Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘power-not-a-point-of-view

In total darkness, as the dark invade the nights, as electricity is ancient history: Lebanon and Cynthia Choucair

Anyone living in Lebanon, for even a few days, will be surprised to learn that the Lebanese endure a dysfunctional electricity regime, and no one was able to counter these dinausors ruling this pseudo-State, and plundering the treasury.

Before the 2006 war, only the Capital Beirut enjoyed more or less 24-hour electricity, on the ground that the rich Gulf emirs and the wealthy Lebanese lived in Beirut, while other parts of the country got just a few hours of power a day from Electricite du Liban.

To fill in the gaps, the country’s better-off minority own generators or else pay for access to someone else’s device.

This week, storm Olga coming from Russia flooded all Lebanon and for an entire week the public electricity was an ancient history.

Not only all electrical infrastructure needs repair, but the employees and workers and repairmen decided to go on strike for unpaid retroactive promises.

Jim Quilty published on Jan, 9, 2013 in the Daily Star under Lebanon is not a Rahbani play

BEIRUT:  After July 2006 with the bombing of Israel of all the infrastructure for 33 days this “electrical” dysfunction was democratized a little, so that now Beirutis shared a tad bit a regular schedule of only daily 3-hour blackouts.

Many entrepreneurs make a living liberating kilowatt hours from the national grid and doling them out, for a price, to those in need.

And if you can’t afford these fruits of the informal economy, you go without. (We pay two electrical bills and have to be thankful for rediscovering that electrical light is a facility)

Enter Cynthia Choucair, the Lebanese filmmaker whose feature-length documentary “Powerless” had its world premiere last month at the Dubai International Film Festival, where it screened out of competition.

This enlightening, acerbic and often quite amusing television-friendly doc finds 4 compelling characters in the haywire of the country’s chaotic electrical system.

The star of the show is the late Jamal Chkifi, a fifty-something 7ayy al-Sellom resident. He was left bereft when his Romanian wife, no longer able to tolerate the power cuts, abandoned him and took their two children with her.

Though he’s a vision of impoverishment, Chkifi isn’t simply a victim. He made history a few years back, being the first Lebanese citizen to file a lawsuit against Electricite du Liban, charging that the state-owned utility is responsible for his losing his family. He died last February, before the court could make a ruling.

Complementing Chkifi’s court action are Rami al-Amine, a television journalist who covered Chkifi’s story, and Chadi Nachabe, an anti-corruption activist who is himself destined for politics.

Rounding out this cast of characters is a celebrity electrician who’s made a name for himself – the Robin Hood of Dahyeh, to be precise – tapping into the state power grid for the needy.

The film was shot in 2011, when the ministry was apparently working toward a plan to solve the country’s energy woes.

The state does its part to facilitate the film’s comic element. Early in the proceedings, Choucair and her crew attend a public presentation by the minister on what he has in mind.

“We inherited a flame, a flame they thought would burn us,” the minister says gravely. “Yet in this flame, we found an energy source … This flame has spread –”

The room suddenly plunges into darkness. There is an uncertain smattering of applause and the official sputters something about the ministry not being responsible for this building’s generator. The power cut’s unseen hand spares no man.

When she presented her film at its Dubai premiere, Choucair remarked that there was an element of revenge in her decision to make “Powerless.”

“I don’t work in politics,” she screamed above the roar of Beirut’s noontime traffic. “But I’m a Lebanese citizen and I have the right to say what I want to say. For me it was an opportunity, yes, to take revenge for what I have been living, and for being taken for granted.

“I didn’t choose to emigrate. I chose to live in Lebanon. When you live in Lebanon you see it’s not a country … For me, for example, I work in Lebanon but all my work is not for the Lebanese audience but the Arab audience.

“Yet you must live all the details. Going through the traffic. Not having electricity. Not having good water. Not having good schooling. You live it. You pay for it. Unlike many Lebanese, I don’t live and work overseas and then come back for vacations.

Choucair describes her film as “a play.”

It is easy to apply that description in two senses. “Powerless” is at once cautiously performative and playful in a winking sort of way.

This playful nature is hemmed in by the filmmaker’s compassionate nature, which is touched by the sufferings of her more unfortunate fellow citizens.

“It’s really like a play,” Choucair says. “I don’t believe in realism. On the contrary I wanted to work on it as a spectacle. I really do feel that Lebanon is a play. We all live in it. We all play in it.

