فصل شعري مع أبو الحسن الششتري ،المتوفى سنة 668 هجريةِ

سُلُوِّي مكروهٌ وحبُّك واجبُ

وشوقي مقيمٌ والتواصل غائب

وفي لوح قلبي من ودادك أسطرٌ

ودمعي مدادٌ مثلما الحسنُ كاتب

وقارىء فكري للمحاسن تالياً

على درس آيات الجمال يواظب

أُنزِّه طرفي في سماء جمالكم

لثقاب ذهني نجمها هو ثاقب

حديثٌ سواك السمعُ مِنِّي محرمٌ

فكلي مسلوبٌ وحسنك سالب

يقولون لي تُبْ عن هوى مَنْ تحبه

فقلت عن السلوان إني تائب

عذاب الهوى عذبٌ لدى كل عاشقٍ

وإن كان عند الغير صعبٌ وواصب

ما ورد سابقاً

Billy Collins, 1
Mahmoud Darwish, 1
Ounsi El Hage, 1
Ghérasim Luca, 1, 2
Henri Michaux, 1, 2
Marianne Moore, 1
Pablo Neruda, 1, 2
Sharon Olds, 1
Theodore Roethke, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Dylan Thomas, 1
Richard Wilbur, 1, 2, 3, 4
Advertisements

Myths and realities of the electricity sector in Lebanon

(there are two updates at the end of this post)

Al Akhbar ran a front page article responding to Sanyura’s claim (yesterday) that the responsible for the electricity crisis in Lebanon are “those who hang wires on the public network, put pressure on the power reserves that eventually explodes, which cuts the current, and then they take it to the streets, and they say that electricity has been cut, and thus they accuses the government of something they caused”.

As the article note, Sanyura is obviously referring to the inhabitants of Dahyeh, thereby crystallizing a long-time myth shared by most of the Lebanese that do not belong to that category, that ‘the Shi’a a.k.a Hizbullah are not paying electricity’.

How many times have I heard this by people of all creed! Now thanks to Al Akhbar who I am sure is the only newspaper who reacted to these immature and dangerous statements, some basic facts were thrown in the face of the “Lebanese citizen”:

1- Electricity theft is equally happening in all Lebanese regions such as “Akkar, Iklim al Kharoub, the south, West Bekaa, Zghorta, and Bsharreh”. As you can see some of these regions have produced the politicians in power aligned with Sanyura. Dahyeh makes up 31 percent of this theft, due to its population size relative to other region which is proportional to the population in all of these regions. In brief, electricity theft are ad-hoc individual initiatives regardless of creed, confession, political affiliation or what have you of Lebanese differences.

2- The causes of the electricity debacle is not really related to theft of people but to irresponsible policy spanning on years and years of ministerial abuses of prerogatives, irresponsible policies, keeping the infrastructure primitive and obsolete. Since 1991, 11 Billion dollars have been spent on unaccomplished projects. But more to the point to today’s argument, is that it is the very public sector that is stealing from EDL! Ministries, municipalities, and other public institutions have billions of LPs owed to EDL (the state-owned electricity company). How come all these electricity consumers are not paying?

There is much more to be said about this sector but let me tell you an anecdote told to me by a friend who lived in Dahyeh and who just moved recently out of it after his house was erased from the map by Israeli bombers. See this guy (who has been paying electricity ever since he was able to do the math) received an electricity bill one year after the war (or something like that) asking him to pay for months of electricity consumption when his house literally did not exist anymore. The guy paid, thinking that it is better to be on the side of the state/law, whatever that means. Many people in Dahyeh who happen to have lost their homes got these bills. At the end understandably enough, political protest mounted and Sanyura had to back off and ask for the cancellation of these payments.

So my friend goes to the Ministry of Finance to get reimbursed. After waiting for hours going round and round between all the different confessionally allocated functionaries, he ended having a signature to get his money back. Once he got to the cashier, the guy hands him the money minus 10 or 5 % of the original sum he paid on a non-existent house. My friend asks why is this so, and the cashier answers that they take a VAT back on any sum that is paid by the ministry. My friend ended up having to pay a VAT tax on something he should not have paid in the first place. That’s how fucked up this country is.

Update
: Dear reader, so sorry but my friend’s anecdote is actually about phone bills not electricity bills… But you get the idea!

