophone Africa, the largest contingent being from the Democratic Republic of Congo (32 million) and Cameroon (7.2 million). 

A good example of its influence is the scope of Alliance Française, an international non-profit organization that aims to promote French language and culture around the world. Each year, 450,000 people of all ages attend French classes at Alliances Française in 136 countries.

The question remains: how does learning French compare with other languages? We posed the question to a few members of the Global Voices family, and also asked them to share any tips they had for beginners. Here's what they said:

 Carol Bidwell 

As an English native speaker who has learnt both French and German, I have to say both are tricky for different reasons. French pronunciation can be quite tricky if you aren't coming from an Romance language background, and I have found that in some situations (mainly dealing with official/ government stuff) French people can be quite dismissive if your pronunciation isn't perfect, which can be demoralizing. In terms of grammar too, French is full of exceptions to rules, so as soon as you feel like you've learnt something there is more to learn! I don't want this to sound too negative though, because it does get easier and sticking at it is definitely worth it!

 Andrew Kowalczuk

French is one of the most idiomatic languages, and there are thousands of them, too many to study, so you have to learn gradually from context.

Thalia Rahme : 

French is my second language after Arabic. In Lebanon, at home or in the streets, Lebanese people speak basic French. Nevertheless, I think that my Lebanese English-educated friends training have had some difficulties because they only start taking French as a third language in schools when they are 11. 
 
But I notice many don't retain much of what they have learned [and they] also tend to feel embarrassed when speaking in public [especially] the pronunciation…Still, the French taught in schools in Lebanon is the formal one,so if you go to France you will feel as if in another planet when hearing some of the local idioms or slang. Also we have developed our Lebanized French i.e. by turning some of the Lebanese expressions into French 

 Alison McMillan quotes from a blog that explains the struggle of learning a new language:

You speak your native language. It is organized in certain ways: the grammar with its subject, verb and object in a certain order; different levels of politeness; and your culture mirrored in this structure as well as in idiom and metaphor. You express yourself in terms of it; you came to yourself through it; in effect, you are it. When you learn another language, you learn a different way to organize reality. When you grow fluent in this new language, you can say and even do things in ways you could not previously; certain new aspects are highlighted, and some things that you originally could more precisely formulate are now missing.

Danielle Martineau:  

French has its quirks like all languages. I started learning French when I was 9 and like anything else it's just commitment and practice and pushing through the hard part in the beginning. I do recommend this video. It is a TED talk by the Fluent in three months guy, Benny Lewis. He says something that I think is really accurate about people learning a new language. Usually they are shy and afraid to make mistakes so they never really jump right in from the beginning for fear of being judged. They think other people will be offended by their imperfect language skills when most people are just thrilled that you are making an effort and taking an interest in their culture and language. Also a lot of French people will correct you when you make mistakes in speech – it's not considered rude, and I actually really love it.  Nothing like making a mistake to learn how to do things right!

Suzanne Lehn

As a French person, my experience with the issue is an indirect one. I know a Chinese lady who married a Frenchman and they live in the US, so the language they have in common is English. [..] The big difference between Chinese and French languages: the grammar, it seems! Almost non-existent in Chinese and cumbersome in French. Also one must be aware that one can/should learn the oral language first. I know a lady who speaks perfect oral French from having lived in France for 2 years, but still cannot write it at all.

Georgia Popplewell

I come from staunchly Anglophone Trinidad and Tobago, but I enjoy learning languages, and didn't find French particularly difficult. After studying it for three years in secondary school, I changed to Spanish, then somehow decided to major in French at university. I don't think I'd still be speaking French fairly fluently today, however, if I hadn't spent five months living and working in Martinique shortly after graduating. Having to communicate exclusively in French for that period seems to have locked the language into my brain.

I also have a far larger vocabulary in French than in Spanish, and I attribute that to the fact that I've read more widely in French. Gaining a solid grasp of a language, in my opinion, entails engaging with both living, contemporary examples of the language, such as you encounter in films, newspapers and magazines, and the more formal kind of language you'd find in literary works as well.

Jane Ellis:

French is a language where, the more you know, the harder it gets. One of the hardest things is definitely the grammar. In particular, I have found the passé simple very hard to use, as well as the subjunctive. I am getting a lot better at the subjunctive, but it is very difficult for a British person who has never even been taught about the existence of the subjunctive in English (!) to compute/process a whole new way of theoretical thinking.

Also, for me, the speaking is definitely the hardest. I freely admit to being hopeless as speaking French! I am confident on paper, but not orally. Lack of practice since I have been living in a Spanish-speaking country for the past three years and learning the local lingo, plus, I have to say, also due to rebuffs when trying to speak French to French-speakers.
As a result, although my Spanish is garbled and pretty hopeless, I am MUCH more confident about trying to speak it because the locals are so encouraging and friendly.

Lova Rakatomalala is Global Voices’ editor for the Francophone region. When he first arrived from Madagascar to the US as a freshman at Tulane University, his fear of speaking English with a French accent was so overwhelming that he selected classes on the sole basis that they not require him to speak in public. He tweets—in French, Malagasy and English!—at @lrakoto.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

February 18 2014

New Lebanese Government met with Skepticism

When Lebanese politicians announced their new government, Lebanon's online community responded with indifference, mockery and skepticism.

NOW Lebanon blogger Anthony ElGossain wrote a satirical piece entitled “Dear Citizen: Best Wishes from Lebanon’s New Cabinet” in which he writes a fictional letter written by politicians.

At this stage, furthermore, we are not prepared to recognize, promote, or protect communities of conscience: should you choose to identify with other citizens’ word-view, social mores, economic preferences, or political convictions, we invite you to explore emigration, disillusionment, apathy, or radicalism.

Slutterhouse frontman Rabih Salloum asked a question that seems to be on everyone's mind:

Screenshot from Facebook

Screenshot from Facebook

Gino Raidy from Gino's Blog shared his sentiment:

As though to make things worse, it later turned out that the New Cabinet's Protocol Photo was photoshopped:

Picture from Facebook

Picture from Facebook

The photoshopping incident was in itself a controversy. Many felt that it truly showed how little difference having a new government would make. Speaking to Al-Arabiya, blogger Karl Sharro from KarlRemarks explained:

“Photoshopping the ministers in is a metaphor for how a cabinet that has no clear political program or mandate and only represents the lowest common denominator has been artificially brought together merely as a form of political placebo”.

