Adonis Diaries

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Bi-Weekly Report (#25) on Lebanon and the Middle East (June 8, 2009)

 

Sunday, June 7, 2009 Election Day in Lebanon

 

I got up at 4 a.m. on Sunday June 7, 2009; it is Election Day for the Parliament in Lebanon.  I wrote and published the post “I have a position: I am voting today”.  As my parents were ready we drove around 8:15 to one of the three election centers in the town of Beit-Chabab. Our center was located in the previous private school that the municipality has purchased five years ago and didn’t move in yet.  This is the first time in Lebanon that election is done in one day: Parliamentary elections were performed in two successive Sundays until the last election proved that parties with heavier financial muscles could regroup, focus, and swing elections to their advantages by chastising parties that didn’t stick to the alliance terms in the previous Election Sunday. 

I was shocked by the long line that did not move. The army was positioned outside the perimeter and the internal security forces within the enclosed place.  You had first to exhibit your ID to enter the only entrance/exit “door”.  You wait for a security officer to call on a range of numbers corresponding to your family civil record.   The elder people were given priority and my parents voted within half an hour.  The urn assigned to my category was very slow in processing voters. I sat and ate a loaf of “mankoush bi zaatar” that one party was distributing. I asked my parents to hitchhike home.  I waited for an hour and a half and the line never budged. I lost any hope for my turn to come in the morning. I returned home hoping to come back after lunch for the line to get moving.  Those who arrived at 7 a.m. made it nicely. My brother-in-law, a retired military officer, voted for the first time as well as one of his eligible daughters.

  I retuned at 1:30 after lunch to the voting urns and had to wait another hour before I managed to vote.  There were too many voters for the reduced number of urns (kalam ektira3); citizens complained that they lined up as if they were receiving rations “i3ashi”.  General Michel Aoun of the Tayyar Party has warned a couple of months ago on the strong possibility of this problem and had suggested that election be resumed on two successive days.

The opposition claimed that the slow process was intentional to discourage their voters from exercising patience.  Apparently, the slow processing of voter lines is due mainly, in addition to the first reason, to the decrease in numbers of urns because of shortage in personnel.  By law, any voter within the enclosed voting area was eligible to vote after 7 p.m.  Dozens of election monitoring groups from around the world were gathered in Lebanon to take notes of the proceedings; the groups of ex-US President Jimmy Carter, the European Union, and the Arab League were present weeks before that well “observed” and critical day.

News are that over 100 thousands Lebanese immigrants flew in to participate in the election process.

 

Monday Morning, June 8, 2009

                       

            I got up at 4 a.m. and watched TV for any crumbs of news on the election results and removed to my study to read.  Official results will not be in before noon but I got a good idea of the trend.   Our neighborhood and the districts of Metn and Kesrouan are very calm and not because people are not up.  The government coalition parties that usually are the loudest and the most trouble makers have lost the election in these two districts.

            Unofficial results indicate that the government allies received a majority of 67 deputies to 57 for the opposition.  Actually, the results were already known before midnight.  The minister of the interior Ziad Baroud had announced previously not to expect any official results before late afternoon.  My contention is that, in addition to waiting for formal arrival of evidences, the minister of the interior was asked to delay official results for 18 hours.  The purpose of that delay is first, to permit negotiations for swapping deputies from losers to winners as the implicit entente of the Dawha agreement demanded so that the main leaders represented there will re-enter Parliament and second, so that the difference between opposition and government coalition deputies would not exceed more than 5 deputies.

            The opposition coalition major defeats were in the districts of Betroun, Koura, Zahle, and Ashrafieh (Beirut 1).  The government coalition lost Baabda and Zghorta districts.

            The main leaders on both sides are winners; Saad Hariri, Michel Aoun, Walid Jumblat, and Hezbollah. Thus, any government has to be formed of the three major blocks representing the three main religious sects (Maronite, Shiaa, and Sunni) with practically even power politically in the parliament. 

            Basically, the Tayyar of Michel Aoun has increased the number of its deputies from 20 to over 27; the Tayyar gained the leader Suleiman Frangieh of Zghorta and lost Skaf of Zahle.  Michel Aoun strengthened his unchallenged Maronite leadership in Mount Lebanon (the district of Jubeil, Kesrouan, Metn, Baabda, and Jezzine). The block of General Michel Aoun represents two third of the Maronite deputies and 50% of the Christian deputies and an overwhelming popular support in all Lebanon.

