English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For October 21/2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person
First Letter to the Corinthians 03/10-23/:”According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’, and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on October 20-21/2021
U.S. Envoy Meets Lebanese Leaders over Israel Border Dispute
Ministry of Health: 778 new cases, 4 deaths
Aoun addresses maritime border negotiations with US envoy, tells Alvarez & Marsal forensic audit will start tomorrow
Berri discusses maritime borders demarcation with Hochstein: We have a new opportunity to resume negotiations in Naqoura
Berri signs electoral law amendment bill, refers it Council of Ministers
Mikati, US envoy tackle maritime border demarcation file
Mikati signs election law amendment
Army Chief, Hochstein tackle indirect negotiations to demarcate maritime borders
Bou Habib, Hochstein discuss demarcation dossier
Report: Higher Judicial Council Doesn't Intend to Discuss Bitar Removal
Bitar Renews Summonses of Zoaiter, Mashnouq
Hoteit-Led Delegation Meets Justice Minister over Port Case
Roads Blocked in Lebanon after Major Surge in Fuel Prices
Lebanon Central Bank Audit Demanded by Creditors to Resume
Nasrallah’s boast of commanding 100,000 fighters a message to Lebanese army, political factions
Lebanon to hold elections amid economic meltdown, sectarian tensions
Nasrallah Brag of 100,000-Strong Force Seen Aimed at Foes at Home
Lebanon's Car Culture Questioned in Crisis
Tayyouneh Clash Fires Up Sectarian Anger in Echo of Civil War
Former Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora: Hizbullah Has Hijacked Lebanon; Iran's Fuel Supply To Lebanon Is Only For Show – It Is Incapable Of Supplying Even Its Own People With Fuel
Lebanese diaspora vote will not be enough to force change on a corrupt establishment/Makram Rabah/Al Arabiya/October 20/2021
Oyez oyez oyez /Jean-Marie Kassab/Octobre 20/2021
The boomerang effect/Nicholas Frakes/Now Lebanon/October 20/2021

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on October 20-21/2021
Blast at US outpost in Syria, no American injuries — US officials
Six Loyalist Fighters Killed in Syria Arms Depot Blast
HRW Says 'Torture' Awaits Syrian Refugees Returning from Lebanon, Jordan
14 Killed in Rare Damascus Army Bus Bombing
In historic move, Egypt installs 98 women on main judicial body
Social unrest threatens ‘fragile’ recoveries in Middle East
Egypt: 19 killed in truck-microbus collision outside Cairo
UN Security Council condemns Houthi violations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia
Putin Orders Week-Long Paid Holiday to Curb Covid Infections
Second air strike this week hits capital of Ethiopia's Tigray TV

Titles For The Latest The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on October 20-21/2021
A Sword Of Damocles Over Free Thought In Egypt (And Elsewhere)/Alberto M. Fernandez/MEMRI/October 202021
Why Turkey should swap military strikes for water diplomacy/Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib/Arab News/October 20, 2021
Biden’s Syria policy leaves US in no-win situation/Ray Hanania/Arab News/October 20/2021

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on October 20-21/2021
U.S. Envoy Meets Lebanese Leaders over Israel Border Dispute
Agence France Presse/October 202021
U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein met Wednesday with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and PM Najib Miqati in a bid to rekindle moribund talks over a maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel that is holding up oil and gas explorations. The Presidency said Aoun and Hochstein discussed “the course of the negotiations process regarding the sea border demarcation and the prospects in this file.”The National News Agency meanwhile said Berri and Hochstein reemphasized “the framework agreement that was announced in October last year.”Berri for his part noted that “there is a new chance to resume the negotiations in Naqoura with the new U.S. efforts that are being exerted in this regard.” He also stressed to Hochstein “the importance of exempting Lebanon from the restrictions of the Caesar Act in the issues of drawing Egyptian gas and electricity from Jordan.”
NNA said the U.S. envoy expressed optimism to Berri about the two topics. Hochstein has been recently appointed as the U.S. envoy to the Washington-mediated talks. He has been a longtime close adviser to President Joe Biden. Hochstein would "discuss sustainable solutions to Lebanon's energy crisis," a U.S. State Department statement said. Lebanon is currently grappling with its worst ever financial crisis, and fuel shortages have ground the country to a halt in recent months. With a bankrupt state unable to deliver more than an hour or two of mains electricity a day, individuals, businesses and institutions have relied almost entirely on diesel-powered generators. Rivals Washington and Tehran have in recent weeks appeared to jostle to bring the prime solution to Lebanon's energy crisis. Iran, impeded by U.S. and other sanctions, sent an oil tanker to Syria and then had its cargo trucked in through an illegal border point to its Lebanese ally Hizbullah. The move was seen as a short-term fix with a limited impact on the energy crisis but also as a successful media stunt that goaded Washington into speeding up efforts to come up with alternative solutions. The U.S. has since been publicly pushing for a regional initiative involving Egypt, Jordan and the World Bank. "Mr. Hochstein will also underscore the Biden administration's willingness to help Lebanon and Israel find a mutually agreeable solution to their shared maritime boundary for the benefit of both peoples," the U.S. statement said. Israel and Lebanon had resumed negotiations over their disputed maritime border in 2020 but the process was stalled by Lebanon's claim that the map used by the U.N. in the talks needed modifying. Lebanese politicians hope that commercially viable hydrocarbon resources off Lebanon's coast could help lift the debt-ridden country out of its economic quagmire.

Ministry of Health: 778 new cases, 4 deaths
NNA/October 202021
The Ministry of Public Health announced 778 new coronavirus infection cases, bringing the cumulative number of confirmed cases to 635,447.
Four deaths have been recorded.

Aoun addresses maritime border negotiations with US envoy, tells Alvarez & Marsal forensic audit will start tomorrow
NNA/October 202021
President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, met Chief Advisor to the US State Department for energy security and the new mediator in the indirect negotiations to demarcate southern maritime borders, Amos Hochstein, today at the Presidential Palace.
US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, also attended the meeting.
The course of negotiations to demarcate southern maritime borders and the future directions of this issue were deliberated in the meeting.
Alvarez & Marsal General Manager:
The President then received the General Manager of Alvarez & Marsal, Mr. James Daniel, Finance Minister, Youssef Khalil, Government Commissioner at the Central Bank, Mrs. Christelle Wakim, and Mr. Paul Sharma.
The delegation informed the President that Alvarez & Marsal will start forensic audit in BDL accounts from tomorrow morning, after completing all the related arrangements. President Aoun wished the delegation to expedite work, due to the accuracy of this task.
Head of the Antonine Institute:
President Aoun met head of the Saint Anthony Monastery and the Antonine Institute, Father Nader Nader. Father Nader was heading a delegation of Antonine monks who conveyed to the President congratulations on the formation of the new government. The delegation also invited President Aoun to attend the divine sacrifice on St. Michael’s Day, on November 8, and the feast of St. Anthony, next January 17.
Father Nader:
In the meeting, Father Nader delivered the following speech:
“The harshness of the last days didn’t allow us to meet on St. Antony’s feast, nor on other occasions. However, your kindness never disappeared from our conscience and mind. You were always in the heart of our liturgy and prayers. We thank the Lord for everything he gave you from blessings and virtues. The Lord who helped you bear the cross of accusations, the arrows of evil which were aimed at you, and all the slanders which you were stoned with. You endured all this with patience, so victory was on your side and a new government was formed, congratulations to you and to us.
As for now Mr. President, your adherence to the basic principles, role and powers of the President of the Republic, in addition to the strong means which help contribute to saving the country, land of holiness, remains the guarantee. Your adherence also remains a space of hope and peace which we want for all the Lebanese. We raise our prayers with you, if circumstances allow, to meet around the feast of your patron St. Michael, and we will be more happy if you honor us as usual next January 17 on the feast of our patron, St. Anthony”.
President Aoun:
For his part, the President thanked Father Nader for the passion he expressed, and stressed the old relationship which binds him to the Antonine Order, noting the role it had played in serving Lebanon at spiritual and national levels. The President also explained the conditions which Lebanon is witnessing and the difficulties which faced the reform process launched, as well as the crises which have accumulated and brought the country to the current situation. Finally, President Aoun asserted work to confront the current situation with faith, firmness and hope, so that Lebanon would gradually recover.—Presidency Press Office

Berri discusses maritime borders demarcation with Hochstein: We have a new opportunity to resume negotiations in Naqoura
NNA/October 202021
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri welcomed in Ain el-Tineh the Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon, Yasser Al-Alawi, with whom he reviewed the general situation and bilateral relations. The Speaker later met with Head of the US delegation for indirect negotiations to demarcate the maritime borders between Lebanon and occupied Palestine, Amos Hochstein, and the accompanying delegation, in the presence of US ambassador Dorothy Shea. Speaker Berri indicated that "we have a new opportunity to resume negotiations in Naqoura, with the new US efforts being exerted in this context." He also tackled, during his meeting with Hochstein, "the importance of excluding Lebanon from the controls of Caesar's Law on the issues of importing Egyptian gas and electricity from Jordan."

Berri signs electoral law amendment bill, refers it Council of Ministers
NNA/October 202021
House Speaker, Nabih Berri, on Wednesday signed the bill aiming to amend the legislative law and referred it to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers for urgent issuance in accordance with the first clause of Article 56 of the Lebanese Constitution.

Mikati, US envoy tackle maritime border demarcation file
NNA/October 202021
Prime Minister Najib Mikati met with the US envoy in charge of following up on the file of the demarcation of the southern Lebanese maritime border, and the US State Department's senior adviser on energy security, Amos Hochstein, in the presence of US Ambassador Dorothy Shea.
Later on, PM Mikati held two educational meetings in the presence of Minister of Education Abbas Al-Halabi, to discuss the start of the academic year and the difficulties faced by the sector.

Mikati signs election law amendment
NNA/October 202021
Prime Minister Najib Mikati signed the law issued by the House of Representatives yesterday, which aims to amend some articles of Law No. 44 related to the election of members of the House, issued on June 17, 2017.The law was transferred after signing the presidency of the republic.

Army Chief, Hochstein tackle indirect negotiations to demarcate maritime borders

NNA/October 202021
Armed Forces Commander, General Joseph Aoun, received in Yarzeh the Advisor to the US Secretary of State for Energy Security Affairs, Amos Hochstein, accompanied by US Ambassador Dorothy Shea.
Discussions touched on the indirect technical negotiations for the demarcation of the maritime borders.

Bou Habib, Hochstein discuss demarcation dossier

NNA/October 202021
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Abdallah Bou Habib, welcomed the Adviser to the US State Department for Energy Security, the new US mediator for the indirect negotiation process on the demarcation of the southern Lebanese maritime border, Amos Hochstein, accompanied by US Ambassador Dorothy Shea. A statement issued in the wake of the meeting indicated that "the issue of demarcating the maritime borders with occupied Palestine was discussed, and the atmosphere was positive. It was also agreed to maintain communication and strive to reach a positive result in this file, in what serves Lebanon's interest."

Report: Higher Judicial Council Doesn't Intend to Discuss Bitar Removal

Naharnet/October 202021
The Higher Judicial Council rejects "the intimidation and treason accusations campaign against the judiciary," a Council source has said. The Council "also rejects any attempt to undermine the judiciary's role as an independent authority," the source told Kuwait's al-Anbaa newspaper in remarks published Wednesday. "The Council does not intend, in any way whatsoever, to discuss any format aimed at removing the investigative judge into the Beirut port blast file, Judge Tarek Bitar," the source added.

