Tag Archives: activism

Funeral procession demonstration for victims of domestic violence

10 Mar

For anyone who is in Beirut today and who cares about the fact that the Lebanese government does nothing to protect women from gender-based violence, campaigners will be marching from Sassine Square at 3pm across the city. The march is organised by feminist collective Nasawiya and will be a mock funeral, with coffins being carried to represent the women killed as a result of family violence. Please come, bring friends, and wear black clothes in mourning. See you there!

 

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Syrian blogger lives precarious life as exile in Lebanon

27 Dec

Abdullah family has paid heavy price for speaking out
By Dalila Mahdawi
Saturday, December 27, 2008

Syrian blogger lives precarious life as exile in Lebanon
 

BEIRUT: Only 26 years old, Syrian human rights activist Mohammad al-Abdullah has already been imprisoned twice, beaten, and forced into hiding in neighboring Lebanon.

Jail has unfortunately become a defining feature of the Abdullah family, which has been all but splintered by the repeated arrests of its male members because of their calls for political reform in Syria.

When Abdullah’s father Ali was jailed in 2005, the son formed the Committee for Families of Political Prisoners in Syria, only to be himself marched off to a cell two days after the launch. His father received a presidential pardon six months later, along with 190 other political prisoners.

Ali, who has been banned from traveling since 1996, was re-arrested in 2006 and then in December 2007 with 11 other members of the Damascus Declaration, which calls for “democratic and radical change” in Syria. All received 30-month prison sentences.

Syria, which has been under the Baathist rule of the Assad family since the 1970s, has long treated dissidents and human rights activists with an iron fist. “In a transparent bid to silence its critics, the government is jailing democracy activists for simply attending a meeting,” Human Rights Watch has said.

“They took my father hostage in order to get me,” Mohammad told The Daily Star. “I stayed in jail for six and a half months, two floors underground in a cell smaller than me. After 18 days, they brought someone else and we stayed together there for 42 days. There was no light, the toilet was in the same place – it was terrible.”

During his imprisonment, Mohammad said he was beaten and forced to sign a document he was not allowed to read. “Later I found out it said I would work for the intelligence as an informer.”

Before his arrest, Abdullah had been a law student at the Lebanese University. With his final year exam approaching, he launched an eight-day hunger strike to be allowed to sit the test. “The judge said I would be released on October 4, the day before the exam,” said Abdullah, who wasn’t released until October 5. “I called a friend from university who told me the exam had been pushed back two days, but the authorities monitored the phone call and prevented me from leaving the country.”

In January 2007, Syria granted him permission to make one journey outside the country. “I came to Beirut on  February 1 and have stayed here since,” he said. Without a passport, he is stranded. “The only place I can go is Syria and if I go back I’ll be arrested.” He has been told by a friend who works at Damascus’ airport that there are 13 separate warrants for his arrest.

Abdullah’s younger brother Omar, meanwhile, is currently half-way through a five-year sentence for blogging. He is being held at Sidnaya military prison, the scene of deadly riots this July. “I haven’t heard anything from or about him since then,” said Mohammad. For the first time in the interview, Mohammad’s voice wobbled, his smile vanishing. “I cannot stop thinking about him.”

 

At the third annual Arab Free Press Forum held in Beirut earlier this month, Abdullah spoke of the rising importance of bloggers in the Middle East. Syrian bloggers had “become a source of information for Syrian citizens, despite all the constraints and obstacles for even just being on the internet,” he said. The Syrian authorities require Internet cafŽ managers to monitor the online activities of clients and register their personal details. They have also blocked many prominent blog sites, along with numerous Arabic newspapers, Wikipedia and Facebook.

Repressive governments appear increasingly wary of bloggers, as there are currently more online journalists and bloggers in prison than journalists from any other field. According to a study by the Committee to Protect Journalists, 56 out of 125 journalists imprisoned worldwide worked online, “a tally that surpasses the number of print journalists for the first time.” The reason for the crackdown on bloggers was simple, Abdullah said. “In general, bloggers write about issues that journalists don’t dare write about – about torture, corruption, subjects that the authorities cannot tolerate.”

While Abdullah publishes his blog, “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back,” under his real name, he said Syrian bloggers mainly wrote under pseudonyms. Readers of his blog, which deals with political prisoners and human rights in Syria, were so afraid of reprisals that many left their comments anonymously or sent them to his email account. Abdullah believes Syrian intelligence officers also read his blog, as he received “horrible” comments frequently. “I leave them up for people to see,” he said.

Being a Syrian in Lebanon was not easy, said Abdullah, adding he had experienced some racism. Despite that and the very real possibility of being followed by Syrian intelligence officers, he tries to lead a normal life. “I’m not paranoid, but at the same time I know the Syrians are still here … and in my opinion they are stronger than before. So I have to take care.” Abdullah said he would apply for a passport when the Syrian Embassy opened next week, but said he was not “optimistic.”