And add to that the fact that the new Telecom Minister, Boutros Harb, didn't seem to know how to use Twitter:

Trying to calm things down and provide an actual analysis into what the new government represent, Eye on the East blogger Marina Chamma wrote a piece entitled “A Warm Welcome to Lebanon's New Cabinet

When it comes to the business of the nation, the Lebanese shouldn’t grant politicians the benefit of the doubt anymore, very few deserve it. But the least these people can do is listen. As a reflection of the country’s mood, most of which oscillates between the slightly hopeful and the extreme sarcastic hopelessness, here are some welcome questions and self-evident truths for the newcomers. This is really what it all boils down to people, and in no particular order:

Click the link above to read the rest of the post.

February 14 2014

Online Campaign to Restore Lebanon's Second Largest Library a Success

Screenshot of the Zoomaal petition site

When unknown assailants torched his library on January 3, Father Ibrahim Sarrouj responded by forgiving them. The assailants, supposedly Muslim fundamentalists, accused Father Sarrouj of attacking Islam by publishing a pamphlet claiming that Abu Bakr, Islam's first caliph, once beat Muhammad's wife Aisha with a newspaper.

The library in question is Tripoli's famed Al-Saeh Library, Lebanon's second largest and home to over 80,000 books of all kind. Despite security forces being notified that Father Ibrahim Sarrouj had been threatened by religious extremists, the library was still badly damaged. No one knows exactly how many books were destroyed, but it is estimated that the number may be as high as two thirds.

The irony is that not only did Father Sarrouj never write such a pamphlet – his library contained and still contains numerous priceless Islamic books – but the supposed event couldn't have taken place as it predates the invention of the printing press by 800 years. The supposed ‘accusation’ could not have therefore been made by someone who knows anything about history. But then again, historical accuracy isn't a usual feature of religious fundamentalism.

This crime didn't seem to be about anything. Father Ibrahim Sarrouj is known for his humanist principles in calling for Tripoli's unity. Muslims and Christians alike view him as one of them. He greeted everyone with As-salamu ‘aleikum (Peace be upon you). There was simply no ‘reason’ whatsoever, not even by fundamentalist standards, to attack the library.

How should we interpret this ridiculous and heinous crime? Should we read it as yet another victim of Lebanon's sectarian reality? Or should we just dismiss it as the product of a few marginalized individuals who don't have much to do other than attack knowledge?

The latter seems to be how the Lebanese decided to respond. Indeed, Lebanon as a whole condemned the burning. All major sectarian representatives issued condemnations and called for the criminals to face justice. Lebanon's netizens, Muslims and Christians, Druze and Atheists, sent their support to Father Ibrahim Sarrouj by the thousands. Everyone said “No.” But “No” wasn't enough. Something had to be done to restore the library. Enter “Kafana Samtan”.

Kafana Samtan, or “Enough Silence”, was launched on Zoomaal, an online Arab crowd-funding platform, just a few days after the attack. It was immediately backed with overwhelming support from both companies and average citizens. In just a month, it succeeded in getting US $35,000, thanks to 298 donors. How will the money be used? New bookshelves, a new front door, new wall painting, as well as buying back rare books and installing security equipment.

But that's not the end of the story. The Al-Saeh library distinguished itself in succeeding in getting Lebanese of all stripes together. Irrespective of religion or sect, the campaign gathered everyone in coming together for an obviously non-sectarian cause. This wasn't a Christian vs Muslim vs other Christian vs other Muslim scenario specifically because Father Sarrouj isn't one.

Having given up on trying to change things politically due to excessive nation-wide sectarian corruption, Lebanon's independent minds have taken to social media to gather funds, sign petitions, exchange ideas and influence their surroundings.

Will the “Kafana Samta” success story contribute to Lebanon's growing activist scene? One thing's certain, it has certainly allowed many to soften their negative perceptions and to essentially give hope in a country where hope isn't easy to maintain.

February 11 2014

In Support of Lebanese Skier Jackie Chamoun

Lebanon's netizens found themselves having to defend Jackie Chamoun, Lebanon's Alpine Skier representative at the Soshi Olympics, after pictures of a past photoshoot in which she posed topless were released online.

Screenshot of LebaneseBlogs.com showing Lebanese bloggers supporting Jackie Chamoun

Screenshot of LebaneseBlogs.com showing Lebanese bloggers supporting Jackie Chamoun

The scandal erupted after a video of her photoshoot was released on Al Jadeed TV and escalated when Caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karam demanded an official investigation into her case.

This resulted in an overwhelming wave of support from Lebanon's netizens.

Blogger Abir Ghattas mocked the minister by suggesting he should sort out his priorities:

The minister is scared on the reputation of Lebanon, you know, Lebanon the country where:

Men beat their wives to death (and walk free)
Armed Militia roam the roads killing on identity
Tripoli is a live version of Red Alert meets Counter Strike
Ministers, and Deputies, spend years in power with no work done
Corruption is the daily bread of every official
Kids die on hospital doors
Artist’s work is censored
Al Assir appears on Prime Time TV and his hateful speeches are broadcasted live
Freedom of speech is an illusion
Ministry of tourism ads are borderline erotic
Jackie’s boobs are the national security risk, the bad image of the country and the blow that will break Lebanon’s back, Out-fucking-rageous!

She then went on to say:

“The scandal is not the topless photos of Jackie Chamoun, the real scandal is the low media standards, the patriarchal dinosaur-ish mentality, and sick moral compass that makes a photo that partially show some boobs a threat on Lebanon amazing image!”

Gino Raidy from Gino's Blog took a more aggressive approach:

The horribly backwards reaction to the surfacing of these old photos, makes you all look like savage brutes living in some theocracy in the mountains between Pakistan or Afghanistan, or in Iran, or Saudi. You are in fucking Beirut, the city that placed ads in Playboy Magazine in the 60s, and had its own red light district back in the day. Today, in 2014, you want to turn it into some religious theocracy that’s afraid of sex and hates women unless they’re 72 virgins you get for blowing your stupid self up? Or some savage tribe that still believes women are property and carry “the honor” of the family or whatever it is you call what you congregate yourself in?

Elie Fares from A Separate State of Mind points out the difference in reactions between Beirut and the rest of Lebanon:

When it comes to sex, we have a long way to go. Perhaps things are slowly changing. But there’s more to Lebanon than Beirut and its surroundings.

And he, too, points out that we should sort our priorities:

I can think of so many things that warrant are true scandals about this country, that warrant a discussion much, much more than Jackie Chamoun’s breasts. At the top of my head, I can think of the several explosions that have taken place within the past couple of months alone and the fact that they’ve become second nature to life in this place. I can think of a TV station that figured instagramming the body parts of a suicide bomber was a good idea. I can think of the fact that we haven’t had a decently functioning government for the past year and nor will we have one for the next year, it seems. I can think of the fact that presidential elections are literally in 3 months but we’re still waiting for the savior president’s name to be “inspired” by neighboring countries. I can think of the fact that going to a mall requires you to go through more checkpoint than an airport’s border control. I can even think of the graffiti artist that was arrested only two days ago by some unknown party’s henchmen because of him being at the “wrong” place. I can even think of the many pictures of the living conditions of some Lebanese in the North that should be scandalous.

