Visit Tripoli See Fireworks…Including RPGs

Hard not to chuckle at the ill-timing of a Daily Telegraph travel piece that extolled the virtues of Libya as a destination for tourism. The article was posted online on the night of Nov 4/5 and opened: “Tripoli, Libya’s capital, is known for its walled medina and relaxing old-world ambience, and is home to a number of grand mosques, statues and fountains.”

It is home also to several unruly militias. As the article was posted a couple of rival state-sanctioned militias started skirmishing — it lasted  for more than 12 hours — in Tripoli, firing rocket-propelled grenades at each other, leaving nearly a dozen wounded and adding to ordinary Libyans’ sense of powerlessness.

The puff piece was part of a PR effort encouraged by the Libyan government to entice tourists to the North African country. A few months ago USA Today ran a similarly premature travel article urging tourists to visit the country.

Question: Do travel editors pay any attention to what is actually happening in a country?

Linked Fates of Hizbullah and Assad

Tripoli, Lebanon

From my Daily Beast piece on Hizbullah and Syria.

“For months, the challenges have been severe in ferrying the wounded out of Syria for treatment in neighboring Lebanon. The refugees have braved strafing from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s warplanes and risked run-ins with the Syrian army. But in recent weeks, the hazardous jouney to transport wounded rebel fighters and injured civilians from war-savaged Syria has turned more perilous, with increasing intervention along the border by Lebanon’s militant Shiite movement Hizbullah.”

To Publish Or Not

 Beirut

I wrote recently for the Daily Beast about the assassination of Lebanon’s intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan and what it means — or could mean —  for the country as it tries to avoid spillover from the sectarian war raging in neighboring Syria.

The piece opened thus: “Ten days on from the Oct. 19 bombing, Lebanese security experts are still painstakingly collecting evidence and placing it in large bags under two white tarpaulins drawn across a courtyard, where they are trying also to assemble what remains of a car. After The Daily Beast arrived at the scene and started to take notes, skittish intelligence officials decided to haul this correspondent in for three hours of questioning.”

The backdrop to the story was ironic for me. As many of you know Newsweek will cease publishing the magazine at the end of the year and will go totally digital. Newsweek will be a separate subscriber-only online product but with some stories posted on the Daily Beast as well. I think the strategy a good one and trust Tina Brown’s commercial sense. However, if the magazine had ceased publication in October my troubles with the Lebanese intelligence officials in Beirut would have increased.

This is the email I sent my foreign editor explaining:

“Don’t wish to sound like a Luddite. But the only thing that satisfied the Lebanese intelligence guys about my bona fides was a copy of the latest edition of Newsweek! They complained that my International Federation of Journalists press card could have been forged. Remained unimpressed with my UK passport. And said web sites could easily be spoofs so I told them to get the latest international edition of the magazine. The first store apparently had sold out — good and bad news, I supposed.”