A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For November 10-11/2019 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 24th Day
Compiled By: Elias Bejjani
Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on November 10-11/2019
Protests widen in Lebanon, turn into major political-financial crisis
The Sunday of Determination marking the 25th day of the Lebanese uprising
Lebanon: Cabinet Talks in Stalemate as Hezbollah Rejects Being Forced Into Concessions
Raad Says Hizbullah Won’t be Intimidated by ‘Fabricated Battles’
Hezbollah says its ‘arms won’t be twisted’ as crisis deepens
Protesters Flood Lebanon Squares on ‘Sunday of Insistence’
Reports: Hariri to Agree to Techno-Political Govt., Consultations Wednesday
Bassil Warns against Amnesty Law that would Strengthen ‘Crime’
Salameh to Hold Press Conference Monday
Thousands keep up street pressure on Lebanon’s political class
Former Hezbollah Chief Accuses Khamenei of ‘Protecting’ Corruption in Iraq, Lebanon
The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on November 10-11/2019
Protests widen in Lebanon, turn into major political-financial crisis
The Arab Weekly/November 10/2019
Beirut – Young protesters swelled the ranks of demonstrators in Lebanon as the essentially peaceful movement morphed into a major political and financial crisis in the severely debt-strapped country. Thousands of students took to the streets in Lebanon but demonstrations remained peaceful despite attempts by militants affiliated with pro-Iran Shia groups Hezbollah and Amal to disrupt them. Students blocked traffic in Beirut and demanded the removal of the political class and its sectarian-based power-sharing system. After blocking roads for days, protesters switched to preventing access to institutions accused of mismanagement and corruption.
The youth unemployment rate stands at more than 30% in Lebanon. There has been no apparent progress made since Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister but Hariri did meet with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on November 7. Lebanese protesters’ grievances initially focused on poor infrastructure and public services but quickly grew into an unprecedented nationwide push to drive out an elite they accuse of ruling the country like a cartel for decades. Some protesters were critical of the country’s sectarian arrangements that underlie its political system and patronage ramifications. Leadership positions in the state are distributed among Maronite Christian, Sunni Muslim and Shia Muslim representatives. In addition to party affiliation, sectarian considerations also affect access to jobs and social privileges. The issue sets protesters against most of the ruling class. “When you ask for the dismantling of the political sectarian system… you’re basically asking the current political elite to commit group suicide. They’re not going to do that,” Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre, told the Associated Press. The young people “want basic, fundamental rights and for them they really have nothing to lose,” she said. “They recognise that this system hasn’t worked for their parents; it is not working for them.” Faced with a serious power vacuum, Aoun has yet to formally start the process of consulting with politicians to nominate a new prime minister. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Hariri insisted he be nominated again as prime minister, saying this was “for the good of Lebanon.”
The cabinet has stayed on in a caretaker capacity but efforts to form a new lineup seem to have stalled. Hariri said his resignation was a response to the demands of protesters, who want a government devoid of politicians accused of corruption. Both Aoun and Berri are allies of Hezbollah, which has not said which candidate it backs to head the next government. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has accused foreign powers of instigating the unrest. Political actors in Lebanon expressed scepticism about the outcome of the talks. Leading Druze politician Walid Jumblatt took aim at Hariri and Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who is also Aoun’s son-in-law, writing on Twitter that, despite the protests and social and economic dangers, the two “were meeting on how to improve and beautify” a political deal they struck in 2016.
Amine Gemayel, whose Kataeb Party was not part of the outgoing cabinet, said the main players had not understood the depth of the protest movement. “I don’t see any change in the behaviour of any of the main actors after everything that happened,” he told Reuters.
There are concerns the situation could lead to a major economic crisis. Gemayel said Lebanon was near “a huge monetary and financial collapse.” The protests led to a 2-week closure of banks. Although financial institutions reopened November 1, restrictions on international transfers and withdrawals of hard currency created new concerns. Capital inflows vital to financing Lebanon’s state budget and trade deficits have been slowing for years, contributing to a scarcity of foreign currency and the emergence of a black market for the Lebanese pound.
Addressing one of the demands of the protesters, prosecutors are investigating allegations of corruption among senior officials. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was questioned November 7 regarding how $11 billion in state funds was spent while he was in power from 2005-09. On November 6, the World Bank warned that a failure to quickly form a Lebanese government that meets protesters’ demands could lead to an even sharper economic downturn.
The Sunday of Determination marking the 25th day of the Lebanese uprising
Tala Ramadan/Annahar/November 10/2019
Even though the government announced an emergency reform package, the protests have continued to grip Lebanon and protesters continue to demonstrate against the ruling class.
BEIRUT: For the 25th day, students, teachers, mothers, and professionals mobilized in ever-greater numbers, making demands that are both specific and broad all around Lebanon this Sunday. Even though the government announced an emergency reform package, the protests have continued to grip Lebanon and protesters continue to demonstrate against the ruling class. Secularism march, mothers demanding for their right to pass their nationality to their children, and students protesting for a better future, made their ways to Beirut’s Riad Al Soloh Square to reach a wider audience. Some parents made sure to engage their children in the political activism, “I want my children to take part in this revolution, and I want them to grow in a better Lebanon,” Razane Naccache told Annahar. During morning hours, several protests took place around different locations around Lebanon. Zaytouna Bay was packed with citizens who took the grounds and gathered for a picnic, where they had a traditional Lebanese breakfast as a new type of protesting against the illegal acquisition of coastal properties and to reclaim it as a public space. A protester in Riad El Solh told Annahar, “we won’t stop protesting until we overthrow the whole current political figures.” In parallel, other protesters also gathered outside Kleiyat airport, which has not started operating yet, demanding for its reopening as it could be of a facility of high importance for the region. The highlight of the Sunday of Determination is the “Revolutionary Court” which was installed in the Riad Al Solh Square where actors mocked a trial for public figures who have allegedly taken money from the public funds. Jessica, another protester, told Annahar that the movement that is currently taking place is crucial to fight all the corruption in the country. The scene in Tripoli is still witnessing crowds protesting in the thousands. In the southern coastal city of Saida, protesters also gathered to keep their voices high enough to show that nothing will shut their momentum down. Lebanon has been swept by 25 days of protests against a political class accused of corruption, mismanagement of state finances and pushing the country toward an economic collapse unseen since the 1975-90 civil war.
Lebanon: Cabinet Talks in Stalemate as Hezbollah Rejects Being Forced Into Concessions
Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 10 November, 2019
Talks among Lebanon’s political parties to agree on a new government are still deadlocked, three senior sources said on Sunday, as Hezbollah indicated it would not be forced into concessions.
The latest failure to break Lebanon’s political impasse will worsen pressures on an economy gripped by a deep crisis. Since reopening a week ago, commercial banks have been seeking to stave off capital flight by blocking most transfers abroad and imposing curbs on hard-currency withdrawals, though the central bank has announced no formal capital controls. A big part of Lebanon’s economic crisis stems from a slowdown of capital inflows which has led to a scarcity of US dollars and spawned a black market where the Lebanese pound has weakened below its official pegged rate. A meeting on Saturday evening between caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri and senior officials from Hezbollah and its ally Amal movement failed to yield any breakthrough towards forming the new cabinet, the sources said. “The crisis is deepening,” one source familiar with Hariri’s position said. A senior source familiar with the view of Hezbollah and Amal said: “Nothing has changed. So far the road is completely blocked.” A third senior source said the situation was still deadlocked. Hariri resigned on Oct. 29 in the face of unprecedented protests fuelled by poverty, joblessness and lack of basic services like electricity.
