Category: LAU Tribune articles

(picture from LAU website:

And she slammed the door open…said “You are dancing, pigs? Keep it on!” and vanished through the other door of the dark Irwin Hall Theater. The director Lina Abyad chose this time, with her presence in the performance, to be part of Kafka’s inner psyche. Like a psychoanalyst, she invited us to take a journey into Kafka’s mind and into his life that is loaded, at least with what we witnessed on stage, misery and harsh patriarchal dominance.

“A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to Die.” Kafka’s Diaries. With that quote we could draw a bleak picture of what the performance would be, but with the creativity of Abyad, the performance included some hilarious moments but still in the framework of agony and inner pain. LAU’s spring major theater production, Kafka, His Father, the Boss, the Wolf, and the Pigs, was performed on May 8,9,13,14,15,16 at LAU Beirut’s Irwin Hall Theatre. The performance revolves around flashbacks from Kafka’s bitter childhood intermixed with readings of the letter that Kafka himself wrote when he was 36 years old and that was apparently never delivered. The letter was first translated into English from German and published in 1966 titled Letter to his Father. In 2008, a new English translation was published under the title Dearest Father. Abyad and Rachid Al Daif translated the texts to formal Arabic and the performance was in both Lebanese dialect and formal Arabic. The Lebanese dialect reduced from the potency of the play, but the use of formal Arabic when reading parts of the letters regained it.

Kafka’s miserable psychological composition found a compelling theatricality when his inner psyche was revealed on stage, but maybe Abyad’s vision was too internalized, too dependent on triggering associations in the contemplative minds of audience members. Maybe the mere act of exposing Kafka’s troubled relation with his father on stage was a catharsis that Abyad wanted to be involved in. Having many actors resembling the same persona –Kafka- who rush around during which another Kafka reads some lines of his letter, aids in creating a hallucinatory dimension. It’s not only a psychic pain, but also a sense of alienation. This is shown when the thoughts of Kafka seem literally alienated from, though multiplied in number, his body where it becomes under the subjugation and supervision of the father figure. In fact, the notion of patriarchy resembled in the play goes in line with the Arab societies where the father figure sits on the top of the pyramid and controls the family members. The play’s powerful effect originates from the affirmation of patriarchal authority which motivates its plot.

 Previous plays directed by Abyad like her last year’s “The House of Benarda Alba” written by Lorca tackle the same theme of parental oppression of their children and depicts the conflict between the parent and the child.  With the new play, the oppressor is not the mother but the father  under the same theme of traditions’ constraints. The previous play forms a trilogy expressing what Lorca saw as the tragic life of Spanish women. It is also a play expressing the costs of repressing the freedom of others. In this play, one’s individualism is threatened and the longing for freedom is seen through the symbolic meanings given by the acts of Kafka’s climbing the ladder and his conversation with the bird. The play could be also understood from political perspective where the father figure designating the Arab regimes is to be obeyed and not questioned.

The multiple Kafka personas seeking freedom via bird symbol

The Arab Highway's construction site at Jdita

By Maysa Shawwa & Walaa Harb

Kifah, meaning struggle in English, is her name and her destiny…Kifah Hachem gives her child a gaze full of apprehension and then cuddles her leaving a faint smile that vanishes behind her troubled face. She says, “We won’t leave our homes even if the bulldozer runs over our dead bodies.” Kamal Masood, another Jdita resident whose house is going to be destroyed says, “The money they want to give us won’t buy us even a tent!”  The head of the municipality of Jdita Wahib Keekano says that there are around 150 families in Jdita who will have to evacuate their homes because their houses lie on the trail where the Arab highway will be constructed. He adds that he isn’t satisfied about the monetary compensations that will be paid to the residents “at the end of 2010”, but Elie El Helou, the Arab Highway project manager, has something else to say about the values of the compensations. He says that a committee from the Council for Development and Reconstruction in 2003 visited the houses that are going to be abolished and decided on the compensation values. “These residents were actually paid treasury bonds of 9% interest rate in 2004. We didn’t even ask them to leave their houses back then,” El Helou says.

