All hands on deck: Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city

Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
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In this picture, taken on Thursday Jul.29, local skater Mike Richard is pictured holding his skateboard alongside Lebanese kids during a skateboarding lesson. (Supplied/Samantha Robison)
All hands on deck: Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city
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This image shows a volunteer working on the construction site in the lead up to its completion. (Supplied/Samantha Robison)
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Updated 03 August 2021

All hands on deck: Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city

Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
  • Twelve months ago, an explosion in Beirut’s port rocked the capital. Over 200 people were killed after a warehouse inadequately housing highly flammable chemicals caught fire

DUBAI: Dany Sultan and Mike Richard have spent most of their adult life on skateboards.
While both young men embraced skating from a relatively young age, Lebanon has not always accepted them back. Up until now, the small Mediterranean country lacked a place to kickflip and grind; a place of inclusivity where people from different backgrounds could come together and work on their craft.
Instead, Sultan, 25 and Richard, 19, started most of their morning sessions scouting urban landscapes and public spaces in and around Beirut.
“We’d street skate anyplace that had a ledge, stairs or handrails,” Richard told Arab News.
For him and street skaters alike, run-ins with residents and security guards were common. Given the lack of a safe haven to skate, their discipline was viewed as a public nuisance.
“We’ve had a couple of issues with security guards and police,” Richard said, adding that he, along with some friends, were briefly detained late last year.
But being hard-wired with a high tolerance for fear and a sense of adventure helped them look past the altercations.
“For years we have reached out to municipalities to try and convince them to support (us) but we were always met with indifference and even resistance,” Sultan said.
Little did any of them know that a group of volunteers and donors would soon pave the way for the country’s first community skatepark in the heart of Beirut: Snoubar (Pine) Skatepark.




Local and foreign skaters, builders and volunteers worked on the construction site that typically included 20-25 people every day. (Supplied/Samantha Robison)


Twelve months ago, an explosion in Beirut’s port rocked the capital. Over 200 people were killed after a warehouse inadequately housing highly flammable chemicals caught fire.
As the tragedy made rounds across the globe, it caught the attention of INGO Make Life Skate Life (MLSL).
“My friend Arne Hillerns, who runs MLSL, reached out after seeing the blast on the news back in Brussels,” Esther Chang, a yoga instructor currently based in Beirut, told Arab News.

She, along with Arne and a local skater named Aida Mukharesh, put together a relief fund to support the local skaters with anything from hospital bills to rebuilding doors and windows, to even supporting a local skater’s tuition for a few semesters at university.
After also giving away over 80 skateboards with the support of skaters around the world, only one thing was left to do: Build an actual skatepark.
“There was still this dream of building a skatepark that the locals have had for decades,” Chang said.
Horsh Beirut, the Lebanese capital’s largest park and pine forest, would serve as the optimal location.




"Skateboarding is a sport that creates a strong communal sense," Sultan told Arab News. (Supplied/Samantha Robison)


“We pitched the idea to Beirut’s municipality —  a free-of-charge and public skatepark in Beirut for youth — asked for some land, and to our surprise, they offered it to us,” Chang said.

To turn the dream into reality, a massive crowdfunding campaign was launched alongside donations from corporate and individual sponsors.

Axel A., a visual artist based in Dubai, auctioned off a customized skateboard. Decathlon, the French sports retailer, committed thousands of dollars.

“There was funding from a variety of sources including individuals as well as corporate sponsors such as the Decathlon Foundation, Air France and CHPO,” Samantha Robison, MLSL’s creative director, told Arab News.

The nonprofit has previously completed sustainable skateparks in India, Bolivia, Jordan, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Nepal, Morocco and Iraq with free on-site skateboarding, safety equipment loan systems and lessons with partner organizations.

“Local NGO arcenciel will help maintain and sustain the park while another NGO, Just Childhood, will create a program for free skateboarding lessons for the local youth in the neighboring Shatila Palestinian refugee camp,” Chang added.




Since 2013, MLSL has constructed 10 skateparks that have positively impacted the lives of thousands. (Supplied/Samantha Robison)

“When Arne from MLSL contacted us to help build the first public, free skatepark in Beirut we were so excited to be part of it,” Jean-Philippe Rode, a skateboarder and product manager for Decathlon Skateboarding in France, told Arab News.

