“Lebanese diva arouses emotion, controversy in Syria,” by Oweis

Lebanese diva arouses emotion, controversy in Syria
Mon 28 Jan 2008
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis: Reuters

DAMASCUS, – Legendary Lebanese singer Fairouz performed to a sell-out crowd in the Syrian capital on Monday, defying politicians who criticised her for going to what they consider enemy territory.

The Arab diva, who burst onto the music scene on Damascus Radio in 1952, returned to the Syrian stage after an absence of two decades, and moved many of her fans in the Opera House audience to tears.

She played the lead role in "Sah al-Nom", a musical satire about a careless ruler who is challenged by a poor woman, and received a standing ovation. The show was performed as part of cultural celebrations in the ancient city of Damascus, chosen as the 2008 Arab Capital of Culture.

"Fairouz transcends politics. In Damascus she has been always treated as an empress," Syrian sculptor Mostapha Ali told Reuters.

Fairouz, who is in her 70s and is a cultural icon of the Arab world, aroused controversy by accepting the invitation from the Baathist government in Damascus at a time of increased tension between Syria and its neighbour Lebanon.

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt accused Fairouz of playing into the hands of Syrian intelligence services he blamed for a series of political assassinations in Lebanon.

Another Lebanese member of parliament said Fairouz should not perform for "Lebanon's jailers", a reference to Syrian dominance and military presence in Lebanon for most of the period from 1976 until Syrian troops withdrew in 2005.

A group of Syrian political activists also called on Fairouz to boycott Damascus, pointing to a renewed crackdown on dissidents. Just one hour before the play began, intelligence officers arrested leading opposition figure Riad Seif.

Ten other dissidents were charged earlier in the day with undermining the state, and could face long prison sentences.

Syrian political commentator Ayman Abdelnour said Fairouz performed for the Syrian people, not its rulers.

"The Syrians consider Fairouz one of their own. Before they studied geography and went to school they learned about Syria's rivers and mountains from listening to her songs," Abdelnour said.

Fairouz has not responded to the criticism. She last performed in Syria in the 1980s, during the iron rule of President Hafez al-Assad, father of current President Bashar al-Assad, when Syrian troops were still in Lebanon.

The gaunt, enigmatic Fairouz with her trademark long red hair is considered a national treasure in Lebanon. When she returned to Lebanon's Baalbak cultural festival in 1998 for the first time since the 1975-1990 civil war, Beirut's Daily Star newspaper described her return as "catharsis on a national scale".

"The high point of my life was when broke through a crowd in London and kissed Fairouz's hands," said leading Syrian painter Fadi al-Yazigi, who has sought to organise joint exhibitions with Lebanese artists to counter political tension between the two countries.

The late Egyptian composer Mohammad Abdelwahab called Fairouz "our ambassador to the stars". She is Lebanon's biggest artistic export and her recent collaboration with her son Ziad has appealed to a more international audience.

The musical she performed on Monday was composed by her late husband Assi al-Rahbani and re-arranged by Ziad, whose musical creations have ranged from political musicals to jazz.

Comments (86)

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51. offended said:

No HP, I am afraid you didn’t get it : )

I am not insulting AIG; I actually love him.

However, he was trying to pose like the tough guy who is in charge of protecting the sissies (like Shai), so I just helped him speak his mind more clearly.

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January 31st, 2008, 2:14 pm


52. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I encourage you to exercise your right to freedom of speech as much as you want. Unlike you, I am not offended.

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January 31st, 2008, 2:19 pm


53. Honest Patriot said:

AIG, in the link you offered, I read “this [Uganda] program would not affect the ultimate aim of Zionism, a Jewish entity in the Land of Israel.” That consideration was for a temporary “escale.”

I believe you’re sincere but without facing head-on the religious fanaticism element on the part of Israel (and you know I make the same accusation to the other party) and affirm willingness to deal with it, then such fanaticism will be just as scary to Arabs who will fear what it will do after a peace is established, as much as you fear what will happen if peace is, in your words, “forced” upon rejectionsists in the Arab camp.

I am NOT persuaded. I still see what I advocate: progress based on the moderates of each side and based on the Arab League initiative as, currently, the only viable hope for peace in the short term, AND survival of Israel in the long time.

I know you don’t agree, and I understand your reasoning, so no need to repeat it. We just have to agree to disagree on the solution:
me: Now, based on Arab League initiative, land-for-peace, generous compensation, return to new Palestine and not to Israel, pragmatic adjustments of borders, time is NOT on Israel’s side
you: Wait for democracy in (part of) the Arab world, wait till “they’re ready,” wait decades, maybe 50 years, keep advancing technological capability of Israel, time is on Israel’s side

So let’s set the above aside. Enough rehashed. Now address this:

Why not Olmert offering to visit Syria and speak in the parliament with a (truly) bold offer of peace ? Time to match Sadat’s courage and vision.
[I’ve read the intermediate CBMs (I got the acronym right this time) advocated by Alex and SHAI, but I don’t see them working: this crisis needs a shock treatment]

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January 31st, 2008, 2:23 pm


54. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

First, you summarize well my position. One small remark. I like the Palestinain part of your plan and am not against it, I just do not think it is realistic know. I have no objection for it being explored. I am not against the Annapolis process which is an important part of what you are suggesting.

The reason Olmert cannot do what you suggest is that he has no public backing for it. His government will fall in an instant. Unlike Sadat, Olmert is constrained by the democratic system and cannot make such a move without a public discussion and at the very least a vote of support in the Knesset.

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January 31st, 2008, 2:37 pm


55. Shai said:


These AIG’s couldn’t offend me if they tried (and, in fact, they try). The more they disrespect me online, the more everyone sees what they’re all about – hot air, which very often stinks. They look at the mirror each day saying “I love YOU… and… yet I don’t…” And instead of figuring out why they hate us “sissy-liberal useless idiots” (courtesy of AIG), they go online to waste their time and ours telling the world why it’s CAN’T move forward, until it starts subscribing to THEIR crap. Thin-skinned? The best you’ve done for your country is allow the Mohel to do his job. You couldn’t help a old lady cross the street if you tried, certainly not “your” country. Incidentally, how’s the weather in New Jersey?

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January 31st, 2008, 3:33 pm


56. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

First, you are only a “useful idiot”. The rest of your quote is from somewhere else. I also fully explained why you are a useful idiot.

I engage your arguments and show why they do not make sense as well as being contradictory and only help the rejectionist line in the Arab world. You on the other hand have stopped using reason and began to be ultra defensive. That is usually the case when you lose an argument.

And for your information I live in Ramat-Hasharon and am quite sure I spent many more years in the IDF than you. So if you want to insult me, which is your right that I fully support, please use more inventive insults.

As for the weather in NJ:

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January 31st, 2008, 4:26 pm


57. Akbar Palace said:


Please “move forward” and leave the Golan and the West Bank (you’ve already left Gaza).

Then after you do that, Dr. Bashar, Mr. Mashaal, and Mr. Haniya will be happy to chat with you about peace. Both Shai and myself can assure you. No need to be concerned.

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January 31st, 2008, 4:50 pm


58. norman said:

Hanna Montana was in town, we had to pay hundreds of Dollars for 75 $ tickets, I guess Fairose is as popular, that is called supply and demand , Syria is going into free market economy.

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January 31st, 2008, 4:53 pm


59. Qifa Nabki said:

AIG said:

And for your information I live in Ramat-Hasharon and am quite sure I spent many more years in the IDF than you.

Oh boy, here comes the pissing contest.

Is IDF service still a measure of Israeli-ness? Is it like World of Warcraft: the more time spent in a uniform translates to more Israel Points accumulated, which can be used to purchase more trappings of Israeliness?

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January 31st, 2008, 5:52 pm


60. Alex said:


Why do you think Shual and others here insist that you live in New Jersey?

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January 31st, 2008, 6:13 pm


61. norman said:

Because he does.

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January 31st, 2008, 6:51 pm


62. Shai said:


Since I promised I wouldn’t address this AIG directly, I won’t. But here’s a suggestion – how about putting AIG’s ideas (Democratic Middle East First) as a topic by itself – a forum on its own. My guess, this IDF-general with so many years “under his belt”, will have a few less visits than your interesting forums. What do you think, shall we give it a try? 🙂

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January 31st, 2008, 6:53 pm


64. Shai said:


I believe Alon is abroad for a few days. If he doesn’t respond right away, he’ll probably do so this weekend. Sami D, and yourself, gave some nice responses, and things for us to think about. Why is it that out of the 270-plus comments, less than 10% are about the topic, and the rest are peace-bashing, etc.? Is it that unrealistic, or are you and Joshua just a little “too nice”? 🙂

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January 31st, 2008, 7:05 pm


65. offended said:

As expected, the ‘Weenie’grad report didn’t tackle the issues of war crimes committed by the IDF (which happens to be the previous employer of the currently New Jersey-based AIG), during the summer war of 2006.