Darwiche Ghaziri, director of the department of education services in civil organization in the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, says that “the monetary compensations were paid in 2004 and the responsibility lies on the residents themselves since they had the right to either take the treasury bonds or leave them in the bank.” El Helou adds that the problem that has emerged then is the result of some citizens investing their treasury bonds in the banks,” instead of buying with them new houses when the prices of houses and lands were low.”

Some citizens claim they haven’t received any compensation. Ali El Andari of Abadieh town says irately “This Arab highway will be constructed neither in Lebanon nor in any of the Arab countries!” He stops talking and lights a cigarette so that to escape the tense moment and continues “No compensations have been paid to us and even if they give us money we will not leave our homes.” His smoke puffs intensify and he glares at his watch murmuring “Darn them all!” Others clarify that in Abadieh town, construction process hasn’t started yet and thus no compensations have made. Anis Madi says, “The Arab highway’s project has only been planned ”

Another conflict that has emerged between the residents whose homes or lands are going to be destroyed or expropriated is the “free quarter” controversy where the government has the right to take quarter of the lands without paying anything for its citizens by law. Some citizens were skeptical about this issue and started questioning about it. Some declared that such a thing doesn’t exist in Lebanese laws. Keekano states “Since the Arab highway is a closed project, the government doesn’t have a right to take the quarter of these lands without paying its citizens and this fact is stated in the Lebanese constitution”, but El Helou, when asked about this issue, denied the existence of such laws that prevent the government to take the quarter of lands for free. Looking at some of the property laws, there seem some kind of contradiction between what El Helou was saying and what the Lebanese modified property law number 58 date 29/5/1991 actually declares. This law was modified on the first of November 2006 and was published in the official newspaper. It states in its article 14 that no one could expropriate the quarter of the lands/estates without equivalent compensations in real estates made to the citizens and this law corresponds to the closed highways or bridges. When asked about the validity of this law, the lawyer Habib Abdo said that “the government has the right to expropriate the quarter of the lands/estates without paying the citizens anything in return.” This issue seems a bit of a stuck one since the law declares something whereas everyone seems to be interpreting it in a way that is adequate for his own interests.    

“The public benefit is more important than the personal benefit” Ghaziri says. Ghaziri mentions that each time a new project is implemented in this country, some citizens will agree and others won’t and would blame the government for the negative consequences of the project. Madamme Ammar Andari of Abadieh town says that she supports the construction of the Arab highway. “It is a great benefit for us because it will decrease traffic and will enhance the roads between Damascus and Beirut” Andari says optimistically. According to Ghaziri , the citizens who were complaining about the destruction of their houses initially have built their houses illegally. “Those people who are complaining are actually acting against the Lebanese law by the illegitimate building of houses on that area because when studies were conducted about the Arab Highway, there were no houses there and the government prohibited any construction of houses in that area” Ghaziri explains.

Some citizens don’t want their houses they have inherited from their ancestors to be demolished because of the fact that these houses remind them of their ancestors, their traditions, and their heritage. Georges Bijjani, the head of the municipality of Kahale, stresses on the fact that these houses are the embodiments of the ancestors that used to live in them. “They are sacred to the people” says Bijjani. “With each wind gush and church bell ring I hear, I can picture my family sitting near the sobya on a holy Sunday night and this house is what is left of that blissful memory” says the old Ronda Feghali. Bijjani mentions that Kahale’s roots are Syriac and Aramaic. He says “the name Kahale means breath of the God El, who was considered father of the Gods and of mankind and this makes Kahale divine to its residents.”

A building that will be destroyed in Jdita (path of Arab highway)

Bijjani talks about the main reason behind his residents’ refusal to the Arab highway construction project. He says “We are not refusing the idea of constructing the highway, but we are against its passage in our town” He adds “It is not because we are not satisfied about the values of the compensations made, but because we lived all our life here and we don’t want to leave the past behind us.”  Bejjani explains that getting out of the houses isn’t an easy thing. He adds that whatever the price is to leave the houses; that means nothing.”What matters are the memories and the feelings detached to these houses.” Bejjani asked the Council for Development and Reconstruction to change the path of the Arab highway. “We need to solve this problem with least disadvantages, trying not to hurt anyone” The current construction process of the Arab highway at the Kahale region is halted because of the citizens’ objections. Elie El Helou says, in this regard, that till now “we didn’t find a path where everyone consent on and we had an old path for the Arab highway and we tried to renovate it, but Kahale residents also objected”. This is not the only cause for the Arab highway construction hindrance, but there are other reasons for that. El Helou says, “At some point, the funding was not available because we relied on outside funding and this procrastinated the construction process” Abed Al Hafiz Kaissi, Director General of Land & Maritime Transport, says that the Sofar Arab highway part is funded by the Lebanese government whereas the other parts are funded by outside countries. “The Masnaa part is funded by the European Investment Bank, the Namlieh bridge-Taanael is funded by the Saudi Fund, and the Baaleshmay part is funded by the Kuwaiti Fund” Kaissi elaborates. In fact, studies done on the finance of the Arab construction highway showed that it costs billions of dollars and Kuwait is one of the Arab countries that is funding Arab Economic development with Lebanon and both have signed an agreement to finance the construction between Hazmieh and Sofar. With this agreement Kuwait’s contribution in the project has reached 32 million dinars.

The Arab highway construction has started since the 90’s where “the Sofar 5 km part was completed” as El Helou describes, yet some citizens haven’t heard about the project. “I have no idea” says Rose Rizallah, a resident of Kahale town. “I heard my neighbors talking about it, but I don’t know exactly if it will pass through our town”

 In 2007, construction works started at the Masnaa section and in June 2009 works started at the Namlieh bridge-Mudeirij bridge part. “Sofar-Jamhour-Siyyad part is under construction now” says El Helou whereas the Sofar-Beirut part is not under construction because of conflicts between the towns’ residents and them, as El Helou puts it. “On the 14th of May 2009 and under the patronage and the presence of the Prime Minister, Mr. Fouad Siniora, the foundation stone for the Arab Highway project (Mudeirij – Taanael section) was laid” Kaissi says.

 The planning for the Arab highway project was done long ago.”There has been talk of a new highway that would be built between Beirut and the Syrian border, to connect with Damascus as many Arab countries even before the civil war started” Kaissi declares. The plans intensified after the civil war ended. “The plan for the Arab highway was renewed in 1998” El Helou says. It would be of 56 kilometers long yet it would have dire environmental impacts, as Keekano says. “The main reason for our oppositions to the Arab highway’s construction is the fact that it is going to damage the environment especially in Jdita” Keekano emphasizes. He says that doctors have confirmed that Jdita has an idiosyncrasy of being a natural treatment place for people with diseases of bronchitis. “‘The bulldozer has eaten the mountain’ my 7 years old son said when he saw the bulldozer shoving the dirt nearby”, says Narida Yaseen, a Jdita resident whose house won’t be destroyed, but will be near the Arab highway when constructed.” He cried and said that he won’t be able to go to the field anymore and enjoy playing near the pine trees as he used to do each summer”, adds Yaseen. Keekano also points out that Jdita will soon lose its capabilities of being a center of spa tourism in Lebanon. “With the Arab highway construction, investments in spa tourism projects would decrease because there would be a threat of contamination of Jdita’s springs.”Keekano clarifies. The Environmental Assessment for the Mudeirej Bridge Reconstruction (Mudeirij Bridge reconstruction is part of the Arab highway project), July 2007, summarized the potential adverse environmental impacts as follows; air quality deterioration (dust, on-site power generators), pressure on natural resources (construction aggregates), construction waste, wastewater from project headquarter (located on site), handling of hazardous waste (for construction activities), and the disruption of natural groundwater regime. The assessment points out that the reckless disposal of the demolition waste would seriously degrade the environment and the landscape The reuse of rubble however is less prominent taking into consideration that “…there are no rubble recycling plants in Lebanon.”

