Lebanon’s new National Civil Front will pressure government to resign

In this Thursday, June 11, 2020, file photo, an anti-government protester chants slogans during a protest against the political leadership they blame for the economic and financial crisis, in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP)
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Updated 15 July 2020

Lebanon’s new National Civil Front will pressure government to resign

  • Beirut Bar Association says ongoing insecurity is ‘undermining rule of law’

BEIRUT: Activists and prominent figures in Lebanon launched a new platform on Wednesday to help the various factions of protestors from the ongoing uprising that began October 17, 2019, to coordinate and communicate.

The group, which calls itself the National Civil Front, issued a document outlining its initial demands: “To form a government of independents, hold early parliamentary elections, ensure the independence of the judiciary, implement structural and sectoral reforms, ensure Lebanese sovereignty and regional and international legitimacy, set the path for the establishment of a civil state, and build a productive and sustainable national economy.”

Dr. Ziad Abdel Samad, a public affairs expert and advisor to the group, told Arab News, “This initiative is one of a series that will be launched in the forthcoming days to call for the resignation of this government because it failed.”

He continued: “We do not need to form new parties nor a unified leadership for the civil movement. Rather, these initiatives that will be gradually announced can help us coordinate and propose plans of economic reform, call for social justice, and form an independent government. People do not need any (official group) to take to the streets. People go out on their own because they feel pain.”

Protestors carried out a mass sit-in on Wednesday in front of the headquarters of the Ministry of Tourism, calling for the resignation of the Minister of Tourism Ramzi Musharrafieh, following a vicious assault on activist and lawyer Wassef Harakeh on July 3 in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighborhood. Police arrested six attackers, five of whom are members of Musharrafieh’s security team. Harakeh had reportedly been part of an earlier protest at the ministry.

The Head of the Beirut Bar Association Melhem Khalaf said that “attacks over the past few weeks on doctors, judges, journalists, lawyers, and civil activists” reflect “an unprecedented failure on the security level, especially since these attacks undermine the rule of law.”

“The aggressors are part of a much larger gang,” Khalaf said. “It is armed and uses state facilities and automobiles. It performs assassination attempts, shuts off free expression, and commits acts of terror and intimidation.” He claimed that Harakeh’s assailants had monitored the lawyer’s movements for a week prior to the attack — making it clear that the assault was premeditated. He called on Musharrafieh to resign, “regardless of whether he was implicated in the act or not.”

“While there are questions about the perpetrator of the attack, it is enough that they are part of (Musharrafieh’s) security team,” Khalaf said. “They used a car belonging to the ministry, and they were armed.”

Khalaf continued: “The assaults that are taking place undermine the role of the state. We cannot allow (Lebanon) to slip into becoming a police state, we need to rectify (its) direction (and protect) the rule of law, justice, the constitution, and the state. People’s rights are highly important and should be protected. The Bar Association aims very high and will not allow the people’s demands to be ignored.”

The National Civil Front is not Lebanon’s only new group fighting for civil rights. On July 13, journalists and activists announced the formation of a “coalition to defend freedom of expression in Lebanon” — a reaction to authorities’ attempts to stifle free speech and opinion, particularly online.

Activist Bashir Abu Zaid was assaulted two months ago in the southern town of Kfar Roummane and no suspects have yet been arrested. He said that he received no protection from the state agencies.

Mohamad Najm of the Lebanese NGO Social Media Exchange (SMEX) said that since 2015 the Informatics Crimes Office had registered more than 4,000 summonses for allegations of defamation and cyber defamation.

He claimed that the aim of these summonses is to intimidate activists and force them to retract social-media posts and pledge not to post anything similar in future, which — he stressed — goes against the principles of freedom of expression in Lebanon.

The newly formed coalition called on the public prosecutor and security services “to stop summoning people against the background of exercising freedom of expression and exposing corruption, and not to exceed its limits by asking activists to remove their posts or sign illegal pledges before obtaining a fair trial.”

It also called on parliament “to decriminalize the acts of defamation, cyber defamation and insults, cancel penalties of imprisonment, and prohibit government institutions, including the army and security services, from filing cases of defamation and cyber defamation.”

Angry Lebanese set up mock gallows amid calls for ‘revenge’ over blast

A Lebanese protester hangs a gallow in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. (AFP)
Updated 1 min 52 sec ago

Angry Lebanese set up mock gallows amid calls for ‘revenge’ over blast

  • MPs resign in protest as political fallout intensifies

BEIRUT: Thousands of protesters set up a mock gallows in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on Saturday and demanded “revenge” against politicians widely held responsible for the deadly explosion that devastated large swathes of the Lebanese capital.

At least 60 people are still missing after the massive blast in Beirut port, which killed more than 150 people, injured 5,000 others and left thousands homeless.

As the dust settles from the disaster, the political fallout is intensifying.

Police fired teargas and rubber bullets at thousands of people who gathered in the capital calling for the downfall of the country’s political elite, chanting:
“The people want the regime to fall.”

More than 100 protesters were injured in the clashes.

After demonstrators set up the mock gallows, effigies of political leaders, including former prime minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, were displayed in some of the most explicit signs of public anger seen in years.

Police shot live ammunition in the air in an attempt to disperse the protesters, who responded by hurling rocks and charging security cordons.

One of the protesters, who gave her name only as Lina, said: “We came from Hasbaya in solidarity with Beirut. We came to stand together in grief and offer condolence for the loss of sons and daughters.

“We came to tell all the leaders to leave so that we can rebuild what you have destroyed, what happened is because of your negligence and greed,” she said.

Meanwhile, the three-member Kataeb party parliamentary bloc resigned on Saturday in protest at the blast, bringing to five the number of MPs to quit since the disaster.

In an emotional speech during a funeral service for a top party official who died in Tuesday’s blast, party leader Samy Gemayel announced his resignation and that of the two other MPs.

Independent MP Paula Yacoubian also resigned, while MP Michel Daher announced his withdrawal from the Strong Lebanon bloc led by the Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran Bassil.

As international aid flows into shell-shocked Beirut, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Turkish Vice President Fuad Oktay and European Council President Charles Michel arrived in the city to deliver relief aid and offer support.

After meeting President Michel Aoun and inspecting damage at the Foreign Ministry, near the port, Gheit said he would ask the Economic and Social Council to meet in the next two weeks to "examine the situation in Lebanon and how to help.”

He described the situation as “a disaster,” and said that “we must recognize that the Lebanese situation is difficult and complex.”

The Netherlands Foreign Ministry announced that the wife of Dutch envoy to Lebanon Jan Waltmans died of wounds sustained in the blast.

The Syrian Embassy in Lebanon said that 43 Syrians were among those killed in the explosion.

Military teams working at the blast site carried out tests for chemical, radioactive or biological agents on Saturday, Col. Roger Khoury told Arab News during a media tour.

Rescue teams are working round the clock looking for cell phone signals in the search for those missing after the blast.

However, the teams say they are being hampered by debris from the explosion, including concrete rubble from grain silos destroyed in the blast.

Military divers searching the port and nearby ocean for victims of the blast found a body hurled 500 meters by the force of the blast.

By early Saturday, a total of 61 relief planes had landed at Beirut airport carrying medical and relief supplies as well as food, Ministry of Defense Operations Room Commander Brig. Gen. Jean Nohra told Arab News.

He said that medical supplies are being distributed in coordination with the Ministry of Health.

Supplies are being stored at the headquarters of the Central Military Medical Authority in Beirut before being distributed, he said.