Lebanon/ 8.4 Amateur arts, cultural associations and civil initiatives  

8.4.1 Amateur arts and folk culture

In its direct form, culture in Lebanon could be a propaganda culture like those activities originated by opposing or loyal parties. In its indirect form, however, it could be activities originated by ‘political-cultural’ orientations (if the term, as loaded as it is, can be correct). In other words, they are activities engaged in the discussion on identity that is divided between the East, the West, Arabism, Islam, Christianity, majorities and minorities.

We are always before a moving culture, starting with the country’s political and sectarian composition and the politicians’ internal and external coalitions. Practically, Al-Maaref Book Fair, organized by Al-Maaref Islamic Organization in the Southern Suburb, cannot be separated from politics, at least in its indirect meaning. In other words, the Book Fair responds to demographic changes that ended up as a Shiite outnumbering in this area, which is controlled by Hezbollah. Similarly, activities carried out by Umam Organization, chaired by the publisher and writer Lukman Slim, cannot be separated from politics because of their political content.

Neither can major festivals, that were initiated in the country as a kind of regional, cultural,and federation be ignored. This applies to festivals such as Beiteddine Festivals sponsored by Nora Jumblat, wife of the Socialist Progressive Party’s leader, Walid Jumblat; and Tyre Festivals sponsored by Randa Berri, wife of the chairman of the Parliament and leader of Amal Movement, Nabih Berri. Likewise is the case with the MP and Minister Mohammed Al Safadi, who sponsors a number of activities in cooperation with foreign organizations in Tripoli and the Northern Region. Therefore, what the government, or state, does in the Arab World in general, is carried out by many political authorities in Lebanon, from the south to the north, and from the sea to Bekaa. Such a description, however, does not rule out the most important aspect of the Lebanese culture, i.e. the aspect produced by the private sector. This aspect is the individual outcome of many people who have no relation with the political authorities’ production of culture. In fact, those individuals form a cultural foundation at the outskirts of politics. It is a tributary that is deeper and more effective than the activities sponsored by politicians and their orientations, which remain, at their best, interim and folkloric. 

Festivals in Lebanon represent milestones in the cultural life; especially that they attract prominent international names in singing, music, dance and the show-world. Baalbek Festivals, initiated in 1956, are probably the most prominent ones. Baalbek agenda this year was replete with Eastern and Western music concerts performed by international bands.

On the other hand, Beiteddine International Festivals resumed this cultural event, especially after the Doha Conference which resulted in a political agreement that helped in bringing life back to the Lebanese. 

Tyre Festivals continued their activities, adding this year a show to the UNIFEL forces in South Lebanon. Al-Bustan Annual Festival launched its program this year under the title of “Beyond Borders”. Festival President Myrna Bustani considered that the title symbolizes not only going beyond geographical borders between countries and even between people, but also going beyond time borders; it presents music that dates back to three thousand years ago.

The goal was to introduce the Lebanese and foreign audience to unknown, but extremely beautiful frontiers. Saint Gorgeous Church in Batroun, the ancient Mar Saba Church in Eddeh Region in Batroun and Jeita Grotto, which witnessed a music concert by the Lebanese artist Wisam Bustany, were, thus, chosen.

Arab Conferences and Festivals

Lebanon is rich with conferences and festivals. Since the 1940s, it has been the destination of intellectuals and artists. In the 1960s, cultural organisations carried out theatre festivals organised by the Arabic Cultural Club, the Arab Institute for Research and Publishing and others.

This year, for example, witnessed various activities, such as the 1st Conference on Arab Novel between Mashreq and Maghreb held in Nizar Alzain Hall at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities in the Lebanese University upon an invitation from the Presidency of the University, Ministry of Culture, Hariri Foundation, and Resistance Support Organization. Various topics were discussed during the Conference, such as the “Mashreq Novel in Maghrebi Eyes”, “Maghrebi Eyes Pursue Mashreqis”, “Eyes looking at Woman”, “Mashreqis Exploring the Arab Maghreb”, “Between Mashreq and Maghreb”, and others. 

The Arab Publisher Conference was, also, held in Beirut within the activities of Beirut Arab International Book Fair. The Conference was organized by Dar Al Hadi for Printing, Publishing and Distribution and the Book Divan for Culture and Publishing, in coordination with the Arab Cultural Club, the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, Arab Publishers Association, and Syndicate of Publishers Union in Lebanon. It was held under the title, Beirut and Internationality of Arabic Books, the Importance of Striking Balance between Authenticity and Modernity in Printing and Publishing Books; Promoting Translation from Arabic into other Languages. The Arab League Educational, Cultural and scientific Organization (ALESCO) has, moreover, called for developing a pan-Arab plan to encourage the youth to read and to overcome the obstacles that hinder reading.

The Organization appealed to the Arab League to facilitate the movement of books among the member states, and to grant book fairs inside and outside Arab countries the necessary facilitations. It called the Arab countries, through the competent bodies, to open cultural or educational centers to teach Arabic to the children of Arab communities in the expatriate, and to promote electronic publishing of books provided that they introduce intellectual, creative and human aspects. It, also, invited the publishers to refrain from publishing useless books and to appoint a specialized linguistic readers to read the transcripts of the to-be-published books, and to print the heritage books in popular versions and distribute them at cost price to guarantee knowledge benefit for the public and to serve the Arabic literary heritage. It called the publishers to establish translation departments where needed, and to activate Intellectual Property Rights.

Another activity in the Capital was Lebanon’s Annual Arabic Poetry Festival held in the UNESCO Palace, organized for the first time by the Book Divan and Dar Al Hadi in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, the Lebanese Writers Association, and the Cultural Movement in Lebanon.

In another context, cinema periodic festivals continued their activities in Beirut, such as Ayyam Beirut Al Cinema’iya (Cinema Days of Beirut) organized by Beirut DC Organization in Empire Sofil Cinema in Achrafieh.  The festival, which was launched in 2001, has chosen this year, like in previous years, to shed lights on Author Cinema, which became the title of many Arab films lately, in the absence of large production companies to support this kind of films.

This year, the festival paid tribute to the late director Randa Chahhal, through screening two documentaries of hers: Step by Step (1978-1979), on the Lebanese War between the progressive Left and the imperialistic Right; and Our Heedless Wars (1995), one year after launching the reconstruction process in Beirut. The festival program included more than 50 films ranging from feature films to short films, documentaries, creative documentaries, student documentaries, and videos. Additionally, the festival recalled important Arab films, such as Youssef Chahin's two films: El Kahera Menawara be Ahlaha (Cairo as Told by Chahin) (1991) and El Asfur (The Sparrow) (1973); Salah Abu Seif's A Woman’s Youth (1956);Ali Abdel Khalek's A Song of the Road (1972); and Borhane Alaouié's Mazen and the Ant, scripted poet Hasan Abdullah.

On the other hand, Beirut also witnessed the 15th European Film Festival in Empire Cinema. The festival was inaugurated with the French film, AChristmas Tale by Arnaud Desplechin, which participated in the latest Cannes Film Festival as an official selection of the management. The film’s main cast were Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Chiara Mastroianni, Melvil Poupaud and others. The festival’s closing film was the Lebanese film ‘Dukhan Bila Nar’ (Beirut Open City) by Samir Habachi; in addition to 18 Lebanese short films by Lebanese students.

On the 30th anniversary of establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Cultural Commission of the Islamic Republic of Iran organized, in cooperation with Beirut International Center for Production and Al-Manar TV, the 2nd Iranian Cinema Festival in Beirut.

Competition in Book Fairs


There are four main book fairs that are held annually in Beirut: French Book Fair in addition to three Lebanese ones. The first fair, in terms of timing, is the Cultural Movement Fair-Antelias, held annually in Deir Mar Elias under the title, The Lebanese Book Festival. It completed its 26th edition this year, with the participation of more than sixty Arab and European publishers, cultural institutions and universities. 

The second one is the Arab International Maaref Book Fair, organized by Al-Maaref Islamic Cultural organization in the Southern Suburb, and which was carried out for the second year successively. All Lebanese publishers were invited to participate and exempted from any charges or fees; 207 Lebanese publishers and 58 Arab and foreign ones participated, exhibiting 11,000 books.

There is, also, Beirut Arab International Book Fair, whose 52nd edition witnessed a number of activities. In addition to the theatre and modern arts related activities carried out by Dawar Al Shams (The Sunflower Cultural Centre) at Attayoneh Theatre, Ashkal Alwan Association in many places of the Capital, Zico House which is concerned with street shows, Umam organization whose activities include equipping fairs and organizing seminars, Al Madina Theatre, and Babel Theater. The Modern Dance Festival, which is organized concurrently in a number of Arab capitals, was also held in Beirut.

Based on the announcement of the Ministry of Culture and Jubran Khalil Jubran National Committee to launch ‘2008: Year of Jubran’ most Lebanese areas and some other world cities and capitals witnessed different activities to celebrate the occasion; the activities varied from symposiums to films, publications, fairs and launching a prize holding the name of the most prominent Lebanese writer. Unlike previous years, 2008 was the year of book publishing, especially narrative and poetic ones. 

Chapter published: 04-05-2016