Monday, April 14, 2014

What We Learned From War

The Lebanese landmark war of fifteen years (1975 - 1990) fed books and articles, inspired slogans and headlines and was the focus of world media. To this day, the Lebanese are recognized the world over primarily for their war, cuisine and successful immigrants. Beirut became a universal synonym for division.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Presidential Elections Between Shameless and Shameful

It’s a presidential race in a country that cannot come together or agree on anything. From the minuscule and mundane to the gigantic touching on national security issues, politicians bicker along party lines, supporters cheer them blindly without questioning or criticizing or holding them accountable. Yet, they demand with the most severe tones full accountability, harshest judgments and absolutely no leniency towards their opponents regardless of whether they were actually guilty or not. Their crime is simply daring to be a foe.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Syria: From Revolution to Chaos to Show and Tell!

How difficult it must be for Syria and the Syrians at this juncture.  It is hard not to feel depressed, desperate and unbelievably sorrowful at how the situation has escalated quickly and dramatically. How pitiful it is for a nation to become broken overnight, its people scattered, poor and hungry in tents waiting for donations, giveaways, or anyone who is willing to give attention to their plight.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

On Heroes and Mad Men

Not every act we define as heroic is in fact heroic. Subsequently, those we consider our heroes are sometimes nothing but rogue mad men. In fact, with a few exceptions of true heroes, most rebels are unstable individuals expressing their anger and sense of failure outward. Those are the ones who cause chaos and complicate situations rather than find solutions. You cannot expect peace to ever take hold as long as they are in control.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

How Everyone Failed Syria

Three years on, Syria is turned into ashes literally. Syrians scattered in heartbreaking ways incomprehensible by any logic or reasoning. The suffering and pain, totally unnecessary, unwarranted and certainly undeserved, are beyond imagination.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

The Middle East: A War of Words and Threats

A major power shift is taking place in the Middle East, this time it signals leaderships waking up to realities long overlooked and left to fester into insurmountable obstacles.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

New World Order: May the maddest man prevail?

What we are witnessing from Syria to Russia is not survival of the fittest, but rather prevalence of the maddest. How else would we describe nations bullying others in plain sight to force them into submission?

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Monday, February 24, 2014

We, The Women, Who Value Life!

Growing up in Lebanon, I always felt that some men and women assumed ownership over me, my body, my thought, even my feelings and my expression. I despised these people who existed everywhere, in families, government, school, and religious establishments. They were constantly clashing with other men and women who wanted me to thrive and to be “me” in all its possibilities.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Makeshift Government To Avert The Worst

The only reason to celebrate the new government in Lebanon is that its formation could help avert a presidential election crisis and an ensuing vacuum. This is the simple reality despite the unwarranted shock and protest by many and the flowery acceptance speeches of ministers.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Boycotts and Sanctions Towards Peace

US Secretary John Kerry is close to releasing a “framework agreement” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though it is only a “framework,” a beginning of a tedious road ahead, it will probably be the best US contribution to date to a conflict that has plagued a region for way too long and has caused only harm, death, destruction and anxiety to far too many. Particularly to generations of Palestinians living state-less and status-less, most of them in refugee camps across the Middle East, while their fate is decided.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Conspiracy Against Syria

They invented Geneva I and II and the sequel will likely continue providing audiences with hours of wasteful entertainment while Syria bleeds and the Syrians die in the hundreds daily.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Land of Cedars or Terrorism?

The Lebanese are loved the world over as a people, and loathed as groups, militias, and terrorists.  This fact is not easy to grapple with, but essential to dealing with our differences and moving on.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

This Is The Tower of Babel… Where The Worst Is Yet To Come!

In search of fresh and different news and views, we drown ourselves in a sea of opinion: Unfortunately, the loudest noise comes from celebrities of post Arab awakening and media experts who were sleeping soundly prior to November 2010. Having been awakened abruptly by the unexpected and having been reacting since playing catch up with the times is no excuse. In the public domain, these noise-making machines are in direct competition with various agendas: Some of them petty and opportunistic, others seasonal and therefore temporary, while a few more are extremely dangerous, even lethal. Not to mention the age-old agendas of bankrupt Arab tyrants incapable of reform, unable to share or relinquish power.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

A Difficult Year Just Began

A fresh bombing in Lebanon, a militant tied to another bombing died in jail, and a complex tall tale about the identity of a suspect in yet a third bombing is being fed to a numb public with a major case of terror fatigue.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

We Are All Going To Die

A targeted assassination took the life of another Lebanese thinker along with companions and bystanders, exposing once more the evil of those playing God, thinking they win with every voice they mute and every life they cut short.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Is This Year Over Yet?

