Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Michelle Ghoussoub

This town of traditional pottery in Lebanon: Beit Chabab

Last potter in Beit Chabab?

Who is Fawzi Fakhoury?

BEIT CHABAB, Lebanon: Fawzi Fakhoury hands are calloused and brown. Hours  of shaping tough clay and standing in front of a burning wood oven have stained  them shades darker than the rest of his body and toughened them so they are like  leather.

He is rather short, with salt and pepper hair and bushy eyebrows, and dressed  in simple, mud-stained clothes.

His weathered hands stand testimony to the  thousands of pots he has created for the better part of his life.

I have posted many articles on Lebanon, and Michelle  Ghoussoub has this latest.

Michelle  Ghoussoub published in The Daily Star, this June 20, 2013: “Meet  the last potter in Beit Shabab

Fakhoury is the last working potter in Beit Shabab.

Fakhoury, left, works with his brother Assad, who helps out occasionally in the shop. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

The scenic village is nestled in Lebanon’s mountains just outside of Beirut.

Sixty years ago, dozens of Beit Shabab  families produced traditional  pottery, and the heat from 40 burning ovens could be felt on the streets during  the summer, Fawzi explains.

The town’s name was synonymous with pottery, and people came from around the  country to purchase the artisanal clay pots, used for storing everything from  arak to grains, olive oil and wine.

Now, he is the only one left.

Fakhoury’s workshop resembles a hermit’s cave.

Though dark and dusty, it  remains well used and loved. Perched precariously on the edge of a small but  steep ravine, Fakhoury working space has a crumbling old stone facade nestled  into the mountain itself.

An elegant stone archway frames the entrance, with rusted scrap metal and  broken pieces of mortar piled on top to prevent rainwater from flooding the  small room. Bits and pieces of fragmented pots are piled haphazardly in a back  corner.

A traditional stove, or babour, Arabic for kerosene burner, commands the  center of the room. It doubles as the only heat source during the winter months, as nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing.

An old television set crackles in the background, the colors and shapes on  the screen disfigured by poor reception. A fine, white film of dust covers every  surface, and it puffs out of antique pillows on the faded couch when it is sat  upon.

No one knows or remembers exactly how long the workshop has been running.

Fakhoury believes the family folklore and says that Roman potters trained his  forefathers when they came to construct the ancient, colonnaded citadel of  Baalbek in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley around 300 B.C.

When the Romans left, his ancestors searched for the purest clay in the  country, and eventually settled in Beit Shabab to be close to the best natural  source: a small and muddy lake in the forest beneath the village (the mawsel).

Fakhoury’s creased wrinkles deepen and his brown face cracks into a crooked  smile as he recalls a childhood of running among the clay pots. He’s worked as a  potter for 60 years. His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and  great-great-grandfather all worked in this same space before him.

At no moment in his life did Fakhoury, now 66, wish for an alternative career  path. He loves this job, he says.

Years of hard labor have given him a worn appearance and demeanor, but they  have also kept him strong and tough. Toiling in the workshop where he was  raised, he cuts the figure of a surviving Chinese terra-cotta warrior, stained  by the mud that has defined his livelihood for half a century.

Fakhoury left the village temporarily during the Lebanese Civil War and  worked in trade in West Africa. He always dreamt of returning to his workshop to  continue his family’s legacy.

“I lived there, but I dreamed in Lebanon,” he says with a smile.

Fakhoury returned to find a wall of the workshop blown out by a bomb, but his  tools intact. He wasted no time in repairing the room and reopening his  business.

His wife and he have three daughters, all of whom are married and have long  since left the house. Women don’t do pottery, he says, at least in Beit Shabab.

His face falls, however, when he reveals that he has no heir to continue Beit  Shabab’s trademark industry when he retires.

“This workshop has been running for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, and  when I go, it may all have been for nothing,” he lamented, looking wistfully  around the chamber.

Though customers used to flock from across the country to hand pick his pots,  the advent of plastic containers has slashed demand massively.

Nowadays, customers are often decorators seeking a rustic look, or tourists  looking for authentic Lebanese craftsmanship.

He still ships a couple of hundred pots every year to a Jordanian arak  producer, who uses them to store the anise-flavored liquor.

Producing pottery is like cultivating a crop, he muses. The clay is collected  in the spring when it has the right consistency, then handspun into pots using a  potter’s wheel.

The kiln, an oven designed especially for pottery, is fired up  in August, the hottest month of the year, to accelerate the baking.

During these scorching weeks, Fakhoury stays up throughout the night to  monitor the ovens and rotate the pots, making sure that months of intensive  craftsmanship and exertion do not go up in flames.

The work is hard, and the fruit of his arduous labor much less plentiful than  it once was. While his father would light the oven seven or eight times in one  summer, he now only produces one batch of pots a year.

A pottery festival and exhibition in Normandy, France, once invited Fakhoury  to learn different pottery techniques.

He says it was an honor to be recognized,  but that he found himself underwhelmed by the developed industrial techniques of  French potters. Having made thousands of pots in his life, he says he prefers to  stick to what his father and grandfather taught him as a child.

Nassar Fakhoury, Fawzi’s neighbor and former landlord, shares his surname but  is not sure exactly how they are related. Family lineages and histories go so  far back in the village that they are sometimes impossible to keep track of or  untangle.

“Fawzi is a part of this village in the same way that these streets are. He’s  always in his workshop and his family has always been there. The children call  him ‘the pottery man.’ There’s just no other way to describe him,” Nassar  says.

When asked what has changed about the business since he began over half a  century ago, Fawzi’s answer is simple: “Nothing. I still do business the way my  father and grandfather did.”

It’s a legacy that may end without an apprentice or heir devoted to following  in his forefathers’ footsteps.

It is almost impossible to picture the village without its main attraction,  and for now, Fakhoury will continue to fill that role. He says he cannot imagine  himself anywhere else.

“My grandfather and father died here, and one day, I will join them,” he  says. “What I want is to die here.”

Note 1: In my childhood, I visited and was acquainted with three families of potters in the lower part of Beit-Chabab. The entire family members participated in the production, especially in summer time. Traditional pottery is vanishing quickly in Lebanon, and not even replaced by mass production facilities. There are is few potters in Rashaya Fokhar, and are closing shop for no family members replacing the older ones.

Note 2: A couple centuries ago, pottery was started in the upper quarters of Beit Chabab, but the clay was whitish. The potters in the lower part of Beit Chabab had the reddish and better clay to use, and they supplanted the upper families in that art and industry.

Note 3: A  version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June  20, 2013, on page 2.
Read more:  http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Lifestyle/2013/Jun-20/220923-meet-the-last-potter-in-beit-shabab.ashx#ixzz2WpopbDU6 (The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::  http://www.dailystar.com.lb)

Last potter in town of Beit Chabab, Lebanon?