So if the Mudeirij Bridge, which constitutes part of the Arab highway project, would cause such undesirable environmental impacts, what about the whole project’s environmental effects? Ghaziri views the environmental Arab highway impacts controversy from a broader spectrum approach. “Environmentally it is better. All the CO2 and gases that are released from the containers passing on the roads will decrease.” Ghaziri explains that on the long-term the trucks’ fumes would be concentrated in a specific area. Dr. Samira Korfali, the chairperson of the Natural Sciences department at LAU, emphasizes the same point made by Ghaziri. She says “This highway should be done” She explains that it will solve a big problem since “it will reduce the pollution and the congestion of air that results from traffic.” She adds that “the ongoing heated discussions on the Arab highway project are because of politics.” Kaissi mentions that they had conducted studies on how they are going to retain the natural balance of the rural areas. “We have a plan to implant trees on the sides of the Arab highway and we have already brought the fertile soil for this reason” We can’t deny the fact that ,as studies showed, that over a million square meters of forest, meadow and orchard would be put under pavement, not to mention areas on either side disrupted by construction. Countless houses, old and new, would be destroyed, necessitating new construction elsewhere just to house the displaced people. Important summer resort areas would suddenly be subjected to the noise and fumes of thousands of big trucks and cars.

Gharizi gave the example of the highway between Beirut and South Lebanon to show how the Arab highway’s future would be brighter and people would learn to accept its idea gradually. “It was planned for this highway since 1954 but it wasn’t implemented until Rafik Hariri did this in the 1990s. In that time also people were paid compensations but not of values they agreed upon.” In that time many houses were destroyed and people opposed the project, but now the highway solved many problems. “Before the highway was constructed it took more than two hours to South while now it takes less than one hour” he adds cheerfully.

While many people may look at this as bad news such as some of the residents of Kahale and Jdita, it may be looked at as a good sign. Ghaziri says that the way to Alley consumes a lot of time and the way is congested of containers in addition to the traffic and the accidents that occur on this way. Despite that, the citizens still have problems with it. “Government has no conscience” Youssef Madi, a citizen in Abadieh village, expresses his frustration. He adds that the government has made a chaos in our village by destroying the people’s homes. “This project is a complete failure. The government brainwashes the minds of the residents since they trick them by letting them expect high compensations which is not true at all! The government didn’t give us even a dollar!” Madi claims. 

Each one talks from his own point of view. The government which is represented by the ministry of Public Works sees that the benefit of the public dominates over the personal level. Moreover, what they say is that they are compensating the people with treasury bonds of 9% interest rate in 2004. On the other hand the heads of municipalities of Kahale and Gdita refuse the idea considering the environmental impacts, the values of compensations, and the emotional aspects.

“My husband is in another country and I have to pay the school fees of my children… I need one to two years to find another house”, Hachem says, poses for a minute and continues” We have only God to rely on.”

As simple as it may look, this shop (that will be destroyed) is the source of living for Massoud's family

by Maysa Shawwa (Published in the LAU Tribune-Spring semester 2010)

Bachoura's crowded graveyard

She looks gorgeous in her dress. Her white-silky hair is nicely combed and shoved behind her shoulders. Her classic makeup makes her face angelic. She will sleep tonight in her wooden bed with mere silence … the insipid silence that creeps through the spines and leaves them chill. He washes and dresses a white sheet of cloth. Then, he finds himself in the mid of certain prayers in the mosque. Few hours later, he will be left alone in darkness; his face positioned towards stone. For both, Janette Aayan(died on 28th of March 2010) and Tawfeek Al Arwadi (died on 21st of February 2010), a ceremony was waiting for them. It was their death ceremony. When you know that your time has come around whether you are prepared for it or not and whether you utter your last goodbyes or not, you are faced with a simple hurdle: no place for resting in peace. The graveyards in Beirut ran out of room for hosting the new dead people. Kamal Harb, the director of the Harb association for burying the dead (for the Shiite sect), says “Beirut’s cemeteries are crowded now; it is difficult to find enough space to bury a new dead”. Antoine Kyrillos from the Administrative and Financial Committee in the Commissions of the Central council of the Maronite Societies echoes the same idea. He says, “The cemeteries are full now in Beirut and although people could bury their family members in the (Roman Catholic and Maronite) cemeteries of Fanar, people still prefer Beirut’s cemeteries because the maintenance is better there.”  Speaking about maintenance of these cemeteries, in November 2009, the public areas of the Ras El-Nabeh cemetery were renovated and planted walks and an adequate lighting were set up.

