ANKARA: Turkey is expanding restrictions imposed on social gatherings such as wedding and engagement parties and henna nights in more than a dozen provinces to the entire country.
An Interior Ministry circular sent to Turkey’s 81 provinces late Wednesday says such social gatherings will banned from Friday. Marriage registration ceremonies will be allowed but will be restricted to one hour only.
The decision came after the health minister said the country is experiencing the second peak of the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak and blamed gatherings at weddings and holidays.
The number of daily infections have tipped above 1,500 — levels previously seen in mid-June. More than 273,000 people have tested positive for the virus in Turkey since March.
Collective action is key to fighting corruption in Lebanon, experts say
A new research paper says the Lebanese state ‘is built on systemic corruption and non-accountability. This system has effectively collapsed’
Recovery is possible but will require civil society groups, the media, private organizations and other activists to work together to confront the ruling elite and force change
Updated 2 min 50 sec ago
LONDON: The political and economic crisis in Lebanon can be resolved, experts say, but it will require collective action, the mobilization of civil society, and the formation of coalitions.
Since the end of the civil war in 1990, corruption among the political elite has undermined Lebanon’s recovery and development, according to Karim Merhej, a researcher and data analyst at The Public Source, culminating in the unprecedented socioeconomic crisis the country now faces.
Lebanon is in a transitional period in which the foundations of the post-civil war political and economic systems are built on the exploitation of resources that should be benefiting the people of the country, Merhej said.
His comments came during a discussion of his newly published research paper, “Breaking the Curse of Corruption in Lebanon,” hosted by Chatham House, a think tank in London.
“This state is built on systemic corruption and non-accountability,” he said. “This system has effectively collapsed and we are in a period where we are not sure what is going to happen yet. Even the political class in Lebanon do not know what is happening — they have gone almost 10 months without forming a government.”
On Monday, billionaire businessman Najib Mikati was chosen to be Lebanon’s new Prime Minister-designate, tasked with forming a government to end a year of political deadlock that has crippled the country. This is the third time he has been elected to the post after previously serving in 2005 and 2011.
He replaced Saad Hariri, who resigned on July 15 after nine months of negotiations with President Michel Aoun about the composition of the new government ending in failure. After his resignation, the Lebanese currency, which had already lost most of its value, hit record lows.
Last month the World Bank said Lebanon is enduring one of the three worst economic collapses since the mid-19th century. More than half the population is believed to be below the national poverty line and children, 30 percent of whom “went to bed hungry or skipped meals” in June, are “bearing the brunt” of the crisis, the institution said.
Merhej’s paper examines the anti-corruption laws in Lebanon, investigates why they are not working, and offers recommendations for action by the government, the international community and civil society.
“Lebanon’s anti-corruption initiatives, culminating in the recent adoption of the National Anti-corruption Strategy, are destined to be ineffective,” he writes.
“The Lebanese political elite unveiled these initiatives to the international community, as well as the Lebanese electorate, following the uprising of late 2019 and early 2020 in order to rehabilitate their tarnished image, and in some cases to acquire much-needed international funding.”
Merhej said that while the strategy and new laws might look commendable on paper, they are likely to be poorly implemented because of “a lack of political will among Lebanon’s ruling elites to engage in transparency, the absence of an independent judiciary, the use of state resources to benefit the private interests of the elites, the use of bureaucracy to make laws unimplementable, and the fact that the ruling elites are the custodians of the country’s broad anti-corruption strategy.”
The fight against corruption requires great effort and will not achieve results overnight, he warned. The government must prioritize the formation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, he added, and ensure the judiciary is independent and not tied or subservient to the political class.
“We have seen a lot of collective organizing in the past two-to-three years, particularly after the October uprising in 2019, and we have seen the emergence of alternative syndicates (and) grassroots organizations and initiatives to protect free speech,” he said.
A lot of funding is flowing into Lebanon, with more expected, Merhej added as he called on the international community to implement transparency strategies to ensure aid goes directly to the people who need it and not into the pockets of corrupt officials.
Diana Kaissy, director of civil society engagement at the International Republican Institute in Lebanon, agreed that greater transparency is needed, particularly for parliamentary committee meetings, which are held behind closed doors and the minutes are not released to the public.
“We need to be sitting at the table, being part of these consultations, drafting these laws, so we make sure that they are laws that can be used (and) they are not toothless, they do not have loopholes,” she said.
Not all government officials are corrupt, Kaissy added, and a multi-stakeholder approach must be adopted that capitalizes on key players.
Little by little, she said, eventually it will be possible to make the changes people want. “I currently see no other way, and that is maybe what is keeping us hopeful and working the whole time,” she added.
Badri Meouchi, a corporate governance consultant with Tamayyaz, said countries or institutions that want to support anti-corruption efforts in Lebanon should work closely with the media, civil-society groups, private-sector organizations, and others in the public arena. Elections are also important, he said, but there are major challenges to overcome.
“We need to organize ourselves better, as well as financially, because they are very well organized (and) have amazing financial resources at their disposal, and we need to become more creative than they are — because they’re very creative,” he said.
Lebanon is set to hold separate municipal, parliamentary, and presidential elections next year.
There is hope, however, in what is happening on the ground, he added.
“What has changed in the past two years, which is encouraging, is that the formula of fear has changed,” Meouchi said. “It used to be, a couple of years ago, that if a politician entered a public place everyone wanted to shake their hand and be seen with them.
“Today you have citizens who are emboldened and this is a new factor in the fight against corruption, because there is only so much that we in civil society can do.”
Pro-Iran groups welcome US vow to end Iraq combat operations
Hashd Al-Shaabi considers Biden’s move ‘a positive step toward the full sovereignty of Iraq’
Updated 28 July 2021
BAGHDAD: Several powerful pro-Iran groups in Iraq on Tuesday welcomed an announcement by Washington that US combat operations in the country will end this year, an outcome they have long demanded.
US President Joe Biden declared on Monday that “we’re not going to be, at the end of the year, in a combat mission,” as he hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi for White House talks.
US troops would continue to provide training and assistance to the Iraqi military, including intelligence cooperation, falling short of pro-Iran factions’ demands for a full withdrawal.
But the Conquest Alliance, the political wing of Iraq’s Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary network, which is dominated by pro-Iran groups, said it considered Biden’s announcement “to be a positive step toward the full sovereignty of Iraq.”
“We hope that it will materialize on the ground,” it added.
US troops were invited into Iraq in 2014 — three years after ending an eight-year occupation that began with the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein — by a government desperate to halt a sweeping advance by the Daesh group.
Iraq’s government declared Daesh defeated in late 2017, but the extremists retain sleeper cells and still launch periodic suicide attacks.
The US and Iran are both major allies of Iraq and share an enmity toward Daesh, but Tehran also considers Washington its arch foe and has long pressed for a withdrawal of US troops from its neighbor.
Pro-Iran armed factions stand accused of carrying out around 50 rocket and drone attacks this year against US interests in Iraq.
Since last year, the principal role of the remaining US troops — now totaling 2,500, after drawdowns under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump — had already been to train, advise and support the Iraqi military in its fight against Daesh.
Biden’s announcement therefore indicated little major change of policy.
The face-to-face meeting was to give political cover to Al-Kadhimi, in power for little over a year and under intensifying pressure over the continued US presence, analysts said.
Several other pro-Iran groups in Iraq also reacted positively.
The Imam Ali Brigades lauded “the end of the foreign presence” and said it “thanked the (Iraqi) government for keeping its promises,” while influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr also welcomed Biden’s announcement.
The US and Iran are both major allies of Iraq and share an enmity toward Daesh, but Tehran also considers US its arch foe and has long pressed for a withdrawal of US troops from its neighbor.
But more radical pro-Iran groups have not yet responded.
Meanwhile, Iran’s state TV reported on Tuesday that authorities arrested members of a group linked to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency amid ongoing protests over water shortages in the country’s southwest.
The report said “a network of spy agents, with a large amount of weapons and ammunition” was arrested after sneaking into Iran from across its western border. It claimed the alleged Mossad agents intended to use the weapons during riots in Iran and also for assassinations.
The state TV did not elaborate or say how many alleged agents were arrested or when they purportedly infiltrated into Iran. Iran borders Turkey and Iraq to the west.
At least five people have been killed amid days of protests over water shortages affecting Iran’s Khuzestan province. That’s according to statements carried by state-run media in Iran.
Iran occasionally announces the detention of people it says are spying for foreign countries, including the US and Israel.
Western Iran has seen occasional fighting between Iranian forces and Kurdish separatists as well as militants linked to Daesh.
In July 2020, Iran said “terrorists” killed two people in an attack in the Iranian province of Kurdistan. Last year, Iran executed a man convicted of leaking information to the US and Israel about prominent Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps general Qassem Soleimani, who was later killed by a US drone strike in Iraq.
Libya headed back to ‘square one’ of post-Qaddafi turmoil if polls delayed, warns parliament speaker
Aguila Saleh said the president remains the one who decides the matter of foreign forces and mercenaries in the country, adding that there were difficulties in unifying the army due to outside interference
Updated 28 July 2021
TRIPOLI: Libya will return to “square one” and the turmoil of 2011 if national elections planned for December are delayed, the speaker of parliament said, with a new rival government likely to set itself up in the east.
The elections are seen in the West as a critical step in efforts to bring stability to Libya, which has been in chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Qaddafi.
Libya, a major oil and gas producer, was divided in 2014 between an internationally recognized government in the west and a rival administration in the east that established its own institutions.
A UN-led peace process led to a cease-fire last year after fighting between the rival factions and a unity government was formed in February and approved by parliament in March.
Aguila Saleh, speaker of the House of Representatives, said he did not want to see further division.
“If the elections are delayed, we will go back to square one,” Saleh said at his office in the eastern town of Qubah, warning that a new, parallel government could emerge in the east.
The aim of the Government of National Unity (GNU) was to ensure public services and lead the country to general elections on Dec. 24.
The peace process also led to a truce in September after the collapse of a 14-month offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. The truce called for all foreign forces and mercenaries to leave.
“The president remains the one who decides the matter of foreign forces and mercenaries in the country,” Saleh said, adding there were difficulties in unifying the army due to outside interference.
A senior official at the US State Department said last month Turkey and Russia, which backed opposing sides in Libya, had reached an initial understanding to work toward a target of pulling out 300 Syrian mercenaries from each side of the conflict.
Saleh said that the GNU had failed to unify Libya’s institutions and had become a “Tripoli government,” demanding it take care of the obligations of the two dissolved governments.
This month, UN-sponsored talks aimed at paving the way for elections failed to find common ground.
But Saleh said there was no need for the 75 committee members to meet. “We have a constitutional declaration,” he said. “We do not need to go around and waste time. No bargaining.”
Saleh also said that the government’s proposed 100 billion dinar ($22.15 billion) budget was too big and he expected a figure of up to 80 billion dinars to be approved.
Separately, grappling with the coronavirus crisis, the government earlier announced a two-week overnight curfew in the areas it controls in the center and west of the North African country.
The 12-hour curfew starts at 6 p.m. and end at 6 a.m., during which time cafes, restaurants, shops and parks will be closed and travel prohibited.
Turmoil in Tunisia brings Ennahda’s moment of truth one step closer
Tunisians no longer see governance failure and Ennahda’s presence in government as mere coincidence
The Islamist party has become the face of mismanagement of COVID-19 outbreak and the economy
Updated 28 July 2021
DUBAI: On the face of it, the political crisis unfolding in Tunisia could be viewed as fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, an unforeseeable event that does not look to have run its course.
