Elissa Banned from Syria. Shwarma Fires Up France

Elissa – No comment regarding her ban from traveling to Syria
Al-Bawaba, 07-08-2007

Lebanese singer Elissa has been banned from entering Syria, according to the London daily Elaph, just shortly after Lebanese singer Haifa Wahbi was also banned from entering the country. elissa

Elissa declined to comment on the decision.  Her manger Ameen Abi Yaghi said he did not receive any documentation notifying him of such a decision.

Haifa claims that she has not been banned from traveling to Syria, and is preparing to hold a live concert there in the near future.
Head of the Union of Syrian Musicians, Sabah Obeid, denies any political motivation behind Syria’s move to ban a number of Arab singers like Haifa Wahbi, Elissa and Ruby. Obeid said the decision had been made after the Union determined that all three singers use their bodies, performing almost naked to market their music.  “They are not real singers,” according to Obeid.
Others view the Union’s decision as wholly political.  Haifa recently released a song for Lebanese army Chief Samir Ja’ja’, while Elissa was seen participating in a march advocating the removal of the Syrian army from Lebanon.  Elissa is one of many singers that have refused to perform for Syrian President Bashar Al Asad.   

Haifa Wehbe



Also see:

Kuwait: Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram banned

Officials at Ministry of Information in Kuwait say that its Censorship Department has refused a request for a concert during the Muslim holiday Eid Al Fitr for Lebanese Nancy Ajram and Kuwaiti singer Nabil Shu’ail.

A committee member stated that Nancy Ajram – known as "The Maria Carey of the Middle East" – should not be allowed to sing at public celebrations in Kuwait and supported the ministry’s decision to ban her.

Egyptian singer Ruby is also banned from performing in Kuwait.

"A destructive and serious threat"
According to Al-Arabiya, an official Israeli report issued by the General Agency for Israeli Cinema and Arts on September 2, 2005, has denounced Nancy Ajram and other Lebanese popstars as posing a destructive and serious threat to the Israeli state because of their “political activities which have great influence in the Arab world due to their great popularity.”

In Morocco, the mayor of Marrakech announced in May 2005 that Nancy Ajram will not be permitted to hold any future concerts in the city in order to avoid reoccurrence of the kind of incidents which supposedly took place during her performance in April 2005: “sexual harassment, theft, excessive alcohol consumption resulting in violence, people fainting.”

Her success continues unabated.Ruby




RUBY: See the whole article at BBC


Ruby is one of the most-talked about performers. She is Egyptian, rather than from more liberal Lebanon like many current stars. Her raunchy moves, bare midriff and revealing clothing have had conservative MPs clamouring for a ban.



Kebab shop worker's rap is the hottest single in France
By Claire Soares
Published: 09 August 2007 THE INDEPENDENT

From mutton grease to musical greatness, it has been an unconventional road for rapper Lil'Maaz and his hit anthem "Mange du Kebab" (Eat Kebab).

The 27-year-old Turkish immigrant, whose real name is Yilmaz Karaman, moved to Paris four years ago and took a job in a kebab house where he would sing as he served. "It all started with my interactions with customers, asking them whether they wanted tomatoes, mayonnaise," he explained. "The questions took on their own rhythm and very quickly it became a rap."

It turned out some of his kebab-hungry clientele worked in a recording studio and they decided to help him reach a wider audience.

A clip on the internet site Dailymotion clocked up half a million hits in a month, and caught the eye of big-time record executives. Now Lil'Maaz finds himself in the same stable as the Beatles after EMI released 25,000 copies of the single in France earlier this week.

"I'm in shock. My head's spinning and I keep asking myself if this is all a  dream," he said yesterday. "It's just totally exploded."

The video for the hit song was shot in "Chez Diyar", the purple and yellow kebab house where he works in the 18th arrondissement, which Lil'Maaz describes in the song as "the kingdom of grease." He raps to his regulars, as hunks of lamb burn on a spit behind him.

"Behind the counter, I prepare the bread, caressing it between my hands. I am the rapper of the doner kebab. Mayo, ketchup, sauce and lamb. Cooking mutton is a real art, and there's no pork for us. Here, you'll find smells of the Orient that will stay on your clothes," goes one verse.

So what does Lil'Maaz think is the appeal of his off-beat song? "The kebab is universal," he says solemnly, before breaking into giggles. "No really, we live in such a complicated world, and people need to have a laugh. I would laugh and crack jokes when I served people and this song is just an extension of that."

His family, including eight brothers and two sisters, are in south-eastern Turkey, but often call him to tease him and place joke takeaway orders. But given that he arrived in Paris with no French, they are very proud of his hit francophone song.

And his boss is happy, too. Fans are travelling from all over the city to visit the new rap star at his workplace.

All artists that strike gold with their first release worry about being a one-hit wonder, but Lil'Maaz says "Mange du Kebab" is not the last we will hear of him. "There will be a follow-up but I prefer to keep it secret. All I can say is that I don't think one should overdo the same theme, so don't worry, it won't be 'Mange du Hamburger.'"

Addendum: (August 9, 2007)

Hi Joshua,
I've been a long time reader of your blog – its my no 1 source on Syrian affairs.  I just thought I should mention the irony that Elissa's mother is actually Syrian – she is from Kafra, part of the Wadi Nasara.  I know this because her aunty lives here in Sydney.

Comments (16)

MSK said:

Dear Josh,

You’re HIP! Who knew???



August 9th, 2007, 10:41 am


JimR said:

When did Samir Ja’ja’ become Lebanese Army chief of staff? Yikes! Haifa Wehbe is more powerful than anyone realized.

August 9th, 2007, 10:48 am


t_desco said:

Will this become one of the “most popular posts” on Syria Comment, I wonder…? 🙂

In other news, General Aoun confirms that Bush’s Executive Order on Lebanon has worried some of his donors:

Michel Aoun : “Les Etats-Unis travaillent à la déstabilisation du Liban”
LE TEMPS.CH | 09.08.07

Le Temps : Depuis que vous avez vaincu l’ancien président Amine Gemayel dans une élection dimanche, vos adversaires maronites disent que vous avez perdu : vous ne contrôlez plus, comme en 2005, cette communauté catholique…

Michel Aoun : Ils m’amusent! Ceux d’entre eux qui sont au parlement ont été élus avec une majorité sunnite dans laquelle le vote chrétien est dilué. Nos candidats sont en général élus par un vote moitié chrétien, moitié non chrétien. Mais c’est une vieille manière de penser. Je suis prêt à sacrifier 20% de ma popularité si c’est le prix à payer pour éviter une confrontation dans le pays. Or c’est précisément ce que nous avons cherché en signant l’an passé une entente avec le Hezbollah.

– Vous voulez la fin du système d’équilibre confessionnel dans les institutions ?

– C’est un système condamné, en voie de disparition. Nous voulons établir, pas à pas, la laïcité de l’Etat. Il faut que les Libanais s’habituent à l’exercice du pouvoir sur la base de choix politiques et non d’arrangements confessionnels.

– Votre entente avec le Hezbollah, n’est-ce pas une manière d’arrangement ?

– C’est un programme politique! Sur la réforme de l’Etat, son indépendance, les relations avec la Syrie, avec les Palestiniens. Le Hezbollah est acquis à l’idée d’un code civil libanais. Et son chef, Hassan Nasrallah, a déclaré il y a dix jours qu’il était prêt à discuter du désarmement de son mouvement, et d’un armistice entre Israël et le Liban, indépendamment de la situation dans le reste du Proche-Orient. Je défie nos adversaires, que l’Occident soutient, d’avoir un tel courage.

– Mais le Hezbollah est-il lui-même indépendant : le principe du “Velayat al-faqih” ne le lie-t-il pas directement au guide de la révolution iranienne ?

– Si vous pensez que l’homme est une pierre, et ne change jamais, alors vous avez raison. Quand le Hezbollah faisait référence au “Velayat al-faqih”, Samir Geagea, le chef des Forces libanaises, parlait de cantons chrétiens, et Walid Joumblatt de frontières druzes. Les temps ont changé. Le Hezbollah, aujourd’hui, revendique sa part de pouvoir, rien de plus.

– La Syrie n’est-elle pas plus pesante que l’Iran sur le Liban? Et n’avez-vous pas rencontré récemment en Allemagne un émissaire syrien, comme le disent les Saoudiens ?

– C’est une diffamation colportée par des moulins à mensonges. J’ai confondu Amine Gemayel qui reprenait cette calomnie. La Syrie joue contre moi. Des mouvements pro-syriens ont appelé dimanche à voter pour notre candidat, et ça lui a coûté des voix, par répulsion.

– Tenez-vous les Occidentaux, les Etats-Unis, pour vos adversaires ?

– Les Américains refusent notre tentative de sortir le Hezbollah de son isolement. Et ils soutiennent sans faille le gouvernement de Fouad Siniora contre ce projet. George Bush a annoncé il y a une semaine le gel des avoirs de ceux qui agissent contre le “gouvernement légitime” du Liban, dont nous contestons la légitimité depuis un an. Trois jours avant l’élection de dimanche, cette menace a effrayé ceux qui nous soutiennent de leurs dons.

– Vous appelez à un gouvernement d’union nationale. Croyez-vous l’unité du Liban menacée ?

– L’entente et l’union que nous proposons sont la seule voie de salut. Or l’Occident n’en veut pas. Je soupçonne les Etats-Unis de travailler à la déstabilisation du Liban, après celle de l’Afghanistan, de l’Irak, de la Somalie, etc. Je crois en fait que les Américains souhaitent un nouvel affrontement dans ce pays. Pour organiser, à la faveur de ce désordre, l’implantation au Liban des Palestiniens qui y résident, parce qu’on ne leur donnera pas d’autre pays.
Le Monde

August 9th, 2007, 10:56 am


Kamal said:

“Lebanese Army Chief Samir Ja’ja'” ????

August 9th, 2007, 11:39 am


Antoun said:

I’m sure the Syrian people won’t be missing much. In fact, the ban may do them a favour.

August 9th, 2007, 12:58 pm


Kamal said:

Syrian Oppositionists Criticize Oppression of Young People in Syria
By: O. Winter

Syrian oppositionists have recently been criticizing the oppression of young people – especially students – in Syria, following the imprisonment of seven activists aged 22-32 who were involved in establishing an online youth discussion group and who posted pro-democracy articles online.

The seven, most of them students, were convicted by the Supreme State Security Court, on June 17, 2007, of “taking action or making a written statement or speech which could endanger the State or harm its relationship with a foreign country, or expose [the State] to the risk of hostile action against the State or its property,” under Article 278 of the Syrian Penal Code.

After over a year in detention without trial – a procedure permitted under Syrian emergency law – five of the activists received five-year prison sentences, while the other two, who were also convicted of “broadcasting false news or reports that could harm the prestige of the State or its financial status,” were sentenced to seven years. [1]

These arrests are a reflection of the security apparatuses’ oppressive policy against students in Syria. According to an investigative article by communications student ‘Amr Matar, which was posted on the culture website http://www.jidar.net, the security apparatuses keep close tabs on all aspects of university life, causing students to avoid political activity and to be careful about everything they say. Matar wrote: “In the universities, as well as outside them, you often hear [people] saying things like… ‘Be quiet, or we’re done for,’ ‘Change the subject, the walls have ears,’ and so on. [Furthermore,] the advice given to new students by their families… and by older students… focuses on warnings to steer clear of politics.” [2]

The harsh sentences for the seven activists angered Syrian oppositionists, who condemned the severity of the judicial system and called upon Syria’s young people to strive towards replacing the regime. The sentences were also condemned by a wide range of Syrian, Arab, and international human rights organizations – including Amnesty International, which called for the activists’ immediate and unconditional release. A call for their release was also issued by the U.S. State Department.

The following are excerpts from statements by oppositionist organizations on the imprisonment of the seven activists, and from articles on the issue posted on oppositionist websites.

The Damascus Declaration Organization: The Activists Must Be Released
On June 15, 2007, two days before the activists’ sentence was issued, the Damascus Declaration organization [3] issued a statement calling for their release:

“The impending trial of the seven young Syrians who tried to voice their opinion on issues of concern to themselves and to their country… is an opportunity to remind the government and its apparatuses that oppression and arrests are not the only alternative… [The Supreme State Security Court] should release [the activists] instead of oppressing them by means of tyrannical enforcement of the law…” [4]

The “Provisional Ba’th Leadership” [Khaddam]: Young Syrians Must Strive to Replace the Regime

The “Provisional Ba’th Leadership,” headed by former Syrian vice president ‘Abd Al-Halim Khaddam, [5] published a statement which said, inter alia: “Young men and women [of Syria], have you considered what sort of future awaits for Syria and for yourselves under a regime that considers it a crime to speak out, [a regime] which arrests young people for talking about freedom and democracy and for rejecting tyranny and corruption? What sort of future awaits Syria, and you, under a regime that has sown fear, intimidated [anyone who dared] to think, prevented [public] debate, suppressed [all] initiative, and turned the [entire] state into a large prison;…a regime that has revoked the people’s [democratic] role, instated a one-man rule, broken the law, and sunk into corruption?… What sort of future awaits a homeland whose leader is motivated by love of money and by a pathological [need to] control others, usurp their freedoms, and oppress them? What sort of future lies in store for a homeland in which [any] statement by an intellectual or politician [is perceived] by the leader as a threat, [causing him] to intensify his oppression of the people?…