The director of Bachoura and Ashohada cemeteries (for the Sunni sect) in Beirut, Mostafa Arab, says “the ground is not a renewable resource and we should deal wisely with it” That is why he thinks that burying a family member over another is a solution for this problem. He says, “We must stop the muddled excavation process and start burying family members over one another to save space” This solution offered by Arab has two main problems. First, the time-interval between the deceased body to perish and the time when the newly dead body would be buried cannot be controlled. In other words, the time-interval should be no less than one year so that the old body would decay completely before the newly dead body would be laid upon, but what happens when the time-interval is less than one year? This case happened with Al Bondokgi family. Samar Traboulsi Bekdash tells the story of her husband’s three uncles (Al Bondokgi family) who died the same year. She says that last year the first uncle was buried over his mother in Bachoura cemetery. Within a week, his brother followed, but they couldn’t bury him over the first one because there wasn’t a one year interval between the first and second burial, she explains. “After several wastas (connections), they buried him in Ashohada cemetery and they paid around $3,000 for digging a new tomb.” After 40 days, the third uncle died and he was buried in the recently built cemetery in Horog. Sometimes they don’t have a choice but to bury the family members over one another even if the body of the one who died before wasn’t fully decayed. Bilal Naccash, the son of Adnan Naccash, followed the steps of his father even in death. After about 8 months, Bilal died in March 2009, and although the time-interval between the father’s death and the son’s was less than a year, they buried him over his father. One of Bial’s friends, Mustafa Shawwa, who attended the burial scene, saw Adnan’s body still without full decay, but the family had no choice but to bury Bilal over his father since the price of digging up a new tomb was high. The second problem regarding burying a family member over another is that the managing office of the cemetery needs the consent of each adult in family X, if the dead person was not of that nuclear family, to agree on burying him in family X’s tomb and this where the conflict lies. Afif Ghalayini’s burial wasn’t that easy. His step mother’s tomb was available, but the family didn’t accept Ghalayini’s burial there. After Ahmad Ghalayini’s, Afif’s son, visits to the family begging them to bury his father there because of no other choice at that time, the family was convinced. “It is humiliation”, says Ghalayini explaining his frustration of the crowdedness of the cemeteries back then.  Farah Hasna tells the story of her grandmother Rafeeka Zahra who was buried over her sister Suaad after the consent of Suaad’s children on the condition that after her burial there, Suaad’s family will regain the ‘ownership’ of the tomb and her children would be buried there in the future. (Did we reach a stage where people confiscate tombs? maybe) Mostafa Arab points out that the burial crisis is more of crisis in families’ kinships. He provides an example to explain what he means,” A woman was so frustrated that her daughter was going to be buried over her mother because she had a tense relationship with her mother that she said ‘I wish I threw my daughter in garbage rather than burying her over my mother’ ”

Kamal Harb says that there isn’t a solution for this crisis. He alleges that those whom their hometowns are in the rural part of Lebanon have the chance to bury their dead there as “the towns have wider space areas for burial and the prices of tombs are lower than in Beirut.”  When trying to conduct an interview with the director of Rawdat Ashahidayn cemetery to ask him more about this crisis and whether there are any solutions to this problem, he refused because he claimed that that cemetery” is a security point”.

“Starting from the year 2000, we tried to implement a new policy concerning the burial issue”, says Arab. He explains that they halted the selling process of tombs and they started forcing people to bury their family members over one another. He says, “We first ask the family members if they have available tombs of relatives and here we are sure that they have, but people tend in many cases to deny this since they usually have problems with their relatives and they don’t want to be ‘in debt to’ the other family” If they denied the fact that they have available tombs and insisted on excavating a new tomb, ” we start raising up the prices and we usually advise them if they weren’t able to pay that much to go and bury their dead in Horog  that costs 500,000 L.L only.” One should note here that Awkaf is responsible for the newly established Horog graveyard whereas the Makassed Philanthropic Islamic Association is responsible for the Bachoura and Ashohada cemeteries. Arab also claims that 40% of burials held in Ashohada and Bachoura are for free funded by charity projects. He explains, “Some families out of social pretenses like to make the death ceremony an unforgettable one so they don’t mind paying more for extra services that actually goes for the free burials.” Mazen Mahmasani, the responsible for the official papers and transactions for dead, says that such cases of free burials do not exist. “What they mean by free burial is that one has to pay 750,000 L.L to one million L.L; they tell the family members that this amount is paid as expenses for the workers there.” Arab, refuting Mahmasani’s explanations of the supposedly free burial cases, says that these people, who benefit from this service, if asked, won’t declare that they buried their family members for free. Kyrillos states that in Ras El-Nabeh cemetery one could bury for free if the family can’t afford the expenses. He adds, “There are only ten vaults left in Ras El- Nabeh cemetery for free burial.”  

