Archive | June, 2009

Jimi Hendrix used in Lebanese anti-drug campaign

27 Jun
Nationwide campaign highlights dangers of substance abuse

NGO Oum al-Nour aims to help drug users overcome addiction
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: “Of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most.” These words, uttered by the legendary American rock star Jimi Hendrix, sound lighthearted at first. But bearing in mind Hendrix’s premature death of a possible drug overdose at the age of 27, they might better serve as a warning to today’s youth to steer clear of drug use. This weekend, his words will do just that. Along with a number of other celebrity quotes, Hendrix’s remarks are being used in a nationwide awareness campaign highlighting the dangers of substance abuse.

The campaign is organized annually by non-governmental organization Oum al-Nour, which helps drug users in Lebanon overcome their addiction and reintegrate into society. The four-day campaign, which began on Thursday, coincides with International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26. This year, Oum al-Nour has joined hands with the Interior Ministry and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to distribute drink coasters and placemats across bars and restaurants around the country. Drug quotes from Hendrix, actor Leonardo Dicaprio and the late frontman of 90s rock band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, are just some of the remarks that appear on the accessories. They were chosen with the hope of arousing the curiosity of young punters to the problem of substance abuse.

The campaign is organized annually by non-governmental organization Oum al-Nour, which helps drug users in Lebanon overcome their addiction and reintegrate into society. The four-day campaign, which began on Thursday, coincides with International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26. This year, Oum al-Nour has joined hands with the Interior Ministry and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to distribute drink coasters and placemats across bars and restaurants around the country. Drug quotes from Hendrix, actor Leonardo Dicaprio and the late frontman of 90s rock band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, are just some of the remarks that appear on the accessories. They were chosen with the hope of arousing the curiosity of young punters to the problem of substance abuse.

While the number of regular drug users in Lebanon is unknown, there has been a definite increase in the number of younger drug users, Oum al-Nour’s Managing Director Mona Yazigi told The Daily Star. “More than 60 percent of the user’s supported by Oum al-Nour are between 14 and 19 years old.” Young drug users are particularly vulnerable because their bodies have not fully developed, putting them at higher risk of serious psychological problems later in life, Yazigi said. But drugs like hashish, ecstasy and cocaine appear widely available and popular.


In conjunction with the coasters and placemat campaign, Oum al-Nour has also launched a media campaign targeting the parents of young drug users. The campaign, dubbed “Keep an eye on your child,” is meant to encourage parents to take an active interest in the lives of their offspring and to watch for signs of substance abuse. “The main message is that parents should be involved,” said Yazigi. “They should ask when, where, why and what” of their children’s activities. “It’s a proven way of keeping your children safe and drug free.” Oum al-Nour’s free of charge services include counseling services for the parents of drug users. The sessions help educate parents about addiction and how to best support their child through rehabilitation. This is often harder than it sounds, with Yazigi noting a culture of taboo surrounding the issue of drug abuse.

This year’s campaign is extra special for Oum al-Nour. It is marking 20 years since the organization’s founding by a group of young individuals after the overdose and death of one of their friends. But with Oum al-Nour receiving around 400 new cases each year, there is plenty of work still to be done on drug abuse in Lebanon.

If you want help getting over your drug addition, call Oum al-Nour on 09210285 or 09223731.


Hariri tribunal judge assumes duties

25 Jun
This from the STL website:

Leidschendam, 24 June 2009: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) announces that Judge Ralph Jacques Riachy has assumed his functions full time as Vice-President of the Tribunal effective 8 June 2009.  Judge Riachy was elected as Vice-President of the STL, with the unanimous support of his fellow STL judges, and sworn in during the first day of the Plenary Meeting of the judges held the week following the launch of the STL operations from 9 to 20 March 2009.

Judge Riachy was one of the four Lebanese Judges appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations upon the recommendation in December 2007 by the Selection Panel set up to interview Lebanese and international candidates for the positions of STL judges in accordance with article 2, paragraph 5 (d) of the Annex to Resolution 1757 (2007).  The panel was established by the UN Secretary-General and was composed of Judge Mohamed Amin El Mahdi (Egypt), who served as judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia from 2001 to 2005, Judge Erik Møse (Norway), currently serving as judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where he was President of the Tribunal from 2003 to 2007, and Mr. Nicolas Michel, the then Legal Counsel of the United Nations.