Abdullah hoped the thawing of relations between Syria and the West translated into greater rights for Syrians. “I’m not against Western engagement with Syria but it has to be conditional on freedom and human rights. Sometimes I get the feeling that the West is blocking democracy in the Middle East by supporting dictators,” Abdullah said, citing European support for the Tunisian, Saudi and Libyan regimes.

 

For Abdullah’s blog, see http://raye7wmishraj3.wordpress.com

Clock Ticks for Traditional Lebanese restaurant in Hamra

17 Aug

Clock ticks for traditional Lebanese restaurant in Hamra
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Friday, August 08, 2008

BEIRUT: In a city seeking to re-invent itself as modern and chic, there are few restaurants left in Lebanon’s capital that aspire to provide diners with the “warm and cozy atmosphere, just like home” – an environment Walimet Wardeh, also known as Wardeh, promises. Thirteen years ago, Wardeh Hawaz and two friends opened Wardeh in a former residential house on Makdessi Street in Beirut’s Hamra neighborhood.

Amid a market dominated by Western fast food, Sushi and French cuisine, Walimat Wardeh al is a throw-back to “the good old days” when the taste buds of the Lebanese were still content with the fuss-free food of their grandparents.

According to Elissar Loghmaji, Hawaz’s daughter, the restaurant’s two chefs not only serve up many of the traditional Lebanese dishes ordinary people might prepare at home, but also dishes that have bizarrely been shunned by many other Lebanese restaurants.

One such dish is fawarigh, intestines stuffed with rice, spices and meat. Freek, wood-smoked wheat or barley ears served like a soup, is another.

Everyday there are three main meals on offer, with the menu set at two-week periods.

“Wardeh makes traditional, home-made food. This is the food of our mothers and grandmothers,” says Loghmaji. “My favorite dish here is molukhiya,” chopped Jewsmallow leaves cooked into a thick soup with tomatoes and chicken and served with rice, she says.

The Walimet Wardeh building is heavy with the atmosphere you might find in a Naguib Mahfouz novel, oozing with the character of a traditional Arab house – well lived in, snug and instantly comforting.

Stained glass windows give the main dining room a soft glow and traditional tiles pave the floors, with each of the restaurants four rooms boasting their own unique pattern.

“Walimet is like my baby,” says Hawaz, who says the best thing about owning a restaurant is that she constantly meets “new people from all sorts of different places.”

The scope of Wardeh goes beyond serving up hearty meals.

On Thursdays, people crowd in for Tango night, instructed by a qualified tango teacher. “He was a customer who used to come, and suggested doing the night,” Loghmaji says.

“The first night was a huge success, so we continued it,” says Loghmaji. Ziad Sahab and his band Shehadine Ya Baladna play Arabic tunes on Fridays.

A number of non-governmental organizations use the premises as a meeting point, too. Wardeh hosts the Committee of Lebanese Families in Support of Palestinian Families (CLF) for a monthly charity lunch, which raises hundreds of dollars for needy Palestinian families in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Helem, a gay and lesbian rights organization, has also used the facilities.

It seems Wardeh’s charisma has bewitched some of its customers, too.

Loghmaji recalls the first time she ever waitressed at Wardeh. “I was serving someone kibbe bi labban [a meat dish served in yogurt sauce], and I dropped it all over him.”

Rather than getting angry, “he just laughed at me,” she said.

But the restaurant’s charm comes with an expiry date.

According to Hawaz, “Wardeh is going to close in about 16 months.”

The premises, along with the greengrocer next door, will be torn down to make way for the new luxury high-rises that are rapidly eating up Beirut of its traditional architectural charm.

“We’re sad because we have been here for a long time,” says Loghmaji. “Actually, the customers,” many of whom come on a daily basis, “are sadder than we are. It’s hard, but this is life,” she says, adding that they are currently searching for a new place to re-open.

“We hope, with the current economic situation in the country, we can find a place similar to this house,” says Loghmaji.

“But really the only place with similar architecture is in Downtown,” which will cost Hawaz much more than her current $1,500 monthly rent.

“I feel a sense of loss and sadness,” says Ikram Shararah, head of the CLF.

“Wardeh was a special meeting place because of its unique, Beiruti architecture. It also served typical national dishes, in a homely, intimate setting.  When it closes, we will lose one of Beirut’s beautiful faces. Lasting friendships have been formed here,” Shararah says.

A glass case near the entrance shows off photographs of Walimet’s notable guests. Among the smiling faces are the late Palestinian academic Edward Said, the late journalist Joseph Samaha, who was Hawaz’s “best friend,” and a number of politicians, artists and other public figures.

“We might find another place with good services, but nowhere will have the same homely atmosphere and beautiful architecture as Walimet Wardeh,” says Shararah.

As the saying goes, all good things come to an end.