Monday, August 30, 2004

Off to Malta !

Yes, yours truely is travelling again, just in case someone looks for me !
This is turning out to be a nice summer after all !

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Libyan Pop Idol

Arab Pop Idol finale on 29th August
Ok now for some superfluous stuff. Superstar will come to an end next Sunday. The choice has narrowed between Amar from Palestine and Ayman from Libya. Both are excellent ! It's the first time I follow a star search programme but hey Ayman is an extremely talented singer in addition to being a student in his second year of dental medicine ... so I'll be rooting for him. He needs all the support we can muster. If anyone is reading this of whatever nationality please vote for him by calling 00239 4444484 or by internet (this is the form) you have to register by clicking the first time thingy in English , you will get a password sent to your email, then to vote you scroll down and choose the candidate ( see photos and description) , then you scroll down some more and type your email and the password sent to you in the boxes at the bottom then you click on the small orange icon near the 2 boxes .. sorry that the website is 99% Arabic , but hope my instruction were clear ! This programme has achieved what no one was able to do for a long time: uniting Arab countries for a cause ( 10 million viewers had tuned in for last Sunday's episode) - well art is a good cause I guess and we all need a hero so why not. Don't forget to vote !

One more thing, if you were wondering , voting from Libya by mobile or landline is not free ( don't listen to rumours), a whooping 0.75 LD is deducted from my cellphone credit everytime I vote and to vote from a landline it is 0.32 LD. so for ten votes it's 7.5 LD which is more than one employees salary per day.

Update 29/8/04


Result of the Arab vote 54% out of 3 million and 200,000 people have voted for Ayman as the Arab pop Idol or Superstar for the year 2004! I'm really happy for him as he believed in his talent and ambition and persevered. I think it was an excellent result because we in Libya were only able to vote by cellphone since end of June 2004 while for the contestants of the other Arab countries voting was possible since February 2004. As for use of landlines it was only possible in the last 2 episodes unlike for the othere countries since February as well. Moreover, I expected Amar the Palestinian contestant to win because mobiles, phones and internet services was disrupted about 3 days before the finale in Libya and I could not use the voting services for mobile 8888 nor the landline 1414, nor the internet link for futuresuperstar, this goes to show that it was not the less than 5 million Libyans whereby only about 100,00 have cell phones , but the votes from the Arab world fans which secured his win. So much for the rumour about using the voting service for free ;)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Plan of Midhat Pasha souk in Damascus -Syria it's like a fantastic labyrinth there , that cannot be fully explored in one day.

Door and handle of a Libyan house in the Old City. 29th May 2004. This is a test. Finally it's working after I fixed my PC.

Monday, August 09, 2004



Aleppo is one of the Great Middle Eastern cities, a city where one can still find the grandeur of Arabic life of a bygone era. Once the major commercial center of the Orient, it is still vibrant with traders coming from all over the world to buy, sell, barter and haggle in its traditional covered Souks, the newer shopping districts and center-city offices. There are no "tourist" shops in the Aleppo souks; these are still the center of everyday shopping for Aleppo and its suburbs where everything, from djellabas to gold, can be had for a price. Lofty vaulted roofs keep the souk cool in the summer heat, while the age-old ritual of Middle Eastern commerce takes place. Near the Khan al-Sabon is the gold souk, a place of tiny shops, brightly lit and shining with golden bangles, necklaces and earrings.

Settlements in the Aleppo area go back to the 8th millennium BC. The city's name Halab (an Aramaic word for milk) comes from the fable that Abraham is supposed to have milked his flocks on this site. Halab, was the name of the city when it became the capital of the Amorite Kingdom of Yamhad. This city/state was strong enough to control trade between the Eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia.

Hittites, Assyrians, Persians and Greeks dominated the city and, after the death of Alexander the Great, Aleppo (renamed Beroia) became an affluent center in the classic Greek style. It almost reached the prominence of Antioch under the Romans and retained its importance with but a few interruptions, until almost the end of the Ottoman Empire. It was considered the third most important city of the Empire, after Constantinople and Cairo, and was the seat of the Governor.

Liberated from Turkish rule in 1918, Aleppo lost its international commercial pre-eminence in 1939 when the French ceded Alexandretta (Aleppo’s historic seaport) to the Turkish Republic.

The Aleppo Citadel is an immense fortification in the very center of the Old City. A fortified site as far back as the first millennium BC, it became the palace of the Hamdanid and Ayyubid rulers. Rebuilt by the Mamelukes after it's destruction by the first Mongol invasion, it was again devastated by Tamerlane's hordes. Its imposing entrance was rebuilt in the 13th century after the first Mongol destruction and reinforced in the 16th century

My favourite is walking through the medieval parts in the old city which is still inhabited whereby I would almost hear the hooves of bygone horses and the conversation of the horsemen.