But such an explanation barely scratches the surface of the problems confronting the country, problems that many Tunisians now regard as almost intractable. How did the situation reach this point in a nation that was hailed as the Arab Spring’s only success?
Judging by the images coming out of Tunisia, it seems clear that the people who blame the political class for the deteriorating economic, social and health conditions represent not some small pocket of opposition but a broad swath of public opinion. Equally, it is important to recognize that they have singled out a particular political party for criticism despite its leaders’ historic knack for dodging democratic accountability.
The offices of Islamist party Ennahda have become the common target of protesters’ ire in the towns of Sfax, Monastir, El-Kef, Sousse and Touzeur in recent days, as surging COVID-19 cases have overwhelmed the health system and aggravated economic problems.
Given Tunisia’s fractured polity and fractious politics, no rival of Ennahda could have manipulated public opinion on such a massive scale. The stark truth is that the biggest party in the Tunisian parliament is facing a trust crisis of its own making.
“Until a few years ago, Tunisia used to enjoy good public-health infrastructure,” Ammar Aziz, an associate editor at news channel Al Arabiya and a Tunisian citizen, told Arab News. “But everything has collapsed, especially during the last two years, owing to mismanagement and corruption, compounded by lack of equipment. This has prompted thousands of doctors to emigrate to Europe.”
Aziz said that Tunisian authorities initially had succeeded in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, registering zero infections in May 2020.
“However, Ennahda, which made a grand entry into power in 2019, had the government of Elyes Fakhfakh, who had been appointed prime minister by President Kais Saied in February 2020, dismissed in September,” he added.
“The new government that took over did not arrange for adequate vaccine purchases and, to make matters worse, opened the country’s borders without the needed restrictions. This caused the spread of COVID-19.”
By mid-July, Tunisia had the highest per-capita COVID-19 death rate in Africa, and was also recording one of the continent’s highest infection rates. The health ministry acknowledged that the situation was dire. “The current situation is catastrophic,” ministry spokeswoman Nissaf Ben Alya told a local radio station. “The number of cases has risen dramatically. Unfortunately, the health system has collapsed.”
Many Tunisians consider political instability as the biggest impediment to progress in the fight against the deadly coronavirus. Tunisia has had three health ministers since the start of the pandemic. In September, it got its third government in under a year — and the ninth since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings ended the 24-year rule of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
Tunisians were not without friends in their hour of need. Saudi Arabia sent an aid package consisting of 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, 190 artificial respirators, 319 oxygen tanks, 150 medical beds and 50 vital signs monitoring devices with trolleys. The UAE donated 500,000 vaccine doses. France provided the same number of vaccines, along with medical equipment and supplies.
“Ennahda was seen as wanting to take advantage of President Saied’s success in obtaining aid from Saudi Arabia and France,” Aziz said. “The party tried and succeeded in getting the minister of health (Faouzi Mehdi) replaced, making him the scapegoat for the government’s mishandling of the situation. When these revelations came out, many Tunisians concluded that Ennahda was using the pandemic to reap political profit.”
The parlous state of affairs since April might also have stirred in many Tunisians bitter memories of a time when an Ennahda-led coalition government was slow to tackle one of the deadliest extremist mobilizations in the Arab world, following the 2011 uprisings.
Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia made the most of the post-2011 prisoner amnesties to grow its ranks. Ennahda, originally inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and an advocate of an overtly Islamic identity and society for Tunisia, appeared not to be up to the task of fighting militancy. The assassinations in 2013 of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, two leaders of the leftist Popular Front electoral alliance, further polarized Tunisian public opinion.
By the time the government designated Ansar Al-Sharia as a terrorist organization in August 2013, many saw it as a 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 killings of Belaid and Brahmi, and of forming a secret organization to infiltrate the security forces and judiciary, charges the party rejected.
