x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A lot of history in Tripoli

The Lebanese city of Tripoli has long been dragged into Syria's problems, an Arabic-language columnist writes. Other stories from the Arabic press discuss the resurgence of the Arabic language and the Egyptian presidential debates.

Violence in Lebanese city of Tripoli really began long before the current crisis next door in Syria

Elements of the Lebanese Army were finally deployed to the heavily-armed border between Bab El Tabbaneh and Baal Mohsen, two warring neighbourhoods in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, managing editor Abdullah Iskandar noted in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

It isn't the first time the official army has attempted to impose a truce between armed elements of the two neighbourhoods, that have been in conflict since the beginning of the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s. The dividing strip is known as Syria Street.

The location of the district, where people live in deplorable conditions, is not the only factor linking it to Syria. In fact, Lebanon's eastern neighbour has always been right at the core of the confrontation between Baal Mohsen and Bab Al Tabbaneh.

The beginning of these clashes dates back to the time when Syrian forces entered Lebanon, shortly after civil strife erupted, under various pretexts. And various weapons have been used during the numerous skirmishes between the Alawites of Baal Mohsen and the Sunni residents nearby.

"This means that the present crisis in Syria and the support that Tripoli's Sunni have been offering to the Syrian opposition are not the main cause of the recent fighting in the city, but the excuse for it," explained the writer. "Nor is the presence of Salafist movements in the city to blame for the crisis, although it does complicate the process of reaching a solution."

When colonial powers segmented the Levant in the first part of the 20th century, Tripoli was the last city to join what was known as "the Greater Lebanon."

It was also the last to acknowledge the country's independence at its present borders. The people of the city had expressed their desire to join Syria, which shows how deeply the peoples of the region were interconnected.

"Therefore, any presumption that the current hostilities in Tripoli are circumstantial, or that Salafists are fuelling the tensions, can't hold," the writer added. "The truth is that this is the situation the city has known since the Syrian military intervened in Lebanon."

During the crisis between the Muslim Brotherhood and the regime in Syria in the '80s, Tripoli paid a hefty price for its support of Hama.

Today, its people are reaffirming their solidarity with other Syrian regions undergoing the same suffering and with Syrian refugees who have fled the inferno in their homeland.

The situation in Tripoli at the moment is a reflection of how bad the situation in Syria has become, a public sectarian confrontation.

Thus, it is unlikely that Tripoli will know any real return to calm as long as confrontation continues to control the relationship between the components of the Syrian community.

Arabic: neglected at home, popular abroad

Amid Arabs' lack of interest in their mother tongue at home, it is indeed a fascinating eye-opener to see the Arabic language gaining ground worldwide, Ziyad Al Daris wrote in the London-based daily Al Hayat.

Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic are three main languages on the rise worldwide. The question that springs to mind is: what are the motives that lead people to learn these languages?

The main reason behind learning Chinese is the economy: "you cannot be a successful businessman in the decade to come unless you master the language of the dominating economy."

Spanish is "swamping South America, and that heralds Spanish domination of the entire continent in lieu of English."

In light of that, finding an explanation for Arabic's gains is no easy task. Economically, the Arab supply of oil should soon dry up. Politically, there are no signs that "an Arab country could emerge as a great economic power."

"People worldwide are interested in Arabic for religious, cultural, and geopolitical reasons".

Meanwhile, Arabs are "holding conferences to discuss why Arabic is marginalised at home and why many Arabs are ungrateful towards their mother tongue."

The writer asked if this is a by-product of an inferiority complex. In any case, he concluded, enthusiasts of Arabic can now find a silver lining in the fascination non-native people are showing for the language.

Egypt debate reflected the will of the people

In response to an opinion piece published in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat, in which Dr Maamoun Fandi criticised Egypt's presidential campaign debate as merely an example of "manufacturing consent", columnist Samir Attalah came up with a rebuttal in the same paper.

"Had the debate been aired on a public channel, as Dr Fandi suggested, a million people would have taken over Tahrir Square or Al Abbasiyah Square in protest against the biased military council, and sought to cut power while debaters were arguing about freedom," the writer said.

It was the Egyptian people who determined that the two candidates, Amr Moussa and Aboul Fotouh, were the top candidates.

Further, Egyptians still have the chance to elect someone else, despite the "expectations of makers of phoney leaders, as you said."

As for the criticism levelled at the debate being organised by media outlets owned by businessmen, "I find no problem with that at all. Dr Fandi knows full well that US universities and cultural institutions were founded by businessmen with clear business interests."

Dr Fandi also found fault with the candidates' failure to back their replies with figures and statistics. Mr Attah asked: "Are there any Arabic statistics out there worthy of Dr Fandi's belief?"


* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk