‘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.”


Jailed academic rejects offer to spy for Iran

Updated 21 January 2020

Jailed academic rejects offer to spy for Iran

LONDON: An academic currently imprisoned in Iran on charges of espionage has reportedly refused an offer to become a spy for Tehran in return for her freedom.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a UK-Australian dual national, made the revelation in a series of letters handed to The Times that were smuggled out of Evin prison, located in the north of the capital, where she is serving 10 years.

In the letters, addressed separately to a Mr. Vasiri, believed to be a deputy prosecutor in the Iranian judiciary, and a Mr. Ghaderi and Mr. Hosseini, who are thought to be officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Moore-Gilbert stated in basic Farsi that she had “never been a spy, and I have no intention to work for a spying organization in any country.” 

She added: “Please accept this letter as an official and definitive rejection of your offer to me to work with the intelligence branch of the IRGC.”

Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne in Australia, was arrested in 2018 after attending a conference in Tehran. 

She was tried and convicted in secret, and her letters implied that she had been kept in solitary confinement in a wing of Evin prison under the IRGC’s control.

It is reportedly the same wing being used to detain UK-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, also incarcerated for espionage, and away from the all-female cellblock that Moore-Gilbert was meant to have been housed in.

The letters catalog a series of other mistreatments and inhumane conditions, suggesting she had been permitted no contact with her family, and that, having been denied access to vital medication, her health was deteriorating.

She also suggested that she had been subjected to sleep deprivation methods, with lights in her cell kept on 24 hours per day, and that she was often blindfolded when transported. 

“It is clear that IRGC Intelligence is playing an awful game with me. I am an innocent victim,” she wrote.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with her Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in India last week, where the case was discussed.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry later issued a statement claiming that the country would not “submit to political games and propaganda” over the issue.

This comes at a time when international pressure has ratcheted up on the regime in Tehran following the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane over the capital on Jan. 8. 

Mass demonstrations nationwide followed the news that the plane had been shot down by Iranian forces. 

Olympian defects to Germany

Meanwhile, Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, Kimia Alizadeh, announced that she would not return to the country, citing her refusal to continue to be used as a “propaganda tool.”

She wrote of her decision on Instagram: “I wore whatever they told me and repeated whatever they ordered. Every sentence they ordered I repeated. None of us matter for them, we are just tools.”

It was revealed on Jan. 20 that the taekwondo martial artist, who had been living and training in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, had elected to move to Hamburg in Germany, for whom she will now compete.

Alizadeh’s defection is just one in a series of high-profile acts of defiance by Iranians outraged by the actions of the regime.

At least two journalists working for Iranian state-owned TV channels are known to have resigned their positions in protest.

One, news anchor Gelare Jabbari, posted on Instagram: “It was very hard for me to believe that our people have been killed. Forgive me that I got to know this late. And forgive me for the 13 years I told you lies.”