How Hiba Tawaji Completely Owned France’s The Voice

Hiba Tawaji The Voice

Hiba Tawaji just blew everyone away at France’s The Voice, as was expected. She started off singing Michel Legrand’s “Les Moulins De Mon Coeur” before going into her own Lebanese version of the song “La Bidayi Wala Nihayi” prompting all four judges to turn for her.

Hiba then continued singing effortlessly before ending her performance with a high note that got all 4 judges to give her a standing ovation, as well as have the audience attending the taping rise to their feet to applause her.

This is Hiba’s performance:

She ended up choosing Mika as her coach for the rest of the show.

Hiba Tawaji - The Voice France

French audiences were also extremely receptive of her. “Libanaise” and “Hiba” both trended on Twitter worldwide. The following is a sample of the tweets that I screenshot as people gushed about her performance:

Even the head of Universal Music France was blown away by her:

Hiba Tawaji The Voice France

I saw a lot of Lebanese people wonder how it makes sense for someone as accomplished as Hiba Tawaji to end up on a French talent show.

I think someone as talented and as vocally adept as Tawaji is limited by the scope of what she can do in a country like Lebanon. Her talent can easily find a place in an international scene, with France being the easiest stepping stone as The Voice has proven to be receptive for Lebanese talents as Hiba Tawaji is the fourth Lebanese in four seasons to participate.

Sure, participating in a talent show doesn’t necessarily translate to instant success, nor does it mean she is sure to win the show. But if there’s any Lebanese that can have a shot at reaching the finals (the best outcome so far was Anthony Touma reaching the semi-finals in season 2), it’s her – and her audition only serves to prove that point: out of all 4 Lebanese, she was the best by far.

Moreover, Hiba Tawaji has been around for several years now, and her state of success, albeit impressive, is easily dwarfed by much less talented but more busted female singers in the country, which means that she is quite under-appreciated here for the level of art she is presenting.

Naturally, there will also be those who tell us that there are more important things to worry about. Of course there are more important things that Lebanese should be preoccupied with. At times like these when our army soldiers are bravely dying to let us watch such TV shows safely in the confines of our homes, and when there’s little to be optimistic about at the state of the country actually, such a moment can serve to unwind. And that’s not really a bad thing.

The French are referring to Hiba as “la Libanaise.” She represents us and is doing so extremely well. As such, Hiba Tawaji has made us all proud today and best of luck to her progression on the show.

 

The Names & Faces of Lebanese Army Soldiers Who Died Defending Us Against ISIS In The Beqaa

A lot of the Lebanese populace will be spending this weekend either skiing their days away at resorts or clubbing the nights at various parties across the country, or, ironically, watching the “heroics” of an “American Sniper” at our cinemas.

As that “joie de vivre” manifests, however, the country will be burying 8 soldiers that passed away yesterday defending everyone against a looming threat at our borders, and whose heroics will fail to register with most.

Why did those 8 army soldiers die? Well, for one reason it’s because they live in a country led by so-called leaders who aren’t up to their title as they fail every single moment they “lead” to make the much-needed decisions that such times require.

Today, Lebanon is in an official state of mourning. No, it’s not mourning any of these 8 heroes who gave up their lives, not thinking of their families, of their children and of their wives, to defend us. Nope – the country is mourning a Saudi King whose country has worked tirelessly over the past few years to make sure the terrorists who killed our army soldiers are well-armed and ready to fight.

Because those soldiers live in a country that won’t remember them after the weekend has passed and where their names and faces would always remain unknown, I figured the best way to honor them is to make sure their face and their name are there for all of us to see.

I often hear that it is the job of the Lebanese Army to defend us at all costs, but that doesn’t mean those “costs” should be without recognition. Those army members who sacrifice everything in order to maintain the republic should have their sacrifices honored. Our government may not think the fallen soldiers of a battle deserve to have the country’s flags lowered for a couple of days, but these 8 people have an entire population lowering their heads to salute them.

 

 

5 Major Projects To Take Place In Beirut: The City Losing Itself To Money

Between articles about how empty Downtown is and a reiteration of every form of the word “Phoenix” possible, there has been plenty that international publications have said about our capital. But there hasn’t been, in my opinion, as interesting an article as the one published in The Guardian today (link). In fact, it has taught me a few things about the city’s future that I felt should be shared.

Solidere’s view for Downtown Beirut is only halfway done. That empty but beautiful looking aggregation of charming but ultimately lifeless buildings is not where things end. Solidere’s view for how the center of Beirut should be is basically to get as many fancy worldwide architects as possible and have them build on one of the city’s plots.

