Life gradually returns to Lebanon in parallel with societal immunity

Volunteers sort boxes with food for distribution to people in need in Beirut, Lebanon amid safety measures to contain the coronavirus crisis. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 June 2020

Life gradually returns to Lebanon in parallel with societal immunity

  • Beirut airport is in the process of being evaluated, may resume work after 14 days

BEIRUT: Having entered the stage of “gradual societal immunity,” according to the Minister of Health Hamad Hassan, Lebanon’s commercial complexes, hotels, cafes and museums reopened their doors to customers on Monday after closing for two-and-a-half months due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

People and employees underwent complete sanitization when entering malls, and adhered to putting face masks on in the street and in their cars, buses, shops and offices.
However, the movement remained slow. The streets did not witness major traffic jams, due to the new system of allocating days to drivers whose car license plates end in odd and even numbers on a rotating basis.
According to the decision of the Ministry of Interior, places still excluded from reopening are cinemas, theaters, assembly and wedding halls, gyms, nurseries, children’s entertainment spaces, and electronic game arcades and internet centers. The curfew hours also decreased; they are now from midnight to 5 a.m.
Shops in many markets seemed empty and closed, while some owners replaced their usual goods with others, with fruit and vegetables most popular.
Information International, an independent research and statistics institution in Lebanon, warned a few days ago: “The closure of some restaurants, hotels and tourist institutions due to the inability to bear the high costs and the decrease in incomes may affect about 50,000 workers.
“Moreover, the closure of some small businesses that sell clothes, shoes and nonessential goods due to a decrease in sales due to high prices, resulting from the high exchange rate of the dollar against the Lebanese pound, may affect 20,000 to 25,000 workers.”
An official working in the office of Health Minister Hamad Hassan told Arab News: “The date for the reopening of Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut is subject to an evaluation meeting.
“The airport is currently continuing the process of returning Lebanese people stranded abroad, who return via private planes or planes belonging to non-Lebanese companies that have permission to land in Lebanon to evacuate citizens of other countries to their homelands.”

FASTFACT

The Ministry of Health’s daily report recorded 13 new confirmed cases on Monday, which raised the cumulative total of COVID-19 cases in Lebanon to 1,233 cases.

The airport will be closed completely after two days for a further 14 days to assess the current situation and, based on this assessment, the government committee tasked with following up on the issue of coronavirus and putting preventive measures in place will make its recommendation regarding opening the airport fully to commercial air traffic,” the official added.
On Sunday, Michel Najjar, the minister of public works and transportation, hinted that the airport could be opened on the 21st of this month, but the official in the Minister of Health’s office told Arab News: “We will wait 14 days, and the decision may be to fully open the airport before this 21st, and we may not resume returning Lebanese citizens from abroad. The whole matter is related to the evaluation process currently taking place, and it can be said that Lebanon’s situation is comfortable and does not cause concern.”
The Ministry of Health’s daily report recorded 13 new confirmed cases on Monday, which raised the cumulative total of COVID-19 cases in Lebanon to 1,233 cases.
The death of one COVID-19 patient was recorded on Sunday, raising the total number of deaths in Lebanon to 27. The total number of those who have recovered from the disease reached 715 people.
Groups of young people protesting against the economic situation and corruption violated the curfew in Beirut on Sunday evening, and organized demonstrations in the vicinity of the presidential palace, parliament and in front of the homes of some government ministers.
Other groups organized protests in the city of Tripoli. Some protesters burned pictures of President Michel Aoun after several others were arrested. The protests were eventually dispersed bu the security services.


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.