Many Lebanese, their hopes in tatters, say they fear what 2021 will bring

A protester draped in the national flag faces off with the police during a demonstration outside the entrance of the American University of Beirut, in the Lebanese capital's Bliss street. (AFP)
A protester draped in the national flag faces off with the police during a demonstration outside the entrance of the American University of Beirut, in the Lebanese capital's Bliss street. (AFP)
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Updated 31 December 2020

Many Lebanese, their hopes in tatters, say they fear what 2021 will bring

 Many Lebanese, their hopes in tatters, say they fear what 2021 will bring
  • ‘What is left of Lebanon? The future is frightening’

BEIRUT: After a year of financial, political and social turmoil, few in Lebanon believe the crisis-wracked country’s situation will improve in the coming 12 months, while growing numbers fear their plight will worsen dramatically.  

“Our country is broken,” said Rima Al-Khatib, who works in the banking sector, describing a year in which her father died and the family was unable to pray for him in the mosque because of a nationwide lockdown at the time.

Al-Khatib told Arab News that she “is in a state of denial about everything that happened this year.”

“I don’t want to reflect on it because it is too painful,” she said.

With university and health studies in recent weeks showing alarming levels of depression and anxiety in young and old alike, it is clear few people have any expectations, let along dreams, for the new year.

One mental health survey concluded that up to 16 percent of people aged 18-24 suffer from severe depression, while 41 percent of women still suffer from post-traumatic stress in the wake of the Beirut port blast.

Meanwhile, lockdowns imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus affected the mental health of 41 percent of the participants in another study, with a further survey claiming 9.5 percent of the population risk becoming depressed because of the country’s dire economic situation.

Al-Khatib said that she will never forget the day of the port explosion.

“I was in my car on the road and a balcony fell from a building in front of me,” she recalled. “I could not understand what happened. My friend narrowly escaped death and the explosion killed two of my work colleagues, leaving two children orphans.”

Al-Khatib said that many Lebanese believe the country “has been taken hostage by a terrorist organization.”

“Our salaries have lost their value. I no longer listen to the news and I do not want to after the government messed up everything by not paying the eurobonds. Now foodstuffs are priced according to the banks’ dollar exchange rate. If the central bank runs out of dollars, what will our life be like?” she said.

“Lebanon has lost its place in the region and I don’t know if it can regain it.”

Majed Baitmouni, a market trader, said that the past year “pulled me back 40 years, financially and morally.”

He said: “They government has brought us only calamities, and the coronavirus made things worse. I had to close my bag shop in Beirut because vendors want me to pay my rent in dollars, so I returned their goods and received the final blow. I have barely any money left and cannot do anything except sell vegetables and fruit in my local area. My wife and children helped me, but instead of making a profit, my debts increased.”

Baitmouni said he no longer trusts the politicians. “They are threatening our livelihoods. They have destroyed us.”

Abdullah Sultan, who owns an iron factory, said he believes the situation will worsen in the new year.

“My priority is for my children to leave this country. My grandmother used to tell us that things would get better soon. I do not want to say the same thing. The problem lies in the foundations of the country and the people — these cannot be changed,” he said.

Assima Ramadan, an office worker, said that 2020 had left her isolated, and she feared the new year would be worse.

“My husband and I lost our life savings in the banks when their value collapsed. We hoped to live with dignity when we grow old, but now we will have to fear illness and the future. Because of the pandemic I have become afraid to walk outside. It is a feeling of helplessness and frustration, and I do not know how to get rid of it.”

University professor Aref Al-Abd said the past year had dealt Lebanon “a fatal blow,” adding: “What can I do to have a dignified life with my family?“

Economic and political deterioration will lead to a deterioration in security, he said.

“What is left of Lebanon? They hit banks, hospitals, universities, and there is fear they will strike coexistence. What happened in the port of Beirut is frightening.”

Sarah Fakhry, a young lawyer specializing in corporate law, said that she had supported protests against the “corrupt ruling authority” in the country.

“But things became even worse. The explosion at the Beirut port added to my fears. The state did not take responsibility for the victims.”

Now the companies that hire Fakhry, including large corporations, are facing closure.

“People are filing lawsuits against the banks, but they do not trust the judiciary,” she said. “I am one of those who has prepared their immigration papers again. I used to live in France and returned to Lebanon five years ago because life abroad is difficult. Now I will not look back.

“The future in Lebanon is dark, and I do not want to be part of it.”

 
 


Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack

Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack
Updated 02 August 2021

Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack

Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack
  • Shooting in Khaldeh, where tensions between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims have long simmered, prompted leaders to warn against an escalation
  • Attack targeted the funeral of Hezbollah member Ali Shibli who was shot dead on Saturday during a wedding

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army said on Monday it had detained a man wanted over an attack on Shiite Muslim mourners at a funeral where three people were killed, after the powerful Shiite group Hezbollah demanded the perpetrators be detained.
The shooting in Khaldeh, a town south of Beirut where tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims have long simmered, has prompted leaders to warn against an escalation as Lebanon grapples with political and financial crises.
The attack targeted the funeral of Hezbollah member Ali Shibli who was shot dead on Saturday during a wedding.
Sunni Arab tribes claimed responsibility for that shooting, saying they had taken revenge for the killing of one of their members last year in Khaldeh.
Army intelligence stormed the homes of a number of wanted people and detained a man who was involved in the funeral attack, the army said.
Hezbollah, an armed group backed by Iran, has said it is seeking to maintain calm but said the attackers must be handed over. The group has called it a planned ambush.
“You don’t want strife, then come and surrender those killers to the state,” Hassan Fadlallah, a Hezbollah MP, said in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV late on Sunday.
People were “boiling” and the group could not control them all, he said.
Shibli’s coffin was draped in a Hezbollah flag at his funeral in the town of Kunin in southern Lebanon.
Clerics prayed over the casket and Hezbollah fighters wearing camouflage and red berets were in attendance, footage broadcast by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV showed.
“What happened in Khaldeh confirms the blatant absence of the logic of the state and that the language of uncontrolled and illegitimate arms is the one prevailing,” Fouad Makhzoumi, an independent Sunni MP, wrote on Twitter.
“We are afraid of the country being dragged to strife.”
Lebanon’s financial and economic meltdown marks the biggest crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
“Strife awakens on the eve of Aug. 4,” declared the front page headline of an-Nahar newspaper, referring to the first anniversary of the Beirut port explosion that devastated swathes of the capital and killed more than 200 people.


Tunisia reiterates commitment to combating illegal migration

 After being identified, migrants are sent to the temporary accommodation centers on the mainland or on the quarantine ferry ships moored in the waters in front of Lampedusa’s port. (AFP)
After being identified, migrants are sent to the temporary accommodation centers on the mainland or on the quarantine ferry ships moored in the waters in front of Lampedusa’s port. (AFP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Tunisia reiterates commitment to combating illegal migration

 After being identified, migrants are sent to the temporary accommodation centers on the mainland or on the quarantine ferry ships moored in the waters in front of Lampedusa’s port. (AFP)
  • Arrival of migrants to Lampedusa taxes accommodation facility on small Italian island
  • Italian politician says information from Tunisian security forces regarding operations to counter illegal migration ‘seems to contradict increasing number of landings’

ROME: Tunisian President Kais Saied reiterated his country’s commitment to combating illegal migration and has thanked Italy for its donation of some 1.5 million coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine doses, in addition to five containers of equipment to help the country fight the pandemic.

On Sunday night, Saied symbolically received the vaccine donation in a ceremony he attended with the Ambassador of Italy to Tunisia Lorenzo Fanara, in which he hailed bilateral relations and renewed Tunisia’s commitment against illegal migration in the Mediterranean.

A communiqué from the Tunisian presidency said that the president expressed his eagerness to “protect rights and liberties and bolster the pillars of security and stability” and affirmed his country’s stance against illegal migration, human trafficking and smuggling. He also warned against politically exploiting this issue during such a “delicate” time as the country is currently experiencing.

Sources in the Embassy of Italy in Tunisia told Arab News that Saied “remains keen to continue bilateral cooperation in accordance with all the agreements made on both sides regarding the issue of migration in the past years.”

The arrival of migrants to the island of Lampedusa continues, meanwhile, due to good sea conditions.

On Monday, the Tunisian Coast Guard informed that 11 operations to counter illegal migration were carried out over the weekend, with 188 migrants aboard various boats stopped in different regions of the country.

The Tunisian Ministry of Interior said in a communiqué issued after the ceremony with President Saied and the Italian ambassador that 56 of the people stopped came from African countries but did not specify their nationalities.

Eleven of them were already wanted for repeatedly trying to reach Italian and European shores illegally.

“They can say what they want, but most of them are Tunisians from Tunisia,” Rev. Michele Giordano from Caritas in Sicily told Arab News.

“The activity of the Tunisian security forces to counter migration from that country probably comes as a response to the interview Ennahda party leader and Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi gave on Saturday to Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. In that interview, Ghannouchi warned that European countries would face an unprecedented wave of migration if they did not help his movement,” Andrea Delmastro Delle Vedove, member of the foreign affairs committee in the Italian Chamber of Deputies, told Arab News.

“I do not see any other reason why they should let everyone know that in recent days the Tunisian National Guard prevented hundreds from crossing the Mediterranean illegally. This kind of information seems to contradict the increasing number of landings from Tunisia in Lampedusa and on the southern shores of Sardinia,” he added.