Those Amnesty International sissies they don’t get it, it wasn’t a matter of hiding or circumventing facts. It was more like a practical environmentally-sensitive act; why waste ink and papers on matters like ‘indiscriminate killing of civilians’?

You see…they just don’t get it…

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January 31st, 2008, 7:06 pm


66. offended said:

Shai, I have to disagree with you here.
Amongst the 270 comments there were fours types: 1-The few pertinent ones, 2-There were the peace-bashing ones, 3- The irrelevant, 4-And the cynical.

Now cynicism, in my humble opinion, is something that should be addressed in detail and in depth.

And hey, both Joshua and Alex are nice; in fact they are super-nice. : )

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January 31st, 2008, 7:19 pm


67. Shai said:


What did you expect? Vinograd was a government-appointed (Olmert-appointed) committee. For a while there, the entire nation thought they were really going to “give it to ’em”, and in fact the media pretty much celebrated in tearing apart the previous chief-of-staff (Dan Halutz) and Defense Minister (Amir Peretz). This pressure lead to their resignation. But… there was one guy who survived it all – good ‘ole Olmert. And now, that the public sees what a farce this report is, when it comes to passing judgement not only on those who executed their orders, but indeed on those who issued them, there is a good likelihood that they won’t accept it, and demand Olmert’s resignation. If he steps down, there may not necessarily be a need for new elections, as there is a chance (although small) that our young and inexperienced foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, will take over! For peace with Syria options, that’s probably the best (out of Olmert, Barak, and her). For further “analysis”, or my personal opinion, see also my comment to Norman in the Liel Forum, from today.

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January 31st, 2008, 7:22 pm


68. Shai said:


Yeah, you’re right… after all, they’re letting this particular “sissy, useless-idiot, liberal” Israeli continue his nonsense… (I’m referring to myself of course) 🙂

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January 31st, 2008, 7:24 pm


69. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Shual insists on something wrong because he is not very knowledgeable about computers and networking and how to use proxies.

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January 31st, 2008, 8:26 pm


70. Seeking the Truth said:


Isn’t it possible to hide and change an ip address for anonymous web surfing? I’m not suggesting that you’re doing it, I merely want to make sure of a technology fact.

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January 31st, 2008, 9:18 pm


71. t_desco said:

T, Offended,

I am sure that the article will soon be translated into English and other languages for the international editions of Le Monde diplomatique.

I did like the fact that the article mentions the Hassan Nabaa – Ahmed Abu Adass link (perhaps a first for Western media?), but the major scoop has to be the claim that Fidaa Itani talked to a man in Nahr al-Bared who called himself Chahine and that Lebanese security services later identified that man as none other than Saad bin Laden:

“En juin, un mois après le début des combats, les services de sécurité libanais découvrent que M. Chahine n’est autre que le fils, dénomme Saad, du fondateur d’AI-Qaida, M. Ben Laden”.

You have probably heard the rumors, even Nicholas Blanford wrote about them, but they become a lot more credible when you have a journalist who actually talked to the man. If there are voice recordings, one could even do voice analysis.

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January 31st, 2008, 9:42 pm


72. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Yes it is possible. I am getting the same effect just because of how my company’s network is setup.

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January 31st, 2008, 9:46 pm


73. Qifa Nabki said:

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Yes it is possible. I am getting the same effect just because of how my company’s network is setup.

Aha! Conclusive proof that Israel’s tentacles are wrapped tightly around the American economy! Today New Jersey, tomorrow the world!

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January 31st, 2008, 11:01 pm


74. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

My goose is cooked!

PS I am also the editor of the Protocols of Zion and responsible for keeping it up to date. I will invite you to the next meeting of the Elders.

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January 31st, 2008, 11:08 pm


75. Youssef Hanna said:

Honest Patript,

Many and warm thanks.