The government’s reluctance to take off the kid gloves and smash 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, 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.”
As recently as 2018 the Washington Post reported that a study published by Mobdiun, an organization that works with youths in Kram West, a poor suburb of Tunis, found that nearly 40 percent of young men there said they knew someone who had joined a terrorist organization. A further 16 percent said they had been approached about adopting violent extremist ideology.
Those not drawn to militancy look for other, perilous ways to fulfill their dreams and ambitions. Consequently, every month large numbers of young Tunisians risk their lives in search of a better life in Europe. According to the UN Refugee Agency, in 2020 alone 13,000 Tunisians made the sea crossing, many of them probably aware of the dangers they would face on the journey.
“If you compare the short periods in which Beji Caid Essebsi, for example, or the prime minister of Ben Ali ruled Tunisia after the departure of Ben Ali himself in 2011, and the periods in which Ennahda ruled, you will notice a big difference: terrorism appeared with Ennahda,” Aziz said.
“More recently, with Ennahda controlling parliament and also the government, everything has simply collapsed — from security to the economy. The same is true for the country’s transport system and public-health institutions. All Tunisians have noticed the deterioration and it is for this reason we saw the protests in different towns on July 25.”
In an attempt to disarm critics in the West and win over secularists at home, Ennahda announced with much fanfare in 2016 that it was moving away from its religious roots to focus more on politics. But this claimed exit from political Islam and entry into “Muslim democracy” has remained just that, a claim, critics say. As some scholars of political Islam have noted, Ennahda has yet to clarify exactly what the “Muslim democracy” to which it has committed itself actually means in practice.
Now, even as it faces growing public anger over a perfect storm of crises battering Tunisia, Ennahda knows it cannot afford to alienate its core constituency. Open admission of failure could result in loss of support from traditional Islamists.
It is also concerned that working with secular parties and making political compromises could open up ideological fissures and expose vulnerabilities. Over the years, Ennahda must have surely realized that the rhetoric of human rights and democratic politics cannot be a substitute for genuine reforms. But the jury is still out on its ability or willingness to undertake such an exercise.
“Ennahda has governed or taken part in governing Tunisia for an entire decade now. It has been the worst decade in Tunisia’s modern history, according to many people,” Aziz said, adding that the latest protests offer some indication of the current public sentiment.
“These Tunisians hold Ennahda responsible for all the country’s problems. They see the party as the main reason behind the ineffective governments, the widespread corruption, the lack of jobs, the unprecedented migration movements toward Italy and France and, at present, the country’s high COVID-19 death rates relative to other African and Arab countries.”
No happy anniversary for bride caught up in Beirut explosion
Israa Seblani still doesn’t have a photo of her wedding day at home
Updated 28 July 2021
BEIRUT: It should have been the happiest of times, but Lebanese doctor Israa Seblani does not even have a photograph of her wedding on display as the memories are so painful.
She was standing radiant in a white gown and headdress in a square in Beirut last Aug. 4, the day she married businessman Ahmad Subeih, when the scene was shattered by a deafening roar as a powerful shockwave nearly blew her off her feet.
“I still don’t have a photo of my wedding day at home,” Seblani, 30, said, back in the same square as other couples celebrated their nuptials, just like they did.
“It was a disaster for the Lebanese people. I can’t see parents who lost their children, children who lost their parents, or the destruction that happened, and be happy. I won’t lie to myself.”
They plan to be at work on their first anniversary to keep themselves busy: She at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, he at his clothing business.
“This is a day during which we can’t have any plans,” said Subeih, 34, “This is a day of sadness and sorrow, it’s a black day, a day of mourning for all Lebanon.”
Seblani returned to the US, where she had been working, in September, but coronavirus restrictions prevented Subeih from joining her. She went back to Lebanon so they could be together until they find a new base away from the economic crisis of their homeland. “We are looking for security, we don’t want money, we are not looking for a fancy life, we just want security,” Seblani said.