Tarek Joseph Chemaly from Beirut NTSC reminded us of how Lebanon's own ministry of tourism put an ad in a 1971 issue of PlayBoy featuring Lebanese Miss Universe Georgina Rizk:

“Lebanese Ministry of Tourism uses public funds to put a scantily clad lady in Playboy Magazine to advertise the country at large. Don't believe me? Well, “Meet Lebanon

Writing on my own blog, Hummus For Thought, I pointed out how the very man who is criticizing Jackie Chamoun blocked a law that would protect women from domestic violence.

“Caretaker” Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami thinks it’s more damaging to Lebanon’s reputation that one of our best athletes, Jackie Chamoun, participated in a photoshoot where she showed as much skin – less, actually – as what we find in every lingerie shop and in every night club rather than his own refusal to sign a law protecting women from domestic violence?

Beirut.com blogger Omar Al Fil listed his top 10 favorite responses to the scandal, among which are:

Nonetheless, Jackie Chamoun apologized on her Facebook page for offending her more conservative supporters. And her apology was met by thousands of people telling her that she has nothing to apologize for. Echoing their sentiments, Najib from Blog Baladi wrote:

You don’t need to apologize for anyone. We love you and wish you the best of luck in your upcoming races!

And as usual, there was bound to be a Tumblr somewhere responding to a “scandal”.

February 09 2014

“I Am Alive” App Allows Lebanese to Reassure Each Other After Explosions

The Lebanese seem to have gotten so used to bombs that an app dedicated to letting your loved ones know you're alive seems inevitable. The app which goes by the name of “I Am Alive” is the brainchild of 26-year-old Sandra Hassan, a Lebanese student living in Paris.

Screenshot of

Screenshot of “I am Alive” app

The way the app works is simple: every time an explosion happens, you just open the app and click. This automatically sends out a tweet announcing “I am still alive! #Lebanon #LatestBombing”.

Speaking with NPR blogger Rachel Martin, Hassan explained her motivation for creating the app:

“It was maybe a little bit frustrating that, we in Lebanon at least, that we're living in a situation that makes such an application necessary or useful. My way to express that frustration was to publish this app … kind of as a statement against what was happening, a statement of discontent if you will.”

Responses to the app varied. When famous Lebanese blogger Gino Raidy of GinosBlog asked people what readers thought of the app, most responses were negative:

IT blogger Erik Neu from Mondegreen II shared their feelings.

However, PSFK blogger Ross Brooks has a more positive outlook on what the app represents:

“At times when mobile phone networks get flooded with calls from concerned relatives, the internet provides a better alternative to make sure your message gets through.”

January 29 2014

Lebanon: New Stamp to Commemorate Armenian Genocide

Lebanon will have a new national stamp released to commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Announcing it on Twitter, Minister of Telecommunications Nicolas Sehnaoui stressed the symbolic importance of the stamp:

An estimated 1 to 1.5 million Armenians were killed in present-day Turkey (then under Ottoman rule), starting from April 1915, in what became known as the Armenian genocide.

Armenian activists and supporters have taken this opportunity to remind the world of the importance of recognizing the Armenian Genocide:

London-based historian Rory Yeomans notes its historic importance:

Turkish Twitter user Mehmet Kosucu thinks otherwise:

January 18 2014

Lebanese blogger spoofs Study on Middle Eastern Women Dressing

The question “How should Middle Eastern Women Dress in Public” posed by the University of Michigan is attracting hilarious spoofs online. The content is so rich that an additional post to our first one was necessary.

When Washington Post Max Fisher shared the original image on Twitter, he wasn't expecting this response by WSJ blogger Tom Gara:

But the spoof that got the most attention was undoubtedly Karl Sharro's of KarlreMarks:

Interviewed on PRI, he explained his motivation:

“It's almost like putting Muslim women on a scale from 1 to 6, from being fully covered to not being covered at all, which I think is pretty absurd.”

January 12 2014

Hockey, Diving for Crosses and Other Christmas-in-January Traditions

For Christians of the Western hemisphere, Christmas comes a little earlier than for their counterparts in Eastern Europe, North Africa and other countries. According to the Gregorian calendar, one of many man-made concepts to measure time and the calendar the globe uses today, Christ was born during the night between December 24 and December 25 just a little over 2,000 years ago. According to the Julian calendar, still used by many religious organizations in the world, those dates correspond to January 6 and January 7.

Among those who celebrate Christmas on those January dates are most Orthodox and Coptic Christians, from Eastern Europe to Egypt and Ethiopia. We called on the wonderfully diverse team of over 700 Global Voices authors to share their favorite local Orthodox and Coptic Christmas traditions and learned that the world is indeed a festive place, long after the Western world has taken down their Christmas stockings and stripped their Christmas trees.

Markos Lemma from Ethiopia explains how a game of hockey is the centerpiece in this North African country's Christmas celebrations:

Christmas falls on December 29 of the Ethiopian calendar (January 7 according to the Gregorian calendar). Ledet (Christmas), it is celebrated seriously by a church service that goes on throughout the night after 43 days fasting known as Tsome Gahad (Advent), with a spectacular procession, which begins at 6 a.m. and lasts until 9 a.m. After the mass service, people go home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb or beef accompanied with injera and the traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej). Traditionally, young men played a game similar to hockey called genna on this day and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name.

The case in Serbia is far from similar, but followers of the Orthodox faith in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrate Christmas Eve on January 6, the last day of the same 40-day fast observed in Ethiopia, and then break that fast on Christmas Day, January 7, with a similar family feast abundant with meats of all sorts and special Christmas dishes. Different regions of these countries have somewhat different traditions, but this author chose to share one particular tradition that the vast majority of Orthodox families still uphold in this part of Southeast Europe:

On Christmas Day, January 7 according to the Julian calendar, Orthodox Serb households welcome a young male or male child, called a Položajnik, into the house in the early morning. The young male is usually a younger cousin, grandson or neighbor and he should be the first to enter the house that day. He brings in a wreath or bundle of small well dried oak branch tips, hay and such, called a Badnjak, with him and uses it to light the fire. In urban households, most of which don't have a fireplace, the stove is used to light the Badnjak. As sparks from the dried leaves and branches float around, he chants “As many sparks, that much health; as many sparks, that much wealth; as many sparks, that much love; as many sparks, that much luck…”, in no particular order. Different communities and families have their own versions of this ditty. The položajnik is considered a representation of health, prosperity and all things good. He brings luck, health, and love into the home. He then receives a gift from the family and joins them for Christmas breakfast.

Expat blogger David Bailey, better known as “An Englishman in the Balkans”, posted this video explaining the traditional breaking of the Christmas bread, known as the Česnica, on Christmas day in an Orthodox home in Bosnia. The Česnica, however, takes on different shapes throughout the region and in the Vojvodina region of Serbia, for example, is very sweet, resembling baklava more than bread.

The traditional Christmas greeting in Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro is “Christ is born!”, to which the proper response is “Truly He is born”. Coincidentally, Lebanon, a country relatively far from Eastern Europe, now uses the same Christmas greeting. Thalia Rahme explains:

In Lebanon … its becoming more and more trendy to say the formula you just mentioned as in reaction to the secularization of Christmas

While usually we used to say that in Easter – Christ is risen, Indeed he is risen – now we also say [it on] Christmas – Christ is Born, Indeed He is born.

Lebanon seems to be a particularly special case when it comes to calendars and Christmas celebrations, with a plethora of faiths and traditions truly all its own. Thalia managed to unravel some of the marvels of Lebanese Christmas for us:

Lebanese Orthodox celebrate Christmas with Catholics on December 24.

Only Armenians Orthodox do have it on January 6 and, since it happens to be Epiphany for us Catholics [marking the baptism of Jesus], it's a kind of double celebration and an official holiday in Lebanon as part of giving each community its rights.

We have a small Coptic and Orthodox community and [an] Ethiopian one who celebrate it on January 7.

On the other hand, Armenian Orthodox choose to celebrate their Easter with us Catholics, but this is not the case for other Orthodox communities [...] but this year Easter for both Catholics and Orthodox is falling on the same date

At the mention of the marking of the Epiphany, many other Eastern Europeans chimed in with their stories of this frequently forgotten, not-so-minor Christian holiday. Global Voices’ veteran author from Bulgaria Rayna St. wrote in to say this:

For the French, January 6 is Epiphany so people eat Galette des Rois (and yes, it's yummy).

For Bulgarians, January 6 is also Epiphany, also called Yordanovden, when everyone named Yordan/ka, Daniel/a, Bogomil/a, Bojidar/a celebrate. The day's name is also Bogoyavlenie (God's appearance) and it is believed to be the day when Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River. When He came out of the waters, the skies opened and there was a voice saying, “You are my beloved Son, all my good will is in You” or something along these lines.

The most exciting moment of this nowadays is the ritual that accompanies this day: the priest throws a cross in the river and young men jump in to fetch it. As you may imagine, it's quite sporty as temperatures in Bulgaria differ from Jordan… :) So, when a guy catches the cross, he is believed to be blessed, fortunate, and to have iron health for the coming year. The priest also goes through houses and, in my region at least, fills in the rooms with tamyan smoke (a specific kind of wax mixture) so it chases away bad spirits. Bogoyavlenie is actually the last one of the Dirty Days and only meatless dishes are served for dinner.

Interestingly enough, while a common Christmas date may not be something all Eastern European Christians share, swimming for crosses in ice cold waters on Epiphany is. This tradition is also the same as Rayna describes in Russia, Serbia, Montenegro and other countries of the region. The dates of when they mark the Epiphany and break the January ice, however, do differ, with those who follow the Julian calendar coming in 13 days “late” again.

But back to Christmas in that region. Busy with following Ukraine's 2013 Euromaidan protests, which continued throughout the Christmas holidays and into 2014, Tetyana Bohdanova set aside a few moments from these worrying events to fill us in on how Christmas is traditionally celebrated by Orthodox followers in this country when they aren't out in the streets holding anti-government rallies by the hundreds of thousands:

In Ukraine most people celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January, according to the Julian calendar. On Christmas Eve, January 6, we gather for a traditional dinner that consists of 12 meatless dishes honoring the 12 Apostles. The dinner may begin only after the first star appears in the sky indicating that Christ has been born.

Another Christmas tradition is Vertep, which originally included a puppet theater representing Nativity scenes. A contemporary version, however, refers to a group of people acting out the story of Christ’s birth. Vertep also commonly includes folk characters and singing of Christmas carols. This year Ukrainian Vertep has been influenced by the political turmoil in the country. Among dressed up actors one may recognize Biblical and folk figures along with contemporary politicians, who are not necessarily represented by the good characters!

Tetyana Lokot, also from Ukraine, echoed what Tetyana Bohdanova had to say about caroling and added video evidence of this community holiday tradition:

One [tradition] is caroling – going around singing carols and bringing people the good news, for which carolers sometimes get candy and small change. It is typical for carolers to dress up in national costumes and go in groups, and the carols’ tunes and texts have been carried through generations. One of the most popular ones, and certainly my favorite, is Schedryk (known in English as Carol of the Bells), an old Ukrainian song. [The video] is a recent version from 2011 by Oleh Skrypka, a Ukrainian musician. The cartoon that goes along with it is strangely hinting at the Euromaidan spirit of 2013 and 2014, but also reminds us that we are all kids at heart :)

While Orthodox Coptic Christians account for the largest Christian community in Egypt, they form an even larger percentage of the Ethiopian community. Befekadu Hailu from Ethiopia reminds us that many of us may not even be in the same year, much less on the same date:

As you may know, our [Ethiopian] calendar is also different so we didn't start a new year with most of you. We started 2006 in September and this is the 2006th birthday of Jesus. We are just celebrating Christmas tomorrow [January 7] – which is a public holiday. The Orthodox Christians will also complete their 40 days of fasting season tomorrow. So, it will also be a day of eating much meat products. People spend it at home and as usual coffee ceremony, holiday food, family gatherings are the features of the holiday.

Thus, we end this quick journey through what may be a belated Christmas to some, where we began – in North Africa, with a traditional Christmas song performed by an Ethiopian choir. May your Christmases be as plentiful, warm, and well-rehearsed as theirs, wherever and whenever you choose to celebrate them. In the meantime, some of us are off to prepare for Orthodox New Year's Eve, coming up on January 13 – and you're all invited!

January 09 2014

Lebanon: SMEX Tracks Web Filtering Through Research, Crowdsourcing

Casino du Liban. Photo by HAL_ via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Casino du Liban. Photo by HAL_ via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The original version of this post appeared on SMEX.

As co-director of Social Media Exchange, a small non-profit that promotes the strategic use of new media for civic participation and advocacy in the Arab World, I have spent much of this year researching blocked websites in Lebanon. This past summer, I was able to obtain web blocking data from a Lebanese Internet service provider.

Of various sites blocked, cases that stood out included one site that played a key role in uncovering child molestation allegations against a Lebanese priest, a series of unauthorized gambling sites, and Israel-based sites related to commerce.

In October 2013, Lebanese Priest Mansour Labaki was convicted by the Vatican of child molestation. He was sentenced to a “life of penitence,” a decision that triggered outrage from his family and supporters who insisted that he was innocent and requested an appeal. In contrast, others in the civil society wanted his case to be transferred to a civil court where he would be condemned and sent to jail for his actions.

In the midst of the drama, the website that exposed the priest and documented stories of the victims was blocked inside Lebanon.

The Priest Labaki scandal website was blocked under Lebanon's libel and defamation law, despite the fact that he was convicted of the crime by the Vatican. The decision to block the site exemplifies the power that some religious institutions wield over Lebanon's judicial system.

Nine gambling sites were blocked in Lebanon in 2013. Casino Du Liban, established first in the Middle East in 1959, has had a legal monopoly over this industry in Lebanon since 1995. @sygma refreshed our memories in last summer's debate [ar] about its status: “Decree 6919 of June 29 1995, Casino du Liban was given monopoly over all gambling activities to protect public morals.” Therefore blocking the nine gambling websites is justified, from a legal perspective, despite the fact that it is easy to bypass filtering.

Lebanon is also blocking six Israeli websites under the economy and trade law. The Ministry of Economy and Commerce administrates the Arab League boycott on Israel and thus is responsible for restricting a range of economic and trade relations between Lebanon and Israel. Concurrently, Israeli authorities are also blocking Lebanese IPs from accessing two websites, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and TASE, a website that provides employment information.

While we can debate the legality of blocking specific websites, we cannot support the lack of information and transparency surrounding the process. A state needs more than legal support to function and survive: It needs community input and support to remind them that some laws — such as the libel and defamation laws — are in need of new amendments, and that unblocking gambling sites can create economic opportunity. Most importantly, we need to have all this in place to call on our politicians and public officials to account for their actions.

The technical methodology through which we obtained these results will not be published here, but we hope to make it available in the future. In recent days, we've begun receiving messages leading us to believe that web blocking in Lebanon is applied inconsistently across ISPs. To try to gather more information about this interesting phenomenon, we’ve made our Google spreadsheet public and added columns for ISPs. Through crowdsourcing, we can try to map what’s actually going on in the country with regard to blocking of websites. Please test the URLs and add your results, or if you find other blocked URLs, add them too. The following Maharat Foundation article [ar] also offers useful information about the blocking.

January 03 2014

Lebanon: I Am Not A Martyr

Lebanon is no stranger to violence. Bombings are frequent and perpetrators are never held accountable. On December 26 and January 2, two car-bomb attacks have left at least 13 people dead and many more injured. In addition, a dual bombing in November that left over 20 dead and ongoing violence in different areas around the country make it difficult to be optimistic about 2014. Yet, after each bombing, people just go back to their everyday lives and innocent victims are soon forgotten. Because this is wrong, the #NotAMartyr movement encourages people to take a stand:

A place for all those who believe that death is not a solution.
A place for all those who do not want to be called martyrs in vain.
A place to pay tribute for all those who died; are dying and will unfortunately keep dying in the future.
A place where we show the world that we care.
A place where we show everyone that we want change.

Lebanon needed a wake up call from the state of lunacy well described on Hummus for Thoughts:

We have become a nation of justified claustrophobia and justified paranoia; we have stopped hoping that this bomb would be the last because we know that another bomb will soon follow; we are living in the not-so-discreet shadow of our catastrophic civil war and are aimlessly waking up every morning not really understanding what the hell is going on; we are engulfed in our own sectarian lunacy exacerbated by our own (suffocating) corrupted religiopolitical class; and we have never failed to remind ourselves how we’re failing to do anything about it.
Many of us are cursed with persistent hope, and more and more of us are cursed with hopelessness. Whatever your current state of mind is, let us at least be clear: we are not martyrs. We’re not dying for a cause. We’re just dying.

After the December 26 bombing, the death of a bystander, one anonymous, innocent face amongst other, started a small wave: When 16 year old Mohamed Chaar died from his wounds right after the December 26 bombing, Lebanese netizens shared his picture and the last selfie he took, moments before the bomb exploded, to remind the world that the teenager is not a martyr, a word often used wrongly. Blogger The Lebanese Expatriate explains[ar] why it matters [ar]:

محمد الشعار ليس شهيداً، فهو لم يختار القتال إلى جانب طرف ضد آخر.

محمد الشعار ليس شهيداً، فهو لم يدعم العنف ولم يكن مستعداً لتضحية بحياته من أجل قضايا سياسية أو دينية.

محمد الشعار ليس شهيداً، محمد الشعار ضحية.

Mohamed Chaar is not a martyr, he did not chose to fight for one side against another
Mohamed Chaar is not a martyr, he did not support violence and was not ready to sacrifice his life for a political or religious cause
Mohammed Chaar is not a martyr, Mohammed Chaar is a victim.

The wave of solidarity with Mohamed Chaar turned into the hashtag  #NotAMartyr or #مش_شهيد on all social media platforms, as an attempt to reclaim a country by stating what change must happen in Lebanon.

On Twitter, Mariam Akanan denounces Lebanon's sectarian politics:

@Akananmariam: بدي حجابي يمثل إماني و حبي للسلام مش انتمائي السياسي او الحزبي. #مش_شهيد #notamartyr

@Akananmariam: I want my hijab to represent my faith and my love of peace, not my political affiliation or party. 

@LebaneseVoices refuses the constant violence:

@LebaneseVoices I'm tired of head counting my family every other week to check if they have survived explosions #notamartyr #انا_مش_شهيد #لبنان #Lebanon

Mashrou3 Leila frontman @hamedleila wants to hold his boyfriend's hand without being afraid of the police:

Hamed Sinno: I would like to hold my boyfriend's hand without being afraid of the police

Hamed Sinno: I would like to hold my boyfriend's hand without being afraid of the police

And many others:

@leabaroudi 31 Dec I want criminals to be held ACCOUNTABLE #notamartyr pic.twitter.com/qn6pSp7WxY

@leabaroudi:
I want criminals to be held ACCOUNTABLE #notamartyr pic.twitter.com/qn6pSp7WxY

“I want to raise my kids in Lebanon”
@safran3
#notamartyr #Lebanon pic.twitter.com/P9HPYiClN2

 

I want to stop hearing my parents say:

I want to stop hearing my parents say: “Stay at home, if anything happens we'll blame ourselves”
Shared by Ellen Francis on Facebook

 

#NotaMartyr has a Facebook page where you can see and read more statements by netizens.

December 28 2013

Lebanon: Don't Drink and Drive

Lebanon's traffic authorities have launched a don't drink and drive campaign ahead of New Year's eve celebrations. On Twitter, the traffic department shares this photograph:

Don't Drink and Drive - a traffic awareness campaign launched by Lebanese authorities ahead of New Year's eve celebrations

Don't Drink and Drive – a traffic awareness campaign launched by Lebanese authorities ahead of New Year's eve celebrations

Six Killed in Lebanon Blast Targeting ex-Minister

At least six people died, and many more were wounded on December 27, 2013, in a blast that targeted former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohamed Chatah when a car bomb attacked his convoy in downtown Beirut. The names of the victims have been published on Blog Baladi. They are:

- Mohammed Nasser Mansour
- Saddam al-Khanshouri (Syrian)
- Kevork Takajian
- Ex-Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah
- Chatah’s bodyguard Tareq Bader
The 6th person is still unidentified.

Elias Muhanna wrote a profile of the ex-Minister on his blog Qifa Nabki, and he notes:

In the course of our discussion, he struck me as curious and flexible in his thinking, a realist uninterested in pie-in-the-sky ideologies (…) There was no unitary structure of government, to Chatah’s mind, that could respect individual equality, communal equality, and the importance of communal borders. Political confessionalism, he argued, was an inevitability in Lebanon for the time being, but it could be tamed to make the system function more efficiently and equitably.

According to Moulahazat:

there’s some kind of a posthumous finger-pointing from the victim itself. True, the tweets of Chatah (you can reach them here) targeted Syria and Hezbollah almost on a daily basis, but the last tweet’s timing remains huge. It speaks of taking power, controlling security, pressure, Hezbollah, and Syria, less than an hour before the blast. It can’t get any worse for M8.

In that context, the politician's last tweet could indeed be seen as an ominous message:

@mohamad_chatah: #Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security & foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 yrs.

Beyond political parties, the Lebanese mourned the human tragedy constantly unfolding in the country. Blogger Rita Kamel posted a photograph that was widely shared on social media as probably “The most tragic selfie of 2013“. The photograph was taken by a group of teenagers, just moments before the explosion. According to the blogger, they have been wounded but are all on their way to recovery:

All the teenagers, Mohammad El Chaar, Omar Bekdash, Rabih Youssef and Ahmad Moghrabi have been wounded; only Mohammad’s situation was critical and is now stable according to his close friends.
It could have been anyone. Aggressive dynamics continue to ruin peoples’ lives.
Prayers to Mohammad El Chaar, a 16 year old Lebanese young man whose one of the hobbies is swimming competitively. Prayers to his family and his friends who have to go through this unspeakable tragedy. Mohammad, we are all waiting for you.
Prayers to all those wounded severely and hanging on to life.
Why do “messages” have to be sealed with blood like this? When is this going to end?

Lebanon is often the scene of deadly violence and bombings. Last month, at least 23 people died when the Iranian Embassy in Beirut was attacked.

December 20 2013

How do police lineups in Lebanon work?

Lebanese blogger Karl Sharro tells us how the newly introduced police lineups work in Lebanon here.

November 19 2013

PHOTOS: Five Short Stories of Syrian Refugees

This post is part of our special coverage Surviving in Syria

While the world seems to be happy for Syrian president Bashar Al Assad to continue killing Syrians, international media, newspapers, blogs, social networks, and amateur and professional photographers are injecting the Internet space with stories and misery of 2 million (estimated October 2013) Syrian refugees. Nevertheless this post should be considered as “Surviving outside Syria” but it will be as part of our special coverage on Surviving in Syria to reveal the social media's contribution to the Syrian conflict.

Several photographs have been selected for this post, citing Syrian people in neighborhood countries, to illustrate a dark, hard and real life that Syrian children and women are facing away from their homes and families. Bad fate followed Syrians refugees again when they faced conflicts with societies that host them. In Turkey, Syrian refugees were targeted after Reyhanlı blasts, not to mention the plight of Syrian refugee girls.

Story 1: Fotojournalismus on Tubmlr posted photos of the Syrian refugees who have fled the almost 3 years conflict to Lebanon who is now a home to the largest number of them. Lebanon is Dealing with the Massive Influx of Syrian Refugees which today 20-25% of total population of Lebanon are Syrian refugees. The author wrote:

While there is no official data on the number of children and adults working on the streets Lebanon, it is estimated that it could be anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000. In wealthy districts of Beirut children and adults are viewed on nearly every block begging, looking through trash or offering pedestrians a shoe shine.

tumblr_mwepxmpa3T1r44q44o9_1280

A young Syrian girl sells lighters in a wealthy district of Beirut. Source: fotojournalismus on Tumblr used under CC BY 2.0

Story 2: Under the title “Wives of the Syrian Revolution” Tanya Habjouqa briefly wrote a description of one of her 10 photos:

Um Suleiman, 26, walked alone with her four children (including an infant) from Syria to Iraq and finally Jordan. They had no food on the journey. Her husband remained behind to fight.

tumblr_mwhznjPNuM1rouua1o2_500

Source: 5cents a Pound on Tumblr. Used under CC BY 2.0

And added

Far from the frontlines, these women — now refugees in Jordan — are struggling to support their families despite meager financial means. Calls from their husbands are the only thing that breaks up the dull routine of everyday life and fantasies of reunion are fed by sultry texts that have infused romance back into these marriages.

Story 3: Michael David Friberg posted a photo on his Tumblr for Syrian children playing football in the massive Zaatari refugees camp which host (Until July 4, 2013) an estimated 144,000 refugees, making it Jordan's fourth largest city.

tumblr_mw5r3dIMjH1qb1egco1_1280

Syrian men playing soccer on the outskirts of Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan in July 2013. Source: Michael David Friberg on Tumblr. Used under CC BY 2.0

Story 4: Give peace a chance on Tumblr also shared this photo of a Syrian worker, Tareq, who had fled to Greece. 

Tareq, 46, an unemployed painter from Syria, is reflected in a mirror in a shed where he lives in an abandoned factory in Athens, Greece. 

tumblr_mw6ppcnawY1si73a4o1_1280

Source: Give Peace a Chance. Used under CC BY 2.0

Story 5:

Hope to comeback! This photo tells a story of three Syrian boys who are waiting for the buses that take Syrian refugees back to Syria from Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan.

