Beirut beggar who died with $1 million in the bank

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Combo image showing Fatima Othman at rest and the alms recovered among her belongings.
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File photo showing a soldier offering water to Fatima Othman during a hot summer day.
Updated 17 May 2018
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Beirut beggar who died with $1 million in the bank

  • Unlike other beggars who could be pushy, Fatima Othman did not talk or beg. She just looked with eyes full of sorrow at passing people.
  • Othman had a family of eight and not one of them knew about her money, and her savings proved that nobody was exploiting her by forcing her to beg.

BEIRUT: When Fatima Othman, a disabled street beggar, was found dead in an abandoned car in Beirut’s Barbir district on Tuesday night, investigators thought it was simply another tragic death among the city’s poor and homeless.

But internal security forces called to the scene were astonished to find Othman had been carrying bags holding 5 million Lebanese ounds ($3,400) in cash and — even more surprising — a deposit book from a nearby bank that showed she had more than $1 million in savings.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Musallem, director of the Internal Security Forces public relations division, told Arab News that 52-year-old Othman had died of a heart attack.

“Finding the money and the savings book was a big surprise,” he said.

Othman was a well-known figure in the Barbir district. A photograph of the street beggar had won praise with its portrayal of a Lebanese soldier stationed at the nearby Barbir hospital helping her drink because she was unable to use her hands or feet. The soldier was later commended by an army commander for his “compassion and humanity.”

Many on social media mocked begging in Lebanon and derided it as a lucrative profession. But nobody knew Othman as I knew her.



On the pavement where the handicapped beggar used to sit — unable to move her hands due to a birth defect — she had the sympathy of people for decades.

Othman did not talk or beg. She just looked with eyes full of sorrow at passing people.

I used to live in the Ras Al-Nab’a district, and would cross the Barbir district daily on my way to school and, later, to university. Othman used to sit on a newspaper on the pavement near a coffee mill in summer and winter. She would look at me and nod her head, and I would ask how she was. “Alhamdulillah” (“Praise be to God“), she would answer.

The Barbir district was close to the front lines during Lebanon’s civil war and was targeted by artillery, especially during periods of calm when its gold market was crowded with people.

Othman was hit once with shrapnel, but returned to the pavement wearing a bandage. She kept watching us grow up, and we kept watching her grow older.



A week ago, I saw her sitting on the side of the road near the market. Her hair was white and her face full of wrinkles. Her smile had disappeared. I put a coin in her lap as I used to always do, and she held it with her teeth and dropped it inside an open black bag.

After Othman’s death, security forces discovered she was from the town of Ain Al-Zahab in Akkar, northern Lebanon. They contacted her family, and a number of relatives came and took her body to her village. She was buried on Wednesday. 

Othman had a family of eight — a mother, two brothers and five sisters.

The family knew nothing about the money, and her savings proved that nobody was exploiting Othman by forcing her to beg.

After daring not tell anyone about her money for fear of being killed, she died without enjoying the benefits of people’s compassion.


Ancient Afghan citadel collapses, cultural heritage sites at risk

Updated 15 June 2019
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Ancient Afghan citadel collapses, cultural heritage sites at risk

  • The old citadel known as Ghaznain Fort originally had 36 towers, but 14 of the towers had collapsed in recent years
  • The fort is one of dozens of unique historic sites in Afghanistan in urgent need of protection

GHAZNI, Afghanistan: An ancient tower dating back 2,000 years in the historic Afghan city of Ghazni collapsed this week, local officials said, raising concerns about the vulnerability of the country’s cultural heritage and the government’s ability to protect them.
The old citadel known as Ghaznain Fort originally had 36 towers, but 14 of the towers had collapsed in recent years due to decades of war, heavy rain and neglect.
The fort is one of dozens of unique historic sites in Afghanistan — ranging from the pre-Islamic Buddhist center in the Bamyan valley to the 12th century minaret of Jam in a remote area of Ghor province — in urgent need of protection.
Officials in Ghazni, which nearly fell to the Taliban last year in some of the heaviest fighting seen in the war, said the tower collapsed on Tuesday following heavy rain. A short video posted on social media shows it crumbling but local residents say negligence also contributed to its collapse.
“The government paid no attention to the sites and didn’t build canals to divert flood water,” said Ghulam Sakhi, who lives near the citadel.
“We have warned the government about the dire condition of the citadel but no one visited,” Sakhi said.
Mahbubullah Rahmani, acting director of culture and information in Ghazni, said heavy rain and recent fighting had contributed to the tower’s collapse but said the government was working on a plan to protect the site from complete destruction.
He said a German archaeologist had worked at the site as recently as 2013.
Ghazni, a strategically vital center on the main highway between Kabul and southern Afghanistan and two hour drive from the capital, is home to a range of cultural and archaeological artefacts, some of which date back to pre-Islamic period.
The province and its cultural heritage was officially declared as Asian Capital of Islamic Culture in 2013 by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a Morocco-based body created in 1981, supported by UNESCO.
The collapse of the tower in Ghazni follows concern over the condition of the 900-year-old Minaret of Jam, in Ghor, which has been on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Properties in Danger since 2002.
The Taliban during their austere regime from 1996-2001, before they were toppled by the US and coalition force in late 2001, blew up two giant Buddha statues in central Bamiyan province, calling them idols.