As such, here are 5 projects that await the city in the future.

1 – Zaha Hadid’s Department Store in Beirut Souks

If you thought Zaha Hadid’s AUB building was bad, wait till you see this. Beirut Souks as they stand currently are not expensive nor are they enough for regular shoppers. So, naturally, they will expand in the future with the addition of a Zaha Hadid-designed department store that will also serve as a residential space in some of its floors. Why? Because money, I guess. The place will have be a 5-storey development of 26,370musable area (32,390m2 gross). And it looks ugly. For more information, check this.

2 – Norman Foster’s 3Beirut:

In the “Minet el Hosn” area, behind the Four Seasons hotel and facing Phoenicia, 3 towers are currently under construction, and nearing completion. The 3 towers are basically a staggered face that rises up to 120 meters. And here I thought urban planning in the city had a limit on how many “high-rises” you can have. They are considered “luxury apartments” and as such, add this to the list 99% of the Lebanese population can’t afford but will spend the rest of their days looking at. For more information, check this.

3 – Herzog & de Meuron’s “Beirut Terrace”:

Also in the “Minet el Hosn” area, facing Phoenicia, the “Beirut Terrace” project is currently under construction. An architect friend of mine once said he found the design to be impressive, so I would assume that this one of the better ones from an architectural point of view. In 2013, this project ranked 3rd among 36 projects worldwide in the MIPIM Awards. Of course, this apartments complex is also not within your budget, or almost anyone’s budget for that matter. The penthouse is $13 million. For more information, check this.

4 – Peter Marino’s  1338 Mina El Hosn:

Seeing as that same area isn’t saturated with wellness centers and shopping spaces already, here’s another one. The project includes retail, restaurants and cafés, high-end serviced apartments and a wellness center, the future Beirut Spa and Wellness Center. It will be a continuation of the Beirut Souks project and serve to connect the hotels area (Phoenicia, Four Seasons, Monroe) with the commercial district (Souks, Downtown). Located along Patriarch Howayek Street, it will cover an area of 17,173m2. For more information, check this.

5 – Renzo Piano’s “Pinwheel”:

Sama Beirut, which is nearing completion, won’t be the country’s tallest structure for long. “Pinwheel” is the name of the glass tower to be built at Wafiq Sinno avenue, near Biel, effectively blocking the view for most of the buildings behind it.  The towers will have a department store and ballroom in their lower levels, and a hotel with serviced apartments in the higher levels. For more information on the project, check this.

Bonus – Jean Nouvel’s “Landmark”:

We’ve all heard about this one when the plot on which it was built turned out to have Lebanon’s first Church. Naturally, everyone was outraged. Except this time, because it was a religious building, the outrage ended up putting the project on hold. As it looks now, this will be the project out of the 5 listed never to see the light of day. It was supposed to be a hotel, shopping center – because downtown doesn’t have enough of those – as well as a spa. For more information, click here.

They wonder why we feel disconnected with the city’s heart, and ultimately with the city itself. Beirut is not meant for us anymore. Even the less “fancy” development is not something most of us can afford. The Beirut that our parents told us stories about is nowhere to be found anymore, and if you thought the future would move retrogradely towards a city that’s more accessible to Lebanese, and less aimed at wealthy expats and Saudi sheikhs, you thought terribly wrong.

5 Issues More Important Than Miss Lebanon’s Selfie With Miss Israel

Ladies and gentlemen, as another week rolls by, we have another scandal about which you will probably be talking for the next seven days.

Sally Jreij, our lovely Miss Lebanon, is in one hell of a problem. A few days ago, a picture surfaced on Instagram that featured our pride and joy (especially true for Northerners) with a few other contestants.

In that same picture, on the far left corner was a face that would have been pretty meaningless if it weren’t for the ribbon she had around her torso. ISRA- oh my god, our internal security is in ruins.

From left to right:  Miss Israel, Miss Lebanon, Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan.

From left to right:
Miss Israel, Miss Lebanon, Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan.

Can you believe it? Our very own pride and joy managed to disgrace the country in a selfie with the enemy? What will befall us? What future can we promise our children when our very own representative to the beauties managed to ruin our country’s flawless reputation that way?

Except Sally Jreij did not purposefully take the selfie and was actually photobombed, not that this will deter the scandal from taking place because – as I said – we certainly have a shortage of those around here.

The following is her statement on the matter:

“To all my supporters and Lebanese citizens, I would like to thank you indeed for your continuous support of Miss Lebanon at the Miss Universe contest …The truth behind the photo: Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel (that tried several times to have a photo with me).

