A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For November 05-06/2019 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 20th Day

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A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For November 05-06/2019 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 20th Day
Compiled By: Elias Bejjani
November 05-06/2019

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on November 05-06/2019
Lebanon Mass Protests Enter 20th Day
U.S. Affirms Support for Lebanon amid Aid Freeze Reports
Roads Reopened across Lebanon as Protests Continue
Moody’s Downgrades Lebanon’s Rating to Caa2
Reports: Bassil Suggests Having Protest Movement Figures in Govt. Not Led by Hariri
Hariri Rejects ‘Blackmail’ in Re-appointing him to Form New Lebanese Govt.
Aoun: Priority Is to Fight Corruption, Investigate With All Officials
Berri Backs Protesters Demands but Not ‘Road Blocking, Insults’
Riot Police Allow Protesters into Zaitunay Bay after Standoff
Protesters block roads around public utility companies, banks in Lebanon’s Sidon
Lebanese Troops Open Roads Closed by Protesters
Scuffles, Arrests in Zouk Mosbeh During Army Bid to Open Highway
Demonstrators Rally Outside Offices of ‘Touch, Alfa’
More Journalists Quit al-Akhbar over ‘Stance’ from Revolution

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on November 05-06/2019
Lebanon Mass Protests Enter 20th Day
Associated Press/Naharnet/November 05/2019
Demonstrations in Lebanon continued for the twentieth consecutive day on Tuesday where protesters blocked key roads accusing political leaders of stalling on the formation of a new government amid differences over who should be included.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned last Tuesday, meeting a key demand of the protesters. They have been holding demonstrations since Oct. 17 demanding an end to widespread corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has ruled the country for three decades.
On one of Beirut’s main avenues, protesters distributed leaflets apologizing for closing roads and saying that the “roads will remain closed until an independent government is formed.” President Michel Aoun has not yet set a date for consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs to name a new prime minister, the procedure that follows the resignation of a Cabinet. Many schools, universities and businesses were closed on Tuesday. Aoun discussed the situation with U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis telling him that once a new Cabinet is formed its priority will be “to follow up on fighting corruption by opening investigations in all state institutions.”The state-run National News Agency reported that Financial Prosecutor Ali Ibrahim has filed a case of overspending against the state’s Council for Development and Reconstruction and several other private companies. The case centers on the construction of the Brissa Dam project in northern Lebanon. Such cases against corruption have been rare before the protests. On Monday, Hariri met with Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, the target of some of the protesters’ harshest chants, over the formation of a new Cabinet. Cabinets usually take months to be formed in Lebanon — a small country in which political power is distributed among Christians, Shiites and Sunnis under an agreement that ended the country’s 1975-1990 civil war. The protesters have been demanding that the new Cabinet does not include politicians, but be made of experts who can work on getting Lebanon out of its economic crisis. The leaderless anti-government movement has united Lebanese from various religious sects, who are calling for the overthrow of the political system that has dominated the country since the civil war. The following decades of corruption and economic mismanagement have culminating in a severe fiscal crisis.

U.S. Affirms Support for Lebanon amid Aid Freeze Reports
Naharnet/November 05/2019
The Donald Trump administration reiterated support for the Lebanese army and security forces, stressing that “no expenditures or purchases of military material have been delayed,” without saying whether the $105 million in aid is still on hold, UAE’s English-language daily The National reported on Tuesday. A U.S. State Department official affirmed to The National the U.S. commitment to reinforcing the Lebanese Armed Forces. Last week, reports emerged that the Trump administration halted all military aid to the Lebanese army, including a package worth $105 million that both the State Department and Congress approved in September. But U.S. officials did not confirm or deny the reports.

Roads Reopened across Lebanon as Protests Continue
Associated Press/Naharnet/November 05/2019
Lebanese troops deployed Tuesday in different parts of the country to reopen roads and main thoroughfares closed by anti-government protesters faced resistance in some areas, leading to scuffles. In most places, protesters withdrew peacefully as the troops moved in. But in Beirut’s northern suburb of Zouk Mosbeh, a scuffle erupted when some demonstrators refused to move away from the main highway linking Beirut with northern Lebanon. Several protesters were detained by troops. One protester, an older man, fainted and was rushed away in an ambulance; the Lebanese Red Cross later said he was in stable condition. Human rights activist Wadih al-Asmar said dozens were detained during the scuffles north of Beirut. Anti-government protesters have been holding demonstrations since Oct. 17, demanding an end to widespread corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has ruled the country for three decades. The protesters have paralyzed Lebanon by closing roads inside cities as well as major highways. “We are not defying the army but we want our demands to be met,” said hairdresser Elie Abdu, 29, in Zouk Mosbeh. “We want a technocrat government, we want the poor to have food and medical care.”The protesters have been demanding the new Cabinet not include politicians but consist of experts who can work on getting Lebanon out of its economic crisis. In the nearby area of Jal el-Dib, troops chased after protesters who were closing a major road, running after them into streets until they rushed into a church and hid inside it. Troops also opened the highway linking Beirut with southern Lebanon and several major avenues in the capital. The protesters who have been closing roads for more than two weeks have started holding sit-ins inside and at the entrances of state-run companies and institutions, including the country’s two cellular telephone companies as well as well as the electricity company.
Last week, Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, meeting a key demand of the protests. The leaderless anti-government movement has united Lebanese from various religious sects in a call for the overthrow of the political system that has dominated the country since the civil war. Decades of corruption and economic mismanagement that followed have culminating in a severe fiscal crisis. President Michel Aoun has not yet set a date for consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs to name a new prime minister, a procedure that follows the resignation of a Cabinet.

Moody’s Downgrades Lebanon’s Rating to Caa2
Naharnet/November 05/2019
International credit ratings agency Moody’s on Tuesday downgraded Lebanon’s issuer ratings to Caa2 from Caa1, saying “the ratings remain on review for downgrade.” “The downgrade to Caa2 reflects the increased likelihood of a debt rescheduling or other liability management exercise that may constitute a default under Moody’s definition since opening the review for downgrade of the Caa1 ratings at the start of October,” the agency said. “Widespread social protests, the resignation of the government and loss of investor confidence have further undermined Lebanon’s traditional funding model based on capital inflows and bank deposit growth, threatening the viability of the peg and macroeconomic stability,” it warned. It said the review period will allow it to “assess the likelihood of a debt restructuring scenario that could lead to losses for private investors that are larger than is consistent with a Caa2 rating.”Moody’s expects to complete the review within three months. Moody’s also downgraded Lebanon’s senior unsecured Medium Term Note Program rating to (P)Caa2 from (P)Caa1, and affirmed the other short-term rating at (P)NP. The (P)Caa2 rating is also on review for downgrade. “Lebanon’s long-term foreign currency bond and deposit ceilings have been lowered to Caa1 and Caa3, respectively. The long-term local-currency bond and deposit ceilings have been lowered to B2. The short-term foreign currency bond and deposit ceilings remain Not Prime,” the agency added.

