Baalbek rebels join revolution generation

Protesters gather in Poet Khalil Mutran Square, near Baalbek Castle, about 85 km northeast of Beirut, on Sunday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 02 December 2019

Baalbek rebels join revolution generation

  • Protests in the city of Baalbek have peaked over the past few days

BEIRUT: The gathering in Poet Khalil Mutran Square, near Baalbek Castle, was shy at the beginning of the civil movement in Lebanon on Oct. 17, despite all the pain endured by the city.

Yassin Chamas, a citizen of Baalbek, noted that the participation of the people of northern Bekaa “is not limited to Baalbek as there are also protests in Hermel, a stronghold of Hezbollah, and the towns of Arsal and Fakha. This is due to the fact that tribal ties in the region were not fully broken by political parties which guaranteed a breathing space for people to freely express their opinions, disregarding the parties’ orders.

“Baalbek is one of the most neglected provinces in Lebanon,” said Chamas. “The only possible immigration for the new generation of educated youths is to Beirut and its southern suburb in search of job opportunities. Life is difficult. The nearest hospital is 70 km away, whereas public hospitals are almost paralyzed due to the malfunction in the state’s institutions, in addition to the difficulty in procuring fuel.”

Issa Jamaluddin, an activist in the Baalbek protests, said that “there is a media blackout on the protest movement of the region for unknown reasons.”

He added: “The people who are taking to the streets are educated. There are doctors, engineers and workers, and there are also hungry and needy people. There is certainly a divergence of opinion among us participants in the protests, but we all agree on one thing: Israel is our enemy.”

Chamas said: “The demands of the region are easy and difficult at the same time,” noting that “90 percent of real estate in the region is not registered as people could not go to Beirut to do so, due to distance and expenses, which makes it hard for any inhabitant of the region to get a housing loan or a bank loan, and that it is necessary for the state to sort this matter out.”

Chamas and Jamaluddin agree that the attack on the square provoked people to join the movement on the next day of the attack. Chamas said: “The attack was due to Hezbollah being unable to let people act according to their will because it affects its stronghold. The state has no plans for any reforms in northern Bekaa. It only seeks to buy acquiescence through cheap means which do not ward off starvation; however people have become aware enough to rise up and think about their future.”

Jamaluddin was surprised at the extent of women’s participation in the Baalbek protests and said that they exceeded over half of its participants.

Maya Al-Chel, a young activist who set a reading forum in Baalbek, said that people “are going to the square because they want to get rid of the corrupt political class and the parties in power and aim to abolish sectarianism.”

She added: “It is true that the protests were modest in the beginning but with time, and with the assault by thugs, there was a reaction, and a new generation of politically aware people came to the streets to claim job opportunities, universities and hospitals.”

She pointed out that “all accusations linking us to foreign powers are void, for we gather modest donations every day to buy flags.”

Chamas said that he belongs “to a generation that organized and participated in demonstrations before and during the civil war,” but he believes that the “revolution generation is exhibiting an unprecedented level of political consciousness.”

He added that “we failed in achieving Arab unity, in liberating Palestine, or in establishing democratic rule, and the biggest service that we could render to the rebellious generation is not to deal with them as if we are their tutors. We need to listen to their points of view. The role of my generation is to monitor rather than guide, and revolutions in the world need long years and take different forms.”


Turkey’s democratic credentials under the spotlight

Members of Turkish forces guard in Aliaga, Izmir province, western Turkey. (AP file photo)
Updated 19 min 16 sec ago

Turkey’s democratic credentials under the spotlight

  • Analysts urge world community to highlight crackdown on freedoms

JEDDAH: The fifth hearing of the Gezi Park protests trial resumed on Tuesday, on the same day as the third Universal Periodic Review of Turkey began before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Analysts called on international organizations to highlight the crackdown on human rights and press freedom in the country.
On Tuesday, 16 critical voices from Turkish civil society, including businessman-philanthropist Osman Kavala, faced life in prison for “attempting to overthrow the government or partially or wholly prevent its functions” as they were accused of playing a role in Gezi Park protests.
In 2013, around 3.6 million people attended the protests in 80 cities across Turkey, according to official statistics.
The trial is seen as part of systematic moves by the Turkish government to restrict civil society and human rights defenders in the country by continuously accusing them of links to terror groups.
Before the trial, Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner, Milena Buyum, said: “This prosecution is a shameful attempt to silence independent civil society, and part of a wider ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders. Osman Kavala should not have spent a single minute behind bars let alone more than two years in pre-trial detention.”
However, the court refused to release Kavala. The hearing was delayed until Feb. 18. A request for a recusal was also rejected.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had ruled that Kavala and Selahattin Demirtas — the former leader of pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and a staunch opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — should be immediately released as they had already faced prolonged and arbitrary detention in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The ECHR ruled: “Any continuation of (Osman Kavala’s) pre-trial detention in the present case will entail a prolongation of the violation of Article 5/1 and of Article 18.”
The judicial campaign against the 16 defendants has mostly been justified through anti-terror laws, laws against associations, public order legislation or defamatory accusations on the grounds of “propagandizing for a terror organization” or “insulting the president.”
During the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, that will continue until Jan 30, an official from the Turkish delegation claimed “everyone has a right to hold demonstrations” in Turkey. However, evidence suggests this is not the case. For instance, according to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, since November 2016, all demonstrations have been banned in Turkey’s eastern city of Van.
The 2016 failed coup attempt also provided a pretext for the government to increase its repressive measures against dissidents.
In the post-coup period, many opposition journalists, politicians and activists were detained and prosecuted on vague charges and in defiance of international human rights conventions that the country is obliged to abide by.

FASTFACT

The 2016 failed coup attempt provided a pretext for the government to increase its repressive measures against dissidents.

EuroMed Rights, a human rights network, gave an exclusive interview to Arab News, saying that since the Gezi Park protests, an erosion of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms had been observed in Turkey.
“Today, the judiciary clearly aims to rewrite the events of 2013 as a conspiracy against the government. The hearing against Osman Kavala is an example among others,” an official from EuroMed Rights said.
According to EuroMed Rights, civil society in Turkey today is under constant pressure, and the space available for civic engagement is shrinking, as associations are now compelled to report information about their members — ID numbers, names, occupations — to the Ministry of Interior.
“The two-year-long state of emergency and law no. 7145 (July 2018) intended, among others, to ban protests, public assemblies and restrict movement are in total contradiction with articles 19, 23 and 34 of the Turkish constitution. Such decisions seek to isolate organizations and human rights defenders by criminalizing engagement with independent associations,” the official said.
He added: “A strong and independent civil society is the sign of a healthy democracy where citizens can engage with society through independent organizations. A government that weakens civil society willingly decides to remove a diversity of voices from the democratic debate.”
The official from EuroMed Rights also said that, by denying citizens the right to associate, the authorities threatened civil society, which cannot hold the government accountable for decisions and cannot act as an intermediary between the citizens and their representatives.
Experts called on the EU, the Council of Europe and the UN to put pressure on the Turkish government to bring the country back towards international standards.
“This is the only way to ensure the people in Turkey do not see their rights abused,” the EuroMed Rights official added.