“We [therefore] call on you to fulfill your national responsibility and to organize into units and groups and to prepare… to bring change and to replace the regime – [a regime] that has inflicted oppression and darkness on Syria, and continues to do so at the expense of your future, the security of your people, and the interests of your homeland. You bear the heavy responsibility of launching the movement for change… and of delivering Syria and its people.” [6]

Former Syrian MP: It is the Syrian Dictatorship That Should Stand Trial

Oppositionist and former MP Muhammad Mamoun Al-Humsi wrote that the seven activists had not been given a fair trial, and mocked the charges against them: “[These] Syrian students… [these] defenders of freedom, did not receive a fair trial, but were tried by a biased and hostile court that has sold out the homeland and [the principle of] freedom, worked in the service of the [‘Alawi] sect, and plundered public funds. The actions of these Syrian students, who are [now] prisoners of conscience and opinion, were democratic, independent, and nonviolent. [The students were merely] exercising their right to express their opinion, and [participated in] Syrian public life in a lawful manner…

“[In response,] the Syrian dictatorship brought false charges against them… [though] they had committed no offense… How can articles defending the liberty of the homeland and the citizen [such as those written by the activists] ‘expose Syria to the risk of hostile action’ or ‘harm its relationship with a foreign country’ [as claimed by the charge against them]? [Rather,] it is the terrorist behavior of the Syrian dictatorship which not only harms its relations with foreign countries but endangers security and peace in the region and the world…

“How can liberated, loyal, pure, and blameless words [like those written by activists] put the Syrians [at risk] of hostile acts against their property [as claimed by the charges]? All Syrians clearly understand that it is Assad’s dictatorial Ba’th regime that has not only perpetrated hostile acts against the property of the Syrians, but has carried out an organized and comprehensive campaign to plunder [the Syrians’] property and resources, transferring them to suspicious bank accounts and [squandering them] on dubious projects in order to complete the cycle of theft, robbery, domination, and terrorism…

“As for [Syria’s] prestige and financial status, the Syrian leadership should seek these in the political, economic, and social dustbins it has strewn all over the country, in every street, neighborhood, and home. It is not the liberal students, but the Syrian dictatorship alone, that should stand trial…” [7]

Syrian Oppositionist Website: The Court’s Sentence Was Directed Against Syria’s Entire Younger Generation

An editorial on the oppositionist website Syrian Elector stated that the harsh prison sentences meted out to the activists were aimed at intimidating Syria’s entire younger generation, which has begun to reject the current situation in the country and to look for alternatives.

“The seven young secular [activists], most of them no older than 22, represent a wide range of sectors within Syrian society, and their only dream was to help spread the culture of democracy in the society in which they live. So why have they been imprisoned? Whom does it serve? The [intelligence] officer who was responsible for the [activists’] detainment told the father of one of the detained [activists], ‘These youths are more dangerous than Al-Qaeda, because they come from all sects [and not just from the Sunni sect].’ From this statement, we can safely conclude that the court’s cruel sentence was aimed at all young people in Syria, from all sectors and [from all sects].

“The purpose of this sentence was to intimidate an [entire] generation, or generations, that have begun to reject the current situation and to seek alternatives. With these sentences, the regime is trying to turn back the clock [and take us back] to the 1980s… But the future is already here… and the hands of the clock cannot be turned back. The regime may revert to the same oppressive methods and go back to that [irrelevant] past that it [so] misses – but Syria’s young people are looking ahead, and hoping for a better future. They have begun to realize clearly [that this future] can only be built on the ruins of the current [regime]. The time for sacrifices has arrived, and a new [age] has definitely dawned.” [8]

Kurdish Columnist: The Activists’ Sentences Kill the Light of Youth

Kurdish writer Mas’oud ‘Akou, who resides in Syria, wrote that the Supreme State Security Court had dispensed not justice, but intimidation, oppression, and tyranny: “In accordance with its usual cruel custom, the Supreme State Security Court… imposed [prison] sentences on seven young Syrians, who were arrested over a year ago simply for exercising their right to express their opinion. They believed that justice was on their side, [for] they had not harmed anyone’s prestige, and certainly had not ‘exposed their homeland to [the risk of] hostile action’… It is the emergency [security] courts that have [harmed] the prestige of our country. To what risk has state security been exposed by [these] unarmed youths, who see themselves as candles trying to spread some light in this dark land?

