Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Prayer for a Neighbour

One of the things about living in Egypt is the fact that my neighbours in an international sense are pretty high profile. About ten years ago, right after the end of the long Lebanese war, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit Lebanon for a weeklong conference of millers, mill owners and suppliers where the wives spent four days visiting different parts of the country. Diaa fell into the later category as one of the main suppliers of corn and soybeans in Egypt and I was happy to be a tourist. He'd been to Beirut once long before the war and I'd spent a couple of summers in Cyprus arguing idly with a Danish woman married to a Lebanese pilot who was a refugee with her two kids while various armies shelled the hills around their home above Beirut. Our longterm friendly argument was over which city was more beautiful: Beirut or Vancouver, BC. They have so much in common with the sea, the mountains, skiing, and good living. We never really decided, but Beirut definitely had some problems.

When I finally got to see Lebanon, I could definitely see my friend's side of the argument. Lebanon is one of the most lovely countries on the planet...or at least it was. When we visited the first time the scars of war were very fresh and the rebuilding that the Israelis again so brutally shattered summer before last was just getting started. Our Lebanese friends were very worried however about the generation of Lebanese who were growing up with no experience other than can you teach order and care to people who have never known it? This is a central issue in any developing country and a heartbreaking issue for a country that knew order for so long and then lost it for fifteen years.

One of my blog notifications brought up a post about a Lebanese singer Majida el Roumi who is a UN goodwill ambasador and who recently took all of the parties in her country to task for not working together to rebuild Lebanon. She was speaking at a ceremony to remember the slain journalist Gebran Tueni and I think that every leader in the world should take these words into his/her heart:

The English translation of her speech is online at
Now Lebanon

How many hearts have to be broken? How many homes have to be ruined? How many Lebanese have to be given worries as their daily bread? How many young men and women have to leave the country before you decide to meet and put an end to this disastrous situation and this horrible division? How can divisions reach the point of having people tell me, “Do not pray at Pierre’s funeral or say a word in Gebran’s commemoration, or you would be speaking up against the others.” Who are the others? Aren’t you all Lebanese? All those martyrs who have died from the southernmost part of the country in massacres perpetrated by Israel to its northernmost part, in the case of our beloved army martyrs, and all those who died for our youth’s sake, … Aren’t they all – truly and honestly – ours? Didn’t they break our hearts? Aren’t they only guilty of being Lebanese?

We no longer meet to pray for the martyrs’ souls, since we now have “their” martyr and “our” martyr. I reject this painful discrimination. I hereby say that it was an honor to sing for Pierre inasmuch as it is an honor to speak about Gebran. If I am accused of being Lebanese, then I am the lucky one. I no longer care who will be offended by these words. Indeed, I know that some people will be offended, but I no longer care about them because, after 30 years of war, we have come to lose hope. I no longer care to bear witness to anyone on this earth, especially not in politics. I only bear witness to the Lord, and our Lord loves peace. He is against violence and He tells me to bear witness to what is right, to the best of our youth and to the sovereignty and freedom of this land, as any self-respecting citizen with some dignity should do. I bear witness to the tormented, martyred Lebanese people who has close brushes with death everyday and barely hangs on to life. I say: enough is enough…

You say you are entrusted with Lebanon’s sovereignty and our safety… [In reality,] you have torn the country into pieces, and you want to replace it with one that is tailor-made for confessions, parties and power obsessions. However, this country is far greater than that. You are responsible for driving wedges among us and dividing us under a single roof. You have scattered us and linked our case with half of the world’s pending issues… Why should we be a card in everyone’s hand? How can you accept to remain divided for 30 years, and then tell the whole world that you are unable to run the country’s affairs? In the end, this may be the ultimate aim. If so, then why are you doing it? You are entrusted with our freedom, our sovereignty and our independence. I am here to say: [You have done] enough… let us live.

In the name of what is right, in the name of the Lord, who you say you love and according to whose will you claim to be acting, let this state remain a state. Whose interest would be served if this nation remains unsheltered and if the state breaks up into countless component parts? I am here to conjure you up in the name of the Lord to make peace. You are so stifling us that there will be no one left to hear you. I am here for Gebran’s sake to tell him: I have come to pay tribute to you, my dear brother and friend. Our hearts will keep on beating as one as long as you are alive within us. Why is that so? Because we remained oblivious to the worth of the perfect man that you were. If no tribute is paid to you today as a King who left us, who deserves such a tribute then? Do those who have slain us deserve it? We shall not give it to them. Dear Gebran, I see your pictures on billboards, and I am ashamed to tell you that your blood will not have been spilled in vain. In the name of the everlasting God, I tell you with total confidence that there will come a day when your blood will bloom only in the three colors of our national flag. This day of freedom and sovereignty will undoubtedly come no matter how long it takes because no one can grow greater than Lebanon… Nor shall Lebanon ever be diminished. All shall perish and Lebanon shall remain, and you shall always be there, O Gebran, along with the great men who have borne witness to its dignity and its special vocation on this Earth.

copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani