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Shankaboot – Episode 1: Delivery Interrupted

For the following episodes go to Youtube

In polyglot Lebanon, Arabic falls behind

Many university students are not able to recite Arabic alphabet as youths consider language not very ‘cool’.

By Rana Moussaoui – BEIRUT

Lebanon, a tiny, vibrant Mediterranean country, prides itself on its polyglot society but for the country’s youths native Arabic is not very “cool.”

“Hi, kifak? Ca Va?” — or “Hi, how are you doing? Okay?” — is a typical multi-linguistic Lebanese greeting so popular it now appears on bumper stickers and teeshirts sold around the world.

English and French often replace the local dialect in conversation, especially among the urban youth, and one organisation has launched a campaign to preserve Arabic in Lebanon.

“Arabic is still very much alive as a language, but young people are moving farther and farther away from it,” said Suzanne Talhouk, who heads the organisation “Fael Ummer” (Imperative) which is running the campaign.

“Some of our youngsters are incapable of writing correctly in Arabic, and many university students we interviewed were not even able to recite the alphabet,” Talhouk said.

Urban youths are often unable to hold a conversation in one language, causing amusement but also irking those around them with such home-grown expressions as the popular farewell: “Yalla, bye.”

“At my school it’s more cool to speak French. Arabic is looked down upon,” said high school student Nathalie.

On Thursday the Tunis-based Arab Organisation for Education, Culture and Science decided to set aside March 1 of each year to celebrate the Arabic language.

A statement from the organisation said the move was an attempt to “preserve the heritage of the Arab nation in the face of globalisation.”

The message was heard loud and clear in Lebanon, which was once the Francophone hub of the Arab world.

The country of four million was under French Mandate from 1920 until its independence in 1943, and it is still widely considered the most “Western” country in the conservative Middle East.

In Lebanon most schools teach Arabic, French and English to their students from a young age, and the education authorities allow students with dual nationality to waive Arabic classes and government examinations.

“Having a second language is an asset, provided students do not forget their native language,” said Talhouk.

Experts are divided on who should shoulder the responsibility, with some blaming schools which they say have placed Arabic at the bottom of the educational pyramid.

“Schools often treat Arabic as a secondary subject,” says Henri Awaiss, who heads the department of translation at Saint Joseph University in Beirut.

“Also, students are bored because of the way classes are taught,” Awaiss said. “We have to open the door to more creative teaching methods,” he said.

But some teachers say the problem starts at home.

“Many parents tend to speak to their children in English or French,” said Hiba, who teaches Arabic at a primary school.

“The problem is that I find myself teaching six-year-olds who do not speak their own language and who are utterly shocked by formal Arabic,” which differs from spoken Arabic, she added.

According to Talhouk “some parents even request teachers address their children in French or English if they do not understand Arabic.”

“It’s sad. One shouldn’t be ashamed of their language,” she said.

And with the Internet age in full swing, “writing in Arabic is no longer fashionable among the young,” Talhouk said.

“Arabic today is a sort of ‘Facebook Arabic’.”

The Lebanese have even devised a web-friendly script for their dialect, using Latin font. Numbers such as 2, 3, and 7 are used to represent Arabic phonetic sounds that do not exist in English or French.

The United Nations cultural body UNESCO designated Beirut World Book Capital of the year (April 2009-April 2010). But reading, generally not a popular activity in Lebanon, is even less popular in Arabic.

“I don’t read Arabic novels because they don’t speak to the youth,” said Bilal, a Lebanese university student studying television broadcasting.

Leila Barakat, who manages the World Book Capital programme, stressed the need for more modern Arabic texts that address the new generation.

“We must support and encourage Arabic literature for young adults, which is today underdeveloped,” Barakat said.

Talhouk insisted that Lebanon should invest in preserving the nation’s cultural and literary heritage, as well as develop Arabic technological and scientific terms.