Reports: Bassil Suggests Having Protest Movement Figures in Govt. Not Led by Hariri
Naharnet/November 05/2019
Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil has raised with caretaker PM Saad Hariri the possibility of forming a techno-political government led by someone other than him and comprising protest movement representatives, TV networks said. “Bassil asked Hariri to name a premiership candidate who would win the consensus of the political forces,” al-Jadeed TV quoted FPM sources as saying. “The political forces would name competent and skilled ministers while groups and prominent forces in the protest movement would name their representatives in the government,” the sources added.
“Bassil has proposed an economic work government not containing any prominent political figures,” the sources went on to say. Hariri and Bassil had on Monday held their first meeting since the eruption of the unprecedented popular protests and the fall of the government.

Hariri Rejects ‘Blackmail’ in Re-appointing him to Form New Lebanese Govt.
Beirut – Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 5 November, 2019
An hours-long meeting was held in Beirut on Monday between caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister and Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil. The meeting was the first between them since the eruption of massive anti-government protests in the country on October 17. The meeting could pave the way for a series of others aimed at facilitating the formation of a new government. Hariri stepped down last week, yielding to the protesters that have been calling for a complete overhaul of Lebanon’s political system and ruling elite, whom they accuse of personal enrichment, economic mismanagement and rampant corruption. Bassil has been a target of ridicule among the demonstrators. Neither Hariri no Bassil made an official statement after their meeting. Sources from the Mustaqbal Movement denied that they discussed the sharing of key ministerial portfolios.
Criticism has been mounting in the country after President Michel Aoun failed to call for binding parliamentary consultations to name a prime minister-designate, who would form the cabinet. Lebanese sources said Aoun would not set a date for the consultations before concerned parties make progress in their efforts to agree on the name of the next premier. The sources said that March 8 forces, which hold a parliamentary majority, are trying to impose conditions on Hariri before renaming him as PM. “Hariri does not beg anyone and would not accept to be blackmailed,” sources close to the resigned PM told Asharq Al-Awsat. Meanwhile, parliamentary sources were surprised that Aoun had still not set a date for the consultations, particularly since protests have not abated since their eruption last month. “There is an attempt to impose the form of the new cabinet before naming the prime minister,” the sources said, in clear violation of constitutional norms that demand that the prime minister-designate be appointed and he in turn comes up with a cabinet lineup. The draft lineup would then be submitted to the president for approval. Several political figures condemned on Monday Aoun’s delay in setting a date for the consultations, saying parties were agreeing on a draft lineup before naming a premier. Former Interior Minister Nohad Mashnouq denounced it as a constitutional violation. Head of the Phalange Party MP Sami Gemayel said the country needed a neutral government and ministers who can manage the country and organize early elections. The protesters have been demanding the formation of a technocratic government devoid of any of the current politicians in power. “As an opposition, we see that Lebanon needs an impartial and efficient government. Take six months and rest. After six months, let’s head to the elections,” Gemayel said.

Aoun: Priority Is to Fight Corruption, Investigate With All Officials
Beirut – Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 5 November, 2019
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that one of the first tasks of the new government, after its formation, would be to fight corruption and hold corrupt officials accountable. “The first mission of the new government after its formation will be to carry on the process of fighting corruption, by conducting investigations in all the state administrations and the public and independent institutions in order to hold the corrupts accountable,” Aoun told UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, whom he met at Baabda palace on Monday. “Investigations will include all officials who had taken office respectively in all levels of public administrations, institutions and independent authorities,” he added. Regarding the street protests, the Lebanese president emphasized the need to hold dialogue with the protesters in order to reach an agreement. Kubis, for his part, conveyed to Aoun the concerns of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres about developments in Lebanon, adding that the UN was ready to offer help in that respect.

Berri Backs Protesters Demands but Not ‘Road Blocking, Insults’
Naharnet/November 05/2019
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Tuesday said that he supports “the real civil protest movement.”“I support the protest movement and all its demands, except for two issues: the blocking of roads and the swears and insults,” Berri told reporters after a meeting for the Parliament Bureau in Ain el-Tineh.
The speaker also said that he has agreed with the Parliament Bureau to hold a legislative session next Tuesday to discuss a number of pressing draft laws “to meet the desire of the real civil protest movement which is voicing legitimate and rightful demands.”Berri said lawmakers will discuss “the draft law on combating corruption, the draft law on establishing a financial crimes court, the elderly pension draft law and the draft law on general amnesty.”Separately, parliamentary committees will discuss proposals submitted by various blocs for passing bills related to bank secrecy, money laundering and the recovery of stolen funds.

Riot Police Allow Protesters into Zaitunay Bay after Standoff
Naharnet/November 05/2019
Riot police scuffled Tuesday evening with large numbers of protesters before allowing them to enter into the privately-run Zaitunay Bay promenade on Beirut’s waterfront. A small number of protesters had earlier in the day entered into Zaitunay Bay where they sat on the ground and chanted slogans demanding an end to seaside property violations and insisting that the area is public and not private property. The evening protesters said they wanted to hold a public film screening inside Zaitunay Bay. They gathered outside and engaged in a standoff with riot police before being let in.
“Hela, Hela, Hela, Hela, Hela, Ho, Zaituna is ours, sweetie!” they chanted. Protesters had earlier staged a sit-in outside parliament building in downtown Beirut, demanding “the appointment of an independent prime ministers and forming a government of non-partisan experts.”