Hariri wants to lead a technocratic government devoid of other politicians, while Amal, Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, which has been founded by President Michel Aoun and is now led by his son-in-law caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, want a government mixing technocrats and politicians.
The source familiar with Hariri’s views has said he believes a cabinet composed of both technocrats and politicians would not be able to secure Western assistance and would also anger protesters who want to see a change of leadership. Hariri reiterated his position in the meeting with caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil of Amal and top Hezbollah official Hussein Khalil, the senior source familiar with Hezbollah and Amal’s view said. Both Hezbollah and Amal communicated their view – that Hariri should return as premier of a new ‘technopolitical’ cabinet — at the meeting. Hariri said he would only agree to head a technocratic cabinet. “Practically, what he wants is a government devoid of Hezbollah,” the senior source said. “After 10 days have passed, matters must be decided.”The source familiar with Hariri’s position said he believed Hezbollah, Amal and the FPM were seeking the inclusion in the cabinet of politicians rejected by the protesters. These include Bassil. “If these faces return to government we will have pushed the street to return to protest in a greater way,” the source familiar with Hariri’s position said. In a statement apparently referring to the deadlock and to Hezbollah’s loss of fighters in various conflicts, the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, Mohammad Raad, said: “Our arms will not be twisted nor can we be neutralized from achieving the goals of the martyrs.”
Raad Says Hizbullah Won’t be Intimidated by ‘Fabricated Battles’
The head of Hizbullah’s parliamentary bloc MP Mohammed Raad on Sunday stressed that his party “cannot be strong-armed” and that “fabricated battles” linked to the ongoing popular uprising in the country will not deviate Hizbullah’s attention from its main objectives. “We cannot be strong-armed and neither partial concerns nor fabricated battles imposed by others every now and then can derail us from the course of fulfilling martyrs’ goals,” Raad said at a ceremony marking Hizbullah’s ‘Martyr Day’ in Nabatiyeh. “Martyrs are the ones who created the sovereign atmosphere in which every change or reform seeker and every anti-corruption protester can be active,” Raad added. “We share the goal of combating corruption, lifting immunity off corrupts and recovering stolen funds… with all the honest people who rose up and took to the streets… but we want others to respect our experience and realize that their movement is within the atmosphere provided to them by our martyrs, mujahideen and heroes,” Raad went on to say. The Hizbullah lawmaker also warned the protest movement against “launching arbitrary accusations” or “hurling insults against icons, especially those related to the leadership of the purest, most honorable and noblest people.” “We want to combat corruption, we respect others’ experience and we are keen on the success of their experience, and we warn them that someone might infiltrate their movement to take them into a course that would plunge the country into the wishes of the enemies,” Raad added.
Hezbollah says its ‘arms won’t be twisted’ as crisis deepens
Reuters, Beirut/Sunday, 10 November 2019
Political talks to agree an urgently needed Lebanese government are still deadlocked, three senior sources said on Sunday, as the Shia group Hezbollah indicated it would not be forced into concessions. The latest failure to break Lebanon’s political impasse will worsen pressures on an economy gripped by its deepest crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, amid protests against a political establishment widely regarded as corrupt and inept. Since reopening a week ago, commercial banks have been seeking to stave off capital flight by blocking most transfers abroad and imposing curbs on hard-currency withdrawals, though the central bank has announced no formal capital controls. A big part of Lebanon’s economic crisis stems from a slowdown of capital inflows which has led to a scarcity of US dollars and spawned a black market where the Lebanese pound has weakened below its official pegged rate.
A meeting on Saturday evening between caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri and senior officials from Hezbollah and its Shia ally Amal Movement failed to yield any breakthrough towards forming the new cabinet, the sources said.
“The crisis is deepening,” one source familiar with Hariri’s position said. A senior source familiar with the view of Hezbollah and Amal said: “Nothing has changed. So far the road is completely blocked.” A third senior source said the situation was still deadlocked. Hariri quit on October 29 in the face of unprecedented protests fueled by poverty, joblessness and lack of basic services like electricity. Hariri wants to lead a technocratic government devoid of other politicians, while Amal, Hezbollah and its Christian ally the Free Patriotic Movement want a government mixing technocrats and politicians.
‘Nothing has changed’
The source familiar with Hariri’s views has said he believes a cabinet composed of both technocrats and politicians would not be able to secure Western assistance and would also anger protesters who want to see a change of leadership. Hariri reiterated his position in the meeting with caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil of Amal and top Hezbollah official Hussein Khalil, the senior source familiar with Hezbollah and Amal’s view said. Both Hezbollah and Amal communicated their view – that Hariri should return as premier of a new ‘technopolitical’ cabinet – at the meeting. Hariri said he would only agree to head a technocratic cabinet. “Practically, what he wants is a government devoid of Hezbollah,” the senior source said. “After 10 days have passed, matters must be decided.”The source familiar with Hariri’s position said he believed Hezbollah, Amal and the FPM were seeking the inclusion in the cabinet of politicians rejected by the protesters. These include FPM leader Gebran Bassil, foreign minister in the outgoing cabinet and a son-in-law of President Michel Aoun. “If these faces return to government we will have pushed the street to return to protest in a greater way,” the source familiar with Hariri’s position said. One dollar was buying 1,800 pounds or more on Friday compared to 1,740 on Thursday, two market sources said. The pegged rate is 1,507.5 pounds. In a statement apparently referring to the deadlock and to Hezbollah’s loss of fighters in various conflicts, Hezbollah lawmaker Mohammad Raad said: “Our arms will not be twisted nor can we be neutralised from achieving the goals of the martyrs.”Lebanon’s highest Christian authority urged the president to hasten the appointment of a prime minister and the formation of a government that meets protesters’ demands. “The country’s situation cannot withstand another day of delays,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said.
Protesters Flood Lebanon Squares on ‘Sunday of Insistence’
Protesters rallied Sunday in downtown Beirut and across the country to press for their demands, as Lebanon’s unprecedented popular uprising entered its 25th day. In the morning, protesters had organized a “Lebanese breakfast” at the privately-run Zaitunay Bay promenade to stress that the area is public and not private property and to call for an end to seaside property violations. Sunday’s protests were held under the slogan “Sunday of Insistence”.Grievances driving Lebanon’s protests range from power cuts and poor social security to alleged state corruption. The government yielded to popular pressure and stepped down last month, with the World Bank urging the quick formation of a new cabinet to prevent the economy from deteriorating further. Protesters on Sunday denounced the ongoing delay in setting a date for the binding parliamentary consultations to name a new premier.
President Michel Aoun has argued that the delay is necessary to secure consensus over the shape of the new government amid the critical situations in the country.
Reports: Hariri to Agree to Techno-Political Govt., Consultations Wednesday
Caretaker Saad Hariri is inclined to agree to proposals to form a 22-member techno-political government led by him and the binding parliamentary consultations will likely be held Wednesday, media reports said. The reports follow a meeting at the Center House between Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri’s aide Ali Hassan Khalil and Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s assistant Hussein Khalil. The conferees “discussed the governmental situation and its various details without reaching a final agreement in this regard, but they agreed that each party would give its answers by Monday at the latest,” MTV reported Sunday. “Things are expected to be settled prior to the televised address of Hizbullah’s secretary-general, which is scheduled for tomorrow,” MTV added. “Hariri delved into details with his two guests and seemed to be cautious, but he rejected to name any premiership candidate other than him when asked by one of his guests, which was considered as an indication that he will accept to form the government himself,” the TV network added. “Discussions touched on forming a 22-minister techno-political government and Hariri will give his final answer in the coming hours, with the possibility of holding a new tripartite meeting or a bilateral meeting between Hariri and Minister Khalil,” MTV said. The domestic efforts have coincided with a series of external contacts, especially between an Arab country and Tehran, with the aim of “speeding up the formation of the government and sparing Lebanon any security deterioration.”An envoy from French President Emmanuel Macron is meanwhile scheduled to arrive in Lebanon Tuesday to push in the same direction.“The consultations will begin Wednesday should Hariri’s response be positive,” MTV added.
Bassil Warns against Amnesty Law that would Strengthen ‘Crime’
Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Jebran Bassil on Sunday warned against approving an amnesty law that would “consolidate the strength of crime.” “As if we haven’t learned from the amnesty laws that were approved after the war, which eliminated the principle of accountability and opened the doors wide to corruption,” Bassil tweeted. “Today the people are calling for putting on trial every suspect and holding accountable every wrongdoer and we support the harshening of penalties and approving anti-corruption laws,” Bassil added. “Instead of consolidating the strength of crime, we must consolidate the strength of the judiciary,” he said. Parliament is scheduled to discuss a general amnesty draft law on Tuesday. MP Yassine Jaber has announced that those accused of financial crimes cannot benefit from the proposed law.
Salameh to Hold Press Conference Monday
Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh is scheduled to hold a press conference Monday at 12:30 pm, the National News Agency said. The press conference at the central bank will tackle “the central bank’s stance on the issues pertaining to banking services ahead of the normal resumption of banking operations on Tuesday,” NNA said. Lebanese bankers and officials tried to calm a worried public Saturday, telling them that all deposits are guaranteed and “there is no need for panic.”The country’s financial troubles have worsened since nationwide protests — initially against new taxes — snowballed into calls for the entire political elite to step down. Banks reopened Nov. 1 after a two-week closure amid the protests. But depositors have rushed to withdraw their money in recent days, while the country’s various lenders have imposed varying capital controls that differ from bank to bank. The announcement by Salim Sfeir, chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, came after a two-hour meeting between President Michel Aoun, several caretaker Cabinet ministers and top banking officials in search of solutions for Lebanon’s deepening financial and economic crisis.
Thousands keep up street pressure on Lebanon’s political class
AFP/Monday, 11 November 2019
Thousands protested on Sunday across Lebanon against the ruling class for a fourth consecutive week, as they await a new cabinet two weeks after demonstrations forced the premier to resign. The country has since October 17 been swept by an unprecedented cross-sectarian protest movement against the entire political establishment, which is widely seen as irretrievably corrupt and unable to deal with a deepening economic crisis. The protests triggered Prime Minister Saad Hariri to tender the resignation of his government on October 29, but he remains in a caretaker capacity and maneuverings are still ongoing to form a new cabinet. Dubbed “Sunday of Determination”, the day was marked by huge rallies in several cities from the afternoon onwards. From the capital Beirut to Sidon and Tyre in the south up to Tripoli in the north, the ranks of protesters on the streets swelled from the early evening.
Brandishing Lebanese national flags, the protesters demanded that the formation of a new government be accelerated. They once again insisted any incoming cabinet be comprised of technocrats and be independent of established political parties. “We will not leave the streets before our demands are totally satisfied!” shouted one young protester into the microphone of a local broadcaster. “We are more determined than ever,” she insisted. Since Hariri resigned, political bargaining has stumbled over the shape of a new government. Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, is on Monday due to deliver a televised speech. He has in recent weeks dismissed the ongoing demand from the streets that the next government be formed of technocrats. Meanwhile, fears of a banking crisis have risen among residents. Banks were closed during the first two weeks of the protests, and while now reopened, they have put significant restrictions on withdrawals and conversions of Lebanese pounds into dollars.
Former Hezbollah Chief Accuses Khamenei of ‘Protecting’ Corruption in Iraq, Lebanon
Beirut – Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 10 November, 2019
Former Hezbollah Secretary General Sobhi al-Tufaily attacked Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, accusing him of being the “greatest protector” of corruption in Iraq and Lebanon. In a video circulated on social media, Tufaily asked: “Isn’t it shameful to accuse those who are complaining of oppression of being agents of foreign countries?”“Are those killed on the streets agents? You claim to be the leader of Muslims, not just Iranians. Does such a leader accept to kill the hungry and protect the corrupt and the criminals?”“No less than 250 people were killed and 11,000 wounded. Those who killed them are your gunmen. Your gunmen in Lebanon have also killed us,” continued Tufaily. “Just yesterday, your gang killed unarmed innocents and burned their tents,” he said of attacks against Iraqi protesters. On Lebanon, he said: “Thieves have been robbing it since 1972 and your group has been supporting them. They have filled the country with corruption.” “Does our religion teach us to be dirty, corrupt and murderous thieves?”“What do you call the money that you have spent in Syria,” Tufaily added.
Titles For The Latest Lebanese LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 10-11/2019
Interview With Amin Maalouf reflects on unrest in Lebanon and beyond/Javier Hernandez/The Arab Weekly/November 10/2019
My message to the Lebanese: Stay strong and you will triumph/Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor/Arab News/November 10, 2019
Lebanon needs an emergency reform kit/Makram Rabah/The Arab Weekly/November 10/2019
‘Solution’ for Lebanon near as protests continues/Najla Houssari/Arab News.November 10/2019
Lebanese banks urge calm amid financial crisis and protests/Officials said there was no concern about solvency/The National/November 10/2019
Lebanese face fuel shortage as troubles mount/Sunniva Rose/The National/November 10/2019
Regional Uphaval Leave Iran’s Shiite Crescent On Shaky Ground/Charles Bybelezer/The Media Line/Jerusalem Post/November 09/2019
Women of Lebanon stand at vanguard of popular protests/Samar Kadi/The Arab Weekly/November 10/2019
A Mine in the Lebanese National Project/Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al-Awsat/November, 10/2019
The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on November 10-11/2019
Amin Maalouf reflects on unrest in Lebanon and beyond
Javier Hernandez/The Arab Weekly/November 10/2019
“I am convinced that there are not many differences between the aspirations of the Arab world and those of the Western world,” said Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf.
Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf talked about his latest book “Le naufrage des civilisations” (“The Shipwreck of Civilisations”) October 23 in Madrid. At the Arab House Foundation, Maalouf met with the editorial team of Altair website, discussing what could lead the ship of humanity to sink. The article was translated and republished by Al Jadid.
Altair Website (AW): You have always insisted on the need to build bridges between cultures, especially between the two shores of the Mediterranean. Do you think this is still possible in this age of nationalism, xenophobia, racism and individualism? Is this really possible?
Amin Maalouf (AM): “I think that when populism, xenophobia and racism emerge, there is often a reason to that and it is necessary to address this issue. When people have xenophobic and racist behaviours, they’re definitely afraid of something. It’s not enough to simply tell them ‘Don’t be afraid’ but we must first understand why they’re afraid to be able to address this reason.”
AW: You’ve lived in different Arab countries with a Muslim majority. Do you think these Islamic countries really recognise the need to face the challenges of modernity? Does the fact that a political system compatible with the present age has not yet been designed to make us believe that Islam is contrary to the secular rationality of modern culture?
AM: “People have the same concerns, whether they are living in Beirut, Algiers, Madrid or Bogota. People ask about the same thing. They have the same deep aspirations. They want to have a better life, have more dignity and to evolve in an environment that allows them to develop their own faculties.
“I am convinced that there are not many differences between the aspirations of the Arab world and those of the Western world.”
AW: There is discontent and anger all over the streets of Lebanon, your country of origin. What can you tell us about the current situation there?
AM: “The protests started quite some time ago, triggered mainly by the difficult living conditions facing the Lebanese. For several years, the citizens had to endure frequent power outages and sometimes shortages of essential products such as bread and medicine. Even access to drinking water is becoming difficult.
“In Lebanon, people suffer a lot from this situation. In recent weeks, a new tax on the use of WhatsApp fuelled a collective outcry that led people to take to the streets to protest.
“I do not know where the demonstrations will lead or how long they will last, because Lebanon’s political system, despite its corrupt practices, is so strong and entrenched that it is difficult to remove or overthrow. I don’t know what the protesters will be able to achieve but their intentions are certainly very laudable and legitimate.”
AW: A similar situation is evolving in Algeria, in the so-called popular movement. Do you think that the Algerian people will eventually get their demands for a free democracy?
AM: “Not just in Algeria, which is going through something like this. There have been a lot of interesting developments in recent months in other countries, such as in Sudan, where the popular protests led to real change.
“I don’t know what will happen in the future but, at the moment, a government that is acceptable to the Sudanese people seems to have been elected and has a new perspective on the future so we will have to wait and see.
“The same is happening in Iraq, even though the protests in that country were more violent. They were the result of the popular distrust of the political system there. The situation in Iraq is somewhat similar to that in Lebanon because, although the political system in Iraq is not strong enough, it will still be difficult to replace because it is based on the balance of power between the various factions in the country. It’ll be extremely difficult to replace such a system and, so far, no radical change has taken place.”
AW: To complete the tour of the region, it is necessary to consider tensions in the Gulf region. What is the effect of conflicts between countries in the region on people in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Syria, Turkey, et cetera?
AM: “What is happening now is a conflict between different nations. Certainly, Iran is a regional power with a huge influence on many of its neighbours — Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Yemen — and its rivals in the region cannot match it. Saudi Arabia, for example, is a rich country but it does not have the same effect (on the region) and its army is not equivalent to Iran’s.
“Iran is traditionally an important player in the region. So, if the United States withdraws from the region, which seems to be happening today, then the Iranians could gain greater influence in the region. However, the economy remains their biggest weakness because they are vulnerable to embargoes and sanctions and these have had a negative effect on them lately.”
*The article is published by permission of Al Jadid culture magazine.
My message to the Lebanese: Stay strong and you will triumph
Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor/Arab News/November 10, 2019
Lebanon has always been close to my heart, and today I am proud to stand with those Lebanese who are protesting against the criminal political class that has bled the country’s coffers dry and stifled opportunities for generations. They have shown that they will no longer be played for fools.
As long as I can remember, Lebanon’s government has been in the strangulating grip of sectarian mafia bosses protected by armed militias that are obliged to pretend allegiance to the Iranian-funded godfather Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary general, in order to maintain their vast wealth and power. But their gravy train is poised to crash and burn.
Lebanon’s youth has woken up to the deceit of these slick-talking peddlers of fake hope, who together have led the nation down a road to ruin. The veil has dropped from their eyes. They can no longer be fooled by political dynasties or those with weighty overseas bank accounts living securely behind the walls of hilltop palaces.
I salute each one of you who has courageously taken to the streets in a peaceful bid to overthrow a government stuffed with inept, corrupt dinosaurs whose only interest is self-interest. These same tired faces have been vying for a piece of the pie since the end of the civil war in 1990 and, if left to them, their sons would inherit their mantle. Fat-cat politicians in Lebanon do not see their role as a patriotic duty to serve the nation and its people, but rather a lucrative job for life.
On their watch, youth unemployment has reached the untenable level of 40 percent, forcing graduates to seek greener pastures abroad. There is zero economic growth and the country’s debt burden, which exceeds 150 percent of gross domestic product, is unsustainable. Adding to people’s woes are regular electricity cuts, severe shortages in water and medicines, and mountains of rotting garbage disfiguring the landscape.
Watching good-natured, fiesta-like gatherings, where Lebanese of all ages and religious persuasions stand shoulder-to-shoulder, speaking with one voice under the cedar flag, is inspirational and portends the demise of sectarianism — the cause of so much enmity and violence.
Fat-cat politicians do not see their role as a patriotic duty to serve the nation and its people, but rather a lucrative job for life.
Hezbollah’s attack dogs were unleashed into the crowds as a disruptive force, but were called off once their efforts were met with strong resistance. Supporters of President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, which is allied with Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, called for Aoun to remain in office. Nasrallah initially ordered the government to remain in place while warning of an impending civil war. Such scare tactics only served to harden the protesters’ resolve.
Societal divisions have been greatly exacerbated by a sectarian political system that was bequeathed by the French colonial mandate and reaffirmed by the Taif Agreement, which sealed the end of the civil war by ensuring political representation is shared among the various sects that make up Lebanon’s rich religious tapestry.
This ill-conceived system is not only a recipe for disunity; it often translates to the best man or woman for the job being excluded solely due to their faith. Lebanon needs more than a new government, it needs a complete overhaul of its political system. The new system should allow for candidates to be chosen according to their merit, not their religion — and that is what the good Lebanese people are now demanding.
The people insist on a government that represents them and is chosen by them. So far, they have succeeded in unseating the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who, after a last-ditch attempt at promising reforms, resigned. Bravo to the people. You did it.
That said, danger still lurks on the horizon. Hariri now leads a caretaker Cabinet and, according to the Daily Star, he is willing to once again head a government on condition that it includes technocrats qualified to stave off economic collapse. He is the leader who, upon his resignation, said he had reached “a dead end.” In that case, he should be sufficiently dignified to announce his permanent retirement. Hariri should walk into the sunset together with his colleagues — failures all.
My message to the Lebanese is this: Please do not allow the current leadership to derail your demands using the “collapse of the economy” or “the devaluation of the Lebanese pound” as warning flags. If the old guard had any decency, it would heed your wishes and move aside to make room for qualified fresh faces with innovative ideas, who would be able to restore confidence and thus attract much-needed investment.
Do not permit those glued to their chairs for decades to slow down the creation of a new government to a snail’s pace in the hope you will return to a state of political slumber. Keep up the good fight for your rights and your future while there is momentum. Do not be mesmerized by master hypnotists out to lull you into a false sense of security. This is your chance. Grab it.
Last but not least, avoid placing your trust in any foreign nation because they do not have your best interests at heart. The idea of heroes on white horses riding in to save the day is nothing more than an illusion. All are out for their own benefit, so do not be tempted to exchange one set of masters for another. The only way to save your beloved Lebanon is to take matters into your own hands. Stay strong and determined and, with the grace of God, you will be triumphant.
*Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity, and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Twitter: @KhalafAlHabtoor
Lebanon needs an emergency reform kit
Makram Rabah/The Arab Weekly/November 10/2019
Nearly a month has elapsed since the outbreak of the Lebanese Revolution, which took millions across Lebanon and the diaspora to revolt against a political class that they supported and repeatedly voted into office.
The political and economic shutdown in Lebanon, however, led many demonstrators to reconsider their choices and heed threats of the ruling elite whose scare tactics include violent intimidation and warnings of economic ruin.
Lebanon’s economy has seen better days but years of imprudent economic policies, coupled with a hysterical clientelist system and bad governance, led the state to the brink of bankruptcy. The Lebanese political class has shown an unwillingness to admit that the impasse is not merely an economic crisis but a problem that speaks to the crux of the Lebanese political system, which, to most Lebanese, has simply expired.
Adding insult to injury, a few days before resigning, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri introduced his government’s economic reform plan, which was utterly rejected by the Lebanese because it refrained from including real political reforms and merely proposed to spend more money to — hopefully — jump-start the ailing economy.
The audacity of the politicians is fathomless as they claim that they can consider $7 billion of electricity sector projects, in merely two weeks and with two days to report it to cabinet — something experts assert is impossible.
If this was not enough, project bids would be supervised by the Public Procurement Management Administration and with a tender document drafted by the Ministry of Energy and Water while the consultant is appointed by a grant given by one of the expected bidders, all flagrant breaches of government operating procedures.
The ruling establishment wants to use the revolt and the fear of economic collapse to make themselves richer and channel the $11 billion from the CEDRE aid conference to their own coffers. The people on the streets and those watching the revolt at home know that the people in power are incapable and unwilling to reform their ways and thus this standoff will not end soon. Faced with this predicament, the only way to prevent the looming meltdown of the Lebanese economy is for street demonstrators to stand strong, not falter and to refuse to negotiate with any form of authority unless the ruling elite introduces required economic and political reforms.
Judicial reform should be at the top of any government platform. The Lebanese state disregards the sacred constitutional principle of separation of powers. The judiciary should appoint its own judges and the executive branch must refrain from meddling in the justice system.
Reform should also reach the security and law enforcement sectors, which should be purged from the clientelist appointment system that prevents their neutrality and makes them tools of the establishment, rather than guardians of the constitution.
Anti-corruption legislation should be enacted to protect whistle-blowers and set a mechanism for the recovery of stolen assets and, more important, amend laws to allow cabinet ministers to face the regular justice system rather than extraordinary tribunals, which do not ensure justice and accountability.
On the more practical economic level, simple emergency measures are urgently needed to alleviate rather than salvage the situation.
There should be the implementation of temporary capital controls on money transfers. While capital control might be a departure from Lebanon’s liberal economy, it is a bitter pill the Lebanese must swallow — and fast. Second, negotiate with the Lebanese banks that own the majority (53.8%) of total debt and convince them to lower interest rates and to restructure the debts. Lebanese banks must accept an increase in taxes over their profits. The tax stands at 10% and must be increased to allow the state more revenues and to avoid passing more direct taxes on to the less-privileged classes.
Third, there should be negotiations with the Lebanese armed forces over Regulation 3, which multiplies military service years and thus costs the Lebanese billions of dollars in end-of-service pensions. Fourth, a law for public bids should be passed to increase transparency and break the hegemony of the cartels that clinch most state contracts. These measures might fall short of the more ambitious aspirations of the Lebanese uprising but, for the immediate future, this emergency kit could give Lebanon a fighting chance and perhaps place Lebanon closer to recovery.
*Makram Rabah is a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, Department of History. He is the author of A Campus at War: Student Politics at the American University of Beirut, 1967-1975.
‘Solution’ for Lebanon near as protests continues
Najla Houssari/Arab News.November 10/2019
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Saad Hariri, is set to announce on Monday “positive signs of a solution to the issue of government formation in Lebanon, unless sudden developments occur.”
That is according to Mustafa Alloush, a member of the political bureau of the Future Movement, whose comments came after Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) MP Ibrahim Kanaan suggested FPM was convinced of the formation of “a government of technocrats.”
Ali Bazzi, of the Liberation and Development Bloc headed by Speaker Nabih Berri, stressed: “The coming hours will be critical in breaking the state of political stagnation, and the Amal Movement is helping to overcome obstacles and is open to facilitating the formation of a government that serves this country.”
These latest developments come as protests in Lebanon enter their 25th day — protests that have already forced Hariri’s government to step down.
Activists in the civil movement have stepped up their social media campaigns to call for people to join a sit-in.
Public affairs expert Walid Fakhreddine said that some parties were trying to hold the protesters responsible for the deterioration of the currency exchange rate.
Activists in the civil movement have stepped up their social media campaigns to call for people to join a sit-in on Sunday. With the value of the US dollar reaching 2,000 Lebanese lira on the black market, salaries have fallen by 25 percent, and purchase value has fallen by 35-40 percent, which has fueled discontent.Public affairs expert Walid Fakhreddine told Arab News that some parties were trying to hold the protesters responsible for the deterioration of the exchange rate. “This is not a new attack technique; it is globally deployed where there are revolutions, but it is ineffective,” he added.
“There are discussions and dialogues between activists in the squares every evening, and some people tried to disrupt one of the discussions in which (the actor) Ziad Itani and I were involved,” he continued.
“Someone tried to stop Ziad Itani from speaking. One of them attacked me and hit me on my head. Then the same person tried to break the microphone Ziad was using. The third time, they attacked us and began to beat us. The security forces intervened and took the attackers aside. Phone calls took place and the aggressors were allowed to go free.
“What happened is not the first of its kind, as incidents of disruption, repression and assault on protesters are frequent in Beirut, Nabatieh and Tire.
“Everyone in this corrupt government participates in these operations because they are annoyed by the people, so they are trying to thwart their movement. They do not know that the Lebanese people are devising many methods to continue the movement, which has reached the stage of no turning back.”
Fakhreddine revealed that bank employees had joined the movement in the street and complained that the government had left them to face the dollar crisis alone. He referred to a draft prepared by MPs on the amnesty days ago to be approved next Tuesday. He said: “It is a booby-trapped draft because it prevents trials for all cases involving administrative and financial corruption.” Itani said the attack against him was against the backdrop of a lawsuit he has filed in court against those involved in his arrest for allegations of communicating with Israel, of which he was found innocent.
“When someone came to me in the square, he told me that it is enough that you went to Tripoli, and it seems that my words bothered them. I said that sedition and sectarianism are forbidden, and that this is the revolution of the poor. I was threatened, and the threat was acted upon in Beirut,” he told Arab News.
“They want to silence me, but I will continue to prosecute those who did me an injustice.”In a recent report, Human Rights Watch called on the Lebanese authorities to take all possible measures to protect peaceful demonstrators and refrain from using force to disperse peaceful gatherings.
Lebanese banks urge calm amid financial crisis and protests/Officials said there was no concern about solvency
The National/November 10/2019
Lebanese bankers and government officials tried to calm a worried public on Saturday amid the country’s major financial crisis, telling them that all deposits are guaranteed and “there is no need for panic.”
The country’s financial troubles have worsened since nationwide protests – initially against new taxes – snowballed into calls for the entire political elite to step down. Banks reopened November 1 after a two-week closure amid the protests. But depositors have rushed to withdraw their money in recent days, while the country’s various lenders have imposed varying capital controls that differ from bank to bank.
The announcement by Salim Sfeir, chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, came after a two-hour meeting between President Michel Aoun, several Cabinet ministers and top banking officials in search of solutions for Lebanon’s deepening financial and economic crisis.
“Depositors’ money is being preserved. What is happening is not an issue related to solvency, and therefore there is no need for panic,” Mr Sfeir said. “People should calm down. People should withdraw enough to meet their needs, not everything they have.”
Mr Sfeir added that those who attended the meeting have asked the central bank’s governor, Riad Salameh, to continue taking the necessary measures “to preserve the safety of cash and economic stability.” He added that small depositors will be given priority when they come to withdraw money.
Mr Aoun’s office said the meeting was attended by the ministers of economy and finance, as well as the central bank governor, the head of the banks’ association and top officials from the country’s largest lenders.
Lebanon, one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world, was already dealing with a severe fiscal crisis before the protests began, one rooted in years of heavy borrowing and expensive patronage networks run by entrenched political parties. The Lebanese pound is trading at up to 1,900 to the dollar on the black market, a devaluation of nearly to 30 per cent from the official rate.
Banks in Lebanon were closed Saturday for an extra day amid deepening turmoil and public anxiety over liquidity. Monday is a holiday to mark the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, and banks are scheduled to resume normal work on Tuesday. The financial crisis has worsened since Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned his government on October 29 meeting a key demand by the protesters. No date has been yet set by Mr Aoun for consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs to name a new premier.
Protesters are demanding a government made up of technocrats that would immediately get to work on the necessary reforms to address the economy. Politicians are divided among other things over whether the new Cabinet should be made up of experts only or include politicians. The World Bank on Friday urged Lebanon to form a new Cabinet “within a week” to prevent further degradation and loss of confidence in its economy, warning of grave risks to the country’s stability.Lebanon’s top Sunni cleric, Sheikh Abul-Latif Daryan, repeated his call Saturday for forming a new government of “national salvation” that would work to enact reforms.
Lebanese face fuel shortage as troubles mount
Sunniva Rose/The National/November 10/2019
Retailers stay shut over increased costs caused by restricted availability of foreign currency
Many petrol stations across Lebanon have closed after owners said they would not order more fuel because of restricted access to US dollars. The shortage comes with a financial crisis that has driven more than three weeks of mass protests. In Beirut, several petrol stations were closed on Saturday while others rationed their sales, state-run National News Agency reported. One driver said he had to go to several places to fill his tank. Most stations in the northern province of Akkar were closed, causing a rush at those that were still open. “The petrol crisis in Akkar has started to pose a threat to daily movement in the province,” the NNA reported.
Shortages also prompted fuel stations in the southern city of Tyre to close on Sunday. In the eastern Bekaa region, some fuel station owners illegally increased prices by 25 per cent. The price of fuel is fixed every week by the Energy Ministry and varies with oil prices.
On Thursday, the unions of petrol station owners and fuel tanker operators said they would sell their stock but would not order more because of the extra costs brought on by the scarcity of US dollars. One fuel importer told The National that the country’s fuel stocks would run out in 10 days if imports stopped completely. “There is a shortage. We are selling less than the demand,” he said.
A representative of the association of Lebanese petroleum importing companies did not respond to a request for comment.
Like most Lebanese businesses, petrol station owners must pay importers in dollars but sell locally to their clients in Lebanese pounds. Since this summer, they have been forced to exchange their dollars on the black market, where the exchange rate is about 10 per cent higher than the official rate, because the central bank has restricted access. Combined with regional instability, Lebanon’s struggling economy has caused cashflow to the country to dry up. After petrol station owners went on a one-day strike late September, the government promised that the central bank would guarantee their access to dollars at the official exchange rate.
This arrangement was also extended to medicine and wheat imports. But petrol station owners said on Thursday that in practice, the central bank only guaranteed 85 per cent of their demand for dollars, obliging them to buy the rest on the black market. The fuel importer and Sami Brax, head of the union of petrol stations, said they did not know why the central bank was not providing their full dollar requirement. The fuel shortage has caused an open dispute between petrol station owners, fuel importers and the Energy Ministry. Station owners say the ministry is blaming them for the crisis while not keeping its promises to support them. They have also criticised importers for insisting on being paid fully in dollars rather than accept 15 per cent in Lebanese pounds. Despite the petrol stations refusing to buy more stock, importers said they would keep bringing fuel in. On Saturday, Lebanon’s eight fuel importers said four of them were receiving shipments. This means that petrol stations run directly by importing companies will keep selling fuel but those operating as franchises might not, the importer said.
He estimated that only a fifth of petrol stations are run by importers.
The importer said only a few of his colleagues had been able to open letters of credit with their banks to secure their imports, one of the conditions imposed by the government to receive dollars at the official exchange rate. Through the letter of credit, the local bank guaranteed payment should the importer default, but it first must be confirmed by an international bank accepted by the fuel supplier. Lebanese banks are having trouble obtaining this confirmation as the country sinks deeper into a financial crisis, the importer said. On Thursday, international rating agency Moody’s downgraded Lebanon’s three largest banks further into junk territory, two days after lowering Lebanon’s sovereign rating, saying the increased likelihood of a debt rescheduling it would classify as a default. Lebanon’s financial troubles sparked mass protests on October 17, forcing Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign on October 29.
The country has been without a government since, further weakening the international community’s trust in its finances. “I managed to open two letters of credit but I do not know if I will be able to do it again,” the importer said. However, he was optimistic that the government would find a solution after President Michel Aoun, the central bank governor and the head of the Lebanese association of banks met on Saturday to address the financial crisis. “They must find a solution,” he said. “I think the issue will be resolved.”
Regional Uphaval Leave Iran’s Shiite Crescent On Shaky Ground
Charles Bybelezer/The Media Line/Jerusalem Post/November 09/2019
Tehran’s attempt to carve out contiguous territorial corridor toward Mediterranean appears to be in jeopardy
Geopolitical earthquakes caused by civil unrest are risking fractures in the foundations of the “Shi’ite Crescent,” a contiguous land bridge Iran has carved out across Iraq and Syria and into Lebanon by investing tens of billions of dollars of political and military capital.
With its ability to project dominance throughout the Middle East already significantly hampered by US economic sanctions, mass protests partially fueled by anger over Iranian interventionism in at least two of those countries have thrown a wrench in the Islamic Republic’s expansionism.
