Hassan Diab set to be next Lebanon PM

Hassan Diab  set to be next Lebanon PM
Hassan Diab arrives to talk to the media after being named Lebanon's new prime minister, at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, on Dec. 19, 2019. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
Short Url
Updated 20 December 2019

Hassan Diab set to be next Lebanon PM

Hassan Diab  set to be next Lebanon PM
  • Ex-minister gets Hezbollah backing but fails to win Sunni, Druze vote

BEIRUT: Lebanon has named academic and former education minister Hassan Diab as its next prime minister in a bid to end two months of political stalemate that has gripped the country.

Diab, vice president of the American University of Beirut, was nominated to head the next government by President Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc, along with its allies Hezbollah, Amal Movement and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

The prime minister designate’s first task will be to build a government capable of tackling Lebanon’s worst economic turmoil for decades, while satisfying demands for change from the largest protest movement in almost two decades.

Diab secured the votes of 69 out of 128 members of Parliament on Thursday after caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri withdrew his candidacy and told Aoun his Future Movement parliamentary bloc would not participate in the next government.

However, the incoming premier failed to win a majority of Sunni, Druze or even Christian votes in the binding parliamentary consultations, raising questions about his ability to establish a stable leadership as the country struggles with rising unemployment and a collapsing economy. 

The significant absence of Sunni and Druze votes also revealed changes in Lebanon’s political alliances amid positioning for power in the future government.

Politicians close to Hezbollah and Amal tried to downplay the significance of the voting “gap” as they sought to head off objections to Diab’s nomination. 

Head of the Tawhid Party, Wiam Wahhab, said: “The Sunni opposition that named Diab won 40 percent of the Sunni votes in the parliamentary elections.”

MP Qassem Hashem said: “The person who wins the majority of votes decides to accept or reject. Anything else is misplaced heresy.”

However, Strong Republic MP Ziad Hawat described the consultations on Thursday as “a badly directed play in which all rules and regulations were violated.”

He added: “This is a standard appointment exposed by the power of arms.”

MP Paula Yacoubian said: “Those who are promoting Diab to head the government are trying to do so by using a minesweeper.”

Diab, 60, was minister of education and higher education in Najib Mikati’s government in 2011. 

He appeared as a leadership candidate late on Wednesday after the Strong Lebanon bloc, Hezbollah and Amal agreed to nominate him following Hariri’s withdrawal.

Hariri’s parliamentary bloc, which includes 18 MPs, did not name anyone to head the government.

The Democratic Gathering bloc, which includes nine MPs representing Druze and Progressive Socialist Party loyalists, named former envoy Judge Nawaf Salam as its candidate, a decision backed by the Kataeb bloc, which includes three MPs.

Sami Gemayel, head of the bloc, said: “People want a neutral government and a prime minister who offers a new beginning.”

Diab, who has a Ph.D. in computer engineering, won the votes of the Strong Lebanon bloc, which includes 19 MPs and is headed by MP Gibran Bassil.

He also won the votes of the Hezbollah bloc (13 MPs) and Amal (17 MPs).

 

 

 


Lebanon’s new PM promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’

Lebanon’s new PM promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’
Updated 26 min 48 sec ago

Lebanon’s new PM promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’

Lebanon’s new PM promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’
  • In his first interview as prime minister-designate, Najib Mikati said he plans ‘to form a government of specialists’ to rescue country from its economic crisis
  • He said: ‘I know my limits in the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran’ and ‘we do not want Lebanon to be a conduit for conspiracy against any Arab country’

TUNIS: In his first interview after being appointed Lebanon’s prime minister-designate and tasked with forming a government, Najib Mikati promised the Lebanese people he will “tell the truth about everything.”

Mikati won the backing of the Lebanese parliament on Monday, receiving 72 votes out of a possible 118. He replaces Saad Hariri, who resigned as PM-designate on July 15 after nine months of failed negotiations with President Michel Aoun to form a government.

In an exclusive interview with Nayla Tueni, editor-in-chief of Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, Mikati said that “Hariri’s patriotic feeling prompted him to step down.” He also stated that “there are international and American guarantees that Lebanon will not collapse.”

Mikati said that he wants “to form a government of specialists so that we can implement” a previously proposed French initiative that is “capable of helping Lebanon.”