Protesters block roads around public utility companies, banks in Lebanon’s Sidon

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English/Tuesday, 5 November 2019
A number of protesters gathered at the entrances of public utility companies in Sidon on Tuesday, forcing them to close for the day, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported, as part of a campaign to pressure Lebanese authorities to meet the demonstrators’ demands. Protesters also blocked off several banks in the city to protest the banking sector’s policies. A number of protesters in Nabatieh also gathered in front of the Banque du Liban amid tight security, demanding the removal of the bank’s governor Riad Salameh. Lebanon is grappling with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. With growth around zero, a slowdown in capital inflows has led to a scarcity of US dollars and pressure on the pegged Lebanese pound. Banks had reopened on Friday after two weeks of closure in the wake of the demonstrations. Demonstrators continue to block roads across Lebanon, including in the capital Beirut, as anti-government protests enter their third week. Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that while some roads such as the Nahr al-Kalb highway had been reopened, others remain closed by protesters on Monday morning. Lebanese troops are deploying in different parts of the country to reopening roads and main thoroughfares closed by anti-government protesters. In many areas, protesters withdrew peacefully as the troops moved in. But in Beirut’s northern suburb of Zouk Mosbeh, a scuffle erupted on Tuesday when some demonstrators refused to move away and were forcefully removed from the main highway linking Beirut with northern Lebanon. Several protesters were detained by troops. One protester, an older man, fainted and was rushed away in an ambulance. – With AP

Lebanese Troops Open Roads Closed by Protesters
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 5 November, 2019
Lebanese troops are deploying in different parts of the country to reopening roads and main thoroughfares closed by anti-government protesters. In many areas, protesters withdrew peacefully as the troops moved in. But in Beirut’s northern suburb of Zouk Mosbeh, a scuffle erupted on Tuesday when some demonstrators refused to move away and were forcefully removed from the main highway linking Beirut with northern Lebanon. Several protesters were detained by troops. One protester, an older man, fainted and was rushed away in an ambulance. Anti-government protesters have been holding demonstrations since October 17, demanding an end to widespread corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has ruled the country for three decades. The protesters have paralyzed the country by closing roads inside cities as well as major highways in Lebanon.

Scuffles, Arrests in Zouk Mosbeh During Army Bid to Open Highway
Associated Press/November 05/2019
The Lebanese army made several arrests in Beirut’s northern suburb of Zouk Mosbeh as it scrambled with protesters who refused to open the road and were forcefully removed from the main highway. LBCI reporter said the army seemingly had “unwavering” orders to open the road, and that “a large number of troops, compared to previous days, deployed to achieve that purpose.”Several protesters were arrested by troops. One protester, an older man, fainted and was rushed away in an ambulance. “We respect the Lebanese army but they have arrested over 17 protesters and used force against us. Our moves have been peaceful since day one,” one protester told LBCI. Lebanese troops are deploying in different parts of the country to reopen roads and main thoroughfares closed by anti-government protesters. In many areas, protesters withdrew peacefully as the troops moved in. Anti-government protesters have been holding demonstrations since Oct. 17, demanding an end to widespread corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has ruled the country for three decades. The protesters have paralyzed the country by closing roads inside cities as well as major highways in Lebanon.

Demonstrators Rally Outside Offices of ‘Touch, Alfa’
Naharnet/November 05/2019
Protesters held a sit-in in downtown Beirut outside the new offices of touch, one of two mobile network operators in Lebanon, chanting slogans and demanding a cut in service fees, the National News Agency reported on Tuesday. Another group of protesters gathered outside the offices of Alfa, the second mobile network operator, in Corniche al-Nahr. They closed the entrances to the building demanding reduction in the cost of communications and services. On Monday, caretaker Telecommunications Minister Mohammed Choucair ordered touch and Alfa to sell prepaid recharge cards according to the official dollar exchange rate set by the central bank, after dollar rationing in the country led to a hike in prices.

More Journalists Quit al-Akhbar over ‘Stance’ from Revolution
November 05/2019
Two more journalists from the pro-Hizbullah al-Akhbar daily quit their jobs at the paper on Tuesday over what they said is its coverage policy of the October 17 popular uprising in Lebanon. Sabah Ayoub, one of the journalists, wrote on Twitter: “Reasons have piled up making me resign al-Akhbar, the last of which was the paper’s coverage policy of the popular October 17 uprising.” Viviane Akiki wrote in a tweet: “I submitted my resignation from al-Akhbar for professional reasons related to its coverage of the popular uprising, and other reasons related to the newspaper’s professional performance, which were never addressed.”On Monday, editor in chief of al-Akhbar newspaper business page Mohammed Zbeeb, and Joy Slim said they quit work at the newspaper. Al-Akhbar is among the most read and respected newspapers in Lebanon, including by those who do not share its political leanings. Over the years, it has consistently produced pioneering coverage of the economic hardships faced by Lebanon’s least privileged, a key driver of the ongoing protests. When the protests erupted nearly three weeks ago, initially over a proposed tax on phone calls via messaging apps, al-Akhbar threw its weight behind the movement. However, protesters’ grievances swiftly grew to demand the resignation of the entire ruling elite and a complete overhaul of a system that has returned the same politicians to power for decades. Hizbullah’s powerful leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah faced unusual criticism, including within his own strongholds, and criticized segments of the protest movement as being reckless and manipulated by the West. Al-Akhbar’s initial enthusiasm for the protests gave way to a stance cautioning against the government’s resignation and the emergence of a political vacuum.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Hizbullah rival in the governing coalition, eventually bowed to street pressure on October 29 and announced his cabinet’s resignation.

Titles For The Latest Lebanese LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 05-06/2019
Electricity, Water Cuts Power Lebanon’s Protest Movement/Agence France Presse/November 05/2019
Lebanese army forces roads open as sit-ins continue on day 20 of protests/The National/November 05/2019
Lebanese army clashes with protesters after upsurge in anti-government demonstrations/Najia Houssari/Arab News/November 05/2019
Overseas Lebanese protesters send message of solidarity/Jumana Khamis/Arab News/November 05/2019
Iran Finds Itself in Crosshairs of Arab Protesters/The Wall Street Journal/November 05/19
US’ mystifying position on Iraq, Lebanon protests/Osama Al-Sharif/Arab News/November 05/2019
Hezbollah will go to great lengths to protect the power it has won over decades/Lizzie Porter/The National/November 05/2019