I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia and myself; suddenly Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie, and put it on her social media. This is what happened and I hope to have your full support in the Miss Universe contest”

Sally Jreij knows not to be seen with the enemy at places were it’s almost certain to be around them. She knows that when it comes to Lebanon and Israel, we are the ones supposed to forfeit, run away from pictures and be resistant at every corner, because we do not believe their existence is justified.

In fact, Sally Jreij did that not so long ago at yet another international pageant with Miss Israel Mor Maman:

From the 124 contestants, Maman’s best friend is Miss Kirgizstan and she has not been treated with hostility so far, expect for an incident concerning Miss Lebanon: “On one of the trips they took us on some of us girls wanted to take a selfie. Miss Lebanon wanted to join but asked me where I was from. When I told her I was from Israel, she declined the photo.”

Leave it to Lebanon to make a big deal out of nothing when we’re drowning up to our chins in problems.

So as a reminder, for when you are sharing that selfie, calling her a traitor and pointing her towards the public guillotine, here are 5 issues that are taking place as we speak and which most of you aren’t giving a second glance:

1 – Our Kidnapped Soldiers in Arsal:

How many months has it been since those soldiers were taken hostage by Islamists? How many days have their parents set up camps, blocked roads and did the impossible to bring attention to their sons? How many of those soldiers have been beheaded already to exert pressure on the country? How many questions of those can you answer without reverting to google?

Just today, two of our soldiers were injured by Israelis in the South. But obviously, that is less important than a selfie.

2 – Tripoli Had Two Explosions Last Week:

Between Charlie, Ahmed and every single Frenchman last week, we have failed to notice that the country lost 9 people in a double suicide attack in Tripoli last week. We didn’t have vigils in Beirut about them. No one protested. I bet few even cared. The news that one of the victims of those attacks was a bonafide hero didn’t even make a dent in our news. We couldn’t even agree on a hashtag to support Tripoli in the explosions. If you’re wondering, the hashtag to support sally is #StandForSally.

3 – No President:

I’m listing this as the #3 issue because it has become so passé. Our parliament failed yet again to elect a president last week. How many times have those been? I personally don’t know so you’re forgiven if you don’t know either. I suppose a country without a president is surely allowed to be panicky about a selfie with the enemy, right?

4 – A Recycled Parliament:

Never since the Civil War has a Lebanese parliament been a space occupying lesion as this one. They’ve been around for more than 5 years now. They will be around for 2 more. They are not passing any laws. They are not serving the country in anything, and if you look at point number 3, they have failed again and again to elect a president. Who cares when Miss Lebanon took a selfie with Miss Israel goddamit!

5 – Rule of Guns:

Yves Nawfal passed away last week because he was shot by people who thought above the law and whose entire lives revolve around guns. A couple of days after Yves’ death, another girl named Eliane Safatly was shot dead by a man who protested with his gun to not being allowed into a night club. Americans have their gun rights protected in their constitution. We can’t even begin to talk about an issue that’s killing our youth one by one. But, again, just look at that traitorous selfie for fuck’s sake!

Leave Sally Jreij alone:

The selfie that has you all upset has been around for 6 days. The only way this is causing our national security to go up in flames is through our insecurity that Miss Lebanon doesn’t know her limits as Lebanese abroad.

This is an ‘fyi’ to all those who are up in a fit: there are many, many Lebanese abroad who go to colleges and conferences and who also find themselves in attendance with Israelis. And they all know how to behave in order not to have people calling for their heads back home.

In a world of globalization, when someone is not a traitor, don’t make them one just because you feel like it, especially when real-life traitors are getting free out-of-jail cards because of their connection.

A few days from now, when the Miss Universe pageant is in full swing, Miss Lebanon will most certainly find herself in the same frame as Miss Israel. Are we going to panic then?

And you know what, our very own Sally Jreij is so much prettier than Miss Israel. So let our enemy of the south take that!

#JusticeForYves: The Killer Has Been Caught & This Is How You All Helped

The story of Yves Nawfal has been one of the most striking pieces of news to shake the country over the past few days. If you haven’t heard of Yves or the cold and calculated way he was killed, check out this link (click) for all the details.

5 days after Yves’ brutal murder at the hand of Charbel Georges Khalil, it is with pleasure that I write that Justice for Yves has been (partially) brought to us. The killer has been reportedly apprehended by the police in Brital, in the Beqaa.
Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 9.57.04 PM

He was reportedly fleeing to Syria according to L’Orient Le Jour. It’s a good thing he got caught before he got there.

The arrest of Charbel Georges Khalil shows that even political covers in Lebanon can end. It shows that when they want to do their job, our security forces and intelligence can do a great one at that, bring justice to those who demand it and not let killers escape just because they can.

And I hope you all know that you were a big reason of why Charbel Georges Khalil was caught.

You were the ones who endlessly shared our blog posts about him, read them in your hundreds of thousands, were absolutely shocked at this taking place in the first place and even more shocked that the killer was getting away.

You were the ones who made the story stick over 5 days, who made sure no one forgot Yves as yet another Lebanese cause du jour, who made sure our security personnel don’t slack off and just let this go as yet another unsolved murder mystery to become urban legend.

You were the ones who raised your voice so loud that whichever politician was hiding Charbel Khalil not only had his name until today hidden from every media outlet, only existing in speculation, but also got that politician to let go of the person he was protecting.

You were the ones who organized sit-ins to make sure this doesn’t get forgotten.

Charbel Khalil is a very connected, and resourceful man. In a country like Lebanon, that gets you far. Sometimes, it gets you way too far. Money can buy you anything. Connections can get you out of anything. It is because of all our efforts that we’ve put a brick wall in front of Charbel Khalil and his resources. And hopefully that brick wall will now turn into a jail cell from which he will never leave, until the day he dies.

Tonight, we should all celebrate Yves’ justice, and I hope you all know that Yves’ justice doesn’t become whole with death penalties.

The story, however, doesn’t end here.

There are still people out there who helped in Yves’ murder and who should be caught. Charbel Georges Khalil did not act alone. He had accomplices. Their names are known. They are Charbel Moussa Khalil, Juliano Saadeh and Edwin Azzi – all of whom are also resourceful and connected and who are still out of reach. Those three people made sure Yves got ambushed. They made sure his car was blocked and made sure he was susceptible to have shots fired at him.

Even Myriam Klink thinks Edwin Azzi is scum:

MyriamKlink Edwin Azzi

I’m sure Yves’ family will sleep better tonight knowing that their son’s killer will spend his night behind bars. I hope his mother starts to at least find peace now that her son is one of the very few people in this country who have justice being given to their memory. I also hope Yves’ friends and loved ones find solace in the fact that have made sure this becomes 5 days’ worth of national news.

Covering this story has been humbling. Yves will always be remembered as the man whose memory challenged our entire political system. May he rest in peace.

 

Abou Ali Issa: The Lebanese Hero Of The Tripoli Explosions

Two days ago, Tripoli got hit with death yet again as a terrorist attack took place in its Jabal Mohsen neighborhood.

The politics and intricacies of the attack are many, but there is one story of heroism springing out of the horror that took place on Saturday that no one is talking about. I figured I will, because this particular story about these kinds of people are the ones that make you see that faint silver lining in all the mayhem.

Many have wondered how come a café as crowded as the one attacked in Jabal Mohsen only amounted to less than 10 casualties. That’s because the suicide bombing attack didn’t go according to the two terrorists’ plans.

Among those was a brave, courageous, heroic man called Abou Ali Issa. He was a father of seven. When the first suicide bomber detonated himself, people started gathering at the site. Abou Ali Issa who wasn’t even at the café at the time rushed to the site to see what was happening. It was then that he saw the second suicide bomber approaching the premises to detonate himself and kill much more people than the first one did. The bomber shouted “Allahou Akbar.” Abou Ali Issa rushed at him and tackled him, preventing the bomber from reaching the café, killing the people inside. The bomber then detonated himself, killing them both.

He didn’t care about the sects of those in the cafe. He didn’t care if he was saving the lives of Sunnis, Shia, Alawites or Christians. Abou Ali Issa did not care about his own life as he was faced with a choice most of us would never face: save others or save yourself. He chose the former.

This is Ali Issa’s face. It deserves to become imprinted in our collective memory as a nation.

Abou Ali Issa

This man who saved hundreds of life will never become a viral sensation. His funeral was broadcast yesterday, along with that of the 7 other people that died with him, on a split-screen on Lebanese TVs, not even worthy of full screen treatment.

Picture via the Beirut Report

Picture via the Beirut Report

In a few days from now, no one will remember that there were two suicide bombers in Tripoli who targeted innocents, let alone the existence of a man who prevented those terrorists from doing so much more harm hadn’t he sacrificed his own life to save everyone else.

Today, there are hundreds of families in Tripoli and Jabal Mohsen who owe their wholeness to Abou Ali Issa. They owe him the presence of their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. They owe him the sheer relief they felt when their loved ones came back home that day.

Abou Ali Issa’s family, his wife and seven children, did not get that same sense of relief and happiness. Their family will never be whole again, and justice for their father and husband will probably never come.

This is my attempt to make the memory of their father and husband that of a national hero, as it should be, as he is the kind of people who deserve to be paraded around as national symbols, as household names who should never be forgotten, because people like him are rare to come by and they should always be cherished and honored and respected.

May he rest in peace. There are fewer people deserving of such peace.

Update: The Daily Star has covered the story here and here.

#JusticeForYves: When Lebanon Is A Jungle, Not A Country

Yves Nawfal was celebrating his 26th birthday at a pub called Powder in Faraya on Friday when he got in an altercation with a guy named Charbel Khalil and his friends over a girl. Normally, as is expected in such a familiar setting at a pub, the fight was supposed to be broken up by the pub’s owner – which he thought he did – and everyone goes home with a bunch of stories about their testosterone-high adventures to tell their friends.

Except that wasn’t the case and Yves Nawfal, who had texted his mother that same evening saying “je suis comblé maman, je t’aime,” is not okay and is dead, because he was unfortunate enough to live where the concepts of justice and accountability are foreign.

What happened was the following:

Charbel Georges Khalil, from the nearby village of Hrajel, who knows his way well in such scenarios, was not satisfied with the resolution the bar owner enforced. Instead, he got his men: Charbel Moussa Khalil and Juliano Saadeh to block the road for Yves and his friends. Soon enough, the road got opened through both groups’ connections, and they went on their way.

Instead of stopping at that level of intimidation, however, Khalil decided to ambush Yves and his friends as they left. He held out his semi-automatic gun and, along with his accomplices, fired at Yves’ convoy of two cars 17 times. Yves and his friends were unarmed. He hit Yves with 4 bullets, severely injuring him, and also injured Yves’ companion Saba Nader, whose father owns Bankers Insurance.

That same evening, calls on social media were up in flames to provide 12 units of O+ blood for Yves Nawfal, for an urgent operation in an attempt to stabilize him and possibly save his life. In medical terms, Yves would have been for anesthesiologists and physicians a class 6 patient whose surgical intervention was the only hope for him to live. Yves did not make it.

His killer, Charbel Khalil, is now nowhere to be found. He has sought refuge with one of Keserwan’s very influential figures, whose name is unknown yet, and who is keeping Mr. Khalil away from the cops that are actively searching for him. Clearly, the only way Charbel Khalil is to be found is by the politician hiding him to give him up.

The following are two pictures of Khalil, whose face is circled in red in one of them, posing with a gun next to some church because that’s how someone like him goes about his days:

 

 

And the following is a video of the assault via LBC:

We live in a jungle where rule of law does not exist, where you can do whatever you want – even kill – and still get away with it through the help of the many Lebanese that are always above the law, on whom there’s no accountability, who never face the consequences of their actions.

Charbel Khalil, who’s only 27, already did a similar thing to another victim last year and was not arrested for it. He was not thrown in jail, in which case Yves would have still been alive and his mother wouldn’t be grieving now, and social media wouldn’t be seething over such a heinous crime taking place just because the murderer is so influential he could get away with murder.

What happened after last year’s assault was probably also something similar to what took place this time: political intervention, silencing of the victim, media blackout, everyone goes about their days normally.

But not this time. How do you get away with murder in Lebanon? You need connections. How else would someone with a criminal past of assault like Khalil still be around to drink at pubs and get into altercations and kill?

The problem here isn’t just Khalil. It’s that there are those Lebanese that are above the law who can get you away with murder, hide you from justice until people forget.

But there comes a time when your face is plastered across every social media platform, news service, and blog that your connections should fail you, they should give you up, and you should face justice for the young life you took, whose entire future you took and whose family you just bereaved.

16 years ago, my family went through something similar. It was also in the news. My uncle was shot by a lunatic in our hometown. We were bereaved. I remember my grandmother weeping, my mother wailing, his children oblivious. The only solace we got back then wasn’t the many people that came to the funeral, the many who wished mercy on his soul and the support the family got. No, it was that my uncle’s killer – also influential, also well connected and also a psychopath – faced his own justice too.

Yves’ family, friends, and loved ones not only need but demand justice. Charbel Khalil has to be given up. The Keserwani influential person protecting him cannot hide him anymore, and shouldn’t be allowed to hide any killers and criminals from justice. It’s high time Mr. Khalil faces retribution for what he did.

Rest in peace Yves. I didn’t know you, but your loved ones have made sure everyone knows that you were very loved.