‘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.”


Iran nuclear deal parties meet as accord nears collapse

Updated 06 December 2019

Iran nuclear deal parties meet as accord nears collapse

  • Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting
  • Iran insists that under the agreement it has the right to take measures in retaliation for the US’s withdrawal from the deal

VIENNA: The remaining signatories to the faltering 2015 Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Friday with the survival of the landmark agreement at stake after Tehran vowed to continue to breach the deal’s limits on its nuclear program.
Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting, which is the first time the six parties will have gathered in this format since July.
Since May, Iran has taken a series of measures, including stepping up uranium enrichment, in breach of the 2015 deal, with another such move likely in early January.
Iran insists that under the agreement it has the right to take these measures in retaliation for the US’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and reimposition of crippling sanctions.
Since last month, European members have in turn begun raising the possibility of triggering the so-called “dispute resolution mechanism” foreseen in the accord, which could lead to the resumption of UN sanctions on Iran.
On the eve of what was already likely to be a strained meeting, Britain, France and Germany accused Iran of developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, in a letter to the UN on Thursday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dismissed the allegation as “desperate falsehood.”
However, despite the mounting tension observers say Britain, France and Germany are unlikely to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism on Friday when their diplomats attend the joint commission meeting chaired by senior EU official Helga-Maria Schmid.
Analysts say if UN sanctions are re-imposed and the deal falls apart, Iran could also withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
“It’s not clear whether that’s worth the benefit,” Ali Vaez from the International Crisis Group told AFP.
But he warned the risk of the deal collapsing was increasing as Iran was “running out of measures that are easy to reverse and non-controversial.”
“Both sides are locked into an escalatory cycle that is just very hard to imagine that they would step away from,” he said.
Francois Nicoullaud, former French ambassador to Iran, also says tensions were expected to continue to rise.
“Maybe it won’t be this time, but (the deal falling apart) will certainly be in the background of the discussions,” Nicoullaud told AFP.


Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani warned Sunday that if European partners triggered the dispute mechanism, Tehran may “seriously reconsider” its commitments to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors the deal’s implementation.
European efforts to shield Iran from the effects of US sanctions by creating a mechanism to carry on legitimate trade with the Islamic republic have borne little fruit, much to Tehran’s frustration.
The EU is growing increasingly concerned by Tehran rowing back from its commitments.
The dispute resolution mechanism in the deal has numerous stages, but it can eventually culminate in the UN Security Council voting on whether Iran should still have relief from sanctions lifted under the deal.
In such a scenario, says Vaez, “we will have a major non-proliferation crisis on our hands in the sense that the Russians and the Chinese have already declared they would not recognize the return of (sanctions).”
Vaez said in the end the path to a diplomatic solution would depend on Washington’s next moves and whether it would at least be willing to relax its attempts to prevent sales of Iranian oil, a vital source of income for the country.
“The remaining parties to the deal have proved incapable of providing Iran with any kind of breathing space,” Vaez said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Tehran is willing to return to the negotiating table if the United States first drops sanctions.