In this town of traditional pottery, bell casting, Silk clothes… that No longer fabricate anything?

Who is Fawzi Fakhoury?

Note: Re-edit of “Last potter in Beit Chabab? In this town of traditional pottery? Who is Fawzi Fakhoury? June 22, 2013″

BEIT CHABAB, Lebanon:

Fawzi Fakhoury’s hands are calloused and brown. Hours  of shaping tough clay and standing in front of a burning wood oven have stained them shades darker than the rest of his body and toughened them so they are like  leather.

Fakhoury stand of potter. There were at least 6 families making a living from that art 3 decades ago, and their products were exported to the adjacent States of Jordan, Syria, Palestine and even Iraq.

Fawzi is rather short for a western standard, with salt and pepper hair and bushy eyebrows, and dressed  in simple, mud-stained clothes.

His weathered hands stand testimony to the  thousands of pots he has created for the better part of his life. He inherited that job from his father and the entire family helped in the family “factory”, until one of the members decided to resume the work.

Actually, it seems that Fawzi is the last working potter in Beit Chabab and pretty soon will retire: No vaible trade to export to.

I have posted many articles on Lebanon, and Michelle  Ghoussoub has this latest.

Michelle  Ghoussoub published in The Daily Star, this June 20, 2013: “Meet  the last potter in Beit Shabab

Fakhoury, left, works with his brother Assad, who helps out occasionallyin the shop. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

The scenic village is nestled in Lebanon’s mountains just 17 km outside of east Beirut.

Sixty years ago, dozens of Beit Shabab  families produced traditional  pottery, and the heat from 40 burning ovens could be felt on the streets during  the summer, Fawzi explains.

The town’s name was synonymous with pottery, and people came from around the  country to purchase the artisanal clay pots, used for storing everything from arak to grains, olive oil and wine.

Now, he is the only one left.

Fakhoury’s workshop resembles a hermit’s cave.

Though dark and dusty, it  remains well used and loved.

Perched precariously on the edge of a small but  steep ravine, Fakhoury’s working space has a crumbling old stone facade nestled into the mountain itself.

An elegant stone archway frames the entrance, with rusted scrap metal and  broken pieces of mortar piled on top to prevent rainwater from flooding the  small room. Bits and pieces of fragmented pots are piled haphazardly in a back  corner.

A traditional stove, or babour, for kerosene burner, commands the  center of the room. It doubles as the only heat source during the winter months, as nighttime temperatures can occasionally drop below freezing.

An old television set crackles in the background, the colors and shapes on  the screen disfigured by poor reception. A fine, white film of dust covers every surface, and it puffs out of antique pillows on the faded couch when it is sat  upon.

No one knows or remembers exactly how long the workshop has been running.

Fakhoury believes the family folklore. He says that Roman potters trained his  forefathers when they came to construct the ancient, colonnaded citadel of  Baalbek in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley around 300 B.C. (Baalbak is as ancient as 7,000 years, before Rome or Athens existed)

When the Romans left, his ancestors searched for the purest clay in the  country, and eventually settled in Beit Shabab to be close to the best natural  source: a small and muddy lake in the forest beneath the village (the mawsel).

Fakhoury’s creased wrinkles deepen and his brown face cracks into a crooked  smile as he recalls a childhood of running among the clay pots.

He’s worked as a  potter for 60 years. His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and  great-great-grandfather all worked in this same space before him.

At no moment in his life did Fakhoury, now 66, wish for an alternative career  path. He loves this job, he says.

Years of hard labor have given him a worn appearance and demeanor, but they  have also kept him strong and tough.

Toiling in the workshop where he was  raised, he cuts the figure of a surviving Chinese terracotta warrior, stained  by the mud that has defined his livelihood for half a century.

Fakhoury left the village temporarily during the Lebanese Civil War and  worked in trade in West Africa. He always dreamt of returning to his workshop to  continue his family’s legacy.

“I lived there, but I dreamed in Lebanon,” he says with a smile.

Fakhoury returned to find a wall of the workshop blown out by a bomb, but his  tools intact. He wasted no time in repairing the room and reopening his  business.

His wife and he have three daughters, all of whom are married and have long  since left the house.

Women don’t do pottery, he says, at least in Beit Shabab.

His face falls, however, when he reveals that he has no heir to continue Beit Shabab’s trademark industry when he retires.

“This workshop has been running for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, and  when I go, it may all have been for nothing,” he lamented, looking wistfully  around the chamber.

Though customers used to flock from across the country to hand pick his pots,  the advent of plastic containers has slashed demand massively.

Nowadays, customers are often decorators seeking a rustic look, or tourists looking for authentic Lebanese craftsmanship.

He still ships a couple of hundred pots every year to a Jordanian arak  producer, who uses them to store the anis-flavored liquor., like Ouzou in Greece

Producing pottery is like cultivating a crop, he muses. The clay is collected  in the spring when it has the right consistency, then handspun into pots using a  potter’s wheel.

The kiln, an oven designed especially for pottery, is fired up in August, the hottest month of the year, to accelerate the baking.

During these scorching weeks, Fakhoury stays up throughout the night to  monitor the ovens and rotate the pots, making sure that months of intensive  craftsmanship and exertion do not go up in flames.

The work is hard, and the fruit of his arduous labor much less plentiful than it once was.

While his father would light the oven 8 times in one  summer, he now only produces one batch of pots a year.

A pottery festival and exhibition in Normandy, France, once invited Fakhoury  to learn different pottery techniques.

He says it was an honor to be recognized,  but that he found himself underwhelmed by the developed industrial techniques of French potters. Having made thousands of pots in his life, he says he prefers to stick to what his father and grandfather taught him as a child.

Nassar Fakhoury, Fawzi’s neighbor and former landlord, says “Fawzi is a part of this village in the same way that these streets are. He’s  always in his workshop and his family has always been there. The children call  him ‘the pottery man.’ There’s just no other way to describe him,”

Nassar shares Fawzi surname but is not sure exactly how they are related. Family lineages and histories go so far back in the village that they are sometimes impossible to keep track of or  untangle.

When asked what has changed about the business since he began over half a  century ago, Fawzi’s answer is simple: “Nothing. I still do business the way my father and grandfather did.”

It’s a legacy that may end without an apprentice or heir devoted to following  in his forefathers’ footsteps.

It is almost impossible to picture the village without its main attraction,  and for now, Fawzi will continue to fill that role. He says he cannot imagine  himself anywhere else.

“My grandfather and father died here, and one day, I will join them,” he  says. “What I want is to die here.

Note 1: In my childhood, I visited and was acquainted with three families of potters in the lower part of Beit-Chabab, like the Tannous family. The entire family members participated in the production, especially in summer time. Traditional pottery is vanishing quickly in Lebanon, and not even replaced by mass production facilities. There are a few potters in Rashaya Fokhar, and are closing shop for no family members are willing to replace the older ones.

Note 2: A couple years ago I assisted in one of these night vigil. It was supposed to be the night the fire in the kiln (oven) for the pots to be suffocated. Annish played the guitar and sang Lebanese songs. We were a dozen gathered around the oven and a few kept joining in. Fawzi would get up from his couch and check on the readiness of the pots and add a few more woods. Around 2 am Fawzi decided it was time to kill the fire. We joined in bringing to the entrance of the oven the special “bumblebees” to stuff in to kill the fire.

Note 3: A couple centuries ago, pottery was started in the upper quarters of Beit Chabab, but the clay was whitish. The potters in the lower part of Beit Chabab had the reddish and better clay to use, and they supplanted the upper families in that art and industry.

Note 4: A  version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June  20, 2013, on page 2.
Read more:  http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Lifestyle/2013/Jun-20/220923-meet-the-last-potter-in-beit-shabab.ashx#ixzz2WpopbDU6 (The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::  http://www.dailystar.com.lb)

Could this enduring Garbage Crisis become the issue that breaks Lebanon’s status quo politics?

In a country rotten to the core with incompetence and corruption, it is a particularly fitting piece of poetic justice that garbage collection may be the straw to break Lebanon’s proverbial back. (The political leaders are Not incompetent: They are too clever in reaping and steeling the public funds to the hilt)

While power outages can be remedied with the help of generators, and water shortages managed with bulk purchases (citernes, water tankers), there is no quick-fix for garbage collection.

Even Lebanon’s most privileged can only do so much to isolate themselves from the festering piles that are now blocking roads and choking out the most isolated municipalities.

Image via Dalal Mawad

 

There is a popular notion that the Lebanese traditionally adhere to their political leaders’ agendas without much challenge, as suggested by this early 2000s TV spot.

But an overview of the news, and the reality on the ground, suggests a recent shift.

The momentum that fuels secularist and women’s rights movements, and visceral responses that inspired the #JusticeForYves hashtag display an impressive social cohesiveness motivated by frustration with socially conservative notions and rampant corruption.

And while this can be boiled down to Internet outrage, these movements undeniably demonstrate Lebanon’s ability to rapidly collectivize and mobilize around specific cases of political and social discontent.

Now, the #YouStink movement, like the garbage that triggered it, has spilled into the streets, in plain sight.

States ruled by corrupt governments are often enabled by a weak civil society.

But in Lebanon, blessed with neither regional stability nor significant natural resources, the population has never had the luxury of remaining unengaged.

(Here I beg to differ. For 20 years, the youth refrained from getting engaged in internal politics. They focused their attention on international activities such as Global Warming, Organic food, Human rights… It is this specific lengthy garbage crisis with no resolutions in sight that got the youth into asking the relevant questions on their internal problems, and the answers were baffling and humiliating and they felt the wide range of indignities they succumbed to for 30 years.

How the external world will perceive us” was the first motivation until they got educated on their rotten political militia system)

This has had the effect of pushing the population towards parties promising to protect the interests of their sect, further aggravating the sectarian lines upon which the country is drawn.

But those institutionalized powers have long since failed to provide basic services.

Indeed, Lebanon’s current political class lost legitimacy long before rubber bullets and tear gas were aimed at peaceful protestors demanding the most basic of human rights.

Unlike many states fettered by corruption and nepotism, Lebanon boasts the rare combination of a healthy blogosphere, a digitally engaged community and, recently, momentum born of frustration that just may be sufficient to challenge the political status quo.

Tourists, foreign journalists and even diplomats often marvel at the duality of Beirut – the fact that bullet-riddled buildings can exist alongside a thriving nightlife.

But the real duality exists not between religions or lifestyles, but between status quo politicians and a younger, educated generation fully aware of the ineptitude by which they are governed.

The governing political class does not yet appear to have grasped that the culture of impunity that enabled them during the war years no longer exists. It is this sense of entitlement that motivated parliament to extend its own term, and misled them into believing that their incompetence would not be challenged, even when failing to provide the most basic of services to the population they are there to serve.

Lebanon is not by definition the weakest link in the region – it is the weakest link because it has since the civil war failed to produce a national strategy with sovereign interests in mind.

Failure to strategize is what allowed the Cedar Revolution to be co-opted by both external and internal forces, disenfranchising the very voices that thought their moment had come.

What differentiates the #YouStink movement from past protests is not only its size and staying power, but also the fact that it arose organically, without being sponsored by a specific political side, external or internal.

Indeed, on its Facebook page, organizers publically decried politicians attempting to co-opt the movement, affirming that their participation “is not welcome so long as you are a part of the authority.”

The #YouStink movement is the opportunity for Lebanese civil society to replace the status quo political class that has long governed without accountability or transparency.

The momentum must be sustained by a unified strategy prioritizing the prosperity of the Lebanese people, and by propping up a fresh wave of candidates for the upcoming elections. Only then can a new political class emerge, one unfettered by the collective failure of current political authorities.

Michelle Ghoussoub is a freelance journalist and Barbar Moawad is a graduate in clean energy engineering. You can follow them on twitter at @MichelleGhsoub and @barmwd.

Image via Dalal Mawad

As support and momentum for the #YouStink movement grows, the question of national strategy emerges
now.mmedia.me|By Michelle Ghoussoub

the #YouStink movement, like the garbage that triggered it, has spilled into the streets, in plain sight.”

Oxymoron, Liberty, Liberal, Liberalism, Libertine… And Is Liberalism in Lebanese a Myth?

You think that the term Liberalism means some kind of liberty in choices, liberation from constraints, freedom from outside intervention,  freedom of expression, rights to gather, “do as you please” in your decision and actions…

Nothing of the sort.

The terms liberal and Liberalism have various jargons in politics, economy, and finance that are not related to the social wishes and wants.

Liberalism is a political jargon used by the colonial powers to throw smokescreen on outright economic embezzlement and coercion on developing States.

Liberalism has been coined to express forms of economic activities, mainly in exploiting former colonial States by denying them import taxes on products that are subsidized by the developing States, by facilitating financial extortion schemes on the weaker people, by the rights to ruin entire economic bases for the benefit of the richest oligarchies inside and outside State boundaries, by allowing monopolistic enterprises, cancelling out any forms of competitions in the developed States… Dismantling well-run and profitable State institutions, and Privatizing them (read financed by Banks)…

Liberalism is a financial jargon expressing the will that all financial activities must be linked through Banks, directly linked to one of the 8 families related to the Rothschild  House (hoarding $300 trillion). It fits the saying “Little cloud, you may wander any which way you want, where you rain your proceeds will return to me” (Harun Rashid, Abbasid caliph)

Liberalism is not Libertine life-style. Saudi Arabia is far more into Libertine way of life than Lebanon within enclosed palaces and special closed clubs of emirs and royal family members…

Life in Lebanon slowly but surely resets the dial on anyone’s “normality” barometer. You adjust to power cuts at home, at work, and in public places. You grow used to headlines constantly predicting impending war.

You even learn to laugh these off, once near-crises have passed you by.  You stop thinking twice about buying $12 cocktails while a refugee child stands outside the bar, selling Chiclets for one hundredth the price of your shoes. I’m not proud of this, but all of these things have become my new normal.

Michelle  Ghoussoub posted this July 12, 2013 on NOW: The Myth of Lebanese Liberalism

(with minor editing to match my style of writing)

Perhaps out of self-preservation, there is one thing I have never come to terms with: my inferior status as a woman.

The Myth of Lebanese Liberalism

In Lebanon, we don’t have it all that bad. (At least in the Christian dominated urban areas)

We can drive, dress as we like, study what we wish and have successful and fulfilling careers. But these norms should not be hailed as some kind of liberal victory. Rather as minimal requirements for a State that at least tries to manage itself “democratically”.

These so-called modern practices did nothing to help Roula Yaacoub when she was brutally murdered, allegedly by a husband who beat her regularly, and who remains a free man.

It frankly doesn’t mean much that women can dress provocatively and order a drink when their husbands can also legally rape them. Nor should we feel empowered by our right to date freely (within our religions, of course) when any woman who has lost her virginity is treated as damaged goods, or worse.

No society whose laws reflect the belief that a woman’s moral compass lies somewhere between her legs can logistically advance in any capacity.

If anything, Lebanon’s toxic mix of sexual objectification and repression enhances the extent to which women are seen as lesser beings.

Expected to remain simultaneously desirable and chaste, all sexual agency disappears when women are pressured to change their appearance to please men without being entitled to any fulfillment of their own. The narrative of Lebanon’s plastic surgeries – from breast enhancements to reconstructive hymen procedures – has been so well documented that it borders on cliché. If anything, it reflects the extremity of a country that marinates in superficiality, as half the population lacks basic rights.

This by no means implies that the situation is much better across the region, or in some of the world’s most developed countries.

While the horrific mass sexual assaults on women in Egypt have rightfully been vilified by international media, rape culture and restrictive laws in regards to women’s health continue to surface in the United States.

Hell, a video of Dustin Hoffman having an on-camera breakdown as he discusses his epiphany that society has “brainwashed” him against talking to ugly women has recently gone viral on the web.

But when pacifist feminists are threatened at gunpoint, and a mother of five is brutally murdered by a husband who then retains custody of her children, Lebanon may just take the cake in terms of ironic gender politics. And that should never pass as “normal” for any of us.

Read more: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/clever-enterpreneur-my-ass-who-is-the-lebanese-entrepreneur/

Last potter in Beit Chabab? In this town of traditional pottery? Who is Fawzi Fakhoury?

BEIT SHABAB, Lebanon: Fawzi Fakhoury’s hands are calloused and brown. Hours  of shaping tough clay and standing in front of a burning wood oven have stained  them shades darker than the rest of his body and toughened them so they are like  leather.

He is rather short, with salt and pepper hair and bushy eyebrows, and dressed  in simple, mud-stained clothes.

His weathered hands stand testimony to the  thousands of pots he has created for the better part of his life.

I have posted many articles on Lebanon, and Michelle  Ghoussoub has this latest.

Michelle  Ghoussoub published in The Daily Star, this June 20, 2013: “Meet  the last potter in Beit Shabab

Fakhoury is the last working potter in Beit Shabab.

Fakhoury, left, works with his brother Assad, who helps out occasionallyin the shop. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

The scenic village is nestled in Lebanon’s mountains just outside of Beirut.

Sixty years ago, dozens of Beit Shabab  families produced traditional  pottery, and the heat from 40 burning ovens could be felt on the streets during  the summer, Fawzi explains.

The town’s name was synonymous with pottery, and people came from around the  country to purchase the artisanal clay pots, used for storing everything from  arak to grains, olive oil and wine.

Now, he is the only one left.

Fakhoury’s workshop resembles a hermit’s cave.

Though dark and dusty, it  remains well used and loved. Perched precariously on the edge of a small but  steep ravine, Fakhoury’s working space has a crumbling old stone facade nestled  into the mountain itself.

An elegant stone archway frames the entrance, with rusted scrap metal and  broken pieces of mortar piled on top to prevent rainwater from flooding the  small room. Bits and pieces of fragmented pots are piled haphazardly in a back  corner.

A traditional stove, or babour, Arabic for kerosene burner, commands the  center of the room. It doubles as the only heat source during the winter months, as nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing.

An old television set crackles in the background, the colors and shapes on  the screen disfigured by poor reception. A fine, white film of dust covers every  surface, and it puffs out of antique pillows on the faded couch when it is sat  upon.

No one knows or remembers exactly how long the workshop has been running.

Fakhoury believes the family folklore and says that Roman potters trained his  forefathers when they came to construct the ancient, colonnaded citadel of  Baalbek in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley around 300 B.C.

When the Romans left, his ancestors searched for the purest clay in the  country, and eventually settled in Beit Shabab to be close to the best natural  source: a small and muddy lake in the forest beneath the village (the mawsel).

Fakhoury’s creased wrinkles deepen and his brown face cracks into a crooked  smile as he recalls a childhood of running among the clay pots. He’s worked as a  potter for 60 years. His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and  great-great-grandfather all worked in this same space before him.

At no moment in his life did Fakhoury, now 66, wish for an alternative career  path. He loves this job, he says.

Years of hard labor have given him a worn appearance and demeanor, but they  have also kept him strong and tough. Toiling in the workshop where he was  raised, he cuts the figure of a surviving Chinese terra-cotta warrior, stained  by the mud that has defined his livelihood for half a century.

Fakhoury left the village temporarily during the Lebanese Civil War and  worked in trade in West Africa. He always dreamt of returning to his workshop to  continue his family’s legacy.

“I lived there, but I dreamed in Lebanon,” he says with a smile.

Fakhoury returned to find a wall of the workshop blown out by a bomb, but his  tools intact. He wasted no time in repairing the room and reopening his  business.

His wife and he have three daughters, all of whom are married and have long  since left the house. Women don’t do pottery, he says, at least in Beit Shabab.

His face falls, however, when he reveals that he has no heir to continue Beit  Shabab’s trademark industry when he retires.

“This workshop has been running for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, and  when I go, it may all have been for nothing,” he lamented, looking wistfully  around the chamber.

Though customers used to flock from across the country to hand pick his pots,  the advent of plastic containers has slashed demand massively.

Nowadays, customers are often decorators seeking a rustic look, or tourists  looking for authentic Lebanese craftsmanship.

He still ships a couple of hundred pots every year to a Jordanian arak  producer, who uses them to store the anis-flavored liquor.