Only on Sunday, around 200 people arrived in Lampedusa. After being identified, migrants are sent to the temporary accommodation centers on the mainland or on the quarantine ferry ships moored in the waters in front of the tiny island’s port. Over 1,200 migrants are still staying in the facility, however, which is designed to accommodate no more than 250.


Lebanon’s Mikati says hoped for faster pace towards government

Lebanon’s Mikati says hoped for faster pace towards government
Updated 02 August 2021

Lebanon’s Mikati says hoped for faster pace towards government

Lebanon’s Mikati says hoped for faster pace towards government
  • Government formation ‘is a bit slot’, said Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati on Monday

BEIRUT: Lebanon's newly designated prime minister Najib Mikati said Monday that a cabinet lineup would not be announced by mid-week to coincide with the anniversary of the deadly Beirut port blast.

“Frankly, with regard to the government, I was hoping the pace would be faster,” he said after meeting President Michel Aoun, whom he said he would now see again on Thursday.

The government of Hassan Diab, who is still caretaker prime minister, resigned en masse days after the August 4 explosion that killed more than 200 people last year.

Mikati, who has already been prime minister twice in the past and is also the country's richest man, was designated on July 26 to form a government after Saad Hariri threw in the towel.

He said he had hoped to clinch a deal before the anniversary of the explosion, but media reports said Lebanon's political parties are still bickering over portfolios in much the same way that has blocked a new government over the past year.

The institutional vacuum is holding up a potential financial rescue plan for Lebanon, which defaulted on its debt last year and has since sunk into what the World Bank has described as one of the world's worst crises since the mid-19th century.

The designation last month of 65-year-old Mikati, seen by many as a symbol of Lebanon's corrupt oligarchy, was met with scepticism both at home and abroad.


Libya gets 2 million Sinopharm doses with more expected

Libya gets 2 million Sinopharm doses with more expected
Updated 02 August 2021

Libya gets 2 million Sinopharm doses with more expected

Libya gets 2 million Sinopharm doses with more expected
  • "We call on all our fellow citizens to be vaccinated," said Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah
  • Since the pandemic began, Libya has recorded 256,328 cases and 3,579 deaths from Covid-19

TRIPOLI: Libya called Monday on people to come forward to be vaccinated after it received two million doses of the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm, with more on the way.
“We call on all our fellow citizens to be vaccinated,” Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah told reporters at Mitiga airport near Tripoli after the shipment arrived.
Adding to its security and political problems, the North African country of around seven million people has been hard hit by the pandemic.
Dbeibah, who heads a transitional government ahead of elections set for December, added that another 1.5 million doses of vaccine were expected “in the coming weeks.”
Since the pandemic began, Libya has recorded 256,328 cases and 3,579 deaths from Covid-19.
Recently, it has seen an increase in daily cases of several thousand, partly because of increased testing.
Last Tuesday, a two-week overnight curfew aimed at halting the rise in new infections came into force in central and west Libya.
It does not apply in eastern and southern Libya, which are de facto controlled by military strongman Khalifa Haftar, despite the political and military situation improving.


Iran records highest number of daily COVID cases in pandemic

Iran records highest number of daily COVID cases in pandemic
Updated 02 August 2021

Iran records highest number of daily COVID cases in pandemic

Iran records highest number of daily COVID cases in pandemic
  • State TV said health workers registered 37,189 new COVID-19 cases since Sunday
  • There were 411 deaths, bringing the country's total death toll to 91,407, the Middle East’s highest

TEHRAN: Iran on Monday reported more than 37,000 new coronavirus infections, the country’s single-day record so far in the pandemic, state media reported.
State TV said health workers registered 37,189 new COVID-19 cases since Sunday — surpassing the previous daily record of 34,951 infections reported on Tuesday. Also, there were 411 deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll in the pandemic to 91,407 — the highest in the Middle East.
The new surge has been fueled by the contagious delta variant, and Iranian authorities say less than 40 percent of the population follows measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing. Iranian health officials have regularly warned that hospitals in the capital, Tehran, and other major cities are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
On Sunday, Health Minister Saeed Namaki in a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked a two-week shutdown of the country, something the minister said the military would help enforce. However, Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, has not yet responded to the request.
Authorities have avoided imposing heavy-handed rules on a population badly equipped to bear them. Iran, which has suffered the worst virus outbreak in the region, is reeling from a series of crises: tough US sanctions, global isolation, a heat wave, the worst blackouts in recent memory and ongoing protests over water shortages in the southwest.
Less than 4 percent of Iranians have been fully vaccinated. Many front-line medical workers have been vaccinated with Iran’s locally produced shots or the Chinese state-backed Sinopharm vaccine that report say may be less effective than other inoculations.
Iran’s government announced that its homemade vaccine provides 85 percent protection from the coronavirus, without disclosing data or details. Iran also imports Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, as well as the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot through the United Nations-backed COVAX program.