A ‘Saad’ day for Lebanon: Hariri’s fourth term as PM met with skepticism

Berri, Aoun, and Hariri pose for a familiar picture as Hariri is named as the next prime minister. The decision angered Lebanese desperate to see new faces at the top. (AFP)
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Updated 22 October 2020

A ‘Saad’ day for Lebanon: Hariri’s fourth term as PM met with skepticism

  • Lebanese voice their anger at the return of the Future movement leader
  • Appointment shows calls for radical change in governance have gone unheard

BEIRUT: The decision to name Saad Hariri as Lebanon’s next prime minister on Thursday was met with anger, derision and ridicule from jaded Lebanese.

Hariri will hold the position for the fourth time despite months of widespread protests calling for a radical change to how the country is governed.

The massive August explosion in Beirut, which was blamed on corruption among officials, added to the anger towards Lebanon’s ruling class - a patchwork of sectarian, dynastic fiefdoms.

However, it appears the weeks of wrangling to find a new government after the previous one stood down in the aftermath of the blast has not produced the sea change many in the country had hoped for. 

Opinion

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The sight of Hariri, who leads the Sunni Future movement, sitting grim-faced next to 85-year-old President Michel Aoun and the Hezbollah aligned parliament speaker Nabih Berri, did little to bring hope to Lebanese suffering under a dire economic meltdown.

“Hariri’s return as PM is a serious slap in the face to all victims of Aug. 4,” Fatima Al-Mahmoud, a freelance journalist, wrote on Twitter in reference to the explosion that killed almost 200 people.

“Their blood has gone in vain and no one will pay the price.”

 

 

Myriam Sassine, a Beirut-based film producer, said Hariri’s return showed there is nothing but “disappointment and heartbreak” in Lebanon.

“A year after October’s revolution and the resignation of Saad Hariri, Saad Hariri comes back as PM and savior,” she said. “The only change that happened is that we got robbed, violated and murdered while they're stronger than ever.”

 

 

Even the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis expressed his disappointment at the move.

He said the decision to bring back Hariri was taken by the country’s traditional political forces “regardless of their numerous failures in the past and deep skepticism about the future.”

“It is up to them to help Hariri, the designated PM rapidly create an empowered, action-oriented government, to start delivering the well-known reforms. Do not count on miracles, foreign elections or external donors – the rescue must start in Lebanon, by Lebanon,” Kubis said.

 

 

Amid the anger there was also ridicule, as many took to social media to mock Hariri’s return.

“Hariri is like every ex that cheats on you and then cries for a second chance,” wrote one Twitter user.

Others played a game of “spot the difference” with the official photo released today of Hariri, Aoun and Berri, compared to the images used during his previous appointments.

 

 

Hariri, 50, stepped down as prime minister almost a year ago as anti-government protests against economic conditions and calling for an overhaul of the system of government raged across the country.

Hariri was replaced by Hassan Diab, whose ineffectual tenure came to an end days after the explosion. The relatively unknown Mustapha Adib lasted for just a month after he took the position from Diab.

The pressure on Lebanon’s leaders has not just come from within. French President Emmanuel Macron set a series of conditions to make sure any new government enacted reforms to stop Lebanon’s slide to financial ruin.

Hariri was returned to the post after he secured the backing of a majority of MPs.

He said he would form a cabinet of “non politically aligned experts with the mission of economic, financial and administrative reforms contained in the French initiative roadmap.”


Turkey’s new coronavirus figures confirm experts’ worst fears

Updated 15 min 20 sec ago

Turkey’s new coronavirus figures confirm experts’ worst fears

  • Turkish Medical Association has been warning for months that the government’s previous figures were concealing the graveness of the spread

ANKARA, Turkey: When Turkey changed the way it reports daily COVID-19 infections, it confirmed what medical groups and opposition parties have long suspected – that the country is faced with an alarming surge of cases that is fast exhausting the Turkish health system.
In an about-face, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government this week resumed reporting all positive coronavirus tests – not just the number of patients being treated for symptoms – pushing the number of daily cases to above 30,000. With the new data, the country jumped from being one of the least-affected countries in Europe to one of the worst-hit.
That came as no surprise to the Turkish Medical Association, which has been warning for months that the government’s previous figures were concealing the graveness of the spread and that the lack of transparency was contributing to the surge. The group maintains, however, that the ministry’s figures are still low compared with its estimate of at least 50,000 new infections per day.
No country can report exact numbers on the spread of the disease since many asymptomatic cases go undetected, but the previous way of counting made Turkey look relatively well-off in international comparisons, with daily new cases far below those reported in European countries including Italy, Britain and France.
That changed Wednesday as Turkey’s daily caseload almost quadrupled from about 7,400 to 28,300.
The country’s hospitals are overstretched, medical staff are burned out and contract tracers, who were once credited for keeping the outbreak under check, are struggling to track transmissions, Sebnem Korur Fincanci, who heads the association, told The Associated Press.
“It’s the perfect storm,” said Fincanci, whose group has come under attack from Erdogan and his nationalist allies for questioning the government’s figures and its response to the outbreak.
Even though the health minister has put the ICU bed occupancy rate at 70 percent, Ebru Kiraner, who heads the Istanbul-based Intensive Care Nurses’ Association, says intensive care unit beds in Istanbul’s hospitals are almost full, with doctors scrambling to find room for critically ill patients.
There is a shortage of nurses and the existing nursing staff is exhausted, she added.
“ICU nurses have not been able to return to their normal lives since March,” she told the AP. “Their children have not seen their mask-less faces in months.”
Erdogan said, however, there was “no problem” concerning the hospitals’ capacities. He blamed the surge on the public’s failure to wear masks, which is mandatory, and to abide by social distancing rules.
Demonstrating the seriousness of the outbreak, Turkey last month suspended leave for health care workers and temporarily banned resignations and early retirements during the pandemic. Similar bans were also put in place for three months in March.
The official daily COVID-19 deaths have also steadily risen to record numbers, reaching 13,373 on Saturday with 182 new deaths, in a reversal of fortune for the country that had been praised for managing to keep fatalities low. But those record numbers remain disputed too.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said 186 people had died of infectious diseases in the city on Nov. 22 – a day on which the government announced just 139 COVID-19 deaths for the whole of the country. The mayor also said around 450 burials are taking place daily in the city of 15 million compared with the average 180-200 recorded in November the previous year.
“We can only beat the outbreak through a process that is transparent,” said Imamoglu, who is from Turkey’s main opposition party. “Russia and Germany have announced a high death toll. Did Germany lose its shine? Did Russia collapse?”
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has rejected Imamoglu’s claims, saying: “I want to underline that all of the figures I am providing are accurate.”
Last week, Erdogan announced a series of restrictions in a bid to contain the contagion without impacting the already weakened economy or business activity. Opposition parties denounced them as “half-baked.” He introduced curfews for the first time since June, but limited them to weekend evenings, closed down restaurants and cafes except for takeout services and restricted the opening hours of malls, shops and hairdressers.
Both Fincanci and Kiraner said the measures don’t go far enough to contain transmissions.
“We need a total lockdown of at least two weeks, if not four weeks which science considers to be the most ideal amount,” Fincanci said.
Koca has said that the number of seriously ill patients and fatalities is on the rise and said some cities including Istanbul and Izmir are experiencing their “third peak.”
Turkey would wait, however, for two weeks to see the results of the weekend curfews and other restrictions before considering stricter lockdowns, he said.