Update 2: Al Manar TV had an article on Michel Moawad’s (son of Minister of “Social Affairs” Nayla Moawad) unpaid electricity bills! The article stated that instead of falsely accusing people, prime minister Fouad Siniora should “look at his left among his ministers”. The article also quotes Michel Moawad having the guts to say that “I know that the cost of electricity is high but I also know that the majority of the people that takes it to the streets to close it down, don’t pay their bills”. According to this article Michel Moawad and his sister did not pay any bills from 1995 till 2001 which amounts to 92 million Lebanese Pounds.

Why?


Yes why out of all instruments the Scottish bagpipe? This is at a Palestinian camp during demonstrations against the murderous encircling of Gaza. But there is a Hizbullah song that has it too, and in its video clip, there is a guy filmed dressed like a soldier, playing bagpipe on the top of a hill or something. Anyone who has an answer to this question will be more than welcome to comment.

Update: the comment section has mo explaining clarifying things..

The nay to break the silence cycle

I have been meaning to write for quite some time, and ideas are piling up in the draft section of this blog without ever having a chance to click on the “publish post” icon. I came back to London a couple of days ago and have been overwhelmed by a new event that will come to form a lifetime reality. I will be staying here for a week or so and then move back to Beirut for good. Well enough of my personal life, the important thing here is the function I have assigned to myself that is writing when I feel certain things need to be pointed out. When I was in Beirut, there were many things I found interesting to develop but either did not have time to talk about or preferred to keep it for the thesis. My main problem is to choose between ideas that should be developed further, those that could be irrelevant in the context of this blog, and those that I simply want to keep for myself for now.

So “without further due” I would like to share with you an anecdote to break the silence cycle. When I was in Lebanon sometimes after the new year, I went to see Atef Wehbe, a nay maker who is from Saksakieh a village in the south that lies next to the coast a bit before Sour. I play the nay myself (it is a reed wind instrument you can find in the Middle East and a bit in Central Asia), and I always go to Atef to try out and buy new instruments. In any case at some point, I was showing him my new Persian nay that I acquired from an Iranian musician living in London. Iranian nays are slightly different. First of all they have 6 instead of 7 hole, you blow in them with your teeth and tongue rather than with your lips as the arabic and the turks would have it, and a bunch of other differences. Among other things, I was telling him that I learned that Iranians sometimes dip their nay in boiling oil in order to strengthen their wood and give it a dark color. To this he answered with disdain that “they don’t know sh.. about nays”, in a nice impulsive and straightforward manner. And then he backed it up by explaining to me why this would cause harm to the instrument.

Of course this does not mean that the guy has disdain for Iranian neys or let alone Iranians; he personally knows how to play the Persian way although does not play anything from the Persian repertoire. His answer was at best an instinctive defensive answer that basically said implicitly it is here that you can find the best nays. And in effect Atef is probably one of the best nay maker in the Middle East but that’s besides the point.

I remember how once I asked Atef who did he consider himself to be with politically, given the fact that their village has equal amount of Amal and Hizbullah flags/posters. He gave this enigmatic and yet easy and correct response: “Ya Bashir, all the south is resistance, but I don’t follow political interests, I’m a musician”. I loved how he would wrap my newly acquired nays in Amal’s newspaper Al ‘Awasif (the Storms). During the latest Israeli war, Atef got a nice Israeli bomb in his garden, where some of his reeds grow. Fortunately enough, the family was safe but had to escape somewhere in the Bekaa.

I leave you now to connect the nods.

Iranian nationalism oblige

I went to the annual exhibition of Iranian products today, right next to the Phoenicia hotel where some of our parliamentary members are being hosted with American and French money(got it from an insider source…). Well at the very least, it is not the Lebanese state that is paying for their expenses there, a good thing I guess, judging from the tight financial fiscal situation.

Anyway, I found the exhibition very disappointing. Apart from carpets, some vases, and some sweets there weren’t any other Iranian products. On top of that, most of the stands in the exhibition were held by Lebanese businesses. Even in the case of Saffron, which is the typical spice you buy from Iran, people were rushing to the Lebanese stand rather than the one selling Iranian packaged products. The reason was simple: The Iranian saffron was already mixed with tea and held in tea bags. The Lebanese stand had the actual saffron leaves, to be sure, imported from Iran. But along with it it had all kinds of spices, herbs and so forth produced in Lebanon, either from the Bekaa or the South. Everytime the woman holding the stand introduced herself as “I am from the south” she would double the quantity of customers buying. I like the marketing strategy.

But this is not the reason why I am writing this post. There was a Lebanese publishing house that had a huge stand with books on religions, Shi’ism, Khomeini, Hizbullah, alternative medicine, astrology, dreams, basically the books you find published by what has lazily been dubbed as the “hala islamiya”. I asked out of sheer curiosity the guy in charge if he has a book of the Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam. And to my greatest surprise he answered ‘of course’. The book is edited in Tehran, and is based on one of the best translation in Arabic (the one of Ahmad al Safi al Najafi). There is a little introduction by the publisher who opens with “in the name of god the merciful and compassionate”, something that would have probably made Khayyam shiver in his grave. Then he continues with a clarification that if he publishes the Ruba’iyat, it does not mean he agrees with Khayyam views on life and what goes with it, but cannot stand insensitive to the beauty of his writing style, and that hence, cannot but render it visible in the name of Iranian culture. Bear in mind that the introduction by the actual tranlator (al Najafi) that is quite important and sheds light on Khayyam’s thought has been cut down to 3 pages (the introduction in the original edition is kind of 20 pages long). On the front page, there is a picture of the statue of Khayyam, and on the back, of his grave, both being public places in Iran.

In this case, Khayyam is a national symbol that Iran cannot do without, and it is interesting to see how its printing sector tries to circumvent the problem without having to mute it completely. Let me just clarify for those who don’t know and who by now should feel very confused, that Khayyam is a a poet of wine, depraved love, enjoyment of the present, and so one and so forth. Now that I check, I like this line in the wikipedia entry on the guy:

Omar Khayyam’s personal beliefs are not very clearly known, but much is discernible from his poetic oeuvre. However, he was clearly quite liberal in his views; e.g. in one of his rubaiya, he apparently says: “Enjoy wine and women and don’t be afraid, God has compassion” (emphasis added)

That pretty much sums up at the very least, the impression Khayyam leaves on humanity. Oh and he was a Mathematician too. Incidentally, there are many funny things in the wikipedia entry on the guy. And you can check the statue and the grave.

Of course, I have never been to Iran, don’t know how many versions of the Rub’iyat are in circulation, don’t know how Khayyam persists in the representation of the different social classes, regions, etc. So I’m just taking this book as an interesting example of print strategy to use a figure you don’t agree with in order to prop up the more important goal of imagined collectivities (Persian or Iranian here).

Hizbullah and resistance by print

Timur Goksel has a chapter on the “Implications of the July 2006 war on the future Israeli wars” in a book published by a think-tank that is affiliated in some way to Hizbullah (al markaz al Islami lil dirasat al fekriyah). Goksel, for those who don’t know, was the former official spokesman of the UNIFIL forces stationed in South Lebanon, and now teaches international relations at the American University of Beirut. The book is called “Al intisar al Moqawim” which is kind of hard to translate in English not the least because initially in Arabic it does not make much sense, but here we go: “the Resistant victory” (The aim was probably to try to get the word “victory” and “resitance” in one flashy title).

I find this book fascinating. It is an excellent sign that Hizbullah and the intellectual/ideological sphere around it reads quickly power dynamics in the West: producing papers, putting views about future policy course, political visions, etc. on print. The book exceeds 500 pages of good quality paper, with a hard cover, has a nice abstract design, and has contributors ranging from Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, to party member like Naim Qassem, to ad hoc intellectuals from several social (confessional spaces), to American leftists journalists like Frank Lamb, etc.

But I don’t want to comment on everything in this book as there is so much to note. Goksel chapter struck my attention in the sense that it has a detailed analysis of how Israel fared on the ground, and how it is probably learning from its mistakes, and what will it potentially do differently in a new incursion. And this is coming from an ex-UN military man, turned academic in an American institution based in Lebanon. That’s the most beautiful gift Hizbullah could get. And beyond this symbolic asset in the economy of knowledge, for once, it is somebody trying to learn from Israeli military tactics rather than trying to unearth Hizbullah’s strategies. Most of the time, studies are focused on how “the terrorist” think, how the “insurgent” (nicer term for terrorist) acts. The academic department I am affiliated with in London has “Counter-insurgency reading groups” and “counter-insurgency students”. Hizbullah is trying to lead the way in the institutionalization of what one would call “American and Israeli imperialist” studies. Here I use the term “imperialism” with some reserves, could not find a better one for the time being.

Happy new year!

Lebanese spent 50,000,000$ during New Year’s eve. In certain places, tickets sold shot up to 800$, which is practically 4 times the minimum wage for the average worker who in any case can’t find a job. In Phoenicia hotel for example, one glass of wine was for a mere 100$ and, accordingly, 250,000$ were spent between 11h and 3h… Check the article for details on price differences between these class-based events. What interest me the most here is not just the huge wealth difference between Lebanese by how these sums amount relatively to the size of the public debt.