Interview with Stavro Jabra Lebanese Cartoonist

12 May 2007

Stavro, cartoons, Lebanon, the Middle East, L’Orient le Jour, Gebran Tueni, peace, United Nations, Geneva

The cartoons of Stavro are a familiar sight for newspaper readers in Lebanon and the Arab world. For more than forty years, Stavro Jabra, better known simply as STAVRO, has been there reflecting on the events in Lebanon, the Middle East and the world in general. His political caricatures have been and are still published in most Lebanese newspapers, but also in the international press.

We had the chance to meet with Mr Stavro during his short visit to Calvin’s city during the exhibition "Cartooning for Peace" at the United Nations.

Q: How did it all start?

I started to draw at the age of 8 or 10, and I was drawing the whole time, even in school so I was often punished. On Saturday, after school finished I would have to stay behind for a couple of hours. The reason-I had made a drawing of the teacher on the blackboard.

At the age of 18, I started to work in the press. So in 1973, before the outbreak of the war I had already started at L’Orient le Jour. I have worked for most of the Lebanese press; I have had several exhibits and published twenty books. The last one has just been published in Lebanon. It is entitled Vivre Liban en dessins and it is being published in three languages - English, French and Arabic. I am the only cartoonist who publishes cartoons in these three languages every day, in addition to doing the caricature for the daily 8 o’clock evening news on a TV channel.

Q: How many hours a day do you work?

I start working in the afternoon, and honestly I do not know until when-10 or 11 p.m. However, I would like to make it clear: I work for one daily newspaper and one TV
channel - all the others are weekly magazines. I work in French for La Revue du Liban where for the last twenty years I have had my own page entitled "Jeux de maux".

Q: Where does the inspiration come from?

The news. I live with the news twenty-four hours a day, either through the Internet, news agencies or TV-but not newspapers because they come out later. I never buy newspapers, but I read all the press releases, either from local news-agencies, Reuters, AFP, etc., without forgetting international TV channels, such as CNN, BBC and Euronews.

The most difficult part consists of picking the subject that will be tomorrow’s headline. At one time, I used to have quite a number of "scoops", because I tended to send my drawing late. For instance, if the newspaper goes to press at midnight, I would send my drawing fifteen minutes before. I always wait until the very last moment to send my drawing while I keep on following the news.

For more than fifteen years I used to edit my own magazine called Scoop. I do so like to do "scoops". I also used to be a war reporter and photographer. During the day I was a war reporter and at night a cartoonist.

During the day I would be dressed like a tramp and at night neatly dressed in order to be an artist. You have to be able to change your hat in order to be at the top in your country, even if I’m living in a small country like Lebanon. I simply adore Lebanon, but unfortunately we are experiencing quite a number of major problems right now.

I fight for Lebanon to become free and independent-and sovereign. I fight for the sovereignty of Lebanon. We want the 10,452 square kilometres of Lebanon to be ours 100 per cent.

Q: This statement makes me think about Bashir Gemayel and his slogan.

Yes, he was a friend of mine at the time: the martyr Bashir. (Editorial note: he was the youngest elected Lebanese president who was killed soon after his election)

Unfortunately, in 2006 and 2007 we have got ourselves into trouble. There were attacks in July and August 2006, and Lebanon was bombed-bridges, buildings. For more than fifteen years we have been reconstructing Lebanon and now Lebanon was hit again. We always have to start from zero. We are unhappy! And yet, in Lebanon we have total liberty! We can do whatever we want and we are free to say whatever we want-in the press, my drawings. Lebanon equals 100% freedom-but democracy nil.

Q: When you say this in your drawings, do you get into trouble?

Every day I get the message out in my cartoons. I am a super revolutionary in my drawings. I attack and I’m at war and have been so for years with my pen. And it works very well. I’m proud of my pen and today my cartoons are seen everywhere thanks to the Internet. It is easier today than in earlier years. I can dispatch my message all over the world in a couple of minutes.

Q: Jean Plantu said earlier that you had to change car several times when you are in Beirut because of death threats. Was this the situation during the last war?

In fact, several journalist, like Gebran Tueni, were killed, and all journalists are afraid. During the period of "voiture pi?g?s" [booby-trapped cars] we had bodyguards, and we had to change cars. Not only me, but the editors, the politicians. This is what we have been living under until almost today-this fear that somebody will put a small amount of explosive under your car. Who are these persons, these terrorists? Nobody knows.
Ever since the assassination of Hariri in 2004, we have been waiting for the International Tribunal to investigate-and we are still waiting.

Q: So you continue your fight?

We have to! Who should we leave Lebanon to? To the terrorists? For whom? That’s the problem. I have a message, my mission is to defend Lebanon-it is a patriotic message. At this moment, I’m travelling to defend the image of Lebanon.

I have my readers, and every morning I receive e-mails asking where I am …

Q: Why did you accept to take part in this exhibition on Peace?

I want peace. I had an exhibition in Lebanon entitled "La Paix inach?v? au Liban" [The incomplete peace in Lebanon]. We have to continue, I have to continue … and I am sure that we will one day live in peace, with a huge "P".