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Lebanese Chat: News, Events, Popular Culture, etc...

9105 Views 270 Replies 31 Participants Last post by  Phoenician Empire
I thought this thread would be a great addition to the Lebanon sub-forum. This way instead of getting off topic in other threads, here we have a place to discuss and debate in a civil manner issues of interest to the Lebanese community in Lebanon and around the world.

Anything can be brought up in thread really as long as it is appropriate; we can discuss popular culture relating to Lebanon and the Lebanese community.

Also, as always, non-Lebanese forumers are more than welcome.
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Hey Lebanese angel when did u get Australian princess
the season finshed last year in Aust
the Lebanese one dosent last every long in it
there planing to make another season this year i dont think they will make a thired
i only whached like 2 shows of it
Lol DO U REKON THERE WOOD B Lebanon princess or arab princess
Hey Lebanese angel when did u get Australian princess
the season finshed last year in Aust
the Lebanese one dosent last every long in it
there planing to make another season this year i dont think they will make a thired
i only whached like 2 shows of it
Lol DO U REKON THERE WOOD B Lebanon princess or arab princess

by the way im a Lebanese Australian
ahh sorry MUM LOL aussies's are really more layed back to the pple in amercia
i didnt know u get australian shows in Lebanon do yous have a show called Neighbours there
lebaneseangel said:
no i never heard of it. we get 1 main reality show from each country i think....and we have some nany show with like 4 nanys..and i think 1 s australian. but we mostly get american shows.
hey my husbands family was down from australia this year. and it was weird bcz...they speak english ..i speak english. but australian and american english are like 2 different languages. they didnt inunciate all the letters in the words. do aussies think americans speak funny?

Lebanese agnel yes we think amercians speal wired called how they spell mum they use MOM i think the aussir accent is better
but pple in Lebanon say the aussiie accent is to hevey compared to ameerican
whats better star acdemy or super star
here in aust we have austrlian idol its acballty the same compect as super star its the same compay what makes it

i herd the ME is getting X factor
that was a huge flop in australia
LOL we have deal or no deal in australia also !
is Big Brother still huge in amercica
here were on our 6th season ! its very populer
wasnt there Big brother for like a week in the ME
oh yeah dose any one have dancing with the stars !
and souviver
Everybody knows Neighbors Well maybe not everybody.... Actually very few do here, hahaha...
Neighbours is still on its Australia's longest running show ! 2006 will b there 21st birthday !!!!!!!!!!! Its a great show !!!!!
wow lost of famous pple
last year Marirah carey had a concert in Lebanon
has anyone whached the Da vinci code yet
why wasnt the 26 when the Syrian army day was celabarted ! they sood have has a huge Party
and Lebanon is is great counrty why dose it have shit Neighbours
Her song came first Last year at this Music fesvital in France ! so she cood have had a change in eurovision
it wood have been good if Lebanon hosted eurovison
really so i have to vote for 2 govermenets elctions NOW
since i was Born in Aust but my Parents made me a lebanese Citizin when i was born
so im regasted right ?
LOL ur right Nadani i am really BAD Seller !!!!!!!!
Beirut is shaking off its war- torn past to recreate itself, writes Emma Levine

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Beirut is shaking off its war- torn past to recreate itself, writes Emma Levine
B eirut drivers have a dreadful reputation, even in the context of the Middle East. For every screech of wheels taking a corner too fast, there are a dozen cases of reckless lane swapping. Crossing the road is a visitor's main challenge.

I am introduced to highway code, Lebanon-style, while squeezed in the back of a taxi with two large women. From the chic designer-boutique area of Verdun, we weave a few kilometers northeast along the Corniche, the Mediterranean promenade, to the central district known as downtown.

The ride is a medley of contrasting sights: half-destroyed buildings, their walls peppered with huge bullet holes struggle to stay up; adjacent are their pristine neighbors, the sheen of newly built high-rise towers. Scattered around the area are numerous cranes and building sites. Palm trees fringe the roads in between.