Producing pottery is like cultivating a crop, he muses. The clay is collected  in the spring when it has the right consistency, then handspun into pots using a  potter’s wheel.

The kiln, an oven designed especially for pottery, is fired up  in August, the hottest month of the year, to accelerate the baking.

During these scorching weeks, Fakhoury stays up throughout the night to  monitor the ovens and rotate the pots, making sure that months of intensive  craftsmanship and exertion do not go up in flames.

The work is hard, and the fruit of his arduous labor much less plentiful than  it once was. While his father would light the oven seven or eight times in one  summer, he now only produces one batch of pots a year.

A pottery festival and exhibition in Normandy, France, once invited Fakhoury  to learn different pottery techniques. He says it was an honor to be recognized,  but that he found himself underwhelmed by the developed industrial techniques of  French potters. Having made thousands of pots in his life, he says he prefers to  stick to what his father and grandfather taught him as a child.

Nassar Fakhoury, Fawzi’s neighbor and former landlord, shares his surname but  is not sure exactly how they are related. Family lineages and histories go so  far back in the village that they are sometimes impossible to keep track of or  untangle.

“Fawzi is a part of this village in the same way that these streets are. He’s  always in his workshop and his family has always been there. The children call  him ‘the pottery man.’ There’s just no other way to describe him,” Nassar  says.

When asked what has changed about the business since he began over half a  century ago, Fawzi’s answer is simple: “Nothing. I still do business the way my  father and grandfather did.”

It’s a legacy that may end without an apprentice or heir devoted to following  in his forefathers’ footsteps.

It is almost impossible to picture the village without its main attraction,  and for now, Fakhoury will continue to fill that role. He says he cannot imagine  himself anywhere else.

“My grandfather and father died here, and one day, I will join them,” he  says. “What I want is to die here.”

Note 1: In my childhood, I visited and was acquainted with three families of potters in the lower part of Beit-Chabab. The entire family members participated in the production, especially in summer time. Traditional pottery is vanishing quickly in Lebanon, and not even replaced by mass production facilities. There are is few potters in Rashaya Fokhar, and are closing shop for no family members replacing the older ones.

Note 2: A couple centuries ago, pottery was started in the upper quarters of Beit Chabab, but the clay was whitish. The potters in the lower part of Beit Chabab had the reddish and better clay to use, and they supplanted the upper families in that art and industry.

Note 3: A  version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June  20, 2013, on page 2.
Read more:  http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Lifestyle/2013/Jun-20/220923-meet-the-last-potter-in-beit-shabab.ashx#ixzz2WpopbDU6 (The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::  http://www.dailystar.com.lb)

Days in Egypt: Investigating, Reporting…?

Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) is a Jordan-based institute that provides funding, support and training for young journalists across the Middle East.

Michelle Ghoussoub Posted on December 27, 2012 under “3 Days in Egypt: Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism

This past November I had the good fortune of being chosen to represent the American University of Beirut as a student delegate at the annual (ARIJ) Conference  held in Cairo, Egypt, for the first time.

Though I’ve learned to read and write Arabic in the past 2 years, the 5-page long emails detailing instructions about visas, plane tickets, and conference timetables proved to be a bit challenging for the vocabulary Univ. of British Columbia UBC Arabic 300 had provided me with.

These documents were quickly forwarded to my resident Arabic speaker back home (also known as baba – my dad) – who provided some interesting translations.

The conference advised “colleagues to wear conservative clothing, and to avoid wearing tight pants and revealing shirts when going out to public places.”

The conference also provided documents and advice for Palestinian journalists attempting to leave the West Bank and Gaza through Israeli checkpoints. Suddenly, my stress about getting a visa for my Canadian passport at the airport seemed pretty trivial.

Two days before the start of the conference, protests broke out across Egypt, including in the iconic Tahrir square after President Morsi passed a controversial presidential decree that gave him sweeping powers. I considered not going – but passing up on a chance to visit Cairo was just too much.

The day of the conference, I caught a 5 am flight out of Beirut along with another friend from the AUB who was also attending.

After the typical Beirut airport experience (basically, overly relaxed security), we took off on Egypt Air, and landed in Cairo around an hour later.

Once in Cairo airport, I realized that my worries about getting a visa upon landing had been unfounded – the old man behind the booth didn’t even look at my passport, let alone ask me any questions before handing me the visa.

We took a cab into the city around 7 am, when a deep smog was still covering the city. Our taxi driver asked us where we had come from, and why we were here. “Why did you come?” he asked us, “It’s not safe.”

“Bassita, na7na min Beirut.” we tried to joke (“Don’t worry, we’re from Beirut.”)

“Cairo isn’t Beirut” he replied. He then told us that he had been driving some tourists to their hotel last night when the car in front of them exploded. These two Beirutis were in over our heads.

View of Cairo Tower from Conrad hotel

View of Cairo Tower from Conrad hotel

We finally arrived to the hotel to find that our hotel reservation had been cancelled. After a brief argument of Lebanese vs. Egyptian Arabic, we somehow worked out a solution. A bus took us to another hotel in Cairo’s Zamalik area, where the conference was taking place.

Even being used to the madness of Beirut traffic, the bus ride was heart-stopping. Cars, buses, motorcycles, street vendors horses and donkeys jockey for positions on Cairo’s streets – with no clear winner.

The ARIJ conference turned out to be extremely interesting, with talks ranging from ethics of war reporting, methods for interviewing trauma victims, methods for conducting investigative journalism, and a showcase of the best investigative reports coming out of the Arab world in the past year.

IMG_1763

Keynote speakers at ARIJ 2012

It was also interesting to note that there appeared to be somewhat of a disconnect between the western and Arab reporters.

One American professor who spoke went through the details of how he uncovered a French government scandal involving funding from the alcohol lobby – he did so mainly by going through public government records.

A young Egyptian then stood up and asked how he recommended going about this kind of investigation in Egypt, where either there were no public records, or you may get beaten up for asking the wrong questions.

Another American journalist spoke about acquiring sources, and how to convince those who wish to remain anonymous to go public.

An Iraqi journalist then asked about a specific case – in one of her recent stories, the main source had paid Al Qaeda not to kill him – there was therefore no way he would accept to go public with his name, as he would be killed. In both cases, the speakers looked shocked and a little dumbfounded at the questions.

One thing is for sure – the terms of engagement are different in the west and in the Middle East.

IMG_1775

In the evening, we returned to our hotel via taxi. We asked him about the situation in the city, and whether the area had remained safe that day. He told us the protests had spread to almost all areas of Cairo and Alexandria, and that all roads out of the city were blocked by protestors. He then went on to tell us that he had previously worked as a bureaucrat for the Egyptian government, that Morsi had fired him unfairly, and that he was now forced to work as a taxi driver to make a living.