“The Supreme State Security Court [hands down] these cruel sentences in order to stamp out any new spring and hack off any budding branch, even though everyone – even the judges of this court – knows that the Syrian constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the democratic [right] of peaceful assembly. These sentences have nothing to do with justice… On the contrary, they represent fear, intimidation, oppression, and tyranny, and an attack on [freedom of] opinion. [They are an attack] on the dignity of any Syrian who sees [reality] from a different perspective [than the regime does]…

“The seven young Syrians will rot behind bars… their youth will pass in misery, moment by moment… The [forces of] darkness are killing the light of youth.” [9]

Syrian Columnist: The Younger Generation is Living Under Threat

Kurdish Syrian columnist ‘Abd Al-Baset Sayda wrote that the security apparatuses’ tight control over various sectors in the country is forcing young Syrians to be loyal to the regime: “The current Syrian regime – represented by the security apparatuses – maintains tight control over the universities and the military, and over the [labor] unions, which [in turn] control the industrial and service sectors… This means that young people in Syria are shackled by threats, interests, and the fear of an uncertain future… Positions of command [in the military] are attained only through unswerving loyalty to the [tyrants] who keep the people in shackles, [instead of being attained] through experience and devotion to the country and the people… As for other [types of] posts, each has a price that must be paid – in cash – to the security apparatuses, which have the final say when it comes to appointments. They have the power and authority to intervene and, when necessary, to order the dismissal, suspension, or transfer [of any employee]. This forces an employee to stay within the permitted [limits] and to avoid anything that might threaten his livelihood – which, in a poor country like ours, is all-important.” [10]


August 9th, 2007, 2:22 pm


Kamal said:

T-desco, you’re the in-house expert on Lebanese Islamists. Since I’m on a MEMRI kick today, what do you think of this? If you’ve commented on it before, excuse me.


August 9th, 2007, 3:31 pm


Patrick said:


Whoa whoa whoa… no one has ever gained anything by less exposure to Haifa Wahbi.


August 9th, 2007, 4:20 pm


norman said:

Syria To Crackdown Tougher On Web Sites

August 9, 2007 1:50 p.m. EST

Joseph S. Mayton – AHN Middle East Correspondent
Cairo, Egypt (AHN) – The Syrian Ministry of Information has promised that a new media law will be “issued soon,” and that it will include clear restrictions on electronic media. According to reports from the country, the new law will continue to restrict the use of the Internet for disseminating information.

Already, Damascus has stopped blogspot from being used in the country and plans on making it difficult for users to have comments pages on their blogs.

“It is hard to believe that Syria would want to close down all websites with comment sections. Already all Blogspot blogs have been blocked in Syria. They can still be read through Bloglines or any other RSS feed, but the comment sections are not so easily accessed,” Joshua Landis, Co-director at the Center of Peace Studies, University of Oklahoma, wrote on his blog.

Owners of Syrian Web sites are up in arms over the Ministry of Telecommunications statement that asks owners of the Internet sites “to exercise accuracy and objectivity … and to post the name of the writer of an article and the one who comments on it in a clear and detailed manner.”

The ministry added that “the failure to do so would result in warning the website owner and rendering his website temporarily inaccessible. In case the violation is repeated, the website will become permanently inaccessible.”

The new ruling has angered Syrian activists, who have said that Damascus must abide by international law concerning freedom of speech and expression. They argue that the Internet is something that should not be toyed with.

Copyright © AHN Media Corp – All rights reserved.
Redistribution, republication. syndication, rewriting or broadcast is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of AHN.

Email This Article Print This

August 9th, 2007, 6:38 pm


t_desco said:


you know that MEMRI is always quoting selectively for propaganda purposes. Regarding the question of links between Fatah al-Islam and Syrian intelligence, three names are being mentioned: Shaker Al-Abssi, Abu Khaled al-`Amlah and Ahmed Merhi.

We have indenpendent confirmation from al-Abssi’s brother (who is living in Jordan) that Shaker became very religious after leaving Libya in 1995:

“Chaker est devenu très religieux. Il se rendait à la mosquée tous les jours pour étudier le Coran, qu’il a appris par coeur en trois ans.”
(“De la colère au djihad, le chef du Fatah Al-Islam raconté par son frère”, Le Monde, 05.06.07)

According to Bernard Rougier, Fatah al-Intifada as a whole went through a re-islamization process in the 90s.
(“Le Fatah Al-Islam, symbole de l’islamisation des camps palestiniens”, Le Monde, 23.05.07)

Perhaps the same was true of Abu Khaled al-`Amlah, but there is very little information about him. We only know that he was arrested in Syria shortly after Fatah al-Islam had taken control of the Fatah al-Intifada barracks in Nahr al-Bared.

Ahmed Merhi has reportedly (Al-Mustaqbal, As-Sharq al-Awsat) testified “that he was the “liaison officer” between Fatah al-Islam’s leader Shaker Abssi and Shawkat”. (“Report: Fatah al-Islam linked to Bashar Assad’s Brother in Law”, Naharnet, 18 Jul 07). As such reports are based on anonymous sources, it is usually advisable to wait for official confirmation.

In any case, the direct link to Asef Shawkat does sound a little bit odd and reminds one of Siddiq’s famous testimony.

It would certainly be very useful to learn more about his background and his career. What was his position within the organization and why did the other members trust him?

There is clear evidence of links between Fatah al-Islam and the wider al-Qa’ida network. Why would genuine Islamists (like the members of the Dinniyeh group) collaborate with the hated regime in Damascus? It doesn’t make any sense.

Syria reveals army deaths from militant campaign

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
Thursday, August 9, 2007; 8:19 AM

Syria is facing a violent campaign by Islamist militants and six border soldiers died after attacks from inside Iraq, a senior Syrian security official said on Thursday.

This is the first time Syria has disclosed publicly details of the fight against militants, which intensified this year.

“We are conducting operations against terrorist cells and we have taken martyrs,” Mohammad Mansoura, head of the Political Security branch of Syria’s intelligence apparatus, told a closed door session of an international security conference on Iraq.

“Raids have yielded arsenals of weapons including suicide explosive belts.

“Our border forces have come under 100 attacks from inside Iraq. Six soldiers died and 17 where injured,” Mansoura said.

A translation of Mansoura’s speech was obtained by Reuters.

Mansoura said security forces had foiled several attacks in addition to the few known ones, such as the failed attempt to blow up the U.S. embassy in Damascus last year.

Mansoura dismissed U.S. accusations that Syria is letting militants cross into Iraq to fight U.S. forces there and repeated the official line that Islamist militants were as much a threat to Syria as to Iraq.

Syria is ruled by the secular Baath Party, which crushed a revolt led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s.

Western diplomats have questioned whether Syria has softened its stance against militants as a way of countering U.S. pressure and showing that its secular system is the only guarantor of stability.

Mansoura said Syria was resolutely against the spread of militant Islamist influence in the region.

“We view the attacks that have spared nothing in Iraq as an attempt to destroy the Iraqi people and a threat that could expand to the region,” Mansoura told the meeting.

Officials from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Britain and the United States are in the second day of closed talks aimed at coming up with security cooperation measures to help stop the violence in Iraq and attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Syria recently condemned attacks against Iraqi forces as “terrorism” and backed explicitly the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad for the first time.

May I suggest an additional motive in the Hariri assassination: failed economic policies. –

LEBANON: Tripoli’s poor swell ranks of militant Islamic groups

TRIPOLI , 9 August 2007 – Umm Abdel-Rahman al-Jassem was cooking dinner for her son Mahmoud when he called her.

“‘Mother, I’m injured’, he told me and I could hear the bullets flying,” she says in the family’s three-room flat in Bab al-Tebbaneh, a poor quarter in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli. “Then there were no more words, only bullets,” she said.

Mahmoud al-Jassem, 25, was killed in a gun battle with the Lebanese army on the streets of the city, allegedly one of a number of northern Lebanese members of militant Islamist group Fatah al-Islam.

Bab al-Tebbaneh has lost a number of sons to Fatah al-Islam, as it has to the army that has fought them for the past three months in Tripoli and the nearby Palestinian camp of Nahr al-Bared, residents said. However, the challenge of radical Islam in Tripoli is unlikely to end with that battle, analysts say.

Poverty and a lack of opportunities are forcing many youths in Tripoli’s slums to choose between drugs, crime and militant Islam, according to local residents.

In Tebbaneh, litter and stinking puddles clutter a warren of claustrophobic alleys, while washing and black flags reading “There is no god but God” hang from every balcony.

Causes of militancy

“We’re hearing a lot about a decisive military victory over Fatah al-Islam, but no one’s talking about tackling the root causes, the poverty and desperation in areas like these,” says Imad Omar, who supplies micro-credit loans to Tebbaneh’s poor with non-governmental organisation (NGO) Al-Majmoua.

Up an unlit staircase strung with electrical cables to the Al-Jassem family flat, the names of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Ladin and “our commander” Abu Musab Zarqawi, formerly an al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, are scrawled on crumbling walls.

“My son was quite religious, so I asked him if he was with any group or party and he swore to God that he wasn’t,” says Umm Abdel-Rahman. On 19 May, the family were preparing to betroth their son to a neighbour’s daughter.

Mohammed al-Jassem, Mahmoud’s 60-year-old father, said all his 12 children are unemployed. “There’s no work in Tebbaneh. I used to push a cart around selling sweets for 4,000 Lebanese pounds a day [US$2.5].”

