Tehran terms Aoun presidency a ‘victory for Hezbollah’

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, sits at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP)
Updated 01 November 2016

Tehran terms Aoun presidency a ‘victory for Hezbollah’

JEDDAH: Lebanese lawmakers ended a two-year political vacuum Monday by electing as president ex-army chief Michel Aoun, who promised to protect the country from spillover from the war in neighboring Syria.
The deeply divided Parliament took four rounds of voting to elect 81-year-old Aoun, whose supporters flooded streets across the country waving his party’s orange flag.
“Lebanon is still treading through a minefield, but it has been spared the fires burning across the region,” Aoun said after taking the presidential oath.
“It remains a priority to prevent any sparks from reaching Lebanon,” the Maronite Christian leader said.
Syria’s five-year war has been a major fault line for Lebanon’s political class, and analysts have warned Aoun’s election will not be a “magic wand” to end divisions.
The next challenge will be forming a government and that is expected to take months of wrangling.
Presidential media office chief Rafik Chlala said consultations to name a prime minister would begin Wednesday morning, with an announcement expected at noon Thursday.
It remains unclear if Lebanon’s perpetually ineffectual political class can solve key problems, including a trash crisis that has seen rubbish pile up in open dumps.
The Parliament that elected Aoun has twice extended its own mandate, avoiding elections because of disagreements over a new electoral law.
Aoun had long eyed the presidency, and his candidacy was staunchly backed by Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah, his ally since a surprise rapprochement in 2006.
But the key to clinching the post was the shock support of two of his key rivals: Christian Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Sunni former premier Saad Hariri.
Hariri, expected to be appointed premier, said his endorsement was necessary to “protect Lebanon, protect the (political) system, protect the state and protect the Lebanese people.”
Hariri and Geagea both oppose Syria’s President Bashar Assad, while Hezbollah supports Damascus and has dispatched fighters to bolster its forces.
That feud left MPs repeatedly unable to reach consensus on the presidency, a post reserved for a Maronite Christian.
After taking the oath, Aoun rode in a convoy of black cars to the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, where his wife and three daughters were waiting to congratulate him.
In Beirut’s majority-Christian neighborhood of Ashrafiyeh, revellers lit fireworks and fired volleys of celebratory gunfire.
The atmosphere in Jdeideh outside Beirut was one of untrammeled joy, with thousands honking car horns and popping bottles of champagne.
“I’m so happy. After 25 years our dream has come true,” said 33-year-old accountant Giselle Tammam.
Assad congratulated Aoun on being elected, hoping it would contribute to “reinforcing stability” in Lebanon, Syria’s state news agency SANA said.
Syria’s Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, said the election represents “the triumph of the resistance, of Syria and its allies.”
President Francois Hollande spoke of France’s “determination” to continue supporting Lebanon “to preserve its integrity and security,” his office said.
Syria’s President Bashar Assad congratulated his new Lebanese counterpart, hoping it would contribute to “reinforcing stability” in Lebanon, state news agency SANA said.
Iran welcomed the election of Aoun as a victory for the Shiite group Hezbollah, Tehran’s ally in Lebanon.
A message from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said: “We are certain that with your election, the resistance movement will be strengthened.” 
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also congratulated Aoun in a phone call.
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby described Aoun’s election as a “moment of opportunity” to restore government institutions as Lebanon emerges from years of political impasse.
However, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, who has topped recent Israeli polls, said Israel should worry when Lebanon elects a president who has the backing of Hezbollah, adding that the militant movement is bound to turn its aggression toward Israel once the war in Syria comes to an end.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini both saw in the election a step that could pave the way for Lebanese politicians to close ranks in the national interest.
(With agencies)


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”