May 20/14


Bible Quotation for today/

John 1,35-42/The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God! ’The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’
He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today

The one who listens attentively to the Word of God and truly prays, always asks the Lord: what is your will for me?
Pape François
Quelqu’un qui écoute attentivement la Parole de Dieu et prie vraiment, demande toujours au Seigneur : quelle est ta volonté pour moi ?

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For May 20/14

Lebanon's Presidency Election: All roads lead to vacuum/By Hussein Dakroub/May 20/14
Fate of Beirut’s war ruins still unclear/By: Venetia Rainey/The Daily Star/May 20/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For May 20/14

Lebanese Related News

Salam Arrives in Saudi: Al-Rahi Did Not Ask Me to Propose Extension of Suleiman Term

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai adamant on Jerusalem trip

Geagea Says Hariri Talks Tackled Aoun Nomination, Stresses FPM Chief Not 'Consensual'

Geagea denies Hariri backing Aoun for presidency

Hale still sees hope for election this week
Unique statue of Phoenician priest found in Sidon

Fate of Beirut’s war ruins still unclear

Fatah official escapes assassination attempt

Sleiman refers disputed rent bill for review

Lebanon/Displaced from reality

Salam: No evidence of foreign meddling

Tension against Kurds runs high in Burj Hammoud

Mona Abu Hamzeh appeals to Sleiman for ‘justice’

UAE may lift travel advisory for Lebanon: minister
No veto on any candidate: Future MP
I am ready to be Lebanon’s consensus candidate: Aoun
Clooney, Alamuddin set date: Daily Mail

All roads lead to vacuum

MP Kabbara: ‘Why punish Tripoli?'

Miscellaneous Reports And News

US and Abu Dhabi aid Gen. Haftar’s bid to stabilize Libyan rule by ousting Islamists

Sudan order to hang Christian woman 'outrageous': U.N.

Maliki emerges atop Iraq poll in bid to remain PM

UAE 'Qaeda cell' on trial over Syria jihadists support
Coronavirus: between fear and embarrassment

UAE ‘Qaeda cell’ on trial over Syria jihadists support
Israeli parliament to choose new president on June 10
Seeking political gain from pope's visit

Putin orders troops near Ukraine to return home
Rouhani: Talks will lead to agreement


Geagea Says Hariri Talks Tackled Aoun Nomination, Stresses FPM Chief Not 'Consensual'
Naharnet /Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Monday said his Paris talks with former premier Saad Hariri tackled MP Michel Aoun's presidential nomination and the fact that the Free Patriotic Movement leader has proposed himself as a “consensual” candidate. "I demonstrated with ex-PM Saad Hariri all the aspects of the political process related to the presidential vote and we discussed all the possible solutions to the crisis and raised all the possibilities," Geagea said during a press conference in the French capital, according to a statement distributed by the LF's media department.
"Ex-PM Hariri said that among the possibilities is the fact that General Michel Aoun has proposed himself as a consensual candidate. He said 'let's discuss how much General Aoun is a consensual candidate' and that's what we did ... and I had a very objective stance on the matter," Geagea added. "I told him that contacts with the FPM are welcome and are beneficial for the country, knowing that we had tried to communicate with Hizbullah and the party did not show any desire to communicate with us," the LF leader said. He added: "I told ex-PM Hariri that establishing contacts with the FPM is a good thing, but until the moment General Aoun is not a consensual candidate and that he cannot act like he did in the first and the subsequent sessions and yet consider himself to be consensual.”
Geagea stressed that Aoun cannot "suddenly become a consensus nominee after having spent nine years in a totally different political camp." "Moreover, no one has informed us that the memorandum of understanding with Hizbullah has been annulled,” Geagea added. But he pointed out that he does not have a “veto” on any candidate. “Should General Aoun win, I will be the first person to congratulate him,” he said. Geagea added: “The March 14 forces have a cause and are not merely running after power. We are seeking to prevent any deterioration in the country through the election of a candidate who can preserve the minimum extent of our beliefs and principles.”
He emphasized that the March 14 coalition will go to Thursday's electoral session as one bloc, urging the rival camp to head to parliament “to elect the candidate they want.”In response to a question, Geagea said “Hizbullah is supporting General Aoun behind closed doors, but if Aoun is really their candidate, let Aoun announce his program and let them go to parliament to vote for him.”
Geagea also reminded that Kataeb Party chief Amin Gemayel and Telecom Minister Butros Harb, both of whom are presidential hopefuls, had “made initiatives towards Hizbullah, but the other camp maintained its negative stance.”Earlier on Monday, remarks attributed to Geagea by some media outlets had caused confusion and prompted the LF to describe them as “incorrect, curtailed and totally inaccurate.”“Remarks attributed by some media outlets to LF leader Samir Geagea about ex-PM Saad Hariri's stance on the endorsement of Change and Reform bloc MP Michel Aoun's presidential nomination are incorrect, curtailed and totally inaccurate,” the LF's media department said in a statement.
Geagea was earlier quoted as saying that Hariri suggested during their Paris meeting the possibility of endorsing Aoun as a “consensual” candidate. According to LBCI television, Geagea stressed during his Paris press conference that “Aoun cannot be considered consensual after all his political practices that are based on his memorandum of understanding with Hizbullah.”The LF leader, according to LBCI, also emphasized that “the Lebanese Forces does not have a veto on anyone,” noting that “Aoun has not changed his political alignment to be considered consensual.”Geagea and Hariri held talks that lasted more than three hours in Paris on Sunday, the second such meeting between them in two days.
“The viewpoints were identical regarding the need to hold the presidential vote within the constitutional deadline, to reject vacuum and to make all possible and needed efforts and contacts to prevent it,” said a statement issued Sunday by Hariri's office. The two leaders' talks come amid a flurry of political consultations in the French capital, which witnessed Sunday a meeting between Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Jumblat is also expected to meet with French President Francois Hollande while Geagea is scheduled to hold talks with a number of French officials. Speaker Nabih Berri has called for a May 22 parliamentary session to elect a new president, which will be held two days before the end of President Michel Suleiman's term.
Should quorum be secured, the session would be the fifth since April 23. Geagea received 48 votes during the first session, falling short of the 86 votes needed to be elected president from the first round. Most of the March 8 forces boycotted the sessions that were held afterwards, forcing a lack of quorum.