In Lebanon, where religion-based enmity sparked a civil war from 1975 to 1990, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets, demanding an end to the decades-long corrupt power structure that reserves the presidency for a Maronite Christian, the premiership for a Sunni Muslim and the position of parliament speaker for a Shi’ite. While the turmoil forced the resignation of prime minister Saad al-Hariri, many Sunnis are directing their ire primarily at Hezbollah, Iran’s terror proxy, which is an integral, if not the most dominant, component of the system targeted by the unrest.
While rampant cronyism and mismanagement in Beirut is perhaps the primary reason for the decimation of the economy, Hezbollah is viewed as making matters worse through its involvement in the Syrian civil war and the resulting influx of some 1 million refugees into Lebanon. These individuals have few prospects and are widely considered a further burden on inadequate civil services and a crumbling infrastructure.
Any weakening of Hezbollah’s status would, by extension, diminish Iran’s manipulation of internal Lebanese policy.
“The movement in Lebanon started over corruption, but when Iran directed Hezbollah to begin crushing the protests, the people realized that the issue is bigger,” Tom Harb, co-director of the American Mideast Coalition for Democracy, told The Media Line.
“Hezbollah could try to deflect attention away from the situation by screaming at Israel or Arab nations,” he said, before adding that growing instability has severely limited the options of Iran and its proxies.
In Baghdad, the situation is more acute – and dire. Mass protests, initially precipitated by a demand for better access to basic staples like fresh water and electricity, quickly turned violent, with the civilian death toll currently closing in on 300. Scores of those dead were reportedly killed by members of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an amalgamation of Shi’ite paramilitary organizations. Although some have been officially incorporated into the Iraqi army, they retain close ties to, and often act at the directive of, Iran.
Fury over Tehran’s perceived influence over the Iraqi government was manifest in this week’s attack on the Iranian consulate in Karbala, a holy city to which millions of Shi’ites make annual pilgrimages, not unlike the yearly Hajj undertaken by Sunnis to Mecca.
Perhaps not lost on the rioters is that a battle in Karbala between opposing Muslim factions in 680 AD was a major catalyst to the split between the primary, and still competing, sects of Islam. Indeed, many analysts view this ongoing Sunni-Shi’ite divide as the central factor contributing to instability in the Middle East.
“Iraq is the crown jewel of Iran’s imperialist activities – the country means everything when you consider the depth of Tehran’s penetration there,” Prof. Uzi Rabi, director of Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies and a senior researcher at its Center for Iranian Studies, told The Media Line.
“Tehran is afraid that Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who is sort of an Iranian protégé, could be toppled,” Rabi said, “which would be viewed as a major victory for the protesters” and a huge blow to the Islamic Republic.
Rabi highlighted one element of the Iraqi demonstrations that he believes is being overlooked, noting that the classical rivalry between Sunnis and Shi’ites is being compounded by internal discord within the Shi’ite population itself.
“Some, including [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani, [the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shi’ites], are putting pressure on the government to remove Baghdad from Tehran’s orbit,” another development that would lead to a reduction of Iranian influence, he said.
Rabi thus envisions Tehran “doubling down on its efforts, because having bargaining chips all over the Middle East is essential to the regime’s survival.” In his estimation, the mullahs will do whatever is necessary to preserve their assets by continuing to “test the waters,” which will likely result in additional flare-ups with rivals.
Syria could be a perfect test case for this hypothesis, where conflict erupted when the Sunni-majority population – backed by the likes of Saudi Arabia – revolted against the Assad regime, whose elites are mainly Alawite, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. This prompted Iran, which considers itself the vanguard of Shi’ite Islam, to provide Damascus with crucial military hardware, boots on the ground and the tactical knowhow to overcome opposition fighters.
Tehran went so far as to import to Syria tens of thousands of Shi’ite mercenaries from Central Asia and the Far East with a view not only to ensuring Assad’s ongoing rule, and thus Iran’s dominance over Syria, but also to change the country’s demographic composition.
Nevertheless, Iran’s stranglehold on Syria, a crucial hub of the “Shi’ite Crescent,” may be waning. Russia has emerged as the major power broker since intervening militarily in support of Assad in 2015. Notably, Moscow is weary of Islamic extremism after being targeted in recent years by Muslim terrorists residing in the restive Northern Caucasus.
Tehran’s grip has been further loosened by the cross-border incursion into northeastern Syria by Sunni Turkish forces, and by virtue of the American troop presence in adjacent areas. The United States is also keeping soldiers at the al-Tanf base, which is strategically located near the border-crossing with Iraq.
The American Mideast Coalition for Democracy’s Harb also noted that Tehran may have suffered a major setback in Yemen, where for half a decade, its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has provided material support to Shi’ite Houthi rebels in their war against the internationally recognized government, which itself is backed by a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni states.
This week, Yemen’s government – which in 2014 was forced out of the capital Sanaa by the Houthis – signed a power-sharing agreement with the Southern Transitional Council, a separatist group backed by the United Arab Emirates. The reconciliation’s ostensible aim is to halt infighting and thereby allow efforts to be redirected back toward reestablishing control over areas in northern Yemen that are still under the control of the rebels.
Then there is Israel, which over the past two years has struck hundreds of Iranian military sites in Syria, greatly impinging on the Islamic Republic’s ability to establish a permanent infrastructure and use the prevailing chaos there as cover to smuggle advanced weaponry to its Hezbollah underling.
All of this is occurring against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the Gulf.
Over the summer, Iran was accused of perpetrating numerous attacks on commercial oil tankers transiting vital waterways. In September, a two-pronged strike by cruise missiles and drones against critical Saudi oil infrastructure temporarily cut the kingdom’s output by half. Despite Iran’s denial, Riyadh, Washington and several European capitals blamed Tehran, placing a brighter spotlight on the actions of the IRGC and making it more difficult for its elite Quds Force to conduct operations abroad.
The mullahs may also come to regret downing a US drone over international airspace near the Strait of Hormuz, a move that prompted President Donald Trump to direct the Pentagon to deploy additional military personnel to the region.
Finally, Iran has significantly upped its nuclear activities since announcing that it would be decreasing its commitments to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, from which the US withdrew in May 2018.
Tehran has reportedly increased tenfold its daily production of low-enriched uranium, and this month unveiled new, advanced centrifuges into which it has begun to inject uranium gas. These measures almost undoubtedly will strengthen the resolve of the Islamic Republic’s adversaries to counter the mullahs’ potential dash to the bomb.
It is worth noting that some historians believe Iran’s conceptualization of nuclearization was shaped in the 1980s during its brutal war with Iraq, which claimed the lives of some one million people on both sides. The Ayatollahs’ inability to vanquish Saddam Hussein – a Sunni ruling over a majority Shi’ite country and possessing non-conventional weapons – may have convinced them that achieving a nuclear capability would be a prerequisite to actualizing the goal of the 1979 revolution, which is to export and impose their radical interpretation of Islam throughout the Middle East and beyond.
While a confluence of factors has created shock waves in virtually every point along the territorial route stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean, Iranian leaders nevertheless remain strategically adept, committed to their ideology and, perhaps most significantly, willing to employ ruthless and destructive measures – including against restive segments of their own population – in order to realize their ambitions.
This has caused actors in the Sunni Muslim world to begin pushing back more strongly against this potentiality. But given their military limitations, how ironic it would be if “Big Satan” – the predominantly Christian United States – and “Little Satan” – the predominantly Jewish state – were ultimately responsible for inflicting the coup de grace that ended the Iranian regime’s dream of establishing a Shi’ite caliphate.
Women of Lebanon stand at vanguard of popular protests
Samar Kadi/The Arab Weekly/November 10/2019
BEIRUT – During the three weeks of a largely peaceful anti-government revolt in Lebanon, women have been playing a leading role to assert their equal civic rights while acting as a buffer zone to protect the protests from falling into violence.
Since the start of the protests October 17, the “women front line” of rows of female shields has prevented friction and clashes between protesters and riot police and army troops.
“We have organised a female chain encircling the protesters outside the government seat in Riad al Solh Square. Even when police tried to break the chain, we would reinforce our rows and slow them down until they give up. We also prevented men protesters from taking the front row or trying to attack the police,” said activist Darine Dandashly.
Female protesters were instrumental in blocking roads and main arteries, blockades that have brought the country to a halt. Dandashly was at the Ring Road in Beirut when police tried to reopen it by force.
“We were sitting on the asphalt right in the middle of the road and I heard a police officer telling his superior, ‘We cannot open the road. It is blocked by two rows of women’,” Dandashly said.
The female revolutionaries were defiant when protesters were attacked by followers of Iran-backed Hezbollah and Shia Amal Movement.
“I was filming the raid when one of the attackers assailed me and tried to break my phone. I continued filming because I felt that it was my only weapon against them. The courage and nerve that women showed in confronting the thugs was amazing,” Dandashly said.
Aside from the common demands they had with all the Lebanese protesters, including the formation of a technocrat government and early elections, participating women had additional requests they communicated loudly and clearly.
A protest march November 3 by feminist NGOs drew a large crowd of female demonstrators chanting: “The revolution is a woman” and “She is coming to tear down the patriarchal system.”
“The prominent role played by women in the protests should not come as a surprise. Lebanese women have long been active in the country’s civil society,” said Halime Kaakour, an activist and professor at the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences at the Lebanese University.
Kaakour contends that the protest movement has been powered by civil society organisations in which women are a majority.
“In Lebanon you have the largest number of women activists in the region. It is not strange at all to find them at the heart of protest movements. They were there in the protests of 2015 and today they are crucial in maintaining the peaceful character of the protests,” she said.
“Studies show that the more women are omnipresent the less violence there is. There is no peace without the participation of women.”
Lebanese women have legitimate reasons to fight the sectarian system of governance that protesters wish to topple. “They are calling for the establishment of a civil state that would grant them all their rights and eliminate discriminatory laws that do them injustice,” Kaakour said
Lebanon has 15 personal status laws for the country’s recognised confessions and all of them discriminate against women. Autonomous religious courts administer the laws and make it more difficult for women than for men to divorce and get custody of their children.
Lebanon’s nationality law denies citizenship to the children and spouses of Lebanese women married to foreigners but not to the foreign spouses and children of Lebanese men. Reforming the law has been a demand of local women’s rights groups for decades.
As they assert their role in the demonstrations, women are redefining their role in Lebanon. Mothers have been going to the protests with their young children to, they say, instil in them a sense of national unity in a country often characterised by its divisions.
People of all ages and sects have gathered daily to demand better services, a crackdown on corruption and the wholesale removal of a ruling class they accuse of having ruled Lebanon like a cartel for decades. School and university students have forced the closure of their establishments and marched across the country to increase pressure for the formation of an independent government of technocrats that protesters are demanding to help overcome the country’s acute economic and financial crisis. “The youth from both sexes are the main driving force behind the revolt because they are fully aware of their rights,” Kaakour said. “They have progressive thinking that is way ahead of the political elite and the obsolete system. They are telling the leaders you don’t resemble us, you don’t represent us and you should go.”
A Mine in the Lebanese National Project
Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al-Awsat/November, 10/2019
For three weeks and counting, Lebanon has been rocked with a historic event: Vast segments of the population, especially the youth and women, have been marching forward towards building the new foundations of the nation. This project is veering away from sectarianism and sects and focusing on more important issues.
First: They are looking at the economy and ways to distribute the wealth in a way that boosts production and productive sectors and combats waste, looting and corruption. They are seeking to break the banks’ grip on the economy and create job opportunities and stem the immigration of the youth.
Second: They are seeking to modernize the political system and democratize it in order to open the door wide for more people to benefit from the democratic process. This must inevitably take place through an electoral law that steers clear from sectarian representation. The most important factor at this point must be the independence of the judiciary, which should achieve justice away from violent reprisals and political interests.
The judiciary has never been such the focus of attention in Lebanon as it is today.
Third: Introducing major changes that recognize the aspirations of the youth, most notably in regards to gender and generational equality. They are also seeking to raise awareness about refugees and foreign workers, away from discrimination.
The youth have a major role to play because they have never experienced war, but instead inherited its repercussions. Their worldliness beyond their country’s borders has developed in them a strong contempt for sectarianism and clientelism that is rampant in Lebanon. In contrast, banal political leaders have worked on deepening difference between those who cause disasters and those who promise to resolve them. This all came to head when the youth realized that nothing lies ahead for them in Lebanon except despair.
The protesters have been peaceful because they are less ideologized than their defeated predecessor generations. They have steered clear of garbled and vague language and gone straight to the point in voicing their demands and airing their complaints. With these traits, the youths laid bare the political system, revised all of its aspects and placed the traditional politicians in the accused dock.
The revolution has overcome many obstacles. The greatest however, still lies ahead. It is like a mine planted by the sectarian forces. This great project cannot succeed, let alone grow, without those who have abandoned their sectarianism turning to other sects. The departure, whether voluntary or forced, is a major mine because it can stand as a hurdle towards progressing to new issues.
In other words, a return to the March 8 and 14 camps or any other vertical divide between sects or sectarian alliances will spell the end of this great project. The revolution has so far succeeded in avoiding this trap because it has set socio-economic concerns as a priority and because the leaders of the March 8 and 14 camps have been the targets of their anger. This success has been also possible because protesters from all sects and regions have joined the demonstrations.
Hezbollah was the party that planted this mine in the national project on behalf of all other sectarian forces. It has prevented a major sect from joining through ideological influence and use of force. The “Shiite” revolt in Iraq and the siege against Iran were additional reasons for adopting this approach.
The developments in Nabatieh, Kfar Ramman, Tyre, Bint Jbeil and the Ring bridge have demonstrated that this revolution can neutralize Hezbollah’s weapons. This is a demand for any practical politics in countries like Lebanon. It has also become clear that Hezbollah’s weapons cannot neutralize the revolution. The revolt, according to the party, has started to snowball and it must be stopped before it continues to get bigger.
The party is an expert at circumventing change: 2005 witnessed the national independence agenda and an end to hegemony over security agencies. In 2006, the party abducted two Israeli soldiers bringing about the July war.
The Aounist movement could not do the same thing with its Christian sect. It appeared weak with nothing to offer its people. The Baabda demonstration in support of President Michel Aoun was the most it could achieve and below the required level to break up the revolt or divide it into two opposing camps.
Hezbollah, therefore, assumed the mission to extract the Shiites from the revolution. To those hesitating it asked: “Why should we become dispersed while they are gathering?”
This mine may or may not explode violently with or without the collapse of the economy.