After gaining the financial support of the Decathlon Foundation, which forked out €50,000 ($59,352) in June, volunteers from across the world traveled to Beirut to take part in the project, coming from as far as Colombia, the US and Costa Rica.

The park was designed and constructed through the help of over 50 volunteers and local skaters alongside professional skatepark builders, who did “extremely taxing physical labor in the blazing hot sun, through stomach illnesses, dehydration and fatigue,” Robison and Chang noted.

“They have such an admirable dedication to spreading the love of skateboarding and helping build the skate community here in Lebanon,” Robison added.

One such volunteer was Dave Eassa, a lifelong skateboarder, visual artist and cultural worker from Baltimore in the US.

While serving as an artist in residence at Al-Raseef 153, a new arts space that is a part of the 7Hills skatepark and organization in Amman, Jordan, Eassa caught wind of the project during a conversation with 7Hills’ director.

“After speaking with Mohammed Zakaria (director of 7Hills) and German skater Matze, I bought a plane ticket at the last minute and headed to Beirut for 8 days to help with whatever I could,” Eassa said. 

Matze, the skaters said, was the driving force behind the project. "The local skaters with the help of the fabulous Matze, who managed the project, brought us all to Lebanon," Robison said. 

Skateboarding, Chang explained, has many intrinsic qualities beyond the sport itself. It has come a long way, breaking out of the fringes where it was regarded as counter-cultural, and propelling itself into the limelight by making its debut at the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.

The skatepark, she said, will give youths a space to “gather, share ideas, and support each other in something they all have in common, skateboarding. No matter their age, gender, religion, they come together as skaters.”

Officially completed on Thursday, the park will give skaters like Sultan and Richard a place to safely spin down ramps and loop around a quarter pipe, away from any harassment.

The sense of community fostered during the build has been unmatched, the skaters said.

“It is truly a beautiful thing to see so many people coming together to volunteer their expertise, time and energy toward spreading the love of skateboarding,” Eassa said. 

“Skateboarding has saved so many of us, giving us purpose in our lives, and created lifelong bonds and friendships across the globe so naturally it makes sense that so many of us wanted to give back to the existing and future generations of Lebanese skateboarders,” he added.

For the past year, Lebanon has faced a bevy of social, political and economic problems. Skyrocketing unemployment, inflation and rising food insecurity are only the tip of the crisis.

“For many, skateboarding represents a positive outlet of energy and emotions, which proves to be priceless in such a troubled and distressed country. In truly trying times, it is such an important outlet, a place to leave all the issues of the world behind even just for a little.” Eassa said.

“In the midst of so much chaos, people came together to create something beautiful and for one another,” Chang, who has been living in Beirut for over two years, said.

Yet Rode, like Eassa and the rest of the crew, will be back.

“There is no way you work on a skatepark and don’t skate it, so we’ll have to come back soon,” the 45-year-old skating aficionado said.


UK court jails blind Paralympian for gluing self to plane

UK court jails blind Paralympian for gluing self to plane
Updated 24 September 2021

UK court jails blind Paralympian for gluing self to plane

UK court jails blind Paralympian for gluing self to plane
  • James Brown, 56, climbed on top of a British Airways plane during an Extinction Rebellion protest at London City Airport and superglued his hand to the roof
  • London's Southwark Crown Court sentenced him to 12 months in prison for causing public nuisance

