Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Young on Der Spiegel Hypothesis

Read Michael Young's article in full here:
This allows us to ask, then, why the sudden return to the Der Spiegel conclusions? It’s difficult to say. However, the leak to the German magazine was not a coincidence, and it was, plainly, done to undermine the UN investigation. The most frightful message in the article was that the truth about who killed Rafik Hariri might lead to a Sunni-Shia civil war. That was the gist of what Bashar Assad told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a meeting they held in Damascus in April 2007. Are those leaking to the media that the Special Tribunal’s indictments will inculpate Hezbollah trying to issue the same warning? If so, then someone is again placing the Hariri trial in the crosshairs.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lebanon: 2009 Tourism + Business Haven

Business Intelligence - Middle East reports:
Lebanon is emerging as one of the few positive stories in 2009 with remarkable growth in its tourism industry and overall economy, according to a branding expert.
[Ibrahim Lahoud, Director of Strategy and Brand Communication, BrandCentral] pointed out that the national rebranding efforts will have a dramatic impact in redefining the way the world looks at this key Middle Eastern country, helping promote Lebanon as a major business and tourism destination like Brazil, Greece and Turkey.

He also noted several gaps in the promotion of Lebanon, particularly in the area of tourism wherein a great number of people around the world are still unaware that Lebanon has so much more to offer than its cedar trees.

Another key measure that will enhance "Brand Lebanon" as a business destination according to Lahoud is to create dedicated districts that cater to various business and technological pursuits such as IT parks, banking and financial centres, and other business-centric development projects. Moreover, he emphasised the important role of prominent public figures such as singers and actors as well as ordinary citizens to serve as "Brand Ambassadors" of Lebanon.

“Lebanon is one of the rare success stories of the global financial crisis. Branding efforts focusing on its unique geography and way of life have opened up numerous opportunities in growth areas such as tourism, banking and construction, which continue to generate substantial capital from internal and external investors.

Another important milestone that underscores the importance of branding strategies is the recent top-ranking performance of Beirut in an exclusive list of places to go in 2009, which has certainly boosted Lebanon’s image as a leading leisure, lifestyle and business destination,” said Lahoud.

“Furthermore, it is critically important to maintain the momentum generated by the country as a tourist hotspot and a safe and secure business destination. As such, there is an urgent need to develop more specific branding ideas and strategies that will further excite the world over the positive transformation of Lebanon.
He further pointed out that the Lebanese economy has been projected to enjoy GDP growth of 3% in 2009 and 4% in 2010, according to the latest issue of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) bi-annual World Economic Outlook (WEO), even as the Lebanese Government expects a much more impressive 6 per cent growth this year. Lebanon’s projected growth rate in 2009 easily eclipses the average growth in the Middle East (2.5%) and among emerging and developing countries (1.6 %), while performing way above advanced economies and the world economy, which will record average negative growth rates at -3.8% and -1.9%, respectively.

On the other hand, a recent report by London-based investment firm Blakeney Investors has described Lebanon as a safe banking haven because of abundant liquidity and unprecedented inflow of deposits; the same report also highlighted Moody’s upgrade of Lebanon’s local and foreign currency government bond ratings at a time when several countries around the world have been downgraded.

Lebanon’s tourism sector also achieved dramatic growth, enjoying a 56.8% surge in tourist arrivals for a total of 434,418 visitors in the first four months of 2009 compared with the same period in 2008.

Lebanon’s tourism industry is expected to generate around 9.3% of the country’s GDP and account for about 9.6% of total domestic employment in 2009.

It is also projected to provide indirect revenues worth US$7.78 billion and indirectly create around 439,600 jobs or at least one out of every 3.6 jobs within the year, equivalent to 28.1% of total employment.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Assef Shawkat Makes the Grade

From Foriegn Policy magazine's review of the Middle East's five most powerful intelligence chiefs ... charming (emphasis, invariably, mine):

Position: Former commander of Syria's military intelligence agency, current deputy chief of staff of the Syrian military

Career: Few paths to power have been as unlikely -- or as oddly romantic -- as Assef Shawkat's. Born in the coastal town of Tartus, Shawkat served in the Syrian military while pursuing a graduate degree in history, a subject for which he has a deep affinity. Shawkat moved easily within elite circles, socializing that paid off spectacularly when he captured the heart of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's daughter, Bushra. His dogged pursuit of Bushra -- her father initially opposed the relationship -- earned him some measure of respect: "Anyone who could go into the home of Hafez Assad and take his daughter away without his permission has the power to do anything,'' a Syrian newscaster who had met Shawkat many times told the New York Times in 2005.

By the late 1990s, Shawkat had joined the inner sanctum, assuming command of military intelligence in February 2005 -- the same month former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was assassinated. The initial findings of a U.N. commission cast suspicion on Shawkat, leading many observers to suggest that President Bashar al-Assad would hand his brother-in-law over for questioning or possible trial. In January 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department added to the avalanche of condemnation by freezing Shawkat's assets and dubbing him "a key architect of Syria's domination of Lebanon".