Bitar Renews Summonses of Zoaiter, Mashnouq
Associated Press/October 202021
The judge leading Lebanon's probe into last year's massive port explosion has renewed his summonses of two former ministers for questioning, a judicial official said. The decision by Judge Tarek Bitar came despite intense criticism from the country's powerful Hizbullah of the direction of the long-running investigation. Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has accused Bitar of politicizing the probe and singling out some officials and not others. He has called on the government to remove Bitar. Bitar has been in the post since February, after his predecessor was removed by a court decision following legal challenges from senior government officials who were also summoned. Nasrallah's accusations marked a major escalation in rhetoric targeting Bitar and were followed by protests in the capital Beirut last week by supporters of Hizbullah and its ally Amal against the judge. The protests descended into violence unseen in Lebanon in years: Seven people were killed during five hours of clashes between supporters of the two Shiite groups and gunmen accused of being supporters of the Lebanese Forces party.
Critics held Bitar responsible for the bloodshed.
But the judge went ahead with summoning two former government ministers, one of them an ally of Hizbullah, for questioning regarding the port blast. Bitar had issued arrest warrants for the two ex-ministers but with the resumption of parliament sessions Tuesday following a recess, the ministers reclaimed parliamentary immunity, which had shielded them from previous interrogation. The two former ministers, Ghazi Zoaiter and Nouhad al-Mashnouq, are also lawmakers. They were summoned to appear Oct. 29, the judicial official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. The former ministers' legal teams argue that with parliamentary immunity in place, the officials are exempt from appearing before the judge. But according to the parliament's bylaws, Bitar can renew his summonses because he first called for their questioning in a period when parliament was in recess -- at a time when the two men had briefly lost their immunity. Legal experts have called it the "battle of immunities" as the defendants and the lead judge have looked for loopholes in the law to each get their way. The result has been interruptions of the investigation, which is centered on what caused the explosion of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive fertilizer often used to make bombs, stored in the port for years. Independent media and rights groups have revealed that senior government officials knew of the material stored in the port but did nothing to store it properly or warn the public of its presence and danger.
More than 215 people died and over 6,000 were injured in the blast that devastated parts of the city Beirut.

Hoteit-Led Delegation Meets Justice Minister over Port Case

Naharnet/October 20/2021
A delegation from the families of the Beirut port blast victims on Wednesday visited Justice Minister Henri Khoury and handed him a letter that was referred, at their request, to the Higher Judicial Council. The delegation was led by Ibrahim Hoteit, a former spokesman of the grouping of families who recently appeared in a surprising video in which he made a U-turn in his stance on lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar. The majority of families distanced themselves from Hoteit’s new stance and said the video was likely recorded under duress. William Noun, an outspoken member of the families grouping, said Hoteit “only represents himself and two other families.”In a statement on behalf of the families, Noun added that Hoteit “has no right to act or speak on our behalf.”“The families of the port martyrs and victims stress their insistence on supporting the judiciary and Judge Tarek Bitar,” Noun said. Pro-Hizbullah journalist Salem Zahran meanwhile said that the Hoteit-led delegation handed Khoury a letter demanding “the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the case” and that the letter was “referred to the Higher Judicial Council.”

Roads Blocked in Lebanon after Major Surge in Fuel Prices
Agence France Presse/October 202021
Protesters took to the streets in several Lebanese regions on Wednesday after a major surge in fuel prices, the latest in a series of recent increases. The current hike is linked to a global rise in the prices of fuel and it marks a de facto end to state subsidies, pushing the cost of filling a vehicle's tank to more than the monthly minimum wage in the poverty-stricken nation. The prices of fuel had already soared in Lebanon after the central bank gradually lifted and eventually ended subsidization. A common unit of measurement -- 20 liters -- of 95-octane gasoline was hiked by LBP 59,900 on Wednesday to reach LBP 302,700, or around $15 at the black market rate. This is around five times the price of 61,100 pounds set at the end of June, adding to the economic pain in a country where power cuts are common and basic goods including medicine have become scarce. Diesel will meanwhile sell at LBP 270,700 per 20 liters and a cylinder of cooking gas will sell at LBP 229,600. The revised price "marks a complete lifting of petroleum subsidies," Fadi Abou Shaqra of the country's fuel distributors' association told AFP. "The fuel price hike will cause the cost of services to also increase, especially transportation," he added.
An energy ministry official said that the "latest petroleum prices were calculated on the basis of a currency exchange rate of 20,000 pounds to the dollar as per a central bank request."The price increases have mostly erased massive queues at gas pumps that clogged streets across the country during the summer when importers and gas station owners severely rationed supply.In the southern city of Sidon, taxi drivers blocked the vital al-Nejmeh Square with their cars on Wednesday in protest at the new prices. “The issue has become unbearable, especially that our livelihood mainly depends on this substance (gasoline),” the National News Agency quoted the drivers as saying. The drivers also blocked the city’s seaside corniche and the road outside the al-Zaatari Mosque. In the capital, protesters blocked the Saifi road in central Beirut in all directions. It was eventually reopened. The Corniche al-Mazraa and Sports City roads were also briefly blocked by protesters. Outside the capital, retired servicemen blocked the Beirut-Dora highway outside the Forum de Beyrouth. Demonstrators in the North meanwhile blocked the Bireh-Qoubayat road in Akkar, the Tripoli-Akkar highway in the Bab al-Tabbaneh area and the al-Nour Square in central Tripoli.

Lebanon Central Bank Audit Demanded by Creditors to Resume

Agence France Presse/October 202021
A New York-based firm contracted by the Lebanese government is to resume its audit of the central bank Thursday in line with creditors' demands, the Lebanese presidency and a top official said. The International Monetary Fund and France are among creditors demanding an audit of Banque du Liban as part of urgent reforms to unlock financial support to deal with an economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the planet's worst since the mid-19th century. The Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) auditing firm had launched an audit in September last year but was forced to pull out some two months later because the central bank failed to hand over necessary data. On Wednesday, President Michel Aoun met with A&M managing director James Daniell, who informed him that "the company will begin tomorrow its forensic financial audit of Lebanon's central bank after all arrangements were completed," the presidency said. Finance ministry official Georges Maarawi told AFP that the auditing firm "will have 12 weeks to collect information and draft a report," under the terms of its contract with the Lebanese government. The contract with A&M was signed by Finance Minister Youssef Khalil last month only days after he took up his post. Experts have expressed doubts that the terms of the contract and the limited time given to auditors will allow for a credible investigation. "As long as the auditors don't have direct access to servers, IT and accounting systems and the work isn't overseen by the competent authorities... then I don't expect anything out of it," financial analyst Mike Azar said. "The way the work is structured now will most likely not result in an honest and thorough forensic audit," he told AFP. In December, parliament approved a bill that suspends banking secrecy laws for one year to allow for the forensic audit -- which is widely seen as a necessary prelude to any agreement with the IMF over financial assistance. Maarawi, the finance ministry official, said that Lebanese authorities are currently holding "technical meetings" with the IMF, without elaborating. Following a meeting with IMF executive director Mahmoud Mohieldin on Tuesday, Prime Minister Najib Miqati said that Lebanon was betting on an IMF plan to help it survive its unprecedented financial crunch."We hope to clinch a cooperation agreement before the end of the year," he said.

Nasrallah’s boast of commanding 100,000 fighters a message to Lebanese army, political factions
The Arab Weekly/October 20/2021
Experts say the figure, which exceeds the size of Lebanon’s army by about 15,000 troops, is an exaggeration.
A boast by the leader of Hezbollah that he commands 100,000 fighters came as a surprise to many Lebanese, not least because it was addressed to a domestic audience rather than the militia’s archenemy Israel.
Analysts said that the Hezbollah’s chief’s message seemed to be directed at the head of the Lebanese Forces Party, Samir Geagea, but was also to all those who advocate bolstering the Lebanese army and making sure that in the long run it becomes the only force in the country entitled to bear arms.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah has 100,000 armed fighters at its disposal. But indicated these fighters are to defend Lebanon from external enemies, not to fight in a civil war. Addressing Geagea, he said, “Who do you want to fight in civil war, with whom do you want to engage in internal fighting, a hundred thousand with their arms and equipment?”Nasrallah accused the leader of the Lebanese Forces party of maintaining a militia under its command. Lebanese sources said Hezbollah was following with concern US, French and Saudi talk about supporting the Lebanese army in order to allow it to play an important role in maintaining security in the country. Hezbollah seems wary that the goal behind these talks is to prepare the army at a later stage in order to confront the heavily-armed pro-Iranian party and seize control of its weapons. Experts say the figure, which exceeds the size of Lebanon’s army by about 15,000 troops, is an exaggeration. But Hassan Nasrallah’s brag is likely to further ratchet up anxiety about a return to sectarian fighting in the small country roiled by a series of devastating crises.
“This is more about flexing Hezbollah’s muscles to demonstrate its power against other opposing political parties that want to undermine it,” said Dina Arakji, a researcher at Control Risks, a Dubai-based global risk consultancy group. Hezbollah’s clout exceeds that of the army not just in numbers but also in war experience, considering the participation of its troops in military operations in Syrian battlefields and its training on sophisticated weapons provided by Iran. At the same time, the Lebanese army is shackled by lack of financial resources to the point of being unable to feed its own soldiers. Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, said soldiers are “suffering and starving.”The army chief stressed that military troops are part of Lebanese society and they “suffer and starve like the rest of the people”. He asked politicians: “Where are we going? What are your intentions? We have warned more than once that the situation is serious and of the possibility of an explosion.”
Such statements led Hezbollah to believe that Joseph Aoun wanted to play an internal role that competes with that of the party, buoyed by external encouragement, although the army chief did not betray a desire to enter the political fray. Hezbollah wants to keep its hold on the vital institutions in Lebanon, starting with the military and including the security apparatus and the judiciary. But developments are not going in the direction it wants, especially after Judge Tarek Bitar, who is in charge of investigating the Beirut port blast, has insisted on working in complete independence from Hezbollah and directing accusations even at the party’s direct allies.
Nasrallah renewed Monday his objection to the port blast investigation, which he said was “not objective”, adding that the way it was conducted would not lead to truth or justice. Lebanese analysts said that Hassan Nasrallah’s speech tried to placate the rising fears inside Lebanon over the growing influence of Hezbollah, which threatens even the security of areas affiliated with its allies, especially Christians. They note that the alliance of Hezbollah and Amal Movement and the slogans raised in the march by their supporters last Thursday brought back memories of the country’s bloody sectarian confrontations. This led the Hezbollah chief to say that his party is not an enemy of Lebanon’s Christians. “The biggest threat to the security of the Christian community is the Lebanese Forces party and its leader,” he said. Seven Shia demonstrators were killed last Thursday in Beirut violence as crowds were on their way to protests called for by Shia duo Hezbollah and the Amal movement. The bloodshed was reminiscent of the civil war that raged in the country between 1975 and 1990. The Lebanese Forces party condemned Thursday’s events and blamed the violence on Hezbollah’s “incitement” against Judge Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator into the Beirut port blast. Nasrallah admitted that some of the Shia demonstrators may have chanted provocative slogans as they approached the Christian area and that this was a mistake, but then shooting started and people were killed. He added, “I advise the Forces Party and its leader to completely abandon the idea of ​​infighting and civil war … I tell you, you are miscalculating … Hezbollah in the region has never been as strong as it is now.”Despite his traditional hard-line stances, Nasrallah devoted an important part of his speech to trying to assuage the fears of Lebanese Christians, saying that Hezbollah protects their rights and is allied with the largest Christian party, the Free Patriotic Movement.

Lebanon to hold elections amid economic meltdown, sectarian tensions

The Arab Weekly/October 20/2021
Bitar renews his summonses of two former ministers for questioning, a judicial official said.
Lebanon’s parliament voted on Tuesday to hold legislative elections on March 27, giving Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government only a few months to try to secure an IMF recovery plan amid rising sectarian tensions and a deepening economic meltdown. Lebanon’s financial crisis, which the World Bank labelled one of the deepest depressions of modern history, had been compounded by political deadlock for over a year before Mikati put together a cabinet alongside President Michel Aoun. The currency has lost 90% of its value and three-quarters of the population have been propelled into poverty. Shortages of basic goods such as fuel and medicines have made daily life a struggle.
Talks with IMF
Mikati, whose cabinet is focused on reviving talks with the International Monetary Fund, had vowed to make sure elections are held with no delay and Western governments urged the same. After a meeting an executive director at the IMF on Tuesday, Mikati said his government had compiled the necessary financial data for the fund. “We hope to complete a cooperation programme before the end of this year,” Mikati was quoted in a statement by his office as saying after a meeting with the IMF’s Mahmoud Mohieldin in Beirut. Meanwhile, a New York-based firm contracted by the Lebanese government is to resume its audit of the central bank Thursday in line with creditors’ demands, the Lebanese presidency and a top official said. The IMF and France are among creditors demanding an audit of Banque du Liban as part of urgent reforms to unlock financial support. The Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) auditing firm had launched an audit in September last year but was forced to pull out some two months later because the central bank failed to hand over necessary data. On Wednesday, President Michel Aoun met A&M managing director James Daniell, who informed him that “the company will begin tomorrow its forensic financial audit of Lebanon’s central bank after all arrangements were completed,” the presidency said. Finance ministry official Georges Maarawi said that the auditing firm “will have 12 weeks to collect information and draft a report,” under the terms of its contract with the Lebanese government. The contract with A&M was signed by Finance Minister Youssef Khalil last month only days after he took up his post. In December, parliament approved a bill that suspends banking secrecy laws for one year to allow for the forensic audit, which is widely seen as a necessary prelude to any agreement with the IMF over financial assistance.Maarawi, the finance ministry official, said that Lebanese authorities are currently holding “technical meetings” with the IMF, without elaborating.
Probe into port blast
The efforts of Mikati government coincide with rising sectarian tensions, following a row over the probe into last year’s Beirut port blast that killed over 200 people and destroyed large swathes of the capital is threatening to veer his cabinet off course. Some ministers, aligned with politicians that lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar is seeking to question over the explosion, last week demanded that the judge be removed from the probe. Mikati has since said the cabinet will not convene another meeting until an agreement is reached on how to deal with the crisis. Bitar renewed on Tuesday his summonses of two former ministers for questioning, a judicial official said. The decision by Judge Bitar came despite intense criticism from the country’s powerful Hezbollah group of the direction of the long-running investigation. Bitar had issued arrest warrants for the two ex-ministers but with the resumption of parliament sessions Tuesday following a recess, the ministers reclaimed parliamentary immunity, which had shielded them from previous interrogation. The two former ministers, Ghazi Zeitar and Nohad Machnouk, are also lawmakers. They were summoned to appear October 29, the judicial official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press. The former ministers’ legal teams argue that with parliamentary immunity in place, the officials are exempt from appearing before the judge. But according to the parliament’s bylaws, Bitar can renew his summonses because he first called for their questioning in a period when parliament was in recess, at a time when the two men had briefly lost their immunity. Legal experts have called it the “battle of immunities” as the defendants and the lead judge have looked for loopholes in the law to each get their way. On Thursday, Beirut witnessed the worst street violence in over a decade with seven people killed in gunfire when protesters from the Hezbollah and Amal Shia movements made their way to demonstrate against Bitar. The bloodshed, which stirred memories of the 1975-1990 civil war, added to fears for the stability of a country that is awash with weapons. The early election date, elections were originally expected to be held in May, was chosen to avoid clashing with the holy Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. Once a new parliament is elected, the Mikati cabinet will only act in a caretaker role until a new prime minister is given a vote of confidence and tasked with forming a new government.

Nasrallah Brag of 100,000-Strong Force Seen Aimed at Foes at Home
Associated Press/October 202021
A boast by Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah that he commands 100,000 fighters came as a surprise to many Lebanese, not least because it was addressed to a domestic audience rather than the group's archenemy Israel. Experts say the figure, which exceeds the size of Lebanon's army by about 15,000 troops, is an exaggeration. But Nasrallah's brag is likely to further ratchet up anxiety about a return to sectarian fighting in the small country roiled by a series of devastating crises. "This is more about flexing Hizbullah's muscles to demonstrate its power against other opposing political parties that want to undermine it," said Dina Arakji, a researcher at Control Risks, a Dubai-based global risk consultancy group.Nasrallah made the declaration Monday as part of the growing confrontation over a judicial investigation into last year's massive Beirut port explosion that killed more than 215 people and devastated parts of the city. Hizbullah and its allies from the Amal Movement led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri want the lead judge removed, accusing him of bias. Deadly gunbattles broke out last week on Beirut's edge during a demonstration organized by the two Shiite parties. Clashes with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, reminiscent of the 1975-90 civil war, played out for several hours along a former front line separating the Muslim and Christian sectors of the city. Hizbullah accused the Lebanese Forces party of starting the fighting in which seven were killed, mainly Hizbullah and Amal supporters. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea denied his group was the aggressor, but said residents of Christian areas could not be blamed for defending themselves against hoards of Hizbullah and Amal supporters marching violently through their neighborhoods. In Monday's speech, Nasrallah accused Geagea of seeking to reignite a civil war and said he was forced to announce the number of Hizbullah fighters "not to threaten a civil war, but to prevent one." Hizbullah is a largely secretive organization and it is difficult to independently verify Nasrallah's claim about the size of the force. The group rarely comments on its military structure, weapons or number of fighters. Most estimates for the number of fighters, however, range between 25,000 and 50,000, including 10,000 elite troops known as the Radwan Force and a separate reserve force. Hizbullah is known to have stepped up recruitment in the years after the 2006 war with Israel. In the past decade, however, it lost nearly 2,000 members while fighting in Syria alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in that country's civil war.
Nasrallah said in his speech that those troops were armed and trained for warfare against Israel, not for an internal armed conflict. Arakji, the analyst, said it was significant that he chose a speech about the Lebanese Forces and last week's Tayyouneh violence to reveal the figure.
Hizbullah's claim about a 100,000-strong fighting force was particularly jarring because Lebanon's army only has about 85,000 troops. The country's financial crisis and currency collapse have severely impacted the military as an institution, and affected troop morale. Last week's fighting was a rare instance of members of Hizbullah clashing with internal rivals, something the group has repeatedly pledged to avoid. The group's reputation took a major hit in 2008, after its fighters overran predominantly Sunni Muslim neighborhoods in Beirut. It was considered the first time Hizbullah used its weapons internally since the end of the civil war in 1990. It came in response to the then-government of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's decision to dismantle Hizbullah's crucial secret telecommunication network. Some observers say Nasrallah's implicit threats reveal a degree of vulnerability of Hizbullah, even though it is the most dominant political and military force in Lebanon. Hizbullah's Shiite constituency, like other Lebanese communities, has been thrown into poverty by the country's severe financial crisis. More Lebanese regard the group, which once had popular support across religious sects for its resistance to Israel, as being part of a corrupt ruling class that drove the country to bankruptcy.
The group's recent campaign against Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the port blast investigation, is further pitting the group against many Lebanese who support him and seek justice and accountability. Civil strife pitting Hizbullah fighters against rival Lebanese groups would be disastrous for the group, which already lost popularity for its involvement in Syria's civil war. Hizbullah officials have repeatedly said the group will not be pulled into an internal war -- a weak point its opponents like the Lebanese Forces might be looking to exploit as a way to gain popularity ahead of general elections expected next spring. Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese general who heads the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research, said Hizbullah will avoid civil war at all costs. Hizbullah could easily take control of most of Lebanon militarily within a week, but this would hurt the group in the long term, Jaber said. "Whenever they storm and control areas it will be the countdown for its (Hizbullah's) existence, because their presence in Lebanon is a resistance movement and not a force to fight in a civil war," he said. Sarit Zehavi, a former Israeli military intelligence officer who runs the Alma research institute in northern Israel, said Nasrallah greatly exaggerated his group's military capabilities with the aim of intimidating his domestic rivals. "His message is 'I'm the strongest player in Lebanon'," Zehavi said. She said it could backfire against Nasrallah and draw further criticism in Lebanon. "What he's actually saying is 'I've built up great power not only to fight Israel but to fight Lebanese'," she said.

Lebanon's Car Culture Questioned in Crisis
Agence France Presse/October 202021
By challenging Lebanon's national passion for automobile ownership, and driving growing numbers towards greener or more collective transport, the economic crisis is succeeding where everything else failed. In the absence of a functioning public transport system, car culture has thrived and many households, even modest ones, boast multiple vehicles. Since 2019, however, an ever worsening financial crisis has made petrol unaffordable for many and long queues at gas stations unbearable for the rest. One of the by-products of Lebanon's historic shortages and currency crisis is the first meaningful dent in decades in the reign of the private automobile. Tuk-tuks, bicycles, carpooling and affordable buses -- which were once out of the question for many -- have since become more popular amid changing public attitudes and skyrocketing transport costs, including higher taxi fares.
"Before the crisis, I relied on my family's car or a taxi, but this has all become unaffordable," said Grace Issa, a 23-year-old customer service professional whose workplace is around 20 kilometers (12 miles) from home. Her only option to get to the office now is a private coach operated by Hadeer, a start-up without which she would not have accepted her new job in the first place."I now spend about 30 percent of my salary on transportation instead of 70 percent," she told AFP as she boarded a bus to go back home.
'Unclean, unsafe'
There are more than two million cars for six million people in Lebanon. Car imports have fallen by 70 percent over the past two years and many Lebanese can no longer afford new vehicles with the local currency losing about 90 percent of its value against the dollar on the black market.
Dwindling foreign currency reserves have forced authorities to scale back subsidies on imports, including fuel, causing prices to skyrocket. Twenty liters (4.4 gallons) of petrol are now worth around a third of the minimum wage, while nearly 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In response to the crisis, Boutros Karam, 26, and three friends launched Hadeer, which provides affordable bus transport along the country's northern coastal highway. Unlike the dilapidated public transport system, buses operate along a fixed schedule, are equipped with wi-fi and tracking services and are relatively safer for women who often report harassment on public coaches and vans. Sixty percent of Hadeer's customers are women. "The public transport problem is an old one but it was compounded recently by the fuel crisis and the fact that many can no longer afford to move around" using taxis or their own cars, Karam said.
The start-up, which has also developed a mobile app that allows customers to book seats in advance, is breaking stereotypes Lebanese have harbored regarding mass transit, Karam added. Many of our customers "were not accustomed to using collective transportation," Karam said. "They used to refuse it because it was seen as unclean... and unsafe."
'Way of life' -
Lebanon has had a railway network since the end of the 19th century but it has been out of service since the start of the country's 1975-1990 civil war. Several proposals over the decades to revamp public transport have been shelved. In 2018, the World Bank approved a $295 million package to jumpstart the country's first modern public transport system. The Greater Beirut Public Transport Project, however, never took off and the Lebanese government is now looking to use the funds to help support the country's poorest. "Discussions are under way with the government of Lebanon regarding the feasibility of restructuring and reprogramming the entire World Bank portfolio which also includes the Greater Beirut Public Transport Project," World Bank spokesperson Zeina El-Khalil told AFP. In the coastal city of Batroun, a popular tourist hotspot during the summer, the tuk-tuk has gained traction among visitors and residents alike, according to Toni Jerjes, who manages a service offering the auto rickshaws. "The crisis has changed the Lebanese people's transportation habits. Tuk-tuk is a less expensive and faster option," he said. In the city of Tripoli further north, Natheer Halawani has relied on a bicycle for nearly two decades to move around. He has lobbied for a bicycle boom in his car-clogged city for years, but in the end, it was the economic calamity that finally put the wheels in motion, and he says more people are now pedaling through the city's streets. The private vehicle "is not just a means of transport, it is also a way of life," he said. For the 35-year-old, the crisis provides "a suitable opportunity to rethink" such old transportation models.