LONDON: A British court on Friday sentenced a former Paralympian gold medallist to a year in jail for gluing himself onto the roof of a plane at a climate protest.
James Brown, 56, was born in Northern Ireland and won two gold medals for Great Britain and a bronze for Ireland in cycling at the Paralympics. He is registered blind.
He climbed on top of a British Airways plane during an Extinction Rebellion protest at London City Airport and superglued his hand to the roof.
A judge at London’s Southwark Crown Court sentenced him to 12 months in prison after a jury found him guilty of causing a public nuisance.
Judge Gregory Perrins told Brown the sentence showed those “tempted to seriously disrupt the lives of ordinary members of the public in the way that you did and then seek to justify it in the name of protest” that “they will face serious consequences.”
Extinction Rebellion said he would spend at least six months behind bars, slamming the ruling as “a dangerous judgment for our right to free speech, our right to protest and for those who campaign on environmental issues.”
Lawyer Raj Chada, who acts for the group, said they would be appealing the sentence.
Alanna Byrne, of Extinction Rebellion UK, said fellow activists were “shocked and devastated” but called Brown “a hero to us all.”
Prosecutors said the protest action disrupted flights for more than 300 passengers, costing the airline around £40,000 ($55,000, 47,000 euros).
Brown was one of hundreds of activists who attempted to lay siege to the east London airport to protest against an expansion project.
The group’s colorful protests have attracted a mass following since it was formed by UK academics studying the effects of harmful carbon emissions on Earth.
It calls for the British government to take a more radical approach to reducing emissions.
Last month, Extinction Rebellion held a series of protests in the City of London financial district amid a heavy police presence.
An offshoot group, Insulate Britain, on Friday blocked access to the port of Dover, demanding the government step up action insulating homes.


Recently discovered pharaonic coffin arrives at Expo Dubai 2020

Recently discovered pharaonic coffin arrives at Expo Dubai 2020
Updated 24 September 2021

Recently discovered pharaonic coffin arrives at Expo Dubai 2020

Recently discovered pharaonic coffin arrives at Expo Dubai 2020
  • The wooden coffin of ancient Egyptian priest Psamtik was discovered in the country’s Saqqara Antiquities Area
  • Earlier, the pavilion received a collection of replicas of King Tutankhamun

DUBAI: An archeological Egyptian coffin has arrived in Egypt’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai and will be displayed for the six-month period of the event, Emirates News Agency WAM reported.

The wooden coffin of ancient Egyptian priest Psamtik was discovered in the country’s Saqqara Antiquities Area, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said.

It is decorated with a floral collar and two falcon heads.

A drawing of sky goddess Nut also appears on the coffin where she spreads her wings and holds a feather in each hand as a symbol of right and justice. 

The coffin is also inscribed with offerings and speeches surrounded by two rows of gods. 

Earlier, the pavilion received a collection of replicas of King Tutankhamun, including his golden mask, sarcophagus, the special festive chair, and the golden king's throne.


Google flies the flag for Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day

Google flies the flag for Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day
Updated 23 September 2021

Google flies the flag for Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day

Google flies the flag for Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day

RIYADH: Search giant Google updated its logo with a doodle to mark Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day on Thursday.
The change featured a fluttering Saudi flag encased in a domed sky.
The mostly green design includes the company name in a slightly italicized font.
Google, the most popular search engine in the world, often changes its distinctive logo to commemorate special occasions.
Last year’s edition of the national day logo was similar in many respects, but there were minor tweaks.
The color of the flagpole went from last year’s gold to black, and the clouds now also have a more clearer outline. The typography was also different a year before, with the site name in a bolder font and without italicization.
This year Arab News is celebrating the Kingdom’s national day with Diriyah Gate Development Authority, and has produced a comprehensive deep dive into one of the most culturally significant landmarks of Saudi Arabia’s past and future.


Did she know? Lebanese diva ignites Twitter storm by posing with Israeli make up artist

A photograph of Lebanese actress Nadine Njeim apparently posing with an Israeli make-up artist in the UAE sparked a social media storm over the weekend. (Screenshot)
Updated 20 September 2021

Did she know? Lebanese diva ignites Twitter storm by posing with Israeli make up artist

A photograph of Lebanese actress Nadine Njeim apparently posing with an Israeli make-up artist in the UAE sparked a social media storm over the weekend. (Screenshot)
  • Some critics predicted the former Miss Lebanon would say she did not know he was from Israel, but others said what difference does it make if he is
  • Lebanon is technically still at war with Israel; the countries have no official ties and Lebanese citizens are forbidden from traveling there

LONDON: A photograph of Lebanese actress Nadine Njeim apparently posing with an Israeli make-up artist in the UAE sparked a social media storm over the weekend.

