Stop in the name of love

It is to be sure, an unusual city for the Middle East, but the story goes that every Valentine’s Day in Beirut is like a holiday.  The event is advertised. Tables at restaurants become scarce. The travelers at some hotels might discover a complimentary gift from the management that may come in many forms, but always in pairs.


What is paired to Feb 14, 2009 is political change. The Associated Press reports that the Saudi King has sacked the powerful religious authorities who authorized the murder of media figures who they regarded as immoral — and appointed a woman deputy minister to government into the bargain. These acts are regarded by commentators as gigantic events in a culture war. It would be difficulty to think of a less apt moment to rival mighty legends of defiance than Valentine’s Day. But maybe in this most fascinating and ancient region of the world, perhaps nothing is more fitting than that red should also be the color of less bloodshed.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The Saudi king on Saturday dismissed the chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing the owners of TV networks that broadcast “immoral” content, signaling an effort to weaken the country’s hard-line Sunni establishment.

The shake-up — King Abdullah’s first since coming to power in August 2005 — included the appointment of a female deputy minister, the highest government position a Saudi woman has attained.

The king also changed the makeup of an influential body of religious scholars, for the first time giving more moderate Sunnis representation to the group whose duties include issuing the religious edicts known as fatwas. …

The changes came on Valentine’s Day, a busy time for the religious police, who are entrusted with ensuring that no one marks the banned holiday. Agents target shops selling gifts for the occasion, and items that are red or suggest the holiday are removed from the shelves. Some salesmen have been detained for days for infractions.


Perhaps the inhabitants of Beirut, recalling the French savants, knew something the Saudis are now discovering. “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”


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