Residents said militant groups appeared to pay recruits decent money, funded by shadowy charities or regional powers.

“Islamic groups spreading an extremist ideology are paying a lot of money to young men to join them. Most of them aren’t aware of what they are getting into and their economic situation is terrible,” says 25-year-old teacher Iman al-Sheikh, a devout Muslim who taught at an Islamic school in Tripoli until it started preaching “an extremist view”.

“People here are getting more militant because they feel the state isn’t giving them anything, so it becomes their enemy,” al-Sheikh said.

Poverty in the Tripoli area

Tebbaneh is Tripoli’s most densely populated area and one of Lebanon’s poorest. Between 60 and 70 percent of residents migrated in recent decades from the impoverished rural regions of Akkar, Dinnieh and Al-Minya, according to a 2006 report on Lebanon’s “poverty pockets” by the government’s Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR).

“Over half the families in Bab al-Tebbaneh receive about 200,000 Lebanese pounds [$130] a month income and live in economic deficit because their expenses exceed their income,” the CDR report said. Unemployment hovers at above 30 percent for men in deprived areas, it found.

“The north is very poor, there is no development and many people don’t work, so this creates a fertile environment for recruiting people who have radical Islamist tendencies,” said Ahmed Moussalli, an expert on Islamists at the American University of Beirut. “Although, definitely, most don’t turn to violence.”

On Tebbaneh’s Syria Street, a large vegetable market, children carry towers of crates, man stalls or pull carts loaded with fruit or sweets.

“Most of my friends work because our parents can’t afford to keep us in school,” says 14-year-old Ahmed, who left school three years ago and works an 11-hour day fixing car windows. Truancy reaches 50 percent in Tripoli’s poorest areas, the CDR report found.

Mushrooming of radical schools

Schools, mosques and religious centres teaching radical Sunni thought have mushroomed around Tripoli in a two-year political crisis and security vacuum since the assassination in February 2005 of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Moussalli said.

Before Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War, Tripoli was a wealthy port serving Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Bab al-Tebbaneh, one of Tripoli’s seven historic gates, was nicknamed the “gate of gold” because of its thriving markets.

But the war hit industry, trade and agriculture, and Tebbaneh was heavily shelled. “After the war, Lebanon’s regions were developed unevenly and a division grew between the capital Beirut with Mount Lebanon and regions further away,” said a local development worker, who preferred not to be named.

Islamists briefly ruled Tripoli during the civil war. Insurgents who rose up against the army to establish an Islamic caliphate in the northern province of Dinniyeh in 2000 mostly hailed from Tebbaneh, local residents said.

Anger at the Iraq invasion fanned the flames of militancy, but poverty was the spark, ex-Iraq fighter As-Safir said. “These lads would not be joining militants if they had hope, they’d be getting married, buying a house and having kids like everyone else.”

August 9th, 2007, 8:41 pm


Joshua said:

I have been worried about my hip rating for some time. Thanks for noticing. I am working on my Shami shimmer and developing the words for my next hit. Here goes….

`Amilt fadiha mahaliyya
Boueztha, wa ma joueztha
Amam al-nass.

Do you like it? That’s the refrain. I think it has a certain je ne c’est quoi.

August 9th, 2007, 9:28 pm


Kamal said:


Thanks for the response. I admire your dogged pursuit of any article (in multiple languages!) that sheds light on the issue. If you write a book, I’ll read it.

I know all about MEMRI of course, but I think it’s still a unique resource. If I were only to rely on sources I fully agreed with, I wouldn’t be on Syria Comment…

I differ with you on this crucial point: It’s perfectly possible to be Islamicized and still work with foreign services of nations whose regimes don’t share your ideology. In fact, it’s reality.

> Why would genuine Islamists (like the members of the Dinniyeh
> group) collaborate with the hated regime in Damascus? It doesn’t
> make any sense.

Come on T. The secular Arabist Ba’thist Syrian regime cooperates happily with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Syria has hosted and aided Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both fanatical Sunni jihadist organization. Hamas is in fact the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, so despised and persecuted in Syria. What Syria crushes at home, Syria gleefully disseminates abroad.

Syria works happily with the Party of God, a Lebanese Shi’i fundamentalist militia that differs with Syria not only in religious ideology but in material aims. Syria seeks a negotiated peace with Israel; Hizballa seeks the “liberation of historic Palestine”. Nasralla himself has stated that this is a key doctrinal difference between Ba’thist Syria and Hizballa.

I’m not sure what your take on it is, but I believe Syria actively organizes the infiltration of international jihadists to *certain* Iraqi insurgent groups that are controlled by Syrian intelligence. In other words I don’t think it’s merely a matter of Syria having difficulties controlling its border or being unwilling to clamp down. Sure, there may be some infiltration that happens behind the back of the Syrian state. (I also believe there is plenty of infiltration and smuggling that takes place across the Saudi border – at least 50%.)

Really, I think there is an active Syrian role in the devastating Iraqi civil war, but if you disagree, no matter. Disregard the Iraqi case and let’s stick to the regime’s open alliances with Islamic Iran, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizballa. Conclusion: the Syrian regime is willing to form strategic alliances with groups of conflicting ideology, including Sunni and Shi’a Islamic fundamentalist jihadis.

Furthermore, Islamic militants themselves have displayed a complete willingness to form strategic alliances with various state intelligence services, and even to do their bidding for a price (as the numerous Palestinian factions exhibited in the 60s and 70s). The “hated regime in Damascus” is actually quite loved and openly celebrated among the aforementioned jihadi circles. Khaled Mish’al holds press conferences to extol the virtues of Bashar Asad; Hasan Nasrallah stages rallies where hundreds of thousands chant praises of, not Syria, but Souriya al-Asad. The ugly mugs of Ahmadinejad, Asad and Nasrallah grace Arab alleyways under the banner of “Resistance”…

This means one of 2 things: neither Ba’thists nor Islamists are truly devoted to their ideologies but are cynical actors; or, both groups, though ideologically devoted, are pragmatic and willing to ally with the devil himself in confronting shared enemies. Either way, given the regime’s alliance with Iran, Hamas and Hizballa – why WOULDN’T the regime ally with (and manipulate) Iraqi insurgents and assorted Islamic militants in Lebanon?

August 10th, 2007, 4:15 am


Roving Gastronome: The Blog » Blog Archive » Mange du Kebab said:

[…] Lil’Maaz is a Turkish guy (real name: Yilmaz Karaman) who has been rapping his way through his job at a kebab place in Paris, and some customers helped him produce the single and the video. Good article here (the Independent via Syria Comment; scroll down), avec a little translation. […]

August 10th, 2007, 1:13 pm


t_desco said:


I see that I should have been more precise. When I said “Islamists (like the members of the Dinniyeh group)”, I was just referring to takfiri al-Qa’ida type groups.

Olivier Roy calls them neo-fundamentalists to differenciate them from the groups you mentioned (Hamas, Hizbullah). Here is a good introduction.

Regarding collaboration with Syria, there is this interesting declassified al-Qa’ida document “that examines the jihad waged against the Syrian regime of Hafez el Assad from 1976-1982”, Lessons Learned from the Armed Jihad Ordeal in Syria by Abu Musab al-Suri.

Some “lessons”:

“Mujahideen must be self-sufficient, otherwise they become dependent on unreliable external benefactors.”

“The movement lacked a strategic vision, had no understanding of the importance of terrain, and failed to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the Syrian regime. This led to events, not plans, controlling the course of the battle.”

“Mujahideen failed to vet carefully recruits. This allowed many government informers and moles to join, and betray the movement.”

“By developing relationships with the intelligence services of Arab states, the movement yielded its autonomy and came under the control of these groups.”

(Harmony and Disharmony: Exploiting Al-Qa’ida’s Organizational Vulnerabilities, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point)

August 10th, 2007, 8:08 pm


Kamal said:

Thanks T-Desco.

Think of the history of Palestinian “resistance”. It is obvious to any observer that the movement should have remained independent, and the pitfalls of forming relationships with various mukhabarat agencies are clear to all. But the Palestinians were never able to stop a SINGLE faction from resisting foreign funding and arms, and consequently, becoming subservient to foreign interests. I challenge you (or anyone) to name one single Palestinian “resistance” entity that managed to maintain its independence, from al-Nakba to the present…

I believe today we have a similar situation, but the “resistance” groups du jour are no longer Palestinian, they are Islamic jihadis. I’m sure there are wise voices within the global jihad movement that strive towards independence, as the document reveals, but nothing will stop various factions of this chaotic, decentralized movement from forming relationships with various state intelligence agencies, for money, weapons, or aid in inter-factional rivalry. And nothing will stop cynical intelligence agencies from exploiting the proliferation of fanatical armed groups and manipulating them for their own ends.

Certainly, the suicidal foot soldiers of Fath Islam truly believed they were waging al jihad fi sabil il-lah… but somewhere up the food chain is a cold-blooded agent – probably an atheist! – on the Syrian payroll.

August 10th, 2007, 11:07 pm


Post a comment

Neoprofit AI beylikdüzü escort