Sorry for the delay folks, it’s been a struggle finding a good internet connection lately.
Yesterday was a day full of many different activities here in Lebanon. After breakfast we all hopped in the bus and made our way down to the city. Our first stop was at MARCH Lebanon, a group that’s mission is to educate, motivate, and empower citizens of Lebanon to recognize and fight for their basic civil rights, raise a tolerant open society in order to foster diversity and equality and reach a genuine reconciliation among the various communities of Lebanon. MARCH is currently focusing its efforts on fighting censorship, protecting freedom of expression, women’s rights, and diversity and conflict resolution activities.
One of my favorite stories from visiting MARCH was that of a play that they recently produced in the northern city of Tripoli. Tripoli is a predominantly Muslim area with people of both Sunni and Shia sects. MARCH brought together children from two very different neighborhoods and put them into a love story, the characters were Ali and Aisha, a Shia boy and a Sunni girl. The children from the neighborhoods took the role of the opposite sects. This was a wonderful story, and the group just last week put on their first production of the play, with the children’s parents in attendance.
MARCH shared with us many of the censorship issues that exist in Lebanon regarding media. Power and manipulation play a part in the censorship process here just like many other countries. There are also censorship committees that are within religious centers. Religion obviously plays a major role in every aspect of life in Lebanon.
Besides censorship we also were able to learn about the work MARCH does in the area of empowering women. MARCH organizes trainings for ambitious women who are seeking to become more powerful in their society. They shared with us many of their campaigns to combat violence against women. Lebanon recently passed a law against domestic violence and they shared with us some of the benefits and flaws in the new law. MARCH is also fighting for domestic workers’ rights with the campaign, “They are mothers too.”
Our next stop was at Kafa, which means enough in Arabic. This organization was established in 2005 to combat violence against women and girls, as well as human trafficking and sex trafficking. Kafa focuses their efforts on lobbying the government, education for women, and education for police in the wake of the new anti-domestic abuse law in Lebanon. There is a large population of migrant workers within Lebanon and Kafa realizes that these people are incredibly vulnerable to mistreatment. Kafa offers a confidential phone hotline as well as a listening and counseling center in different locations of the country. They also offer legal services for women, as well as psychosocial support for couples. To promote their cause they market online, as well as performing outreach at doctors’ offices. Kafa lobbied for years to help pass the anti-domestic violence law in Lebanon, and are happy that “Family Violence” is now legally defined, even though there is still a long way to go. The people of this organization are incredibly passionate about their cause and it was refreshing to see this sort of vigilance.
Next we headed back to the American University of Beirut where we were able enough to hear a lecture and discuss Inter-religious dialogue in Lebanon. We heard from Dr. Bashshar Haydar who shared with us his point of view that he believes the true issue at the heart of any tension within Lebanon is actually within religions. He favors more intra-religious dialogue among religious leaders and communities. Dr. Haydar educated us on the very unique nature of politics in Lebanon, democracy is not a perfect system in Lebanon due to communal voting, which could lead to a permanent minority within the country. This is why Lebanon has guarantees and quotas for the different sects within the country. I very much enjoyed hearing Dr. Haydar’s insights into the politics and dialogue within Lebanon; coming from an American perspective it was interesting to hear the differences in this country and why transplanting American systems everywhere may not be the best course of action.
After some nice intellectual time, we made our way out of AUB and out into Beirut. We were able to visit Martyr’s Square, the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, Rafic Hariri’s grave. I really enjoyed this part of our trip as I had really wanted to see this Mosque in person for quite some time. Martyr’s Square is an important piece of Lebanese history as it memorializes the fight for Lebanon’s independence early in the 20th century.
The Mosque is massive, and entering inside was a pretty intense experience. We took our shoes off and entered the quiet, large building which had extremely intricate ceilings and light fixtures. I sat down for a bit and reflected on how far I had come from home and how amazing it felt to be sitting inside this Mosque, it reminded me of my Grandfather who used to take me to the Mosque back home.
Rafic Hariri was Prime Minister of Lebanon from 1992 to 1998 and again from 2000 until his resignation on 20 October 2004. Hariri was an incredibly popular figure in Lebanon and was assassinated on14 February 2005 when explosives equivalent to around 1800 kg of TNT were detonated as his motorcade drove past the St. George Hotel in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. The investigation, by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, into his assassination is still ongoing, this tribunal has been setup by the United Nations.
Walking around downtown Beirut was a pleasant experience, we walked by parliament and into the city center which is incredibly clean and modern. At the same time you run into remnants of old Beirut, such as ancient Roman ruins. The ancient bathhouse seems to be the best preserved area of ruins in downtown. The Beirut Souks have been completely rebuilt as a modern shopping mall fairly recently. There is some controversy over this transformation of Beirut with people complaining of a loss of identity with the new look of the buildings.
After a couple of hours of walking we made our way to a local restaurant where had more Lebanese and Armenian Mezze cuisine. A Syrian band played later in the night and everyone was having a very enjoyable time. Beirut is definitely a city that knows how to kick back and have a good time.
The band was excellent, and after we saw a few songs we headed to Hamra to check out the night life there. Many people were out on the street at the many pubs, bars, and clubs that line the street. You see people of all sorts out in Hamra, yet everyone is having a nice time and enjoying each others company.
I have plenty more to write in the coming days, hope you all are looking forward to learning more about my beautiful Motherland!