March 2021

The Power of Withholding Labour

Mary Jirmanus Saba has an excellent piece on the history of general strikes in Lebanon.

“[…] the general strike has been a powerful tool in twentieth-century Lebanon.  In May 1946, in the early years of Lebanese independence, tobacco workers, mostly women, led a strike at the “Regie,” a French-Lebanese company that monopolized the tobacco industry.  Warde Butros Ibrahim, a 19-year-old worker who was active in the strike was killed by the Lebanese army. A broad coalition of burgeoning union federations threatened a general strike across the public sector,1 which led the Regie to negotiate with the workers and built the momentum needed to pass the, albeit weak, Lebanese Labor Law. In November 1972, a general strike bore fruit again. Striking workers at Gandour & Sons Confectionary factory were again violently repressed, resulting in two deaths.2 A comprehensive national strike pressured the company to reinstate the workers who had been fired, and eventually led to small improvements in labor legislation.”


Where to Marie? Stories of Feminisms in Lebanon

Bernadette Daou and Yazan Al-Saadi have produced an illustrated book that showcases the story of feminist movements in Lebanon. The English translation is by Lina Mounzer.

“A repeated — and ironic — accusation leveled at feminist movements in Arab countries in general and Lebanon in particular is that they are vectors of westernization. In actual fact, the region’s feminist movements were born and developed in the context of nationalist and communist movements and as part of the struggles for national liberation. Feminism was not a foreign ideology ‘imposed’ by colonialism, but was instead indigenous to our societies. Women have long been struggling against colonial powers for equality and social justice, as well as against sectarian personal status laws and the entire patriarchal social structure than enforces them.”


Get sex educated

In light of Pierre Rabbat’s shameful sexism against Sandrine Atallah, here are three Arab women busting myths about sex.


Tapline, Welfare Capitalism, and Mass Mobilization in Lebanon, 1950-1964

Zachary D Cuyler essay examines the role of oil workers in the development of a movement against imperialism, (unfortunately it is behind and academic paywall).

“This essay examines the politics of the technical and anti-colonial nationalism in the labor history of the Trans-Arabian pipeline, or Tapline, in Lebanon. It covers the period between 1950, when Tapline was completed, and 1963–1964, when the company’s Lebanese workforce unionized and participated in a successful nationwide strike.”


Lebanon approves $246 million safety net from the World Bank (but the ruling class gets its cut)

Timour Azhari of Reuters reports that the parliament has approved a social security package (loan from the World Bank) … but only after the ruling class gets “$5 million … for oversight and so-called capacity building”… whatever that is.


Mountain to mortar: Lebanon’s concrete conflicts of interests

Mountain to Mortar, an investigation by Jacob Boswall and Yasmine Minkara, details politicians’ graft in quarrying and construction.

“Data obtained by Triangle proves that politicians or politically exposed people (PEPs) have owned at least one quarter of quarries since 1990. Almost all of these quarries exist in zones deemed illegal for quarrying. It is hardly surprising that the same group of politician-businessmen have failed to impose any proper regulation on the quarrying and crushing sector ever since.”


The change in weight and price of a bread bundle based on the Ministry of Economy’s decisions (1000 grams for 1500 LBP in May 2020 to 870 grams for 2500 LBP in March 2021)


The Lebanese Politics Podcast

This episode covers the rise in coronavirus, the sexism directed at of Dr Sandrine Atallah, protests across the country, shocking statements from security officials, the passing of the World Bank loan with Parliament’s amendments, electricity on the brink of running out and cabinet formation.


Phantasmic Phoenicia

The British, Irish and Lebanese have all claimed descent from the ancient Phoenicians. But ancient Phoenicia never existed… writes Josephine Quinn.

The nation-state might have been new in the Middle East, but the Lebanists knew that nationalist movements needed historical legitimation, a common past on which to build a common polity. A local candidate presented itself: the Phoenicians, the ancient traders who had founded the coastal cities, sailed the length of the Mediterranean and beyond, and invented the alphabet that we still use today. Portraying the Phoenicians as champions of free enterprise, much like themselves, the Lebanists argued that these ancient Phoenician roots gave the Lebanese a Western, Mediterranean-focused identity, very different from the Muslim culture of the broader Syrian region, which they saw as distasteful and uncivilised. It was central to their ideology that they were not Arabs: ‘There are no camels in Lebanon’ as the slogan still goes.

To provide a proper prototype and parallel for modern Lebanon, these Lebanists insisted that the Phoenicians were always a separate, single people or even nation, united by geography, culture, religion and a common identity. As Charles Corm, a charmer and a chancer, as well as Ford Motor Company’s sole representative in Syria, bluntly put it in the July 1919 issue of his short-lived nationalist journal La Revue Phénicienne: ‘We want this nation, because it has always taken precedence in all the pages of our history.’ The argument worked: from 1920, Greater Lebanon was administered as a separate state within the French Mandate. But was it true?

The Phoenicians don’t illustrate the ancient ethnic origins of modern nations, but rather the modern nationalist origins of at least one ancient ethnicity.