Enforced Idleness in Nahr al-Bared

24 Jun
With the old camp destroyed, the people of Nahr al-Bared have nothing

With the old camp destroyed, the people of Nahr al-Bared have nothing

BEIRUT: Fiddling with mobile phones, chain smoking and sitting around: enforced idleness is the burden of almost every single resident in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.

Their abysmal situation is the focus of a new film, “A Sip of Coffee,” produced by a-films, an international anarchist film collective presently focusing its efforts on the camp. Those in the collective run film-making workshops within the camp in the hope of promoting film-making as a tool for political activism, a-films activist Ray Smith told The Daily Star. He produced with film along with novice film-maker Mohammad Eshtawi.

Situated 16 kilometers North of Tripoli, Nahr al-Bared used to be a source of pride for its residents – with a thriving economy and bustling market attracting both Lebanese and Palestinian customers, it was the most prosperous of Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps. Its luck turned for the worst in 2007 when a militant Islamist group, Fatah al-Islam, sought refuge in the camp. A three-month battle between the group and the Lebanese Armed Forces, ending on September 2, resulted in the total annihilation of the camp. Nahr al-Bared’s Palestinian residents found themselves displaced for a second time in history, losing everything they had saved and built up over the last 60 years. Two years on from that devastating war, the camp has been partially cleared of rubble, but the people of Nahr al-Bared remain in limbo: living in temporary housing units as they wait for the reconstruction to begin. Nahr al-Bared’s once robust economy was destroyed along with the camp.

“A Sip of Coffee” revolves around the testimonies of Mohammad, an unemployed camp resident in his twenties, and his father Ziyad. Through their voices, the 26-minute film illustrates the issues that matter most to Nahr al-Bared’s residents: unemployment, reconstruction, displacement and endless, stifling monotony.

Mohammad spends most of his days doing nothing. “Although the week has seven days, we feel as though it only has one day, and it’s always the same one,” he says in the film. “There’s nowhere to go, there are no clubs and no libraries to borrow books to try and educate oneself.”

Mohammad has tried to get a job but there simply aren’t any. What work he can find is often casual day labor. Mohammad’s father Ziyad has also struggled to find work after losing his two shops in the camp’s siege. “After the destruction of Nahr al-Bared and its declaration as a military zone, the economy was reduced to point zero … the camp’s economy depended on the [Lebanese] residents of the Akkar region,” he tells the camera in a resigned voice. He now scrapes money together by fishing and running a makeshift cafe.

Resentment is growing steadily among the camp’s residents as the many promises made to rebuild the destroyed camp falter. The stifling living conditions in the temporary housing units, oppressively hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, only aggravate their anger. “I’m sorry to say it, but we live in cow sheds,” Mohammad says. NGOs call the cramped iron and concrete structures temporary but they feel permanent to many of those struggling inside. “When my family and I gather in the evening, I hardly know where to sit – it’s very crowded,” Mohammad says.

Ziyad shares his frustration. “The population density always causes problem between the families who aren’t used to each other,” he says. Ziyad, like many others, fear they will be displaced forever, and participate in protests urging the authorities to begin immediate reconstruction of the camp.

“People rightfully feel that they’ve lost control over their lives, because their lives are being ‘managed’ by NGOs and UNRWA (the UN agency dedicated to providing assistance to Palestinian refugees), and because their movement is limited by the Army’s checkpoint and permit system,” said Smith. 

Although a ceremony was held this March to mark the beginning of reconstruction, nothing has happened since then.

Ziyad appears to have given up hope that Nahr al-Bared will ever be rebuilt, saying he’ll only believe in the promises of officials when he sees construction material entering the camp. “I can’t believe in all these empty promises and lies by [Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora and [PLO Representative in Lebanon] Abbas Zaki.”

