Sunday, 27 February 2011

Marching for secularism in Lebanon

There are lots of things 'wrong' with Lebanon, and almost all of them are what makes it the incredible place that it is. Except Sectarianism. It is a cancer that rots this country, perpetuated by the old warlords of the civil war who went on to become politicians. These zaims, who draw their power from their religious constituents, have created a profoundly entrenched reliance on their patronage – a textbook case of 'divide and rule'.
A few hundred or so Lebanese citizens marched through Beirut today, despite a massive rain storm, to vent some anger over the seemingly unshakable stranglehold the Sectarian system and its leaders have over the country. Sadly, unlike other countries in the neighbourhood who've weeded out their perennial dictators, the situation in Lebanon is so goddam complicated; the day of the protest there wasn't even a government in power to overthrow.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Mafi benzine!

 If the rumour mill is right, Lebanon should be running out of petrol right about now. Drivers were panic buying on Thursday night and throughout Friday, with huge tailbacks at those gas stations that remained open. It's apparently all due to political wrangling to lower taxes on petrol (or 'benzine' as it's called here), rather than a physical lack of supply. Sadly it hasn't made a dent on the constant congestion that plagues this city.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Esquire's Cairo spread

Here's a sneaky preview of the feature by Josh Wood and I which Esquire Middle East will be running next month.  I'm quite looking forward to seeing this one in the flesh, as it were.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

In and around Horsh Beirut

 Beirut is often criticized for being a 'concrete jungle,' but between the city-proper and its southern suburbs lies a beautiful 80-acre park. Except hardly anyone is allowed in. The LA Times have the back story covered here. The surrounding neighborhoods are pretty deprived and their residents would benefit more than most from the escapism that such a place can bring.
Safe to say there's more than a few people who are upset about the waste of such a resource, and one such group Nahnoo (means 'we' in Arabic) commissioned me to take some pictures of and around the park to be used in an upcoming drive to get the place re-opened for all and sundry.
The park itself is beautiful - wander off the track and get lost among the trees and it's hard to remember you're in Beirut at all.


Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Mubarak's mob

 These pictures are from a Pro-Muabrak demonstration Josh Wood  and I ran into last Wednesday morning, our second day in Cairo. These boys sure loved their President and filled Mohandaseen square, across the river from Tahrir, in what we were told time and time again was an effort to show the world that there was no united Egyptian voice calling for the end of Mubarak's regime.
The protest was vast and there were a huge number of legitimate demonstrators; many whom I spoke to were all-out in favor of Mubarak, like this lady here...

But there was also an element who thought that whilst he should not stand at the next election, if Mubarak were to leave immediately as per the Tahrir protester's demands, then the country would face even deeper chaos. "We don't want to be like Iraq" was one sentiment repeated over and over.

However, compared to the demonstrations in Tahrir the previous day, there was clearly far more tension, particularly aimed toward myself and Josh – who found many a shady Mukhabarat man lurking behind him whilst he spoke to members of the crowd. For every time I was stopped and often told to take peoples picture, there were those who were fairly adamant that I shouldn't be there at all.
This anti-foreign sentiment, seeded by a relentless campaign on state television that 'Israeli agitators' were posing as Western journalists, led to the somewhat crazy situation myself and Josh found ourselves in on Thursday, which eventually led to us leaving the country. Still, I managed to get a ton of stuff in the few brief days I was lucky enough to witness one of the most interesting events of recent years and I'll be getting up here as soon as I can, before y'all start saying "Sam, shut the f*ck up about Egypt."

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

One night in Tahrir

It took a few hours of persistence to get into Tahrir square this evening, but I made it eventually. By the time I arrived, the anti-Mubarak protesters had barricaded the street by the Egyptian Museum just north of the square, using metal sheets and burned out vehicles. The protesters rained a literal hail of stones upon the pro-Mubarak 'demonstrators' – some of whom were captured and found to have security service ID's and are largely believed to be a government orchestrated 'rent-a-mob' – who had attempted to take Tahrir square earlier in the afternoon. 
The traffic must have been two way - I was taken to a make shift hospital in a precinct beside the square where doctors were treating a stream of injured demonstrators.
Tonight it really felt like the Tahrir demonstrators were fighting for their survival - many of the pro-Mubarak crowd were believed to be armed with sticks, knives and such. It sounds corny to repeat, but one old guy smashing up kerbststones to be thrown said: "We are doing this for our freedom." He looked me straight in the eye and meant every word. It sent shivers up my spine.

Cairo: Heroes of the 'hood

After the police disappeared from Cairo's streets and violent looters – widely believed to be in the employ of embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime – caused havoc throughout the city, residents took matters into their own hands and formed 'neighbourhood committees' on every street corner. These might look like alarming pictures but they're not. The guys I spoke to last night were some of the friendliest I've met in Egypt and from a wide spectrum of society, students, professionals, shop keepers and the like, young and old, all out to 'do their bit.'
Although the fate of Egypt could still swing either way, and today pro mubarak supporters have taken to the streets, last night there was an amazing feeling of hope that just maybe a 30-years-too-late change might be possible. 
Josh Wood's story about this, for the International Herald Tribune is here