Lebanese erupt in anger on social media over foreign minister’s Davos participation

Lebanese erupt in anger on social media over foreign minister’s Davos participation
Bassil is set to speak in a panel session called “The Return of Arab Unrest” . (File photo: Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 21 January 2020

Lebanese erupt in anger on social media over foreign minister’s Davos participation

Lebanese erupt in anger on social media over foreign minister’s Davos participation
  • The Lebanese reacted to Gebran Bassil's attending the WEF
  • "Today he is turning a blind eye to the devastating violence against civilians we're witnessing,” a student told Arab News

DAVOS: Lebanese have erupted in anger after the country’s caretaker foreign minister was announced as a participant at the World Economic Forum conference in Davos.

Activists have started an online petition called “No to Gebran Bassil at WEF”

“It's a shame that the international community fails to see Gebran Bassil amongst the pool of failed politicians who have lead to the crisis Lebanon witnesses today,” Chermine Haidar, a Lebanese student at SOAS University in London, told Arab News.

“He has for years incited sectarian violence in Lebanon, and today he is turning a blind eye to the devastating violence against civilians we're witnessing,” she added.

Bassil, who has been one of the protesters’ main targets, is set to speak in a panel session called “The Return of Arab Unrest” along with Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Dubai-based developer Damac Properties, Rached Ghannouchi, speaker of the Tunisian assembly and the Dutch trade minister Sigrid Kaag.

 

 

The panel, moderated by CNBC anchor Hadley Gamble, will discuss the rise of popular protests across the Middle East and how they can “be translated into a practical roadmap for positive change,” according to the session description.

“What positive change will Gebran Bassil be talking about?” asked George Azzi on Twitter.

“How to ignore protesters and oppress them? 

“There is a revolution against him in Beirut and he is invited to speak about a ‘practical roadmap to avoid past pitfalls?’ This panel is shameful!” 


Another Lebanese expat, Catherine Warde, also reacted with disbelief at Bassil’s appearance.

“How can someone who is so hated by their own people go and speak at the World Economic Forum when the people that they should be representing are being shot and tear gassed because of orders they gave out?” she said.

The Lebanese protests erupted at the weekend into the worst violence since the demonstrations began in October. Hundreds of people were injured during clashes with riot police and the army.

The online petition, which has reached more than 5,000 signatures, says: “We the People urge the World Economic Forum to rethink Mr Bassil’s invite and listen to the People of Lebanon, listen to their voice, the voice of truth, the voice of justice.”

“He should not be present at a prestigious international forum such as Davos in our name. He should not be given a legitimate platform to cement his power and to speak on behalf of a nation that has rejected him and accuses him of flagrant corruption.”

One Lebanese twitter user, Rula El-Halabi, tweeted a poll that asked Lebanese citizens whether they agree with Bassil representing Lebanon at the forum.

Some 76 percent out of the 17,551 who responded voted “No.”

Another user, business executive Dr. Walid Mahmoud, Said: “Having Gebran Bassil as a speaker at the WEF in Davos does not honor the Lebanese people who have been uprising against the existing political system that led the country to its worst economic crisis ever and which Bassil represents as one of its most condemned figures!” (

A few, however, have defended the caretaker foreign minister on social media.

One user, Hyam Saliba, tweeted: “As a Lebanese citizen, I would like to say that Gebran Bassil is the most honorable politician in Lebanon and he truly represents me.

“He is one of a kind man that can change the world to make it a better place.


From Morocco to Sudan, North Africa grapples with crippling new wave of COVID-19 

A medical worker assists an elderly woman arriving to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at El-Menzah sports hall in Tunisia's capital Tunis. (AFP/File Photo)
A medical worker assists an elderly woman arriving to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at El-Menzah sports hall in Tunisia's capital Tunis. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 19 min 40 sec ago

From Morocco to Sudan, North Africa grapples with crippling new wave of COVID-19 

A medical worker assists an elderly woman arriving to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at El-Menzah sports hall in Tunisia's capital Tunis. (AFP/File Photo)
  • North African states are seeing varying degrees of success at containing the coronavirus amid a devastating third wave 
  • Slow vaccine rollouts, lockdown fatigue and the spreading Delta variant stretch health systems and economies to the limit 

DUBAI: First identified in India, the highly transmissible coronavirus delta variant has since been detected in around 100 countries, prompting new waves of infections, travel restrictions and concerns over the effectiveness of vaccines.