“Lebanese model and actress Nadine Njeim is pictured with an Israeli make-up artist in UAE. Likely his customer. Is this another case of ‘Oh, I didn’t know’!?” Twitter user Lebanon News and Updates (@LebUpdate) wrote in a message posted on Twitter on Saturday alongside the photograph.

In a subsequent Tweet, he said: “It is confirmed that she was his customer, according to his TikTok video. It is obvious that famous people do not simply choose random makeup artists without some background research on his/her work and experience.”

The messages provoked a number of shocked and angry responses on Twitter.

“Nadine Njeim they are asking for models in Tel Aviv,” a user called Mimo wrote.

Another, called Adam, simply tweeted three puking-face emojis, as others chimed in. Some critics predicted that Njeim, a former beauty queen who was crowned Miss Lebanon in 2004, would say she did not know the makeup artist was from Israel. But other people said so what if he is?

“I am so tired of this backward mentality and these people,” a Twitter user called Romy wrote. “When they’re not destroying Lebanon with their foreign allegiance and ideology they spend their time online on their iPhones stalking people to see if an Israeli breathed near them, and then bully them or get them in trouble.”

Another, 961Iceberg, wrote: “Every time you walk into a hairdresser salon or makeup artist studio, make sure you ask them for a full-blown bio including birth certificate, passports, visas issued and associations with other humans on earth.”

Lebanon is technically still at war with Israel. The countries have no official ties and Lebanese citizens are forbidden from traveling there. In March, a Lebanese social-media activist who had served 10 months of a three-year prison sentence for “collaborating” with Israel was granted bail and released after appealing the verdict.

In 1993, just three years after the end of the Lebanese Civil War, and with Israel still occupying the south of a country, a photograph of Lebanese beauty queen Ghada Turk smiling alongside 17-year-old Tamara Porat, Miss Israel, caused public outrage in Lebanon and much criticism in the local media.

In 2015, a selfie taken during a Miss Universe pageant and posted by Miss Israel that included Miss Lebanon, Miss Japan and Miss Slovenia cause a “you do not represent Lebanon” hashtag to go viral. Two years later, Miss Lebanon Amanda Hanna, a dual citizen of Sweden and Lebanon, was stripped of her title a week after winning when it emerged she had previously visited Israel using her Swedish passport.

However, under President Michel Aoun the Lebanese government has engaged in border talks with the Israelis. And in 2020, Lebanon’s prosecutor general decided not to charge fugitive former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn over a visit to Israel in 2008.

It is unknown whether Njeim, who obtained a UAE 10-year Golden Visa in May, has any another citizenship or passport, or what consequences she might face should she return to Lebanon.

The UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco signed agreements with Israel last year, dubbed the Abraham Accords, to normalize relations with Israel.


California high school celebrates date links to Middle East

California high school celebrates date links to Middle East
Updated 19 September 2021

California high school celebrates date links to Middle East

California high school celebrates date links to Middle East
  • Coachella Valley High School rebranded it’s Arab mascot after concerns it promoted stereotypes

CALIFORNIA: One hundred years ago Coachella Valley High School adopted the “Arab” as its school mascot after a link was established between that area of California and the Middle East.

“The Department of Agriculture sent out plant explorers all over the world and they were trying to find crops that would be successful here in the US and one of the crops they found were the dates,” said Lissette Santiago, community engagement manager for the Coachella Valley Unified School District.

“That’s how we wanted to honor everything that we had gained from the date industry and obviously that Middle Eastern community.”

But in 2013, complaints that the mascot was promoting racial stereotypes prompted a redesign.

“With the onset of 9/11 in 2001 that might have prompted many people to view the Arab community in a negative way,” she told us. “It was appropriate for us to have this discussion and we were happy that the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee approached us and we were able to have those discussions.”

A year later, they debuted the new “Mighty Arab” mascot, designed in collaboration with and approved by the Arab community, strengthening that 100 year connection between the Coachella Valley and the Middle East.

“To celebrate the Arab world and the Arab community and every year we have a date festival,” Santiago said.

The festival has been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the students and staff are looking forward to next year when they can once again proudly and respectfully wear the symbol of the Mighty Arab and celebrate the date palms they provided.