Wednesday, July 23, 2008 

Human remains reach Syria - from Israel

114 coffins have been paraded in Damascus, a week after being released by Israel.

They are mainly Syrian and Palestinian fighters and civilians, killed over the past 40 years. They were transferred by the Red Cross over the Israeli-Lebanese border to Hizbollah last week as part of the prisoner swap.

Today, they were brought in slow-moving vehicles from Lebanon into Syria to be buried in their final resting place. Hundreds of relatives greeted the coffins - draped in the Syrian flag - at the Jedayda crossing on the Beirut-Damascus highway.

Even though some of the victims were civilian - they did not receive the attention that the two dead Israeli militants got last week.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 

The real Damascene house

"Crammed together in narrow alleyways, old Damascene houses provide privacy for their owners with windows that overlook the street from only the second floor upwards. Even then, the windows are covered by a wooden khis – a hand-painted shutter which keeps curious eyes at bay."

"The bedrooms are raised a level above their doors in order to keep in as much warmth as possible during the cold winter nights. The cold air is trapped in the lower space between the door and the step, protecting the bedroom from icy drafts."

Beautiful description by Raed Jabri - the man behind the Jabri House restaurant (no comment!). He was at the forefront of the rush to convert Old City houses into restaurants.

Sunday, July 13, 2008 

Big Brother

Ah hah hah.

There's a Syrian in Britain's Big Brother TV show.

More about the lovely Maysoon Shaladi here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008 

Damascus and Beirut open embassies

Syria and Lebanon are to open embassies in each other's capitals for the first time ever.

Syria said it would open an embassy in Beirut when a friendly government is formed. That happened yesterday, and so Syria has come good on its promise.

But why does al this matter? When Lebanon was carved out of western Syria, and the two countries gained independence, Syria refused to recognise Lebanon as an independent entity. As Hafez Al-Assad said, one country, two governments. Syria retained its territorial claim on Lebanon until Bashar came into power.

Now, Syria has officially recognised Lebanon's independence - a major gift to France (which is Lebanon's biggest patron), and to the Lebanese right-wing, which looks west, rather than east.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is paying for this with a return visit to Damascus, sometime in the next eight weeks.


The Lebanese government - details

All of the parties have chosen political moderates for the ministerial posts - with none of the party leaders taking positions in the goverment (except the SSNP, where the leader holds a non-portfolio post).

Hizbollah gets just one Minister (plus one ally) - although their Opposition bloc gets 11 seats. They have given most of the Opposition seats to Michel Aoun. Two reasons - Hizbollah plays a difficult balancing act between criticising the political elite, and having its say in government. Second - the Hizbollah vote is guaranteed in the election next year, the electorate aren't going to jump ship and vote for March 14, but Michel Aoun's vote is less solid. Hizbollah desperately want Aoun to increase his share of the Christian vote, so that the Opposition bloc could get a majority in parliament.

The rest of the ministries have been neatly divided up. Each appointment tells an interesting story.

The Lebanese Forces get the Justice Ministry - that was important for Samir Jaja, who was imprisoned for murder in 1994, but released on a political whim, when his March 14 allies came to power in 2005.

Michel Aoun's FPM gets the Telecoms Ministry - that's important, because it was a conflict over the private phone network run by Aoun's ally Hizbollah which sparked the violence in May.

Future get the Finance Ministry - a very important area for them because of Hariri's control over so much of Lebanon's business.

And Hizbollah get the Foreign Ministry - because of the party's raison d'etre (the Israeli threat).

The President, Michel Sleiman, also gets to pick three ministers - including the key posts of defence and interior. Mustapha praises his choice for the Interior Ministry, an independent.

And this is an excellent guide to the background and affiliations of each minister.

Here are the key appointments:

Fouad Siniora remains Prime Minister - Sunni, Future Movement.

Mohammad Chatah is the Finance Minister - Sunni, Future Movement.

Ibrahim Najjar becomes Justice Minister - Orthodox, Lebanese Forces.

Issam Abou Jamra becomes Deputy Prime Minister for the Opposition - Greek Orthodox, FPM (Aoun).

Fawzi Salloukh is Foreign Minister - Shia, Independent (but close to Hizbollah)

Mohammed Fneish changes to Labour Minister - Shia, Hizbollah.

Gibran Baassil becomes Telecoms Minister - Maronite, FPM (he's the son-in-law of Michel Aoun).

Ziad Baroud is Interior Minister - Maronite, Independent, chosen by the President.

Elias Murr stays on as Defence Minister - Orthodox, chosen by the President.

Image: the Lebanese Parliament, open for all your dirty political needs.

Friday, July 11, 2008 

New Lebanese government

The formation has been agreed. It will be presented to President Michel Sleiman. Constitutionally, he has to agree to it.

It will then be made public.

The only official announcement is that Fouad Siniora will be Prime Minister.

Details are expected after the meeting - at the end of today.


SNAP SNAP SNAP: Lebanese leaders have agreed on the government

More soon...

Saturday, July 05, 2008 

Michel Aoun to become Deputy Prime Minister

Controversial warlord, former Prime Minister, and self-proclaimed President Michel Aoun is apparently going to become Lebanon's Deputy Prime Minister. He will also hold the post of Telecommunications Minister.

That's significant, because the recent fighting was triggered over an argument about Hizbollah's telecoms network.

The national unity government is expected to be announced this afternoon.

It will be formed of 16 ministers from March 14, 11 from the Opposition and 3 loyal to the President.

Apparently, only one of the Opposition ministers will be from Hizbollah.

The delay is now said to be down to fighting between March 14 leaders Amin Gemayel and Samir Jaja over who gets which ministries.

The government negotiations have been brokered by Qatar.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008 

Free concert in Damascus TONIGHT (correction!)

Lena Chamamyan is hosting a concert in Tishreen Park TONIGHT. Entrance is free, with a 50 lira ticket to the flower exhibition.

Thanks Orientalista for the correction - I thought it was 2 August, not 2 July!

If you've never heard of Lena, you have to go. She's possibly the most talented Syrian singer of our generation. She's created a unique form of Syrian jazz, and has been taken under the wings of some of the country's most talented producers.

And the venue is just perfect. If you've never been to the Tishreen Park ampitheatre, this is a great excuse to go, even if you don't like the music. I heard Lebanese electro-pop duet Soapkills there a few years ago, and the memory is still with me.

The full line up is as follows:
Basel Rajoub on the saxophone and trumpet
Bruno Paoli playing piano
Omar Harb on bass
Tareq Faham on drums
Feras Sharestan with the qanoun
Feras Al Hasan on classical percussion

It's in Tishreen Park, at the ampitheatre (which is in the north east corner of the park), at 8pm on Saturday 2 August. And it just costs 50 lira to get in.

More about Lena very soon. But for now - enjoy this:

About me

  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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