One region that has been especially hard hit is North Africa, where the economic havoc caused by lockdowns has forced governments to reluctantly reopen borders and businesses despite the slow pace of inoculation.

Tunisia, with a population of 11.69 million, has reported 582,638 infections and 19,336 deaths since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, making it one of the worst-hit nations in Africa, alongside Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.

The collapse of the health system and severe economic hardship triggered mass protests that in turn have plunged the country into a political crisis.

War-ravaged Libya has also witnessed an alarming surge of COVID-19 cases over the past month. Because of its two centers of political power with parallel institutions, its response and vaccination rollout have been disjointed and sluggish.

The country’s National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) recorded 3,845 new COVID-19 cases on July 25 — at that time the highest daily rate since the onset of the pandemic.

Libya has recorded roughly 246,200 cases and 3,469 deaths, but the true figure is likely far higher given the country’s acute shortage of tests and laboratory capacity.

“We are alarmed at the rapid spread of the virus in the country,” AbdulKadir Musse, UNICEF Special Representative in Libya, said in a statement.

A Moroccan municipal worker disinfects outside a house in a closed street in the southern port city of Safi on June 9, 2020 after Moroccan authorities declared a total lockdown. (AFP/File Photo)

“The vaccination rate is very low, and the spread is fast. We must be quicker in our response. The most important thing we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the variants, is ensure everyone who is eligible gets vaccinated.

“Countries with high coverage of two doses of vaccines have been able to drastically reduce the rate of hospitalization and deaths. We also need to follow and abide by preventive measures.”

Also known by its scientific name B.1.617.2, the delta variant was first detected in the Indian state of Maharashtra in October 2020, but was only labeled a “variant of concern” (VOC) by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 11 this year.

The strain, itself the product of multiple mutations, is thought to be 60 percent more infectious than the alpha (or Kent) variant, an earlier mutation that emerged in southern England in November 2020.

READ MORE

Arab countries of North Africa have particularly felt the economic pain of the coronavirus crisis. Find out why here.

In many countries, including the UK, delta has now become the dominant strain. Although it is thought to cause more severe symptoms than its ancestor variants, placing additional strain on health services, there is currently not enough data to suggest it is more deadly.

More encouraging is the data on the effectiveness of vaccines. A study by Public Health England found the Pfizer vaccine was 94 percent effective against hospitalization after one dose and 96 percent effective after two doses, while AstraZeneca was 71 percent effective after one dose and 92 percent effective after two.

This is all good for countries with high rates of vaccination such as the UK. But for countries in the developing world, including the Arab states of North Africa, the slow rollout of vaccines means there is limited protection against the virus.

Delta is taking a terrible toll in these countries, leaving hospitals overburdened and mortuaries short of space.

Africa as a whole recently recorded a 43 percent week-on-week rise in COVID-19 deaths. Hospital admissions have increased rapidly and countries face shortages of oxygen and ICU beds.

A mask-clad worker measures the body temperature of incoming Muslim worshippers arriving for prayers at the Hasan II mosque, one of the largest in the African continent, in Morocco's Casablanca. (AFP/File Photo)

According to the WHO, the continent has vaccinated around 52 million people since the start of the rollout in March and only 18 million are fully vaccinated, representing 1.5 percent of the continent’s population compared with more than 50 percent in some high-income countries.

South Africa, with its population of almost 60 million, has recorded 2,422,151 cases and 71,431 deaths since the pandemic began. Based on deaths per head of the population, Tunisia tops the region.

However, the picture is not uniform across the region. To date, 1.63 percent of Egyptians and 1.68 percent of Algerians have been fully vaccinated, compared with 27.68 percent of Moroccans, and 8.24 percent of Tunisians. Just 0.43 percent of Sudanese have received two doses, while data for Libya is unavailable.

“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.

Some countries have “really invested so much in vaccination and this is paying off,” while other countries have focused on enforcing public-health measures to slow the spread of the virus, he said.

“I think Morocco has really made a great investment and progress on administering more people with the vaccine compared to a number of other countries. And the cases you see are actually very minimal compared to previous waves, so I wouldn’t worry much about Morocco,” Abubakar said.

People queue as they arrive outside a make-shift COVID-19 coronavirus vaccination and testing centre erected at the Martyrs' Square of Libya's capital Tripoli on July 24, 2021. (AFP)

Nevertheless, cases in Morocco have been steadily increasing since mid-May, prompting the government to announce an extension of its state of emergency until Aug. 10.

Having already inoculated older age groups, Moroccan health authorities are now offering vaccines to people over the age of 30. But compliance with social-distancing and other hygiene regulations appears to be slipping.

“In Casablanca, I saw many people wearing masks but without adhering to other physical and social-distancing measures,” said Um Ahmad, who recently returned to Dubai following a family visit.

“I saw crowds on the streets and in markets as usual. And when I visited Fez, I saw people living normally with no precautionary actions whatsoever. I even asked my relative ‘are we on a different planet?’”

A Tunisian woman infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus receives oxygen at the Ibn al-Jazzar hospital in the east-central city of Kairouan. (AFP/File Photo)

In Algeria, which decided to close its borders to curb the spread of the delta variant, there is another more pressing problem — a shortage of oxygen in its hospitals to treat the seriously ill, forcing the government to establish a special unit to supervise the distribution of oxygen cylinders.

Egypt has reported a recent decline in the number of COVID-19 cases, with officials recording less than 70 new infections and less than 10 deaths per day. The country has even started sending its surplus medical kits to Tunisia.

But here too, public compliance with social-distancing measures leaves much to be desired. Eman Amir, an Egyptian working in Dubai who traveled to Cairo in May to visit her ailing mother, said she was shocked by the public’s relaxed attitude toward virus containment.

“Those who don’t care whether they die of coronavirus are those who feel they have little to lose given their already precarious existence,” she told Arab News, referring to contract and informal-sector workers most affected by pandemic restrictions.

In neighboring Sudan, cases are surging, particularly in the eastern city of Port Sudan, capital of the Red Sea State.

Abdinasir Abubakar, head of Infectious Hazard Management Unit, WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean. (Supplied)

Dr. Ahmed Dreyer, the state’s director of the Emergency and Epidemic Control Department, has urged authorities to impose a three-week lockdown — known in policy circles as a circuit breaker — to help contain the spread of the delta variant.

Hana, a young Sudanese woman who lives with her family in Dubai, says many people back home are still not convinced the coronavirus even exists — the product, it would seem, of widespread misinformation.

“People have enough problems to worry about,” Hana said. “They don’t want to add to them and worry about the pandemic.

“They try to lead normal lives, by earning their livelihood and putting bread on the table.” 

---------------

Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


Egypt officials say Daesh militants attack kills 5 troops in Sinai

Egypt officials say Daesh militants attack kills 5 troops in Sinai
Updated 29 min 24 sec ago

Egypt officials say Daesh militants attack kills 5 troops in Sinai

Egypt officials say Daesh militants attack kills 5 troops in Sinai
  • At least six other troops were wounded in the attack in the town of Sheikh Zuweid and taken to a military hospital
  • Security personnel killed three militants in the firefight, and the area was reinforced, the officials added

CAIRO: Daesh militants ambushed a checkpoint in the restive northern part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing at least five troops from the security forces, officials said.
At least six other troops were wounded in the attack in the town of Sheikh Zuweid and taken to a military hospital in the Mediterranean city of El-Arish, they said.
Security personnel killed three militants in the firefight, and the area was reinforced, the officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Egypt has been battling militants in the northern part of Sinai Peninsula for years. Violence and instability there intensified after the 2013 military ouster of Muhammad Mursi, an elected but divisive Islamist president, amid nationwide protests against his brief rule.
The militants carried out numerous attacks, mainly targeting security forces, minority Christians and those who they accuse of collaborating with the military and police.
The pace of Daesh attacks in Sinai’s main theater and elsewhere has slowed to a trickle since February 2018, when the military launched a massive operation in Sinai as well as parts of the Nile Delta and deserts along the country’s western border with Libya.
The fight against militants in Sinai has largely taken place hidden from the public eye, with journalists, non-residents and outside observers barred from the area. The conflict has also been kept at a distance from tourist resorts at the southern end of the peninsula.


US official lands in Sudan to support democratic transition

US official lands in Sudan to support democratic transition
Updated 31 July 2021

US official lands in Sudan to support democratic transition

US official lands in Sudan to support democratic transition
  • Samantha Power is set to meet with top Sudanese officials including Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan
  • She will also travel to Sudan’s western region of Darfur where she said she investigated atrocities in the its civil war in the 2000s

CAIRO: The US official who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on genocide landed Saturday in Khartoum, aiming to support Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy before traveling to Ethiopia to press the government there to allow humanitarian aid to the war-torn Tigray region.
Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, is set to meet with top Sudanese officials including Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the civilian face of Sudan’s transitional government.
She will also travel to Sudan’s western region of Darfur where she said she investigated atrocities in the its civil war in the 2000s.
“I first visited Sudan in 2004— investigating a genocide in Darfur perpetrated by a regime whose grip on power seemed unshakeable. I couldn’t imagine Sudan would one day be an inspiring example to the world that no leader is ever permanently immune from the will of their people,” Power wrote on Twitter upon her arrival in Khartoum.
Power’s visit to Khartoum is meant to “strengthen the US Government’s partnership with Sudan’s transitional leaders and citizens, explore how to expand USAID’s support for Sudan’s transition to a civilian-led democracy,” USAID said.
Sudan is now on a fragile path to democracy and is ruled by a military-civilian government after a popular uprising led to the military’s ouster of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in 2019. The Khartoum government, which seeks better ties with the US and the West after nearly three decades of international isolation, faces towering economic and security challenges that threaten to derail its transition into chaos.
The US official would also meet with Ethiopian refugees in Sudan who recently fled the conflict and atrocities in the Tigray region which borders Sudan.
Since the Tigray war began in November, tens of thousands of Ethiopians have crossed into Sudan, adding to the country’s economic and security challenges.
Power’s five-day trip will also take her to Ethiopia as part of international efforts to prevent a looming famine in Tigray, a region of some 6 million people that has been devastated by the months-long war.
Power will meet with Ethiopian officials “to press for unimpeded humanitarian access to prevent famine in Tigray and meet urgent needs in other conflict-affected regions of the country,” USAID said.
The world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade is unfolding in Tigray, where the US says up to 900,000 people now face famine conditions and international food security experts say the crucial planting season “has largely been missed” because of the war.
Ethiopia’s government has blamed the aid blockade on the resurgent Tigray forces who have retaken much of the region and crossed into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, but a senior official with the US Agency for International Development this week told the AP that is “100 percent not the case.”


Jordan lifting border crossing with Syria to full capacity from Aug. 1

This photo taken in 2015 shows the Jaber border crossing with Syria, some 90 kilometres north of Amman. (AFP/File Photo)
This photo taken in 2015 shows the Jaber border crossing with Syria, some 90 kilometres north of Amman. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 31 July 2021

Jordan lifting border crossing with Syria to full capacity from Aug. 1

This photo taken in 2015 shows the Jaber border crossing with Syria, some 90 kilometres north of Amman. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The number of arrivals through the border crossing will be increased
  • All nationalities will be allowed to leave Jordan through the crossing

AMMAN: The border crossing between Jordan and Syria is set to operate at full capacity from Aug. 1, following almost 10 years of complete and partial closure due to rising violence in Syria and the coronavirus pandemic.

Jordanian Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya recently announced that the Jaber-Nasib crossing will operate at full capacity after all technical and administrative arrangements were completed with the Syrian side.

Al-Faraya said that the decision came after directives from Prime Minister Bishr Khasawneh following his field visit to the crossing on July 8.

The minister added that a set of new measures will be implemented at the border crossing — located about 90 kilometers north of Amman — to increase passenger and cargo traffic between Jordan and Syria, including the cancellation of the back-to-back shipment protocol.

“This means that the Syrian trucks will continue their way to Saudi Arabia and other the Arab Gulf countries without anymore needing a Jordanian freight forwarder,” he said.

Al-Faraya added that the number of arrivals through the border crossing will be increased and that all nationalities will be allowed to leave Jordan through the border crossing with no prior approval from the interior ministry.

In April 2015, Jordan completely closed its border crossing with Syria as a result of escalating violence in the Syrian bordering town of Nasib, which, at the time, was reportedly captured by the Syrian rebels and fighters from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.

With Syrian government forces recapturing the southern regions and raising the country’s red-white-and-black flag above Nasib, Jordan reopened the crossing with Syria in October 2018, but only partially, and for a limited number of passengers and cargo traffic.

Following concerns of the crossing becoming a coronavirus hot spot, Jordanian authorities closed the country’s sole gateway into Syria in August 2020 to reopen it shortly afterward, but also at a limited capacity.

The Nasib crossing is the only functioning crossing between Jordan and Syria and is considered a vital economic artery for Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese traders and merchants.

Strategic analyst Amer Sabaileh said that Jordan “getting closer” to Syria has to do with Amman’s frustration with the international community’s inaction on Syria and its failure to resolve the ongoing crisis.

“After 10 years of crisis, nobody is offering solutions for the Syrian conflict and this puts more pressure on Jordan to start at least exploring for new opportunities to put an end to this crisis, because it is the most affected by its ongoing consequences, be they economic, security or social,” Sabaileh told Arab News.

Jordan is home to about 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, according to the UNHCR.

Asked whether Jordan’s emerging activism on Syria was approved by the US following King Abdullah’s visit to Washington, Sabaileh said: “These attempt were before his visit to the US, but the activism became more active after he returned home. If there was no green light given from the US, at least there was no rejection.”

Political commentator Shaqfiq Obeidat hailed Jordan’s decision to reopen the border crossing with Syria as “wise and historic,” and reflective of “brotherly ties” between Amman and Damascus.

Obeidat said that the reopening of the Jaber border crossing with Syria is in line with Jordan’s “unaltered position” on Syria which, he said, had always been to promote a comprehensive political solution to the ongoing conflict there.

Describing Syria as “Jordan’s northern gateway” to the world, Obeidat said that the reopening of the border crossing at full capacity will generate “immeasurable” contributions towards enhancing bilateral trade and increasing Jordanian exports to Syria, Lebanon and eastern Europe.


Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes

Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes
Updated 31 July 2021

Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes

Egypt, Libya pledge closer ties in terror, trafficking probes
  • El-Sawy hailed the cooperation over common interests between the two prosecution services
  • The Libyan attorney general expressed hope that his delegation’s Egypt visit will help the restructuring of the public prosecution in Libya

CAIRO: Egypt and Libya have pledged to improve cooperation in investigations into terrorism, misappropriation of public funds, petroleum smuggling and the recovery of antiquities and cultural property.
Hamada El-Sawy, Egypt’s attorney general, and his Libyan counterpart, Al-Siddiq Al-Sour, signed a memorandum of understanding on the issue after discussing bilateral cooperation on Friday.
The two officials pledged to use their ties to combat organized crime, corruption, human trafficking and cybercrime based on existing treaties in force in the two countries.
El-Sawy welcomed the Libyan delegation headed by Al-Sour, and hailed the cooperation over common interests between the two prosecution services.
The Libyan attorney general expressed hope that his delegation’s Egypt visit will help the restructuring of the public prosecution in Libya, pointing to the creation of mechanisms for direct communication between the two sides.
An adviser to Al-Sour thanked his Egyptian counterpart for the invitation to visit the country and experience technical presentations, which generated great interest among the Libyan officials.
Al-Sour said that Libya and Egypt are “united through history, geography and deep-rooted ties,” noting the Libyan public prosecution’s keenness on “serious and effective cooperation” with its Egyptian counterpart.
The Libyan public prosecutor stressed the need to put in place “new mechanisms and patterns” to ensure close cooperation between the two prosecutions, and preserve evidence and confidentiality in investigations.