Lebanon’s president calls on UN ‘Big Five’ to help displaced Syrians return home

Lebanese women hold placards during a protest on Saturday in the northern town of Zouk Mosbeh, calling for the departure of Syrian refugees. The writing in Arabic reads: "So that we don't lose job opportunities," "So that we don't lose security." (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2017

Lebanon’s president calls on UN ‘Big Five’ to help displaced Syrians return home

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun called on the permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US — also known as the P5), the UN, the EU and the Arab League to focus on addressing the Syrian refugee crisis.
Aoun met with envoys of the P5, the EU, the UN and the Arab League on Monday and gave them written messages to their heads of state.
“It is imperative that the UN and the international community make every possible effort to provide safe conditions for the safe return of displaced Syrians to their country, especially to calm, accessible or low-tension areas, without associating this to a political solution,” he said.
Aoun added that the “heavy” burden borne by Lebanon as a result of the influx of displaced people “(would not) be tolerated by any other country.”
He also warned of “the consequences of any outbreak that may occur in Lebanon if there is no solution to the crisis in Syria and the return of displaced people to it, as its consequences will not be limited to Lebanon only, but may spill over to many countries.”
During the meeting, Aoun spoke of the political danger of the Syrian exodus saying “the longer the crisis lasts, the more it becomes a cause of internal differences.”
He called on international organizations not to issue statements to intimidate the displaced, saying that “such statements are an incitement to the displaced to remain in Lebanese territory.”
He said that safe areas exist in Syria that can accommodate some of the refugees currently in Lebanon.
“We have received (huge) numbers of displaced people, but we did not initiate the war in Syria, and whoever did does not receive any of them and bears no responsibility for them,” he said. “We did not send anyone to fight there.”
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Lebanon currently hosts 1,051,000 Syrian refugees.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, has been rallying his supporters in Lebanon and abroad in recent weeks around the need for Syrian refugees to return to their country. Bassil has previously warned of “settling” the displaced in Lebanon saying “We are racist in our belonging to Lebanon. The displaced have to return.” His comments prompted reactions from several political parties stressing the need for the “voluntary and safe return of the displaced.”
Dr. Nasser Yassin, a professor at the American University told Arab News that statements such as Bassil’s increase the tension between the Lebanese and the Syrians.
“Some politicians use this tension in the parliamentary elections,” he said, adding that some deliberately stoked negative public opinion of the Syrians, leading to violence against them.
He also questioned why Syria was not yet addressing the return of refugees to their homeland. “A safe return to Syria is questionable,” he concluded.


Tunisia heads to polls for keenly fought presidential contest

Updated 15 September 2019

Tunisia heads to polls for keenly fought presidential contest

  • The premier’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and a high cost of living
  • The election follows an intense campaign beset by personality clashes

TUNIS: Rarely has the outcome of an election been so uncertain in Tunisia, the cradle and partial success story of the Arab Spring, as some seven million voters head to the polls Sunday to choose from a crowded field.
Key players include media mogul Nabil Karoui — behind bars due to an ongoing money laundering probe — Abdelfattah Mourou, who heads a first-time bid on behalf of his Islamist inspired Ennahdha party, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.
The premier’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and a high cost of living, and he has found himself having to vehemently deny accusations that Karoui’s detention since late August is politically inspired.
The election follows an intense campaign beset by personality clashes, albeit one with few clear political differences, brought forward by the death in July of 92-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi.
He had been elected in the wake of the 2011 revolt that overthrew former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Publication of opinion polls has officially been banned since July, but one thing appears sure — many voters remain undecided, due to difficulties in reading a shifting political landscape.
“I am undecided between two candidates — I will decide in the polling booth,” smiled one citizen, Sofiene, who added “honest candidates don’t have much chance of winning.”
Some hopefuls have tried to burnish anti-establishment credentials in a bid to distance themselves from a political elite discredited by personal quarrels.
One key newcomer is Kais Saied, a 61-year-old law professor and expert on constitutional affairs, who has avoided attaching his bid to a political party.
Instead, he has gone door-to-door to drum up support for his conservative platform.
Another independent candidate is Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, a technocrat who is running for the first time.
However, he has the backing of Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party.
The crowded field of 26 has been narrowed slightly by the last minute withdrawal of two candidates in favor of Zbidi — former political adviser Mohsen Marzouk and businessman Slim Riahi, just ahead of Saturday’s campaign blackout.
But it is Karoui’s detention, just 10 days ahead of the start of the campaign, which has been one of the biggest talking points.
Studies suggest his arrest boosted his popularity.
A controversial businessman, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest.
But his detractors portray him as a would-be Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier who they allege partly owns his channel.
On Friday, an appeal to have the Tunisian mogul released from prison ahead of the election was rejected, his party and lawyers said, two days after he began what his defense team said was a hunger strike.
The polarization between the different camps risks a derailment of the electoral process, according to Michael Ayari, an analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Isabelle Werenfels, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, has called the vote a democratic “test” because “it may require accepting the victory of a polarizing candidate,” such as Karoui.
Distrust of the political elite has been deepened by an unemployment rate of 15 percent and a rise in the cost of living of close to a third since 2016.
Jihadist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector.
Polls open at 8:00 am (0700 GMT), although overseas voting stations for Tunisia’s sizeable expatriate population have been open since Friday.
Some stations will remain open until 6:00 pm, while others will close two hours earlier, for security reasons.
Some 70,000 security agents will be deployed on Sunday, including 50,000 focused solely on polling stations, according to the interior ministry.
Exit polls are expected overnight Sunday into Monday, but preliminary results are not expected from the electoral commission until Tuesday.
The date of the second round, which will decide the presidency, is not yet known, but it must happen by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls — October 6.
Those polls are supposed to be more significant, as Tunisia is an emerging parliamentary democracy.
But several candidates have called for presidential powers to be beefed up, despite years of dictatorship under Ben Ali.