How much of this is true I will never know, as we were stuck in traffic when we suddenly heard a commotion behind us. A crowd was surging towards us, and an army officer had come out of nowhere and begun to spray tear gas directly into the crowd. Our taxi driver did some unworldly maneuver and managed to get us out and back to the hotel, but the excitement was not done for the night.

My fellow AUBite had some Lebanese family living in Cairo, who took us out and toured us around the Zamalik area in the evening.

There was something distinctly strange about the atmosphere – fancy restaurants along the Nile, and luxurious Egyptian versions of “bateaux mouches” were empty, though it was a Saturday night. “Cairo isn’t Beirut” our host told us. It was the second time I’d heard that phrase in one day.

“The people here aren’t used to uncertainty.” It’s easy to forget that Mubarak ruled Egypt with relative stability for 30 years – a completely different history from that of Lebanon. He asked us if we wanted to see Tahrir Square. We were both reluctant, but it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience, and so we decided to go.

Walking into Tahrir Square

Walking into Tahrir was overwhelming – so many key events had come from this place.

Outside of the ring of white cloth tents it was like a microcosm of the Arab world. Ka3k vendors, women with their children, but mostly men sitting, playing cards, smoking arguileh and talking politics. It wasn’t a threatening atmosphere, but definitely an uncomfortable one.

As two of the only unveiled women there, we got many stares, though no one approached us, perhaps because we were with a man. Mostly there was a sense of lawlessness, a feeling that if anything were to happen, there was no governing authority that would step in.

We definitely felt a sense of relief when we left the square. The tension and uncertainty in the air was almost suffocating, despite the movement being one of freedom and democracy.

The next day during the conference, we read on the news that three women had been attacked in Tahrir that day – and the square was only 5 minutes from the hotel we were in at that moment. Very eye opening.

Tahrir's mini community

Tahrir’s mini community

When we landed back in Beirut the next day, I saw the Capital Beirut with very different eyes.

It seemed green, uncrowded, and very clean – though Beirut is none of the above. Lebanon is chaotic, but somehow the chaos seems contained, even manageable. Cairo was sprawling, huge, unpredictable and beautiful. And though its streets felt very dirty and crowded, and even unsafe, you got the sense that it was a very ancient and noble city – or once had been.

Whatever the future of Egypt is, I surely won’t forget my 3 days in Cairo, or my impromptu visit to Tahrir anytime soon.

 

Homeless by the American Univ. of Beirut: Ali, Georgette…on Bliss Street

Three posts on my FB today, talking of the homeless living close to the students of the American Univ. of Beirut (AUB) on Bliss Street.

Reine Azzi posted this Jan. 8, 2013 under “Humans of Beirut. Save Georgette of Bliss Street.

“After yesterday’s heartbreaking news of the death of Ali of Bliss Street, hundreds of concerned facebookers banded together to form an initiative to help the homeless in Lebanon.

Statuses have been posted, blogs written, and tweets announced, in memory of Ali Abdullah, and all in hopes that he did not die in vain.
Many peopleand students are asking about others like-Ali—”What about the homeless woman on Bliss St.? What will happen to her?”

Georgette has no means to afford basic necessities. And the humanitarians of Lebanon have taken action, creating campaigns to spread awareness and assist the needy in anyway possible.

Fighting Homelessness in Beirut, a FB group formed by Michel Khoury, was created only today—and already has over 700 members.

Contribute to a Warm Lebanon, a fundraiser at Nasawiya Café in Mar Mikhael, also pledges to donate clothes, food, sleeping bags and anything else that might warm up people who can’t afford basic neccesities.

Food Blessed, another initiative aiming to feed the hungry, also revolves around a humanitarian cause that including helping the homeless.
So if you want to help out and don’t know how, check out the three links above and give money, food, clothes—even time. It’s really the least we can do.

After Ali, Activists Rally for Homeless

 A picture of Ali, described as Hamra Street’s Bukowski.

Michelle Ghoussoub wrote:

In light of what has happened, I feel like I should say more. This man was truly a legend, and one of the pillars of what made Hamra so special.

For generations, he was the subject of much intrigue to the students of the American University of Beirut. Some said he was a physics professor who was so smart, he’d gone mad.

Others added that he could speak 6 languages. Everyone had their own quirky story.

What always intrigued me is that he never begged or asked anyone for anything. Good people just seemed to give him a helping hand from time to time.

Last night though, while I was sitting comfortably in my home wondering why cold air was seeping through small cracks in my window, the storm left him dead in a Hamra that he helped give life to.

Rest in peace, Ali. If any of you have any stories to share, please do.”

Sherif Maktabi posted:

“Yesterday a man called Ali, died in the street where I grew up. A street where hundreds of thousands of Lebanese, and I, walked to school

Please have the patience to read through, a person’s life depends on this.

Students of AUB and International College, I am talking to you.

Download this gallery (ZIP, null KB). Download full size (86 KB)

Nobody knows Ali’s story. He was homeless, and lived on Bliss street in Beirut for years. I  remember him since I was a kid.

Some say he was mentally disturbed. But he never harmed anyone.

He survived on donations from the restaurants and shops of bliss.

He used to get, coffee, a sandwitch and a cigarette everyday. As for us the students, we never did anything.

He is dead. But many are still alive and shape the soul of Beirut.

And they don’t have people to help them.

This is why I want to tell you the story of Georgette.

Download this gallery (ZIP, null KB). Download full size (39 KB)

 Everyday, Georgette brings her chair and sits in front of Books and Pens to sells chewing gum. She can’t walk and can’t see very well.

Karim Badra and I know Georgette very well. She was angry with us because we turned the wall behind her into a Lebanon Would Be Better If. But now we are friends.

She is very sick. And because it’s winter she can’t sell chewing gum.

And hence, she can’t get money to pay the rent of a small bed. Her landlord wants to kick her out. She doesn’t have enough money to pay for her medicin.

The last time I saw her, she colapsed in front of me and I called the Red Cross. All that she asks from me is 2 types of tissue paper and a bottle of water.

But I know she needs money.

Georgette usually sits in front of Books and Pens. Take the first left after AUB main gate and walk up 10 meters. She sits in between Moustache and Alex’s store.

I cannot save Georgette. But we can.

You can help through 3 easy steps:

1) If you see her, be nice to her,

2) Ask her if she wants water, tissues or food

3) Send Karim Badra a message if you want to contact Georgette for more serious help.

(Click this link and send Karim a message).

Humans of Beirut. Save a human. In memory of Ali.

Download this gallery (ZIP, null KB). Download full size (149 KB)

 

 

Michelle has hope for Lebanon: Sort of 5 reasons…

 

  M ()Posted on November 23, 2012 “Why I have hope for Lebanon this Independence Day

“Since the Syrian revolution began over 20 months ago, the headlines around the world concerning Lebanon have all had the same tone – “Lebanon on the brink”, “Tensions in a divided Lebanon run high”…

And since last May, we have seen what appears to be a breakdown of Lebanon’s social fabric. Fighting in Tripoli between Bab el Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, tire burning around the country, the so-called “military wing” of the clan Moqdad family kidnapping of Gulf nationals, Syrians…and blocking the road to the airport.

A travel ban for the nationals of UAE, Qatar and Bahrain crippled Lebanon’s tourism over the summer.

And a month ago, the car bomb that ripped through Beirut’s bustling Ashrafieh district that claimed 3 lives, including that of Brigadier General Wissam al Hassan, his bodyguard, and an innocent woman walking in the area. In the days that followed, protestors stormed the Grand Serail, (the PM administration) and gunfights erupted in several areas around Beirut.

International media basically had a field day predicting the next civil war in Lebanon, and elaborating on the oversimplified narrative of Syria’s conflict “spilling over” and Lebanon’s sectarian divides continuing to “widen” as change rocks the region. What happened instead?

Millions of Lebanese woke up in the morning, got in their cars and faced mind-numbing traffic to get to work for completely unfair salaries. For that, I respect them and their resilience immensely.

Schools, bars, restaurants, and malls remained open despite shooting in several areas of Beirut. In the days that followed, life here largely returned to normal, and the media’s eye shifted away from Lebanon. Basically, over the space of two days, columnists and foreign correspondants from around the world predicted a major breakdown of social and political institutions in this country.

And that may yet happen. But instead of breaking down worst case scenarios, let’s take a look at the reality of the past month in Beirut.

1. Beirut White March

A week after the blast in Ashrafieh, around a thousand Lebanese gathered in Martyr’s Square dressed in white, and marched peacefully to Sassine Square (the location of the blast) to show solidarity for the victims, and to express frustration with the March 8/14 rift that characterizes Lebanese politics. “March against March”  and “5losna Ba2a” signs were held up, along with hundreds of Lebanese flags.

The mood was positive, despite the grim events of the week before. I overheard two photographers jockying for position joke to each other “In peaceful protests, the photographers are the ones who fight.”

No violence.

2. Ashrafieh for All

Again, immediately after the bombing, a group of young Lebanese began the “Ashrafieh for All” initiative. Spread through Facebook, the group description simply read: “[We are] a group of young people looking to help the people of Ashrafieh out. This is in no way political. Anyone willing to help can join.”

Over the following weeks, hundreds of volunteers, including youth groups such as les Scouts du Liban, collected food, water, clothes, medicine and money for those whose homes had been destroyed in the explosion. Major Lebanese brands including Zaatar w Zeit, Roadsters Diner and many more also contributed to the efforts.

3. Beirut Marathon

On November 11th, in the pouring rain, over a thousand Lebanese gathered to complete a 10 km run, or a full marathon, throughout Beirut. Thousands of Lebanese of different faiths gathered together in a massive crowd, while jogging, under a torrential downpour – sound like a perfect recipe for conflict. But no – the event was a great success.

4. Seculars in AUB election

Student elections at the American University of Beirut are closely watched, as they are known for representing Lebanon’s political divides. Unlike typical student elections, which are either popularity contests or based on campaigns pertaining to student life, AUB’s are highly politicized. Competing student parties openly endorse the March 8 and March 14 camps that divide national Lebanese politics, and have a history of high tensions, and even outbursts of violence.

Given the events of the past few months, many expected this year’s election season to be particularly inflammatory. Though the elections were highly politicized as usual, with political chants and quite a bit of booing taking place as results were announced, there were no fights. And in an interesting turn of events, AUB’s very own Secular Club, supporting candidates running independently of any politically affiliated organizations, performed particularly well this year.

For a soundbite I compiled featuring interviews with AUB students regarding their view of the influence of Lebanese politics on student elections, click here: www.beirutnewsnetwork.com/michelle. You may be surprised by what you hear. While some cited the inevitability of Lebanese politics spilling into AUB, others expressed major disappointment with this – despite the fact that they had won because they ran with politically-backed parties.

5. TEDxBeirut

TEDxBeirut, a full-day conference that took place November 17th at Beirut’s UNESCO Palace, brought together Lebanese speakers, activists, innovators, leaders, and regular citizens with “ideas worth sharing” as a part of the larger TED talks global movement. A TEDx conference even took place in Tripoli, despite the strife that has marked the city since this summer.

What does all this mean?

Lebanese people are far from war-hungry sectarian-driven individuals. The above events show that Lebanese do want to live together, and enjoy normal, happy lives. And that’s what gives me hope in Lebanon this independence day.

As summarized by Bernard Pivot:

“Les Libanais sont sûrs qu’il y aura un autre attentat. Puis, plus tard, un autre. Ils ne vivent cependant pas dans la crainte. Ils vivent.” (The Lebanese are sure another car blast is being readied, and another… They don’t live in fear. They live.)

 

 

ImageOn top of that, JLO carried a Lebanese flag on stage while performing in Dubai. I mean what more do you really need? End of article

If the reader has noticed, almost all of these events are set in Beirut, where about a third of the population live and work. Outside of Beirut, in this tiny country, life is controlled and administered by the communities: The pseudo-State (government, institutions, and deputies…) exists just in Greater Beirut.  A few sectors in Beirut get high priority in potable water, 24/24 electricity, and all the amenities that other sections in Beirut don’t enjoy…

Apparently, the rate of hope is “measured” on how people living and commuting to Beirut behave and have fun…

 

Is Violence a Normal news in Lebanon? How much faith is about right?

Samples of TV channel and international newspaper sound bites: “Lebanon on the brink of…,” “Syrian conflict spilling into Lebanon,” “Unrest in fragile Lebanon concerns region”…

Michelle, a Canadian girl, attending her last university years at the American University of Beirut posted on Aug. 16 under “Lebanon and the normalization of violence”

“Here we go. The frustrating developments in Lebanon have driven me to write. Considering the fact that I’ve just moved here for a year to study and ideally jump-start my career as a journalist, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I’d much rather be writing about social issues, the beauty of Beirut and my experiences as an international student than the lawlessness and chaos we witnessed yesterday.

Here’s the thing. I love Lebanon. But it’s becoming harder and harder to reconcile the romanticized Lebanon of my mind with what is increasingly flashing across every TV channel and international newspaper. “Lebanon on the brink,” “Syrian conflict spilling into Lebanon,” “Unrest in fragile Lebanon concerns region.”

Lebanese have been reading and largely scoffing at these alarmist titles for a better part of 15 years. But as easy as it is to tune out the news and dismiss the developments with a proverbial “welcome to Lebanon,” it is becoming increasingly discouraging to see the kind of people who appear to hold the power in this country. The kind of people who burn tires, block roads, kidnap at will and incite threats because they are well aware that a state trapped in sectarian gridlock, unable to maintain a crumbling infrastructure and too intimidated to take a stand in a tense region will not act against them.

Amazingly, violence is a social norm in Lebanon. The average Lebanese was perhaps slightly alarmed, but not majorly shocked by yesterday’s events.

Many Lebanese worry, but hoards of others will simply turn off the TV and tell you that in 3 days, all will be back to normal – whatever definition that word has taken on here. But the purpose of this post is not to despair.

Lebanese have proven themselves to be extremely resilient to conflict, and the thugs on the street do not represent the majority of Lebanese. It’s been a long hot summer, and it’s not over yet. But let’s have a little faith in Lebanon…though maybe too much faith is our problem. More to follow.

http://mghoussoub.wordpress.com/

Note 1: Michelle has been so immersed in the social life of Lebanon that she forgot to be specific about the terrible three-day violence that she mentioned. Probably, she is referring to the clashes in the city of Tripoli (Lebanon).

Note 2: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/ideal-case-study-city-for-alienated-youth-tripoli-lebanon/

What Black Swan Theory has to do with Arab Spring uprising?

I have posted several articles on the Black Swan Theory and this link is in response to its application to Lebanon political/social structure https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/is-lebanon-political-system-immune-to-radical-non-violent-revolts-think-again/

Zaher Yahya posted on Huffington Post an article (with slight editing) that is a general “refresher” post on the topic:

“The Arab Spring has been described and associated with a variety of symbolic designations.

At times, the term describes the series of protests that have swept across the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. It may also indicate a person’s political position on the wide and highly polarized spectrum.

The term ‘Arab Spring’ has even been criticized by some who support the pro-democracy (or anti-regime) protests, citing this description as being Orientalist and therefore inappropriate.

The ‘Arab Spring’  (protests and upheaval), which started in December 2010, has become a brand for the region, and has motivated and catalyzed many popular protest movements around the world.

International media generally refers to the term as a unified concept, largely citing its contagious aspects as well as the key links between the countries involved.

The series of events have been called a “revolution,” “revolt,” “upheaval,” “uprising,” “awakening,” “spring,” “conspiracy,” “rioting,” “terrorist,” “hell,”  “Arab,” “Islamic,” and “foreign” are also terms intermittently used in conjunction with the previous descriptions.

We now know that the Arab Spring will not be an easy ride for the countries that it has affected, though it cannot be denied that the region has been marked by a political paradigm shift.

People in the MENA region have:

1. Denounced the long-accepted principle that unelected officials and family dynasties can cling to power for decades without consequence.

2. People have broken the long-standing barriers of fear regarding corruption and intimidation,

3. People are adjusting to the ideological diversity of their societies (though many still have much to learn on this front).

For these reasons, I tend to be optimistic about the Arab Spring despite much rhetoric about it becoming an Arab “Winter.”

Having lived through the global financial crisis that has affected people of all walks of life, I view the Arab Spring as being related to these events that shook the world economy in 2007.

Are you surprised that I find a relation may exist between these two events, both vast and far-reaching, but seemingly distinct? It may appear a tad philosophical, but the answer lies with Nassim Taleb.

Nassim Taleb (see note 2) lays the foundations  in his two books Randomness (2001) and Black Swan (2007) for his theories about uncertainty, randomness and Black Swan events. Black Swan theory describes unpredicted major-impact events that effectively appear sensible in hindsight.

Taleb theory is framed in a financial context, (many experts contend that Taleb forecasted the financial meltdown of 2007), and describes the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s as one of these Black Swan moments.

Black Swan moments are characterized as being rare, high-impact and paradoxically unpredictable occurrences at the time of their occurrence. Most of us would assume black swans don’t exist, simply because we were only accustomed to seeing white swans in pictures and videos…

In the terms of the financial crisis, speculators assumed there is only one way for the markets to go; asset values would rise indefinitely with no limit to the amount of debt people could incur. It has become clear afterward that the reality on the ground was different what was written on their balance sheets and portfolios bottom lines.

The impact of the debt crisis was colossal and wide-spread that no expert envisaged at the time, with many talking about the failure of capitalism as a result. This global crash has really shattered the image and ultimate authority of the dictators of the finance sector (i.e. investment banks and hedge funds).

The Arab spring proved as difficult to predict as the financial meltdown showing economists, intelligence agencies, policy makers and analysts clueless about their own business, simply because they have never considered a Black Swan moment for the region.

The Arab Spring was triggered by what could initially have been interpreted as an isolated event, spread surprisingly fast over a vast region, and led to major and unexpected developments.

In the same way, norms of the banking system that held for generations collapsed with stunning speed and magnitude, the image and privilege of Arab dictators were shattered by popular revolts in a movement that took the world by surprise.

A Black Swan moment was never considered in the experts’ minds to apply to the Arab States: many Arab dictators held a seemingly unshakable iron grip on power and ruled undeterred for up to four decades, all while preparing their sons to someday take the reins after them, unshaken by popular and economic conditions in their country.

So the public witnessed only their moukhabarat (secret service agents) running the show, as well as the brutal backstage of the regime if you were unlucky enough to pay them a visit.

Years of tradition made this construction of power a social norm, a backbone of society so persevering it was often assumed (and reasonable at the time) to be unshakable.

And this is exactly what Nassim Taleb focuses on, exactly on the things we don’t know rather than the things we think we do. A small exception to a rule (events in the tails of the normal graph) in the future can have the ability to trigger large-scale change and dismantle norms, theories and paradigms that have been accepted for years.

The colossal impact of the Arab Spring across the region was beyond anyone’s realm of expectations – either idealistic or highly calculated.

In the world of risk management, this event appeared highly unlikely; the probability of such events spreading across such a vast region were not on the minds of political forecasters, in the same way so many bankers did not fathom their long-standing stability could be shattered so suddenly.

In hindsight, the Arab Spring may now appear to have been predictable. How could we have assumed that despite torture, censorship, abuse, brutality, corruption, unemployment and poverty, regimes would remain sustainable?

Whatever your opinion of the Arab Spring, and whatever term you choose to designate it, what started in December 2010 has proven itself a Black Swan moment of the Middle East and North Africa, one that is far from over, and whose impact will perhaps take years to fully assess.

Note 1: Michelle Ghoussoub, Blogger at Lebanon Spring, edited Yahya article.  Follow Zaher Yahya on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheZako

Note 2: Nassim Taleb is a renowned Lebanese-American statistician, best-selling author and former Wall Street trader. His books Fooled by Randomness (2001) and Black Swan (2007) brought him to fame, with the latter described by The Sunday Times as “one of the twelve most influential books since World War II”.

Note 3: Opinion experts would like us to believe that the uprising were not expected by the US. Evidences are pointing that what was unexpected is the development, steadfastness and far-reaching movement of the Arab people to get away with their long established indignities and humiliation by usurping oligarchies.

 

adonis49

adonis49

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