Tayyouneh Clash Fires Up Sectarian Anger in Echo of Civil War
Associated Press/October 202021
He was only a year old when his panicked father picked him up and they fled with his mother from the gunfire rattling their neighborhood. It was the day Lebanon's civil war started 46 years ago. His family's apartment building in Beirut was on the frontline. Now 47, Bahij Dana did the same thing last week. He evacuated his wife and two of his kids as gun battles raged for hours outside the same building. Civil defense rescuers came to help his father and mother, stuck in the lower floors. "History is repeating itself," Dana said. The battle Thursday went on for five hours between supporters of Lebanon's two powerful Shiite factions -- Hizbullah and Amal -- and gunmen believed to be supporters of a Christian party -- the Lebanese Forces. It took place on the line between the Shiyyah and Ain al-Remmaneh neighborhoods on Beirut's southern edge, the same notorious frontline that bisected the capital and its suburbs into warring sections during the country's dark civil war era. It was not just memories of the war that were triggered by the scenes of gunmen in streets and schoolchildren ducking under desks. The battles, which left seven dead, also fired up the sectarian passions from that violent past, which Lebanese had learned to brush aside without ever dealing with the causes.
Add to that a bankrupt government, hyperinflation and mounting poverty, and the country of six million is turning into a powder keg on the Mediterranean. The clashes erupted over the probe into last year's massive port blast, as the political elite closed ranks in their efforts to block it.
Despite calls for calm, leaders of Shiite Hizbullah and the rival Christian Lebanese Forces kept up their heated rhetoric. They brought back civil war jargon, talking about "frontlines" and "neighborhood defenses," deepening the sense that the pact that kept the social peace since the war has come undone. "We made up, and now they want to pit us against one another again," said Camille Hobeika, a 51-year-old mechanic and Christian resident of Ain al-Remmaneh. Since the war, the sectarian-based warlords who fought it have divvied up political power, signing a pact in 1989 and issuing an amnesty for themselves. Though rivals, they have had a common interest in maintaining the system, rife with patronage and corruption, and so generally keep a shaky peace. The new fighting highlighted a generational divide that stands at the heart of how Lebanese deal with that legacy.
For those who lived through the atrocities of the communal fighting between 1975 and 1990, the country is fated to that system, even with occasional bouts of violence whenever the entrenched political leadership looks to recalibrate the balance of power. Dana sees the burst of violence as a tried tactic by the leaders: When they face trouble, they stoke fear of civil war, so each sect's followers rally around their chief, seeing him as their only protection. For him, this is how things work, rooted in the "zaim," Arabic for leader, who provides his community with jobs and services in return for his supporters' unquestioning loyalty. "We are used to it. We were brought up in a war environment," Dana said. "We are not accepting war. But I accept my country, my cedar tree, my family and friends. Where else can I find that?"
But many in the younger generation say they refuse to be pawns of the political elite. They tried protesting, with nationwide rallies in 2019, but hardly shook the foundations of the ruling class. Dana's 22-year-old daughter, Vanda, a university student, sees nothing to gain from the leadership and no point in staying in Lebanon. In the last three years, Lebanon has lost its status as a middle-income country, with over 70% of the population sinking into poverty, and many skilled professionals leaving. Her father's 25-year-old printing business has gone to ruins and the family money is locked in the bank, inaccessible because of restrictions imposed during the financial meltdown. Now, her bedroom windows are riddled with bullets. "We learned and attended the best universities, only to experience this! Why? Why do I now have to be terrified when a door slams? Why do I have to run to my father crying when there is any sound? I don't have to live this life," she said, sobbing.
"My parents say they still have hope. But there is nothing left," the younger Dana said. "Why should I plan a family here and make them go through this? In 10 or 20 years, the same thing will happen. It will always stay this way."
Some pin hopes on next spring's parliamentary elections as a way out of the leadership's grip. But Lebanon's politics are mostly sectarian. Parties' supporters are predominantly from the same sect, and election districts are gerrymandered to fit sectarian lines. Days after the clashes, many residents of the area have yet to return home. Apartment buildings freshly pockmarked by bullets line the streets. Army vehicles and barbed wire separate predominantly Christian Ain al-Remmaneh and mainly Shiite Muslim Shiyyah -- bringing back the image of a West Beirut and an East Beirut, a split Lebanese have shunned since the war.
In Shiyyah, the neighborhood is in mourning. All those killed were supporters of the Shiite groups Hizbullah and Amal. Posters for a mother of five killed on her balcony from flying bullets hang between buildings.
"Hizbullah has always been targeted," said Shiyyah resident Ali Haidar, 23.
With the sectarian violence, each sect brings out its stored-up resentments against the other, imagined or real. Haidar said Hizbullah defended Lebanon against Israel and terrorism only to be met with hostility from internal foes like the Lebanese Forces. When Israel was bombing his neighborhood and other Hizbullah areas in 2006, he said, "life was normal on the other side."On the other side in Ain al-Remmaneh, electronics store owner Sami Nakad blamed the Shiites for Thursday's violence. Bullets from Shiyyah landed in his apartment above the store. He insisted Ain al-Remmaneh residents, defending their area, carried only sticks. Asked how he explained the deaths on the other side, Nakad said: "They killed themselves because they want to twist things around."During Thursday's gunbattles, Nakad, who is in his 70s, hid with his wife and daughter for hours in a stairwell. His employee, 45-year-old Shadi Nicola, left when the bullets started flying, seeing no use in the fight. He called the clashes "theatrics" by leaders losing popularity amid a crushing economic crisis. "Elections will bring them back. Those people... came through blood. They will only go with blood," he said.
Elie, a 28-year-old trainer, has slept at friends' homes away from the neighborhood since the clashes. He has an upcoming interview for a job abroad and is ready to leave Lebanon. "This (fighting) is not our decision," he said. The country is slipping into trouble, and the leaders "are not even making a 1% effort to fix things. They are taking us deeper."

Former Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora: Hizbullah Has Hijacked Lebanon; Iran's Fuel Supply To Lebanon Is Only For Show – It Is Incapable Of Supplying Even Its Own People With Fuel
MEMRI/October 21/2021
Asharq TV (Saudi Arabia)
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said in an October 15, 2021 interview on Asharq News TV (Saudi Arabia) that Lebanon has been "hijacked" by Hizbullah and that Iran has been violating Lebanon's sovereignty. He explained that Hizbullah wants to draw people's attention away from Lebanon's problems and to make the world think that it is helping Lebanon and that it can breach the international sanctions against Iran. Siniora also said that this help is only "pretend" and that this is a way of showing off. He added that Iran has been trying to provide oil products to Lebanon, even though it is incapable of meeting its own market's oil demands. He also pointed out that Iran exports oil to Lebanon without abiding by Lebanese law and without paying the necessary taxes. Fouad Siniora: "When trucks loaded with Iranian mazut fuel entered Lebanon, it was the epitome of undermining of the Lebanese state and its sovereignty. Hizbullah wanted to portray a certain image to the people, and to draw their attention away from Lebanon's basic problems. What I mean is that the State of Lebanon has been hijacked by Hizbullah. Hizbullah wanted to portray an image as if it wanted to help the Lebanese, and that it is showing them grace. This is the message that Hizbullah wanted to deliver to Lebanon. "In addition, Hizbullah wanted to deliver a message to the international community that it can breach the siege laid by the international sanctions on Iran. However, this act was nothing but Iran showing off in order to accomplish these two goals. "However, Iran knows and everybody knows that it cannot meet Lebanon's demand for oil products. Iran is incapable of supplying the oil products demanded by its own market, so this was only for show. Iran pretended to be helping Lebanon, but in fact, it breached our border, breached our sovereignty, refused to abide by the law, and entered as a new trader in Lebanon that wants to sell Iranian mazut fuel at a price lower than required for such imports. Why? Because it entered Lebanon without paying customs, and without paying the tax for oil products."