            Hezbollah gained the strategic district of Baabda because it is an extension to its headquarters in south Beirut.  Consequently, the resistance had secured internal political backing of all Mount Lebanon to the southern borders. Obviously, Hezbollah prevails militarily and Lebanon policy of defense cannot circumvent Hezbollah’s concerns for its internal security. 

             

            Saad Hariri emerged as the unchallenged leader of the Sunni sect in Beirut, Saida, North Lebanon, and the central Bekaa Valley.  Fouad Seniora PM got a seat in Saida.

            The main losers are the President of the Republic, Michel Suleiman, because the opposition coalition badly defeated the President’s implicit list of candidates in the district of Jubeil. The Maronite Patriarch lost because he can no longer claim any political weight in Mount Lebanon since he publicly supported the parties challenging Michel Aoun.  Thus, Michel Aoun is practically the political leader of the Maronite sect according to Lebanon’s caste system.

            One fact stands out in this tough election: it is my contention that the sacerdotal caste of the Christian Greek Orthodox did its best to challenge Michel Aoun as the pre-eminent representative of all the Christians in Lebanon.  The Greek Orthodox clergy played politics big time by defeating the Tayyar in Koura, Betroun, and Ashrafieh.  I am not worried about this positioning at this phase because the Greek Orthodox citizens are the staunchest Lebanese patriots against our main enemy Israel; most of the secular and national founders of political parties were Greek Orthodox.  Michel Aoun will have to temper his zeal and negotiate with this Christian sect as an equal.  In any event, Saad Hariri will owe the Christian Orthodox big time for the next four years otherwise he is doomed to lose the majority in next Parliamentary election. 

            The Christian Armenians could swing victory only in the Metn district because they failed in Ashrafieh and Zahle to make any difference facing the outnumbered Sunni voters. 

            Actually, the 4,000 Sunni voters in Koura reversed a sure win for the opposition to a defeat by less than one thousand votes. The opposition lost the district of Zahle because the government hads transferred the registration of over 25 thousands of Sunnis to Zahle in preparation for this election. This election was an exacerbation of Sunni confessional rallying cry as the other religious sects were distancing from confessional rhetoric.  Saudi Arabia monarchy is deeply immersed in an ugly and dirty confessional battle.

 

Monday Evening

 

            Ziad Baroud returned partial official results of 15 out of 26 districts (kada2) by noon and a full declaration by 6 p.m. The trick that there were discussions going on for swapping deputies did not take off in Lebanon’s archaic confessional political system.  For example, I considered that at least two losing traditional deputies in Zahle would be declared winners in return for two traditional losers in the Metn District.  Lebanon election experienced high turn out averaging over 60%.

            Hassan Nasr Allah of Hezbollah delivered a speech by 8:30 p.m. He reminded the citizens of the lies of the government coalition leaders who used scare tactics claiming that the resistance would use its military power to affect election procedures and results.  In any case, if the new political power sharing is to take off then any discussion of Hezbollah military reality should be restricted to the special conference table on defense strategies.

 

            Iran is having its Presidential election on June 12, 2009.  The candidates Ahmadinajad and Mossawi faced off in a television debate.  Moussawi suckered to the public opinion of the western nations’ demands: he is speaking as a foreign affairs minister and not a candidate to win the presidency.  The attitude of appeasing the western public opinions is considered very disgusting in Iran and not the characteristic of a vast “Empire”.

            The largest, widest, and lengthiest military exercise conducted by Israel for 5 days and which started on May 31 faltered and was a failure.  The Israeli citizens did not respond as expected and went on to their daily routine as if nothing is happening, regardless of the loud and frequent siren alarms.  Those five days were a holiday and not of any serious exigencies.  The Israelis on the Lebanese borders were the least concerned.  The message was clear and louder than the siren alarms “Governments of Israel, we want peace.  We no longer believe than security should take priority over peace treaty.  For 61 years you have driven us hard to countless pre-emptive and expansionist wars. Enough is enough.  We paid dearly for mindless and losing priorities and we want your policy to do the right thing.  We want peace, period”

 

            President Barak Obama has to deliver something tangible in the Middle East and very soon, and not six months from now as he is planning. Periods of sweet talking with nothing tangible in return are gone.  The Palestinian Statehood is due now!  The return of the Golan Heights to Syria is due now!  Direct negotiations with Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon Hezbollah are due now!  Stabilizing Pakistan is due now!  The return of the Shebaa Farms and the Hills of Kfarshouba to Lebanon is due now!  A specific schedule for the return of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to Palestine is due now!

 

            Why my urgency to resolving decades of roadblocks in the Middle East? Simple: the Middle East has been steadily catching on to extremist confessional attitudes as the absolution of Israel’s horrors and genocides has been the trade mark of the western nations.  Lebanon is catching on quickly to isolationist confessional extremism and if Lebanon is no longer a viable experiment for democracy then the USA and Europe will have no one to blame but themselves for laxity in executing and enforcing what is the right thing to do in this region.

Greece and Hungary

 

I returned to Lebanon via Abidjan.  I applied to different teaching positions but was denied a job, even in high schools. My cousin Jihad connected me with Nasri, a lawyer, who needed someone with “industrial” background to join him for a trip to Greece; the brother of Nasri, working in Saudi Arabia, wanted to evaluate the financial viability of a manufacture of juice that was for sale in the Peloponaise.  We visited the installation and we met with a Lebanese agent representing the Saudi owner and who came from Switzerland for that purpose. I quickly discovered that I was “an add on” to impress in the negotiation because I was denied any fact sheets on equipments or sales.  Thus, I spent a week in Greece and a few days in Athens, but I was not impressed.  I was very naïve; when we returned to Lebanon I immediately returned the one thousand dollars cash in fees to Nasri because I felt that I was of no use and did not contribute much in the transaction.  Nasri later became the coordinator of the Syria-Lebanon High Committee for economic resolutions.

It was during that period that I joined a school friend Charles for a two weeks vacation tour in Hungary, during the Soviet hegemony. It was a good trip and I was impressed with Budapest; I was even more impressed by the scheming embezzlement skills. I once was approached by a scoundrel to change dollars to the national currency. We were under the impression that we receive higher value from currency changers than formal banks.  I offered to change one hundred dollar-bill and the scoundrel bilked me bad; he inserted small bills at the end and made me feel scared that a police is coming and he fled; I realized that I was not the only sucker in the touring group.  I bought a heavy black coat for $75 and the seller wanted dollars exclusively.  I befriended an elegant lady named Mona during the trip and the company considered us as boyfriend-girlfriend; we kept in touch and met a couple of times till I returned to the USA.  I once took Mona to a day tour of the Metn and Kesrouan districts because she never set foot in Christian areas.

Beit-Chabab: Hometown of my parents and grand parents and mine….

The late Lebanese writer Youssef (Joseph) Habshi Ashkar did an excellent job describing my village Beit-Chabab, which is his village.

Youssef told stories of the numerous ancient people and traditions in a simple, heart wrenching language and these stories were very funny most of the time. My father loves these stories because many of them happened during his time in the village and he can figure out the real protagonists. It would be nice to have all the works of Youssef translated, even if it would lose much of its original flavor and meanings.

When you see Beit-Chabab coming from Beirut you notice that it is vast and opening her arms to hold all its original main four quarters. Every house is visible with its red tiled roof, distinct, and having a sight to the sea.

The government encouraged new buildings to have red tile roofs for tax deduction but it turned mainly a paper promise because dad didn’t get any benefit. Beit-Chabab is a far cry of those villages scattered along a main road or hidden behind a mount or a valley.

Beit-Chabab is 700 meters above sea level and climbs over 100 meters in altitude from its bottom, west to east, and it is expanding mostly southward because the north side plunges toward the Nahr El Kalb River valley (Dog River).

Beit-Chabab has mainly 10 family clans that gathered around specific districts; each clan who could afford it had its own “nawbeh“, sort of a club of youthful members who could play instrument, sing and dance the ancient ways during happy and sad ceremonies.

Almost each major church, belonging to a clan, has a club of ladies “akhawiyeh” that cares for the less fortunate members of the clan. There was a time when a single policeman designated by the mayor would suffice to keep the peace and the streets clean.  Beit-Chabab grew bigger and clans permitted a few members of other family clans to purchase pieces of land in their own district, but out of town people still have hard time purchasing land.

Beit-Chabab could have been an ideal tourist attraction or a destination for summer residents but it blocked this kind of business by not allowing rental apartments or building commercial hotels and restaurants or movie theaters and thus discouraging outsiders to settle in.

Beit-Chabab used to be the main large town for miles around and it was called “The Town”.  It cultivated varieties of fruits and vegetables and hosted all kinds of industries like clothes “dima“, silk factories, church bells, potteries, fowl and cow businesses and supplied Lebanon with its products and produces and even exported to France until artificial silk was invented and other alternatives to potteries and cheaper clothing were manufactured.

Most of Beit-Chabab’s current  14,000 inhabitants immigrated abroad during and after WWI to Africa and returned to rehabilitate their houses; the immigration is still going stronger with the new generation after our latest civil war and the incapacity of our political system to bring peace, security and work opportunities.

The new wave of immigration has diversified its destinations to the USA, Canada, Australia, Europe, South America and also Africa for the less educated.   The worst part is that the new educated generation is not ready to come back, simply because the old ways of visiting and caring for neighbors are dying and Beit-Chabab is far behind with the amenities of modern life.

Youssef described his dad as a true ancient personality.  His dad didn’t wear “al ghenbaz” (the traditional long tunic) since he wore European attire, and he didn’t cultivated his land since he commuted and worked in Beirut but he was an anciant. But Youssef lived the  ancients did.

Youssef’s dad is ancient because as soon as he arrived from the Capital Beirut he would change into comfortable clothes and walk to the valley where he had a grotto which was supplied with the implements of a water pipe “arghileh” and coffee and candles. He would spend the evening contemplating nature and returning with loads of wild fruits and vegetables and greens like “3erkbanieh”, “zbeizbeh”, sumac, “za3tar”, “zaizafoun”, “kouwissa”, “khatmieh” and an oak stick to supply the winter reserve for fireplace, not because his house is not centrally heated which is but because he loves to see and feel the winter fire.

Youssef’s father is ancient because he eats meat only on Sundays and eats it raw like “kebeh” and “smayskeh“, because he loves to hear the pounding of the “mdakah bil jorn“.

Youssef’s father used to do his own coal and his own “arak” and he raised his own chickens and had always one goat for the milk and one mouton for the winter meat and fat.  Youssef’s dad is ancient because he refused to pour concrete on his patio “mastabah” but would pass “al mahdalah” on the sand, mud, small stones and “kash”.

Youssef’s dad is an ancient individual because he kept the traditional ways for preserving food, oil, cheese and other condiments simply because it reminded him of the environment and climate in which his forefathers lived contented.

Youssef’s father lived the real life without discontinuity when his grandfather died and when his father died.  He loved to narrate the ancient stories of people and stories of imaginary ancient heroes while sitting on the sofa and drinking Turkish coffee without sugar “sada”.  His stories reflect the concepts that hell could be experienced on earth and the feeling of heaven is an earthly experience too.

I do currently live in Kunetra, a mile away from our original town called Beit-Chabab.

Kunetra is split among four municipalities of Beit-Chabab, Kornet Hamra, Kornet Chehwan, and Ain-Aar.  Our building is within the municipality of Kornet Chehwan that Dad finished constructing in 1970 .

Kunetra was relatively a virgin estate; it is now expanding and becoming a favorite Real Estate development with modern villas studded all over.

Beit-Chabab is the hometown of my parents and their parents.  I was an interned student for six years in its boys’ school affiliated to the Christian Maronite Order.  From 1963 to 1975, I spent the summers in Beit-Chabab until I graduated from university

I am reverting to the ancient ways of life: I garden and gather all kinds of vegetables and greens; I love to eat everything natural without addition of salt, sugar, or peppers; my mother still prepares all kinds of preserves of jam and “kabeess”.

Unfortunately, I am not a narrator of stories and cannot sing and have no intimate friends to share the bliss of ancient living.

A Gentleman (continue 8)

Antoun met Yasmine on an April of Palm Sunday (Chaanine) accompanied by Noura as her chaperon.  Yasmine was 17 years old, pretty, shy and introverted. She talked little and Antoun barely heard what she was saying and did not pay much attention to her during the procession. Noura later told him that she was the official health provider for Yasmine’s family.  The family members were suffering not so much of any major physical illnesses but mainly from a kind of depression, sadness and isolation.

Boulos Bakhour, the father of Yasmine, was in earlier times a prosperous merchant who had wide connections with the merchants of the city of Venice. Boulos exported incense and spices to Venice and imported finished woolen cloth (usually imported by the Venice merchants from England through the port of Antwerp in Holland), stone marble, navigation accessories and mechanical wooden toys. Two of his sons had died; one from a ship wreck and another from the plague that devastated Italy on one of his trips. Boulos business went under shortly after and he had to sell his trading facilities at a loss.

Yasmine was highly educated in matters that were considered totally useless, especially for females:  She could write in Latin, speak fluent French and play an exotic musical instrument which resembled a “clavecin”. She also tried her hand at small aquarelle paintings of landscapes and flowers and had reserved a room for that hobby.

Yasmine could not believe Noura when she assured her that Antoun could procure her an updated clavecin, more Latin books and especially those exquisitely varnished mechanical wooden toys if she could afford the price. This information inflamed Yasmine and set her on a journey of conniving for Antoun’s heart and soul.

Noura became frantic and alarmed at Yasmine’s excitement; she was not thrilled with the development shaping out under her watch; her imprudence and pride prevented her from disrupting the unfolding intimate relationships between Yasmine and Antoun.  Noura was reduced to reason logically that, if they indeed might wed, which eventuality should not be a done deal, this wedding might provide a perfect cover up for Antoun’s dangerous activities. The old merchant Boulos knew about the illegal trading business of Antoun but hard times and the newly discovered excitement of Yasmine for life were irresistible.

Most often, love has devious ways of punishing the inattentive to its subtle signals, so that Noura reaped a few lame satisfactions imagining Antoun spending his spare time listening to the harpsichord, attending to Latin poem recitations and entertaining a stuffy entourage in endless boring parties.  Four months of studious courting resulted in Yasmine and Antoun getting married; his eldest sister Latifa represented the Fares family because his father could not make the trip while Antoun’s official situation with the Emir of the Metn was still unresolved.  The honeymoon was spent in Cyprus at the request of Yasmine who had never traveled overseas, a request that suited Antoun’s business transactions too.

The first act of change in class status was for Antoun to buy himself a black pure blood Arabian stallion and a fancy coach hitched to two long-legged bays to take Yasmine on tours of the city and for official invitations. New rich silk outfits for the couple were remarked with appreciation in town and many households had a hard time imitating the expenditure of the newly wealthy couple.  Yasmine nagged Antoun for clinging to his flat turban and assiduously urged him to change to a Venetian headdress and tight thigh molding pantaloons.  Antoun went along with Yasmine’s extravagances for a month until his closest friends started to shun him in the streets and then uncalled for innuendos flooded the neighborhood.

Three months in his new social status confirmed to Antoun that marriage is anathema to his cherished liberty and freedom but rather a very useful formal social contract to establish credibility as a reliable man and setting valid ground to acquire stable status among the prosperous merchant families. Antoun expanded his business by building carriages and subcontracted the mismanaged postal service in and around Beirut and later on to the Metn region.  The regular postal carriages were served by on board scribes who offered their services of reading delivered letters to the illiterate clients and immediately replying to the returned correspondences.  Abundant intelligence information was accumulated via that service along with immense prestige attached to a client friendly enterprise rarely emulated.

The first-born son was named Adhal (muscle) but, to the chagrin of many, Yasmine could only manage the sound of Adl (justice); and thus Antoun’s close friends and associates attributed to him the pseudonym of Abu Adl (father of justice), a name that he grew to like because he thought matched his temperament.  Yasmine hated the name Adhal and screamed recriminations and shed hysterical cries for she hoped her first son would have a French name of Augustin or Christoph as an alternate.

Gergis became a constant fixture at Yasmine study room; he hired her services under the pretense of learning Latin so that she would translate for him passages from the Roman codes of law and books that described how the Romans governed their vast multiracial Empire.  Somehow, Yasmine felt that Gergis made her repeat passages that were connected to Sicily.

Antoun had different code names among the civilian and the armed groups.  His code name for the civilian association was Abu Adl (father of justice) and for the armed group Abu Ghadab (father of anger). A propitious event offered Antoun the opportunity to expand and affirm his leadership.  The Emirs of the regions were summoned by the Viceroy of Damascus to raise their small private armies and advance to face a renegade Emir from the north around Aleppo.  Antoun was frustrated with the heavy demands levied on his business and the mass forced recruitment of the youth and able bodies.  He started by helping the young males from the Metn who refused to be enlisted in the army to flee into the outlawed areas and he prepared to resist any onslaught of the mercenaries of the Emir of Beirut

Neighborhood night watch groups were organized to forewarn against any sudden descend of the Emir’s troops. The sea was opened to evacuate distressed families. Many widowed women and orphans joined the insurgents for food and shelter because foodstuffs were seized and the black market prices were exorbitant. Gergis was spared the draft because he was deemed a valuable middleman to the rich Christian class.

At this junction, Antoun had no choice but to join the resistance movement hiding in the mountains. He took his son Adhal with him to visit his grandparents in the mountains. Yasmine, who was pregnant for the second time, stayed home in Beirut with her parents. The married gentleman Antoun was tolerated again in his hometown which was located at a cross-road between the Capital Mtein and Zahle in the Bekaa Valley.  He had bought a small cottage in the village of Mrouj, very close to his hometown, where his eldest sister Latifa was caretaker.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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