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 05-06/2019
Electricity, Water Cuts Power Lebanon’s Protest Movement
Agence France Presse/November 05/2019
For 32-year-old Uhood from Beirut’s Tariq al-Jedideh district, corruption in Lebanon’s leadership is the reason she has to shower at a friend’s house when water pipes run dry at home. It’s also why she has to pay what she calls a “mafia” of private electricity providers to cover for poor state supplies.
“Access to water and electricity are the most basic of rights, but ever since childhood we’ve become used to frequent cuts,” she said. “We are sick of the lies and of the corruption. We don’t trust political leaders anymore,” Uhood yelled, as riot police streamed into a Beirut thoroughfare to contain violence as rioters attacked demonstrators. An unprecedented protest movement has gripped Lebanon since October 17, demanding an overhaul of a political class that has remained largely unchanged since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. A long list of grievances have spurred exasperated Lebanese to protest, but poor public services are among the key complaints. They symbolize to the Lebanese people the profound challenges of governance and accountability in a country ranked 138 out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2018 corruption index. Many say they are fed up with paying the state for intermittent tap water they describe as undrinkable.Most also pay for drinking water and private tankers to deliver water when pipes run dry.
‘Too late’
The vast majority of Lebanese also pay two bills for their power — the first to an ailing state electricity company, and the second to expensive private generators for the three to 12 hours each day when mains supply cuts out. “There is a lot of corruption,” said Hussein Ghandour, his voice muffled by the sound of heavy roadblocks being moved to allow ambulances and security forces to pass. “Politicians steal public funds meant for water and electricity projects… this is why these projects are not being implemented,” said the 24-year-old. According to consultancy firm McKinsey, Lebanon has the world’s fourth worst electrical supply, ranked only above Haiti, Nigeria and Yemen. Reforms to the electricity sector have not been implemented for the past three decades since the civil war. A new electricity plan promising uninterrupted supply was approved by the government in April, but has yet to be implemented. The national utility receives one of the largest slices of the government’s budget after debt servicing and salaries.
According to the World Bank, “sector subsidies averaged 3.8 percent of GDP during 2008-2017, aggregating over the years to account for close to half of Lebanon’s overall external debt.” Last month, an economic rescue plan issued by the government in response to street pressure said permits would be granted within four months for the construction of power plants to tackle chronic blackouts. But demonstrators have little faith in a government they say has botched several attempts to improve a grid notorious for blackouts. “We gave political leaders a lot of chances to provide us with 24/7 electricity supply,” said Alaa, sitting on a chair placed on the middle of a congested road.
“Now it’s too late,” the 24-year-old added, waving angry motorists away from a tunnel blocked by demonstrators some 10 meters (yards) ahead. Following the government’s resignation last month in response to street pressure, plans to boost power supply within the coming months and hike the electricity tariff, are now harder to realize, according to Jessica Obeid, an energy expert. The government could take a series of measures to provide electricity 24 hours a day within the second half of 2020 but it would have to “compromise sustainability, good governance and cost-effectiveness,” she added. A more sustainable and cost-effective solution, would require the government to implement an already approved project to shift from relying on diesel and fuel oil to natural gas. It would also need to cut down drastically on technical and non-technical losses, and focus on engaging citizens which will take some time, said Obeid. “The next government may try to look for a quick fix, but that will open up a whole new set of challenges,” she told AFP.

Lebanese army forces roads open as sit-ins continue on day 20 of protests
The National/November 05/2019
Caretaker foreign minister Gebran Bassil believed to be main sticking point in forming new government
The Lebanese army has arrested protesters after scuffles broke out during attempts to clear a motorway north of Beirut on the 20th day of nationwide demonstrations. The army surrounded then forcibly moved people sitting in the middle of the Zouk Mosbeh motorway, north of the capital.
The scuffles broke out after two elderly men were found lying on the ground. Protesters said the men had been pushed over by a soldier. The demonstrators shoved the police in response and several people blocking the motorway later said they had been beaten by the military.
The Lebanese Red Cross said an ambulance had taken a man to a medical centre and he was in a stable condition. A second man was taken to hospital after the scuffles with the army. Human rights activist Wadih Al Asmar said dozens were detained during the scuffles north of Beirut. The army tried to clear several roads blocked by protesters, who for nearly three weeks have been on the streets calling for the resignation of the country’s leaders. After decades of corruption, poor government and poor provision of services, people are demanding new leadership that will introduce reforms to avert a major looming financial crisis. Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation last week, collapsing the government, but the deliberations to elect a new head of government have not yet begun. Many protesters are calling for a non-political technocratic administration, but politicians want to select qualified specialists who represent the various factions while allowing experts to try to solve the many crises.
But President Michel Aoun said he would not start deliberations until undisclosed stumbling blocks were overcome. Sources have suggested that one major problem in forming a government is opposition by many parties to caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the president’s son-in-law, keeping his seat.
Mr Bassil has been a focal point of national anger. He and Mr Hariri met for four hours on Monday to try to resolve the foriegn minister’s future. Sources said Mr Bassil insisted that if he were not allowed into the next government, he wanted to name all of the Christian ministers, a move that would shut out the Lebanese Forces and other parties.
Also on Tuesday, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced that the legislature would hold a session on November 12 to enable voting on issues such as corruption and pensions. Mr Berri said Parliament would table other motions to meet protesters’ demands in due course. The November 12 session has been delayed four times so far. “Starting tomorrow, I will refer a number of laws to the joint committees to quickly decide on them,” he told Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper. “Deputy speaker Elie Ferzli will head three sessions a day to finish them.”
Protests continued in southern Lebanon’s Sidon, with a rally outside the local office of the central bank, and in northern Lebanon’s Tripoli, where protesters closed the water authority offices.
On the road to the Lebanese American University in Byblos, students who support the Free Patriotic Movement, the party founded by Mr Aoun and now run by Mr Bassil, tried to force out other students who were blocking it.
The party issued a statement saying that it was a spontaneous move by the students and not on its orders. In the Bekaa Valley, the Zgharta Serail municipal headquarters was blocked by sit-ins, halting much of its work. Among the many economic and political problems the country is facing is a shortage of American dollars. Caretaker Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Choucair on Tuesday said mobile-phone top-up cards, all priced in dollars, would now be sold to distributors in Lebanese lira.
They would be sold at the central bank exchange rate and the prices to consumers would be fixed at official rates. Mr Choucair said that anyone selling at a higher price would be prosecuted.