Aoun is not a consensus candidate: Geagea

May 19, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea Monday argued that his rival Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun could not be considered a consensus candidate to the presidency in light of the political stances and alliances held by the latter in recent years. “[Former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri and I discussed all the options available to break the impasse over the presidency. All the options,” Geagea told reporters during a press conference in Paris. “Premiere Hariri then pointed to Aoun’s attempts to present himself as a consensus candidate and I suggested we stop and see to what extent is Aoun really consensual.” Geagea said he explained to Hariri “very objectively” that Aoun was not behaving as a consensus candidate. He added that Aoun’s deeds, especially when his Change and Reform bloc along with March 8 factions cast blank ballots during the April 23 round of voting denoted that the FPM leader was far from being consensual. “How did Aoun suddenly become a consensus candidate?” Geagea asked. “Did he scrap the Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah? How can he turn into a consensus candidate only nine days ahead of the election, when his [real] position has not changed for the past nine years?" Geagea, a presidential hopeful, said the dialogue between the Future Movement and Aoun’s FPM was a healthy step, revealing that the LF had sought a similar overture towards Hezbollah but the party was not cooperative. Geagea noted that he did not oppose any candidate to the presidential election. “If Aoun wins, I will be the first one to pay him a visit and congratulate him,” he told reporters. “But [I believe] that Aoun’s sudden shift in stance is not serious.”Geagea had rejected media reports quoting him as saying that Hariri believed Michel Aoun to be a “consensus candidate,” saying the statement was taken out of context. “Some media outlets reported that Geagea quoted former Prime Minister Saad Hariri as backing Free Patriotic Movement head MP Michel Aoun's candidacy, and that is erroneous, incomplete and inaccurate,” the LF office said in a statement. Earlier in the day, local news websites reported that Geagea had said Hariri proposed Aoun as a consensus candidate for the presidency but that the LF leader was critical of such an opinion given the former general’s dealings with Hezbollah. Geagea reportedly made his remarks during a news conference in Paris where he held talks with Hariri and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal a day before. The LF office said it would distribute the full text of Geagea’s conference soon.
Although a longtime opponent of Aoun, Hariri has shown recent signs of openness to the FPM leader. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun's son-in-law, recently held five-hour talks with Hariri over the presidential election. Media reports emerged recently of a possible deal that would see Aoun as president and Hariri as prime minister in the next Cabinet. Lebanon has less than a week before President Michel Sleiman's term expires, and Parliament has failed to elect a new head of state after several failed attempts. Meanwhile, the Kataeb Party urged lawmakers to respect the constitutional deadline of May 25 to elect a president. “With the constitutional deadline to elect a new president nearing, Kataeb can only raise the voice and call [on lawmakers] to respect the Constitution,” the party said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by its head Amine Gemayel. “The few hours before May 25 should be considered as the day that will not spare those who do not respect deadlines or disputes its mechanism,” it added. The party also reiterated Gemayel's demand for the speaker to hold consecutive sessions until a president is chosen.

Salam Arrives in Saudi: Al-Rahi Did Not Ask Me to Propose Extension of Suleiman Term
Naharnet/Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced Monday that he will not discuss the presidential vote with Saudi officials during his visit to the kingdom, denying that Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi had asked him to propose the extension of President Michel Suleiman's term. “Al-Rahi did not ask me to convey a proposal on extending Suleiman's term and my visit to Saudi Arabia is not for discussing the presidential election, which is for the Lebanese to conduct,” Salam told reporters onboard the plane that carried him to the Gulf state. He revealed that “the issue of Syrian refugees will be raised with Saudi officials,” noting that he will ask for full support and that the idea of creating camps on the border will be mulled. “There is a successful experience in Jordan” in this regard, the prime minister added.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Salam told Agence France Presse that his visit to Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with the presidential elections in Lebanon and that it aims to thank the kingdom for the support it is offering to Lebanon. While in the kingdom, Salam is expected to meet with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Sources told al-Mustaqbal newspaper in remarks published Monday that Hariri will hold a dinner banquet for Salam and the accompanying delegation. Salam, who arrived Monday in Riyadh on his first official foreign trip since the formation of his cabinet in February, is expected to meet with Saudi King Abdullah and senior Saudi officials. Salam stressed in remarks to As Safir newspaper “the importance of staging the presidential elections on time,” saying that the rival parties have no “good reason not to, which is a stance I will convey to the Saudi leadership during my visit.”“My visit to the kingdom is to thank its leadership for all the aid it offered to Lebanon,” the premier said. He said that the delegation will tackle with Saudi officials all the local crises to seek the Gulf country's help, in particular the Syrian refugee crisis. Salam also told the Saudi Okaz newspaper that his two-day visit “is significantly important as Saudi Arabia is a key supporter of Lebanon's stability.” “The kingdom is keen to safeguard Lebanon's unity, security and stability.”The PM said that he was “determined to make Saudi Arabia his first official trip to stress its important rank.” The prime minister is expected to visit Kuwait after his trip to Saudi Arabia. Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas, who will accompany Salam, told al-Liwaa newspaper that the delegation will tackle the Syrian refugee crisis. “Lebanon cannot endure on its own the burden of those refugees.” Lebanon has not signed the international refugee convention, but had generally kept its border open to people fleeing the conflict in Syria despite the scale of the influx. The country hosts more refugees from Syria than any other country, with 52,000 Palestinians among a total of more than a million. It now has the highest refugee population per capita in the world. Derbas expected the visit to be positive noting that Salam's visit to Kuwait is awaiting any developments regarding the presidential deadlock ahead of the May 25 deadline.

Displaced from reality
May 19, 2014/The Daily Star
Officials, politicians and senior religious figures gathered in the village of Brih in Lebanon’s Chouf region this weekend for a grand “reconciliation” between Christians and Druze residents, to heal the wounds of the Civil War. The return of war-displaced residents to their villages and the securing of legal and financial rights to property and related matters are commendable actions, but officials are ignoring another, urgently needed form of reconciliation. The Lebanese public is anxious to gain closure over a series of disturbing events. In places such as Europe after World War II, it only took a few years before millions of people were being repatriated and rebuilding. By contrast, after Lebanon’s Civil War, a few decades were needed to “close the page” on encouraging the repatriation of several hundred people to a single, tiny village. Another disturbing matter is how government officials can speak solemnly about the need for accountability in politics, while conveniently ignoring it when it comes to the return of the displaced. A few billion dollars have been spent on the return, with little to nothing in the way of state oversight. This has meant huge levels of waste and squandering, with less-than-satisfactory results, because only one-fifth or so of the original residents and their children have been encouraged to return to their home villages in Mount Lebanon. While there are many examples of corruption and mismanagement in Lebanon, the issue of returning the displaced should remind officials of the reconciliation that they require with the public and the notion of accountability if they ever hope to build any credibility.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai adamant on Jerusalem trip
May 19, 2014 /The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai stood firm Monday on his decision to go to occupied Jerusalem, a visit that has stirred controversy in Lebanon. “I told Prime Minister [Tammam Salam] that we are going to Jerusalem on a church- and pastoral-related visit,” Rai told reporters at the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut. “There is no political motive behind the visit,” Rai stressed, after his meeting with Salam. The patriarch said that aside from his Jerusalem visit, he also discussed the presidential election crisis with Salam. “Both of us stressed the need to elect a new president on time to avoid a vacuum,” Rai said. Rai has previously said he will join Pope Francis during a tour of the Holy Land on May 24-26, a visit that would make him the first Maronite patriarch to travel to Israel since it was founded in 1948. Hezbollah and others have criticized Rai’s visit, saying such a trip could be seen as a bid to normalize ties with Israel, which is technically in a state of war with Lebanon.

UAE may lift travel advisory for Lebanon: minister

May 19, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk called Monday on Emiratis to visit Lebanon, adding that the UAE was considering lifting the travel advisory on the country. “The Emiratis are most welcome to visit Lebanon, since the security situation has become under control,” Machnouk said from Abu Dhabi, where he announced a tour of Gulf states before Ramadan aimed at encouraging tourism and garnering support for Lebanon's security forces. “There are encouraging indicators that the travel advisory warning Emiratis against visiting Lebanon could be lifted but we still haven’t gotten a decisive promise,” he said. Saudi Arabia lifted its travel advisory for Lebanon earlier this month, with other Gulf countries expected to follow suit. The advisory was initially issued by the Gulf countries in mid-2012, citing the deteriorating security situation in the country. Machnouk said he was seeking to strengthen Lebanon’s ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council and garner support for “the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and the General Security in confronting terrorism at this difficult stage Lebanon is going through.”

Salam: No evidence of foreign meddling in presidential election
May 19, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam Monday said governments were the source of political balance in the country, adding that foreign countries had not meddled in the upcoming presidential election. “When I became prime minister, I hoped that the government would be short-term and not one to fill a vacuum. ... After the Taif Accord, governments became the creators of balance in the country,” Salam told reporters on board a plane heading to Saudi Arabia for an official visit. Responding to questions, Salam denied that his trip was aimed at discussing the presidential election, saying ties with the Gulf country remained solid. “I intended on kicking off my [Arab] tour in Saudi Arabia,” he said. Salam also denied reports that Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai had proposed extending President Michel Sleiman’s term to avoid a vacuum in the country’s top Christian post. Rai held talks with Salam earlier in the day before the prime minister began his trip. “We know that political forces have their ties with foreign [countries] but we have not seen any foreign meddling in the presidential election,” he said. “I hope we don't reach a point of political outbidding after May 25."

Unique statue of Phoenician priest discovered in Sidon
May 19, 2014/The Daily Star /SIDON, Lebanon: A statue of a Phoenician priest has been uncovered at an excavation site in the southern city of Sidon, along with other antiquities, the most unique find for Lebanon in decades, the British Museum team announced Monday. The priest, 115 centimeters high and dating back to the sixth century B.C., was found at the Freres College site, which has been under excavation for the last 16 years, the head of the excavation, Claude Doumit Serhal, announced at a press conference at the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities. “Nothing comparable has been found in Lebanon since the early 1960s, and only three other examples originating from Sidon, Umm al-Ahmed and Tyre are housed in the Beirut National Museum,” the statement said.
The figurine is that of a male wearing a pleated kilt, known as “shenti,” with a pendant flap from the waist to the kilt’s hem. The left hand is in a closed fist and holding an unknown object, “probably a scroll or a handkerchief,” according to the statement. Archeologists found the statue lying on its front, as it was re-used by the Romans and placed under a marble pavement in that position.
Three new rooms were also found in a third millennium B.C. public building, along with a 200-kilogram deposit of charred wheat called einkorn, 160 kilograms of broad bean and 20 burials belonging to both adults and infants from the second millennium B.C. This year’s excavation has been extended over six months, having started in January, in order to prepare for the building of an on-site museum, the statement added.

Sleiman refers disputed rent bill for review

May 19, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman asked the Constitutional Council Monday to review the legality of a disputed rent law passed by Parliament last month. According to his office, the president asked the council to review the "constitutionality" of the bill, which Sleiman refused to sign into law.  Sleiman has said that the bill is unfair and does not further social justice. The draft law has been at the center of controversy since it was proposed by the Cabinet two years ago, with tenants saying it would displace thousands of families who rent in Beirut under an old law governing lease contracts enacted before 1993.  Inhabitants pay minimal rent fees that often amount to less than LL1,000,000 annually. Under the new law, rents would increase over six years until they reach 5 percent of the current market value of the apartment. Owners would have the freedom to either sell the apartment or lease under a new contract and price. Landlords have also held counterprotests, asking Sleiman to sign the law. The protesters have said that most of the owners are also part of the working class in the country and need to be treated fairly.

Fatah official escapes assassination attempt
May 19, 2014/By Mohammed Zaatari /The Daily Star /SIDON, Lebanon: A Fatah Movement official Monday escaped an assassination attempt on his life in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, a security source told The Daily Star. Minutes after the convoy of Talal Ordoni passed through the neighborhood of Hatten, a bombing occurred, slightly wounding two people, the source said. Tensions have run high in Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest refugee camp, following security incidents and assassinations in the last several weeks, with officials attempting to restore calm and prevent an escalation.
A Palestinian member of Fatah al-Islam, Alaa Ali Hujeir, was shot in the camp earlier this month. Last month, Ali Khalil, a bodyguard of Fatah al-Islam official Bilal Badr, was shot in the head and later died from his wounds.The attacks came just weeks after a Sunni sheikh, Arsan Suleiman, was fatally shot in Ain al-Hilweh. Fatah al-Islam, headed by Bilal Badr, has accused the Fatah Movement of being behind the assassination of Hujeir, but the movement denies any involvement.

Fate of Beirut’s war ruins still unclear
May 19, 2014/By Venetia Rainey/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Limbo is a familiar feeling for Beirut’s war ruins. The announcement that the Holiday Inn is to be auctioned off after decades of uncertainty has come as a relief to many.
For others, questions over what will happen to the hotel, an evocative and hulking monument to Lebanon’s darkest days, have reawoken an old debate about the fate of other buildings laid to waste by the Civil War. It is not known who the Holiday Inn’s buyer will be. The only certainty is that something will finally happen to the eerie, pock-marked lump of concrete that has occupied the memories and captured the imaginations of Lebanese and foreigners alike for decades. When the Holiday Inn opened in 1975 it was set to become famous as the destination for those seeking sun and the high life in the Middle East’s most famous party city. Instead, it gained notoriety as one of the sites of the Battle of the Hotels, an early and particularly vicious battle in the 15-year conflict that saw Christian fighters lose a crucial sniper post to their Muslim rivals, shifting the front line east to Damascus Street. Although St. Charles City Center, the company that owns the building, tried several times to rehabilitate it after the war ended, disagreements between the company’s biggest shareholders proved insurmountable. A Kuwaiti group, with 53 percent of the shares, wanted to tear it down, while local Compagnie Immobiliere Libanaise, with 34 percent, wanted to convert it into apartments.
Elias Saba, founder and former chairman of St. Charles City Center until 2003, insisted it would not make sense for the new owner to demolish the hotel. “The built-up area including garages is 160,000 square meters,” he told The Daily Star. “There is no way if you tore it down now that you could build more than 50,000 or 60,000 square meters.”Whether the winner of the auction will agree remains to be seen. Even among the general public, who have no real say in urban planning decisions in Lebanon, there is a highly charged debate over what should be done with valuable real estate that is both a source of painful memories and a key testament to the country’s turbulent modern history. And the Holiday Inn is far from being the only building that elicits such strong reactions. Beirut is dotted with ruins left over from the war, their fates hanging in the air as their owners attempt to reconcile the financial, cultural, architectural and historical factors at play.
Three of the most well-known are the Murr Tower, the Grand Theater, and the Egg. “These buildings mean different things to different groups of people,” explained Abdul-Halim Jabr, an architect and a former AUB lecturer on urban design. “They are in contested land, and they are also in contested history.”“I remember in late 1975 watching rocket exchanges from my living room between Burj [tower] Murr and Burj Rizk in Ashrafieh. I’m looking out the window now and I can almost see it like a newsreel in front of me. It’s that clear a memory.”
“So for my generation this is a building that was never used as a proper building. That makes it a huge part of the war, people assign meaning to it, and some who care about the city believe it should be there because it is part of an unresolved conflict.”Forty floors of gray concrete that jut unapologetically into the sky, the Murr Tower has become a navigating landmark due to its visibility throughout the city. “It was built one floor a day,” said Jabr. “They used vertical tracks and poured the concrete as they went up.” Constructed as the war began in 1975, it never became the imposing Trade Center of Lebanon it aspired to be. Instead, as with the Holiday Inn, it became a favored vantage point for snipers, and quickly became associated with death, loss and misery. Even the basement was rumored to have been turned into a prison. These days, Solidere – its current owner – isn’t quite sure what to do with it.
“The tower represents a major development for the company and it will be developed in due time by Solidere or a third party,” a spokesperson for the company told The Daily Star. In other words, no plans for the time being. The same appears to be true for the Grand Theater, one of Beirut’s hidden gems. Believed to date back to the 1920s, the theater is everything the Murr Tower isn’t. It boasts a vibrant and largely joyful history – Oum Kulthoum performed there – and a vintage interior.
In a 2009 post on his blog Beirut Report, journalist Habib Battah shared pictures he took inside the building showing tattered stage curtains, piles of theater chairs and wartime graffiti – including a Star of David and the Amal logo. Several people have fought hard for the Grand Theater to be preserved rather than knocked down, and so far it appears to have worked. Although plans for it to be turned into a boutique hotel have ground to a halt, Solidere maintain that the theater will be kept intact. “The building will be restored, preserving its architectural character and historical value,” said the Solidere spokesperson. “The project will be developed in due course.” The British firm contracted to design the hotel, Rogers Stirk Harbour Partners, added: “At present the Grand Theatre Beirut Project is on hold as far as we know.”Centuries-old theaters clearly fall into the heritage category, so the case for preserving such a building is clear. When it comes to brutalist concrete concoctions from the ’60s and ’70s, however – such as the Murr Tower and Holiday Inn – things get trickier. The Egg – also known as the Dome, the Soap, the Bubble, and, in a former life, Beirut City Center – shows how a half-destroyed mess of concrete and steel can lodge itself in a city’s consciousness and become a crucial part of the landscape.
Although it was only half finished by the time the Civil War began, the Egg’s distinctively rounded cinema, sat two floors up like a space ship, and a shopping center below had both been open for several years. Architect Joseph Philippe Karam’s website boasts that it was once the largest mall in the region. After the war, an adjoining tower – one of two that were supposed to be built – was pulled down when the Finance Ministry briefly considered opening its headquarters there, creating the giant hole that remains today. For years afterward, the space was used by the public as a nightclub and an exhibition space. The ruin has since become a rallying point for those who criticize Solidere’s controversial conservation policy. There have been a number of frenzied campaigns to “Save the Egg” in response to rumors it was about to be demolished, but nothing has happened so far.
In 2005, Solidere sold the land on which it stands to Abu Dhabi Investment House as part of the Beirut Gate project. Erga Architects, a local firm, were contracted to work on a design, and suggested turning the Egg into an cultural or exhibition space. All that ground to a halt when the land was resold to Olyan Group in 2009, with French architecture company Christian de Portzamparc commissioned to draw up a new plan. According to the design firm, a new, enormous Mandarin Oriental Hotel was planned for the site, with the Egg to be kept intact as a restaurant or performance space. But that was put on hold in February last year, leaving its future once again uncertain. When contacted by The Daily Star, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group said they could not talk about “market rumors,” adding that they were “clearly not in a position to comment on this opportunity, until such time as we have a confirmed project to announce.”The Olyan Group could not be reached for comment. Christian de Portzamparc, however, confirmed their proposal had been shelved. “The client Olyan decided they could not proceed with the project because of different reasons such as the crisis [in Lebanon’s deteriorating security situation], it was too big a project and so on,” explained Duccio Cardelli, the firm’s studio director. “I don’t know what’s going on with the Egg right now, whether it will be restored or not. ... They [Olyan] have found another architect, but I don’t know who.”“There are not many historical parts of Beirut still standing, so we wanted to keep it,” he added. “Solidere gave us the option to destroy it. Olyan Group were OK with us keeping it because we found a good use for it. ... I think if they find a good solution they will keep it.”