Lebanese diaspora vote will not be enough to force change on a corrupt establishment
Makram Rabah/Al Arabiya/October  20/2021
The Lebanese diaspora has always been the pride and joy of this enterprising nation of around six million residents, with over 14 million members of its diaspora scattered around the world, most of which are well integrated and have achieved success. For many in the diaspora, casting an absentee ballot in the upcoming elections slated for Spring 2022 is their only chance to voice disapproval of the ruling establishment which has destroyed their homeland.
However, millions of Lebanese across the world might find their chance to drive through change through voting diluted by the efforts of the Lebanese political establishment to gerrymander districts in a way to restrict the diaspora’s vote to only six seats rather than the 128 which they are entitled to.
In 2018, the Lebanese diaspora voted for the first time for the 128 seats each in their registered districts in Lebanon, with over 1.8 million votes cast. However, this time around, the diaspora is likely to be much more enthusiastic in casting a vote, and will not canvas for the traditional political establishment which robbed them out of their lifesavings after convincing those abroad to deposit their savings into the Lebanese banking system, funding the banks and the Lebanese government before mismanagement brought the country, and those deposits, to inevitable economic ruin.
The third wave of Lebanese immigration currently underway, triggered by the political and economic crisis, is much more dire than the first wave of the early 19th century or the second wave of the 1975-1990 civil war, as many of Lebanon’s professional class – both in the healthcare and educational sectors – have found themselves displaced from their homes and their jobs after the collapse of the country’s currency and civilian infrastructure. Having been forced to immigrate, these new members of the diaspora will join others who want to do everything it takes to affect change by voting out the ruling establishment and ushering in a new breed of policymakers, or so they hope. The ruling establishment, on the other hand, has other plans in mind, as they wish to implement article 122 of the electoral law which restricts the diaspora vote to just six seats that will be added to the existing 128, with each representing one of the world’s six continents, rather than allowing them to vote for their home district.
Imposing article 122 not only clearly demonstrates the fear the ruling establishment fosters for these enraged members of the diaspora, but also underscores their ongoing commitment to ignoring the provisions of the Lebanese constitution – Article 27 clearly states that “a member of the Chamber [of deputies] shall represent the whole nation. No restriction or condition may be imposed upon his mandate by his electors.”While it is true that many of the members of the diaspora do not pay local taxes, their lifesavings and retirement funds are stuck in Lebanese banks, a situation caused and prolonged by the corrupt establishment, and thus they deserve the full right to practice their constitutional right to vote. The Lebanese model has always been based on the myth or the illusion that educated men and woman go abroad and their remittances are enough to keep the Lebanese economy, or what turned out to be a glorified Ponzi scheme, functioning. Yet, this Lebanese model which welcomes the diaspora’s funds does not really welcome their voices or votes.
Regardless of how the situation regarding diaspora voting goes, the optimism that surrounds the forces of change in Lebanon towards the upcoming elections is both alarming and naïve. Elections are indeed tools of change, but within the current Lebanese setup any elections conducted by the ruling elite, who are allies of Iran’s proxy group Hezbollah, will only bring back the current line up with minimal changes.
The international community’s call for Lebanese to face off with the ruling elite is both unrealistic and insincere. Western powers who continue to endorse elections should, at the same time, follow through on sanctions against these so-called politicians and prevent them from claiming legitimacy through the ballots.
The efforts of various opposition groups backed by the Lebanese diaspora to challenge the ruling establishment in the upcoming elections is indeed a commendable and noble endeavor, but these efforts are unlikely to secure victory, and fail to ensure that their opponents, who are coincidently running the election process, do not rig the ballots as they have time and again. As it stands, elections are unlikely to change much, not simply because the final results are already determined by ruling establishment, but rather because the Lebanese, including the diaspora, have not yet reached political puberty, and have yet to realize that democracy is not a simple matter of casting a vote every four years, but rather a sustained effort to stand up to tyrants who usurp power in the name of an imagined tribe or community. This notwithstanding, the road to change is a long and arduous one. The liberation of Lebanon from Iran’s malign occupation and their corrupt local allies cannot be achieved remotely nor through proxies, but will require the Lebanese to continue to denounce corruption and call for change.

Oyez oyez oyez !
Jean-Marie Kassab/Octobre 20/2021
Aux dirigeants du monde libre.
Écoutez bien, ouvrez vos yeux. Scrutez vos écrans télé. Lisez bien vôtre courrier et les rapports de vos ambassades.
Regardez , voyez, comment les Libanais ont commencé à résister. Observez les bouger , crier, hurler contre l'occupant Iranien, contre les usurpateurs, contre l'intrus qui souille nôtre sol.
Et ce n'est qu'un petit début. Le reste est à suivre. Nous avons été appauvris mais nôtre âme demeure libre. A genoux? JAMAIS.
Nous ne voulons pas de vos sous. Nous ne sommes pas des mendiants. Que Mikati aille mendier tout seul. Que Aoun se mette à genoux en adoration. Ils ne nous représente pas. Nous ne sommes pas eux et ils ne sont pas nous.Nous sommes la première ligne de défense contre les mollahs . Faites de sorte que ce ne soit pas la dernière.
Lisez vôtre histoire et la nôtre aussi. Occupés plusieurs fois , nous nous sommes libérés, par la force et un courage sans égal.
Monsieur Macron vôtre pays et l'Europe ne se sont pas libérés tout seul: le monde entier y a participé. Mister Biden, des centaines de milliers de vos boys sont mort pour en finir avec le Nazisme.
Nos "boys and girls" sont prêts à tout pour leur pays. Tenez en compte en faisant vos calculs et en jouant aux dieux.
Kissinger avait fait la même gaffe en mettant une croix sur le Liban en 75: sa lecture était superficielle et son jugement faux. Il ne savait pas qu'une poignée de jeunes étaient d'un avis contraire et enrayèrent ses desseins par la force de leurs bras et leurs coeurs de lions.
A suivre et attentivement...
Vive la Résistance Libanaise

The boomerang effect

Nicholas Frakes/Now Lebanon/October 20/2021
Following the October 14 shootout in the streets of Beirut, Hezbollah’s secretary-general took aim at the Christian Lebanese Forces in his speech, something that analysts say could cause trouble for the Shiite party’s Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement. Analysts say that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speech directed at Lebanese Forces Christina party and its leader Samir Geagea may have affected its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement. Photo: Anwar Amro, AFP. There was only a nondescript blue background and a collage of the people who died in the shootout on October 14 displayed behind Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah when he spoke on Monday night on the occasion of the Prophet’s Birthday. But the two-hour speech was not about the Prophet. It was about the Lebanese Forces Christian Party, whom the Party of God and its political ally the Amal Movement are accusing of having fired at their protesters and starting the clashes that left 7 dead and 32 wounded.
“The biggest threat for the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Hezbollah’s leader stated. According to the Beirut-based Hezbollah analyst, Kassem Kassir, this speech by Nasrallah was meant as a deterrent for any possible fighting that could stem from the high tensions since Thursday’s events. However, political analyst Bashar al-Halabi says that it was much more than that: Hezbollah is creating a new enemy for the group to confront. However, he said, the move backfired, strengthening LF leader Samir Geagea’s political position and weakening that of the Hezbollahs’ Christian allies, President Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement. “Of course, this means that it’s going to fuel sectarian tensions,” al-Halabi told NOW. “Of course, it means that it’s going to put its main Christian ally in a bind. Today, Michel Aoun and [Free Patriotic Movement leader] Gebran Bassil are really stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
An existential crisis
For the most part of its history, Hezbollah has conjured and strengthened enemies whether within Lebanon or outside of it in order to ensure the cohesion of its supporter base and to justify keeping its weapons, analysts say. However, after the group declared victory over Sunni Islamists in the Syrian war, the Shiite group no longer had an immediate enemy to fight, Halabi explained. “Since 2005 and up until last week, Hezbollah kind of obliterated March 14,” he said. “It went on and engaged in a war with Israel in 2006 and this was put to rest, in a way. Then it went to Syria and it helped quell the revolution and, then, it recreated itself as this militia that is trying to defend Shiites and other minorities.”The party gained more power in Lebanon and became a super-political actor, defining Lebanon’s politics. It helped elect Michel Aoun into the presidential seat. Meanwhile, it continued to say that Israel was a threat that they would soon destroy. There were several rounds of unrest on the de facto border in South Lebanon, but all were extinguished within a few days. Hezbollah no longer had a physical enemy to pose as an imminent threat to its constituency. The popular uprising began on October 17, 2019 and the beginning of the economic crisis only put more pressure on the group to change the narrative, as many accused it of being part of the corrupt Lebanese political elite. “When Hezbollah came back from Syria, it literally had no enemy and it reached a point where it saw itself as the main guarantor and the main party responsible for the meltdown in Lebanon, in one way or the other,” Halabi stated. “Its talking points around the banks and Riad Salameh did not stick enough. At the end of the day, Hezbollah and Hassan Nasrallah came out and publicly announced that the financial meltdown in Lebanon is a result of the American embargo. And all of the other talking points about Saad Hariri and meddling from abroad also did not stick.”
This all changed on October 14 when a shootout broke out in Tayouneh, an area that marks the border between the Christian Ain el-Remaneh and Shiite southern suburbs, between Hezbollah and Amal, the Lebanese Army and Lebanese Forces supporters. When Hezbollah came back from Syria, it literally had no enemy and it reached a point where it saw itself as the main guarantor and the main party responsible for the meltdown in Lebanon, in one way or the other. Hezbollah and Amal put out a joint statement after the shooting began, claiming that the Christian party ambushed them and were the cause of the fighting. The Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea denied that the party had planned any of the events on Thursday.
But a new opponent for Hezbollah had emerged.
Where the “100,000 strong” came from
In his speech, Nasrallah claimed that while the Lebanese Forces claim to be the protectors of Lebanese Christians, Hezbollah is the one that actually puts that into action, citing how there are Christians living in their territories and that Hezbollah was the one who defended them against threats like the Islamic State. “Talking about defending Christians was to confirm that the problem with the [Lebanese] Forces is not with the Christians, but with a Lebanese party,” Kassir told NOW. Nasrallah also continued the claims that the Lebanese Forces were the ones who killed Hezbollah members, accusing the Christian faction of trying to start a new civil war. “The real program of the Lebanese Forces party is civil war,” Nasrallah said. “They don’t have a problem with causing events that lead to bloodshed … even if it will lead to a large-scale military confrontation of civil war.”Nasrallah also said that his party had 100,000 fighters, a number significantly higher than the 85,000 that was previously thought. “We have prepared [those fighters] with their diverse weapons to defend our territory, our oil and gas that is being robbed before the eyes of the Lebanese, to protect the dignity and sovereignty of our country from any aggression [and] terrorism and not for internal fighting,” Hezbollah’s leader stated. “Don’t miscalculate. Be wise and behave. Learn a lesson from all your wars and all our wars,” Nasrallah later said addressing Geagea.
Hezbollah’s leader had reason to use such numbers in his speech. In 2020, the Hezbollah affiliated newspaper Al-Akhbar published a story claiming that the Lebanese Forces’ Samir Geagea had said his party had 15,000 soldiers ready to confront Hezbollah. Geagea denied these claims and threatened to sue Al-Akhbar for publishing false information. The warning aims to prevent war and send a message to the inside and the outside that the party is strong.
According to Kassir, these statements by the secretary-general were meant to be a warning to anyone, including the Lebanese Forces, that they would face a bloody fight if they tried to confront Hezbollah in an armed conflict.
“The warning aims to prevent war and send a message to the inside and the outside that the party is strong,” Kassir said. “The goal may be to say that any action against the party will be met with force.”But instead of deterring a perceived new enemy, Hasrallah’s attacks against the LF might have done exactly the opposite: they enhanced the sectarian division lines, increased tensions and damaged the decades-long work of its Christian Ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, of painting a different political picture. “[The attacks by Hezbollah against the Lebanese Forces] is kind of remobilizing or redrawing the fault lines in the country in a way that we are basically seeing today,” Halabi said. “Christians versus Muslims – because [former PM Saad]Hariri has not publicly supported [Tarek] Bitar per se and Walid Joumblatt is going to toe the line with Hezbollah and Amal on this one, especially that I don’t think Joumblatt really ever got over his disdain for [Samir] Geagea. I feel that we are at this spot right now and things are taking this dimension.”
Loss of status
After Lebanon’s bloody civil war ended in 1990, Aoun tried to change the idea of what a political faction was in Lebanon from that of a former militia to one of a party that represents the future of Lebanon and its people.
“Part of the legitimacy that Michel Aoun had built and that Gebran Bassil has been trying to inherit, in a way, is the fact that he represented the Lebanese state, he represented the military and he wanted to put an end to Christian militias or these militia actions that were taking place during the civil war,” Halabi said. The FPM cultivated this image of the party for two decades following the end of the war, even during Aoun’s exile in France and the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. However, the party’s line started to change in 2005 when the FPM allied itself with Hezbollah. “I think at some point they couldn’t see beyond the power of Hezbollah, thinking that as long as Hezbollah has muscles, as long as they can still reign supreme in the country, at least they can still remain supreme in the Christian community,” Halabi explained. The various crises that have plagued Lebanon for the last two years have also added to the FPM’s woes. The faction has constantly played on the fears of the Christian community in an effort to maintain its dominance in Christian politics all the while presenting the Lebanese Forces as a “militia-like party.” FPM leader Gebran Bassil has repeated numerous times, especially after the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011, that the FPM is the one faction to defend the Christians in Lebanon and many times also turned to Hezbollah as its ally and defender of the Christians in the face of Sunni Islamism. According to Halabi, Lebanon’s Christian community has a “minority complex” where they are “always fearing for their existence” and “always fearing for the loss of privileges within the Lebanese state.”
I think at some point they couldn’t see beyond the power of Hezbollah, thinking that as long as Hezbollah has muscles, as long as they can still reign supreme in the country, at least they can still remain supreme in the Christian community. Because of the current instability in Lebanon, and especially because of Hezbollah’s attacks, the Lebanese Forces now come across as the protector of the Christians rather than the militia that they had been painted as for decades. And this means all the efforts Hezbollah’s Christian ally, the FPM, and its leaders have made over decades have been in vain.
“Given the situation and how precarious it is and how fragile it is, people have moved way past the idea of statesmen versus militiamen and we’ve seen that with the complete destruction and meltdown of state institutions. They need a guarantor. They need a protector,” al-Halabi said.
“[Lebanese Christians] see today that Samir Geagea, backed by the Gulf where many of their interests are present [and] backed by the international community, is there and is claiming to protect them in a way. Today, Gebran Bassil is the one that is sanctioned by the US and Geagea is the one that receives the US ambassador and talks to her.”Since Nasrallah’s speech on Monday, there have been an increasing number of pro-Lebanese Forces and pro-Geagea posters being erected not only in areas inhabited by Lebanese Forces supporters, but also in places like Tripoli, where Sunnis who support the Future Movement make the majority population. Coupled with the growing fear of Shiite dominance in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s attacks against Geagea and his party made them look like a better option for the Christian community than Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil who are allied with Hezbollah.
The growing sectarian tensions have also added to the challenges that pro-revolution groups are facing when they are looking to win seats in the upcoming 2022 parliamentary election.
A weak secular opposition
Soon after the October 17 uprising started, new political parties started to form. However, while originally coasting on the momentum brought by the months-long protests, the new parties soon became divided. “They’ve really let down everyone,” Halabi said, referring to the opposition only holding an anniversary protest on Sunday. “Instead of, for example, trying to find a common ground, a common denominator between all the opposition groups, for example launching their electoral campaign on October 17 and inviting the international media and inviting the regional and local media and staging this one massive conference where they’re all present and launching their electoral campaign. That would have sent a way-stronger message to the public and it would have sent a sign of hope to the public rather than what they did last Sunday,” Those clashes that happened are not a conspiracy between the different leaders to enhance their positioning in the country. Of course, they use it and capitalize on it and they try to cash in on it. But tensions have always been there since the 1940s up until today. The recent sectarian clashes have added another layer of problems for the opposition groups. “Those clashes that happened are not a conspiracy between the different leaders to enhance their positioning in the country. Of course, they use it and capitalize on it and they try to cash in on it. But tensions have always been there since the 1940s up until today,” Halabi said.
“There are real grievances among sects in Lebanon. There’s bloodshed. There’s a heavily armed sectarian party that’s infringing on the other sects in the country.”
Nicholas Frakes is a multimedia journalist with @NOW_leb. He tweets @nicfrakesjourno.

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on October 20-21/2021
Blast at US outpost in Syria, no American injuries — US officials
Reuters/October 20, 2021
WASHINGTON: A US outpost in southern Syria was attacked on Wednesday, but there were no reports of any American casualties from the blast, US officials told Reuters. The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it was too early to say who was responsible for the attack. One of the officials said it was believed to have been a drone attack. The garrison, known as Tanf, is located in a strategic area near Syria’s Tanf border crossing with Iraq and Jordan. The garrison was first set up when Islamic State fighters controlled eastern Syria bordering Iraq but since the militants were driven out, it is seen as part of the larger US strategy to contain Iran’s military reach in the region. Tanf is the only position with a significant US military presence in Syria outside the Kurdish-controlled north. While it is not common for attacks on the US troops at the outpost, Iranian-backed forces have frequently attacked American troops with drones and rockets in eastern Syria and Iraq

Six Loyalist Fighters Killed in Syria Arms Depot Blast
Agence France Presse
Six members of a pro-government militia were killed Wednesday in an arms depot blast in the central Syrian province of Hama, a war monitor reported. Seven other members of the National Defense Forces militia were wounded in the blast, the cause of which remains largely unclear, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

HRW Says 'Torture' Awaits Syrian Refugees Returning from Lebanon, Jordan
Agence France Presse/October 202021
Syrian refugees returning to their war-battered country have faced alleged torture, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Wednesday. A report titled "'Our Lives Are Like Death': Syrian Refugee Returns from Lebanon and Jordan" documented "grave abuse" at the hands of government forces against 65 returnees and their family members between 2017 and 2021. Of the 65, 21 faced arrests and arbitrary detention, 13 said they were tortured, and five cases of extrajudicial killings were recorded, the report said. There were also accounts of 17 enforced disappearances, three kidnappings and one alleged sexual violence case. "The harrowing accounts of torture, enforced disappearance and abuse that refugees who went back to Syria endured should make it patently clear that Syria is not safe for returns," said Nadia Hardman, a researcher on refugee and migrant rights at HRW. Refugees in Lebanon and Jordan in particular have faced mounting direct and indirect pressure to return to Syria, in violation of the principle of nonrefoulement, the rights organization said. In September, the U.N. announced that the toll of identified individuals killed in the Syrian conflict had risen to 350,209, though it warned that the real number could be much higher. New York-based HRW accused Lebanon of pursuing an "aggressive returns agenda" through measures such as the demolition of concrete shelters, curfews and forced evictions. The situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has been severely exacerbated by the country's economic crisis, with 90 percent of them left in extreme poverty, the group said.HRW warned that the heightening pressures and lack of access to information could result in refugees feeling they have no option but to return. The U.N. refugee agency estimates that over 6.6 million Syrians have been forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries. "No country should be forcing refugees to return to Syria, so long as the Syrian government commits widespread human rights abuses," Hardman said. "A decade on, returning refugees are still at risk of persecution from the same government they fled."

14 Killed in Rare Damascus Army Bus Bombing
Agence France Presse/October 202021
A bomb attack on an army bus in Damascus killed 14 people Wednesday in the bloodiest such attack to strike the Syrian capital in four years, the SANA state news agency reported. There was no immediate claim for the bombing but moments later shelling by government forces killed eight people in the Idlib region controlled by groups that have claimed such attack in the past. "A terrorist bombing using two explosive devices targeted a passing bus" at a key bridge in the capital, the news agency said, reporting that 14 people had been killed and at least three wounded. Images released by SANA showed first responders searching the charred carcass of the bus and what the news agency said was a bomb squad defusing a third device planted in the same area. A military source quoted by the state agency said the bomb had been planted on the bus itself and was detonated as it passed near the Hafez al-Assad bridge, close to the national museum in the heart of the capital. Damascus had been largely spared such violence in recent years, especially since troops and allied militia retook the last significant rebel bastion near the capital in 2018. The attack is the deadliest in the capital since a bombing claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group targeted the Justice Palace in March 2017, killing at least 30 people. Around an hour after the Damascus attack, Syrian regime shelling struck the war-ravaged town of Ariha, in the northwestern region of Idlib.
Idlib carnage
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rockets struck a busy area at the time children were heading to school. Three children were among those killed, the Britain-based war monitoring group said. An AFP reporter saw at least five dead bodies as first responders treated the wounded and scenes of chaos filled the streets of Ariha. "At 8 am (0500 GMT) we woke up to the bombardment. The children were terrified and were screaming," said Bilal Trissi, a father of two who lives nearby. "We didn't know what to do or where to go and we didn't see anything because of all the dust around us," he told AFP. "They bombed us in our neighborhood and in the market. There are children who died and people who lost their limbs... We don't know why, what are we guilty of?" The Damascus bombing will challenge the government's assertion that the decade-old war is over and stability guaranteed for reconstruction efforts and investment projects to begin in earnest. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has been striving to claw itself out of international isolation and had been making inroads in recent months. The conflict that erupted with the brutal repression of unarmed protests demanding regime change in 2011 has left around half a million people dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Conflict on standby
It also led to the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II, with half of Syria's pre-war population of 22 million forced to flee their homes at one point. Assad's position once held by a thread, with his forces and their allies controlling barely a fifth of Syrian territory, but Russia's military intervention in 2015 marked the start of a long and bloody fightback. Also backed by Iran and its proxy militias, government forces have recaptured nearly all key cities in the country, with US-backed Kurdish forces still running the northeast. The Islamic State's once-sprawling caliphate, that straddled swathes of Iraq and Syria, inexorably shrank to its death, which came in eastern Syria in early 2019. Since then, the Syrian government's main focus has been the northwestern region of Idlib, where many of the rebels forced to surrender in other parts of the country have gathered. The area is dominated by the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which includes leaders of Al-Qaeda's former Syria franchise and over which Turkey has some sway. HTS has not claimed attacks in Damascus in years however. The remnants of IS in eastern Syria have gone underground but continue to harass government and allied forces, mostly in desert areas, in hit-and-run attacks. A truce deal brokered by Turkey and Russia, the two main foreign players in the Syria conflict, has effectively put fighting in Idlib on standby. Sporadic flareups have kept the egion on edge, however, and Wednesday's shelling of Ariha was one of the most serious violations of the truce deal. Assad insists he remains committed to reconquering all the territory lost to rebels at the beginning of the war, including the Idlib region.

In historic move, Egypt installs 98 women on main judicial body
The Arab Weekly/October 20/2021
Some of the judges said they were happy that the dreams of earlier generations of women had finally come true.
CAIRO--Nearly 100 women Tuesday became the first female judges to join Egypt’s State Council, one of the country’s main judicial bodies. The 98 women were sworn in before the council’s chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, in a celebratory event in Cairo. The swearing-in came months after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi asked for women to join the State Council and the Public Prosecution, the two judicial bodies that until recently were exclusively male. Hossam el-Din welcomed the new judges, saying, “They are an important addition to the State Council.”Some of the judges said they were happy that the dreams of earlier generations of women had finally come true. “This is a memorable day. It is a dream for us and for past generations as well,” said Radwa Helmy, one of the newly sworn-in justices. “Being a woman in one of the chief judiciary institutions in Egypt and the Arab world was a dream.”Sisi’s decision in March was applauded by many women’s rights activists. Egypt’s National Council for Women said at the time that the move represented a political will to further empower women. Established in 1946, the State Council is an independent judicial body that mainly handles administrative disputes, disciplinary cases and appeals. It also reviews draft laws, decisions and contracts to which the government or a government-run body is a party. The council had repeatedly rejected women applicants. In recent years, many women challenged council decisions, arguing that they were discriminated against.

