... in beirut

R.I.P Samir Kassir

03 Jun 2005 | 485 words | beirut lebanon security drone wars politics syria

Today i am back in Beirut. In the morning we met with the Hezbollah (i was still getting SMS straight from the ‘zionist entity’ while sitting in their press room), but talking to them did not make them any more sympathetic. The guy got himself in rage about Israel and how they had every right to defend themselves against Israeli aggressions, but instead of stopping there he then started to explain us how we (the Germans) were also victims of them as ‘they (Israelis) made us (Germans) responsible for the holocaust which has never happend’. when told that we did not see this this way he referred to ‘a book by an French professor’ that he had read but whose name he had ‘unfortunatly’ forgotten that would prove that the ‘holocaust never happend or at least was much smaller than they say’. yuk! This contributed to the resentment that had been growing in me after yesterdays visit to the south (Hezbollah country) where the mood was really depressing which at least for me was largely the result of the excessive presence of bearded men on all kinds of posters and billboards. (something that at first had appeared as a welcome change of scenery compared to the visual Hariri onslaught in the rest of the country. (between Nabatiye and Sour i did not spot a single Hariri poster). It does however seem that the posters help winning the elections in Beirut Hariri won all 19 seats and in the south Hezbollah and Amal are projected to win almost all 23 seats on stake in Sundays election round.

The unfortunate encounter with political Islam was soon pushed to the background when the news broke that Samir Kassir had been assassinated when a bomb detonated under his car seat just after leaving his apartment in Ashrafiye in east Beirut earlier that morning.

On June 2, 2005 Lebanon’s prominent journalist and historian Samir Kassir was assassinated. Kassir was a dedicated, vehement and eloquent critic of Syria’s presence in Lebanon, its security apparatuses and its Lebanese collaborators. from indymedia beirut

While i had not heard of him before suddenly everybody (ok i guess minus the Hezbollah) who we had met had connections with him ranging from personal friendships to working relations (the ladies from ‘un mémoire pour le avenir whom we had met on Tuesday evening were apparently some of the last persons to meet him on Wednesday). The somehow ironic fact that Samir who – as everybody was telling me – had been a very vocal critic of the Syrian role in Lebanon for quite a while had been assassinated by the Syrians (at least that is what everybody thinks) after they had left the country has had quite a devastating effect to everybody i spoke to during the day. Most people were wondering if ‘this was ever going to end’ end seemed extraordinary disillusioned by what had happend.

Election Day (fuck the French!)

30 May 2005 | 457 words | beirut elections lebanon fashion politics democracy

Before going to Beirut to watch the elections we go to the city of Saida. we start at the unimpressive ruin of the chateau d’eau that lies in the small fishing port opposite of the medina. the leaflet provided to vistors by the ministry of tourism is identical in text with the section about this place in the lonely planet. would be interesting to know who copied from whom. the thought that future generations main source of historical information are the little boxed texts in the various editions of the lonely planet is already disturbing but if it should turn out that the official historical knowledge draws form the the same source this would be even more disturbing.

Late MP Mustapha Saad (not the mayor of Saida! – thanks eve!)

In Saida i find the first internet cafe, actually someone finds it for me as it is a little walk from the city center in a little side street. is more or less and empty room with a computers and one hour goes for £1000. as expected the connection is unbearably slow, a single website often takes ful 2 minutes to load. and this is while only 3 of the 8 terminals are occupied. It seems that it is going to be difficult to stay connected while being here.

Beirut is not much more lively than yesterday. the only places attracting crowds are the polling stations that have crowds of party activists in front of them. Hezbollah activists in yellow vests, the omnipresent Hariri fan-boys in white t-shirts with – surprise surprise – Hariri’s face on their chest. each polling station is guarded by a fire-truck, an ambulance, a platoon of soldiers – and in the christian areas of east Beirut – a armoured personel carrier with a mounted heavy machine gun. The atmosphere is relaxed, the different political factions mix while they hand out little flyers with the lists of candidates that their party supports (each party assembles lists of candidates that comply with the complicated confessional balance that is required by the constitution). The Hariri fans-boys also hand out little gifts (bottles of juice and water with the portrait of the late Hariri on them). Inside the polling station party activists continue to give advice to voters, the voters hoever seem to direct themselves to a representative of their party in order to be instructed. In all the polling rooms (there are 5 in the school that i enterd) there are at least 6 observers by the different parties that sit in the schoolbenches and make notes while the voters disappear behind a curtain to make make their choice. While the results of the vote will not be known till mid week…

Eau de Hariri

Finally, a connection between Iraq and 9/11...

29 May 2005 | 5 words | beirut cars lebanon iraq war

Downtown beirut, 29 May 2005

The city of the dead...

Tomorrow will see the start of the parliamentary election in Beirut. (The other parts of the country will vote on the consecutive sundays). The city while feeling relatively empty and calm is full of campaign posters and flags. As all of them are in arabic it is hard to to tell what they advocate but the whole thing seems to be centered on persons anyway. By far the most prominent is the face of the late Rafiq Hariri whose party is now run by his son. There is not a single place in Beirut (and not only central beirut – it seems to be even more extreme in the residential areas) where you could stand and not see his face gleaming down from a building or a wall. There are gigantic banners that mourn his death hanging down from high rises, bleached our rows of din a3 sized posters lining construction site fences, golf carts with his face on the site that offer a free shuttle service in the (Hariri build) central business district, posters with his face and the word truth (both in arabic end english) on them in windows of shops and apartments. Then there are thousands and thousands of pictures showing him and his son: On the election posters of his sons party with the older hariri greyed out in the background, but also on giant lcd screens, in the windows of private cars and businesses and even on the walls of the houses in the village of our hotel.

The city has nothing of the bustling chaotic feeling that i was expecting, people are friendly, but there is a feeling of anticipation in the air. during our walk along the sites of the civil war we are passing a crowd of US secret service agents that protect a restaurant with owerwelming manpower and repeatedly run into small groups of armed soldiers that zig zag through the city in oversized SUVs. There are also the teams of EU election monitors and occasionally small car convoys of Hariri supporters enthusiastically blowing their horns and wielding Lebanese flags (although this hardly has any distinctive quality as everybody and his political party seem to do the same) in support of this son’s party.

We finish our tour at the place of the bomb blast that took Hariri’s life and that of at least 15 others. 3 and a half months after the explosion the place is still cordoned-off and the wrecked surroundings have been left in the same state they were found in after the blast. Apparently a special UN mission will go through all the on site evidence again as nobody trusts the Lebanese authorities to find out who was behind the attack (and no one thinks the UN will be able to do this either). A sole temporary GSM tower extends his makeshift antena masts into the evening sky right next to the fence setting of the area, indicating that this place has seen regular gatherings of huge crowds that apparently needed additional cell phone coverage. Later i am being told that Hariri’s convoy used to be armed with radio frequency blockers that would interrupt all communications when it passed in order to make attacks with radio controlled bombs impossible. Apparently the damage to the frequency spectrum had a much higher priority than the physical damage when it comes to reconstruction.

While mobile phone coverage is excellent, internet coverage seems rather limited. At dinner i am told that internet coverage is rather poor. DSL lines are virtually unknown because they are prohibitivly expensive. the price for set up came down only recently from $2000 to $500. this is the consequence of a quasi monopoly by the national phone company and one mayor ISP (appropriately called ‘Cyberia’ – for which even more appropriately the spellchecker suggests ‘Siberia’) which are both in the hands of the son’s of the son’s of senior politicians. So most people – and also internet cafes – are still on dial up connections.


28 May 2005 | 647 words | airtravel lebanon syria beirut berlin

At tegel half of the people in front of the check in counter seem to belong to one family whose patriarch is constantly busy telling te members of the extended group where they should be (basically the men at the counter and the women waiting on the other side of the hall).

On both flights (half of the passengers of the full A300-600 leaving berlin seem to make up for three quarters of the full A320 leaving frankfurt) the normative system of the family patriarch proves to be stronger than that of Lufthansa’s ticketing algorithm. both flights take of with 15 minutes of delay mainly due to intensive trading of boarding cards that only stops when the patriarchs family is distributed in the plane according to his wishes (basically boys in the front, girls in the back). The whole flight the patriarch is patrolling the aisle of the plane with much more rigor than the lufthansa crew who has been told to be more respectful and friendly (read: bring more beer by the 5 dudes on the 3 place row just behind me). By now they have retreated to the galley and one needs to go there if one wants another drink…. There was a slight escalation earlier when the party crowd behind me was blocking the aisle, but that situation was defused by the middle-aged gentleman from Stuttgart (of all places!) who told the stewardess to ‘smile a bit more’ and ‘leave the young men alone’. this is the same person who – at the check in at Frankfurt – when told him that the flight was overbooked – fell down at his knees and started to tell them that they could not do this to him as his mother had died and was buried tomorrow and that he could not be denied to board the plane…

While i am writing this the guy next to me – who belongs to the clan of the patriarch – is staring at my screen. so i ask him if he is reading what i am writing but he assures me that he is just looking at the clock in my menu bar. Turns out that he is coming back to lebanon for the first time in 20 years (he left the country when he was 6). He seems to be scared, but i cannot tell if it is because of flying or because of the fact that he comes back to Lebanon after 20 years – ‘things have changed a lot since i left’ there is another person that is looking at my screen: the guy in the window seat. from looking at his screen earlier i know that he is working for Microsoft Lebanon. Later i ask him what he is doing for ms in lebanon. He is a technical consultant who came back from canada 9 months ago. Microsoft Lebanon is the regional representative for ms in lebanon, cyprus, syria – ‘but not right now since syria is on the shit-list’ – jordan, the west bank and iraq – ‘but we do not go there, it is to dangerous, but we have a hired representative’. we talk a bit, i tell him what i do and ask him a bit about their operations. They mainly do MNC work but also government jobs. asked about syria he tells me that they do not operate there but upon my suggestion he tells me that they assume that the syrian government also runs on ms software, albeit pirated. I suggest that this is probably also good for them because once the US topples the government there, they will be used to run MS. He tells me that this is exactly how they see it. Before leaving the plane he gives me his card and suggests that i should meet with his colleague Khaleed who is running their educational operations.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: