A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For 14-15/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 121th Day
Compiled By: Elias Bejjani
Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 14-15/20
Hariri to the ‘shadow president’: You wasted half of the President’s mandate in disruptions and cancellation wars, and registered the collapse of the country under both your names
Hariri Says Bassil is ‘Shadow President’, Decries ‘2nd Assassination of Rafik Harir
Nazik Hariri: To harbor Martyr PM Hariri’s intellect, stick to his approach
Rahi prays in Rome for Lebanon, pays tribute to Martyr Premier Hariri
Jumblatt: No to the assassination of Taif, Arabism and Palestine, no to subdivision!
Druze Sheikh Aql in memory of Martyr Hariri: Carried throughout his lifetime the cause of Lebanon’s resurrection
We Won’t Surrender, Says Geagea on Hariri Anniversary
Clashes between Protesters, Mustaqbal Supporters in Central Beirut
Defiant, Lebanon’s Hariri says deal with Aoun is ‘history’/Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera/February 14/2020
Rafik Hariri’s legacy celebrated amidst clashes in Beirut/Sunniva Rose/The National/February 14/2020
15 years on, Lebanese remember Valentine’s Day massacre that killed Hariri/Sara Al Shurafa/Gulf News/February 14/2020
A Suicidal Task for a Normal Government/Elias Harfoush/Asharq Al Awsat/February 14/2020
Shots Fired at Tents of Protesters in Jounieh/Naharnet/February 14/2020
Diab Prepares to Visit Arab and European Countries
STL Official Visits Beirut on Eve of Hariri’s Murder Anniversary
Aoun, Diab Tell STL Lebanon to Pay Contribution despite Crisis
Kanaan: People’s deposits in banks a ‘red line’
The Great Escape: Carlos Ghosn working with ex-Disney president Michael Ovitz on film deal
Lebanese Journalist Assaulted after Attending Seminar in Beirut
Enemy soldiers throw smoke bombs outside the fence separating Lebanon and occupied Palestine
Breast Cancer Conference in its second day sheds light on types of treatments, patient’s health in light of prevailing economic conditions/Khalil Fleihan/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 14/2020
Lebanon’s Prime Minister: Is he a Puppet?/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 14/2020
When the Lebanese Dared to Dream!/Hanna Saleh/Asharq Al Awsat/February 14/2020
It’s time for the Lebanese people to seize control of their destiny/Khaled Abou Zahr/Arab News/February 14/2020
Aoun’s claims of international financial support under scrutiny/Simon Speakman Cordall/The Arab Weekly/February 14/2020
The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 14-15/2020
Hariri to the ‘shadow president’: You wasted half of the President’s mandate in disruptions and cancellation wars, and registered the collapse of the country under both your names!
In a press release by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Press Office this evening, it quoted the former PM as saying that, as Prime Minister, he in fact had to deal with two “Presidents of the Republic” at the same time.
“I was always required to secure the relationship with the shadow president in order to protect stability with the original president,” said Hariri.
In his speech on the 15th commemoration of the assassination of Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, during a ceremony in the Center House in the presence of a large number of officials and Future Movement supporters, Hariri said, addressing the shadow president: “You wasted half of the president’s mandate in disruption and cancellation wars. You sabotaged the mandate and registered the collapse of the country under your name and the name of the mandate.”
To his supporters he said: “I am not going anywhere. I am staying in my country and among my people and I will remain in the political work. The Future Movement will remain! The free, patriotic, sovereign Lebanese who want a country that befits them and their children will also remain and no one can scare them.”
Hariri also reiterated his support for early elections.
In his detailed speech, Hariri said:
“I am sure that each and every one of you and the majority of the Lebanese people are asking the following question in light of the financial and socio-economic crisis that we are facing: Where is Rafic Hariri? Where is the giant who can help us face this huge crisis?
Now you know how I have been feeling in the last 15 years, when every morning, every hour and every moment, I ask myself: Where are you, Rafic Hariri?
The assassination of Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri 15 years ago was a historic turning point in the life of Lebanon, in which political, security and regional equations changed.
Fifteen years later, Lebanon is facing a new historical turning point.
For this reason, I will say what is in my heart. With all the friends who honored us with their presence and with the loyal people who accompanied me in the most difficult circumstances, at a time when loyalty has become scarce, and scarce currency has become a reason for the lack of loyalty.
First, let us salute the spirit of the Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and the souls of his comrades and all the martyrs of the March 14 Revolution, which remains the symbol of the end of guardianship and the security system.
The martyrs’ sacrifices opened the doors of the large prison and freed decisions and leaderships from domination, detention and exile.
Fifteen difficult years. I faced, learned, made mistakes, won, was stabbed in the back, persevered, met honest and truthful companions but also opportunists, and discovered the horrors in the politicians and leaders’ club.
But after every stab, after every wound, after every battle, and after every attempted political assassination, I used to stand again, look around, see your faces, hear your voices and feel your loyalty, and I would tell myself: Only truth will prevail…
In the last two months, we heard and read that the Future Movement no longer exists, that Saad Hariri traveled and will not return, that Saudi Arabia does not want him, America does not want him and maybe China does not want him as well! And the funniest thing is that they want to close the Center House…
Let them write and spread rumors and let us tell them the truth: the Future Movement, the movement of our martyr, the movement of Arabism, moderation and civil state, remains in your hearts … despite the enviers!
The keys of the Center House are in the houses of Akkar, Tripoli, Minnieh, Denniye, Koura, Zgharta and Batroun, and the houses of Beirut, Saida, Tyre, Shebaa, Shouf, Iqlim, Metn, Keserwan, and all of the Bekaa…
So welcome to your house. The house to which you hold the keys cannot be shut down!
Nowadays, there is a large movement against all politicians. Everyone means everyone and no exceptions or extenuating circumstances. We, frankly, do not want to ride the wave of popular anger and distinguish ourselves from the political class, at a time when many political faces are acting like the stars of the revolution on TVs.
But the problem is that Rafic Hariri is targeted again and some politicians are still terrified of his charisma.
There is a political team that started to open files and talk about alternatives to Harirism and the fall of the Harirists, and is still following the Martyr Prime Minister from the nineties, to hold him accountable for the economic deterioration and public debt.
Not just that, they are all over the social media, blaming him for the ‘Deal of the Century’ and the joke of the resettlement. Yes I am saying: the joke of the resettlement!
Stop saying that we want the resettlement and stop frightening the Lebanese with all these lies. We are against any resettlement, and the constitution prohibits the resettlement, and resettlement is out of the question. Period!
What is more dangerous is the talk about the start of the countdown to the end of the Taif Agreement, and the return of Lebanon to pre-1989, to open the way for a new formula. It is not by chance that some write that the Taif Agreement reached its end…
In order for the agreement to end, Harirism must end, and for Harirism to end, Saad Hariri must be eliminated.
They refuse to see how Lebanon was before Rafic Hariri and who destroyed Lebanon during the civil war, and who saved it from the ruins of the war in four years.
The Lebanese know what Rafic Hariri did and how he brought Lebanon back on the world map. The people know and see that nothing major was achieved after the assassination of Rafic Hariri.
They did not leave any friend for Lebanon, and they did not make any agreement with any country, nor did they open a hospital, university, road or airport, not even a sanitary sewer. They are only good at digging graves and fabricating files and accusations.
After the assassination, the largest series of obstruction of the state and constitutional institutions in the history of Lebanon was organized. Seven years were lost due to the obstruction after the assassination of Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
The closure of downtown Beirut, and 6 months of obstruction afterwards before the election of President Michel Sleiman, two years and a half of obstruction before the election of General Michel Aoun.
Assassinations, Israeli wars, intervention in the Syrian war and terrorism, suspension of the work of parliament for more than a year and a half, and delaying the formation of governments and disrupting cabinet sessions.
Seven years out of 14 were lost in stubbornness and obstinacy in the name of the respect for the National Pact and the rights of the confessions. Above all, they kept saying that it is the Harirism’s fault.
They were all in ministries, departments and public institutions for 30 years. And many were there before. They participated in its councils, governments, quotas and snags. They did everything you can imagine. And in the end, they only held Rafic Hariri and his policies accountable for the public debt and the economic collapse.
Rafic Hariri secured 24 hours of electricity, but who took us back to rationing and generators? The Ministry of Energy, not even once in history, was headed by the Future Movement. Who headed the Ministry of Energy after 1999, and who headed it from 2005? Why did the cost of electricity reach fifty percent of the public debt? All of this is not mentioned in history’s forgery books.
Ok, I will take responsibility, I am ready to take responsibility. But responsibility was shared by all, the Republic Presidency, the Government, Parliament and dialogue sessions.
When I accepted the settlement in order to elect a president, and acted against the general mood, I was seeing since 2014 how the Syrian scene was changing and how the borders opened to the waves of displacement, and Lebanon was plunging in security and sectarian problems, and bombings in the Bekaa, the suburb, and the two mosques in Tripoli.
Some thought the settlement was a distribution of power between the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister. But we saw it as a solution to protect the country from civil strife, prevent the Syrian fire from spreading to Tripoli, Beirut, Baalbek, Saida, Arsal, and others, and a possible way to stop the presidential vacuum and blockage of institutions.
Before the settlement, I tried to open the road to an agreement over the name of our friend Sleiman Frangie for the presidency, for the same goals, but what should I do if his allies, Sleiman’s allies, prevented his election? The settlement lasted 3 years, and today it is part of the past, and it is history.
I know many of you are happy that the settlement has ended, but let me tell you: Do you see what is happening today? Severe shortage of liquidity, collapse of the Lebanese Pound, depositors’ problems, layoffs, high prices and poverty? All of this was going to happen in 2016.
At that time, I assumed my responsibilities and said that in order to prevent the collapse, our country needs two things: ensuring stability and improving the economy.
After we made the settlement, meaning the political and security stability, we still had to improve the economy. We organized the CEDRE conference and ensured 12 billion dollars for the economy, based on reforms that we agreed on and promised to implement. If we had implemented the reforms, if we had implemented what we agreed upon, we would not be here today, and the collapse would not have occurred all over the country.
In fact if the Paris II reforms had been implemented 18 years ago, the country would not have reached this stage.
But what can I do if there are people who don’t abide by their word? Some blame me and tell me: You should have made him sign a paper. But did he respect his signature on Ma’arab agreement?
I want to remind you that CEDRE was just before the elections and its implementation was the duty of the post-election government.
Let me tell you how much this government worked. To form this government, we had a six months delay because someone wanted to prevent the Lebanese Forces and the Socialist Party from having ministers in it. But of course they were failed attempts.
On this occasion, I salute Walid Jumblatt and confirm our steadfast alliance with him, yesterday, today and tomorrow! I want to pay tribute to Minister May Chidiac, who is not just the representative of the Lebanese Forces, but also a “living martyr”.
Then we had two months of delay, so they imposed ministers from the Consultative Gathering. This means eight months of delay in the formation of the government. After its formation, the government lived nine months, including a month of procrastination in the budget and two months of hindering after the Kabreshmoun incident.
The result is that after the CEDRE Conference, the government actually worked for six months. A mentality of “elimination wars”. One time they want to eliminate the Socialist Party and Walid Jumblatt, and another time they want to eliminate the Lebanese Forces, after the Ma’arab agreement, as if they never signed it! Another time, they want to abolish the protest movement and now they want to abolish Harirism and the Future Movement!
I tried to secure stability in the relationship between the Presidency and the Premiership, first because stability deserves patience, and second because the only result of the dispute between the presidencies is the paralysis of the institutions.
President Aoun knows how much I respect him and how much I appreciate his stances towards me, just as he appreciates my stances towards him. But unfortunately, I reached a place where I have to say that I dealt with two presidents. I was always required to secure the relationship with the shadow president to protect stability with the original president.
In the first government after the settlement, he said: This is not the government of the mandate because the government of the president comes after the parliamentary elections.
In the second government, after the elections, he said: This is the government of the mandate. But when things didn’t go as he wants, after eight months of obstruction, he said: The government of the mandate will be the one without Saad Hariri.
Ok. Here you are. Now you have the government of the mandate.
You wasted half of the president’s mandate in disruption and elimination wars. You sabotaged the mandate and registered the collapse of the country under your name and the name of the mandate…Bravo!
There is not one Lebanese on the face of the earth who didn’t see that the country became in another place, and that October 17 is a crucial day and a wake-up call for the mandate, the government and parliament. There is only one person who does not want to see or let anyone at the Baabda Palace see.
The popular movement has become a partner in the political decision. The young women and men are demanding an opportunity for real and peaceful change, through early parliamentary elections. I announced, from Baabda, immediately after October 17, that I support early elections. Now I reiterate: We support early elections, and I call on everyone to think calmly and without any outbidding.
The Future Parliamentary Bloc will present a new electoral draft law just as mentioned in the Taef Accord as soon as possible. If the elections bring new faces, we welcome this, and we consider it a victory for the Future Movement.
The Lebanese people became experts in business and finance due to the amount of suggestions, information and solution proposals they heard.
But today, the budget, the reform paper and the ministerial statement are insufficient. And hardly the CEDRE program, if implemented, may open the way for an economic and investment leap.
We, in Lebanon, are not on an economic island, isolated from the support of friends, donor countries, and international financial institutions, and in the absence of trust from the Arab brothers, particularly Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait, and the rest of the Arab Gulf states.
If anyone sees otherwise, let him try all the economic theories. We do not want to cheat the Lebanese nor do we want to have a populist race: How can we have tourism without the Arabs and the Gulf citizens? How can we open markets for the Lebanese products without the Arab markets and the Gulf in particular? Can someone tell us how can we protect the interests of one fourth of the Lebanese people benefitting from job opportunities in the Gulf, while we have daily problems with these states?
The Iranian cash money solves the crisis of a party, but it does not solve the crisis of a country.
The state cannot continue without clear policies and without serious reconciliations with the Lebanese people, the Arab countries, the friendly countries and the international institutions.
Finally, allow me to end with the internal house.
We are facing a new phase and the Future Movement is facing critical challenges on the level of political choices and organization, but most importantly at the level of the relationship with a wide audience all over Lebanon.
Quite frankly, I received comments from all the coordinators and regions, and from partisans and supporters, demanding a change in the methods and tools of work.
It is said: It is unacceptable that the Movement is working with minimum possibilities, becoming a refuge for opportunists and those who want to become ministers.
Some of the criticism is directed at me personally, and at the state of disconnect between the leadership and the base. There are young men and women who said it directly to me, and asked me to have a wider presence in the work of the Movement. My decision is clear: My decision is change in the Movement. Change and restructuring. The general convention of the Movement will convene in the coming months and elect a new leadership that will be a true partner in the political decision and the direct communication with the public.
It is not a secret, the financial crisis reflected on the activities of the Movement, and we tightened the belt and had to stop media, health and service institutions, where the sincerest young men and women worked for years. I would like to tell everyone who has rights that I cannot forget the rights of the people no matter how hard the times are.
As for the Movement, I am responsible and I am concerned with providing the conditions of work. This is something I want to continue regardless of the cost.
I want to be clear on one thing: I disagreed with 80 percent of the politicians about internal and regional matters, and I was in complete contradiction with parties and presidencies about Iran’s role in the region and its interference in the affairs of Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Gulf states.
My stance was firm on the subject of refusing to normalize relations with the Syrian regime, refusing to insult Arab states and leaders and getting involved in the wars of the region. But this does not mean to leave the country to the unknown and take the Syrian war as a model to change the equations in Lebanon.
If my political destiny is linked to the decision to prevent sedition and the recurrence of the civil war, then ok. Frankly, I would never choose civil war. First, because I am the son of Rafic Hariri, and our work is construction and not destruction, our history is to teach young men and women, not burn them. Second, because the Future Movement will not work to serve the agendas of some political forces.
The outbidders can talk and give speeches. They will talk but the cost is on us, on Dar al-Fatwa, the sect and the people of the Future Movement. Here I want to address the Sunnis in general and the people of the Future Movement about the feeling of elimination, or the feeling that their representative was the only one who paid the price and left the premiership.
First: I left on my own will. There can’t be democracy without democratic officials, officials who hear the voice of the people. I heard the voice of the people who demanded the resignation of the government and I submitted the resignation. The people demanded a technocrat government from outside the parties, but when I saw the kind of government that was being formed, I said: I don’t want to be named Prime Minister and it is none of my business what others do. I will not add to the words of the Maronite Archbishop of Beirut a few days ago on Saint Maroun’s Day.
Second: I am not going anywhere. I am staying in my country and among my people and I will remain in the political work.
Third: The Future Movement will remain!
Fourth: The Sunnis are one of the foundations of this country and this society. The Sunnis are here and are going nowhere!
Fifth: The free, patriotic, sovereign Lebanese who want a country that benefits them and their children will remain and no one can scare them.
Finally, let me return to the first question:
If Rafic Hariri were with us and heard the cry of the people, what would he have done? He would have toured the world to stop the collapse.
I promise you, regardless of my political position, that I will not spare any way and will tour the world to defend Lebanon and the Lebanese.
All together, we will face the difficulties and get out of the collapse. We tell all the people that after 15 years, not only Rafic Hariri remains, Rafic Hariri is starting once again!
Long live Lebanon!”
Hariri Says Bassil is ‘Shadow President’, Decries ‘2nd Assassination of Rafik Hariri’
Al-Mustaqbal Movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri on Friday launched a fierce attack on Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil and lamented that some parties are seeking what he called a second assassination of Rafik Hariri.
“President (Michel) Aoun knows that I respect him, but unfortunately I dealt with ‘two presidents’ and I had to deal with a ‘shadow president,’” Hariri said at a rally marking the 15th anniversary of Rafik Hariri’s assassination, apparently referring to Bassil. “The mentality of the wars of elimination wants to eliminate the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces, the protest movement, Harirism and al-Mustaqbal Movement,” Hariri decried, in a jab at Aoun, Bassil and the FPM. “The political settlement has become something of the past and I affirm my alliance with Walid Jumblat,” he added. Reminding of his initial support for Marada Movement chief Suleiman Franjieh’s presidential bid ahead of his endorsement of Aoun, Hariri said “Franjieh’s allies” prevented his election as president. “We saw the settlement as a way to protect the country from civil strife,” Hariri added.
He noted that had the Paris II reforms been implemented 18 years ago, the country “would not have reached this collapse.”“Rafik Hariri secured 24/7 power feed but who returned us to power rationing?” Hariri said, apparently referring to Bassil and the FPM. “They wasted seven out of 14 years in the name of the National Pact,” he charged. “The longest scheme of obstruction was staged in the wake of Rafik Hariri’s assassination,” Hariri lamented. He added: “They did not build anything in the country after Rafik Hariri’s assassination.”Hariri also suggested that some parties are “seeking to assassinate Rafik Hariri once again by blaming him for the public debt and the economic collapse.”Underlining that no one can eliminate al-Mustaqbal Movement from the political scene, Hariri said the Movement will remain in the hearts of its supporters and will continue to “irritate the haters.”
He also said that claims that Mustaqbal is seeking the naturalization of refugees in the country are a “farce.”Commenting on recent remarks by Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah about the economic crisis, Hariri said “Iran’s cash money can solve the crisis of a party but cannot solve the crisis of a country.”“We support the organization of early elections and the country needs calm,” he added. As for his future as a politician, he said: “I will not leave the country to the unknown and I will not choose strife because I’m the son of Rafik Hariri.”Addressing the Sunni community, Hariri stressed that it was his own decision to leave the premier post. “I heard the voice of the people, because the people demanded a technocrat cabinet,” he said. “I’m staying in my country and home, among my people and in the political life. Al-Mustaqbal Movement is a major movement, the Sunni community will remain here and will go nowhere and the patriotic people will remain here and no one can intimidate them,” Hariri added.
Nazik Hariri: To harbor Martyr PM Hariri’s intellect, stick to his approach
The ceremony marking the 15th commemoration of Martyr PM Rafic Hariri began at the Center House in downtown Beirut this afternoon with the Lebanese national anthem, followed by a word from his widow, Nazik al-Hariri, in which she affirmed that “this memorial is an occasion for dialogue, defending the homeland and preserving the unity of its people, security and stability.”Hariri recalled her late husband’s longtime friend, the late French President Jacques Chirac, and asked, “Where are we today from the state of institutions, coexistence, and the path of development and reconstruction?”
She added: “Prime Minister Hariri exerted all efforts to unite Lebanon, and he never lost hope for the future of Lebanon.” Hariri hoped that the Lebanese would “foster the intellect of Martyr PM Rafic Hariri and adhere to his approach,” and that they would “stage their sit-ins through the language of dialogue and coexistence, armed with devotion, tolerance and protection of national unity.” In a vow to her late lifetime partner, Hariri pledged to Martyr Hariri “continuous commitment to all the values and notions that he defended.”
Rahi prays in Rome for Lebanon, pays tribute to Martyr Premier Hariri
Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, continued Friday to participate in reciting the Rosary on the intention of Lebanon from Rome, saying before beginning his religious sermon: “We pray today on the commemoration of the martyrdom of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, and we remember his family in our prayer, his wife, Mrs. Nazik, and his children, Sheikh Saadeddine, Bahaa and all the family members, and we truly ask the Lord Almighty to render all the blood that fell on this homeland, to be the beginning of a new life, for the goodness of Lebanon, and the unity of the Lebanese.”
He added: “Our prayers today continue, devoted to Lebanon’s ability to overcome the crises it is facing, especially the financial, daily living, economic and social crisis.””Today, we also remember in our prayers all the people in whose hearts God has cultivated love, and as they celebrate Valentine’s Day, we remind them that true love and the source of love is the Lord Almighty, who sacrificed his son so that no one would perish…and we seek from God to sow love in our hearts, because if we do not experience love and devotion, there would be no end to human conflicts and existing wars,” al-Rahi concluded.
Jumblatt: No to the assassination of Taif, Arabism and Palestine, no to subdivision!
Progressive Socialist Party Chief, Walid Jumblatt, tweeted this evening in homage to Martyr PM Rafic Hariri, saying: “Even if we are a few today with Saad Hariri, yet we say ‘no’ to the assassination of the Taif that was drafted by Martyr Rafic Hariri…’no’ to obscured subdivision under the slogan of financial decentralization…’no’ to the assassination of Greater Lebanon by the forces of guardianship…’no’ to bankruptcy by those who reject reform…’no’ to the assassination of Arabism by internal enemies…and ‘no’ to the assassination of Palestine through the deal of the century.”
Druze Sheikh Aql in memory of Martyr Hariri: Carried throughout his lifetime the cause of Lebanon’s resurrection
NNA /February 14/2020
Unitarian Druze Community Sheikh Aql, Naim Hassan, paid tribute to Martyr PM Rafik Hariri in an issued statement marking his assassination commemoration today, saying: “Martyr PM Rafik Hariri carried in his life the cause of Lebanon’s resurrection, reconstruction, and revival…and his resounding martyrdom restored the pulse of independence to the Lebanese, who today, and paradoxically, are in urgent need of someone to get them out of the deepening crisis the country is witnessing, which is almost touching the limits of complete collapse.”In this connection, Sheikh Hassan urged all leaders to work to find the right solutions that serve the country’s supreme national interests.
We Won’t Surrender, Says Geagea on Hariri Anniversary
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea announced Friday that the LF “will not surrender to the objectives of the murderers” who assassinated ex-PM Rafik Hariri. “February 14 (2005) was the beginning of the Cedar Revolution and a painful yet resounding martyrdom for the sake of sovereign, free and independent Lebanon,” said Geagea in a tweet marking the 15th anniversary of Hariri’s assassination. “We will continue the path in a continued revolution for the sake of Lebanon,” Geagea added. He also included in the tweet a picture of Hariri carrying the LF’s logo and the slogan “We Won’t Surrender to the Objectives of the Murderers”. A massive suicide bomb tore through Hariri’s armored convoy on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005, killing him and 22 other people. The U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon has tried four Hizbullah operatives in absentia over the crime and the verdicts are expected to be issued later this year.Hizbullah has denied involvement in the case, describing the tribunal as a U.S.-Israeli scheme and vowing that the accused will never be found.
Clashes between Protesters, Mustaqbal Supporters in Central Beirut
Several clashes broke out Friday at Beirut’s Martyrs Square between anti-government protesters and supporters of al-Mustaqbal Movement. Internal Security Forces members and army troops intervened several times and separated between the two groups. The Mustaqbal supporters were flocking to the Square to visit the tomb of slain ex-PM Rafik Hariri on the 15th anniversary of his assassination. The two sides charged against each other and hurled water bottles and sticks. Mustaqbal bloc MP Sami Fatfat was present on the scene during the first clash and sought to pacify the situation. “Friction is expected due to the presence of two groups on the street and my presence was not the reason behind the clash,” Fatfat told MTV. The clashes renewed later in the day prompting the intervention of security forces. Mustaqbal supporters also attacked a reporter and a cameraman of al-Jadeed TV who were present on the scene. The Mustaqbal supporters accused protesters of hurling insults at them as the protesters said the other side had provoked them first. A similar clash had erupted overnight in the area.
Defiant, Lebanon’s Hariri says deal with Aoun is ‘history’
Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera/February 14/2020
Former prime minister says his party is ‘here to stay’ in first public speech since resigning in October amid protests.
Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said he is charting a new political path from within his party after a 2016 deal with President Michel Aoun that brought him to power became “history”.
“I’m here, I’m not going anywhere; I’m staying in my country, in my house among my family and in political work,” Hariri said on Friday, in his first public speech since resigning on October 29 amid widespread protests against a ruling elite blamed for corruption and steering the country into an acute financial crisis.
Addressing a crowd of thousands of supporters outside his residence in the capital, Beirut Lebanon’s leading Sunni politician said he had received criticism from within his party over the past months and acknowledged “shortcomings” – but said “the decision now is to enact change”.
“The Future Movement will remain,” he said, referring to his party. His comments came during a public event to mark the 15th anniversary of the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Rafik Hariri was killed along with 21 others when a massive bomb exploded as his convoy passed through the centre of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, on February 14, 2005. Prosecutors at The Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating Hariri’s assassination have said that the Syrian government was at the heart of the plot, which was carried out by members of the pro-Iran Hezbollah group. Damascus and Hezbollah have denied involvement. A ruling in the case is expected this year.
In defence of ‘Haririism’
Members of the leaderless protest movement, as well as Hariri’s political opponents, have pointed to the policies of Hariri’s father – termed “political Haririism” and dating back to 1992 – as the source of Lebanon’s massive economic woes today. The country is saddled by the third-largest debt burden in the world as a percentage of its gross domestic product and is facing the worst financial crisis in its history, which may soon push it to default on debt repayments. Much of Friday’s event was dedicated to responding to these claims. A video aired at the beginning of the commemoration blamed Lebanon’s dire situation on a “series of obstructions” carried out by Lebanese parties allied with Syria over the years. Hariri said that parties were continuing to blame “Haririism” today in order to cover for their own failures in governance. He said the obstruction his father had endured at the hands of Syria’s allies continued under his own deal with Aoun, ultimately leading to the uprising Lebanon was currently witnessing. Hariri also lashed out at Gerban Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), describing him as the “shadow president” who sought to “eliminate” other parties and harmed Lebanon’s relations with Arab states along with Hezbollah. Lebanon’s success depended on good relations with Arab states, Hariri said, adding: “Iran’s cash can solve the problems of a party, not of a country.” Going forward, Hariri said he would continue to uphold ties with historical allies with whom relations have been strained in recent years over his deal with Aoun.
Drawing a comparison between his own dealings and his father’s abilities to garner international support for Lebanon through donor conferences, Hariri pointed to the 2018 CEDRE conference, where the international community pledged $11bn in soft loans to Lebanon, conditional on reforms.
But rather than support those reforms, Hariri said that the FPM and its allies first obstructed the formation of a government after Lebanon’s 2018 election, then blocked the government’s work after it was formed, leaving the conference unrealised. He also took aim at the FPM over the country’s decrepit electricity sector, which runs a yearly deficit that has over the years contributed about half of Lebanon’s $87bn public debt.
‘Here to stay’
Following his resignation, which saw him continuing in a caretaker capacity, Hariri had sought to return as prime minister but was ultimately replaced by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose cabinet recently gained Parliament’s confidence. “Despite this recent setback, he remains a key figure in Lebanon’s political scene,” Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told Al Jazeera. Yahya said Hariri, through the large public event on Friday, was saying he might have lost the battle but it is far from over, while also looking to “reassert his political gravitas vis-a-vis both internal as well as external actors”.
Indeed, the heads of the parliamentary blocs of his two main allies, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Forces, attended the gathering in central Beirut. The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid al-Bukhari, was also in attendance. “In the last two months we heard and saw that, ‘oh my, the Future Movement is gone and Saad travelled and isn’t coming back, and Saudi doesn’t want him and America doesn’t want him’,” Hariri said. “Let them hear the truth that the Future Movement … is here to stay.” Earlier, as he was walking through the crowd taking selfies with supporters and greeting officials before his speech, Hariri was closely followed by Lebanon’s Grand Mufti, Abdel-Latif Derian, who then sat beside him.
The messaging was clear: Hariri remains the leader of Lebanon’s Sunnis.
Rafik Hariri’s legacy celebrated amidst clashes in Beirut
Sunniva Rose/The National/February 14/2020
Fifteen years after his brutal assassination, Rafik Hariri remains a rallying figure, but the Lebanese are divided over his heir, Saad
Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad Hariri commemorated the 15th anniversary of his father’s brutal assassination with a feisty speech on Friday.
He attacked his political rivals and lauded Rafik Hariri’s controversial legacy amidst clashes in downtown Beirut between his supporters and anti-government protesters. After listing the achievements of his father, who became prime minister in 1992 shortly after the end of the Lebanese civil war, Mr Hariri spent most of his speech attacking his main political rivals, announcing that the deal he struck with President Michel Aoun in 2016 had ended.
“I am staying,” he repeated several times as he refuted claims that his political career had ended following his resignation on October 29.
It came nearly two weeks after the start of nation-wide anti-government protests. The crowd cheered him on and booed when he mentioned both Gebran Bassil, the leader of his party, the Free Patriotic Movement, and President Aoun.
“Iran’s cash payments can help a [political] party, but not a country,” said Mr Hariri, in a veiled criticism of Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, who has assured his supporters in the past that they would keep receiving help from Iran.
In contrast, Mr Hariri highlighted his close connections to Gulf and Western countries that Lebanon is expected to turn to for help to ward off its worst economic crisis in decades.
“It’s the first time that he has spoken like that and said everything that is in his heart. Before he could not do so, because he was part of the government. It’s good for us,” said Sami, who had come to listen to the commemoration speech that Mr Hariri delivered for the first time from his house in central Beirut. The reason for the change remains unclear.
Shortly before Mr Hariri’s mid-afternoon speech, dozens of his supporters who had been bused in from outside Beirut gathered in Martyrs’ Square carrying his party’s blue flag and chanting “Saad Saad” and “Abou Bahaa” – a reference to Rafik Hariri and his eldest son.
After attempting to break tents set up by demonstrators over the past months, the supporters threw rocks and water bottles at protesters who had gathered to honour his father’s memory, but rejected his son. Riot police intervened to separate them and MPs who had gathered near Rafik Hariri’s grave made a rapid exit. “Saad is better than all other politicians because he does not steal,” said one of his supporters, who came from the eastern region of the Bekaa.
Like many others, he pointed to the fact that Mr Hariri’s business empire was suffering as proof that he was an honest politician. “The revolution is against him,” he said, referring to protesters.
“Everybody knows that my city traditionally supports the Hariri family,” said Moustafa Dohabyeh, from Miniyeh, in North Lebanon.
“But since October 17, we changed and took to the streets altogether to ask for our rights.” In stark contrast with Saad Hariri supporters, Mr Dohabyeh and his friends only carried Lebanese flags.
Though the anti-government movement has dwindled since October 17, many Lebanese still support its rejection of the political elite that they accuse of corruption. In a rare criticism of Rafik Hariri, some protesters have traced Lebanon’s current economic crisis back to decisions he took in the 1990s, including liberalising the economy and excessively supporting banks while neglecting agriculture and industry.
By stepping down early, Saad Hariri has attempted to cast himself as the only political leader who listened to protesters’ demands.
In his speech on Friday, he derided politicians who “became stars on TV” after demonstrations started. But many Sunni Muslims also felt that his resignation weakened their community, as neither President Aoun nor Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri resigned along with him.
The country’s fragile sectarian balance rests on a division of power among religious groups, with the premiership always going to a Sunni Muslim, while the president is Maronite Christian and Parliament Speaker Shiite Muslim.
Mr Hariri’s obscure successor, Hassan Diab, does not enjoy the same popularity among Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim community.
Among those present at the memorial ceremony on Rafik Hariri’s tomb on Martyrs’ Square were relatives of the 21 other people who were killed with him.
“His death was a loss for all of Lebanon,” Ihsan Fayed, told The National. She is the widow of one of Rafik Hariri’s bodyguards, Talal Nasser, who is buried alongside him. “As time passes, the situation in Lebanon only gets worse,” she lamented. She was ambivalent about the protest movement and worried about the vandalism against buildings in downtown Beirut these past weeks.
“Even if Rafik Hariri did not achieve his dream, we cannot break what he built,” she said. After becoming Prime Minister, he founded a private development company that rapidly rebuilt the city centre destroyed in the war, but critics say that he did so without respecting the area’s initial spirit and now only caters to the rich. Clémence Tarraf also defended the slain premier. “He is not the only one responsible for the problems today. All parties share responsibility,” she said. Her brother Ziad was also one of Rafik Hariri’s bodyguards who died in the blast on February 14, 2005.
Set up four years after Rafik Hariri’s death to prosecute crimes related to the bombing that killed him, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has not yet issued a ruling but has issued charges against five Hezbollah operatives.
Soldiers and riot police remained deployed in Martyr’s Square on Friday evening, banning access to Saad Hariri’s supporters after they attempted to return when his speech ended.
They said that they wanted to pray at Al Amine mosque, built on the same square by Rafik Hariri and inaugurated after his death in 2008.
It is unclear whether Saad Hariri’s aggressive tone on Friday will succeed in bolstering support for him across the country.
“Rafik Hariri became an untouchable figure after his assassination,” said Karim Bitar, an international relations analyst at the Paris-based Institute for International and Strategic Affairs. “But Saad Hariri is an easier target because he is still around and does not have the firing power that his father used to have. It will be interesting to see if Hariri’s Future Movement will survive this unprecedented wave of protests and whether he will be able to defend his father’s political and economic legacy,” he said.
15 years on, Lebanese remember Valentine’s Day massacre that killed Hariri
Sara Al Shurafa/Gulf News/February 14/2020
Today, February 14, marks the 15 year anniversary of the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
The man is still fondly remembered. This, in a region where assasinations have become the norm, at least for the past few decades, with the war in Iraq emboldening Iran to spread its influence.
In the last few weeks, two headlines emerged from the region that cannot be ignored: The killing of the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, alleged to have had a role in Hariri’s assasination, and the economic and political meltdown of Lebanon, which Hariri spent much of his life trying to rebuild.
Today, his country is facing one of its worst moments. Fifteen years after his death, the modern state he had started building is in shambles, almost isolated from the international arena.
“He was bigger than Lebanon”, is a sad refrain you will hear from so many of his supporters and loved ones. He was “the father of the poor.”
Hariri was killed in a massive truck bomb explosion in Beirut in 2005, which also killed 25 other people.
Who was Hariri?
Hariri was seen as one of the people. He came from the masses. He was born into an ordinary family, and grew up in the narrow old streets of Sidon.
He was neither a warlord nor a feudal lord who inherited a seat in the political scene of his war-torn country.
Hariri earned his stripes. He worked long and hard away from his native land. He made his fortune in Saudi Arabia, becoming the personal contractor of Prince Fahd, who later became the King of Saudi Arabia.
He returned from Saudi Arabia in 1992 and eventually became prime minister. He earned the support of Saudi Arabia as well as many international figures, including his close friend, the late French president Jacques Chirac.
Rafik Hariri was born on November 1, 1944 to an ordinary family in the southern city of Sidon.
Graduated from Beirut Arab University, where he studied business administration.
In 1965, Hariri left for Saudi Arabia, where he started his career as a teacher and later found employment at a construction company.
Hariri’s dedication made him successful, and he eventually became the personal contractor of Prince Fahd, who became the king of Saudi Arabia.
In 1979, Hariri founded the Hariri Foundation, a non-profit organisation that helped more than 30,000 students pursue a university education in Lebanon, France, the UK, and North America.
Hariri started his career in politics in 1983, as a political adviser to Prince Bandar Bin Sultan and then became a Saudi diplomat.
Hariri played a major role in the 1989 Taif Agreement, which marked the end of the 15-year civil war in Lebanon.
Upon his election in 1992 as the first premier after the Civil War, many Lebanese people who had lost their morale during the war pinned their hopes on Hariri.
He was the force that drew the Lebanese Diaspora back home, bringing with them their experience and resources needed to help rebuild the country.
As prime minister of Lebanon, he is widely credited with getting the country back on its feet after the devastating r civil conflict. But was also critisised for his economic policies.
With his vast experience in construction, Hariri led the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure, airport, schools, sports stadiums. He reinvigorated the services sector. Tourists started flocking back.
Hariri had his share of critics. He was chastised for his approach to the economy. His ambitious “borrow-and-build” schemes left a massive public debt and budget deficit, pushed up interest rates and slowed growth.
It is not important who will stay and who will go, what matters is the country
– From Rafik Hariri’s famous sayings
He was accused of ignoring the poor, despite his long record of funding charitable causes. He was Prime Minister from 1992 to 1998, and again from 2000 until his resignation in 2004 — a total of five terms.
When he left power in 1998, it was due partly to the fact that Hariri was reluctant to play second fiddle to President Emile Lahoud, a former army chief, and Syria’s man in Lebanon.
Hariri was hounded by black propaganda and accusations of corruption, led by Syria’s voices in Lebanon. He faced relentless criticisms, fairly or unfairly, for saddling the country with massive debt.
WHY SYRIA WANTED TO CONTROL LEBANON
In 1975, a conflict broke out originally between Maronite Christians and Palestinians. It then turned into a massive civil war, with many players that tore Lebanon apart.
The government back then asked neighbouring Syria to send in troops. And the Syrians, who have always seen Lebanon as part of greater Syria, were happy to oblige.
The troops stayed even after the war was over. Soon, Hafez Al Assad, the then president of Syria, was installing his own puppet politicians in positions of power.
Hariri’s wealth and popularity — not to mention his influence as the owner of a growing portfolio of Lebanese and French newspapers and television and radio stations — gave him a reputation far beyond Lebanon.
As the country’s premier, Harriri had a clear vision: He wanted to make Beirut the financial capital of the Middle East, as it had once been — and Lebanon, a liberal, Western-oriented country.
His enemies sought to maintain the status quo, with Hezbollah emerging as Lebanon’s powerful paramilitary force.
Hariri returned in October 2000, with international support. He presided over a revival in Lebanon’s tourism industry, largely thanks to hundreds of thousands of visiting Gulf Arabs.
But, during the crisis over the extension of President Lahoud’s term in office, Hariri had a falling out with key elements in the government.
But the struggle for political control emerged during a dispute over the fate of Emile Lahoud, the president of Lebanon since 1998, who was then about to end his final term in office.
The role of the president is largely ceremonial. But Lahoud, a Maronite Christian, had long backed Syrian involvement in Lebanon. Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad decided it was important to keep Lahoud in place, a move that would require amending Lebanon’s Constitution.
Hariri was firmly opposed to the amendment. Those who opposed him were convinced Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, a Druse opposition leader, were acting behind the scenes to help the UN Security Council pass Resolution 1559, calling upon Hezbollah to disarm and Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.
On August 26, 2004, Hariri was summoned to the presidential palace in Damascus to be delivered an ultimatum: Lahoud must remain in office, even if the United States and France don’t like it.
Hariri objected, but was cut short. If Hariri or Jumblatt tried to stop Lahoud, Bashar Al Assad, who was present at the meeting, allegedly said, Lebanon would be “broken over their heads”.
Then the threat was repeated: “I will break Lebanon over your head and over Walid Jumblatt’s head,” he was told. “So you had better return to Beirut and arrange the matter on that basis.”
He never overtly came out against Syria in the dispute, but his resignation in October 2004 was taken as a clear protest against the Syrian pressure to keep Lahoud in office.
It was a move which some say cost Hariri his life.
The last government Hariri headed before his assassination in 2004; he resigned to join the opposition.
On February 14, 2005, a year after he quit as Prime Minister and endured a heavy internal pressure, even as he was calling for the Syrian withdrawl from Lebanon, explosives were detonated as his motorcade drove past the St George Hotel in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
At the time of his assasination, Hariri was campaining for a new third term, which he would have won easily.
His enemies were scared of that term, as Hariri had an international support behind him, reassuring him that no one can harm him or his family amid all the threats he was getting from the Syrian leader.
His death had profound implications for Lebanon. It paved the way for the so-called “Cedar Revolution” and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country after 29 years
Who killed Rafik Hariri?
The probe into his murder led to years of political turmoil. Five men — Hussain Hassan Oneissi, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Assad Hassan Sabra, Hassan Habib Merhi and Mustafa Amine Badreddine — were indicted on charges of murder and terrorism.
The five are all believed to be, or to have been, high-ranking members of Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party and militia that has maintained an alliance with the Syrian government since its creation in the early 1980s.
All five were tried in absentia.
Badreddine, one of the five defendants, was killed last year in Syria by an explosion near Damascus airport. Though no one claimed responsibility, the Israeli government had previously attempted to assassinate Badreddine.
Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah, promised that no member of his party would be arrested, and Lebanese authorities have until now declined to make any attempts to do so.
“No Lebanese government will be able to make any arrests whether in 30 days, 30 years or even 300 years,” he said after the indictments were announced.
The UN’s investigation into the case began in 2007, and the tribunal itself was established in 2009.
How Taif accords encouraged corruption in Lebanon
Can Lebanon rise above its dynasty politics?
Saad Hariri said a decade ago, years before the beginning of the war in Syria: “There is a country and a regime that has been pounding at Lebanon with assassinations and explosions after explosions and killings after killings, which have been going on for over 30 years,” he told Time magazine in 2007.
“It is important to punish those who commit these crimes, for them to understand they don’t have a license to kill.”
Hariri assassination, 15 years later
Lebanon today is in the midst of a deep financial and political crisis, and on the verge of being categorised as ‘a failed state’ by the World Bank and the IMF.
The new cabinet that won the vote of confidence on February 11, is a government that is of one colour, represented by Hezbollah and its allies.
They face today a public debt that stands at $86 billion (Dh315.6 billion), or more than 150 per cent of gross domestic product. This, while the government is failing to provide basic services.
In the past 15 years, Lebanon has had little foreign investment or aid, lost the support of the Gulf states and the West, with Hezbollah dominating governments.
Lebanon today has no electric power, water reserves are falling short, piles of garbage are seen across the country, unemployment runs at 37 per cent among youth, and teh country is suffering from a deteriorating infrastructure and public services.
All what Hariri built and provided has been destroyed and diminished with corruption and mismanagement.
Banks have been intermittently closed since mid-October and depositors across the country are finding it impossible to gain access to dollar balances.
Lebanon today after 15 years is in need of a genuine structural and political reform to be saved.
Today, Rafik Hariri’s time as prime minister is recalled as the golden age of prosperity, each year after his assasination is proving to be worse than the year that passed.
– With inputs from The New York Times
A Suicidal Task for a Normal Government
Elias Harfoush/Asharq Al Awsat/February 14/2020
Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s task seems just like trying to salvage a drowning person from the bottom of the ocean. No doubt that he and the members of his cabinet are aware of the difficulty of their responsibility.
Diab was explicit while discussing the situation Lebanon is going through, and he affirmed the “danger of total collapse if it is not addressed with quick and painful procedures”. He likened the crisis to “a rolling ball of fire”.
It is possible to describe the members of Diab’s government as suicidal. Who dares to carry a responsibility of this magnitude and degree of complexity in a stage that can be described as historical if not suicidal? Who would pursue a seat in the cabinet that would not have been available to him under normal circumstances?
If we wanted to assume good intentions and considered these men and women in the cabinet suicidal who have bravely taken it upon themselves to create this miracle of rescue and that they were the people the country was looking for to achieve that, then the question remains whether the necessary tools to accomplish this task are available. How could one salvage a country that is divided like Lebanon today? It is not only divided among its politicians but also state institutions, including this government and most people.
A period like this one needs a national unity government whose only concern is to revive the economy and reform the financial situation. Where will such national unity come from while political parties are so hostile to each other, with each side waiting for the other to fail in order to invest their failure and compete for leadership and popular power?
Where could it come from while the effects of this deep conflict among politicians, that has reached the point of assassinations as February 14 reminds us today, are still fresh in our minds, and the criminals still free and those responsible for them are represented in both government and parliament? Where could this national unity come from while the country suffers a tsunami of unprecedented degrees of sectarianism even during the darkest days of the civil war were nonexistent? It reached a point that one of the members of parliament representing the people does not hesitate to assault a citizen for eating in an area of a different sect?
The crisis that Lebanon is facing today is deep and complex. It is fair to say that the solutions that Hassan Diab is proposing in his government’s statement are pragmatic, specific and have exact timeframes that range from short-term to long-term. However, for these solutions to work, they need to confront at least three facts. First, the cabinet members lack the necessary political experience considering that most of them are academics who lack the ability to impose necessarily painful solutions because they don’t have a popular support for their decisions.
On top of this, there is, of course, the accusation that the popular movement is directing to Diab’s government that it belongs to traditional political forces, which protesters are seeking to overthrow, and that it is trying to reproduce a new polished version of the same old political elite. Based on this, there were large protests during the day of the session meant to grant the parliament’s vote of confidence to the government under the slogan “No Confidence”.
The second obstacle that the government is facing is the test of receiving foreign aid. Without assistance from the likes of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and several European governments, there is fear that the rescue plan will just be ink on paper because it cannot be otherwise funded. In a country where public debt has reached $100 billion while half of the revenues are dedicated to paying only the interest on this debt, the conditions for foreign aid will be tough and painful. Lebanon’s inability to pay its dues in time means it is announcing bankruptcy and losing trust in its financial situation and its banking sector.
In addition, the government has been politically categorized as to belonging to only one group, which is dominant in power as a result of the alliance between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement alongside Amal Movement. While the Prime Minister insists that his government is not politicized despite the political affiliations of its members, there is still a need to convince the countries that give aid that this is true, while the West’s sanctions on Iran escalate, and consequently on Hezbollah.
The third obstacle that will face any economic and financial reform process is the absence of a national culture that puts public interest over individual ones. This applies to both officials and citizens. This useless and bloated public sector due to arbitrary employments, the predominant culture of bribery that Lebanese have to go through without protest in order to compete administrative transactions, the generalized corruption in all domains and the mutual looting that extends into all aspects of daily life, tax evasion, and all of these accumulated problems have taken the country to bankruptcy.
Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that the responsibility for reaching this miserable point is shared. Consequently, carrying the burdens of rescue should also be shared. Not only that but more importantly, the mentality that pushes the Lebanese citizen to see any public fund as amenable for looting needs to change. This mentality, as previously mentioned, is not limited to politicians, but includes most employees in the public service sector who see their job as nothing more than a source of personal benefit and quick looting of funds. Hassan Diab and his government are facing a suicidal task but the cabinet is the last possibility for rescue. The days of giving chances to a country that does not know how to use them are over.
Shots Fired at Tents of Protesters in Jounieh
Gunshots were fired Friday at protest movement tents in the city of Jounieh, the National News Agency said. NNA said the shots were fired from a car at two tents at the Fouad Chehab Sports Complex, causing no casualties.
Security forces later arrived on the scene and launched investigations to identify the perpetrators, the agency added. Jounieh had witnessed a confrontation between protesters and supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement in recent days.
Diab Prepares to Visit Arab and European Countries
The competent departments at the Grand Serail have launched contacts aimed at preparing for a tour, or several tours, that Prime Minister Hassan Diab intends to carry out to “enable Lebanon to overcome the difficult period it is going through,” media reports said. “The tour is likely to include influential Gulf Arab capitals as well as European capitals some of which belong to the International Support Group for Lebanon,” informed sources told al-Joumhouria newspaper in remarks published Friday. Diab has said his cabinet would draw up an emergency rescue plan for the country by the end of the month. The crisis-hit country has debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 150 percent, one of the highest in the world. It is currently in the throes of a severe economic meltdown and a biting liquidity crunch that has seen banks impose stringent controls on withdrawals and transfers abroad. Credit rating agencies and economists have warned of dwindling foreign currency reserves that have plummeted in recent months, threatening import payments and a devaluation of the Lebanese pound.
The local currency has lost a third of its value on the black market.
STL Official Visits Beirut on Eve of Hariri’s Murder Anniversary
The Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) Daryl Mundis met with Prime Minister Hassan Diab on a working visit to Beirut this week, the STL said on Friday. He also met with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and former minister Salim Jreissati — adviser of President Michel Aoun, the STL said in a statement. “This mission is part of regular visits the Registrar undertakes to update the Lebanese officials on the work of the Tribunal,” it said. The Registrar is responsible for all aspects of the STL’s administration including the budget, fundraising, human resources and providing security. His responsibilities also include court management, oversight of the Victims’ Participation Unit, witness protection and language services.A massive suicide bomb tore through ex-PM Rafik Hariri’s armored convoy on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005, killing him and 22 other people.
The U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon has tried four Hizbullah operatives in absentia over the crime and the verdicts are expected to be issued later this year. Hizbullah has denied involvement in the case, describing the tribunal as a U.S.-Israeli scheme and vowing that the accused will never be found.
Aoun, Diab Tell STL Lebanon to Pay Contribution despite Crisis
The Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Daryl Mundis has been told by President Michel Aoun and Premier Hassan Diab that Lebanon is committed to U.N. resolution 1757 which established the STL, media reports said.
Aoun and Diab also told Mundis that Lebanon will honor the payment of its annual financial contribution to the court, which amounts to $50 million, despite the severe economic-financial crisis it is going through, al-Joumhouria newspaper has reported. The president is keen on abiding by the U.N. resolution “because the Lebanese state refuses to be outside the international system at the judicial and financial levels and because it wants to speed up the issuance of the verdicts in the case of the assassination of ex-PM Rafik Hariri,” the daily added. A massive suicide bomb tore through Hariri’s armored convoy on the Beirut seafront on February 14, 2005, killing him and 22 other people. The U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon has tried four Hizbullah operatives in absentia over the crime and the verdicts are expected to be issued later this year. Hizbullah has denied involvement in the case, describing the tribunal as a U.S.-Israeli scheme and vowing that the accused will never be found.
Kanaan: People’s deposits in banks a ‘red line’
“People’s deposits in banks are a red line, and we are working to protect them through the meetings that have taken place, and the decisions that are being worked on,” Head of the Finance and Budget House Committee, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, said Thursday evening during a meeting at the Mar Elias Antelias Monastery Theater in Antelias. He added: “Despite the difficult stage Lebanon is going through, we will overcome the crisis through national solidarity and through a plan to rid Lebanon of its outstanding problems,” noting that chaos does not lead to change, but rather leads to the imposition of solutions that do not serve Lebanon’s interest. Kanaan stressed that “Lebanon is targeted today, and the current situation is not only caused by social, financial and economic problems, but also because Lebanon refuses to resettle the Palestinians, and refuses to integrate the displaced Syrians and strike the internal unity, for instability leads to the dissolution of the state.”He concluded that “the army can fight terrorism and achieve stability when there is political coverage.”
The Great Escape: Carlos Ghosn working with ex-Disney president Michael Ovitz on film deal
The New Arab/February 14/2020
Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn wants to turn his life story, which may include how he staged a Hollywood-style escape from Japan, into a film or TV series, Bloomberg reported earlier this week.
Ghosn, who faces multiple charges of financial misconduct in Japan but fled to Lebanon before he could face trial, has hired former Disney president and founder of the Creative Artists Agency Michael Ovitz as his agent, the report released on Monday said. The 65-year-old, who managed to slip past authorities at the end of December reportedly by smuggling himself on board a plane inside an audio equipment box, said Ovitz would help him evaluate proposals, according to Bloomberg. A film deal could provide a financial boost to Ghosn, who forfeited $14 million in bail money when he fled. His escape is estimated to have cost him an additional $15 million.Ghosn, who has Lebanese nationality, made headlines last year following his escape, which left officials in Japan red-faced. Once hailed as a corporate saviour for rescuing Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy, Ghosn was facing a trial over a series of alleged crimes, including under-reporting his compensation to the tune of around $85 million.He spent more than 100 days in detention in Japan after his sudden November 2018 arrest, but launched an audacious escape plan while out on bail in Tokyo and managed to travel to Lebanon apparently undetected. Ghosn believes Nissan turned on him because executives there were concerned he was moving the firm closer to French partner Renault, part of a three-way alliance with Mitsubishi Motors. Japan has since demanded that Ghosn returns to face trial.
Lebanese Journalist Assaulted after Attending Seminar in Beirut
Beirut/Asharq Al-Awsat/Friday, 14 February, 2020
Lebanese journalist Mohammad Zbeeb was assaulted on Wednesday in Beirut’s Hamra thoroughfare after attending a seminar on financial policies and banking measures organized by The Secular Club at the American University of Beirut.
Three men attacked Zbeeb at a parking lot after he left the event on Wednesday. Following the attack, the journalist was taken to the AUB Medical Center and was released later that night. The identity of the attackers is still unknown and their motives are not clear. Zbeeb had resigned from his position at Al-Akhbar newspaper in November 2019, shortly after nationwide protests erupted against the ruling elite, corruption and an economic slowdown.. Zbeeb said he resigned over Al-Akhbar administration’s stance from the revolution. On Thursday, the Alternative Journalists Union said the assault is “an attack on all journalists, the revolution and a crime against freedoms.” Later, a number of activists staged a sit-in outside the Interior Ministry in Beirut’s Sanayeh area, in solidarity with Zbeeb. Following the attack, Zbeeb tweeted, “We’re not afraid and we won’t hide.” The Journalists’ Union in a statement described the attack as a “cowardly act” and called on authorities and the judiciary to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Since protests in Beirut became violent last month, Lebanese journalists have been subject to increasing brutality. The Committee to Protect Journalists said last month that police officers have harassed, attacked, or detained journalists covering protests in Beirut. It called on the Lebanese authorities to investigate the attacks and hold those responsible to account.
Enemy soldiers throw smoke bombs outside the fence separating Lebanon and occupied Palestine
NNA/Friday, 14 February, 2020
Marja’youn – Israeli enemy soldiers have just dropped a number of smoke bombs outside the technical fence separating between the occupied Lebanese and Palestinian lands, in the locality of Kroum al-Sharaqi outside the southern town of Mays al-Jabal, which required the mobilization of the Lebanese army and international peace-keeping forces in the aforementioned area, NNA correspondent reported.
Breast Cancer Conference in its second day sheds light on types of treatments, patient’s health in light of prevailing economic conditions
NNA/Friday, 14 February, 2020
The “Beirut Breast Cancer Conference” continued the works of its eighth annual session (BBCC-8) for the second day in a row at the Rotana Gefinor Hotel in Beirut on Friday, chaired by President of the Lebanese Breast Cancer Association, Professor Nagi Al-Saghir.
In his delivered word, Dr. Saghir suggested the creation of a “crisis cell” during this difficult period in the country, calling on the Lebanese government to “request the National Social Security Fund and various insurance companies to secure guaranteed medical coverage for citizens who have become unemployed for a period of six months while they search for work opportunities, in a bid to relieve some of the pressure on the Ministry of Health.”Participating lecturers, in turn, focused on patients receiving chemotherapy, the work of nurses and doctors and the best treatments, especially in light of the difficult economic and daily living challenges facing the Lebanese. In this context, lecturers stressed on the importance of physical exercises that enhance the patient’s physical and psychological health, in addition to awareness programs and gentle care for the patient, taking into account the physical conditions that cancer patients suffer from. Importance was also pinned on ensuring continued treatment and support for patients who have been diagnosed with advanced disease stages. Moreover, lecturers also tackled the moral and psychological help of breast cancer patients through sports activities, and pointed to the fear of patients when they learn about their breast cancer cases. They pointed to the need to know the patients’ positions and search for appropriate solutions for each case separately. The delivered addresses also highlighted the prominent role played by male and female nurses inside and outside the hospital, especially their continued presence with the patient and the moral and physical assistance they extend, especially during the treatment stage of breast cancer. Additionally, participating lecturers pointed to the necessity of organizing “rounds of talks” for the nurses themselves, because of their direct contact with cancer patients, which causes a kind of psychological pressure on them, alongside the economic and living pressures that they pass through. It is to note that the conference, which will last till tomorrow, also features new research from Lebanon and prizes for the best young researchers. It includes as well special sessions for nurses specialized in cancer treatment, and pharmacists specializing in cancer treatment drugs.
French Envoy in Beirut over CEDRE Decisions
Khalil Fleihan/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 14/2020
A French envoy is expected in Beirut early next week to be briefed on the plans of the new government, which is badly in need of international aid pledged at the CEDRE donors conference held in Paris in 2018. “Christophe Farno, director of the Middle East and North Africa Department at the French Foreign Ministry, is expected to arrive in Beirut soon,” a Lebanese diplomatic source in Paris told Asharq Al-Awsat Thursday. Farno visited Beirut last November.
At the CEDRE conference held in Paris in April 2018, international donors pledged to provide Lebanon with $11 billion in loans and grants on condition that the country conducts serious reforms. The CEDRE decisions list 72 reform projects. A Lebanese government official told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday that Lebanon could soon receive a French green light on the implementation of some projects, which Beirut had proposed to the conference’s Paris-based secretariat. They include solutions to Lebanon’s electricity sector and a project on a highway linking Jiyyeh and Choueifat. “France is expected to release funds (to implement) these projects following a visit by Prime Minister Hassan Diab to Paris, where he is expected to meet with President Emmanuel Macron and announce the implementation of some of the projects announced at the CEDRE conference,” the source said. Last month, Lebanon formed Diab’s new cabinet with pledges to work on necessary reforms to save the country from an economic and financial collapse. On Wednesday, the French Foreign Ministry said the government must act quickly to respond to the economic, social and political expectations that the Lebanese people have been expressing for several months. The Lebanese official source said that the French Ministry did not welcome the formation of the new cabinet. However, he stated that the international community awaits the reforms that the government is expected to introduce, mainly on economic transparency, fighting corruption and its ability to withstand economic and financial shocks.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister: Is he a Puppet?
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 14/2020
A new prime minister has been granted confidence in Lebanon. He is unknown to the majority of the Lebanese people and stands accused of being named by Hezbollah.
Hassan Diab was congratulated on his new position only by a few states, one of which was Iran. Most governments chose to ignore him while they wait to see what he will do. The Lebanese people greeted the news with further demonstrations, in protest against the new cabinet.
Whether Diab is a front for Hezbollah or not, the truth is that the entire Lebanese state is being held hostage by Hezbollah and its affiliates. We do not expect him to dispel the doubts, either among protesters or foreign governments. He will be tested by the international community, where he must prove that he is not a puppet controlled by Hassan Nasrallah and his allies. Mere reassurances will not be enough to satisfy the West.
More than half of the new cabinet ministers hold dual US-Lebanese nationalities. Still, what is more important than possessing an American passport is for Diab to satisfy the requirements of the US, which include that he refrain from dealing with institutions and individuals from Lebanon, Iran and other nations that are on Washington’s list of sanctions targeting Iran. These requirements are accepted by governments and authorities of much greater stature and power than that of Diab’s, including China and European nations.
Despite being full of commitments, Diab’s inaugural speech did not reassure protesters. All it proved was that the power brokers running things behind the scenes do not intend to implement real reforms. One individual involved in Lebanese affairs said that, at an international level, $9 billion is available to assist Lebanon. To get it, all Diab needs to do is implement government reforms that would free customs, airports and ports from Hezbollah’s control, in addition to the dozens of ministries and public services that have become a source of financing for militias rather than the government. Can he do that? Probably not.
More so even than the demands of the US or protesters, the biggest challenge that might await Diab is the likely bankruptcy of banking institutions. During an interview, Riad Salameh, governor of the Lebanese central bank, said that the nation’s financial solvency is sufficient and depositors’ accounts are safe. His comments were greeted by further attacks on banks by angry protesters. Limiting cash withdrawals was imposed some time ago and remains in place, reinforcing rumors of bankruptcy that might lead to the collapse of Diab’s government before the summer.
In light of the government’s impotence, if Hezbollah is the problem could it also be the solution? Will it show some flexibility and make concessions that restore sovereignty to the state? It controls much of the state’s resources, either at gunpoint or through government nominations, and was behind withdrawal of investors, whether being foreign governments, international organizations, or Lebanese expatriates.
Hezbollah’s strategy regarding the crisis seems to be in sync with that of Iran. Tehran is experiencing a similar crisis, including the wrath of its people, who are suffering from the effects of corruption, including poverty. The strategy chiefly consists of waiting until the end of this year to see how the US presidential election plays out. All Diab can do in the meantime is try to keep the political and economic situation under control. He might not succeed, yet still he waits, hoping for a political breakthrough between Tehran and Washington, or for US President Donald Trump to be defeated in the November election and replaced by a Democrat whose agenda might include a truce with Iran. Can Lebanon wait for another nine months? If it tries, the party might not hesitate to use further force against demonstrators, which could lead to a bigger revolution, especially if the banks file for bankruptcy.
When the Lebanese Dared to Dream!
Hanna Saleh/Asharq Al Awsat/February 14/2020
February 11 is a special day. On that day in 1990, Mandela was released from prison to become the President of South Africa four years later. On that day in 2011, the January Revolution overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. On that day in 2020, the hidden in Lebanon was revealed and the struggle and national division were deepened, on the one hand between the majority of the population which united nationally across regions and sects, and on the other hand, the hidden was revealed and those in power protecting corruption and the corrupt revealed that they were also united across sects.
All of the differences between the main political parties that have controlled Lebanon for 30 years were nullified. That includes both those who formed the government of masks, i.e. Hezbollah, Aounists, and Amal Movement on the one hand, and those who had raised the slogan of opposition from within the institutions, i.e. the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), the Lebanese Forces (LF) and the Future Movement (FM). The latest evidence of this was the moment the Speaker of the House of Representatives commenced the parliamentary session meant to give the government confidence, one of the most important parliamentary sessions. It started without the legally required quorum and nobody objected to the session going forward despite that. Later, these groups provided the possibility for smuggling this fragile confidence through an illegitimate and bankrupt parliament on the corpse of the constitution! This provided this government, a mere front for real decision-making, the confidence of 49 % of members of parliament who in turn had only received 24 % of the votes in the elections.
For parliament to convene without quorum has set a precedent, and the truth is that its implications have become immediately apparent, as some have smuggled this confidence plan while others revealed their deception of their voters, letting down their supporters, and challenging the popular will represented by the legitimacy of the October 17 Revolution. The scenario for securing unconstitutional confidence required that the Higher Defense Council convene. They decided to block the capital’s roads with cement blocks and barbed wires, close down the 11 entrances to parliament after turning Downtown Beirut into a military barracks with lines of soldiers assembled across, and violently oppressed the peaceful protesters to secure the passage of members of parliament. 60 people were injured and transferred to hospitals whereas 350 were treated on the ground.
The quorum was not secured and this was a violation of the constitution. The commencement of the session was delayed by 40 minutes and the attendance remained at 58 MPs, the majority of which had smuggled in overnight, while the quorum required 65 MPs. The session commenced before 4 MPs from the Shiite Duo arrived from the airport, and Speaker Berri announced that “President Hariri communicated with me and confirmed that the FM’s MPs and the LF’s MPs were going to attend”. Whereas in reality, 5 MPs from the PSP secured the quorum, with its leader, former MP Walid Jumblatt justified that by saying that “We respect the constitution and perhaps our attendance secured the quorum”. This led to confusion where each side, the PSP, FM, and LF accused each other of securing the quorum. The PSP MP Wael Abu Faour said, “It is not our responsibility to count MPs” while Jumblatt went a long way revealing the implications saying that some “have settled their score with us so that they remain innocent from the blood of Siddiq,” adding that parties that “claim being an opposition to this government left the PSP alone to be accused of securing the quorum”.
Yes, securing quorum is an accusation, and the truth is that these supposedly “sovereign” groups wasted every chance they had to reconcile with their voters because their priority is to participate in power-sharing and corruption. This talk of opposition from within the institutions has become ridiculous. It reveals that abstaining from the confidence vote is a deceptive act with an agenda and stakes. Whoever provided the quorum is the father of this confidence, and is a participant in the humiliation of all Lebanese, particularly those who voted. It is impossible for them to be redeemed of what they have done, and they have revealed the sterility of their opposition to the country becoming isolated, the priority of this mutilated offspring of this political class born out of no confidence by the people. Ultimately, these parties have revealed the depth of their hostility towards building a just and transparent Lebanon with an inclusive constitution on the ashes of a looting farm that they had split among themselves. This power-sharing has become clear, sharing with the most authoritarian parties proud about their intentions to repress the revolution, and the bet that these parties led by Hezbollah will provide these parties accused of this crime some positions and shares in the deals.
On 17 October, when the Lebanese dared to take to the streets as one force led by the youth, they declared that they will not leave before this method of violating peoples’ dignities is done away with, the method shared by those in power and the bankers’ cartel that has humiliated the Lebanese. They said they will not leave before the republic and its values, the constitution, and justice are restored by putting an end to the discretionary implementation of laws and eliminating every part of this confessional system that has taken the place of the constitution and law. They said yes we can achieve the dream of ending this chaos and ending the regime of lords of sects, money, and contractors, and establish a nation with the clean air that the revolution brought, this air that will hold those in power accountable with justifiable accusations: impoverishing the country and looting it, starving its people and undermining its sovereignty! Over 120 days, they proved that they have the will, determination, and hope, and the sectarian parties will not do away with their determination to make a change.
What happened on 11 February is a bright stop in the course of the revolution. It can be built on because it proved that the Lebanon of the people is home to brave people who dared to fight for it and to defend its interests and the rights of its people. These crowds that covered Downtown Beirut and confronted the regime’s repression with their bare hands, sent a decisive message that the October Revolution will represent the vast majority of the Lebanese against the confessional system and that the beginning will be to impose a transition phase led by an independent and trustworthy government that will pave the way for an early election that will provide the chance to change the regime.
With the real aspect of rescue becoming clear, the struggle has entered a new stage, because, with this murky government in denial of total collapse, there is a need to blow the sirens of danger once again. They will exploit the severity of the division to carry out all of the policies and violations deluded that they are capable of crossing bridges against those who dare to say that the shortest road to restoring dignities and rights is to entirely get rid of the confessional system.
It’s time for the Lebanese people to seize control of their destiny
Khaled Abou Zahr/Arab News/February 14/2020
As the conditions in Lebanon worsen and a solution seems impossible, some international voices are once again trying to make a case for a differentiation between Hezbollah as a political force and as an armed organization.
This is nothing but an imaginary differentiation invented a long time ago by the Europeans to please the Iranians and enable them to deal with government formations that included Hezbollah members. Hezbollah is a unified entity and one cannot differentiate between its political and armed wings.
To serve Iran’s regional interests, Hezbollah has used the Lebanese state as a shield to allow it to continue its military and terrorist operations, while in the process consistently weakening the country’s institutions.
The Lebanese state has been unable to enforce any decision on the armed group, and this “state above the state” status has also been a major reason for the spread of corruption throughout the country. Indeed, the silence of political forces about Hezbollah’s special status had to be compensated.
For decades, Hezbollah has taken sovereign decisions and forced the country to pay for them, while the ability to govern and administer has been challenged and destroyed. Moreover, international help requested by Lebanese governments always came when needed to cover financial crises or to rebuild the country. It was a good deal for the Iranian axis for many years. Hezbollah and its masters in Tehran never thought that the international community, and especially the Gulf countries, would stop yielding to their blackmail — but they finally have.
For years, Iran’s leaders could run their business, threaten regional order and decide on foreign military campaigns, while others would keep paying. It has been, in fact, a true hostage and racketeering scheme, using the Lebanese state. It was accepted by successive Lebanese governments from all sides of the political spectrum, including the March 14 movement.
Therefore, it is a surprise that some voices continue to try to make a case for a differentiation between Hezbollah’s political and armed wings, and to suggest that the Lebanese people accept Hezbollah’s status as an armed militia. This is simply not true.
The reality is that until the protests started, the people feared Hezbollah and the consequences of any confrontation. They no longer fear this regime for one simple reason: This corrupt arrangement between Hezbollah and the local political forces has left them with nothing. The state has been depleted and destroyed, so the racketeering scheme no longer works.
Shiites, Sunnis, Maronites, Druze, Orthodox — none of them have anything left to lose. They have lost their country, their life savings, their health and their minds. All this while Hassan Nasrallah continues to point his finger at and threaten the US, and reassures his followers and party members that even if the country fails their salaries will be paid (in dollars) by Tehran.
Not even this provokes a reaction by the opposition. As the country disintegrates — and in a surreal disconnection with reality — opposition politicians are bickering about who ensured the quorum for the vote of confidence on Hassan Diab’s government.
It is also interesting to read in the pro-Hezbollah media that European embassies will give their support to the Diab government.
In short, Nasrallah is no longer just Hezbollah’s secretary-general — he is now officially the supreme leader of a failed state.
It is nevertheless not too late to save Lebanon. Yet this cannot be done without the support of the armed forces. It is time for the Lebanese Army to stand with the people and answer their call. It is high time it responded to what protesters have been crying and bleeding for: One country and one army.
After serious incidents of security posts being targeted by gunfire in a growing challenge and show of disrespect to local authorities, the army cannot split; it must remain united and prepare for a swift and courageous response.
This should start with a declaration of support for the protesters and a pledge to protect them wherever they are, not selectively. A further step should be to create a transitional committee to run the country while suspending the constitution. This committee should be composed of true representatives of the people and exclude all known political formations: Hezbollah, Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, Amal Party, Free Patriotic Movement and so on.
“All means all” was the first demand of the uprising and this should be respected. A new constitution needs to be written and approved by a referendum. A new Lebanon cannot be built on sectarianism, it must be built on citizenship: The same rights and duties for all, regardless of religion, gender, wealth or social status. It cannot allow an armed militia to compete against or challenge the state.
A new Lebanon cannot be built on sectarianism, it must be built on citizenship: The same rights and duties for all, regardless of religion, gender, wealth or social status. It cannot allow an armed militia to compete against or challenge the state.
If we do not act swiftly and create this road map, chaos and division within the military and sovereign security institutions will erupt as financial chaos hits the country.
Moreover, we cannot wait for a regional deal with Iran, a resolution between the Israelis and Palestinians, or any other global change. We need to act now to make life better for all — and that means refugees as well.
It is time we understood that Lebanon no longer has the same status as a platform for a free press and cultural exchanges that it did in the 1970s, before the Civil War. Advancing technology and new regional hubs have rendered it obsolete. The world is tired of saving us and will no longer bankroll a racketeering and corruption scheme.
So this time we are alone and we have no choice but to disrupt ourselves and create a new Lebanon.
*Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.
Aoun’s claims of international financial support under scrutiny
Simon Speakman Cordall/The Arab Weekly/February 14/2020
Lebanon’s system of government, by which positions and ministries are divided along party and sectarian lines, has proven a fertile breeding ground for graft.
TUNIS – Amid Lebanon’s economic crisis, President Michel Aoun reassured a nervous public that several countries, especially France, were standing by to aid the embattled country.
However, given the relatively fresh status of Lebanon’s government, only voted in on February 11, as well as concerns about the independence of a government seen as being too close to the country’s political class, analysts questioned how willing the international community might be to help Lebanon’s beleaguered economy. Tackling corruption is central to any discussion on Lebanon’s political or economic future. Transparency International ranks Lebanon 137th out of the 180 countries surveyed.
Lebanon’s system of government, by which positions and ministries are divided along party and sectarian lines, has proven fertile breeding ground for graft, with parties providing services and positions in return for political support.
This system has undermined the credibility of Lebanon’s political class, with each party’s exploitation of its clientelist base seen as contributors to the crisis. The appointment of a new government had been intended to establish a body capable of undertaking wholesale reforms. However, analysts already question its proximity to the country’s existing parties and their leaders.
Looming over all negotiations is the prospect of the $1.2 billion Eurobond repayment that falls due in March. “The multilayered root causes of corruption in Lebanon are known to everyone,” Elie Abouaoun, director of the MENA programme at the US Institute for Peace, said via e-mail, “They are not confined to civil servants. As a matter of fact, corruption in the private sector is even more endemic. “One means of salvation might be the $11 billion in pledges made at the CEDRE conference in April 2018. However, with pledges contingent on Lebanon undertaking serious reform, those funds seem distant.
“The French government seems so far convinced that the new Lebanese government might be an acceptable interlocutor if it commits to a specific reform plan,” Abouaoun said. “Personally, I think this is wishful thinking at best,” he added, pointing to the ties that bound many of the new ministers to Lebanon’s political class.
CEDRE failed to differ in substance from previous fundraising conferences. “None of them resulted in a sustainable change because the three main bleeding sources in Lebanon have been well established a while ago: deficit of the state-owned Electricite du Liban, salaries of the public sector and the service of the public debt. Short of addressing these three issues, all other plans are doomed to fail. If anything at all, CEDRE will only increase the amount of the public debt,” Abouaoun said.
The goodwill of the international community will be critical to tackling Lebanon’s longstanding problems, with even a potential loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — typically seen as the lender of last resort — apparently up for discussion among Lebanese lawmakers.
“I think the consensus among the international community is really one of let’s wait and see,” said Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Centre. “There’s a great deal of caution among potential donors about committing to a bailout without a serious commitment to reform.”
With the Eurobond due within weeks, lawmakers have little time for debate.
“At the moment there’s a lot of discussion about whether to default on the bond repayment after seeking the IMF advice on this matter. Another ongoing debate is about joining an IMF programme. This will require surrendering some degree of sovereignty and I’m not sure that the Lebanese sectarian leaders agree on how much control they’re willing to give up,” Hage Ali said.
Despite the deterioration of services and the stagnating salaries of the positions offered in return for political support, maintaining the parties’ clientelist base remains central to the outlook of Lebanon’s political class, Hage Ali explained.
“There’s a real effort to portray this government as independent of the political class,” Hage Ali said. “However, in terms of reform, this will really depend on the willingness of Lebanon’s political class. They need to be seen as taking actions against corruption. This could start with ensuring the independence of the judiciary, (regarded as being tied to the interests of their political sponsors). Will they do that? I haven’t seen any major steps that would suggest so,” Hage Ali concluded. Until the scale of the impending catastrophe becomes unavoidable, however, there appears to be little indication of Lebanon’s new government changing course. “Lebanon is unlikely to enact significant measures to solve endemic corruption in the near future but this has little to do with the ideological makeup of the government,” Thomas Abi-Hanna, an analyst with risk consultancy Strafor, said, referring to the composition of the government, which is dominated by Hezbollah, Amal and their allies. “The issue of corruption is not isolated to one sect, ideology or political party in Lebanon, given that politicians across the board engage in corrupt activity. Even if there were political will, tackling these endemic issues could take years,” Abi-Hanna said.
*Simon Speakman Cordall is a freelance writer.