Phased repatriation of Lebanese expatriates stranded abroad begins

Children hold olive branches as they look out from the sunroof of a car to be blessed by priests roaming around neighborhoods to celebrate Palm Sunday in Lebanon. (Reuters)
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Updated 06 April 2020

Phased repatriation of Lebanese expatriates stranded abroad begins

  • Premier urges people to strictly follow virus rules to fight pandemic
  • Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated in total this week and at the end of the month

BEIRUT: Lebanese expats began their return to the country on Sunday after the government reopened Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport to receive flights carrying nationals stranded overseas by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

A plane from Riyadh carrying 78 passengers was followed by another from Abu Dhabi carrying 79. Planes carrying Lebanese citizens from Lagos and Abidjan were due to land on Sunday night.
The second repatriation phase begins on Tuesday with planes to Paris, Madrid, and Kinshasa.
The first phase was accompanied by security and preventive measures inside the aircraft, on the ground, and in the airport’s vicinity. Families of expats were not allowed to meet them at the airport. The returnees underwent tests and were sanitized before leaving the airport. They had security escorts to hotels in Beirut and other regions. They will be quarantined in their houses or hotels according to their condition.
The repatriation was supervised by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who went to the airport.
Diab urged people to strictly adhere to the rules announced by the government and warned of penalties against violators.
Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said the repatriation process was being carried out in phases because “the medical mechanism in Lebanon cannot handle more than 400 people at the same time, and this is why four planes will carry Lebanese expatriates every few days.” She added that the goal was to also maintain Lebanon’s health security.
Dr. Pierre Abi Hanna, the infectious diseases doctor responsible for receiving COVID-19 cases at Rafik Hariri Hospital, said many patients had recovered, notably Saudis and Iranians, and that there were no more patients on respirators.

FASTFACTS

• Beirut has 527 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.

• Lebanon has reported 18 deaths since the viral outbreak.

• The second repatriation phase begins on Tuesday.

“An elderly patient who was in a critical condition suddenly improved two days ago and is today in the general ward after he was placed on a respirator,” he told Arab News.
As of Sunday, there were 527 cases in Lebanon and a death toll of 18. Last month authorities announced the closure of Lebanon’s borders, including the country’s main international airport. A lockdown means all public and private gatherings are banned. Core institutions remain open. There are severe restrictions on traffic and people have been ordered to stay at home.  
“If the preventive measures remain in place, we will not see an incalculable spread of coronavirus,” Hanna added. “We need to maintain these measures, especially when it comes to those returning from abroad, so that we do not return to the first circle that we overcame, namely the closure of land and air crossings. We are now trying to avoid reaching a peak in the number of cases. The lab tests for 500 people, for example, show that only 20 were tested positive. On the bright side, more than 55 percent of our COVID-19 cases have recovered, and this encourages us to continue our work. People must preserve what we have accomplished by staying home.”
Christians in Lebanon celebrated Palm Sunday in their homes as all churches were closed.
Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi held the mass alone in Bkerke Church, and it was broadcasted live. He said that participation is spiritual and prayed to God to “rid the world of coronavirus and restore life to Earth.”


Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

Updated 13 July 2020

Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

  • Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines
  • In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment

CAIRO: Their accounts are similar. The girls and women describe meeting the young man — a former student at Egypt’s most elite university — in person and online, followed by deceit, then escalating sexual harassment, assault, blackmail or rape.
Some were minors when the alleged crimes took place. In all, more than 100 accusers have emerged online in the past two weeks.
It’s resulted in a new #MeToo firestorm on social media, and the arrest of the suspect last week from his home in a gated community outside Cairo.
Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines; many in Egypt have previously portrayed harassment as a problem of poor urban youth.
Women’s rights champions hope the authorities’ swift response signals change in how Egyptian society handles accusations of sexual assault.
“What’s before this case is totally different from what’s after,” said Nihad Abuel-Komsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights and a lawyer representing some of the alleged victims.
Sexual assault and harassment are deep-seated problems in Egypt, where victims must also fight the undercurrent of a conservative culture that typically ties female chastity to a family’s reputation. In courts, the burden of proof lies heavily on the victim of such crimes.
In a statement, the public prosecutor’s officer said the accused man acknowledged he blackmailed at least six girls, saying he would send sensitive photos of them to their families if they cut ties. Several attempts by The Associated Press to contact him or his lawyer were unsuccessful.
Amr Adib, Egypt’s most prominent TV host, said in a recent episode that he’d spoken with the young man’s father, who occupies a high-ranking position at a telecommunication company. He said his son dismissed the allegations.
At least 10 women have officially reported their claims, according to Abuel-Komsan, of the women’s rights center. Activists also set up the Instagram account @assaultpolice to collect allegations, said Sabah Khodir, a US-based writer who helps run the account. She said there are more than 100 accounts.
“We are demanding to be listened to … We are just using what we have, lending our voices to hopefully create some kind of change,” she said.
A court has ordered the accused to remain in custody pending an investigation into an array of accusations that include attempted rape, blackmail and indecent assault, according to a five-page statement by the public prosecutor. In the same statement, the prosecutor urged more alleged victims to come forward.
Last week, the government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi moved to amend the country’s criminal law to increase protections for the identities of sexual assault victims, which activists have welcomed. The amendment still needs parliamentary approval and El-Sisi’s signature to be made law.
The allegations against the student cover a period of at least three years.
Many of the anonymous accounts appear to be from fellow students at the American International School, one of the country’s most expensive private high schools, and the American University in Cairo, which school officials said the accused left in 2018. It would appear that he then enrolled at the European Union Business School in Spain, in an online program last year.
In February, he spent three weeks at its Barcelona campus, but the school expelled him after an accusation of online harassment that was subsequently proved false, said Claire Basterfield, a spokesperson for the EUBS. The school has filed a 54-page criminal complaint with the Spanish police, seeking further investigation into his actions.
The head of the American University in Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, said the university has a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual harassment, but that he would not comment on an ongoing case.
According to accusations posted on social media in the past two weeks, the former student would mine the pool of mutual friends on Facebook, online groups or school clubs. He would start with flattery, then pressure the women and girls to share intimate photos that he later used to blackmail them to have sex with him. If they did not, he would threaten to send the pictures to their family.
In some cases, he “attracted their sympathy by claiming he was going through a crisis,” then lured them to his home in an upscale compound where he sexually assaulted them, the prosecutor’s statement alleged.
In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment. During and after the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, women were frequently harassed, groped — and in some cases, beaten and sexually assaulted — during mass protests.
This time, there are signs of wider ripples throughout the society. The current series of complaints has prompted Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost religious institution, to speak out on sexual harassment and assault, even challenging the widely held belief that a woman is at fault if her clothing is less than modest. It’s a departure from the norm for the conservative Muslim majority country where most women wear headscarves.
There are also other corners where accusations of sexual harassment are emerging, such as in civil society groups and businesses.
Two rights groups said they fired one employee and suspended another, and opened investigations after allegations of sexual misconduct against them were made public. Authorities also detained a prominent publisher over the weekend after a poet filed a complaint with the Cairo police, accusing him of sexually harassing her, the state-run Al-Ahram reported. The publisher denied the allegations in a Facebook posting. He was released late Sunday on 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($313) in bail, pending an investigation.
The recent cases — reaching into the Egyptian elite — have “refuted all previous arguments and justifications for harassment, from poverty to illiteracy and things like that,” Abuel-Komsan said.