‘Sister protests’: Lebanon, Iraq look to each other

A picture taken on November 8, 2019, shows Iraq's and Lebanon's flags displayed for sale at a street vendor's stall in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. (AFP)
Updated 12 November 2019

‘Sister protests’: Lebanon, Iraq look to each other

BEIRUT: A Lebanese flag flutters in the protest-hit Iraqi capital. More than 900 kilometers (500 miles) away, a revolutionary Iraqi chant rings out from a bustling protest square in Beirut.
“Don’t trust the rumors, they’re a group of thieves,” sings a group of Lebanese musicians in Iraqi dialect, referring to political leaders they deem incompetent and corrupt.
“The identity is Lebanese,” they continue, reworking the chant by Iraqi preacher Ali Yusef Al-Karbalai, made popular during the street movement there.
Such recent shows of solidarity have become a common feature of protest squares in the two countries, where corruption, unemployment and appalling public services have fueled unprecedented street movements demanding the ouster of an entire political class.
They serve to “shed light on similarities between the two movements and boost morale,” said Farah Qadour, a Lebanese oud musician.
“The two streets are observing and learning from each other,” said the 26-year-old who is part of the group that adopted Al-Karbalai’s chant.
In Lebanon’s southern city of Nabatiyeh, hundreds brandishing Lebanese flags chanted: “From Iraq to Beirut, one revolution that never dies.”
And in the northern city of Tripoli, dubbed the “bride” of Lebanon’s protest movement, a man standing on a podium waved a wooden pole bearing the flags of the two countries.
“From Lebanon to Iraq, our pain is one, our right is one, and victory is near,” read a sign raised during another protest, outside Beirut’s state-run electricity company.
In Tahrir Square, the beating heart of Baghdad’s month-old protest movement, demonstrators are selling Lebanese flags alongside Iraqi ones.
They have hung some on the abandoned Turkish restaurant, turned by Iraqi demonstrators into a protest control tower.
Banners reading “from Beirut to Baghdad, one revolution against the corrupt” could be seen throughout.
Lebanon and Iraq are ranked among the most corrupt countries in the region by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International, with Iraq listed as the 12th most corrupt in the world.
Public debt levels in both countries are relatively high, with the rate in Lebanon exceeding 150 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
“What’s happening on the streets in Iraq and Lebanon, they’re sister protests,” said Samah, a 28-year-old Lebanese demonstrator.
“They’re the result of an accumulation” of years of problems.
One video that went viral on social media networks showed a masked Iraqi protester dressed in military fatigues demanding the resignation of Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, one of the main targets of protesters in the small Mediterranean country.
In a video released online, a group of young Iraqi men had filmed themselves singing, “Lebanon, we’re with you!“
The two movements also seem to be adopting similar protest strategies.
In both countries, rows of parked vehicles have blocked traffic along main thoroughfares in recent weeks.
University-aged demonstrators wearing medical masks or eye goggles have occupied bridges and flyovers, refusing to believe pledges of reform from both governments.
The big difference is that in Iraq, the demonstrations have turned deadly, with more than 300 people, mostly protesters but also including security forces, killed since the movement started October 1.
Lebanon’s street movement, which started on October 17, has been largely incident-free despite scuffles with security forces and counter-demonstrators rallying in support of established parties.
The two movements, however, are united in their anger about the kind of political system that prioritizes power-sharing between sects over good governance.
The consecutive governments born out of this system have been prone to deadlock and have failed to meet popular demands for better living conditions.
“We are united by a sense of patriotic duty in confronting this sectarian political system,” said Obeida, a 29-year-old protester from Tripoli.
He said he had high hopes for Iraqi protesters because the sectarian power-sharing system there is relatively new, having emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“In Lebanon, it’s more entrenched,” he said of the arrangement that ended the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.
On a Beirut waterfront, dotted with luxury restaurants and cafes, a 70-year-old Iraqi man who has been living in Lebanon for five years looked on as demonstrators laid out picnic blankets on the grass.
With a Lebanese flag wrapped around his neck, Fawzi said the protests looked different but reminded him of those back home.
“The goal is one,” he said.


Thousands homeless after Yemen floods

A picture taken on June 3, 2020 in Yemen's Hadramout province shows a flooded area following torrential rains brought by Cyclone Nisarga. (AFP)
Updated 18 min 59 sec ago

Thousands homeless after Yemen floods

  • Efforts to contain COVID-19 affected

AL-MUKALLA: Thousands of people have been left homeless following torrential rain and flash flooding in Yemen.

For the second consecutive week, heavy rains triggered flash floods that washed away houses, farms, roads and electricity and water lines in the provinces of Marib, Dhale, Abyan, Hadramout, Ibb and Hajjah. The severe weather prevented medical workers battling the coronavirus pandemic from reaching health facilities, testing centers and patients.

Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Sunday instructed the governors of heavily affected provinces to send relief aid to those who had lost property during the downpours. He also appealed to local and international aid organizations to help the country cope with the effects of the flooding.

The government’s Executive Unit for IDPs Camp Management said that more than 2,600 families in Marib, Hajjah, Abyan and Dhale have been left without shelter after rains and floods washed away their tents and straw houses.

In its reports, seen by Arab News, the unit recommended distributing cash to the affected families, relocating them to safer areas and building stronger houses. In the central city of Marib that hosts hundreds of thousands of people who fled fighting in their home provinces, flash floods filled up the Marib dam reservoirs.

The unit said 1,340 families were affected after floods inundated their tents. The intensity of floods stoked fears about a possible dam rupture that could destroy hundreds of houses and farms.

To allay fears and quash rumors about the crumbling of the dam, Marib Gov. Sultan Al-Arada and several government officials visited the dam and assured the public that it was safe and could withstand even harsher floods.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Yemen said flooding in the northern province of Hajjah and the western province of Hodeidah had washed away the homes and farms of thousands of families.

“Recent heavy rains and flooding across Hajjah and Hodeidah have impacted 9,000+ families,” it said. “Shelters, roads and land were destroyed. Loss of livestock and personal belongings. UNHCR quickly responded, helping thousands with emergency shelter and items like mattresses and blankets,” the UNHCR Yemen office tweeted on Sunday.

The National Meteorology Center has predicted more heavy rains and flash floods in many parts of Yemen throughout this week, warning people against crossing into water courses or driving in mountainous and hilly areas.

Health concerns

Local health officials said Monday that the downpours had hampered efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus across Yemen and created ripe conditions for the spread of mosquitoes.

Dr. Ishraq Al-Subaee, a spokesman for the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee, told Arab News that many health facilities across government-controlled provinces could not send updates about coronavirus as floods prevented them from testing suspected cases or sending samples to testing centers.

Health workers in the southern province of Shabwa, which does not have a coronavirus testing center, could not send samples to neighboring Hadramout province due to floods and rains, he said.

The National Coronavirus Committee on Sunday reported four new cases and three deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed coronavirus infections to 1,734, including 497 fatalities and 862 recoveries. Yemen reported its first case of coronavirus on April 10 in Hadramout.

Local health officials in the city of Marib said that ambulances could still not reach heavily affected areas in the province due to the floods, as local health centers reported a surge in the number of mosquito-borne diseases.

“What concerns us most is a potential outbreak of malaria and dengue fever in Marib, mainly among displaced people,” Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Shadadi, the director of Marib’s Ministry of Health office, told Arab News.