‘Loyal’ Tripoli turns its back on Lebanon’s Hariri

Lebanese protesters listen to a broadcast by their president in the town of Jal Al Dib, northeast of Beirut, on Thursday as demonstrations continue. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2019

‘Loyal’ Tripoli turns its back on Lebanon’s Hariri

  • Large crowds protesting in the central Abdul Hamid Karami Square for the past week have surprised observers and shocked supporters of the PM

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s sprawling northern port of Tripoli was once a government bastion, a springboard for the country’s political leadership going back decades. But in a major turnaround, the city and many of its 730,000 people have turned their backs on an increasingly isolated regime in protest at economic neglect and alleged corruption. 

Large crowds protesting in the central Abdul Hamid Karami Square for the past week have surprised observers and shocked supporters of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his Future Movement alliance.

Former Lebanese Minister and current MP Faisal Karami told Arab News that Tripoli is in a state of revolt “over poverty, marginalization, underdevelopment, deprivation and false promises.”  

The city is key to the Future Movement’s political fortunes and has long been a base for Lebanon’s leaders, including Rafiq Hariri, father of the current prime minister.

Its transformation from loyalist stronghold to vocal opponent of the regime is a major turning point.   

“The protests in Tripoli are driven by the youth, who first took to the streets to vent their fury over the WhatsApp tax, but they include people of all ages, social classes and religious sects,” Karami said. 

Asked if the city has abandoned its traditional leaders, he replied: “Today, no one can speak about the choices of the people of Tripoli. Only the results of the early elections will reveal that.”

Karami described the protests as “a spontaneous social explosion, the result of an accumulation of economic policies.”

FASTFACT 

Tripoli is key to the Future Movement’s political fortunes and has long been a base for Lebanon’s leaders, including Rafiq Hariri, father of the current prime minister.

The country’s leadership, “with its private jets and yachts, and multimillion-dollar wedding parties, has become a provocation to the people,” he said.

Khaldoun Al-Sherif, an adviser to former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, told Arab News that protesters on the streets of Tripoli “are the same ones who did not vote during the 2018 parliamentary elections, and they represented 50 percent of the voters.” 

“The difference between Tripoli and other regions is that all politicians in the city support the civil movement,” he said.   

Khedr Taleb, editor-in-chief of Tripoli’s Al-Raqib magazine, said: “After the parliamentary elections, politicians shut their doors to the city’s people and not even a single party adopted their demands or fixed their problems.

“The city has suffered terrible economic stagnation. People in Tripoli are low-income earners. The youth unemployment rate has reached unacceptable levels. Even those who did not take to the streets support the movement, just like the protesting youth.” Maha Aziza Sultan, an art critic and professor at the Lebanese University, has remained at home, although she strongly supports the protests.

“My city surprised me a lot,” she said. “Tripoli has been neglected for more than 30 years to the point where some streets do not receive any state services, even though it has never failed to pay its taxes.”

She said: “Tripoli is a scientific and cultural city, but also home to the poor and illiterate. There are capitalists in the city and they are hated by the rest of the people.

“This week Tripoli has said that it wants the most basic human rights, and all people in the city have been making the same demands.”


Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

Updated 21 January 2020

Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

  • Expert says sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in Libyan conflict unlikely

JEDDAH: With the conclusion of the Libya peace summit in Berlin on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether Turkey is willing to implement the provisions of the final communique and stay out of the conflict.

Ankara is accused of sending Syrian fighters to the Libyan battlefront in support of Fayez Al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

During the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced concerns over the arrival of Syrian and other foreign fighters in Tripoli, saying: “That must end.” 

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst at Oxford University, speculates that Turkey will not deploy more troops.  

But he told Arab News that a sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in the Libyan conflict is unlikely for the moment as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will remain present “until the GNA’s future is secured.”

Noting the difficulty of enforcing the Berlin agreement, Ramani said Turkey might not be the first mover in breaching a cease-fire in Libya.

But he added that Turkey will not hesitate to deploy forces and upend the agreement if Haftar makes any moves that it considers “provocative.”

The summit called for sanctions on those who violate the UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya.

Turkish opposition MPs recently criticized the expanded security pact between Ankara and the GNA, saying the dispatch of materials and equipment to Libya breaches the UN arms embargo.

Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.

Micha’el Tanchum, Analyst

The summit does not seem to have resolved ongoing disputes regarding the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, a planned natural gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean energy resources to mainland Greece via Cyprus and Crete.

The Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of being a “pirate state,” citing Ankara’s recent drilling off its coasts just a day after Brussels warned Turkey that its plans were illegal.

Erdogan dismissed the warning and threatened to send to the EU some 4 million refugees that Turkey is hosting.

Turkey dispatched its Yavuz drillship to the south of Cyprus on Sunday, based on claims deriving from the maritime delimitation agreement with the GNA.

Turkey’s insistence on gas exploration in the region may be subject to sanctions as early as this week, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based political analyst, drew attention to Article 25 of the Berlin final communique, which underlined the “Libyan Political Agreement as a viable framework for the political solution in Libya,” and called for the “establishment of a functioning presidency council and the formation of a single, unified, inclusive and effective Libyan government approved by the House of Representatives.”

Sezer told Arab News: “Getting approval from Libya’s Haftar-allied House of Representatives would be a serious challenge for Ankara because Haftar recently considered all agreements with Turkey as a betrayal. This peace conference once more showed that Turkey should keep away from Libya.”

Many experts remain skeptical about the possible outcome of the summit. 

Micha’el Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said: “Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.”