We have a little of bit of everything and all the drama lined up for a brand new end of the year. We’re invited to a wedding to close this year on a positive note and another wedding to welcome the New Year happily. To complete the circle of life, we have dreaded funerals ahead, as well as anticipated births. And that’s just what we know.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

No Hope Left to Celebrate Christmas

There was a time in my life when Christmas meant a lot more than a religious Holiday. As a child, I used to spend hours staring at the elaborate ornaments on my parents’ Christmas tree. I used to dream of belonging to a faraway land, pure, happy, and loving. A land where poverty is abolished by good-spirited humans and disease is eradicated by scientific advancement. I used to dream of a land where no one was poor or homeless or cold. Orphans were privileged in different ways; rich and poor were equal in their humanity. In my dream world -- the special Christmas version -- life was beautiful and wonderful.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

The Meaning of Freedom

My grandmother taught me lessons in love and compassion. My mother taught me tolerance and patience. I thrive to teach my daughters the meaning of freedom.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Dubai.. All Due Respect!

Not long ago, Dubai was simply a vast desert with modest neighborhoods scattered among sand dunes as far as the eyes could see. It was cozy and modest, even boring for many of us who visited for business. Back then, no one visited for pleasure!

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Dear Iran.. Dear USA.. Welcome Back To Diplomacy!

There are times when measuring success does not necessarily involve using the terms “winners” and “losers.” This time is now and the opportunity is so rare that it cannot be wasted on pointing fingers or trying to score highs or lows.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

What Independence?

On the 70th anniversary of my homeland’s Independence, I wish I could tell my children tales about the heroes who brought this nation freedom and dignity. But a handful of those only exist in history books pre-dating my generation. As hard as I tried to see them as real figures, the noise of bombs was always louder and Lebanese warlords actions were stronger than any inspiration from the cold distant figures.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Generations of Desperation

The voyage down memory lane began with sentimental photos from my grandparents’ deserted home shared on a social network. In addition to feeding vanity and narcissism, social networks have become meeting places to re-create bonds, villages and even nations when homelands seem far away or forever gone.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

In Syria Arabs Should Go It Alone

The Saudi rejection of the UN Security Council seat and its open criticism of the U.S. policy on Syria it considers inconsistent and uncaring, are surprising but necessary and urgent. A late response, weak in its timing and posturing, but significant nonetheless.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Lebanese Drama With Turkish, Iranian and Syrian Tones

I’m not the one to make light of kidnapping or hostage-taking. As a matter of fact I condemn both as acts of violence regardless of whether groups use them as negotiating tools or practice them as a sport.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Not Defending Nor Accusing Mansour Labaki.. The Jury Is Out!

Editor's Note:  Background: Priest serving child molestation sentence in Lebanon monastery - The Daily Star - Lebanon

His was the first Catholic sermon I could assimilate and the first communion I received. We learned his Christian hymns by heart as Jesuit nuns played them on portable turntables over and over in catechism class. I am one of thousands who grew up on the multifaceted teachings of a young man named Mansour Labaki.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

When Liberalism Becomes Advocacy of The Wrong Causes

An important lesson life has taught me is to revisit old practices when new situations arise. For professionals who strive for fairness, what is ‘ethical’ is not always as clear as a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Nuance, circumstance, context, and all sides of the story must be taken into consideration before one can decide which term to use in a given story. Examples of such words that conjure up strong controversial images are: ‘Terrorist’ ‘occupation’ ‘incursion’ ‘invasion’ ‘democracy’ ‘coup’ ‘uprising’ ‘Intifada’ ‘insurgent.’ What may sound like an easy qualification is -- and rightly so -- a topic of debate and consensus in a news organization or think tank especially non-affiliated ones. In controversial situations, sometimes it boils down to one word that defines the outlet’s stance.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