As a result of fuel shortages, Lebanon has been hit but power outages recently, and Mikati stressed the need to “address the electricity problem.”

The country is also experiencing an ongoing financial crisis, during which the currency has lost most of its value. Mikati said that “banks are experiencing difficulties but work can be done to solve them.”

As for the challenge of forming a new government, almost a year after the previous authority resigned in the aftermath of the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port, Mikati said: “President Michel Aoun is betting on the government and wants to save the country. I told him that I will visit Baabda Palace as soon as (possible) to start forming the government.”

He added: “I have been assigned to continue (this task) and there is light at the end of the tunnel. I can carry out this task.

“I know my limits in the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran. We are with the Arab option, and we do not want Lebanon to be a conduit for conspiracy against any Arab country.”

Two Christian parliamentary groups refused to nominate Mikati during the consultations that led to his appointment, but he said he “understands their position and it is not personal.” He added that his relationship with them “is excellent and is based on respect.” He pointed out that the country is on the cusp of parliamentary elections and predicted that the groups “will support me from the outside because they are looking forward to four years in parliament.”

Talking about the Beirut explosion, Mikati said it “is a disaster that requires great efforts to be dealt with. We want to know the truth about who brought in the ammonium nitrate.” It was stored at the port without proper safety precautions and caused the disaster. He said that Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the official investigation into the blast, “is a man of conscience.”

In 2019 Mikati faced corruption charges relating to housing loans, but he told An-Nahar he “did not commit any infringements.”

A businessman who does not represent a particular political party or bloc, Mikati has served as PM on two previous occasions: on a caretaker basis for three months in 2005 and from June 2011 until February 2014.


Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm

Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm
Updated 27 July 2021

Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm

Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm
  • Ennahda party at the receiving end of anger over perceived government mismanagement of pandemic
  • Slow vaccine rollout, lax observance of safety protocols and spreading delta variant seen as contributing factors

DUBAI: Hasna Worshafani, a Dubai-based paralegal, had not been able to visit her parents in their native Tunisia for more than a year owing to COVID-19 air travel restrictions.

But just as the curbs began to be lifted, the North African country was struck by a devastating new wave of virus cases, forcing her to postpone her trip once again.

“The plan was to spend Eid Al-Adha with my parents, but because the situation back home is not okay, and there is a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, I decided to put travel plans on hold until things settled a little,” Worshafani, a mother of two children, told Arab News.

Tunisia is among five African states in the throes of a devastating third wave of COVID-19 infections. The country, with a population of 11.69 million, has reported more than 18,600 deaths since the pandemic was declared in March last year.

On Sunday, hundreds of protesters rallied in the capital, Tunis, and other cities demanding the government’s resignation in the face of pandemic-linked economic and political troubles. By the end of the day, President Kais Saied had announced the suspension of parliament and the dismissal of Hichem Mechichi from the post of prime minister.

Hospitals have struggled with oxygen shortages and a lack of staff and ICU beds, prompting Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France and Egypt among other countries to send emergency medical supplies and vaccine doses to Tunisia.

Authorities have also failed to implement a speedy vaccine rollout. Fewer than a million people — about eight percent of the population — have been fully vaccinated, even as the caseload has surged to one of the highest in Africa.

While there are several reasons for the uptick in COVID-19 cases, many Tunisians hold the Islamist Ennahda — the largest party in parliament — responsible for the deteriorating economic, social and health conditions since its entry into power in 2019.

Analysts say the shibboleths of democracy and pluralism that roll off the Islamists’ lips during election time may not assuage the public’s fears and anxieties stemming from the collapse of the health system and the parlous state of the economy.

One Tunisian expat said that lockdowns and travel bans became ‘unbearable for many people.’ (AFP)

Pointing to the scenes of jubilation that greeted the presidential announcement on Sunday night and the reports of attempts to storm Ennahda offices in multiple cities, the analysts say Tunisia’s Islamists will wait to see which way the political wind blows before flexing their muscles. As things stand, mass unemployment and declining state services have eroded public support for democracy.

Although Ennahda, along with leftists, supported Saied in the 2019 presidential election, their relations began to sour since the start of the pandemic. A prolonged deadlock between the president, the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament was seen as a major reason behind the government’s bungled response to the latest COVID-19 wave.

Mechichi, who was appointed head of government exactly one year ago, had overseen an unruly cabinet rocked by ministerial resignations and tensions with President Saied. As soaring COVID-19 cases swamped Tunisia’s hospitals, he sacked the health minister this month. But the move was seen by many as a case of too little too late.

The current situation may also have stirred bitter memories for many Tunisians, when an Ennahda-led coalition government was seen as inexplicably slow to challenge one of the deadliest extremist mobilizations in the Arab world following the 2011 uprisings.

Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia utilized post-2011 prisoner amnesties to grow its ranks rapidly. But the government was perceived as reluctant to come down too hard on the Al-Qaeda-linked group. The assassinations in 2013 of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, two leaders of the leftist Popular Front electoral alliance, further polarized Tunisian public opinion.

The government did designate the AST a terrorist organization in August 2013, but many saw it as a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. Five years later, a group of lawyers and politicians accused Ennahda of being behind the Belaid and Brahmi killings and forming a secret organization to infiltrate security forces and the judiciary, charges the party rejected.

The lack of an iron fist in the government’s velvet glove while dealing with militancy during this formative period of Tunisian democracy has haunted Ennahda ever since. As Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has noted in a Wilson Center research paper, “Between 2013 and 2019, thousands joined jihadi movements abroad. … From Libya, Tunisians planned three large-scale attacks in 2015 and 2016 — at the Bardo Museum, a beach resort in Sousse, and the attempted takeover of Ben Gardane, a city along the Tunisian-Libyan border.”

None of this is to say politicians are solely to blame for the COVID-19 catastrophe in Tunisia. Similar to much of the world in the spring of 2020, the country implemented a full lockdown. The strategy proved extremely effective, with Tunisia reporting zero cases for a period of 40 days. But when the borders were reopened in June and tourists began to return, cases suddenly shot up.

Public anger over the lax government response to post-revolution security threats has haunted the ruling Ennahda party. (AFP)

Bureaucrats in much of North Africa failed to anticipate the impact of at least three factors when they decided to relax lockdowns or open up borders. The first is the high transmissibility of the delta variant, thought to have originated in India. The second is dwindling compliance with hygiene and social-distancing measures, and the third is the extremely low rate of vaccination.

“Different countries have different epidemiological situations, so we can’t generalize all of North Africa,” Abdinasir Abubakar, head of the Infectious Hazard Management Unit at the WHO regional office in Cairo, told Arab News.

He said some countries “invested so much in vaccination and this is paying off,” while others focused on enforcing public health measures to slow the spread of the virus.

However, poor compliance has been widely observed in Tunisia, contributing to a surge in cases of the delta variant. “That is actually what is driving the new surge of cases in North Africa, as well as other countries in the region,” Abubakar said.

To bring down the caseload, Abubakar wants the public to adhere to government restrictions on movement and mass gatherings.

“Governments need to reinforce restrictions. But, most importantly, people need to understand the reason why governments are imposing restrictions: Because of safety, health, and protection,” he said.

“People need to comply and respect that. They need to wear masks. They need to respect physical distancing. They need to promote handwashing and cleaning and they need to get vaccinated. They need to avoid any big social gatherings and travel.”

Abubakar is confident the situation in Tunisia and other African countries can be brought under control. For now, he is more concerned about the shortage of oxygen across the region.

“Literally, everywhere we are going through this. People are dying simply because there is not enough oxygen. We have never prioritized it and now this is something we need to do, and it is very easy to do as long as there is commitment and resources,” he said.

Worshafani, the Tunisian expat in Dubai, thinks the situation has deteriorated in her home country for one simple reason: Lockdowns and travel bans had become unbearable for many households.

“Authorities can’t impose a full lockdown for long, because the economy can’t take such a hit after peoples’ lives were badly affected by the lockdowns last year,” she said.

“The cost of living in Tunisia has steadily increased during the past 10 years. People have lost patience.”

Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


Palestinian teenager dies of wounds sustained in May clashes

Medics evacuate an injured Palestinian protester during confrontations with Israeli settlers in the north of the occupied West Bank. (File/AFP)
Medics evacuate an injured Palestinian protester during confrontations with Israeli settlers in the north of the occupied West Bank. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 July 2021

Palestinian teenager dies of wounds sustained in May clashes

Medics evacuate an injured Palestinian protester during confrontations with Israeli settlers in the north of the occupied West Bank. (File/AFP)
  • The Israeli strikes targeted an open area in northern Gaza and a militant training site belonging to the strip’s Hamas Islamist rulers in southern Khan Younis, said Palestinian security sources

JERUSALEM:: A 17-year-old Palestinian died on Monday, two months after he was wounded in the neck by Israeli gunfire during clashes near the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health authorities said.
The shooting occurred during one of numerous clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces during the 11-day war in May between Israel and Hamas, the fourth conflict since the militant group seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
A statement from Palestinian health authorities said Youssef Nawaf died after a May 14 gunshot wound in the neck damaged his spinal cord, leaving him in critical condition.
At least 26 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank during the May fighting, according to the UN.
At least 254 people were killed in Gaza, including 67 children and 39 women, while 12 civilians, including two children and one soldier, were killed in Israel.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war.
The Palestinians seek the area as the heartland of a future independent state.
On Friday, another Palestinian youth — Mohammed Tamimi, 17 — was shot and killed by Israeli troops during clashes in Nebi Saleh.
The village has been the scene of numerous demonstrations over the years against the expansion of a nearby Israeli settlement on what the Palestinians say is their land.
Israel hit Gaza with airstrikes on Sunday after incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave caused fires in the Jewish state, with no reported injuries on either side.

FASTFACT

Youssef Nawaf, 17, died on Monday after a May 14 gunshot wound in the neck damaged his spinal cord, leaving him in critical condition.

The Israeli strikes targeted an open area in northern Gaza and a militant training site belonging to the strip’s Hamas Islamist rulers in southern Khan Younis, said Palestinian security sources.
The strikes came after Israel cut by half the fishing zone off the blockaded coastal territory, a common response following projectile attacks by armed groups in Gaza.
Israel’s army had no immediate comment on the strikes.
But the military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories (COGAT) said the fishing zone had been reduced from 12 nautical miles to six.
“The decision was made following the continued launching of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, which constitutes a violation of Israeli sovereignty,” it said in a statement.
Hamas was “responsible for all activities within the Gaza Strip and all actions originating in the Gaza Strip directed toward the state of Israel,” COGAT said.
“It will therefore bear the consequences for the violence committed against the citizens of the state of Israel.”
Israeli firefighters earlier said they extinguished brush blazes at three spots in the Eshkol region near the border, blaming blaming “incendiary balloons” as the cause.
The balloons are basic devices intended to set fire to farmland surrounding the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave.
On July 12, Israel announced it was re-expanding the fishing zone off Gaza and allowing additional imports into the Palestinian territory but warned the measure could be reversed in response to fresh unrest.


Kuwait cancels decision to close commercial activities at 8 pm, from Tuesday — cabinet

Kuwait cancels decision to close commercial activities at 8 pm, from Tuesday — cabinet
Updated 27 July 2021

Kuwait cancels decision to close commercial activities at 8 pm, from Tuesday — cabinet

Kuwait cancels decision to close commercial activities at 8 pm, from Tuesday — cabinet
  • Kuwait will allow only those who are vaccinated to various activities
  • Kuwait will allow direct flights to Morocco and Maldives starting Aug. 1

CAIRO: The Kuwaiti cabinet canceled its decision to close commercial activities at 8 pm, starting Tuesday, the cabinet said in a statement on Monday.
Kuwait will open all activities except for gatherings which include conferences, weddings, and social events, and will also open special activities for children, starting from Sept. 1, the cabinet said.
Kuwait will allow only those who are vaccinated to access various activities. The unvaccinated will be only allowed to enter pharmacies, consumer cooperative societies, and food and catering marketing outlets, starting from Aug. 1, the cabinet added. 
The cabinet also reversed a July 25 decision to close nurseries and summer clubs for children, and said they would reopen as well from September.
The cabinet said that large gatherings including conferences, weddings and other social events, will remain banned until further notice.
The decisions come following a significant decline in the number of new coronavirus infections.
On Monday, Kuwait recorded nine COVID-19 deaths and 988 new cases, raising the totals to 2,293 and 393,605, respectively.
The Ministry of Health also confirmed 1,336 patients recovered from the virus in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 377,434.
The Kuwaiti cabinet also announced that direct flights to Morocco and Maldives will resume starting Aug. 1.
(With Reuters)


Bombshell leak shows Iran creating ‘target bank’ for future cyber assaults

Leaked documents show that Iran has taken a keen interest in British, American and French companies and activities. (AP/File Photo)
Leaked documents show that Iran has taken a keen interest in British, American and French companies and activities. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 26 July 2021

Bombshell leak shows Iran creating ‘target bank’ for future cyber assaults

Leaked documents show that Iran has taken a keen interest in British, American and French companies and activities. (AP/File Photo)
  • Papers leaked by an anonymous source reveal Iranian plans to sink cargo ships, blow up gas stations remotely
  • Iran has long sought to become a leading cyber security actor, and the documents provide written proof that this intention comes right from the top

LONDON: Leaked documents have revealed Iran’s secret research into how the Republic’s cyber capacity could be used to sink cargo ships, blow up a petrol station or other forms of cyber assault, according to a report by Sky News.

The leaked documents — a set of internal files — also include information on satellite communications devices used in global shipping, and a computer system that controls lights and other appliances in smart buildings across the world.

They also show that the Islamic Republic has taken a keen interest in British, American and French companies and activities.

Sky News reported that an anonymous source that provided the documents believed that Tehran was collecting this information to identity targets for future cyber attacks.

“They are creating a target bank to be used whenever they see fit,” said the source.

Iran has allegedly been behind a number of attacks in recent weeks, including a years-long effort to trick British, American and other Western security and military officials into revealing sensitive information about their activities.

The papers, marked “very confidential,” also revealed that the Iranian regime is taking part in a concerted effort to make Iran a globally relevant cyber player — and central to this effort is the work of secretive units with the Islamic Revolutionary guards Corps (IRGC) aimed at improving the hermit country’s ability to strike overseas civilians and military infrastructure.

A quote by Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i, close to the start of the papers, reads: “The Islamic Republic of Iran must become among the world's most powerful in the area of cyber.”

Sky’s source said this statement is the “commander's statement of intent.”

According to the source, the leaked documents came from a subsection of the IRGC’s Shahid Kaveh unit — named after one of the earliest zealots to join Ayatollah Khomeini in the early days of the Islamic republic’s war with Iraq, and who went on to become his personal bodyguard.

The unit, the source said, “are supposed to be rather clandestine. They work on offensive cyber operations globally.”

The reports, divided into five different papers, cover a range of potential attacks the Shahid Kaveh unit is believed to be planning.

That includes publicly-available information on how ballast systems in cargo ships work —‚ an analysis of whether this could be weaponized against the vessel.

"These pumps are used to bring water into the tanks through centrifuges and in order to operate correctly, the task must be completed with precision. Any problems could result in the sinking of the ship,” said the Iranian report, adding: “Any kind of disruptive influence can cause disorder within these systems and can cause significant and irreparable damage to the vessel.”

Another looks into whether fuel pumps in petrol stations, some of which have very lax cyber defenses due to outdated infrastructure, can be used by the IRGC. 

The report said cyber attacks could interfere with the operation of these pumps, and that “(An) explosion of these fueling pumps is possible if these systems are hacked and controlled remotely.”

Iranian agents also looked into using “smart buildings” to cause disruption, and looked into maritime communication devices as another potential means of assault. Both of these avenues of investigation, though, appeared to have come to nothing.

Ben Wallace, Britain's defence secretary, told Sky News that if the documents are authentic then they demonstrate that the UK and its allies are vulnerable to cyber attacks.

"Unless we do something about it, our critical national infrastructure, our way of life could be threatened quite easily," he said.

Cyber warfare is increasingly being seen as a key tool in the future of warfare.

The US, UK, Russia, China, Israel, North Korea and Iran all possess offensive cyber capabilities, but the nature of cyber strategy means it is often difficult to know exactly what a state is capable of.

Aside from the spate of Iranian attacks, other cyber attacks included the massive Solarwinds attack, which unleashed a virus on thousands of US government computer devices, and the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, which saw hackers breach an oil pipeline’s systems and demand millions of dollars in exchange for returning control to the pipeline owners.

The pipeline attack alone saw oil prices on America’s West Coast spike, causing widespread panic buying and disrupting the US economy.

General Patrick Sanders, the UK’s top military officer overseeing cyber operations, said Iran is “among the most advanced cyber actors. We take their capabilities seriously. We don’t overstate it. They are a serious actor and they have behaved really irresponsibly in the past.”