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)
 

 


Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

Updated 14 August 2020

Streets before suits: US envoy vists Beirut’s ‘real’ rescue hub

  • Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the Gemmayzeh district came days after Macron took a tour of the same street last week
  • Students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives and provide emergency support

BEIRUT: Arriving in Lebanon after last week’s deadly Beirut blast, US envoy David Hale bypassed politicians to head straight to a hard-hit neighborhood where young volunteers are helping people abandoned by their state.
At the volunteer hub dubbed the “Base Camp,” there is a “focus on getting things done,” Hale told a press conference after his tour.
He contrasted the hive of activity to the “dysfunctional governance and empty promises” of Lebanon’s political leaders, who face public outrage over the explosion of a vast stock of ammonium nitrate stored for years at Beirut’s port.
Volunteer efforts “could not only be tapped to rebuild Beirut but (also) to undertake necessary reforms that will bring the kind of transformation that is necessary for Lebanon,” Hale said.
In the wake of the August 4 explosion of a the huge chemical store that laid waste to whole Beirut neighborhoods, students and young professionals have ditched classes and day jobs to save lives, provide emergency support and start to rebuild.
Hale’s visit to the volunteer hub in the blast-hit Gemmayzeh district came days after French President Emmanuel Macron took a tour of the same street last Thursday, as well as meeting Lebanese leaders.
But while Macron was welcomed as a savior, it was clear that the heroes of the moment were the volunteers.
“I don’t know why (Hale) would do that second step and go to meet politicians,” said Wassim Bou Malham, 33, who leads a database management team at the Base Camp.
“The aid is happening here, the data collection is happening here, the cleaning is happening here, the reconstruction is happening here,” he told AFP.
Wearing face masks and neon vests, volunteers sounded like international experts as they explained how they were cleaning up their government’s mess.
In fluent English, they described 3D mapping operations, data collection and relief efforts organized since the cataclysmic blast.
Bou Malham, who spoke with Hale during the tour, is not a data expert but picked up useful experience managing client databases for two of Beirut’s biggest nightclubs.
After the blast tore through the city, wounding 6,500 people and displacing 300,000 from their homes, his skills became vital for the aid effort.
The digitised database developed by Bou Malham and his team of volunteers is now critical for sorting and delivering aid to thousands of blast survivors.
“We haven’t seen any government official or representative actually come in here and ask us if we need anything,” he said.
“It’s so funny that David Hale is the first.”
It is not only in the Base Camp that the state has been thin on the ground.
In the first hours after the explosion, civil defense teams were vastly outnumbered by young volunteers flooding the streets to help.
By the next day, the latter had set up a camp where they offered food, medicine, temporary shelter and repair services to thousands of blast victims, in partnership with several non-governmental groups.
Operations have continued to expand since.
A Base Camp relief hotline received more than 200 calls in the first two hours. Volunteers have assessed the damage to around 1,200 homes and installed at least 600 wooden doors.
“The work is going to speak for itself,” said Bushra, a 37-year-old volunteer.
Simmering anger against Lebanon’s leaders has flared since the blast, which appears to have been caused by years of state corruption and negligence.
With 171 people dead, it is widely seen as the most tragic manifestation yet of the rot at the core of the country’s political system.
Western donors too are fed up with Lebanon’s barons, who have for years resisted reforms demanded by the international community.
In a joint statement released after an international donor conference organized by France in the wake of the disaster, world leaders called for aid to be delivered directly to the Lebanese people.
USAID acting administrator, John Barsa, said at the time that American help “is absolutely not going to the government.”
USAID “will increase its financial support to civil society groups in Lebanon by 30 percent to $6.627 million,” Barsa said in a press briefing on Thursday.
At the volunteer camp in Gemmayzeh, it was clear that funding would be put to good use.
Ziad Al-Zein, arrives before volunteers start their shifts at 9:00 am to ensure the camp is clean and secure.
The 33-year-old was among the first groups of volunteers clearing debris in Gemmayzeh.
“We are not speacialists in crisis management or catastophe management. We are learning things as we go,” he said.
“There is no state,” he added. “We will not abandon our fellow Lebanese in these conditions.”