I finally got to see parts of the city of Beirut today when I got up. Ate breakfast which consisted of several Lebanese foods including chickpeas. Although I found out today that I’m not the world’s greatest fan Mediterranean cuisine, I’ve definitely found some that I like but more importantly broadened my scope of food.
Outside of the hotel is a beautiful view of the Mediterranean sea as well as the Lebanon mountains. The architecture throughout the city is a mixture of both the old, pre-war style of Lebanese architecture and more modern-style of design. Aymann Mhanna, SKF executive director, said that the city is going through a rebuilding stage and that there is construction going on in any available space.
Dinner was actually a more representative sample of Lebanese food. The restaurant we attended is staffed by a different Lebanese woman from different parts of the cultures every night and a chef, rather than a traditional kitchen staff. I tried several dishes including one that was made of basically a meat which had it’s fat rendered down onto the breading that held it like a cup. Delicious. I also tried what is essentially a steak tartar, which is raw meat. It was actually good. Finally on the topic of food while we’re here, I’m not much of a wine person, but the Lebanese white wine I had at dinner was fantastic.
During the conference itself I met a few interesting people including Nabila Hamza, Oliver Holmes, Mary Fitzgerald and a young Egyptian journalist. Nabila is the president of the Foundation for the Future , a rights organization based out of Amman, Jordan. She and I sat down over breakfast and talked about some of the things her organization does which includes civil rights, women’s rights and Arabic democratization just to name a few. Oliver Holmes, a Thompson Reuters reporter, and I shared lunch with several others. He, once a freelance journalist for several well-known news organizations including Time Magazine, is now covering Lebanon and Syria. Mary Fitzgerald I only met for a brief minute (although she and I will chat later) but she made quite an impression. She is well known as a foreign correspondent from Ireland and was described to me as “no one better to talk to about the (journalism) business.” I also met a CNN photojournalist who shared a few interesting stories that happened on the inside of the media business that I will have to keep to myself. My final conversation of the night was with a young Egyptian journalist who works for an English-Egyptian newspaper and covered the Arab Spring and the transition of President Hosni Mubarak to President Mohamed Morsi. That journalist and I talked at length about Egyptian political state and the journalists stance on Morsi’s transition which she described as “not good.” This isn’t surprising as they are no friend to the Muslim Brotherhood (who she said “took control of the Egyptian political system”) which Morsi is a member of that party. They then asked about the current political topics in America, which finally gave me something to talk about. We then spoke at length about the discussion of gun control, the U.S. Constitution and the basic arguments for and against gun control. We also discussed the heated and polarized nature of the American style of government. Overall, I’ve had some very stimulating conversations.
The panels were no less interesting. The first panel consisted of three press officers. One, a representative of the International Criminal Court. Another, a representative of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. And the third, a representative of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The STL representative got the room slightly heated after saying he “didn’t care” about the names and personal information that were leaked from the STL of possible witnesses that would appear at trial. For background a Lebanese newspaper, Al-Akhbar (who attended the conference) released the names and addresses among other information of several potential witnesses. The STL rep said that it was an atrocity the newspaper published the information in the first place. Several journalists in the audience took offense to the apparent shifting of blame from the court leaking information to the journalists publishing it. This panel was unexpectedly candid for a group of press officers. The second panel included four reporters that often report on international justice topics. The third panel was three human rights activists including representatives from Hivos, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. A Palestinian reporter asked the panel about their stance on the Palestinian–Israeli conflict, to which the Hivos and AI reps declined to answer, but the HRW rep answered very frankly. He spoke in favor of the Palestinian viewpoint as well as saying their are major world players that should be tried for war crimes including George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for crimes of torture.
Tomorrow is a training day for working journalists only and should prove to be interesting.