“Young people should feel that this beautiful language speaks to them too, that it is of their day and age,” she said


Hezbollah gears up for new war

A Hezbollah stronghold in a Beirut suburb reduced to rubble by Israeli air strikes in August 2006. Photograph: Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images

Fighters rearm and reinforce positions in valleys amid fears that Israel is about to launch attack on Islamic group

* Mitchell Prothero and Peter Beaumont
* The Observer, Sunday 8 November 2009

Hezbollah is rapidly rearming in preparation for a new conflict with Israel, fearing that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will attack Lebanon again prior to any assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

read on

Living with Cluster Bombs in Lebanon

First film here
Watch also another report here

There Are Some Lines You Just Don’t Cross


Remember Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party who made a big splash four years ago when he began raving about the wonders of the Bush Doctrine? Probably not, to the relief of many a neocon. He was an embarrassing ally for the warbots even back then, but now he’s gone and done the unforgivable:

A surprise reconciliation between the leaders of Hizbullah and the Progressive Socialist Party was followed on Friday by Walid Jumblatt’s re-directing his rhetoric south, to Palestine, and warning of the “absolute extremism” of the Israeli government. “I call on all of our people in Palestine to reject sectarian and non-sectarian violence and cling to their Arabism and Palestinian national project, to confront Zionist projects that promise to be more dangerous and fiercer in the coming phase,” Jumblatt said in a statement.

The PSP leader said the Israeli government had no interest in a peace settlement and “insisted on absolute extremism” in its current policies.

I suspect we won’t be seeing any more sympathetic profiles of this “insightful interpreter of the fluctuations in Middle Eastern politics” any time soon.


Erich Follath, when a journalist provides incentive for war

Article in German magazine Der Spiegel says Hezbollah behind murder of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri
Article in German magazine Der Spiegel says Hezbollah behind murder of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri

Did Erich Follath, diplomatic reporter for the German Der Spiegel magazine, imagine what could have happened if his latest article about the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was taken seriously? MENASSAT’s Ghassan Saoud takes a look.


Article in German magazine Der Spiegel says Hezbollah behind murder of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri

BEIRUT, May 29, 2009 (MENASSAT) — At the height of Sunni sectarianism in Lebanon, awakened to counter Shiite support for the leading opposition political party Hezbollah, while Sunni-Shiite relations are tense all over the Muslim world, comes 60-year-old journalist Erich Follath, who published an article last week claiming that Hezbollah was behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Published by the German magazine Der Spiegel, a media outlet that enjoys credibility in the Arab and International public opinion, the report claims to have learned from sources close to the UN special tribunal set-up to provide certainty about Hariri’s assassination in February 2005, that the leader of the Sunni in Lebanon, who also happens to be a “moderate” Arab and symbol of western alignment in the Arab world, was murdered by Shiite group Hezbollah.


Nasrallah: Der Spiegel, Israel teamed for murder

naderian20090526021353500Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

Tue, 26 May 2009 08:21:15 GMT

Hezbollah’s secretary general calls the recent accusatory article in the German daily, Der Spiegel a cover-up for Israeli assassinations in Lebanon.

“I consider the report in the Der Spiegel an Israeli accusation,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in the Lebanese capital, Beirut on Monday calling the move “a plot” of “far-reaching aims”.

“The Israelis are acting preemptively before it is discovered that their spying networks were involved in the assassinations in Lebanon,” he added.

The resistance leader made the comments after the magazine referred to an unnamed source as claiming that the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was “planned and executed by Hezbollah”.

Nasrallah’s comments also bore reference to Hezbollah and Lebanese intelligence counterespionage forays which have led to the apprehension of around 30 suspected Israeli-commissioned spies. One suspect, Ziad Homsi, has admitted to being tasked to organize the assassination of the secretary general.

While “we are witnessing the uncovering of Israeli espionage networks…,” the Israelis thought “let’s implement this plot against Hezbollah,” Nasrallah continued with regards to the article.

He said the report deliberately coincided with the June 7 Lebanese elections which, he said both the US and Israel feared an overwhelming resistance triumph, the Israeli military maneuvers that begin on May 31 and the growing international expectation from Tel Aviv to submit to a two-state solution and give the right of the Palestinian refugees to return.

“Der Spiegel is ready for this mission” which he said was, on a broader scale aimed at “creating an Arab-Iranian conflict and a Sunni-Shia conflict.”

Within hours of the appearance of the report, the Israeli media headlined the story and Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, called for the International Tribunal’s issuance of an arrest warrant against Nasrallah.

“They made the accusations. They made the judgment. And they want to call for punishment.”

Addressing thousands of his supporters on the occasion of the Resistance and Liberation Day, which marks Hezbollah’s liberation of southern Lebanon in the year 2000 from 22 years of Israeli occupation, the Hezbollah chief concluded with an appeal to the international community to “punish Israel” before Tel Aviv could bring its conspiracy to fruition.


Egyptian media at war with Hezbollah

In the weeks since Egyptian authorities arrested alleged Hezbollah (Party of God) operatives in Egypt, the Egyptian media has waged a war against the Lebanese Shia party, calling its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, “the monkey sheikh” and accusing these so-called agents of planning an attack against Israeli tourist attractions in Egypt. MENASSAT’s Ahmad Ragab suggests it is Hezbollah and not official Egyptian media that is having the last laugh.


Full article here

Hizbullah’s global aims come to light

From The Daily Star
By Ferry Biederman
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

For all the verbal fireworks coming out of Cairo, Egypt’s campaign against the Lebanese Hizbullah movement may not amount to much in the end. We’re talking after all about a country that cannot even exert significant influence over events in neighboring Gaza and that cannot rein in the Palestinian Hamas movement there toward which it is ostensibly not well disposed either. To think that it can counter Hizbullah in any meaningful way in its Lebanese home base or anywhere else in the region, beyond its own borders, seems farfetched. But the row does emphasize a couple of regional fault lines and raises questions of Hizbullah’s international ambitions and the extent of its coordination with Iran.

While many in Lebanon have focused on the Egyptian charges that Hizbullah was planning to carry out attacks on its soil, the claim by its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, that the group was smuggling arms to Palestinian factions in Gaza, for which “we do not apologize,” was the more remarkable. Any attack on Israelis in Egypt can be construed as being in line with his earlier pledge to seek revenge for the killing of Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus last year, which Nasrallah has accused Israel of being behind. But the now open extension of Hizbullah’s role to supporting the Palestinian cause hundreds of miles from the Lebanese border opens up the prospect of a continued confrontation with Israel even if all outstanding Lebanese-Israeli issues get settled. It also lifts a tip of the veil of secrecy that has always covered persistent indications that Hizbullah does have an international strategy, be it in the Palestinian territories, in Iraq or in South America.

Hizbullah’s support for Hamas in Gaza is not surprising given the well-known ties that go back several years now between Iran and Hamas. What is significant is that Hizbullah’s and Tehran’s aid to Hamas gives the lie to the notion that militant Shiite and Sunni movements do not cooperate. Since Hamas, apart from its Palestinian nationalist agenda, is also an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, such cooperation becomes even more important and could be regarded as a real threat by some of the so-called moderate or pro-Western Arab regimes. This may be one of the reasons behind Egypt’s decision to take Hizbullah on in such a public and vocal way.

The combination of Iranian support and Hizbullah’s guerrilla expertise and Arab nationalist appeal seems to be an alarming one for Arab states. Egypt’s foreign minister immediately claimed a link between Iran and Hizbullah’s alleged activities in his country. The rivalry between Cairo and Tehran is well established by now and Egypt has kept a wary eye on increased Iranian influence in the region, which has been particularly in evidence since 2003. Iran and Hizbullah received a further boost from the 2006 war when Hizbullah fought credibly against the Israelis. By some accounts the popularity of the group among ordinary Egyptians has been neutralized by the row, which would be an achievement for the Egyptian authorities.

The confrontation also comes at a time when the Obama administration’s advances toward Iran have made Cairo, as well as other Arab regimes, even more nervous about being sidelined in the region’s great game. The Americans seem momentarily more interested in bringing on board the more rejectionist and hence more popular players in the Arab-Israel conflict rather than relying on their traditional allies. If Cairo can convince the Americans that Iran had a hand in a real plot in Egypt, it may put a bit of a break on the administration’s ardor in pursuing Tehran.

The vocal Egyptian campaign against Hizbullah may finally be meant to undercut the chances of Hizbullah’s electoral alliance in the upcoming elections in Lebanon. These will be decided in the Christian areas where there is a contest between anti-Syrian groups and the faction following Michel Aoun, who has a written understanding with Hizbullah. That movement’s international entanglements may embarrass Aoun. His Christian followers often have little sympathy for the armed Shiite group. They may tolerate it as long as it claims to be defending Lebanon’s interests but not when it is aiding the Palestinians to the detriment of Lebanon’s interests.

As with all else, the way in which the affair is being viewed in Lebanon depends on the political allegiance of the person who is being asked. In some anti-American quarters the Egyptian accusations are seen as paving the way for another assault on Hizbullah by Israel. Others cannot believe that the country may once again be held hostage by the actions of one particular group. They note that Egypt has also accused the Lebanese state of giving cover to Hizbullah and they wonder how it will affect Egypt’s support for Lebanon vis-ˆ-vis Syria. Hizbullah itself is reasonably immune to pressure but if the group is indeed carrying out an international strategy in coordination with Iran, this could have long-lasting implications for Lebanon.

Ferry Biederman is a free-lance journalist based in Beirut. This commentary first appeared at, an online newsletter.

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