4 busses leave daily and people return for a variety of reasons. Most of them would rather take their chances in Syria than live in Zaatari. The situation every day is incredibly volatile as there are more people trying to leave than their are seats on the busses. Riot police monitor the situation as people climb over each other and hoist people up into open windows.

tumblr_mpd87yb10c1qb1egco1_1280

Source: Michael David Friberg on Tumblr. Used under CC BY 2.0

November 09 2013

Bad Cop, Good Cop and Other Cops in Iran Nuke Talks

Six world powers and Iran are discussing Iran's nuclear programme in a two-day meeting in Geneva. Lebanese satirist Karl Sharro comments on Twitter:

Lebanese Man Microwaves Cat

A Lebanese man microwaved a cat, while his friend filmed the process. Blogger Joey Ayoub tracks down the culprits

A Lebanese man microwaved a cat, while his friend filmed the process. Blogger Joey Ayoub tracks down the culprits

A video of a young Lebanese man microwaving a live cat has gone viral. It seems that one man microwaved the cat – for kicks – while the other filmed him – and uploaded the video to Facebook. Blogger Joey Ayoub posts a call to identify the culprits on his blog and manages to track one of them down:

The cat seemed to have suffered a few (hopefully) minor burns but is not dead. I’ll remove the video as soon as the cat is found. The only reason I’m posting this video is because NGOs are already looking for him to confiscate the cat and get him/her the adequate care.

[...]

If you know where he is please let us know.

Ayoub names the culprits, saying:

Mohammad Jallad and Hassan Hammoud, if you’re reading this, we’re asking you to hand over the cat to NGOs such as Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA) (70-248765) and Animals Lebanon (01-751678). Both are very easy to contact and will have someone collect the cat as soon as possible. There isn’t, can’t possible be, any justifications for what you did. It is sick, horrific and just plain wrong.

He adds:

Luckily, the cat seemed to have survived. Unluckily, your names are soon going to be – if they aren’t already – associated with sadistic tendencies often found in criminals of the worst kind. I am talking of the notorious connection between the pleasure of inflicting pain on animals and that very same pleasure later felt in the presence of human pain. This isn’t looking very good.

According to Ayoub, Hammoud microwaved the cat, while Jallad filmed him.

A reader comments:

No need indeed to watch the video.Exposing publicly the names of animal abusers for the first time on a social media in Lebanon is a big step for animal rights.You deserve all our respect,we animal lovers!

On Twitter, netizens were as angry.

Ahmad Yassine notes:

And Philip Farra dares the police to take action:

November 04 2013

Halloween's Three Black Maids Stir Racism Debate in Lebanon

The Instagram photograph of three Lebanese women dressed up as black maids. Blogger Joey Ayoub calls out racism

The Instagram photograph of three Lebanese women dressed up as black maids. Blogger Joey Ayoub calls out racism

For Halloween, people don different costumes. Lebanese blogger Joey Ayoub stumbled upon revelers, who decided to dress up as black maids.
Ayoub calls out their racism in a post on his blog Hummus for Thought saying:

Three very sophisticated Lebanese women clearly thought this was an appropriate costume for Halloween. After all why not? Why not dress up as black maids? It’s not like trying to dress up as Lebanon’s quasi-slaves can’t have some entertainment value. ‘Heik heik’ [Eitherway] they’re already degraded to the level of sub-human, why not at least get a laugh?

The blogger tries to find a reason for this behaviour:

I’m just trying to figure out what could have possibly gone through their minds, but I can’t seem to find anything remotely sensible.

[...]

Dehumanizing, disgraceful and just pathetic. The good news is that Filipinos didn’t seem to be the main target here. But I guess they had some black makeup around and simply had to use it, so Ethiopians and Sri Lankans were the lucky winners. I don’t know which nationality was the target here, but anyway our racists use “Sirlankyyeh” (literally: Sri Lankan woman) for all female migrant workers – No, I’m not kidding.

For good measure, Ayoub adds:

Now I know that it’s very likely that at least one person reading this would know who these three women are. I don’t want their names. I don’t really care. Just let them know that their faces have now gone viral.

In comments on the post, Nathalie Derderian writes:

This is a shame!! Its not enough that these people put up with workin nonstop for a salary that is meaningless, its not enough how much they go thru away from their families. But this is pity!! a shame !!! that 3 young girls could be soo emotionless about them! these are people too!

Tamam Tawk adds:

You should note that the use of black makeup or black face is steeped in racism. It dates back to when white people would put on black face and act out .. incredibly racist and offensive stereotypes. So this is racism compounded with racism. These people make me sick.

And Bassem Deaibess concludes:

It is RACISM when you consider it COMMON that maids are always Black.

But nicocohayek has another opinion. He explains:

I can’t really find what’s the big deal, and i never support racism acts especially in our country, but what they did is nothing of the sort! What if someone showed up as Michael Jordan or Barack Obama? Would you have the same reaction? They’re both as real as you and me; but one is a more common sighting in lebanon.

October 13 2013

Mashrou’ Leila Is Back on Stage to #OccupyArabPop

Mashrou’ Leila on stage in Metropolis, Montreal. Photo credit: Mashrou’ Leila's Facebook page.

Mashrou’ Leila on stage in Metropolis, Montreal.
Photo credit: Mashrou’ Leila's Facebook page.

Have you heard of Mashrou’ Leila or #Mashrouleila? It is a Lebanese indie band, founded in 2008, that has started its own #occupy movement last July and a new tradition to use online social platforms to raise funds for its new third album, Raasük. Quite impressive.

Its members are social media gurus and change makers. In July, they started a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for their third album. They wanted to make it the biggest Album release in the Arab World. Their motto was #OccupyArabPop. The hashtag went viral between July and August. Mashrou’ Leila was able to raise +$60,000 and meet 100 per cent of its pledged budget.

This successful Zoomal campaign is giving birth to a new Arab experience and a new #supportArabcreativity campaign on Twitter. The project hopes to identify Arab underground artists such as Mashrou’ Leila and give them more recognition among a wider audience.

Mashrou’ Leila brands itself as different from mainstream Arab pop – an alternative. Its members are young and cosmopolitan. It is like no other band and is bold and innovative.

The band is active on social media and is initiating change. It posts regularly on its Facebook and Twitter pages. Its Facebook fans are almost 120,000. It has 14,000 followers on Twitter and its YouTube channel has +16,000 subscribers.

Up to now, still one or two tweets with the #occupyArabpop hashtag pour in every minute in support of the successful fund-raising campaign or to praise the group that has changed the “alternative” music scene in the Arab World. Its experience with crowd-funding is quite unique and pioneering. The band is setting the lead.

A fan from Paris recently tweeted:

Randy, from Texas, and founder of the @The_gay_agenda, compared Leila to U2 of Ireland:

The following video was the promotional video uploaded for the campaign. It captures some impressions of Lebanese journalists, Leila's production collaborators and the band's stories about the new album.

Beirut-based Outpost magazine writer, Ibrahim Nehme says in the video about them [ar]:

بالعالم العربي هلا ,هن من الأصوات التي أكثر عم بيمثلوا شباب و عم يقدروا يوصلوا الصوت التغييري هن الشباب بدهن إياه

They [Mashrou' Leila] is one of the voices that most represent the youth in the Arab World. They are able to express the need for change this youth is calling for.

They sing about the troubling status quo in the Arab World, gender identity, sexuality, and hazy Arab politics. They've performed from Tunis to Montreal.

Their recent album is Raasük Arabic for literally “being choreographed” or figuratively for “being manipulated”. First single “Lil Watan” or “For the homeland” was released on YouTube last September 12. It has garnered 74,919 views with 1064 approvals.

The song lyrics read:

وبس تتجرأ بسؤال عن تدهور الأحوال
بسكتوك بشعارات عن كل المؤامرات
خونوك القطيع كل ما طالبت بتغيير الوطن
يأسوك حتى تبيع حرياتك لما يضيع الوطن

If you dare ask a question about the deterioration of the situation
They shut you up with slogans about all and every conspiracy
The herd calls you a traitor each time you call for change
They make you desperate until you give up on your freedom
Until the nation is lost…

The American University of Beirut's student magazine referred to the song as “depict[ing] the Lebanese government exploiting the people’s patriotism without really fixing the country.”

They also use the Lebanese national symbols to show how much the government hides behind them. The chorus expresses a strong sense of exasperation by demanding: “Stop preaching, come make me dance a bit.” This directly mirrors people’s exasperation in their failed government and their constant need to party.

Mashrou’ Leila writes and produces its own music. It shies away from big business. They do not contract with any big or smaller Arab music records company. Instead, Mashrou’ Leila's premium medium is YouTube. Its members direct and edit their own videos. They shoot on a single camera, often in Lebanon. They are not too fancy. They are big on social media and you'd hardly see any negative comment about them or their music. A perfect example is that “El Hal Romancy” their only music video from their second album, El Hal Romancy or “the solution is romantic”:

The band wrote on its website:

Habibis,
We miss you, but we can take seven more days.

Leila’s super-excited for this one. El Hal Romancy – a video… This time.. she wanted to hold the camera – she wouldn’t pose for this one, she just wouldn’t.

She grabbed the camera with few of her friends, few lovers and a bride and attacked Beirut. Beirut wasn’t enough, she attacked Trablus. Trablus wasn’t enough, but there was no money and no time left. She came back with this.

Areej Mahmoud, creative director of Leo Burnett MENA who directed Leila's new video “Lil Watan” (to the homeland) totally gets their vision. She states in the promotional video:

ما في كثير ناس عام بجرب يخلقوا صوت فريد بالعالم العربي، للشباب تبع العالم العربي – الشباب الذي ما بدوا يكون غربي وما بدوا يكون تقليدي

There aren't many people trying to create a unique identity for the Arab World, for the Arab youth – an identity that is neither Westernized or traditional.

October 07 2013

Lebanon: What's a Passport Worth? A Bitter Discussion

A Lebanese Passport.. one of the worst 10 passports to hold. Photo credit: Blogger Ali Sleeq

A Lebanese Passport.. one of the worst 10 passports to hold. Photo credit: Blogger Ali Sleeq

It was no big surprise to see the Lebanese passport amongst the 10 worst in the world in terms of freedom of travel and restrictions. The Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index published earlier last week did, however, highlight the morose status of the Land of the Cedars and spark bitter reactions on all fronts. At least blogger @AbirGhattas did not miss the irony in the perspective of Lebanon's notorious and dramatic racism problem:

It must be very hard on the “madame” that she is on the same list with the “help” originating from Nepal, Sudan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Of course the joke doesn't end here since the Lebanese General Security promptly issued a press release stating “The Lebanese passport is the best in the world.” The official statement adds that Lebanon would soon adopt an “advanced” biometric passport.

It didn't impress anyone:

Revolution 961 calculates that the Lebanese passport is also one of the most expensive to obtain:

With only 5,296,760 Km2 that someone holding a Lebanese passport can visit without a visa, a Lebanese citizen should pay a world high 40$ ( and 70$ if you need it the same day ) to get that famous blue passport for 1 year. On the other hand, Danish and Japanese passports for example, allow for more than 73,000,000 Km2, which is more than 15 times than our passport. But a Danish pays 10.4$ for a year ( 104$ for a 10 year passport), while a Japanese pays 13.5$ (135$ for 10 years) .

The perspective of biometrics data is not really something to look forward to either, blogger Gino calls it like he sees it:

As for the “new biometric data” thing, that only means one thing: MORE MONEY! =D We already pay hundreds of dollars to renew our flimsy passports for a few years (the most expensive I believe?) Adding RFID chips and doing the biometric analysis means only one thing: someone close to the General Security or one of the politicians/warlords will take the exclusive rights to that, charge us exorbitant amounts, and make millions for a passport that will remain equally useless and frustrating.

Meanwhile, @eliefares from A Separate State of Mind deplored the fact that while reactions ranged from denial to outrage, little is done to actually help improve the situation:

(…) a passport’s merits aren’t in the way it looks, its size or the feeling it has in your hand or how efficiently it gets scanned at border controls. But don’t tell people that because we can twist any simple data we have into whatever gets us to sleep better at night. Let’s call it a way of life. Let’s call it perpetuating the status quo. Do Lebanese really want to improve their passport? By the looks of it, many of them probably couldn’t care less.

What's in a passport anyway? In a world where national borders are significantly fading out amongst some countries, while others remain virtually locked out, a passport can mean everything. An increasing number of people may feel like citizens of the world, but their country of origin plays a big role in determining the social and economic opportunities they'll have access to. In a country of so many turmoils, dual citizenship becomes a coveted goal.

This is why @Khaladk‘s tweet may seem weird, but it's a sentence often heard in Beirut:

October 04 2013

Lebanese Jihadis and syria : Waiting For a Victor

Lebanese #Jihadis and #syria: Waiting For a Victor
http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/lebanese-jihadis-and-syria-waiting-victor

http://english.al-akhbar.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/4cols/leading_images/323359-01-08.jpg

A picture dated 18 September 2013 shows Abu Mohammed, an imam from the Liwa al-Tawhid rebel group, leading a prayer with his comrades in the Old city of Aleppo on 18 September 2013. (Photo: AFP - Jm Lopez) A picture dated 18 September 2013 shows Abu Mohammed, an imam from the Liwa al-Tawhid rebel group, leading a prayer with his comrades in the Old city of Aleppo on 18 September 2013. (Photo: AFP - Jm Lopez)

The differences (...)

#Lebanon #Articles #ISIS #Jabhat_al-Nusra

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