Hama (Hamath), situated between Homs and Aleppo on the banks of the Orontes rive and almost hallways between Damascus and Aleppo by motorway. It is an important agricultural and industrial center. Except for Damascus, Hama is considered the most picturesque city in Syria because of its attractive gardens along the river banks.

The chief attractions of Hama are the great norias (water-wheels). Originating in Byzantine times, the oldest surviving wheels date from the 13th century. The norias, which all have given names, were used to raise water from the river into aqueducts. As this function is now carried out by electric pumps, the purpose of the wheels today is purely decorative and of historical interest.


There are lots of places to visit in Syria, and I won’t go over them all and I have not been to all of them either. The sites that are a must in Damascus are Souq Hamidiye, the Citadel, Nur al-Din Hospital and Museum, Madrasat Zahiriye and Adiliye, the Tomb of Salah al-Din and the Omayyad Mosque which has an interesting feature to Christians namely the South-East minaret called Madhanat Issa, or the Tower of Jesus. According to Muslim tradition Jesus will descend to earth via this tower to fight the Antichrist before the Day of Judgment. Also the Azem Palace museum and Souq Assagha (the gold market). Do not miss a visit to the Hammam al-Malik al-Zaher (Turkish style steam room, massage room, and bath). Dating from the 11th or 12th century the baths have been completely restored and modernized.

Souk Midhat Pasha, is an important trading center situated inside the wall of old Damascus. No historian could trace its origins, which means it is very old. It extends along the western street between Bab al Jabiya and Souk al Bouzouriya paralleling Souk al Hamidiya in the west with many small bazaars branching from it on both sides. Each souk specializes in some items, fabrics, clothes, rugs, herbs, cleaning material, spices, perfumes, kitchen ware etc.. It was Hussein Nazem Pasha who covered the souk with a roof in 1911 with corrugated tin and iron boards to protect it from fire, you can still see the bullet and shell holes made by the French troops who shelled the Alhariqa area in 1925.

At the top of the Qassiun Mountain, towering over Damascus and the Rukn al Din area is the Shrine of the 40 Warriors built over a cave as old as humanity itself, called the Cave of Blood, with reference to it being the spot of the first crime: where Cain killed his brother Abel. Historians say that it also became the place of a temple which was transformed into a convent then to a mosque in 635 AC. It is not known exactly when the shrine was built in the cave but it was first mentioned by the historian Asaker ibn Dimasq in 1175 AC. Its most popular name is the 40 men, because of the bodies of the 40 holy warriors buried in the mosque. These 40 men are famous martyrs ( Shuhada’)who when they were buried legend has it that all raised their right legs out of the tomb in unison to show that the body of a martyr ( Shahid) never rots. My mother swears that when she visited the shrine as a child she actually saw the 40 legs and they looked full of life, and the smell coming out from the earth was beautiful centuries after these men had died. Nowadays you are not allowed to touch the bodies of these warriors and the legs have been covered not to be abused by crowds. So this place is important in 2 ways, Abel died there, and it is the last repose of some heroic men.


Syria or Bilad Alsham as it is also called used to encompass Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and some parts of Iraq, before being sliced into morsels by the colonialists. Syria can also boast being the cradle of civilization even before being a biblical land. Syria is also called Bilad Al’awliya or home of the Saints, because an incredible number of prophets and saints are buried there going back to Adam. To the eye of a Westerner, you may be a little bit disappointed at the greyish tinge of pollution and smoke covering Damascus’s buildings but to me it is all part of the package you cannot help but fall in love with the place. Meandering in the old city, the souks, the shopping areas, the residential areas, the food stalls or 5 star restaurants everything is a joy. The women are beautiful with a natural beauty, and the men are still chivalrous. I’m not painting an overly romantic picture of the place because I am aware that there is poverty, dirt and backwardness, I’ve seen that with my own eyes …but still I love it all and most of all the delicious food. The meat in Syria tastes differently than in Libya, because sheep and cattle graze organic pastures, unlike in Libya which has to rely on imported feedstock even for chicken. Only camel meat in Libya still tastes lovely because it is allowed to graze freely and fish taste wonderful and unadulterated still. The vegetables and fruits are a joy to the eye in the Syrian markets, especially for someone like me who comes from a parched country. Europeans are amazed at the diversity and choice of fruits and vegetables in the Syrian markets and stalls, and the prices are ridiculously low. Almost everyone can eat decently and healthily there. The Syrians love food and they share common dishes with Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Turkey. The people are extremely hospitable, though not overbearing or nosy about foreigners.

The Ugarit civilization in ancient Syria dates to the second millennium BC , it has been discovered in 1929, it is considered a part of the long Arab history, its rites are still being practiced in our modern society, and its language is relevant to our modern Arabic in terms of Alphabet, vocabulary, syntax etc..Many documents dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries BC have been discovered these include literary texts, epics, mythologies, religious rites, pedagogic principles, and laws, political, economic and agricultural texts. The people of Ugarit, our ancestors, were the first to have developed the language from mere shapes to a systematic alphabet, and into letters rather than syllables; thus changing the course of history. It is worth noting that with the discovery of Ugarit and its language, 8 other languages have been discovered in Ras Shamra. It is true that there have been other pioneer alphabets in the world but up to this day and as several undoubted studies confirm, Ugarit’s alphabet is the oldest and the most perfect alphabet discovered yet. Historical evidence proves that inhabitants of the Syrian coast carried this knowledge to Greece and from there to other places in the world. The Greek historian Herodot referred to this when he said that the ‘Phoenicians who came from Qadmous (in Syria) , brought the Greeks a lot of their cultural achievements ,writing is one of them’.

Sunday, August 08, 2004


I am finally back in Tripoli! That was a long vacation eh :)

Those who have been following my blog know that after Egypt we went to Syria. I would like to tell you that immigration procedures in Syria have always been very courteous; all Arabs are immediately issued an entry visa at the checkpoint on sight. It is a popular destination for Gulf people, Saudis, Lebanese, Jordanians, Iranians, etc..because in addition to the natural beauty and milder weather, it caters for many tastes. Alcohol is not prohibited, and there are no restrictions on dress code. It is not my first time in Syria, but each trip I make I cannot but feel overwhelmed by the intensity of history in Damascus, after all it is one of the oldest cities in the world if not the oldest one. Damascus is mentioned in the earliest historic texts and the archives of Mari dating from the 25th century B.C. In the tablets discovered at Tell al-Amarna, in Egypt, Dimashqa is mentioned as being amongst the cities conquered in the 15th Century BC by Tuthmosis III. The Arameans, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Macedonians under Alexander, the Nabateans, Rome and Byzantium all stamped their influence on this great city. Christianity was established in Damascus from the beginning of the religion - Saul of Tarsus converted to the new faith on "the road to Damascus". The Omayyad dynasty made Damascus the political, religious and cultural center of early Islam. It was under the Caliph Al Walid, in 705 that the Great Omayyad Mosque was built, the 4th most important in Islam, and the most splendid and opulent building ever constructed in the Middle East. But he also included within the walls of Damascus a church which had itself been built on the site of the temple of the god Hadad of the Arameans. Salah al Din or the famous Saladin, the hero of Islam and my favourite, lies buried in this city which the Crusaders were never able to invest.

Like most Arab countries (apart from Saudi Arabia following the ‘liberation’ of Iraq) Syria is extremely safe. Where in the West can a woman go out wearing a lot of jewelry and not be bothered? I never felt and outsider, in fact that is the trademark of Arab countries, even in huge, sprawling Cairo or shaky Beirut I felt safe with my gold and diamonds and stuff. I really want to stress this safety part, because upon my arrival in late June, many of my friends warned me that I should drop the jewels and stop going out alone as women have been targeted and knifed lately, a group or one person it was rumoured was knifing them. I was devastated, if the legendary safety of women in one of my favourite part of the world was blown away then all was lost. There were many rumours and hearsay that first week: it was some thugs who had crossed the border from Iraq and they were forming gangs and targeting unveiled women, a fundamentalist group and many other stories. But the problem was that a woman with full hijab was also a victim, so what were we to believe? In fact the only common denominator between the victims was the fact that they were females, it did not matter weather they were blondes or brunettes, veiled or not, young or old. There was a serial killer on the loose and it was one person not a gang and he was using exactly the same method of attack. I did not really bother about the warning and one evening I went to visit some family friends at one of the Palestinian camps (I’ll talk about these in another post). I was telling them how I was disappointed about this safety situation, Damascus is one of the bastions of women safety for me I never felt this safe in Rome for example. My friends showed me that day’s newspaper, which I had failed to read, in which it was reported that the serial killer was apprehended and he was a young disturbed man who after being rejected by his fiancĂ©e had carried a grudge about women and was avenging his wounded ego in this way (such crimes are also common in the West right ? I read about them always in the popular dailies). Anyway the attacks stopped and my treasured safety was back, it was a false alarm, no rise of fundamentalism (that had been crushed 2 decades ago) and no Iraqi thugs (although I will talk about the Iraqi border another time also).