Friday, February 03, 2006

Ibrahim the Shepherd

Ibrahim the shepherd laid lifeless next to his dead sheep.
It took one Israeli bullet to kill the sheep. But the three Israeli bullets that hit Ibrahim Rahayel in the neck, the back and the foot did not kill him immediately.
He fell on Lebanese soil, a teenager. He bled for hours under his killers’ gaze and then he died quietly.
According to As Safir newspaper, an Israeli force of about 20 commandos crossed the Lebanese border from its position in Ramta and hid behind rocks on Tuesday.
Ibrahim, the Lebanese teenage shepherd, was attending his flock 700 meters from the blue line separating Lebanon from Israel. At about 1 PM the Israeli soldiers shot seven bullets one of which hit a sheep point blank in the head.
Ibrahim carried the dead sheep and ran when the Israelis shot the 3 fatal bullets.
Three hours later, Ibrahim's father said to the newspaper, a UN patrol came to the area but did not notice his son's body.
It was Youssef who, worried about Ibrahim’s whereabouts, first got to him at sunset yesterday.
He tried to lift the body, but could not. He asked the UN peacekeepers that were nearby for help. They lifted Ibrahim’s body to their jeep and took him back home.

Today, the Islamic Resistance attacked the same Israeli position that killed the 17-year-old Ibrahim and in retaliation an Israeli fighter-bomber fired two missiles at a site west of Kfarshouba, while Israeli artillery pounded the area with 155 mm guns.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim's family is crying and his remaining sheep are without a shepherd.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Nasrallah Threatens Denmark, Norway and France

Before an audience of tens of thousands of his supporters, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, said yesterday that if the Fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini had been implemented against Salman Rushdie and if he was killed, the racist caricatures against the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper would never have happened.
Boycotting Danish products and recalling ambassadors from Denmark is not enough, he said, and he called for Muslims around the world to take a hard stance.
He added that “if we forgive them only God knows what they will do next”, and that Muslims should try a different approach with Denmark, Norway and France if they do not take appropriate measures.
“It is about the prophet of 1.4 billion Muslims,” he said, “and I am confident that not only are there millions of Muslims but … hundreds of millions of Muslims that are ready to sacrifice their lives...for the dignity of their Prophet.”
He said that followers of all monotheistic religions should take a serious stand against this insult.
Citing freedom of expression, the governments of Denmark and Norway refused to apologize for the 12 insulting caricatures against the Prophet Mohammed published in their local papers.
Nasrallah compared the nordic governments' stand to that of Muslim leaders refusing to apologize in case some Muslim blows himself up in a crowd in Denmark. "After all he is free to blow himself up," Nasrallah added.

Lebanese Teenager Killing Threatens Southern Border

The killing of Ibrahim Rahayel, a teenage Lebanese shepard, threatens to escalate tensions along the Lebanese border with Israel. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, had vowed retaliation before Rahil's body was found.
U.N. peacekeepers retrieved the body of Rahayel earlier this morning, a day after he went missing near the Shebaa Farms region during Israeli shooting, security sources said.
This incident came soon after the UN Security Council urged the Lebanese government to do more to assert its authority in the south, to exert control and monopoly over the use of force and to maintain law and order on its entire territory.
Israeli murder of Lebanese civilians along the border and daily infringements on Lebanese sovereignty, including almost daily flights by Israeli warplanes, reinforces Hezbollah's rationale against giving up its weapons of resistance.

The Syrian Ghost Haunts Jumblat

According to a source close to Syria's allies in Lebanon, Walid Jumblat recently called a high ranking General he knew in Syria asking for a new begining with the regime.

The security contact said that he would have to ask Bashar Assad, which he did.
He then called back the Druze leader, who is still hiding in his ancestral home of Mukhtara, telling him that Assad does not think that someone like Jumblat is worth it.
The Syrian general informed Jumblat that he should not worry about his security and that Syria will not harm him.
He then congratulated him on the new egg that the stork he keeps in Mukhtara had. Jumblat was at a loss. How could this Syrian know about the stork on the same day of it laying the egg?

On another day, according to the same pro-Syrian source, Jumblat sent his motorcade in advance to an appointment as a security precaution and he took a simple taxi to the place. On his way his phone rang and a voice with a Syrian accent said: "riding in a taxi doesn't suit you Walid Bey".

The Syrian Regime Brings The Al Qaeda Franchise to Lebanon

The Syrian regime and its Lebanese and Palestinian allies are using the Al Qaeda brand name as a scare tactic. Their basic message to the Lebanese government is the more you put pressure on us, the more of an “Iraq” Lebanon will become.
Hezbollah sources have been warning about an Al Qaeda presence in Lebanon for most of last year. Then came the Al Qaeda-claimed missile attack on Nothern Israel from South Lebanon. Hezbollah, which is in total control of South Lebanon, said that it knew nothing about the operation.
Furthermore, the remaining attacks that Al Qaeda claimed in Lebanon were all directed at the Lebanese army, coinciding with an overhaul of its command when pro-Syrian generals were retired and reassigned to less important posts.
The latest blast came after MP Saad El Hariri’s Washington visit when he asked from the US to re-equip the Lebanese army.
The local franchise for Al Qaeda serves the Syrian regime's interests, however, it will backfire when US policymakers get a hold of the link between Syria, its local allies and Al Qaeda.

Small Blast targets Ramlet Al Baida Army Barracks

A bomb exploded near the Lebanese army barracks in Ramlet El Baida in Beirut earlier today, slightly wounding one soldier.

About three hours earlier, someone speaking on behalf of Al Qaeda had called a local newspaper, declaring that a security target will be bombed in Beirut in retaliation for the arrest last month of 13 group members, according to news reports.

The blast, caused by an explosive charge near or under a car, occurred at around 2 a.m. outside the Fakhreddine Barracks in Ramlet al-Baida district of the capital, shattering windows in nearby buildings.

Last month Al Qaeda also claimed responsibility for a grenade attack on an army outpost around the Ain Al Helwe camp in Saida.

In late December, various internet sites claimed that Abu Mussaab al Zarqawi was responsible for a Katyusha rocket attack against northern Israel from south Lebanon. But Lebanese security sources believe pro-Syrian Palestinian guerrillas were behind that attack.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Solidere: A Giant Wakes Up

Rooted in Beirut, Solidere will soon grow into a regional real estate company, competing with large Arab developers such as Emaar.
Beirut Notes has learned that Solidere's management will call in the near future for an extraordinary shareholders assembly to amend the appropriate article of incorporation in order to permit the company to expand both on the local and regional levels.

The late Rafic Hariri founded Solidere to reconstruct the central district of Beirut in 1994. Although very controversial, Solidere transformed the heart of the war torn city into a modern, historic and majestic urban centre.

A few months before his death, Prime Minister Hariri's efforts to rebuild Lebanon were recognized by the world community when the United Nations awarded him the prestigious Special Citation for the 2004 Habitat Scroll of Honour in Barcelona.
Due to his roaring success in Lebanon PM Hariri was also awarded two major developments in Jordan - Saraya Aqaba on a 1.5 km beachfront and Abdali on a 34 hectare site west of Amman - through his company, Saudi Oger.

Furthermore, over the years many regional real estate developers dwarfed Solidere, which was the Arab world's private sector pioneer in urban development. The most prominent one being Emaar, which started in Dubai but today has major projects in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey.

Solidere is finally going to leverage its achievements in Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world, giving it a new strategic direction and an opportunity for major growth.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The "irrational exuberance" of the Beirut Stock Exchange

The Beirut Stock Exchange is exploding. The price earning ratios of some stocks cannot be explained. A ceramics company has a P/E of 234, the average P/E of banks is above 20 and Solidere, the largest company on the BSE, has a P/E of 76, (a bit much for a real estate equity).

Given the bad state of the Lebanese economy (its Gross Stock of Debt reached 178 percent of GDP in 2004, according to the IMF), the BSE seems to be on another planet. Of course there is excess Arab capital flowing in and of course there is so much positive feeling for a better Lebanon after the Syrian military withdrawal.
And there are international funds that are buying mostly Solidere and bank shares.

But after looking at the facts, whether political or economic, and analyzing them, any rational investor would rather invest in Zimbabwe than in the country of Najah Wakim and Zaher El Khatib. But then again when it comes to stockmarket "exuberance" everything is possible.
The financial community is talking about Solidere reaching $40 a share or ten times its price a little more than a year ago.

With a total daily volume of trades barely exceeding $50 million, the BSE can be easily manipulated by a few big investors. But as long as someone in Lebanon is making money I am happy, even if it is not me. "Sahtein" (or to your good health).

Between Lebanon's Heaven and Hell

This picture was taken with my phone while I was trekking yesterday morning.
It was paradise for a while. I was all alone on the mountain. I saw no one I know for hours.
Traces of small animals on the crisp snow, fresh air, the sound of the wind and of my steps, sublime scenery and no nagging girlfriend - I love that Lebanon.

I felt rejuvenated for a few hours and then it was back to the Lebanese version of hell.

Total chaos waited for anyone brave enough to drive his car out of the Warde ski slope parking.
I decided to walk down to the Mzaar hotel at around 2:30 to relax and have something to eat while the traffic jam cleared.

On my way down I heard drivers say that they have been stuck in their cars for more than one and a half hour. One driver was beeping the horn of his station wagon on the beat of the voices of his large family singing in Arabic: "get us out of here! get us out of here!"

It turned out that groups of teenagers started punching one another after their cars were stuck on the icy road leading to the slopes.
They got out of their cars, some wearing t-shirts, and hurled insults to one another's mothers, sisters and manlyhoods. One of them, lanky and frail- looking, jumped in the air, shouting, cussing and brandishing his fist, reminding me of a younger Walid Jumblat.

The police came and ... things got worse. A policeman told a driver - busy getting his kids, their boots and their skis out of the boot of his jeep - to move his car, to no avail. He ordered him to move it. No reaction. He shouted at him to move it. Nothing. He then ... begged him to move it. And the driver answered back: "Are you serious? Do you really think that I am causing the traffic jam?"
The frustrated policeman gave up and stood on the side of the road without interfering for the rest of the afternoon.
I saw him a few hours later in the same place when I walked back up to get my car.

During this time I sat with some friends on the terrace of the Mzaar and it felt like I would have been more relaxed stuck in traffic. Instead I was in the middle of an exhibitionist and voyeur convention. And I couldn't but join the game. The buxom blond with huge lips and bulging breasts. The anti-Syrian politician walking like a star amidst his flock where just one year ago walked the President of the Republic. The bankrupt banker and his corrupt son. The accidental [pirated home movie] star with the jeweler, his wife and her two luscious girlfriends.

After an hour I understood Jean Paul Sartre when he said that hell is the others and I felt like a pervert and I left for the bar.
I had tea and some wine and played a few games of backgammon for another 2 hours until we were told that the traffic was over.
I got my car and I promised myself, like I do every week, that I will stop going to Faraya on Sundays.