Social unrest threatens ‘fragile’ recoveries in Middle East

The Arab Weekly/October 20/2021
The MENA region saw real GDP growth shrink by 3.2 percent in 2020 due to weak oil prices and sweeping lockdowns.
DUBAI--The Middle East and North Africa are on track for recovery, but rising social unrest and increasing inequities threaten the “fragile” progress of low-income economies, the IMF said on Tuesday. The MENA region, which includes Arab countries and Iran, saw real GDP growth shrink by 3.2 percent in 2020 due to weak oil prices and sweeping lockdowns to halt the spread of the coronavirus. But with rapid vaccination campaigns, especially in oil-rich Gulf nations, the International Monetary Fund predicted gross domestic product growth would rise to 4.1 percent this year, up 0.1 of a percentage point from its last projection in April. “The region is going through recovery in 2021. Since the beginning of the year, we see progress in the economic performance,” said Jihad Azour, director for the Middle East and Central Asia at the IMF, adding recovery is not the same in all countries.
“It is uncertain and uneven because of the divergence in vaccination, recent developments, increase in prices … but also the uncertainty about the global financial conditions and the risk of change in interest rate conditions, (and) geopolitical developments,” he said. In a report, the IMF said that while the prospects for oil-exporting economies improved with higher oil prices, low-income and crisis-hit countries were witnessing “fragile” recoveries. It warned of “a rise in social unrest” in 2021 that “could pick up further due to repeated infection waves, dire economic conditions, high unemployment and food prices”. Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and other countries have witnessed protests by thousands of angry citizens demanding reforms, better jobs and services. Unemployment increased in MENA last year by 1.4 percent to reach 11.6 percent, a rise exceeding that seen during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and 2014-15 oil price shock, the IMF said.
Widening gaps
The IMF warned of the longer-term risk of an uneven recovery, which could lead to a “permanent widening of existing wealth, income, and social gaps and ultimately, weaker growth and less inclusive societies”. About seven million more people in the region are estimated to have entered extreme poverty during 2020-21 compared with pre-crisis projections, according to the IMF. They are grappling with rising prices as inflation in the region is projected to increase to 12.9 percent in 2021 from 10.4 last year, pushed by higher food and energy prices in some countries, before subsiding to 8.8 percent in 2022. “Inequities are increasing. The low-skilled, the young, women, and migrant workers have been affected the most by the pandemic, as have smaller firms, particularly those in contact-sensitive sectors,” said the report. According to the international lender, the corporate sector has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, but smaller firms and those in “contact-sensitive sectors” are lagging behind. “Fifteen to 25 percent of firms may need to be restructured or liquidated,” it added. In Lebanon, the continuing drop in the value of the currency has dashed hopes that the government formed last month can stem an economic crisis that the World Bank brands as one of the worst since the mid-19th century. Nearly 80 percent of Lebanon’s population lives below the poverty line. Azour, a former Lebanese finance minister, said the Fund has started technical discussions with Lebanese authorities to develop “the framework within which the fund can help Lebanon”.

Egypt: 19 killed in truck-microbus collision outside Cairo
AP/October 20, 2021
CAIRO: A head-on vehicle collision Wednesday left at least 19 people dead and one other injured just outside the Egyptian capital of Cairo, state-run media said. The Al-Ahram daily reported the crash took place when a passenger microbus collided with a truck on a highway that links Cairo’s outskirts on the banks of the Nile River. Another state-run daily, Akhbar el-Yom said the truck crossed to the wrong side of the highway and collided head-on with the microbus. Footage circulating online purported to show bodies lying on the roadside as ambulances rushed to pick up casualties. Traffic accidents kill thousands every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. Crashes are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws. Last month, a bus overturned on a highway linking Cairo with the city of Suez, killing at least 12 people and injuring 30 others. In April, a bus overturned while trying to pass a truck on a highway in the southern province of Assiut, leaving at least 21 people dead and three others injured. Egypt’s official statistics agency says around 10,000 road accidents took place in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, leaving over 3,480 dead. In 2018, there were 8,480 car accidents, causing over 3,080 deaths.

UN Security Council condemns Houthi violations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia
Arab News/October 20, 2021
LONDON: The UN Security Council on Wednesday condemned the threat posed by the Iran-backed Houthi militia to navigation in the Red Sea and its increasing attacks on commercial ships off the coast of Yemen. The Security Council called on the Houthis to reduce their military escalation in Marib, lift its blockade on nearby Abedia, and for an immediate nationwide cease-fire. The Houthi militia has stepped up its offensive to take control of the strategic city of Marib in recent weeks, following a lull in September. The UN Security Council also condemned the Houthis’ recruitment and exploitation of children in the conflict, some of whom are subjected to sexual abuse. The top UN body also expressed its concern about the faltering peace efforts in Yemen and called on all parties to constructively implement the Riyadh Agreement. It said it welcomes and supports the Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen and expressed its full support for the efforts of UN envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg, calling on all parties to cooperate with him without preconditions. The Security Council also condemned the Houthis’ attempts to target Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia using explosive-laden drones. Member countries also implicitly warned the Houthi militia against using Hodeidah port for military purposes, and renewed its warning of the risk posed by the lack of maintenance of a floating oil tanker moored in the Red Sea. They reminded the Houthis of their responsibility for the Safer tanker. The Security Council stressed its full commitment to the unity, sovereignty and independence of Yemen, and emphasized the need to respect the arms embargo on Yemen. It also expressed its support for the return of the Yemeni government to the interim capital, Aden, while also condemning an assassination attempt on the governor of Aden and the Yemeni minister of agriculture on Oct. 10. Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi welcomed the Security Council statement and said it constitutes a strong condemnation of the Houthi militia, Al Arabiya reported. He also welcomed the statement on Abha airport and said he hoped that the UN envoy to Yemen has benefited from the council’s statement.

Putin Orders Week-Long Paid Holiday to Curb Covid Infections
Agence France Presse/October 202021
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a nationwide week-long paid holiday starting on October 30 to curb Covid infections amid record virus deaths and again urged Russians to vaccinate themselves. At a televised meeting with officials, Putin said he supported a government proposal to "declare non-working days between October 30 and November 7 throughout the country" and asked Russians to "show responsibility" and get Covid jabs.

Second air strike this week hits capital of Ethiopia's Tigray TV
NNA/October 202021
An air strike hit the capital of Tigray region in northern Ethiopia on Wednesday morning, regionally controlled television said, reporting the second attack on the city of Mekelle this week. Tigrai Television, controlled by the region's Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), reported the attack targeted the city centre. It posted photographs of what appeared to be plumes of billowing smoke, but it was not immediately possible for Reuters to geolocate the photographs. The TV station said in a statement on Facebook that the strike was at 10:24 a.m. (0724 GMT). Ethiopia's government spokesman, Legesse Tulu, did not immediately answer a phone call requesting comment on the reported strike. It was not immediately possible to reach the spokesperson for the TPLF. The two sides have been fighting a war for almost a year that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million. A humanitarian source in Mekelle told Reuters the strike was in an area of the city called 05 Kebelle -- an area near the a cement factory on the city's outskirts. The strike hit around 10:30 a.m., the source said. The report of a strike comes two days after two air strikes hit the city. Rebellious Tigrayan forces accused the Ethiopian government of launching the strikes. Though a government official initially denied any strikes, state-run media later reported the air force conducted an attack.--

The Latest The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on October 20-21/2021
A Sword Of Damocles Over Free Thought In Egypt (And Elsewhere)

Alberto M. Fernandez/MEMRI/October 202021 |
Imagine living a public life involving writing and speaking on sensitive issues and constantly having to look over your shoulder, wondering if you have gone too far, that you have gored too sacred a cow or somehow offended or caught the attention of those with the power or will to persecute you. This is the reality for intellectuals and thinkers in much of the Arab and Muslim world (it is also a growing reality in the West).
The situation varies from place to place. There is more of this open intellectual space today, more tolerance, in a country like Saudi Arabia, than in the past. In places known for the broadness of their free spaces, like Lebanon, tolerance seems to be shrinking. That has certainly happened in Turkey under Erdoğan.
Some countries have had issues for free thinkers for decades. It was decades ago that iconic Egyptian writers like Naguib Mahfouz and Taha Hussein felt the lash of censors. In 1985, Al-Azhar, Egypt's and the Sunni Muslim world's leading source of religious authority, gave the green light for the execution in Sudan of liberal Islamic intellectual Mahmud Muhammad Taha, judging him to be an apostate and the spilling of his blood licit.[1] Article 98(f) of Egypt's penal code criminalizes "defamation of religions," a subjective category which has been used mostly against minority Coptic Christians but also against liberal, heterodox, or secularist Muslims.
One such case reached its endgame with the trial of Ahmed Abdo Muhammad Maher appearing before the Emergency State Security Misdemeanors Court on Wednesday, October 20, 2021, under the Emergency Law.[2] He is charged with insulting the Islamic religion and promoting extremist ideas with the intention of provoking sedition. He is facing this trial because he authored and published a book, "Misleading the Ummah with the Fiqh [jurisprudence] of the Imams," which, ironically, was published by and is still sold by the governmental publishing house "Dar El-Maaref."[3] The hearing will continue on November 3, 2021. In the initial hearing, the defense focused on the absence of contempt of religion by the defendant and that his criticism was solely of religious jurisprudence that leads to terrorism.
The 77-year-old Maher would seem to have a background that would have given him some immunity from persecution. He is a supporter of the government of President Al-Sisi and a military veteran who rose to the rank of brigadier general before retiring in 1988. Ironically, his work involved combating religious extremism in the military. He became a lawyer and a mosque preacher for 22 years (both positions that require a government seal of approval). He authored 13 books, appeared on hundreds of government or pro-government television programs, with hundreds of newspaper articles and YouTube videos.
Taken as a whole, Maher comes across as a sincere man of religion concerned about extremism and zealous in promoting a vision of Islam that he sees as tolerant enough to appeal to questioning young people.[4] Although no critic of the regime per se, he was bold enough to strongly criticize Al-Azhar in 2017 after ISIS attacked two Egyptian Coptic churches, warning that Al-Azhar "had been taken over by Salafism and Wahhabism" and that its "depraved and criminal jurisprudence" taught hatred against Christians and Jews.[5] In a television appearance in 2016, he described traditional Islamic jurisprudence as "idiocy and insanity."[6] Maher's struggle with Al-Azhar and against what he sees as the violent mis-interpreters of the Qur'an over the centuries has been going on for years and he has a long track record of ruffling the feathers of the religious establishment.[7]
In his commentary, Maher has been trotting a well-worn path. Criticism of Al-Azhar conservatism is not new and there has been and continues to be a school of Islamic reformers who revere the Qur'an but see the source of Islam's travails in the supposedly ossified interpretations of divine revelation codified centuries ago in the schools of fiqh and in spurious sayings of the prophet. This is the view of the so-called "Qur'anist" reformers[8] and, of course, also has Shia echoes in the idea that the door of interpretation of the sacred book and sayings of the prophet need updating and purging.[9]
Maher's latest travails began in May 2020 when gadfly Islamist lawyer Samir Sabri contacted Egypt's attorney general and supreme state security prosecutor accusing Maher of "contempt for Islam."[10] Sabri was able to do this because Egyptian law allows third parties to initiate such processes and indeed Sabri is a notorious figure, having brought thousands of cases on moral and religious grounds against all sorts of figures, including actresses, singers, belly dancers, puppeteers, and writers. He threatened to sue the Egyptian organizers of a Jennifer Lopez concert because of the skimpy wardrobe choices made by the American singer-actress. Sabri's peculiar litigious success and area of specialization even garnered him a 2018 profile in the New York Times.[11]
In his accusation, Sabri described Maher as a figure "who demonstrates hatred for Sunnis in particular and Muslims in general." Maher "fights Islam and questions Muslims in their religion," among his misdeeds was a spat with Al-Azhar where he questioned the number of radicals produced by that institution and called upon Al-Azhar to apologize for the violence of the early Islamic conquests. Among Maher's other misdeeds were questioning fasting in Ramadan or claiming that the Islamic historical and religious record has been "tainted by superstitions, myths, intrigues and lies that characterize most of the writings of historians." For his part, Maher has publicly appealed for support to the Egyptian President, as a fellow army veteran.[12]
Although Egypt under Al-Sisi very much plays the reformist or enlightened card before the West, the reality on the ground in Egypt is more complicated. While the regime is strongly against the Muslim Brotherhood organization, it is perfectly willing and able to allow "approved" types of religious extremism by certain groups and moral policing by the likes of Sabri to run their course. In this way, the national security state can curb or unleash religious sentiment as it best sees fit in order to accomplish its priority – to maintain control and solidify its hold on power. It also sends the clear message to those (liberals, Christians, disgruntled moderates) that "we" (the state) are the only thing standing between you and an avenging Islamist response.
Of course, the Egyptian authorities are not wrong that Islam has power, many or most Egyptians are devout and that is a reality that must be recognized. It is easy for Western diplomacy to criticize and demand greater tolerance but that is perhaps harder to do these days than in the past. Egyptians who know the West might note that the West, especially the United States, has its own proliferating sacred cows even if they are not religious ones (traditional Christianity being one of the safest, most predictable things mocked by elites in the West).
Authoritarian Egypt and democratic America are not the same but the culture wars and cancel culture of the West, with their dogmatic positions on a lengthening list of issues related to gender and race and politics is not unknown in the East. Our image as paragons of free thought looks much shakier these days. America has its own freelance inquisitors searching out gender and pronoun violations, toppling statues and rewriting history, mercilessly enforcing the latest trendy conformity, punishing heretics, and purging them from public life with the zeal and purpose that would make a Samir Sabri proud.
*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.
[1] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 47, Remembering A Radical Reformer: The Legacy Of Mahmud Muhammad Taha, June 11, 2015.
[2] Anahwa.com/261691, October 19, 2021.
[3] Youtube.com/watch?v=wPJAwP1dIhE, September 7, 2021.
[4] See MEMRI TV clip no. 8473 Egyptian Researcher Ahmad Abdou Maher: Young People Are Becoming Atheists Because They Are Faced With Religious Texts That Include Unscientific 'Facts', November 16, 2020.
[5] See MEMRI TV clip no. 5999, Following Church Bombings, Egyptian Researcher Ahmad Abdou Maher Slams Al-Azhar Teachings: Vile Deformed Jurisprudence, April 12, 2017.
[6] See MEMRI TV clip no. 5669, Egyptian Researcher Ahmad Abdou Maher Criticizes Ancient Islamic Jurisprudence: "Idiocy and Insanity", August 26, 2016.
[7] Raseef22.net/article/169485-%D8%B5%D8%AD%D9%8A%D8%AD-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%8A-%D8%A3%D9%85%D8%
October 31, 2018.
[8] Arabicpost.net/opinions/2017/11/12/%d8%b1%d8%ad%d9%84%d8%aa%d9%8a-%d9%85%d8%b9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%82%d8%b1%d8%a2%d9%86%d9%8a%d9%8a%d9%86, December 11, 2017.
[9] Ahmedabdomaher.com/archives/214, accessed October 20, 2021.
[10] Alwafd.news/%D8%A3%D8%AE%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1/2962350--, May 9, 2020
[11] Nytimes.com/2018/01/12/world/middleeast/cairo-lawyer-lawsuit.html, January 12, 2018.
[12] Youtube.com/watch?v=CwRQYnQMM-4, October 17, 2021.

Why Turkey should swap military strikes for water diplomacy
Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib/Arab News/October 20, 2021
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced his anger over the killing of two Turkish policemen by Kurdish forces in Syria, describing the attack as “the final straw” and warning that Ankara will take decisive action to eliminate what it views as a terrorist threat against its citizens.
However, can Turkey be sure another military campaign will serve its purposes, especially in the lead-up to what appears to be a tightly contested election? A military strike can have unintended consequences and might not be the best choice, while any entanglement is unlikely to foster the sense of stability necessary to attract investors to the country. Since the Turkish leader has been focusing on attracting investment, a deal might be a better alternative.
What can Turkey offer to turn its adversaries into partners? Water.
Problems with water supply have grown since 1975, when Turkey’s dam construction program cut the flow of water to Iraq by 80 percent and to Syria by 40 percent. Studies have shown that the Tigris and Euphrates basin, which covers Turkey, Syria, Iraq and western Iran, is losing water faster than any other area in the world, except northern India.
To add to that, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s policies have focused on the urban sector at the expense of rural areas. This problem has been aggravated by the conflict. As a result, basic commodities have become more costly and the price of bread has soared. Water scarcity in Syria’s northeast, a major agricultural area, has contributed to instability. A RAND Corporation study found that a secure water supply is essential to prevent the re-emergence of Daesh.
Water can be a major factor in encouraging people to return to their communities. During the conflict, water has been used as a weapon by the warring parties, while lack of access to secure supplies has been cited as a leading reason behind the rise in refugee numbers as people abandon their communities. Daesh cut off water supplies to northern Iraq in 2015.
In Iraq, poor governance has led to the targeting of irrigation department officials and clashes between rural clans. Water supplies in the country are also under threat because of the growing population. The current water management infrastructure dates back to the 1970s and is less efficient than modern systems. More serious still, the city of Mosul faces the threat of a dam collapse, a disaster that would affect 2 million people and kill hundreds of thousands. Turkey is an upstream power and, hence, has a valuable asset that can be used to make people’s lives easy or difficult.
Turkey is an upstream power and, hence, has a valuable asset that can be used to make people’s lives easy or difficult. The Euphrates and Tigris rivers flow from the mountains of eastern Turkey into Iraq and Syria. Turkey can use water to forge better relations with Baghdad and entice the Kurdish factions in the northeast of Syria into an arrangement that guarantees its security. Ankara would be better off entering into an arrangement with the Kurds in Syria under US mediation rather than looking on as Assad agrees to a deal with the Kurds via Russian efforts.
To build trust, a commission made up of representatives from Turkey, Syria’s northeast and Iraq, with a rotating presidency, could be created to manage water across the three countries and explore economically beneficial projects. A similar commission has been created for the Mekong River to manage water among Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Turkey could also help to upgrade aging infrastructure in locations such in Mosul. This could be done with US and European assistance. Public-private partnerships could be created to carry out such projects, with Turkish companies joining forces with local governments. These deals would strengthen Erdogan’s efforts to attract investment to Turkey and bring contracts to Turkish companies.
This approach would also lead to an improvement in Turkey’s relations with the Iraqi government, which have been soured by Turkish incursions into Iraq to pursue Kurdish militants hiding in the mountains. Any deal over water could require the Iraqi government to target the PKK and the pro-Iran militias protecting it. This will be less costly to Turkey than an incursion in terms of finances and the lives of Turkish soldiers, as well as diplomatic capital with Iraq and other Arab countries. The Arab League has condemned Turkey for carrying out military operations in Iraq.
As Turkey finds itself with far too many enemies in its neighborhood, water could be an ideal diplomatic tool, improving Ankara’s standing and adding to the number of friends it has in the region.
• Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II. She is also an affiliate scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

Biden’s Syria policy leaves US in no-win situation
Ray Hanania/Arab News/October 20, 2021
Syria is a mess, but it is not a mess for everyone. Russia is building a strong base through its alliance with President Bashar Assad. Turkey is establishing a justification for a long-term presence as it battles to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state along its border. Iran also has a strong presence in Syria. And Hezbollah has an armed presence in the country, expanding its base of militant violence. Even Daesh has been able to use Syria as a base as the decade-long civil war has gone through various political mutations, allowing it to strike targets in Syria and in neighboring Iraq. And, in recent months, China has engaged in the Syrian conflict by joining Russia in demanding that the US “abide by international laws.”
The only nation not engaged in Syria in a meaningful way is the US, which is slowly but steadily finding out that the country is being used as an instrument of international political pressure.
If this were a teenager’s video game, one might conclude that the US was being squeezed into a corner, with diminished influence in the Levant and the wider Middle East. But Syria is not a video game, although the number of deaths there and the refugee surges are more like video game statistics. Certainly, human life does not seem to have much value in the Syria conflict. Weeks after taking office, US President Joe Biden in February found himself forced to act militarily against Syria-based, Iran-backed militias that his administration blamed for attacks on American troops in neighboring Iraq. He ordered US military forces to target a small building complex, destroying it with several 500-pound bombs. In June, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said America would continue to strike any targets to “protect US personnel.”The US began withdrawing troops from Syria in the fall of 2019 under a directive from former President Donald Trump. That withdrawal has been slow and erratic, but now only about 900, including a number of Green Berets, remain and they will stay in the country to advise the Syrian Democratic Forces in their fight against Daesh. No US troops have accompanied rebel forces on military operations for more than a year. This troop level is the same as was first introduced to Syria and the agenda, which is to confront Daesh, has not changed since 2014.
Russia sees Syria as a key foundation of its long-term strategy to wedge itself into the Middle East, a region that had been under US dominance for many decades — since the Arab world broke its alliances with the old Soviet Union following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
Restricting its presence to a very narrow focus — fighting Daesh — poses many risks for the US. Several times, Syrian military actions have impacted American forces. Worse are the pressures on the international community caused by the refugee crisis and the migration of displaced civilians inside Syria, which has created a humanitarian crisis.
The bottom line is that all of the other countries involved in Syria are staking out and re-enforcing their positions, while the American strategy seems to be one of coasting in neutral, gearing up only for encounters with Daesh. This makes no real sense, considering that the US in August withdrew from Afghanistan, surrendering control of the country to its once sworn enemy, the Taliban. A weak American posture in Syria also invites other countries to take more military chances.
Biden really only has two choices: He can increase America’s military presence in an attempt to keep all of the other countries’ interests at bay, or he can order a complete withdrawal and regroup in Israel, Jordan and in the Gulf. What he cannot afford to do is maintain a negligible presence that can do little except exercise punitive actions against Daesh and the Iran-backed militias. That is a no-win strategy. And it could backfire and result in a situation where American forces find themselves suffering a terrible loss, which would further erode its perception as the world’s most powerful nation. Restricting its presence to a very narrow focus — fighting Daesh — poses many risks for America. American prestige is at stake and the country cannot afford to allow anything, either intentional or accidental, to undermine its image as the top predator in the food chain. All nations around the world are watching how America acts in Syria, and any signs of weakness could influence them to become more demanding or less accommodating in their dealings with Washington.If the US loses its influence in Syria, especially by failing to take decisive, strong action, it could eventually lose its influence everywhere.
Clearly, the anti-Assad rebels that America backs are losing ground. This makes the US look weak — an image it cannot afford to portray.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania