Students burn history books as protests continue in Lebanon

Protesters chant slogans during recent rallies in Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters)
Updated 22 November 2019

Students burn history books as protests continue in Lebanon

  • “Why don’t they teach us about Lebanon’s current situation and the role of our generation in change?”

BEIRUT: Dozens of Lebanese students in Beirut headed to the Ministry of Education to demand the modernization of school curricula and the development of public schools. They set fire to their history and geography books — as one of them said, “We learn information that does not resemble us. Why don’t they teach us about Lebanon’s current situation and the role of our generation in change?”

People with special needs gathered in Riad Al-Solh Square in central Beirut to demand respect for their rights, holding signs that read “Freedom and dignity for all, in a nation for all.”

They called for a ministry for people with special needs, social protection, integration in schools and in all departments and sectors, accessible sidewalks, the provision of medicine, healthcare, housing, the respect of their right to work and their inclusion in the drafting of public policies and political decisions.

On the eve of the country’s Independence Day, peaceful protesters in the streets awaited President Michel Aoun’s address on Thursday night. Sarcasm dominated social media as they expressed their fear that Aoun might “ask them to commit suicide,” after he had asked them to emigrate in a previous televised interview on Nov. 12. His words back then outraged protesters and fuelled the protest that have been going on for 36 days over corruption and new taxes.

Since Saad Hariri’s government resigned on Oct. 29, the formation of a new government has posed difficulties. This is mainly due to the disagreement between Saad Hariri, who wants to lead a technocratic government that satisfies protesters and gains the confidence of the international community, and President Aoun and his allies, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, who insist on a techno-political government.

Press reports say that President Aoun and his allies might resort to forming a government without Hariri’s Future Movement.

“The President’s role is conciliatory in order to achieve a breakthrough in this crisis and rapidly form a government,” said MP and Secretary General of the Strong Lebanon bloc, Ibrahim Kanaan, noting that “a dialogue between the political parties and the civil movement is required to overcome the crisis. Nobody has an interest in Lebanon turning into a battle field. Bold decisions in the right direction are therefore required as well.”

The Army Commander, Gen. Joseph Aoun, addressed soldiers saying: “The military establishment unites all the citizens of this nation regardless of their orientations and views. You responsibly and professionally executed the mission entrusted to you despite the fact that your military mission is to face the enemy, Israel, which violates our sovereignty daily, and terrorism, which takes advantage of any opportunity to strike civil peace and cause strife.”

He called on soldiers to “keep away from rumours and not allow political tensions to keep you from carrying out your duties.”

Hezbollah and the Amal Movement blamed security forces and the Lebanese army for failing to facilitate the MPs’ access to the parliament’s legislative session last Tuesday.

As the military parade has been cancelled for this year’s Independence Day, protesters are preparing for a civil parade in Martyrs’ Square on Friday.

Protesters in the southern region of Nabatieh stopped a traditional visit by representatives of the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the Parliament to Shkif Castle. It was in this castle in that the French mandate arrested the then President, Bechara El-Khoury, PM Riyadh Al-Solh, Ministers, Salim Takla, Adel Osseiran, Kamil Chamoun and MP Abdul Hamid Karami on Nov. 11, 1943, for their activities to achieve independence. It later released them on Nov. 22, which became Lebanon’s independence Day.
 


Yemen’s rival powers battle over banknotes

Updated 18 January 2020

Yemen’s rival powers battle over banknotes

  • The Houthis outlawed the use and possession of crisp new Yemeni riyal bills
  • The riyal stood at about 560 to the dollar across Yemen before the ban was announced in mid-December

SANAA/ADEN: Yemen’s warring sides opened a new front in their five-year conflict on Saturday - a battle over old and new banknotes that threatens to create two economies in the same state.

As of midnight, the Houthi movement which controls the capital Sanaa outlawed the use and possession of crisp new Yemeni riyal bills issued by its rivals in the internationally recognised government based in the southern port town of Aden.

The Iran-allied Houthis, who say people should only use the old bills, have defended the ban as a move against inflation and what they call rampant money-printing by the government.

The government has branded the ban an act of economic vandalism. And the population, as ever, have been left stuck in the crossfire.

Yemenis from both sides told Reuters the ban had effectively created two currencies with diverging values, adding to the turmoil in a state already governed by two powers and brought to its knees by the war.

In the one-month build up to the ban, people in Houthi-controlled areas have been queuing to try to exchange their new riyal notes for old, turning the grubby and torn bills into a prized and relatively scarce commodity.

The riyal stood at about 560 to the dollar across Yemen before the ban was announced in mid-December. The rate has since slipped a little in Houthi-controlled areas to around 582, but slumped much further to 642 in the south, an area now awash with new bills.

That relative strength might look like a boon for northerners, if only they could get hold of enough of the old notes in time to keep afloat in the largely cash-based economy.

“We go for the exchange and they won’t take [the new notes] from us. Or say they need three, four or five days,” craftsman Abdullah Saleh al-Dahmasi told Reuters on a Sanaa street a week before the ban came into force.

“The new one isn’t accepted and the old one is worn out, they have to find a solution,” the 27-year-old said.

A few days before the ban came in, around 20 angry men and women were turned away from one exchange which said it had filled its quota for the day. Many had been coming there for three days in the hope of swapping their cash.

North-south trade has become far more expensive as traders have to buy and sell two types of riyal - told apart by the state of the paper and the different sizes and designs.

TWO CENTRAL BANKS

Many people in Sanaa told Reuters they felt the ban was needed to constrain inflation. But they were facing difficulties in the short-term.

“When people saw that new currency come into circulation, they held onto it as it was new and shiny. But now it’s a problem that they have it,” said 28-year-old Abdallah Bashiri, a private sector worker in Sanaa.

In that city, legal exchanges will swap 100,000 Yemeni riyals (around $172) in new notes for electronic currency that can be spent on things like phone credit or electricity bills, for a small fee of around $1.50.

But things get more challenging when it comes to actual paper that can be spent in food markets. Sanaa residents said unofficial exchanges are offering to change 100,000 riyals of new notes into 90-96,000 riyals of the scarcer old.

After the Houthis stormed the capital Sanaa in 2014 and ousted the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s central bank split into two branches - one in Sanaa, under Houthi control, and one internationally recognised branch in Aden, which has access to money printers.

The Aden authorities have defended their decision to step up the printing of new money from 2017, saying it was an attempt to deal with a building cash crunch and pay public sector salaries.

“The Houthis ... did not consider the economic cost to society,” Yousef Saeed Ahmad, adviser to the governor of Aden’s central bank, told Reuters there this week.

“We hope the measures taken are short-term. They cannot be kept up because the economy is one, it is interrelated and commodities flow from Sanaa to Aden and vice versa. This measure will aggregate the living conditions of all Yemenis,” he said.

The Houthis have defended their ban as a way of defending the value of the currency.

“The Sanaa central bank had to take measures to stem the dangerous practices the Aden central bank was carrying out through their monetary policy,” said Sami Al-Siyaghi, in charge of foreign banking operations at the Sanaa central bank.

“The imposition of [Aden’s] monetary stance on us led to the collapse of the national currency against foreign currency ... With each new issuance you notice a commensurate collapse in the riyal against foreign currency,” Siyashi told Reuters.