Lebanese army clashes with protesters after upsurge in anti-government demonstrations
Najia Houssari/Arab News/November 05/2019
Roads and banks were blocked for the first time in the Shouf area, where the majority of people support the Progressive Socialist Party
BEIRUT: Anti-government protesters clashed with security forces as demonstrators on Monday took to the streets in force and again blocked roads throughout Lebanon. Last week’s resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri had prompted a lull in protests which have rocked the country since Oct. 17.
But with no new Cabinet in place, crowds packed Beirut and other Lebanese towns and cities amid reports that Hariri had on Monday afternoon met in his residence with government Minister Gebran Bassil. It was the first meeting between them since Hariri quit but there was a media blackout on the discussions.
Sources close to the former premier told Arab News: “Consultations are taking place away from the media because the situation is critical and the search for solutions is underway so that the country cannot collapse.”The source added that there was unlikely to be any truth in social media claims that a process for forming a new government was coming together.
The UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, on Monday offered the international organization’s assistance to Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun “in the matters it wishes to achieve to face the current circumstances.”After a weekend of relative calm, protesters filled streets in Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli, Zahle and Jal El-Dib on Sunday night in response to supporters of Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) gathering around the presidential office. Jihad Nammour, an activist and coordinator of the Arab Master in Democracy and Human Rights (ARMA) program, told Arab News: “After seeing the people around the presidential palace and listening to Aoun and the head of the FPM, Bassil, it became clear that the powers had ignored the people’s movement. “Aoun and Bassil presented themselves as honest and trying to fight corruption. Aoun ignored the issue of scheduling parliamentary consultations, which enraged people and led them to renew their protests on a larger scale. The protests seem to be happening according to the people’s will,” he added.
The latest protests against the ruling elite saw more roadblocks and activists entering public buildings to urge employees to stop work and join the movement.
Educational institutions backed away from their call to resume classes. In Tripoli, in​​ northern Lebanon, a stampede took place after the Lebanese army fired rubber bullets, injuring a young man who was taken to hospital. Roads and banks were blocked for the first time in the Shouf area, where the majority of people support the Progressive Socialist Party. An activist in the Zouk district, which links Beirut to northern Lebanon, said protesters had left the streets because they thought their demands were being heeded, but Aoun’s speech had led them to believe that promises were not being kept.
Another activist said: “We will bring down the remaining pillars of power in the same way we were able to bring down the government. They thought the revolution was dead, but it is not, and we are coming back stronger.”
Holistic medicine consultant, Kawsar Chayya, told Arab News: “Nothing will stop the protesters. They are able to unite using one word and bring the people back to the streets. Trust has brought them together because they are all living in the same painful situation, they fear for the country’s state, and want to fight corruption.” Chayya said: “The authorities are still acting in the same way as they did before. If a date is set for the appointment of a new prime minister, we want that person to be one of the people and have nothing to do with politicians. We want independent ministers and early elections even if they are in accordance with the current law.
“Young people on the streets are thinking of a further escalation if their demands are not heard. We hope that things will remain peaceful.”
Nammour added: “People can no longer be silenced. They were buying their silence with money and jobs. Now that the economic situation has deteriorated and the state has fallen apart, they have no growth plan and they can no longer hire people.
They are trying everything in their power, but even their supporters will abandon them shortly and things will fall out of the hands of leaders and authorities.”Dr. Abdul Samad said: “The battle is long, and roads cannot remain blocked for a long time. We have to think of new methods, negative cannot persist.”
He added that it was important that the president and his supporters did not ignore the demands of the Lebanese people because otherwise they would destroy the country. “They must listen to the people and respond to their demands. Those in power think in narrow gutters, not about the fate of a country.”Samad said it was the job of the prime minister to create a new government, not Aoun and Hezbollah. “What they are doing will ruin the country, it can no longer be run the way it used to.”

Overseas Lebanese protesters send message of solidarity

Jumana Khamis/Arab News/November 05/2019
DUBAI: For three weeks now, as tens of thousands have come on to the streets of Lebanon to demonstrate their anger at the political elite, cities across Europe, North America and Australia have witnessed rallies by members of the Lebanese diaspora expressing their solidarity and support.
Despite the huge distances that separate the overseas Lebanese communities from each other and also from their home country, the protesters have a clear and unambiguous message: “We need a new non-sectarian government.”
Overseas Lebanese interviewed by Arab News said they intend to keep protesting even after the resignation of Saad Hariri as prime minister on Oct. 29, because their principal objective is to get the “whole government” to resign.
Among those who have been protesting on the streets of Amsterdam is Mariam El-Chami, 29, a member of the overseas Lebanese community in the Netherlands that has staged two solidarity rallies so far.
More than 300 people converged on the city’s Dam Square on Oct. 26 to voice their opposition to the status quo in Lebanon and salute the unity of the Lebanese people, just days after a similar rally was held in The Hague.
“For the first time I truly felt like I belong to the identity I was born with, one that is beyond our differences and is focused on the prosperity of our nation. I am 100 percent aligned with what the people in Lebanon are asking for,” said El-Chami.
The trigger for the protest movement in Lebanon was a government announcement on Oct. 17 that WhatsApp calls would be taxed. The move was viewed by many Lebanese as “the last straw” following the introduction of a series of unpopular measures by the government since it declared “a state of economic emergency” in late September.
El-Chami believes the current “revolution” is one that goes beyond the “tax proposal,” and is a result of a corrupt government that has “left its people jobless, hungry, and without basic services such as garbage collection, 24-hour electricity, and clean water.”
Pointing to the popular slogan “Everyone means everyone,” she said no politician is exempt from the demand for the resignation of the government.
“The revolt in Lebanon now is against a political elite that has exploited sectarian divisions in the country for over 30 years,” El-Chami said.
“I might have not experienced the civil war, but I had to live with its consequences.”
To many like El-Chami, Hariri’s resignation only means one thing — “that we are marching in the right direction.”
“The focus should now be on the establishment of an interim government with a mandate to prevent a total collapse of the Lebanese economy and to organize early elections on a non-sectarian basis,” said El-Chami.
While the political movement may be “leaderless”, it has a good chance of throwing up great minds who would be willing to build the kind of Lebanon people have long been waiting for, she said.
Amal Dib, a researcher who lives in Berlin, said that the main objective of the overseas demonstrations is to send messages of support and solidarity with the protests in Lebanon.
Buoyed by the presence of more than 1,000 people at the first demonstration near the Brandenburg Gate, the Lebanese community in Germany has no plans to stop.
“We are echoing the chants being repeated all over Lebanon against corruption, against the sectarian system and against attempts to divide the people,” Dib said.
“We are chanting slogans about everything from the need for equality, women’s rights and minority rights to the current control over the banks in Lebanon.”
Held almost on a weekly basis, the demonstrations in central Berlin have seen families, students and children gather in the same location, chant the same slogans and voice the same expressions of solidarity with protesters back home.
“This revolution has demolished many divisive stereotypes and borders that had stayed on as remnants of the civil war,” Dib told Arab News.
“When you hear chants from Tripoli to Nabatieh voicing support (for the protest movement), this sends a strong message that people are standing together regardless of differences,” she said.
Hoping to also draw attention among the German public, Dib believes it is important to spread awareness about the Lebanese revolution globally.
“Our first demand was to dismantle the current government, and the resignation of Al-Hariri is a big step forward.
For the first time I truly felt like I belong to the identity I was born with, one that is beyond our differences.
“But what comes after is more important. We need to form a new government outside of the present elitist sectarian system — a government made up of professionals who can guide the country through change and usher in reforms,” said Dib.
As someone who left Lebanon over seven years ago to pursue higher education in Berlin, Dib feels the reason the people of Lebanon have to seek opportunities abroad is the existing political dispensation.
“People are living abroad because of a sectarian system that does not provide us with employment, education, basic human rights,” she said.
“These protests are for every mother who cries for her son who had to leave the country, and for all the loved ones who are separated.”
Her social and economic concerns are echoed by Naji Arbid, a Lebanese-French carpenter who is settled in Antibes, in southern France.
“Life in Lebanon is too expensive, unemployment is high, and many people have multiple jobs just to feed their families,” he told Arab News.
“People left their country after the civil war to find a better life, and many who stayed out are working very hard and paying taxes.”
Arbid, who moved to France at the age of 13, said he often dreams about moving back home to be close to his family, but it is sadly not an option he can consider under the circumstances.
Voicing his demands, Arbid and hundreds of Lebanese residents in France are taking part in weekend protests in Nice in the hope of “writing a new history” for their country.
“I am Lebanese before anything else. I don’t want to see people asking each other: Which part of Lebanon are you from?”
Speaking to Arab News from London, Ali Makke, a lecturer in promotional cultures and public diplomacy, had only praise for the power of the Lebanese diaspora and their wisdom in “raising one flag.”
Makke, who is originally Lebanese, has taken part in a 500-strong rally near the Lebanese embassy in London. He described the crowd as “educated, civilized and peaceful people, who are articulate in their demands and straight to the point.”
“There are two sets of demands. The first is about getting rid of the sectarian system.” He said the second set concerns human rights, gender equality and education.”
What these protests show, Makke said, is that “the Lebanese people are articulate, can be organized and peaceful, and are driven and very serious about making their country better.”

Iran Finds Itself in Crosshairs of Arab Protesters
The Wall Street Journal/November 05/19
After expanding its footprint in Middle East, Tehran and its allies draw ire from those angered by poor governance and state violence
Sune Engel Rasmussen in Erbil, Iraq, Ghassan Adnan in Baghdad and Nazih Osseiran in Beirut
The largest mass protests to hit Iraq and Lebanon in decades are posing a direct challenge to the influence Iran has gained in both countries as demonstrators seek to overturn the political order.
Late Sunday, protesters in the holy Shiite city of Karbala torched the Iranian consulate with Molotov cocktails, hauling an Iraqi flag up on the compound walls. Security forces killed three people when dispersing the crowd with live ammunition, according to Iraq’s human-rights commission.
Over the past decade, Iran has leveraged instability in the Middle East to expand its footprint in the region. But as paramilitary groups backed by the Islamic Republic have gained political clout, protesters are holding Tehran and its local allies just as accountable as their own political classes for poor governance and state violence.
“Tehran used to benefit from the perception that its rivals were the corrupt, ineffective ones,” said Emile Hokayem, Middle East analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “But as Iran’s partners gain power, they can’t escape the fact that they now have responsibility for their countries’ well-being.”
In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, protesters have chanted “Iran out, out;” torn down billboards emblazoned with Iranian leaders; and thrown shoes—a severe insult in Muslim culture—at pictures of Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most famous commander and a frequent presence in Iraq.
Protesters have continued with undiminished force, even after unseating the Lebanese prime minister and pushing Iraq’s leader to the brink of resignation. In Lebanon, huge crowds returned to the streets over the weekend, after a brief lull that followed last week’s resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
The protests, which have galvanized support across sectarian lines, have targeted a broad host of issues but anti-Iranian sentiments have been one focal point for popular anger, especially in Iraq’s south. Many protesters blame their country’s decrepit public services, dismal economic growth and corruption on a political leadership that they think is too often beholden to Tehran.
In Lebanon, protesters are demanding sweeping changes to a political system that has entrenched sectarianism—and foreign influence. The top three positions—president, prime minister and speaker—are divided equally among Christians, Sunnis and Shiites. Hezbollah, a Shiite military and political group that is Iran’s closest regional partner, commands a large share of the Shiite vote because of the sectarian political system, as well as its role in defending Lebanon against Israel and the Sunni extremists of Islamic State.
In Iraq, a common target for protesters have been the Shiite militias, many of them backed by Iran, that translated their battlefield gains against Islamic State into political power. Known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, they formally answer to the state but operate with a large degree of impunity, giving Tehran a channel of influence. That power and territorial control have allowed the militias to emerge as a potent economic force, profiting off everything from taxation to its growing grip over state construction companies, as well as, according to the U.S., helping Iran evade sanctions.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned after nearly two weeks of mass protests across the country. From the streets of Beirut, WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum explains why Mr. Hariri stepped down and what his resignation could mean for the Middle East. Photo: Dion Nissenbaum/The Wall Street Journal
Tehran appears to view the protests with concern, comparing the Arab protests with past unrest at home that it forcefully suppressed. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei last week accused the U.S., Israel and other Western countries of fomenting the revolts in Iraq and Lebanon.
“The enemies engaged in the same plots against Iran, but fortunately, people acted in a timely manner, and the sedition was nullified,” Mr. Khamenei said. Iranian officials use “sedition” to describe large domestic protests, in particular the 2009 Green Movement.
Iran hasn’t been the only country to be the target of popular anger. Protesters in Baghdad have burned American and Israeli flags, as well as those of Saddam Hussein’s former Baath Party. “The ire seems primarily geared towards the respective ruling elites,” said Mohammad Ali Shabani, a researcher of Iran-Iraq relations at SOAS University of London. “The U.S.—and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia—for instance, have little to cheer about since they have fingers in the pie, too.”
Still, Iran has borne the brunt of public anger.
Protesters have burned offices of Tehran-backed paramilitary groups in southern Iraq. In Amarah, a mob of protesters pulled an injured commander of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia out of an ambulance and killed him, according to the militia. Video on social media showed the final moments of the murder.
As the unrest has intensified, Tehran has moved to protect its political allies. After Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, offered to resign, Mr. Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force, intervened to keep him in office, according to two people familiar with the secret meetings.
During a four-day visit to Baghdad, Mr. Soleimani asked the leaders of the two largest political blocs who had called for the prime minister’s ouster—Hadi al-Ameri and Moqtada al-Sadr—to continue supporting the prime minister, these people said. On Sunday, Mr. Abdul-Mahdi called for the country to return to normal without mentioning his previous offer to resign.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard couldn’t be reached for comment, but a government official said: “There are objectives behind such reports to make it look like Iran is telling Iraq what to do.” He said that although some anti-Iranian sentiments in Iraq was only natural, “it is being exaggerated to insinuate that Iran is a detested player in Iraq.”
Sabah al-Ogaili, a parliamentarian from Mr. Sadr’s bloc denied any deal to keep the prime minister in place, calling the claim “nonsense.”
Meanwhile, Tehran-backed paramilitary groups have targeted what they see as sources of the unrest. The Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella of Iraqi paramilitary groups, many of them backed by Iran, has been accused by Human Rights Watch of firing live shots at protesters, albeit sometimes to defend their offices.
Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force, intervened to prevent Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi from being ousted.
The PMF is also accused by Amnesty International of intimidating and abducting protesters. On Oct. 8, Ali Jaseb Hattab, a lawyer who had used Facebook to accuse a local Iranian-backed militia of killing protesters, was kidnapped in the southern city of Amarah, his family said.
After being lured to a street after dark, purportedly to meet a client, Mr. Hattab was accosted by men and bundled into a car, according to his brother Mustafa, who provided surveillance video of the abduction to The Wall Street Journal. The family said Mr. Hattab had received threats telling him to stop making the accusations before his disappearance. It declined to name the responsible group for security reasons. Mr. Hattab is still missing.
Some influential Iraqi officials have urged Iran to stay out of its internal affairs. Iraq’s top Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, on Friday warned that “no international or regional party” should interfere with the will of the Iraqi people.
Opposition to Tehran has been largely absent from Lebanon’s rallies, but criticism of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political group backed by Iran, has been unusually vocal. On Oct. 19, hundreds of Hezbollah supporters attacked protesters in Tyre and Nabatieh in south Lebanon, the group’s heartland.
Echoing Iranian leaders, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called Lebanon’s protests a foreign plot against the “axis of resistance,” a term for an anti-Western and anti-Israel alliance of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
Last week, supporters of Hezbollah and the Shiite Amal party rampaged through downtown Beirut, attacking protesters with metal pipes and wooden sticks and burning their tents. Afterward, bruised protesters sat shaking on the sidewalks, one man crying that the army had stood by as the vigilantes beat them.
“Even [Hezbollah’s] leader admits that they are the soldiers of Iran,” said Mohammad Abouzeid, who lives in southern Lebanon and witnessed Hezbollah attacking protesters in Tyre. “They only have foreign interests and agendas.”
Corrections & Amplifications
Mass protests hit Iraq and Lebanon. An earlier web summary for this article incorrectly stated the protests were in Iran and Lebanon. (Nov. 5, 2019)
—Aresu Eqbali in Tehran contributed to this article.
Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at sune.rasmussen@wsj.com
Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

US’ mystifying position on Iraq, Lebanon protests
Osama Al-Sharif/Arab News/November 05/2019
Anti-government protests reached a critical climax in Iraq and Lebanon this weekend, and Monday marked a fresh drive in the popular uprisings that have rattled the ruling political classes for weeks in both countries and beyond. For now, there seems to be no end in sight to the all-encompassing, largely leaderless and defiant movements, despite the success in bringing down Saad Hariri’s sectarian-based government in Lebanon and the declaration by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi of his readiness to resign once a successor is named. Nothing that the ruling class in either country has offered so far has mollified the protesters. There are two crucial external components that are relevant to the ongoing uprisings. One is the serious and unprecedented challenge to Iran’s influence and hegemony in Iraq and Lebanon, directly and through its proxies, and the second is the Trump administration’s apparent complacency in reacting to a seismic regional event.
Tehran’s reaction has been predictable. The regime, which has for decades employed its resources to spread its revolution and extend its regional grip, is now facing an across-the-board popular backlash. Nothing underlines this more than the scenes of angry anti-Iranian Shiite protesters in Karbala and Najaf this weekend. Similarly, Lebanese Shiites have joined others from all sects and religions in calling for the downfall of the ruling class and an end to the quota-based political system that has crippled successive governments and provided a fertile ground for massive corruption and rampant cronyism.
But, while paying lip service to the protesters’ demands in Iraq and Lebanon, the US has stopped short of putting pressure on the Baghdad political elite to adopt genuine structural reforms that would not only undercut Tehran’s influence but also put the failing country on the road to recovery. Even more astonishing was the White House’s decision last week to freeze all military aid to the Lebanese army, including a package worth $105 million that both the State Department and Congress approved in September.
This decision — against the recommendations of both the State and Defense Departments — plays directly into the hands of Iran, Hezbollah, terror groups and even Russia. Of all the political players in Lebanon today, the Lebanese army is the only multi-sectarian and functional organ in an otherwise polarized political landscape. During the demonstrations, the army has shown constraint and refused to be dragged into a bloody confrontation with the protesters. As the country goes into a state of paralysis, the Lebanese army — trusted by all Lebanese — can and should play a major role in guaranteeing a peaceful transition from the current impasse.
It is therefore puzzling why the Trump administration would seek to weaken the only neutral and credible force in Lebanon today. Putting pressure on the Lebanese army will not force it to take sides, especially in confronting Hezbollah, as Israel and some hawkish Washington strategists are hoping.
The only way out of the current predicament is for the Lebanese factions to work out a political road map that would deliver on the people’s demands of a non-sectarian, democratic and transparent system.
In Iraq, Washington has both military and political sway, not to mention a moral obligation to rid the country it invaded in 2003 of the ills of an ethno-confessional system that has proven catastrophic for Iraqis on all fronts. But it should tread carefully and apply soft pressure on all players in order to push for a new political deal that is supported by the people. In both cases, it is the people who now challenge the political elite and, by extension, Iranian intervention.  Doing nothing in Iraq in the hope that the revolt will break Tehran’s grip over Baghdad is a dangerous ploy that could throw the entire country into an endless sectarian war.
It is puzzling why the Trump administration would seek to weaken the only neutral and credible force in Lebanon today.
The cases of Iraq and Lebanon underline the Trump administration’s messy approach to complex regional issues. The sudden US withdrawal from northern Syria was whimsical at best, leaving Turkey to carry out what could have turned out to be a bloody invasion had it not been for Moscow’s stern intervention. US troops abandoned bases, only to return to them days later, and Donald Trump’s flip-flopping over his goals in Syria — now he says he will stay there to protect the oil fields — has left both allies and foes wondering what his next step will be.
If the US is serious about abandoning the Middle East, as Trump has insinuated on more than one occasion, then it should do so slowly, smartly and in coordination with regional and other world powers. It cannot claim to want to undercut Iran’s regional outreach while adopting erratic policies that deliver the opposite result. Leaving a weakened and polarized region to its fate will create a dangerous vacuum — one that Russia and China, not to mention Turkey and Iran, will be more than happy to fill.
*Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010

Hezbollah will go to great lengths to protect the power it has won over decades
Lizzie Porter/The National/November 05/2019
Like the rest of the political elite, the militia is being challenged but will not give up easily
“Dear Nasrallah, all of them means all of them, and you before all of them.” So read a placard held by a woman from Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut’s southern suburbs – a nod to protesters’ demands that Lebanon’s entire political class should step down. The mass demonstrations that have swept through Lebanon for the past fortnight have targeted the ruling elite with widespread criticism – including Hezbollah. Like all of Lebanon’s traditional political parties, it has seen rarely voiced dissent from within its traditional support base. Researchers say a taboo has been broken in Shiite communities, which now feel able to criticise their leaders.
With 13 seats in parliament and three cabinet positions, the party has not been spared accusations of corruption aimed at Lebanon’s entire political elite
Lebanon’s dismal economy and US sanctions – part of Washington’s maximum-pressure campaign on Iran and its proxies – have affected Hezbollah’s ability to provide jobs and community services, which had won it loyalty historically.
And with 13 seats in parliament and three Cabinet positions, the party has not been spared accusations of corruption aimed at Lebanon’s entire political elite.
Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, at first appeared to support the demonstrations, saying they “surpassed sects, doctrines, regions and political orientations”. His party was not taking part only because doing so risked turning the popular movement into “a political conflict”, he reasoned.
Yet as criticisms of Hezbollah and its allies grew, media affiliated to the party began to portray demonstrations as foreign-funded conspiracies. Supporters instigated violence against protesters trying to change Lebanon’s sectarian-based political status quo, from which the party benefits. Last Tuesday, men loyal to Hezbollah and its Shiite ally, the Amal Movement, attacked peaceful protesters in central Beirut. The same afternoon, prime minister Saad Hariri resigned, although he remains in a caretaker capacity as deliberations over a replacement continue.
In a speech on Friday – his third since protests began nearly three weeks ago – Nasrallah denied suggestions of an existential crisis. Hezbollah is “not at all worried or scared” about its future, he insisted. He appeared keen to present himself as a protector of Lebanon’s best interests and as a keeper of peace.
Nasrallah also denied that the previous Cabinet – or any before that – was a “Hezbollah government”, but he emphasised the need for a swift government formation. That is probably because the party had been enjoying more power within the Lebanese establishment than ever before. Among the three government departments it controls is the health ministry. Its allies and significant cabinet presence have helped it to be at once both a non-state paramilitary and a state entity with power in government.
There is a parallel between the current state of Lebanon and Iraq, where demonstrators have widely denounced Iran-backed political parties and paramilitaries. Crucially, this is happening in Shiite-majority cities in southern Iraq, from where groups aligned with Tehran have recruited fighters and developed support bases. In Baghdad, protesters beat a poster showing powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Suleimani, who runs Iranian operations in Iraq, his face crossed out with a large red X. In an indication of his power in Baghdad, the commander has met Iraqi officials several times since protests began.
In response to the demonstrations, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, an Iraqi adviser to Mr Suleimani, said his forces were “ready, with the same care with which we confronted ISIS, to stand against this sedition”, claiming that the protests’ intent was to “destroy Iraq”.
Back in Lebanon, the current juncture is undoubtedly a challenge to Hezbollah. But it will weather this. The past two weeks of protests do not spell its downfall, nor the end of many people in Lebanon supporting – or at least tolerating – its existence.
There are still enough people like those watching Nasrallah speak via televised links in Beirut’s southern suburbs last Friday who say they want reform but are not sure about wholesale change.
“I’m going to give the new government a chance,” engineering student Hassan Zaher told me. “With reforms, with popular pressure, maybe we’ll get good results.”
Analysts warn of conflict in Lebanon if Hezbollah feels so threatened that it uses more force to quell protesters’ demands for change
Beyond those core supporters who attend its events and rallies, Hezbollah still has support for its anti-Israel stance. Even among protesters – many of whom openly dislike Hezbollah – the militant group’s disarmament is not one of the main concerns. When I interviewed her earlier this year, caretaker interior minister Raya El Hassan – from Mr Hariri’s political bloc, traditionally opposed to Hezbollah – said Hezbollah represented part of the Lebanese population: “I’m part of the cabinet and I have to deal with my colleagues,” she said in a resigned tone.
Hezbollah plays the long game. It disapproves of critical voices from within Shiite communities complaining about corruption and poor services. It will take measures to silence them. There has been at least one televised apology from a protester who has denounced Hezbollah. Another outspoken critic of the party told me attempts to protest in Beirut’s southern suburbs “had been suppressed” and that 10 demonstrators had been detained by the army in areas of south Lebanon where Hezbollah wields significant power.
But the group’s bigger concern is threats to its military might – its weapons arsenal – and its political sway. This is one reason behind its insistence on quick formation of a new government using the existing system. It is willing to go to great lengths to defend the power and influence it has won over more than three decades in Lebanon. This has enabled it to expand to Syria, Iraq and Yemen, where it sends fighters and senior commanders in training and strategy roles. Analysts warn of conflict in Lebanon if Hezbollah feels so threatened that it uses more force to quell protesters’ demands for change.
Hezbollah is being challenged by widespread calls for an end to the overall political system in which it has won legitimacy and power. But for the moment, it isn’t clear that there are enough people in Lebanon who are willing to jump into the unknown of a new, non-sectarian system, with all the uncertainties that would bring. It is not clear that others could provide the services upon which the current political elites – including Hezbollah – have built loyalty. Without viable alternatives who have the financial and political power to challenge it, the group will live on.