November 2009


More than one female migrant worker dies in Lebanon each week, most of them are either pushed to suicide by abuse and confinement or fall from great heights while attempting to escape these conditions. October alone claimed the lives of eight, according to HRW. The problem has attracted enough attention from NGOs that the authorities in Lebanon have started pretending to do something about it. General Security started a half-hearted attempt at raising awareness through media campaigns. The Ministry of Labor has introduced a standard work contract, but it still refuses to amend the labor law to include migrant domestic workers — which would insure them maximum work hours and a minimum salary and days off. Implementation would still be a problem, but we can cross that bridge when we get to it.

In the meantime, a blogger has taken it upon himself to address the problem and document suicide and other incidents in a new blog: Ethiopian Suicides. Despite the name, the blog is concerned with migrant domestic workers in general and it is the initiative of a concerned citizen. Please, check it out. (hat tip: Moussa Bashir)

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As most followers of all things Lebanese know, a unity government headed by Saad Hariri has been formed after five months of… well, formation. Ziad Baroud is going to retain his position as Minister of Interior (president’s share) and that is good news. But there is even better news: The Free Patriotic Movement has chosen no other than economist, activist, and intellectual Sharbil Nahhas for the post of Minister of Telecommunications. To those of you not familiar with Sharbil Nahhas, his website (trilingual) gives a good idea of his qualifications. Nahhas is a reformer in spirit with a fundamental critique and understanding of our sectarian system. Over the past two decades, Nahhas has put together several proposals, such as a strategy for social development and a law proposal for a pension scheme, that, needless to say, never made it through the system. As the inside man, there is reason to hope a little.

Other than Baroud and Nahhas, there are actually some good choices in this makeup (by “good” I mean people who are actually into “governing” while in government). Rayya Haffar al-Hassan (Future Movement) came in as first Lebanese female minister of Finance ever and one of two women in the unity government. No fundamental change is going to come from these quarters. She has been schooled by Hariri and Sanioura and, as she herself has declared, she intends to follow similar financial policies. But to be realistic, she is competent and one can hope this will reflect on the ever ballooning public debt. Fadi Abboud (FPM, tourism) and Hassan Mnaymnah (Future Movement, education) are also promising choices. As for Amal, Hizballah, and Junblat, they have mostly exhibited characteristic lack of creativity in their choice of ministers.

There has also been a lot of focus in the media on Hariri’s snub to the Kataeb. The Gemayyel party has been dealt what is regarded in Lebanon as a third rate ministry, namely Social Affairs. There are two things to note here. The first is that far from being a shock, this comes as the culmination of the problems Kataeb has been having with March 14, not just Hariri. The second point is summarized succinctly by Khaled Saghiyah in today’s al-Akhbar: “The government to Hariri is like the weapons to Hizballah; you can support it as an ally but you cannot partake of it.”

Next on the agenda, a Hariri pilgrimage to Damascus to be followed by a Junblat chaser.

I was still a child when the Berlin wall came crashing down, but I clearly remember the images — some of which are replaying today — when they first appeared on TV in 1989. They made a huge impression on those of us living the last few years of a civil war, which at the time seemed to have no end in sight. The fall of the wall was an emblematic moment which helped many imagine a possible future when east and west could come together in a warring Lebanon as well. When the war ended and people met each other across the Mathaf crossing in Beirut, comparisons with that Berlinesque moment were inevitable. The lingering effects of the division on Germany notwithstanding, the images from 1989 continue to inspire. Here is to the day this other wall comes crashing down!

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Nilin, Palestine (Bernat Armangue, AP)

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Qalandya, Palestine (Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)