All roads lead to vacuum
May 19, 2014/By Hussein Dakroub /The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanon is poised to slip into a presidential vacuum, as Parliament will be unable to elect a new president this week on schedule, political sources said Sunday, as the flurry of activity to break the deadlock shifted to Paris. “For all the contacts and meetings, there has been no change. We are heading toward a [presidential] vacuum,” a senior political source told The Daily Star.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea agreed after their meeting in Paris Sunday on the need for the presidential election to be held on time, rejecting a vacuum in the country’s top Christian post. They also urged lawmakers from the March 14 coalition and the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance to attend this week’s Parliament session to elect a successor to President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure expires on May 25. Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, meanwhile, warned that the influential Maronite Church would not accept a presidential vacuum even for a single day, repeating his call on lawmakers to elect a new president. Geagea, the March 14-backed candidate for the presidency, met Hariri at the latter’s residence in Paris in the latest attempt to break the stalemate that threatens to cast the politically divided country into further turmoil. The meeting, which lasted over five hours and included a working lunch, was also attended by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc. The talks covered the general situation in Lebanon, “particularly the forthcoming presidential election,” a statement released by Hariri’s office said.
“Viewpoints were identical on the need to hold the presidential election at its constitutional deadline, reject a vacuum and undertake all necessary and possible efforts and contacts to prevent a vacuum,” the statement said. It added that Hariri and Geagea also stressed the need for all lawmakers to participate in the Parliament sessions to elect a president. Sources close to the meeting described the talks as “very successful,” saying that Hariri and Geagea had agreed on a March 14 strategy to handle the next stage with regard to the presidential polls.
“A plan was drawn up to face the next election session and another plan to confront a vacuum, if it occurs,” the sources said. The two leaders affirmed their desire for March 14’s unity and continuity, the sources said. Geagea is still the March 14 candidate for the presidency as long as Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun is the March 8 coalition’s candidate, the sources said.
Lebanese leaders scrambled to prevent the country falling into a presidential vacuum as a fresh bid by Parliament to elect a president remained undecided due to the vast rift over a compromise candidate.
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt and Health Minister Wael Abu Faour arrived in Paris for talks with Hariri on the presidential issue, media reports said. They added that Jumblatt was set to meet with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who is currently in Paris.Both Geagea and Siniora were reported to have discussed the presidential election in separate meetings with Prince Saud, whose country wields great influence in Lebanon and supports the Future-led March 14 coalition. As Sleiman’s tenure draws to a close with no solution in sight to the presidential crisis, political sources said the March 14 coalition was working to break the stalemate. In light of the impossibility of intra-Christian accord on a single candidate, various political groups have come to realize that a consensus candidate is the best way to avert a presidential vacuum, the sources said. Speaker Nabih Berri still held out hope for a last-minute breakthrough in the president election. “The opportunity to elect a new president could be in the eleventh hour before May 25 if a consensus is reached on a candidate,” he was quoted by visitors as saying, the pan-Arab Al-Hayat daily reported.
Berri has called Parliament to meet on May 22 to vote for a president after lawmakers failed four times in less than a month to choose a successor to Sleiman. Prime Minister Tammam Salam said in remarks published Sunday that he remained hopeful a new president would be elected on time. “I still haven’t reached the hopelessness stage. [I still believe] that the consensus that led to the Cabinet formation will also lead to electing a new president before May 25,” Salam told Al-Hayat. “If the March 14 and the March 8 coalitions do what is necessary, there should be no problem in electing president.”
Salam is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia Monday for talks with King Abdullah and senior Saudi officials. Media reports said Salam, who will be accompanied by a ministerial delegation, would also meet Hariri. Hezbollah reiterated its stance that the next president should be a supporter of the resistance. “Only someone who is keen on the resistance option and who really wants to build a state of institutions governed by law can reach the presidency seat in Lebanon,” MP Mohammad Raad, who heads Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament, told a party ceremony in south Lebanon.
He blamed the March 14 coalition’s continued support for Geagea for the presidential deadlock. “Some insisted on naming a candidate who wants a civil war among the Lebanese people and who wants to relinquish the resistance’s achievements,” Raad said in an apparent reference to Geagea. “Such a candidate would never become president, no matter what forces support him.”
Meanwhile, political sources said that the main reason behind holding Friday’s Cabinet session at the Grand Serail rather than Baabda Palace was the dispute between Aoun and Sleiman, supported by the March 14 ministers, concerning appointment of members to the Military Council. The Military Council controls all the financial and logistical decision-making within the Army. The council also shares its authority with the Army commander. The sources said that Aoun sought the appointment of his son-in-law Maj. Gen. Shamel Roukoz, head of the Army’s elite unit, to the post of new Army chief. However, other candidates for the post hold higher rankings than Roukoz, making the officer ineligible for the military’s leading post. According to the rules of the military, the Army commander cannot have a lower rank than members of the Military Council.