To clarify the isolated point that maybe as a believer hurt you and for which then i am very sorry, i suspect that contrary to ordinary cult edifices hidden in valleys, and small town streets, for which modest beauty and religious purpose i hold respect, the gigantic Harissa on the mountaintop, or Christ King of Nahr el Kalb, and similar pharaonic moslem cult edifices, such the Al Amine new Mosque in downtown Beirut, look like they mainly aim, instead, at self affirmation vis-à-vis other communities.

I hope this clarifies the matter.


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February 1st, 2008, 6:14 am


76. why-discuss said:

Youssef Hanna

I disagree with you about Harissa. It is not a sign of christian domination at all. The Virgin is worshipped by both Moslem and Christians. The iranians who visit it is not because of history or the architectural majesty but because they worship the Virgin Mary.
Secondly the iranians who vist Damascus visit mostly religious sites, like Seyyeda Zeinab and Rokaya and also Caen and Abel sites.
They dont look for Casinos, alcools or prostitutes. I guess they are quiet and well behaving tourists.
I dont know where you are but my experience with lebanese christains have always showed me that disdain towards Syrians even in the early 50′. It is is visceral, like the greeks toward the turks.
I also wish that one day Lebanon and Syria will forget they small differences , respect each other and be united to benefit from each other richness.

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February 1st, 2008, 10:36 am


77. Youssef Hanna said:


May the Virgin Mary, who as you say is revered by Christians, Sunnis, and Shias alike, protect us against our internecine violence.

Regardless of what some morally retarded people may think about their illusory intrinsic superiority, we all know that any disparity in development between Lebanon and Syria is essentially due to the christian-driven connection with the West (American University and St Joseph University in the 19th century, emigration to the Americas), and to the different political system consequently adopted.

The gap can be easily reduced/closed; yes, once Syria adopts democracy, as a system for building internal compromises, rather than exporting its internal unresolved violence to neighboring countries (through exportation of jihaadis, and of direct State violence), unity between both countries, in the frame of an Arab Union, though, where cultural differences are protected, will become a reachable goal.

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February 1st, 2008, 11:01 am


78. why-discuss said:

Youssef Hanna

Interesting point about the disparity. The presence and attraction to the western education system reflects the doubts that many christians ( and moslems and syrian bourgeoisie) still have about the arabic/moslem education system which remains fragmented and unmanaged ( is there an arab league commision on education??).
No wonder the lebanese and syrian bourgeoisie send their children to christian-western schools and university in Lebanon to insure their integration in the high ranking western university.
The penetration of the western education system was much less in Syria but in Iraq american Jesuit Schools like Baghdad college brought the western influence ( but not the religious) to many of the educated iraqis.
Why was Syrians more opposed to the western education? I would like to know

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February 2nd, 2008, 8:15 am


79. Youssef Hanna said:


Maybe the Great Omayyad capital lacked the humility, and courage, to face the reality of Arab decadence, and try to catch up with modernity through seeking Western education, like the West did, in contrast, by seeking the Ibn Rushd knowledge when intellectual power was on this side of the Mediterranean.

The reluctancy turned even to some kind of hostility when the West through Israel inflicted on the Arabs repeated military humiliations.

Christians in Lebanon, meanwhile, welcomed with relief the cultural and political interventionnism of the West, so that the Americans set up the AUB and the French the St-Joseph University, some 120 years ago, and imposed on the Turks a political autonomy for Lebanon (Moutassarrifiah). Simultaneously Lebanese Xtians went by the tens of the thousands to the Americas (starting 1870); a lot of them returned, and a lot sent money to help parents who remained get out of poverty and illiteracy.

It is this western minded elite that took power in independent Lebanon: Raymond Eddé, Pierre Gemayel, Camille Chamoun, etc…

My grand grand mother, and grand grand father, went to Ohio, in the 1870. He fell in love with an Irish woman and disappeared from the family record. He was lost to the West. She courageously sold vegetables, that she transported in a large basket on her head. She sent money to her son, who graduated as a physician at the Faculté Française de Médecine in 1911. This is how this family, to give but one example, grew away from poverty. Later on the doctor lived a number of years in the States, and as many in Cuba. Then my dad emigrated to Africa. I live abroad.

Ever since more than 135 years, this family moved between Lebanon, America, Africa, France, etc…

Will i accept America is evil, Ashaïtan el Qabiir? hell not. Does Hezbollah realize they insult hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who owe America and France their cultural and economic freedom, and have their families split between the States and Lebanon? hell yes. With all due respect for Hezbollah, i shall fight for Lebanon to keep strong ties with the West, without which this singular experience of cultural dialogue named Lebanon would not exist.

Long live Lebanon, high stay the mountains ever blue the sea, welcome to the West throwing its great waves on our shores, welcome to the East shining its yellow rays on our mountains.

14 March i am, 14 March i shall ever be.

Hand in hand with 8 March we shall continue the march.

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February 2nd, 2008, 3:12 pm


80. why-discuss said:

Youssef Hanna
I am not sure when Hezb decries America, they mean the people. They mean the foreign policy of the US and you know that. The same as lebanese, iranians have strong fanily ties with the US, yet they disagree with the administration policy. Average iranian in Iran love americans, I know it by experience.
The US is a great country as France is but these last decades, they both do not live to the expectations they build in lebanese or iranians minds since the fall of the ottoman empire. In the contrary they have brought violence, double standard, arrogance, greed and selfish interests they call ‘national interests’
Many US citizens feel the same as Hezb and their allies about Bush.
Let us hope 2009 will bring a readjustement of relations for Lebanon, Syria and the US

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February 3rd, 2008, 7:38 am


81. Youssef Hanna said:


Where there’s democracy and people elect the government, it is hard to claim being against the State government but simultaneously with the people that appointed it. Merkbar America, used to shout the Iranian crowd (before the youthful at universities and elsewhere turned in favor of America and against old bearded mullahs). Same is the (hidden) motto of Hezbollah.

While i sympathize with Hezbollah’s fear that the globalized culture will swipe out peoples’ traditions, i disagree with the strategy of violence as the means to stop the U.S from culturally invading Lebanon and the world, and continue to think, instead, that the Arabs shd engage the peaceful and efficient fight to culturally survive then thrive: not only do they have the glorious history, the present pride and will, not only do they occupy a stretch of land extending from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, but they furthermore have the money to carve a place on the media map, which they did with great success in the past decade, in finance as well, in the politics of the world, to grab modernity where it is (be it in the West) and build a future into which all other cultures, French, Chinese, Russian, etc… want to have their share notwithstanding American cultural and scientific hegemony.

Let us hope indeed 2009 will bring a defusion of tensions.

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February 3rd, 2008, 4:54 pm


82. Alex said:

How sad … these people need serious therapy.

From Beirut to the beltway’s reaction to Fairuz singing in Damascus … half an hour from their border.


Goodbye Fairuz
She gave them a pleasure they did not deserve. So much for her claim that she “sings for the people”. The play she performed in Damascus, the “Arab cultural capital” for 2008, is ironically about a despot who wakes up from his slumber every full moon to steal his people and then goes back to sleep. Fairuz, who can barely sing at 73 years of age, and who refused to sing in Lebanon during the civil war, stood on the Syrian stage today and gave the 24-hour despots what was bestowed on her by her own people– the ones her new audience is burning alive.

Fairuz the singer died when her voice tragically aged. But her art was kept alive by the people who worshipped her as a symbol of their existence, and as a nostalgic reminder of home. Today, she betrayed them, and their memories. Syrian media hailed her “return to her people”. Let them have her. Many of us will pretend that she died in the war, like many other people and things of value.

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February 5th, 2008, 4:37 am


83. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

No. These people are very sane. The regulars on beirutbeltway are at least not in denial. You should read that blog more and maybe you will understand the point of view of Abu Kais, a Shia by the way, that understands how Hizbollah and Syria are wrecking Lebanon.

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February 5th, 2008, 4:57 am


84. Alex said:


I don’t think that you – an enemy of Syria who is proud of how good his IDF are at killing Arabs when they win – can tell me how I should feel about that man’s reaction to Feiruz singing in Damascus.

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February 5th, 2008, 5:47 am


85. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

First of all I can tell you, because I can read both sides of the story and make up my mind. His view is more principled and his arguments make sense. And it is a fact that Hizbollah and Syria are strangling Lebanon.

Second, I am proud Israel wins but would be quite happy if Israel could do it without hurting any Arabs.

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February 5th, 2008, 1:49 pm


86. SyriaComment - Syrian politics, history, and religion » Archives » “Al-Qaida in Lebanon,” by Fidaa Itani said:

[…] French version here (with four footnotes that are missing in this version). […]

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February 5th, 2008, 4:37 pm


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