Lebanese daily editor, director face court hearing

A man reads the headlines of the first issue of Nida Al-Watan, a daily newspaper published in Lebanon. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2019

Lebanese daily editor, director face court hearing

  • The two men were summoned before the prosecution following the publication of an article on Sept. 12

BEIRUT: The editor-in-chief of Lebanese and Responsible Director of political daily Nida Al-Watan both appeared before the Cassation Public Prosecution at the Palace of Justice in Beirut on Wednesday.

The two men were summoned before the prosecution following the publication of an article on Sept. 12 — the day seven new ambassadors to Lebanon were due to present their credentials to the president — with the headline, “New ambassadors in the Baabda Palace … Welcome to the Republic of Khamenei.” 

The headline referenced a speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Sept. 10 in which he said: “We fight under (Iranian leader Ali) Khamenei’s flag.” That speech has been widely condemned on social media in Lebanon.

Both editor-in-chief Bechara Charbel and Responsible Director George Berbari were referred to the Court of Appeal after being heard by the prosecutor general.

The article in Nida Al-Watan spoke of “overthrowing Nasrallah” and claimed, “Lebanon is in the grip of Wilayat Al-Faqih (a central theory of Shia Islam),” and that Nasrallah does not serve Lebanon or the President but only “the Grand Ayatollah, our imam, our leader, and our master, Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei.”

Charbel and Berbari were accompanied to court by a crowd of media professionals, lawyers and politicians, all of whom staged a sit-in protest outside the Palace of Justice.

Charbel said before entering the hearing: “We have nothing to justify, and our right to exercise freedom of expression is (enshrined) in the constitution. This right is guaranteed by law, and we have exercised it. We have come today to affirm our right to exercise freedom of expression. We are under the law and the constitution, both of which allow us to protest.”

He said: “We want a full-fledged republic, and this means we want a presidency and a government that play their role in full, without partners. We want the decisions of war and peace to be in the hands of the state. We have not bashed the presidency.”

The newspaper’s publisher, Michel Mecattaf, denied any “blasphemy to the presidency” and said: “Failure to exercise freedom of expression indicates a contribution to the destruction of the country. We believe in a state of law and institutions.”

Former MP Boutros Harb volunteered to be the defense counsel for Charbel and Berbari. He stressed in the hearing that “the newspaper has exercised its natural role and right to freedom of expression.” He added: “We hope to conclude this case as there is no criminal offense, and we have absolute confidence in the decision that the court will take.”

Former Information Minister Ghazi Aridi, a member of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), said: “We cannot but stand with freedom of opinion, which is the stance of (PSP leader) Walid Jumblatt. We reject the targeting of Nida Al-Watan, journalists, and opinion leaders. This must be an inclusive national stance.”

Lebanese Press Syndicate President Awni El-Kaaki, who participated in the sit-in, spoke of the “phenomenon of summoning journalists to appear before court.”

He said: “We have noticed this in (recent times). Political authorities sometimes resort to the judicial authorities to punish journalists, forgetting that the only party legally empowered to prosecute journalists, opinion leaders, and free speech is the Publications Court, and the verdicts are only financial. It is not (legal) to detain any journalist. What is happening to some newspapers is unacceptable.”

Joseph Al-Qasifi, head of the Syndicate of Lebanese Press Editors, told Arab News: “Since the complaint was transferred to the judicial police to request that journalists Charbel and Berbari appear before the Cassation Public Prosecution, I turned to the president and the concerned court, hoping that this case is transferred to the Publications Court, which is the body responsible for the trial of journalists, and not the Public Prosecution. I stressed that no security man should investigate the two journalists, but the responsible judge.”

Antoine Al-Huwais, a lawyer for the Press Editors Syndicate, told Arab News: “Referring the two journalists to the Court of Appeal means that the lawsuit is following judicial procedures. Therefore, the case will be referred to the Publications Court.”

Marwan Hamadeh —  a journalist and PSP MP — visited the offices of Nida Al-Watan, where he warned: “The press will be in danger if this fascist family mentality persists.”

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

Updated 21 November 2019

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

  • In the Western Sahara, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing
  • "Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” says herder

DAKHLA, Western Sahara: In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodizing about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.

A camel is silhouetted against the sunset in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)

"The desert knows me"
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighboring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favors loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organization,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds.”

A camel herder guides his flock in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)

The irony
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometers (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays,” Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price,” but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.