Syrian opposition defense minister resigns
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Monday, 19 May 2014
The Syrian opposition’s defense minister has resigned after reports of disagreements with the group’s head, opposition sources said on Monday. Dissident Asaad Mustafa’s resignation from the government-in-exile highlights divisions among President Bashar al-Assad's opponents. Mustafa, in his sixties,had been appointed to his post in November as part of a plan by the opposition National Coalition to administer rebel-held areas of the war-torn country, according to Reuters news agency. A rebel source close to Mustafa told Reuters he resigned on Sunday night to protest a lack of funds for his fighters from Coalition head Ahmed Jarba. But a source in the Coalition said Mustafa left after Jarba refused to appoint him as provisional prime minister, a post currently held by Ahmed Tumeh, a moderate Islamist.
Jarba will remain head of the Coalition until June, when a new leader will be elected unless his term is extended.

Coronavirus: between fear and embarrassment
Monday, 19 May 2014 /Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
Saudi Arabia’s late health minister, Ghazi al-Gosaibi, talks in one of his books about how he managed the ministry during a time when the government was not sure of how to address the issue of poor medical services. He wrote that when he assumed his post, he was shocked by the poor condition of the ministry. The Ministry of Health is a difficult institution to handle and it seems the situation has not changed despite the slew of ministers who have taken over one after the other. According to Gosaibi, the problem lies within the ministry itself; its regulations and abilities. The MERS coronavirus crisis has negatively affected the ministry and revealed its failure to recover. The citizens’ priorities are employment and healthcare and the latter is the main service which citizens depend on to judge their government’s competence, concern, failure and success. The medical institution in Saudi Arabia - including the ministry, public and private healthcare system, education, training, technology and development – does not work within a comprehensive and integrated strategy. Various aspects of the medical institution operate as separate entities and under several governmental bodies, including the civil, military, commercial and health insurance authorities. The governmental budget allocated for the health ministry is huge; it reaches $20 billion a year. Half of this amount goes to paying wages and one quarter goes to operational needs. Around 60 percent of the healthcare services go for 150 cities and towns nationwide. “This could be a motivation to reconsider and develop the entire healthcare sector” As fears of the coronavirus increase, you would be surprised if you walk into private healthcare centers in Riyadh as neither the medical team nor the people who visit for check-ups wear face masks. This comes despite the fact that 10 percent of the infection spread among medical teams. In his article in the al-Jazira daily, Dr. Abdullah al-Huqayel highlighted some aspects of the problem and discussed the spread of the virus and the failure to properly treat it. He said that it was, and is still, possible to control the spread of coronavirus before it becomes an epidemic. Coronavirus is not a local issue but an international one as the world has mobilized to confront it before it becomes an epidemic. Saudi Arabia is a vast country, half of the residents of which are from across the world. Millions of pilgrims visit the country to perform their religious duties of umrah and hajj. Medical healthcare is thus a major public and private service, the management of which must be developed into an integrated system. It is the sector that least hires citizens considering the costly and long preparations needed. This is not a problem as much as it’s a good opportunity to expand the scope of educating, training. Coronavirus embarrassed the government and spread fear. This could be a motivation to reconsider and develop the entire healthcare sector. This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 19, 2014.

US and Abu Dhabi aid Gen. Haftar’s bid to stabilize Libyan rule by ousting Islamists
DEBKAfile Special Report May 19, 2014/Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s assaults on the Libyan parliament in Tripoli Sunday and Islamist strongholds in Benghazi last week, at the head of a group of former Libyan soldiers and assorted militias, has won a certain amount of backing from the US and United Arab Emirates, in the hope that his campaign will finally bring stable rule to the chaos-ridden country.
Three prime ministers have come and gone since Qaddafi’s one-man rule was toppled in 2011. Hafter has made his objective clear, blaming the havoc on extremist Islamists “who have held the country to ransom.” debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that, while unidentified American entities are supplying the Hafter force with funds and intelligence, sources in Abu Dhabi are providing them with weapons, or the price of their purchase on Libya’s flourishing arms market. These two outsiders seemingly collaborate.
How far the Obama administration and UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Zayed Al Nahyan actually support Hafter’s cause is hard to pin down. It will most likely depend on how successful he is in his bid to start carving out the shape of stable government rid of Islamist extremists in the northern Libyan region between the two key towns of Tripoli and Benghazi.
The most dangerous Islamist militia in his sights is Ansar al-Sharia and its leader Abu Khattala, whom US intelligence recently concluded carried out the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 and murdered Ambassador Christ Stevens and three of his CIA staffers. (Exclusive details of the Obama administration’s plan to capture Abu Khattala alive or dead were first revealed in the last DEBKA Weekly 635 on May 16.) Khalifa Hafter’s campaign to remove the Islamist militias which hold Libya in their grip may or may not be directly linked to the US plan against Ansar al-Sharia and its leader. But it will in any case be useful, in as far as it evicts this and other extremist brigades from their strongholds at the heart of ruling institutions in Libya’s main cities.
In their attack Friday, Hafter loyalist forces, firing Grad surface rockets, truck-mounted antiaircraft guns and mortars, inflicted heavy casualties on the Islamist forces controlling Benghazi.
Sunday, with the fighting still raging in Benghazi, another Hafter force struck 650 km to the east, to overrun parliament in Tripoli, which he accused of being strangled by extremist Islamist entities
In Tripoli, Hafter’s forces gained important support from the large Al-Saiqa force, made up of former commandos and paratroops of the Libyan army, and the al-Qaaqaa Brigade, formed by Western Libyan soldiers who defected from the army. They put the lawmakers to flight and replaced them with a 60-member constituent's assembly.
Whatever he calls it, Hafter is therefore leading a military revolt in Libya. His spokesman Sunday denied that the operation was a coup and insisted the force was “fighting by the people’s choice.”
Ministers and high officials of Libya’s government, which stopped functioning altogether after the last prime minister fled last year, refused Monday to recognize the new ruling body and called on Islamist militias in Tripoli to go to war on their new would-be masters. debkafile’s military and intelligence sources are reserving judgment on the chances of Gen. Hafter and his allies succeeding in their campaign, or how long they can count on US and Gulf support. The situation will remain uncertain so long as Libya’s most powerful militias sit on the fence until they decide which side it is worth their while to join.
Libya’s political landscape is dominated by 17 large, well-armed militias, most of them tribal or regional units that broke away from the army after Qaddafi’s ouster. But there is also a swarm of small armed groups, which control fiefdoms in urban districts and small hamlets. Their loyalties are hazy. The strongest armed group of them all is the Misrata Brigade, which rules the port of that name in northern Libya west of Tripoli. This brigade is a coalition of 200 small militias; it commands 40,000 fighters, 800 tanks, a self-propelled artillery unit and 2,000 armored vehicles. Misrata has not so far intervened in the fighting in Benghazi and Tripoli.