Tag Archives: Lebanon

AlJazeera English Q&A With Lebanese Poet Zeina Hashem Beck


I put together this neat little interview with Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck for AlJazeera English when I was back home a couple of weeks ago. I adore Zeina’s poetry, and am convinced her career will continue to flourish, so this was a real treat for me (we had a fantastic discussion — thank you, Zeina). I’ve pasted the entire interview below, but you can see it as it appeared on AlJazeera English here.


Beirut – To say Zeina Hashem Beck is an emerging poet would be an understatement. At 35, the Lebanese writer has already clinched multiple awards. To Live in Autumn, her first collection, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize.

This year, Hashem Beck won the Rattle Chapbook Prize for 3arabi Song, which fuses her passion for Middle Eastern culture with the destabilising forces of war and displacement in the region. She has also been praised by UK Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

Rattle describes 3arabi Song as “a tribute to the Arab world and Arab singers, to refugees and refusal, to hope and home, to sorrow and song”, adding, “like no other collection we’ve read, these poems feel absolutely necessary”. Continue reading

Middle Eastern States Shed Crocodile Tears Over Orlando


In the few hours after Omar Mateen shot dead 50 innocent people at Pulse in Orlando a week ago, dozens of politicians and heads of states around the world rushed to condemn the grotesque hate crime.

The “condemnations” trickling in from the Middle East were particularly interesting and unique when placed in the context of these countries’  track records on LGBT rights and their mistreatment of homosexuals (Russia could potentially be added to this list, too, but for the sake of this post, we’re focusing on the Middle East).

To illustrate the stark contrast between the condemnations and the countries’ respective policies on homosexuality, Florence of Arabia has put together the below listicle featuring Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. (Please do send in more if I’ve missed any.)

[To jump straight to the listicle, click here.]

The contrast is quite humorous and hypocritical, but on a more serious level, it reaffirms just how rampant state-sponsored homophobia is in the region. It’s worth noting that the condemnations were similarly worded and omitted any mention of the attacks occurring at a gay club or targeting homosexuals. 

The condemnations are inherently problematic in that the states are essentially players that enable or fuel the sort of hatred which motivated the very crime they appear to have condemned.

Scholar and writer Samar Habib in this piece for the Washington Post argues that the condemnations are a “start,” whilst acknowledging they are somewhat troublesome. Continue reading

Man of the Orchard


Update: Since I wrote this piece in February, Sukoon, an Arab literary magazine, kindly republished it here. I was also asked to turn the tribute into the below podcast for Black River Press. With thanks to both Rewa and Themba. 

I  first met jeddo (grandpa) in August 1987. I was just three years old, but I have this distinct memory of him hurriedly running down the driveway of his humble orchard-home in Zahrani, barefoot, in the pouring rain, to embrace my mother. He hadn’t seen her since just before the Israeli invasion of South Lebanon in 1982; they’d barely communicated in the interim. Tears were streaming down his face as he held her.

Osman “Abu Nasser” Antar was born to Zahra and Mahmoud in Sidon in 1929. He was the fifth of eight other siblings — one sister, and seven brothers. His father was a trader and a landowner who worked between Palestine and South Lebanon; he managed his finances poorly.

When jeddo was barely 11, my great-grandfather unexpectedly passed away, leaving the family of ten with very little to survive on. My grandpa was consequently forced to leave school to provide for himself, his younger siblings, and his mother. Continue reading

Dear Gaza


In the six months since I started Florence of Arabia, one of my favourite things about the blog has been the infinite space it’s given me to write embarrassing love letters to some incredible Arab artists, journalists, writers, musicians and film-makers — mostly to spread the word on how much brilliance this troubled region possesses.

It’s the sort of quiet yet powerful talent that you want anyone and everyone to know about. In this vein, I’ve decided to ring in the new year with an intoxicating poem written by an equally intoxicating and talented Palestinian-American poet (who moonlights as a clinical psychologist in New York City): Hala Alyan.

“I’ve written for as long as I can remember,” Alyan said in an e-mail this week. “From a young age, I was enchanted by the prospect of storytelling and playing with language; it was like getting to live a thousand lives.” Continue reading

Mashrou’ Leila Brings Beirut to The Barbican


Take a look at the third world,” Mashrou’ Leila front-man Hamed Sinno says to a rambunctious crowd of Londoners intoxicated on his talent. “Look at those Arabs, ISISing.”

Sinno was, of course, being his cheeky and brilliant self. (I fully intend to use the word ISISing in the future).

Pointing to a live projection from the streets of Mar Mikhael in Beirut and footage of young Lebanese being, well, young and Lebanese, the bearded, dreamy singer said his band was bringing the Levantine city to London.

That was, perhaps, the theme of the group’s inaugural Barbican gig: Sinno’s presence was so infectious, so intense, so darn sexy, that the posh London concert hall ascended into a rave — an Arab rave — about fifteen minutes in. Continue reading

This Palestinian Woman Wants to Empower Refugees in Lebanon With a Food-truck


Mariam alShaar is no ordinary woman.

She’s Palestinian. She’s a refugee. She’s gentle, yet she’s fierce and passionate. She comes across as being reserved, but she’s known in Lebanon’s Borj el-Barajneh as one of the refugee camp’s most powerful and influential women.

Perhaps most telling: Although Mariam doesn’t call herself a cook, she leads a team of chefs. She’s even launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a food-truck, which she hopes will bring employment to tens of women in Borj el-Barajneh.

Indeed. Mariam is all kinds of extraordinary.

(Side-note: Mariam is also on Susan Sarandon’s radar. And I’ve loved Susan since Thelma and Louise, through to Arbitrage). Continue reading

On Paris, Beirut and ISIS


*Filed under Letters to Florence*

Some unique takes on the Paris attacks from Aida Alami, a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times and Foreign Policy, and Bashir Saade, a professor of politics at the University of Edinburgh. (Note from Nov. 24: I’ve also added a third account from journalist and PhD candidate Sobhiya Najjar.)

While Alami offers a personal account of reporting from the scene in Paris — and the thoughts that crossed her mind at the time — Saade takes a step back to make some sense of the political implications of the attacks in both France and Lebanon.

Najjar’s piece centres on the cognitive dissonance she felt as her concern wavered from Paris to Beirut and from Beirut to Paris.

With many thanks to all three contributors. Continue reading

Here’s One Way You Can Help Syrian Refugees Keep Warm This Winter


Winter in Lebanon is projected to be particularly harsh this year, with temperatures poised to drop to subzero levels.

This worsens an already disturbing, brutal reality for the vast majority of the nation’s 1 million+ Syrian refugees, who continue to live in makeshift camps as the war in their home country shows no signs of abating.

SAWA for Development and Aid,  a Lebanon-based charity that specialises in improving the living conditions of families and individuals in these refugees camps, is holding a winter clothes drive in Beirut tomorrow (November 14) entitled Before the Storm. The charity has also launched an online donation campaign to help address the problem. Continue reading

Lebanese Minister Expresses “Gut Feeling” on “ISIS-Trained” Syrian Refugees to Cameron

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Giving at least three British and Israeli tabloids including the Daily Mail fuel for refugee scaremongering,  Lebanese Education Minister Elias Bou Saab  reportedly made the baseless claim yesterday that two in every 100 Syrian refugees smuggled into Europe could in fact be ISIS-trained militants.

Bou Saab added he had “no information” that could back up these hilariously specific allegations,  excluding his “gut feeling.” His comments echoed the deep, dark fears of right-wing, anti-migrant Islamophobes all over the world.**

The refugees are traveling to the continent “undercover,” the minister perceptively speculated, whilst bonding with Prime Minister David Cameron during his brief trip to Lebanon for a photo-op with the underprivileged.

Continue reading

The Graffiti and Lexicon of #YouStink Lebanon


The mountains of rubbish left out on the streets of Lebanon for days on end in the sweltering August heat emanate a grotesquely unique stench. It’s impossible to escape and it seeps into your brain. You’re sick of it. It’s enough to drive you crazy. It’s even enough to trigger a revolution, you think.

Fed up and furious, you* start the hashtag #YouStink, round up the crowds and take to the polished streets of Downtown Beirut.

There, the Lebanese security forces meet you with teargas.

Continue reading

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