Influence: By 2008, having successfully avoided the calls for his extradition, Shawkat appeared poised to continue the consolidation of his power base. However, his ascension may have been stalled by the death of Hezbollah security chief Imad Mugniyah in February 2008. Killed in the heart of Damascus, Mugniyah's death was viewed as an embarrassing breach of security or even an indication of Syrian involvement. Tellingly, Shawkat was barred from participating in the joint Hezbollah-Syrian-Iranian investigation into Mugniyah's death. Additionally, just this month, Shawkat was "promoted" to deputy chief of staff of the Syrian military, a transfer that may signal a deterioration of the Assad-Shawkat relationship. However, given Shawkat's marriage to Bushra and his long-standing ties to senior members of the security apparatus, it is way too early to count him out of the Syrian power game.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Understand Jumblatt

If you ever want to understand why Walid Jumblatt, the effective political leader of Druze community in Lebanon, does what he does, keep the following in mind:
The Druze leader has been willing to alter his position on virtually everything in the past 32 years, usually through mesmerizing acrobatics, but he has consistently stuck to two principles: defense of the Druze, and defense of Jumblatti domination over the Druze. The seemingly volatile Jumblatt is among the most predictable of politicians if you understand what motivates him.
If you only read a couple of Michael Young pieces a year, make sure one is about Jumblatt and the other about Aoun, two of the country's most consistent turncoats whose motives Young has a gift in deciphering. For Young's two most recent pieces on Jumblatt check here and here ... and then you'll understand.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Beirut Art Center

Here's the NYTimes with the write-up.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Miri Family Grieves ...

... and calls for the arrest of the AMAL gunman who murdered 30 year old mother of five Zeina Miri.

The photo shows Prime Minister-designate, Saad Hariri, consoling Zeina Miri's two daughters as he visits the family to offer his condolences. Pro-Hizballah groups, and supporters of pro-Syrian groups have attempted to disseminate the [false] impression that pro-sovereignty Lebanese politicians and political groups are providing more attention to the withdrawal of comedian Gad al Maleh from the Beiteddine Festival (check here) than to the death of Zeina Miri [who was killed by a pro-Syrian gunman]. Hence the photo (courtesy of Dalati & Nohra) and this link, this link and this link.

Of course it should be noted ... make that emphasized ... that El Maleh's withdrawal comes after a concerted campaign by Hizballah's media outlet, Al Manar, against the comedian. Michael Young gives an interesting look at the interplay between Walid Jumblatt's moves to cuddle up with the group, the attack on El Maleh's scheduled performance at the Beiteddine festival - which is run by Jumblatt's wife, Nora, and the broader implications for free speech and intimidation by violence inherent in the group's message.

Walid Phares at Center for Security Policy

I think we have an even split in readers who would agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Phares' assessments of the Lebanese scene and those that might disagree. What do you think?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Amnesty International on Gaza War Crimes


Children: 300
Women: 115
Men over 50: 85
Civilian men under 50: 200
Non-combatant police: 240
Total: 940 Source: Amnesty International

BBCNews reports:

Israel committed war crimes and carried out reckless attacks and acts of wanton destruction in its Gaza offensive ...

Hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed using high-precision weapons, while others were shot at close range, the group Amnesty International says.

Its report also calls rocket attacks by Palestinian militants war crimes and accuses Hamas of endangering civilians.
Amnesty says some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the 22-day Israeli offensive between 27 December 2008 and 17 January 2009, which agrees broadly with Palestinian figures.

More than 900 of these were civilians, including 300 children and 115 women, it says.
The 117-page report by Amnesty International says many of the hundreds of civilian deaths in the conflict "cannot simply be dismissed as 'collateral damage' incidental to otherwise lawful attacks - or as mistakes".

It says "disturbing questions" remain unanswered as to why children playing on roofs and medical staff attending the wounded were killed by "highly accurate missiles" whose operators had detailed views of their targets.
The document also gives details of several cases where it says people - including women and children posing no threat to troops - were shot at close range as they were fleeing their homes in search of shelter.
The Amnesty report says no evidence was found that Palestinian militants had forced civilians to stay in buildings being used for military purposes, contradicting Israeli claims that Hamas repeatedly used "human shields".

However, Amnesty says Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups had endangered Palestinian civilians by firing rockets from residential neighbourhoods and storing weapons in them.

It says local residents had in one case told researchers that Hamas fighters had fired a rocket from the yard of a government school.
However, Amnesty does accuse Israel of using civilians, including children, as human shields in Gaza, forcing them to remain in houses which its troops were using as military positions, and to inspect sites suspected of being booby trapped.

It also says Palestinian militants rocket fire from the Gaza Strip was "indiscriminate and hence unlawful under international law", although it only rarely caused civilian casualties.
Thirteen Israelis were killed, including three civilians, during the offensive, which Israel launched with the declared aim of curtailing cross-border rocket attacks.
Amnesty International had previously called for an arms embargo to be placed on Israel [and Hamas] for their unflinching use of illegal weaponry against civilians. Follow this link for pictures and more.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

For the Hockey Fans ...

The Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the oldest and best known hockey franchises in the world, have drafted Lebanese-Canadian Nazem Kadri, as their first round pick.


With the seventh selection, the Leafs selected high-scoring London Knights forward Nazem Kadri. Despite missing time with a broken jaw, the 6-foot, 167-pound center had 25 goals and 78 points in 56 games. He was ranked No. 15 by NHL Central Scouting in its final ranking of North American skaters.

"Our guys loved the energy and skill he brings to the game," Burke told "He's a hard worker, he's a dynamic player, he makes things happen on the ice. … It's a great deal for us."

Canada has a large and active Lebanese community that has contributed to hockey going all the way back to Ed Hatoum in 1963. Kadri will join Alain Nasreddine as the league's two current players of Lebanese descent.

For more on Nazem Kadri's background, readers can refer to the following article.
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