“Both [Robin Hood and Jamal] enjoyed playing this because they are both very extreme in their lives and choices. It comes from them first, I worked with it.”

Wael Alkak’s moody soundtrack navigates between scenes like a car edging though Beirut traffic, and the camera periodically returns to the terrace of a Beirut apartment block where contrabassist Khaled Omran and vocalist Cynthia Choucair are performing what you’ve been hearing.

This gesture makes “Powerless” a more artful and personal creation than your average television documentary – it was produced by Al-Jazeera’s documentary network – yet it also retains the city’s chaotic skyline within the frame.

“You know the Rahbanis created this Lebanon and people live in this play while it’s not at all what it should be, not at all what it is in reality … The Rahbani songs created something in the national imagination, a fictional world. I’m not against it but I am against the [hegemony they have].

I have a feeling that all [my characters] feel they are heroes, even the minister. Even the politicians, they act as if they were heroes.

“Robin Hood feels he’s a minister because he’s able to provide people with electricity, with power. Jamal feels he must take the cause of Lebanon’s electricity sector on his own shoulders.

“The good and the bad. Heroes and villains. The good sun. Lebanon as if it is part of the sky,” she laughs again. “This is Wadih Safi, actually. This whole mythology.

“What really frustrates me when Lebanese emigrants cry when they hear, for example, [“Go and plant me in the soil of Lebanon”]. And they cry! Please, yaani. Okay, Lebanon has something beautiful. You have this but you have these shitty things as well.”

She gestures briefly to the wailing traffic a couple of meters away and laughs, “Mathalan (for example).”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 09, 2013, on page 16.

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::


Power: Not a Point of View (March 9, 2009)

Iran is planning to build 20 atomic power sites to generate electricity

Russia has aided finishing the first power station for a cost exceeding one billion dollars. Iran is not only the fourth exporter of oil but has also huge reserves in oil and gas. And yet, Iran spends enormous amount of hard cash money to import oil products and gasoline from overseas refineries.

The Iranians are building a second atomic power generator, almost alone and strong with the expertise they acquired.  The Iranian officials said that oil is a precious commodity that should not be wasted to generating dirty power

The developed nations have oil reserves but prefer to purchase oil at a reduced price in order to save their oil resources for their chemical and pharmaceutical industries for later generations. (Actually, chemical industries rely almost exclusively on oil products.)

The Arab Gulf States have established “sovereign funds” for the next generations but they all have vanished during the latest economic and financial recession.  What is left are highways and built stones.

I am exaggerating on purpose. This piece is meant to be a wake-up call. It is time to invest of the human potentials, social institutions, and political reforms.

Lebanon used to export electricity to Syria and Jordan in the 30’s during the French mandate. Presently, and 80 years later, and 65 years after its “independence”, Lebanon import electricity from Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. The populations of all these States have quadrupled in 80 years while Lebanon barely doubled, due to massive immigration, and we could not even double our power production. 

Our neighboring States have reached sort of power sufficiency and exporting surplus electricity to Lebanon. Lebanon has plenty of water and rivers but we failed to invest properly on our natural resources and hydraulic potentials. 

Not only we have not enough electricity, and none of it is hydraulically generated, but we have no running water.  We receive water twice a week for a few hours and we have to filtrate and purify what we receive.

The Lebanese family has to pay twice for electrical power and for water by supplementing their needs from the scalpers of private providers. The main culprits are those “Christian” Maronite political parties who claimed that the power of Lebanon resides in its military weakness.  Implicitly, those sectarian political parties meant that Lebanon should not challenge the dicta of Israel regarding our planning of our water resources.

Mind you that Israel purpose is to divert all our rivers toward its own Zionist State.

Electricity is a kind of power and oil and gas are essentials for locomotion and mechanization and industries.  Nevertheless, nations are judged developed according to the level of their research institutions. 

You might start the “egg or chicken” priority of security and stability first, but this is not the case.  When States invest on almost everything except knowledge base and research institutions, then you should not hope for stability and security. 

Developed nations respect States that focus their energies and resources on knowledge, literacy, and technologies and are willing to protect them from neighboring bullies.

Developed nations respect States that generate highly educated and well trained citizens regardless of size, origin, and natural resources.

Power is the level and quality of education, an education targeting the needs of the population and neighboring markets.

Power is no longer a point of view.




December 2022

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