Although I was in Beirut six months ago, but I do miss this amazing city. There is something about this place that always makes me want to come back no matter how often I visit it. Soldier is full of Saudis these days, as it is always during the summer, but this is not the reason why I was missing Beirut today. The reason was this blogpost by Susannah Tarbush where she reported on Zeid Hamdan and his effort to create an alternative music scene in Lebanon.

In December 2008 I had a chance to attend one of his shows with Hiba Mansouri, who actually left a nice comment on my post last year. I recorded a couple of videos during that night, and I thought I’d share one of them with you here. In the video you can hear Hiba sings Ahwak, which an old song by Fairouz, and next to her you can see Zeid playing the guitar and fiddling with his laptop. Good times.

Arab Bloggers, Unite! (or don’t!)

The first Arab Bloggers Meeting last year in Beirut was really good, and the second one which is taking place this week has been going great. Last year’s event, held in Zico House, was small and cozy, and I was afraid that since there will be much more people this time around that we would lose that coziness. Luckily, this is not the case. The atmosphere is pretty informal, and the good thing in this year’s meeting is the large number of practical workshops aiming to teach bloggers some practical skills that they can use to improve their blogging experience.

More than 75 participants from 18 countries kicked off the meeting on Tuesday. The first day included two main presentations: online campaigning on Arab blogs; and a critical look at the “Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere” report.

The online campaigning presentation was given by Egyptian bloggers Noha Atef and Eman Abdul-Rahman. The latter is the leader of We’re All Laila campaign. It was interesting to learn how the idea of this campaign developed from a chat filled with frustration between Eman and a friend. “Then I thought: what if all women spoke out about their issues at the same time?” Some of you probably remember that my blog featured a contribution at the campaign in 2008 written by a friend of mine. Noha, on the other hand, talked about the basics of online campaigning, best practices and do’s and don’ts.

Razan Ghazzawi gave a critical look at the report issued by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Razan had some problems with the language and context of the report, which she found unfairly biased. Although I think Razan has made some good points, I believe that most of her critique seemed to focus on minutiae that seemed irrelevant in the larger context of the report, which is based on data mining and aims to draw a map from that data without attempting much to draw any radical conclusions. The report was about trends and links, not political analysis.

On the second day, Manal Hasan of manalaa.net fame spoke about Arab Techies: how the idea came about, what they are doing in the present, and what they plan for the future. The project that interested me the most in their work was an initiative to develop open source Arabic fonts. One of my biggest annoyances with the Arabic content on the web is the limited number of fonts available for use which results eventually in badly designed websites.

Later on, Anas Tawileh of Meedan.net spoke about their experience so far in building a platform for translating web content to Arabic. The approach of Meedan, which uses IBM technologies, employs a machine translation aided by human translation provided by a network of volunteers. I have used their service here on Saudi Jeans a couple of times over the past few weeks and they do a very good job.

We are in the middle of the third day and everybody is enjoying it. More from here later…

Beirut, Again

I did not enjoy Beirut as much as I wanted when I went there for the first time last December. The schedule was tight, the weather was cold, and the political situation was tense. But now it’s summer, and I hope it will be different this time. I will be flying to Beirut tomorrow to participate at the Arab Bloggers Meeting, an informal gathering for online activists in the region organized by Heinrich Boell Stiftung Middle East. It should be interesting.

P.S. I want to thank Prof. Abdul-Rahman al-Obaid and Dr. Ashraf Mahmoud for their understanding and support.

Back from Beirut

The good news is: my presentation did not end up in a disaster. The bad news is: I did not have time to see the city. But overall it was a good trip: I met many great people and I have had fun.

On the first day we attended the 2nd Gebran Tueni Award ceremony, a big event witnessed by hundreds of dignitaries and guests. We enjoyed touching speeches by Nayla Tueni, Majida Al Roumi and others, and I was especially moved by Majida speech which demonstrated the anger and frustration of Lebanese people with the current political deadlock. The award was given this year to Michel Hajji Georgiou, a senior political analyst at the French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour in Lebanon. He told us during the dinner party that night the he had to sell his car because he has been afraid of being assassinated by the pro-Syrian elements.

Except for one Saudi guy working for the LBC and has been living in Beirut since 1994, I was the only participant from Saudi Arabia and the GCC. Interestingly, many people came to me after the panel and said they could not believe that I was Saudi. I can tell that many in the Arab World have a certain stereotype for the citizens of this country. Anyways, I’m really glad that the session turned out to be fine and that many people liked it.

As I said earlier, I did not have enough time to go out and enjoy the different parts of the city, but I got to hang out with friends in Al Hamra, have breakfast by the Rawsha rock, and had a walk in Ashrafia and Solider. Beirut is a beautiful city, but because it has gone through a lot, it looks bruised and tired. I suspect that tourists would enjoy seeing the army everywhere searching their bags and asking them to stop taking pictures of the city’s landmarks. Let’s hope things would get better before the summer season.

Finally, I want to thank the organizers for inviting me to be part of this event and I hope to see them again in Beirut next year. I also want to thank fellow bloggers Wael Abbas and Mohammed Azraq, as well as Mahmoud Abdelfattah, the best moderator ever :-) Last but not least, I want to thank Alexandra, Hala, Maha, Mustapha, Sherif, Yumna, Rana, Zina, Adel, Virginie, Fadwa, and all those who made my first visit to Lebanon fun but I forgot their names.

P.S. The first picture is inspired by Roba.