Operation Salam Sends a Message of Peace in Tripoli

The project saw the word salam – meaning ‘peace’ – painted over the city
The project saw the word salam – meaning ‘peace’ – painted over the city | © Culture Trip

Twin brothers Omar and Mohamed Kabbani’s colossal art project is helping reframe how the world sees the Middle East.

In November 2017, a huge project was unveiled on the rooftops of Tripoli, Lebanon – a 1.3-kilometre-long string of green letters that reads salam, meaning ‘peace’ in Arabic. The masterminds behind the project, named Operation Salam, were twin brothers Omar and Mohamed Kabbani, who form the Lebanese street-art duo Ashekman.

Omar and Mohamed Kabbani are Lebanese street-art duo Ashekman

The aim of Operation Salam was to reframe how the world sees the Middle East.

Omar Kabbani says that, while the region is full of positive developments, the news often only portrays negative stories about the Middle East. As a response, the brothers wanted to create a big message “that can be seen from space”.

The brothers chose the word salam to show how much the idea of peace means to Middle Easterners.

“We wanted to convey a message that we are a region that wants peace, that is full of peace, and we decided to do that through our art,” he says.

Omar says he and his brother chose to create the project in Tripoli because of the city’s dark past and the negative association many outsiders have with it. The letters are painted on the rooftops of Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighbourhoods, which witnessed intense fighting and attacks between rival Sunni and Shi’a groups from 2011 to 2015. Since then, NGOs and community groups have been promoting reconciliation efforts and working to improve the underlying poverty that fuelled the conflict. Tripoli today is a budding tourist destination, with ancient souks, mosques and an imposing Crusader castle.

Operation Salam involved the brothers painting rooftops in Tripoli, Lebanon
The project saw the word salam – meaning ‘peace’ – painted over the city

The Kabbani brothers are natives of Beirut, but produced this project in Tripoli. Having been born and brought up during the Lebanese Civil War, they founded Ashekman in 2001 as a way to express themselves, initially through rap.

“The civil war, or the war in the region and the conflict in the region, were a major influence on our art,” Omar says.

Ashekman eventually turned to graffiti and Arabic calligraphy after using street tags as a way to market their music. Since then, they have created large-scale murals using Arabic calligraphy throughout Lebanon, but also in Kuwait and Dubai.

Yet, Operation Salam was truly a herculean task – the Kabbani brothers worked with 52 people they employed from the local community over the course of three weeks, working 10 hours every day, after a three-year planning phase.

The Kabbani brothers employed 52 people from the local community to work on the project

“It was very important for us to include the local communities in Operation Salam,” Omar says, adding that the project was developed on apartment rooftops, the residents of which were people who lived through the civil war.

Although at first locals were sceptical about the project, Omar says that after they learned about the motivations for the scheme, they became excited and eager to help. He added that, given the success of Operation Salam, Ashekman is exploring similar projects in other conflict-stricken parts of the world.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,100 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article