The Price of Peace

Peace never comes at a cheap price.. In the Middle East, one might argue that peace never comes at all despite the best efforts, dedication and sacrifices of many heroes.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Islamic Fundamentalism: Worldwide Nightmare

Whether you feel affected by a spate of terrorist attacks against innocent civilians over the weekend in Kenya, Pakistan and Iraq in the name of Islam or not at all, welcome to the nightmare.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Syria’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: Hide and Go Seek

Before Syria was turned into a nation of ghosts and nightmares and before millions of Syrians were dispersed into the unknown and before hundreds of thousands were brutally killed.. Not a very long time ago.. Only a short thirty one months ago, there was an honest nonviolent uprising in Syria; and there was a dictator speaking calmly to the media, pretending to believe in reform which goes like this: “1, 2, 3, 4...” and, “You cannot start with 6 and then go back to 1,” as he said to the Wall Street Journal a week before a few brave Syrians dared to stage the first protest against him and his regime.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Syria: To Each Their Tyrant

Alarm bells ringing all over Syria and Bashar al-Assad is turning his deaf ear. Many tales, from mythology to historic facts and regional realities, remind us of the position Assad has cornered himself in. None of them hopeful for a man who spent three years pretending he is in control; not once pausing in sorrow or remorse over what has befell his pretend empire. Not once did he mourn the loss of life and the suffering of his own subjects without pointing the blame on “terrorism,” ignoring the fact that the buck stops with him as the supposedly supreme leader.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Obama Has Spoken On Syria: Not What You Wanted To Hear?

The drama unfolded around Barack Obama’s speech as the world waited for the U.S.’s official position on intervening militarily in Syria. If you were not busy in the past week commenting on and analyzing the situation and you simply observed, you probably came to the same conclusion.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Syria's Chemicals, America's Red Line and A Looming Intervention

Russia called it “hysteria” over chemical use but the United States calls it its “red line.” A military intervention should not come as a surprise to anyone; certainly not to Russia that had been called on repeatedly to help find an exit out of Syria’s impasse to no avail. The fact that the U.S., Britain -- and soon more NATO countries -- are stepping up their military and naval presence around Syria should be read as a last warning in a series of diplomatic messages and intervention warnings that went unanswered before.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Military or Fundamentalism? Egypt Between A Rock and A Hard Place

Editor's Note:  If you believe that Muslim fundamentalism and its ensuing terrorism pose serious threats to the world, you will begin to have more answers about what is happening in Egypt than questions and frustrations.

Cairo, home of Islam’s most renowned mosque and authoritative university, Al-Azhar, is also home to the Muslim Brotherhood which gave the world the chief al-Qaeda man Ayman al-Zawahiri and his likes. The same Muslim Brotherhood that was outlawed because of its fundamentalist ideology, bloody history and murderous plots against any individual or entire people who didn’t fit its doctrine. That same Brotherhood came to power democratically last year (only because of years of organized underground activism and a sizeable number of followers who do exactly as they’re told).

We owe it to Egypt not to see things as only black and white, good and bad or life and death. What makes us unique is our diversity and the critical mind that makes us skeptics, able to doubt and reviewing our position, maybe even change our mind and accept that “the other” might be right while we're wrong in finding our way to the truth.


The new Egypt did not repress the Brotherhood, quite the contrary, in the spirit of newfound freedom and inclusivity, Egypt embraced them and gave them a chance to prove how worthy they are of ruling a country and representing a nation as large, as diverse and as excited about its fresh revolution as Egypt was after toppling Hosni Mubarak.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Lebanon’s Ever Looming War

It might not be an all-out war like the one the Lebanese have lived between 1975 and 1990. It might be a political explosion at the national level twenty three years in the making; pitting one coalition against another, or sect against sect until members of the same family fight each other again from opposing aisles or militarized fronts.

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Breathing Alpine Hope Into The Middle East

Nestled between the Alps and Leman Lake is an old castle turned conference center in the village of Caux in Southwest Switzerland. It turns into a warm welcoming home to many of us for a few days every summer.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Twisted Perceptions In The Digital Age

In a time where every event has to be covered live down to its most boring detail, we find ourselves oversaturated with more information than we ever need. Such as what the neighbors had for lunch or where total strangers spent vacation. The digital space has been invaded by real life people seeking the fantasy of belonging to an age where strangers become close friends and family bonds (or lack of) are measured by “Likes,” “follows” and small talk across the oceans or across the street; and sometimes, unfortunately, across the room and across the same sofa we’re sitting on. The digital space today belongs to corporations selling products or services, celebrities amassing fans and governments and organizations brainwashing the masses. Not to forget a few still trying to make a difference in their community or in the world.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

The European Union Has Spoken Up.. Will Israel and Hezbollah Get The Message?

The European Union has twisted Israel’s arm and hit the country where it hurts most: The Economy! The EU made it official and permanent that it will exclude West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements from its free trade agreements with the state of Israel. By doing so, the EU recognizes the settlements’ illegal status and highlights Israel’s role as occupier of those areas. If Israel wants the money and the free trade deals, it has to agree to those terms as well.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Egypt.. Defying Conventional Political Science?

Should the U.S. halt its military aid to Egypt or not is a hot debate consuming western and Arab pundits as if their lives depended on it. Some groups’ anger and bewilderment at the United States for not declaring the June 30th to July 3d unseating of President Morsi a “coup” are obvious. They are filling media pages and airwaves to make their point, but nothing is changing, which makes them only angrier and more vocal.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

It Is Called ‘Tamarod’ for A Reason

When Egypt’s youth launched a campaign they named Tamarod (Rebellion in English) many pundits and world leaders were sleeping at the wheel. Exactly as they were prior to January 25, 2011 when they used to refer to Hosni Mubarak as the President of Egypt and never once referred to his rule as a dictatorship or his regime as autocratic. The race to use these labels, loudly and unapologetically calling him a dictator and tyrant was more than surprising and showed ignorance of the situation and its history. Some media’s quick godfathering of the new situation on the ground showed ignorance of the past and signaled their new ignorance and non-appreciation of the future and the challenges it must hold.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Morsi rose on their shoulders.. At their hands he fell!

The Muslim Brotherhood had the chance to govern Egypt after winning elections fair and square a year ago.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Power Is In Your Hands

It’s a simple yet powerful motto that aims to build confidence raise self-esteem and teach people that they can choose their actions, be in charge of their life and own the results and the consequences instead of blaming them on something or someone else.

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Monday, June 3, 2013

What Would Ataturk Think?

The father of all Turks and founder of the modern secular Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, must be turning in his grave from the turn of events throughout Turkey and the political implications they usher in.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

The Empire of Hezbollah

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, I was a teenager, growing up in a peaceful household that was neither political nor sectarian. Although Hezbollah was born then as a resistance movement to Israel’s presence in Lebanon, the group never interested me until much later when, as a young journalist in 1990, in my attempt to “reach out to the other side” I was granted an exclusive interview by the group’s spiritual leader, Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Revolution Is Simply Saying, “No.”

We see people being honored and decorated every day with medals, certificates and ceremonies for achievements that are truly merited at times or just bestowed at other times because the act bodes well with a certain vision society has for things. Then we have those referred to as “heroes” by disenfranchised communities in honor of the ones who dare to speak up against what they perceive as injustice or inequality.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Who Does Syria Belong To?

As he jogged casually with his troops, Yair Golan, the general who commands Israeli forces on the Syrian and Lebanese fronts sent what is supposed to be a message to President Bashar Assad, "There are no winds of war."

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Monday, April 29, 2013

What To Do With Syria Now?

While on the surface it looks like Israel is intent on attacking Iran to prevent it from pursuing its nuclear ambition, the subtle but significant moves by Israel indicate that the next likely target is Syria instead. Why not, since striking Syria at this time, will draw Iran along with its satellites (Hezbollah and Hamas) in and – if the plan works -- deplete their capabilities. If we are to believe the local Hebrew media, there was an Israeli attack on a chemical weapons site near Damascus, at dawn this past Saturday. According to Maariv’s report, “Israeli air jets flew over Assad’s palace and other security facilities” in the capital Damascus “before striking the chemical weapons compound.” No official word from Syria or Israel on this incident. At dawn Monday, residents of southern Israel were asked to seek cover in shelters after Hamas fired a rocket from Gaza that exploded in an open are in Eshkol.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Why Can’t We See That We’re Broken?

A horrific act of terror near the finish line of the Boston Marathon resulted in the death of three people and the maiming of hundreds. Just as with other tragedies that befall us, the noises of condemnation get loud after the fact, the blame games begin; speculations float around and become part of the air we breathe. In this case too, we could not wait for an investigation; we jumped to conclusions as we sought impatiently for any news to understand what was happening to our country.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Post-Revolution, Women Are Tunisia's Biggest Losers

This is not the Tunisia I know and love. That was my first impression as I recently visited the North African nation I have grown fond of over two decades of extensive visits and following meetings with many of the strong, smart Tunisian women I always admired and respected. Signs of extremism are everywhere from the main streets to the alleys of the capital Tunis which swelled after the revolution by some two million newcomers.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Egypt’s future in little brave Rajaa’s hands

As soon as I landed in Cairo, I could feel the heaviness of life, economy, politics and breath. It didn’t take long for the first Egyptian to blurt that things were “better under Mubarak’s dictatorship than they are in the Muslim Brotherhood’s lair.” A slew of similar observations followed, mostly from poor people like a taxi driver who told me he sometimes works all day long to barely avoid sending his kids to sleep hungry. Not that life was much better before, but now they are “unbearable,” he said as he asked god’s forgiveness for wishing death over “this life of indignity!”

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Palestinians of 1948: A Failed Plan To Uproot People And Land

The Galilee predates any known old texts and all holy books. Driving through the winding roads of villages and cities of the Galilee is a voyage through the history of a land and its people. Visiting the Galilee in the company of Palestinian Historian Johnny Mansour was an eye-opener. Throughout our day trip he pointed out plenty of evidence about what he and other scholars describe as the old Zionist plan of “Judaizing” all aspects of Palestinian life by removing as many signs of Arab Palestine and replacing them by the new face of Israel and its mainly European Jews who migrated there after 1948. “It’s a well calculated and dangerous practice,” says Mansour. In addition to pushing Arabs out or squeezing them into areas and neighborhoods, it consists of changing names of places from Arabic to Hebrew, uprooting the native olive trees and planting in their stead the larger and greener kinds of trees that “recreate the sense of home for the masses of European Jews migrating to Israel.” According to Mansour, this all began after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and continues to this day.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Big Brother and The City – The Case of Damascus Then and Now

By Guest Blogger Hanibaael Naim

Editor's Note:

Syria enters the third year of its uprising in devastation to the people and land. Satellite imagery gives a grim picture of what has become of the land while the horror of a rising death toll now at more than 70,000 according to the UN and more than a million refugees scattered around the world facing a dangerous and uncertain future.

In observance of this anniversary, we chose to post an updated version of last year's 'Big Brother and The City: The Case of Damascus' by guest blogger Hanibaael Naim. In his in-depth analysis of the relationship between a dictator and the city he controls, Naim describes Damascus as Bashar Assad's last stronghold. Two years after the peaceful uprising, Naim describes how the face of dissent changed with time and why he believes that the "decisive battles are near" through this analysis and its conclusion.

I'm always grateful for guest bloggers for carving time out of their busy schedules to share their insights with the octavianasr.com audience. I hope that you find those additions helpful and enriching. Your feedback is always appreciated.

Our life is defined by cities. Those we belong to and love stir deep emotions in us such as pride, home, inspiration and nostalgia. Dictators also love their cities, but theirs is a story of obsession and control. An abusive relationship that can last for decades and can only be broken by force or revolution!

Once considered routine in the Middle East, this bizarre relationship between tyrants and cities has become a pressing issue in light of the Arab Spring. In Syria today, Bashar al-Assad is a dictator hanging by the capital city of Damascus, refusing to relinquish power even if the entire country is destroyed one city at a time, and every message of dissent killed along with its messenger.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

What Haifa Taught Me

It has crossed my mind on several occasions during my lifetime that Haifa is the city I could one day live in. Diverse, lively and has a great beach.

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