Beirut as a holiday resort might not sound so appealing but this once- popular destination is desperately trying to shake off its war-battered image. A huge rebuilding project, one of the world's largest, has been transforming the city center, but officials and locals don't want tourists to have to wait the 20 years it's likely to complete.

The mood is buoyant, hefty investment by wealthy Lebanese expatriates indicates optimism for the future and the number of new hotels, shopping and dining areas is increasing. Beirut is definitely making a welcome ret
urn to the tourist map.

During its 1960s and 70s heyday, Lebanon's capital wore its "Paris of the Middle East" badge with pride, a prominent destination for the jet-set who descended on the stylish paradise of designer boutiques, cocktail bars, the famous Casino du Liban and the best in international cuisine. They loved the azure Mediterranean, the archaeological sites and the mountain resorts. The eclectic mix of people and cultures made it popular especially with residents of the Arab Gulf states, who flocked to this unique city in the midst of a conservative world, a cultural crossroads linking East and West, a mix of Christian, Sunni, Shia and Druze inhabitants. It also held a prominent position as the region's financial hub.

Then everything changed.

A lengthy and bloody civil war between 1975 and 1990 killed about 150,000 people, injuring many more. It fragmented the country and kept visitors away, bar foreign correspondents and United Nations peacekeepers. For residents, it was a living hell.

Beirut was divided along religious and ideological lines: East Beirut (taken over by Christian forces) and West Beirut (Muslim and Palestinian militia) was divided by the Green Line of demarcation, extending from Martyr's Square in the historic center, along Damascus Road to the south.

The Central District, once a mixed area, became the main combat zone. A quarter of the population fled the country during those years. The economic infrastructure was ruined, national output cut by half.

But for the few bullet-damaged buildings remaining, it's now hard to imagine the city's horrific history: The new streets of downtown with restored facades are awash with fashionable shops and street cafes.

A vibrant arts and fashion scene is flourishing; on warm evenings and weekends the Corniche is busy with promenading families and rollerblading teenagers; and there is a new energetic nightlife on the busy streets of Gemaysiyeh, a Lan Kwai Fong equivalent packed with restaurants and bars - more earthy than the jet-set days, but nonetheless a welcome part of life for the locals. Everywhere, construction cranes dot the horizon.

At the heart of the reconstruction is Solidere - the Lebanese company for the development of Beirut central district - which embarked on the mammoth project in 1995, on a site of about 1.2 million meters. It involved constructing pedestrianised streets, offices, residential areas and government buildings. But this isn't just any war- torn city - Beirut's center contains a plethora of sites and monuments spanning 5,000 years, with layers of civilizations spanning Canaanite to Ottoman, Phoenician, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman, among others.

"This is a very important area, because it is the geographic and historical heart of the Lebanese capital," explains the cheerful Nabil Rached from Solidere, showing me around the model of the area.

"We have always insisted on recreating this area in its spirit, as a vibrant city center with a mix of commerce, history, administration, residential and entertainment."

The company set out a definitive strategy to preserve Beirut's history, integrating archaeological discoveries with new urban design, high quality environment and infrastructure. The rebuilding of the souks, or markets, is a prime example: Completely destroyed during the war, they have been restored in the same form and location, designed by award-winning architects Rafael Moneo and Kevin Dash.

The ambitious redesign of the city's layout meant radical contemporary development, and also enabled its historical highlights, such as the Roman Baths, to have more prominence.

Several of these ancient sites will be linked for a walking tour, "taking in 5,000 years of history in 500 meters," as Rached describes it.

The other main tourist attraction will be a three-tier sea-front promenade, along the 700,000m of reclaimed land.

Even the new residential blocks being added, as well as the restoration of those badly damaged, are staying faithful to traditional architecture.

"The achievements are impressive. The focus has been on architecture and design but the greater challenge is to create an inclusive urban fabric. It is easier to rebuild roads and parks than it is to strengthen social cohesion and bring the city back together," urban sociologist Dr Katya Simons, a planning consultant with Solidere, said in Planners Network magazine.

Beirut now has the second-most expensive real estate in the Middle East North Africa region (after Kuwait) with office space in the downtown central district averaging US$380 (HK$2,965) per meter, effectively pricing first-time buyers out of the market. Protests about this have been glossed over, together with the despair of unemployment at an estimated 25 percent.

Yet there is undoubtedly a feeling of renewal and a fervent willingness to forget the past. According to Rached, the project is expected to create some 100,000 new jobs.

Politicians and entrepreneurs know the value of a healthy tourism industry and are desperate to get visitors back. Joseph Sarkis, Lebanon's minister for tourism, wants it to be the main player in the national economy, especially with no oil or mining industry to help pay back the huge national debt.

"Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East, and Lebanon was known as the Switzerland of the Middle East. These [the 1960s and 70s] were the golden days, where no tourism existed in the region apart from Lebanon. I remember the beautiful hotels, the celebrities and personalities ... we want people to come back now."

One market in particular has caught his eye.

"China is a special country and very important for us. We have just signed an executive agreement and will start creating our tourist offices over there."

It is only a matter of time, he says, before formalities will be minimized and Chinese visitors will be issued visas on entry to Lebanon, as are most other nationalities.

As Sarkis continues, it is almost possible to hear the cash registers ringing in his mind.

"Last year, 20 million people departed China as tourists. It is expected that in 2010, that figure will be around 80 to 100 million. They are now becoming rich people, business people, and we want to have a part of this market in Lebanon."

While the war ended 16 years ago, Beirut exists in a politically volatile area and the country has endured years of Syrian occupation.

In February, just when the country was getting back on its feet and tourists were returning, prime minister Rafik Hariri and several of his bodyguards were killed when a huge explosion destroyed his motorcade near the waterfront. A charismatic billionaire - and majority shareholder in Solidere - many believed the bomb destroyed Lebanon's best hope for the future. It was certainly a major setback to the country's progress and economic recovery. Hariri had served as prime minister for 10 years between 1992 and 2005, and was credited with securing the 1989 Ta'if peace accord which put an end to the war. Huge demonstrations were held in the city shortly after his death, demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops.

Another, albeit minor, setback occurred in February when Muslim rioters protesting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed printed in European newspapers set fire to the Danish Embassy in Beirut. The incident was passed off as unrepresentative of the country's politics but it fuelled a stereotype of unrest.

There is enough evidence of tourists avoiding the capital. The newly restored National Museum in Beirut, with exhibits ranging from Pharaonic tablets with hieroglyphics to huge fourth- century mosaics, remained empty on a Saturday afternoon, save for a small Japanese group. The astounding early 19th-century palace at Beit ed Dein, just outside Beirut, built in a mix of Arab and Italian baroque styles, likewise is relatively unvisited.

But the city must be viewed in context. When I comment to Georges Kahy, publisher of Touristica travel magazine, that it is a shame the local beach is full of litter, he laughs.

"During the war it was a rubbish dump nearly 50 feet [15 meters] high," he says. When the city was divided, residents on the west side had no access to the garbage treatment plant on the east, so piles of refuse grew and spilled over into the sea. Solidere has since cleaned up the area.

From her haute couture store in a small arcade in Verdun, housing many boutiques both Lebanese and foreign, Sylvia SURNAME? is delighted at Beirut's progress.

"Most of my customers are tourists from Arab countries. More and more of them are coming every year, which helps our economy," says the designer amid her bejeweled garments costing up to US$5,000. "I love Beirut and I'm proud to be Lebanese. We have to believe that it will be alright, that life can be good. War is over!"

Sylvia, like most Beirutis who lived through those dark days, prefers not to talk of the past and waxes lyrical about the country's assets.

"I would advise anyone just to come here and see for themselves - we have good weather, we have mountains and the sea."

Erik Vedsegaard, Danish-born general manager of the Four Points Sheraton, the newest of the luxury hotels in Beirut, is astounded at the city's development.

"The strangest thing about Lebanon is that it takes just a few months of peace and stability and people start investing again," Vedsegaard says.

"I don't know where this drive comes from. I think Europeans are much more conservative and unwilling to take risks. Maybe that's why Lebanon is so different from any other place."

A resident of the city for five years, he is aware of whatkeeps people away.

"I speak to my mother and she asks, `Are you safe?' That's the perception problem, but it is getting better all the time. Europeans who come here are really surprised to see how far Beirut has come and how safe it is."

I do find the city to be safe with no hint of aggression, despite an unnerving if incongruous abundance of armed soldiers and blockades on the streets.

Adds Vedsegaard: "I realized recently that in all the years I have lived here, I have never seen any drunkenness. You see the youngsters go out to bars and nightclubs, and they go out and enjoy every night."

Like most residents of Beirut, Vedsegaard acknowledges the enterprising nature of the Lebanese, especially the wealthy ones who left during the war and now want to return and invest in a glut of recently built hotels.

"When someone puts US$50 million or US$100 million into a hotel project, they have to be optimistic. People must believe in it. If we have peace within the country, and between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Lebanon will move forward."

It's easy to see the best of Lebanon because it is relatively small. It is possible in one hour by road from Beirut, for example, to visit the fabulous souks of Tripoli in the north and the rich expanse of cedar plantations in the Mt Lebanon range, now a protected area. The ancient ruins at Baalbakare just 85kilometers away. Several ski resorts provide the only winter sports facilities in the Middle East, with quality skiing possible until April. Come down from the slopes and it is still warm enough to have a dip in the Mediterranean.

A 20km drive north along the coast from Beirut is the ancient city of Byblos, its ancient ruins inhabited since Neolithic times. Here lies the answer to Lebanon's tourism wishes, says the Lebanese Peace Party's Roger Edde, a presidential candidate in next year's election.

"Don't mention Beirut - it is synonymous with civil war," Edde tells me sternly. We sit in his mansion, an elegant castle-like structure in the tiny town of Edde. Down the road is Edde Sands, a classy beach resort which he built two years ago to cater for visitors with money.

"Lebanon can re-emerge on the international travel scene as a country of peace and leisure, a country where people can get a real idea about what it is to be Western in an Eastern Mediterranean country," he says, settling into his chair and lighting a huge pipe. "I wanted to start something more cultural and less related to the war. Byblos has a 7,000 year-old history as well as a mix of Shi'ite, Sunni, Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities. There is a spirit of unity here and that is why we want to relaunch it as a tourist destination."

Edde also has his eyes on the exclusive Casino du Liban a few kilometers away. Once fully privatized, he wants to take the "old-fashioned European type of casino" and turn it into a resort- convention center and modern casino.

Back in Beirut I search for remnants of its old soul, ripped out when the city center was destroyed at the heights of its conflict. On the frontline of fire during the war, the boundary between east and west Beirut was the Hippodrome, a recreation and sports venue.

After many years of closure, the Sunday afternoon horseracing crowd is glad to return.

"I come here every week," 88-year old Issam tells me.

He studies the form and send his younger pal to queue and place another bet, for the minimum stake of 3,000 Lebanese pounds (about HK$15). It is easy to see that the standard was not high, of neither the race nor the track, but like the other local racing enthusiasts, he is "just happy to be back."

And it's easy to find the popular entertainment areas, like Monot St, an otherwise unassuming thoroughfare lined with bars and restaurants, or Gemmayzeh near the port, with its clubs that stay open till the small hours.

Then, on Sunday evenings the Corniche comes alive, not only with those visiting the famous Rouche Rocks just off the coast. Headscarfed old women bring plastic chairs and brew tea on tiny stoves; men and women of all ages puff on argiles (water pipe) and watch the world go by; teenagers practice rollerblading acrobatics and leap makeshift hurdles; and breakdancing buskers gather a crowd while their stereos blast out a beat.

There's no need to worry about bombs - just be careful how you cross the road.
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