Women and students are at the heart of Lebanon’s protests

A school student shouts slogans during ongoing protests against the Lebanese government in front of the Education Ministry, in Beirut, on Wednesday. (AP)
Updated 07 November 2019

Women and students are at the heart of Lebanon’s protests

  • It is clear that ‘the most dynamic group in Lebanon is the Twitter and Facebook generation’

BEIRUT: To keep up the momentum of the Lebanese protests for the 21st day, students in secondary schools took to the streets expressing fears about their future in the country.

The students, aged between 16 and 18, entered school on Wednesday morning before deciding, despite threats of expulsion if they joined the protests, to leave by force chanting “revolution” and “the people want the downfall of the regime,” while waving Lebanese flags.

Images on television and social media amazed many politicians. MP Paula Yacoubian paid tribute to the students on Twitter, while MP Sami Gemayel said “after a long absence, Lebanese students returned to the national struggle to build a new Lebanon. The path of change will not stop any more.”

“It became clear that the most dynamic group in Lebanon is the Twitter and Facebook generation, a cross-sectarian group, a transformational, free and strong group capable of achieving miracles. The confusion it has created among the traditional parties is clear evidence of that. It has laid the foundations of a new political phenomenon. I salute you, carry on,” said former MP Fares Souaid.

Students protested in front of the Palace of Justice in Beirut for “an independent judiciary” and at the Ministry of Education for “modern curricula,” as well as at public institutions in Beirut and across the country.

“What is the point of studying and receiving a degree if we will not find a job in Lebanon and have to leave?” asked a student named Nayla, “Those in power have to step down and make way for those who can actually deal with corruption and provide us with a better life.”

“I asked a security personnel trying to stop us from blocking the street if he was running a luxurious life. He told me that his salary does not allow him to get married,” said another student.

Students broke the barrier of fear after some schools threatened to expel those who participated in the protests. One such threat was made by a school director in Sidon, but she retracted it after her voice recording went viral on social media.

Women, too, have broken the chains of fear. They have constituted the heart of the protests in various regions since the start of the movement on Oct. 17. They were on the frontlines confronting the security forces and the supporters of Hezbollah and Amal Movement.

VIEW OUR PHOTO GALLERY: Lebanon's protest movement lives on

Actress Nada Bou Farhat said: “I turned the picture of the girl kicking her aggressor into a sticker on my phone.”

Protests in downtown Beirut have turned into discussion forums every evening where activists exchange ideas. Dozens of women activists from organizations concerned with women’s rights took part in the discussion titled “Women – Revolution.” They expressed their opinions on women’s achievements during the revolution and how to protect their rights.

“First of all, we are against insults that used female organs. Women have proved during this revolution that they are as smart as men,” said Bou Farhat, noting that “the revolution overcame the fear of abandoning political parties and joining the movement, the fear of our parents and the politicians that linked opposition to the return of civil war, which was proved wrong by the revolution.”

“I have never protested before. I broke many barriers to take part in this movement. They used to say that protests are limited to men, but women played a leadership role in this revolution. Women helped write signs, encouraged people to take to the streets and even protected men. This revolution means a lot to me as it demands social and economic justice,” said the activist Reine Hammoud.

Dr. Halima Al-Kakour told Arab news that “some want to insult women by calling the revolution a cabaret. This is a blatant distortion of the revolution. Women courageously stood up and protected the protests by forming a human barrier in the face of aggressors.

“Women activists are taking part in planning and organizing the squares. They have a pivotal role in the society’s dynamic organizations, but are marginalized by a corrupt sectarian patriarchal system.

“Politicians want to undermine women’s dignity, but they will not scare us or make us feel weak.”

“Building a nation and promoting democracy without women is impossible. We will not accept less than half of the seats for women in future governments and parliaments,” she said.

Iran frees Chinese-American scholar for US-held scientist

Updated 50 min 46 sec ago

Iran frees Chinese-American scholar for US-held scientist

  • President Donald Trump separately acknowledged Wang was free in a statement from the White House, saying he “is returning to the United States”
  • Tensions have been high between Iran and the US since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018

TEHRAN: Iran and the US conducted a prisoner exchange Saturday that saw a detained Princeton graduate student released for an Iranian scientist held by America, marking a potential breakthrough between Tehran and Washington after months of tensions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the first announcement on the trade via Twitter. The trade involves graduate student Xiyue Wang and scientist Massoud Soleimani.
“Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly," Zarif wrote. “Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government.”
In his tweet, Zarif confirmed rumors that had been circulating for days that a deal was in the works to free Wang.
President Donald Trump separately acknowledged Wang was free in a statement from the White House, saying he “is returning to the United States.”
“Mr. Wang had been held under the pretense of espionage since August 2016,” Trump said. “We thank our Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Mr. Wang’s release with Iran.”
The Swiss Embassy in Tehran looks out for America's interests in the country as the U.S. Embassy there has been closed since the 1979 student takeover and 444-day hostage crisis.
Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, accompanied the Iranian scientist to Switzerland to make the exchange and will return with Wang, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be released. The swap took place in Zurich and Hook and Wang are now en route to Landstuhl in Germany where Wang will be examined by doctors, the official said. Hook is expected to return to the US from Germany alone, as Wang is expected to be evaluated for several days.
Although Hook was present for the swap, the official said Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien played the lead role in the negotiations dating from his time as the special representative for hostage affairs at the State Department.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency later reported that Soleimani was with Iranian officials in Switzerland. Soleimani was expected to return to Iran in the coming hours. Zarif later posted pictures of himself on Twitter with Soleimani in front of an Iranian government jet and later with the two talking on board.
Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad. His family and Princeton University strongly denied the claims. Wang was arrested while conducting research on the Qajar dynasty that once ruled Iran for his doctorate in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history, according to Princeton.
Hua Qu, the wife of Xiyue Wang, released a statement saying “our family is complete once again.”
“Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue,” she said. “We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”
Princeton University spokesman Ben Chang said the school was aware of Wang's release.
“We are working with the family and government officials to facilitate his return to the United States,” Chang said.
Iran’s Revolutionary Court tried Wang. That court typically handles espionage cases and others involving smuggling, blasphemy and attempts to overthrow its Islamic government. Westerners and Iranian dual nationals with ties to the West often find themselves tried and convicted in closed-door trials in these courts, only later to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.
Soleimani — who works in stem cell research, hematology and regenerative medicine — was arrested by US authorities on charges he had violated trade sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran. He and his lawyers maintain his innocence, saying he seized on a former student’s plans to travel from the US to Iran in September 2016 as a chance to get recombinant proteins used in his research for a fraction of the price he’d pay at home.
Tensions have been high between Iran and the US since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. In the time since, the US has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran's economy. There also have been a series of attacks across the Mideast that the US blames on Iran.
Other Americans held in Iran include the 81-year-old businessman Baquer Namazi who has been held for over two years and diagnosed with epilepsy.
Both Baquer Namazi and his son Siamak Namazi, also a dual national who has been held for over three years, are serving a 10-year sentence after they were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power.
An Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively. Also held is US Navy veteran Michael White.
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, but his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while saying Wang would soon be able to go home to his family, acknowledged other Americans remain held by Iran.
“The United States will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home to their loved ones,” Pompeo said in a statement.