Lebanon’s human trafficking shame

17 Jun

Lebanon has appeared on the US State Department’s watchlist for countries where human trafficking occurs. For a detailed story on Lebanon, read my colleague Nicholas Kimbrell’s story here.

Hear the women of Iran roar

17 Jun
Women in Iran at the core of the protest movement

Women in Iran are at the core of the protest movement

With Iran’s population currently revolting, a lot of attention is being paid to the country’s women. Here are just three of the many articles telling their stories: 

While I don’t always agree with the Christian Science Monitor’s editorials or the paper’s religious standing, they generally print high-quality, informative reports. This editorial addresses the situation of women in Iran’s current “uprising”. “What is striking about the Iranians protesting fraud in the June 10 “election” is the number of women on the front lines. Among all those cheated at the polls, they may feel the most denied.

Excellent and informed article on The National:  “We feel cheated, frustrated and betrayed,” said an Iranian woman in a message circulated on Facebook. Iran’s energetic female activists are using the social networking site to mobilise opposition to Mr Ahmadinejad. Iranian women also have a dynamic presence on the country’s blogosphere – the biggest in the Middle East – which they are using to keep up popular momentum against the election outcome.

This article on Comment is Free on The Guardian is as dull as dishwater to read but containts some interesting facts. 

“Over the last year, for example, there have been a series of small but significant victories: Iranian MPs have declined to enact laws that would have further facilitated men’s ability to indulge in polygamy; new measures are presently under discussion to enhance women’s inheritance rights; and reforms are also being put forward to end the insulting, discriminatory rule in compensation cases, where a family of a dead woman will be awarded literally half of the compensation paid for a man’s death.”

Offering a hip alternative to the cherished plastic bag

16 Jun

Flex bag

BEIRUT: Grocery shoppers in Lebanon simply can’t get enough of the non-biodegradable plastic bag – they are used here in abundance, with enthusiasm and without scruples.

But all too often, these bags end up at the bottom of a mountain or bobbing along the coast. They can remain there for up to 500 years until finally picked away at by the elements.

Disturbed by Lebanon’s love affair with the toxic product, young professionals Stephanie Dadour and Waleed Jad established their own company, Waste Lb, and created a hip alternative: a reusable bag made from salvaged flex.

Flex is a composite plastic most often found in Lebanon in the form of billboards. Like the throw-away plastic bag, it is 100 percent non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. But being water-proof, study and tear-resistant, it is ideal material for a shopping bag.

Waste Lb kills two birds with one stone: reclaiming old flex that would otherwise be dumped into Lebanon’s overflowing landfills, and encouraging consumers to switch to reusable shopping bags. “We know we’re not here to change the world or to educate people, but we thought we could sensitize people to reduce their use of plastic bags by promoting a product that can be reused,” Dadour told The Daily Star on Monday.

The Lebanese use over 6 billion plastic bags annually, according to Waste Lb. “If tied together these bags would form a chain that is long enough to go around the world 37 times.”

Creatures like turtles, dolphins or birds often mistake plastic bags for a tasty meal and can choke to death trying to eat them or become entangled and asphyxiate. When dumped, flex poses a similar threat.

But despite being a pollutant, Lebanon’s output of flex is astonishing – according to Jad, there is “24/7 continuous production.” 

While he and Dadour readily admit their bags are not “saving the planet,” they hope they will at least help change the attitude of Lebanese consumers, who can easily plough through piles of plastic bags in a single shopping trip.

“It’s a question of lifestyle” and whether people in Lebanon are prepared to make a small change to their wanton carrier-bag habits in the interest of the environment, Dadour said.

Unlike other eco-friendly products that come with wallet-unfriendly price tags, Waste Lb’s signature shopping bag, the Kees Dukanne, will be sold for a fixed price of LL25,000. The fashion-conscious need not fret about bumping into someone else with the same bag – as the fabric is stitched from a reclaimed billboard, each flex bag’s design is truly unique. Other than the Kees Dukanne, Waste Lb’s bags currently come in three other styles – oversized grocery bags, clutch bags for women and beach bags. Jad and Dadour later hope to expand into flex furniture and luxury items.

The practice of reusing billboard material is by no means revolutionary, and indeed exists in most Western countries, Dadour said. But the launch of Waste Lb’s flex bag this month comes at a time of growing interest in ethical consumerism among Lebanon’s more educated classes. Even so, the duo also hopes to appeal to buyers who aren’t so finely tuned to the seriousness of the world’s environmental woes. “If people start to use this [bag], maybe they will go home and try to see what’s written on their packaging and think more ethically” about what products they buy in the future, said Dadour.

Waste Lb will officially launch at Beirut’s Souk al-Tayyeb market on Saturday June 27. The bags will thereafter be available at boutiques and major shopping malls in the capital.

Lebanon’s Crawl to Equality

12 Jun

This article first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and was written for Common Ground News Service.

Patriarchy and political dynasties have shut out women who wish to govern.

By Dalila Mahdawi

It sees itself as one of the Middle East’s most liberal countries, but Lebanon’s lack of women politicians is conspicuous. While Lebanese women today enjoy senior positions in the private sector, political appointments have all but eluded them.

Lebanese women were granted suffrage in 1953, yet to this day they face considerable obstacles to entering politics in a country where political dynasties and patriarchy rule.

Most Lebanese women who do go into politics do so “wearing black” – that is, filling a position made available by a deceased male relative, and for which there is no other male relative available. Two examples are Myrna Boustani, who became the first Lebanese woman in parliament upon her father’s death, and Nayla Mouawad, who joined the body after becoming a widowed first lady of Lebanon.

But even when a female politician is elected to parliament without the help of a tragedy – as Bahia Hariri was in 1992, well before the assassination of her brother Rafiq Hariri, the five-time prime minister – it still seems to be a requirement that she hail from a rich and traditionally political family. It is virtually impossible for an independent, self-made woman to enter the political arena.

Unfortunately, the issue of women’s political participation was only superficially addressed by Lebanon’s elections on Sunday. The elections, which saw a Hezbollah-led opposition defeated by the Western-backed March 14 coalition, were widely hailed as the most competitive in years. But out of 587 candidates, only 12 – or a mere 2 percent – were women.

Worse, only four of those 12 – Nayla Tueni, Bahia Hariri, Strida Geagea, and Gilberte Zwein – were elected to Lebanon’s 128-member parliament. And all of them belong to political dynasties.

Lebanon’s instability has in the past helped drown out voices calling for gender equality. Over the last relatively trouble-free year, however, those voices have become louder and more persistent – most notably in a campaign to alter Lebanon’s discriminatory nationality law, which prevents Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese men from transferring their nationality to their husbands and children.

Beirut has also been pressured to amend discriminatory family laws and to make greater efforts to combat gender-based violence.

But during the run-up to the elections, the closest the country came to a national debate on women’s role in politics was a war of slogans. The opposition’s Free Patriotic Movement played on the well-known French saying “Sois belle et tais-toi” (“Be beautiful and shut up”) with posters urging women to “Sois belle et vote” – “Be beautiful and vote.” The March 14 coalition responded with “Sois egale et vote” – “Be equal and vote.”

The parties were keen to attract women voters. But none of them explained how exactly they intended to promote women’s rights.

Women will be able to play a greater role in the governance of Lebanon only if the country’s political system moves away from its traditional sectarian system and toward a secular meritocracy. In 2005, a national commission to draft a new electoral law suggested introducing a 30 percent quota for women, but this was rejected. If the parties are serious in their calls for equality, they could impose voluntary internal quotas to ensure that a minimum number of women run in intraparty and national elections.

Lebanon has a duty to eliminate gender discrimination. Beirut amended the national constitution in 1990 to embrace the International Bill of Human Rights, paving the way for international human rights to be applied to national legislation. It might be too late for this year’s elections, but greater political participation by women could be encouraged in the 2010 municipal elections.

As long as Lebanon continues to hinder women’s rights and prevent women from entering the political process, the country cannot enjoy true democracy. Men and women alike must work to encourage the election of more women members of parliament.

Lebanese women have had the right to die as part of their country’s army for the last 18 years. They should also have the right to help formulate the laws that govern every Lebanese citizen – man or woman.