The Business of Death

They stand soulless and speechless; not only the dead, but also their family members because of the grief they are going to bear as they lose their beloved ones and because of the high prices of tombs.

Arab says that when he will resign, he is going to write a book that constitutes of his diaries in the cemetery and the weird stories he heard there. A person who owns five buildings in Hamra, as Arab claims, brought a testimonial that proves he is poor (Shahadit Fokr Hal), for the sake of burying his mother for free. Another thing he points out from his daily observations is that people tend to make money out of burials. He says, “One time, a guy who just walked out of my office after we finished the official procedures for burials, I heard him talking on the phone and telling his brother that it cost him $2,000 for his father’s burial whereas it didn’t cost him $500.” Arab adds that the man could regain the money he paid from the governmental employee’s cooperation and the only explanation for this is treachery.

After the war, some of the Bachoura’s tombs were damaged completely and since there were no written records of the names of the dead, the tombs were resold again but for “$5,000 per a tomb”, as Mazen Mahmasani puts it. Mahmasani criticizes this ‘unethical act’, as he names it, and says that the cemetery’s directory office should have kept track of the names of the dead or at least tried to do something about it instead of using this opportunity to “make some business.” Today, Arab says, everything is archived and no one can rob a tomb.

 Although the burial prices are lower in Horog, Mahmsani says that Dar Al Fatwa forces the family to pay an extra $500 for the tomb stone while as Mahmasani points out “It doesn’t cost more than $100.”  

Squeezing the Dead in Palestinian Refugee Camps

They weren’t supposed to be homeless during their final stay on Earth.13 Palestinian martyrs, who were part of “Arradwan” exchange of martyrs mission that was held on 16th of July 2008, were literally buried on the sidewalk facing Ashohada cemetery. Arab claims that this happened with coordination and prior- planning with the municipality of Beirut. He adds that the municipality expanded later on Ashohada graveyard and the sidewalk, where the martyrs were buried, became part of it.

 Although the cemeteries in the Palestinian refugee camps are crowded, Palestinians have the chance to bury their dead in Lebanese cemeteries outside their camps. Jamal Najami of both Palestinian parents says that when they wanted to bury her father five years ago, Ashohada cemetery charged them $7,000 for a new tomb. They couldn’t afford that so her cousin offered her the tomb of her father and the father was buried over his brother. Solved. This March, Najami’s mother died, but they couldn’t bury her over her husband because the tomb is for her cousin’s family. With the newly built cemetery in Horog, Najami’s family was able to bury the mother there by paying $500 only. Still the cemeteries of Ain Al Helwe, Shatila , and Burj Al Barajne camps are choking with their dead.

Will the solution be cremation? The entire process of cremation, whether or not it includes a service or just the incineration of the corpse, is far cheaper than burial, even though a coffin is used. The ashes of the buried person can be kept at home in a an urn, thus offering the family the opportunity to remember the loved-one on a daily basis, but religiously it is illegal and some people might not like it because simply they don’t like seeing their loved ones being burned.

Death is inevitable and one should be prepared for it whether spiritually (for believers) or even financially. Some may go further by reserving their own tombs, but now “the act of reserving a tomb is banned”, as Arab points out.    

Aayan’s coffin sprinkled with holy water before it was removed from the house is now ready for burial. Al Arwadi’s body washed and wrapped in sheets of white cloth (kafan) and transported to the site of the funeral prayers (salat-l-janazah) is also now ready for burial, but what is not ready is the tomb.

%d bloggers like this: