Lebanese leadership under fire over by-election delays

Lebanese leadership under fire over by-election delays
Lebanese security forces gather during a protest in August last year at the vicinity of the parliament in central Beirut following a huge chemical explosion. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2021

Lebanese leadership under fire over by-election delays

Lebanese leadership under fire over by-election delays
  • Poll pressure grows on the caretaker government as vacant parliamentary seats spark legal doubts

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker government is under mounting pressure to hold by-elections to fill 10 vacancies in the country’s parliament caused by resignations and the recent deaths of two MPs from COVID-19.

In recent months the parliament has lost 10 of its 128 members, raising doubts about legal issues in calculating the quorum, especially with regard to critical sessions, since there is an imbalance of the pact.
Eight MPs submitted a collective resignation in protest against the corruption of the ruling authority after the Beirut port explosion.
Three of the eight were Kataeb (Phalanges) MPs, while the others were either independent or had left their parliamentary blocs.
Two MPs, Michel Murr and Jean Obeid, recently died from COVID-19 complications.
The majority of the MPs who have left parliament are Christians, while one is Druze. Of the remaining 118 parliamentarians, 63 are Muslims and 55 Christian.
By-elections were supposed to take place within two months of parliament accepting the resignations of Marwan Hamadeh, Henri Helou, Paula Yacoubian, Nadim Gemayel, Samy Gemayel, Elias Hankach, Nehmeh Afram and Michel Moawad in the wake of the Beirut port blast.
However, by-elections have not been held despite caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi signing a decree inviting electoral bodies to organize the polls.
The caretaker government did not sign the decree, which led to a constitutional violation.
However, with the deaths of the two MPs, there has been renewed talk of the need to hold by-elections to fill the vacant seats.
Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said this week that he hoped the by-elections could take place in the spring.
Two missions face Lebanon in the coming year, the first in May 2022 to elect a new parliament to carry out the second Lebanese mission, which is to elect the president.
President Michel Aoun’s term ends in October 2022.
Fahmi responded to Berri’s request to submit a letter to the prime minister, setting the end of March as the deadline for elections.
The issue comes amid a growing dispute between President Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) on the one hand and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and his supporters on the other over the formation of the government.
The political deadlock is the source of mounting concern and anger as the country’s economic and health crisis worsens.
Legal expert Antoine Sfeir said that if by-elections are not held, parliamentary elections are unlikely to take place in the coming year.
He added that “there is fear that the current parliament, with its 118 members — if there are no new deaths — will elect the next president of the republic at the end of Aoun’s term.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• By-elections were supposed to take place in Lebanon within two months of parliament accepting the resignations of Marwan Hamadeh, Henri Helou, Paula Yacoubian, Nadim Gemayel, Samy Gemayel, Elias Hankach, Nehmeh Afram and Michel Moawad in the wake of the Beirut port blast.

• However, by-elections have not been held despite caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi signing a decree inviting electoral bodies to organize the polls.

If a decision is made to hold by-elections, the polls will take place under current electoral law and according to the majority system in Achrafieh in Beirut as well as Tripoli, Zgharta, Keserwan, Chouf and Alyeh.
However, they will also be held according to the proportional system in Matn (three seats), where there are diverse Christian parties, including the Kataeb (Phalange) Party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dasgnaks), the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the Lebanese Forces, and Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), along with the civil society.
The electoral battles will be mainly confined to Matn, which means a test of the popularity of the parties in this Christian environment. Whereas in the other electoral districts, the results will be almost certain, due to the absence of party competition and the absence of a bloc or coalition of independent civil groups, with the exception of Achrafieh, where elections are linked to alliances.
Political analysts suggest that MP Marwan Hamadeh will be succeeded by his son Karim, and that the late MP Jean Obeid will be succeeded by his son Suleiman.
The media spokesman for the Lebanese Forces Party, Charles Jabbour, said: “If the current (ruling) authority is able to hold by-elections now, then it is capable of holding general elections, so why not hold these general elections now to reduce the simultaneity of the elections that will take place next year?
“I think that the ruling authority is afraid of early and upcoming elections because the people’s resentment will be seen in the ballot boxes, and this does not suit the authority that wants to extend the current parliament so that it can reproduce itself.”
Jabbour said that “by-elections are imposed by the constitution, so will they take place? In any case, it is forbidden to extend the current parliament, and we are on the lookout.”


Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet
Updated 48 min 47 sec ago

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet
  • Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office

ISTANBUL: A Turkish lawyer has been arrested and charged with “insulting the president” over a controversial tweet that included sexist remarks directed at ruling Justice and Development Party MP Ozlem Zengin. 

Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office.  

Zengin sparked widespread anger recently with dismissive comments on alleged human rights violations and strip searches in Turkish prisons, ridiculing the claims of dozens of conservative women who said they had been subjected to intrusive searches in recent years. 

“An honorable woman, a woman with morals, wouldn’t wait a year (before complaining). This is an imaginary narrative,” Zengin said on Feb. 19. 

Amid public debate on the topic, Zengin said that women were falling pregnant on orders from various “illegal” groups seeking to trigger public anger over babies growing up in prisons.

“These people are having babies upon directives so that they can assert ‘there are pregnant women or women with babies in jails’,” she said on Feb. 21.

Yasar responded to this latest statement with a furious tweet, targeting the MP: “If the presidential cabinet is given the right of the first night, will Ozlem Zengin close her mouth?” he tweeted, sparking anger among women’s rights activists from all sides of politics. 

Fahrettin Altun, presidential communications director, immediately issued a statement urging the “independent Turkish judiciary to punish this creature named Mert Yaşar in the severest way possible.”

“What will the opposition do in the face of this dishonor? They will, most probably, hide their heads in the sand. We will follow it up,” he said. 

Yasar was arrested on charges of insulting the president according to Article 299 of the Turkish penal code — which critics say points to the disproportionate use of this clause since his tweet targeted an MP, not the president himself. 

Article 299 stipulates that the person who insults the president shall be punished by imprisonment from one to four years, and if the crime is committed publicly, the punishment will be increased by one to six years.

Between 2014 and 2019, about 128,872 investigations were carried out into alleged insults against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with prosecutors launching about 27,700 criminal cases.

A total of 9,556 defendants were sentenced by Turkish courts, while about 900 minors aged between 12 and 17 also appeared before the court on the same charge. 

“The politicization of the judiciary continues with unlawful arrest and false accusation,” rights activist Nesibe Kiris said. 

Several female politicians and right activists offered examples of their personal experiences with insults that failed to lead to criminal proceedings, sparking debate about the “politically motivated” implementation of such penal clauses. 

“All kinds of insults, threats, sexist attacks on me and all opposing women are free and even they provide a reason for a decision of non-prosecutions. But when it comes to an AKP politician, it becomes a reason for his arrest. It is a tailor-made judiciary. The people’s scales of conscience will weigh all of you when the day comes,” Canan Kaftancioglu, Istanbul head of the opposition Republican People’s Party tweeted. 

A group of lawyers issued a message in support of Yasar, saying that his arrest “is the continuation of the judicial practice that makes decisions under the pressure of social media and political power.”

The arrest was also attacked as being a warning against any vocal criticisms on social media.


Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State
Updated 25 February 2021

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State
  • The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday pledged his country’s commitment to the war on terror during a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden.

Shoukry told Blinken that Egypt was keen to build on the progress made over recent decades to develop cooperation between the two countries.

According to an official statement, their talks focused on regional and international issues of joint interest. They also discussed the latest developments in Libya and Palestine, and the need to continue working together to combat terrorism and other challenges and security threats facing the region.

Highlighting the historic partnership between the US and Egypt, the officials agreed to further develop political, economic, and cultural ties while promoting issues related to human rights.

US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said that Blinken’s call to Shoukry showed the importance that America attached to its strategic partnership with Egypt, especially in the areas of security, combating terrorism, and the exchange of views on regional matters.

However, the statement said that Blinken had raised US concerns over Egypt’s potential procurement of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter aircraft.

During the call, they also discussed support for UN-led Libyan peace negotiations, the Middle East peace process, and cooperation in fighting terrorism in Sinai.


Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies
Updated 25 February 2021

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies
  • Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them

CAIRO: Qatar and Egypt have agreed to appointment envoys and reopen their embassies in the wake of the AlUla agreement to mend relations with Doha.

The resolve came after delegations from both countries held talks in Kuwait to plan the normalization of links between the nations.

“The two parties agreed to resume the work of their diplomatic missions … followed by the appointment of an Egyptian ambassador in Doha and a Qatari ambassador in Cairo,” an Egyptian diplomatic source said.

Qatar’s permanent representative to the Arab League, Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al-Sahlawi, was expected to become Doha’s envoy in Cairo, the source added.

During the meeting in Kuwait, Egypt was said to have set out its conditions for settling relations with Qatar, which included strict demands for Doha not to interfere in Egyptian internal affairs.

The AlUla agreement, signed on Jan. 5 during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held in the ancient city, saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt restore ties with Qatar, ending a dispute which started in 2017.

A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “The two sides welcomed the measures taken by both countries after signing the AlUla agreement as a step toward building confidence between the two brotherly countries.”

The meeting discussed ways to enhance joint work and bilateral relations in areas including security, stability, and economic development.

Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them and for its efforts to heal the rift and promote Arab unity.

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently announced that Cairo and Doha had exchanged two official memoranda agreeing to restore diplomatic relations and on Jan. 18 flights between Egypt and Qatar resumed after having been suspended for more than three years.


Syrian war being forgotten in UK as poll shows growing apathy

The results of a YouGov survey, released on Wednesday, showed only a little more than half (58 percent) of British people were aware the war in Syria was still going on. (Reuters/File Photo)
The results of a YouGov survey, released on Wednesday, showed only a little more than half (58 percent) of British people were aware the war in Syria was still going on. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 24 February 2021

Syrian war being forgotten in UK as poll shows growing apathy

The results of a YouGov survey, released on Wednesday, showed only a little more than half (58 percent) of British people were aware the war in Syria was still going on. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Brits have ‘turned off their minds’ to what is happening in Syria amid increasingly scarce media coverage

LONDON: The civil war in Syria is being forgotten by the British people as apathy toward the decade-long conflict grows, according to a UK-based charity.

The results of a YouGov survey, released on Wednesday, showed only a little more than half (58 percent) of those polled were aware the war was still going on. A spokesman for Syria Relief said Britons have “turned off their minds” to what is happening in the country.

The poll, which marks the upcoming 10th anniversary of the start of the conflict, found 38 percent of 1,753 people questioned in the UK were not sure of the current status of the war, while four percent believed it had ended.

Public awareness of the conflict was higher in August 2019, when a survey found that 77 percent people knew about the conflict, according to Syria Relief.

“I believe that after 10 years the UK has become fatigued about the Syrian crisis because of its protracted nature,” Charles Lawley, head of communications and advocacy at Syria Relief, told Arab News. “They are accepting that this is a place where tragedies happen on a daily basis, so they turn their minds off to it — and this is a great tragedy.

“I think it is a symptom of British society becoming less concerned about issues beyond our own borders and, to be frank, it is almost as if the suffering of Syrians is boring them.”

This year also marks 10 years since the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad targeted 10 schools and a hospital in attacks that claimed the lives of more than 20 people, more than half of them children, something that would not be tolerated in the UK, Lawley said.

“If this would have happened in Britain it would have been treated akin to our 9/11: a national tragedy that would be remembered for generations,” he said. “Yet because it happened in Syria, no one knows about it.

“We wouldn’t tolerate children being bombed as they sit in the classrooms of British schools so why on earth do we tolerate it in Syria or anywhere else in the world?”

Extensive media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit negotiations has meant that UK national news updates on the Syrian conflict have been increasingly rare in the past few years, which makes the efforts of charities to help the victims of the conflict much harder, Lawley said.

“It is so difficult for organizations like Syria Relief to get the UK or the world to care about suffering and death in Syria,” he said. “When we just allow Syria to be a place where bombs can be dropped on schools or hospitals, we devalue the lives of Syrians.

“But, tragically, our apathy to the plight of the Syrian people compounds their suffering as there is no pressure on governments to act to stop warring parties in the conflict from committing crimes against humanity.

“Ultimately, the British people need to remember that Syrians are people too. Their lives are just as valuable as any human life; the only different between them and (us) is where they were born. They didn’t ask for this.”

While the UK has pledged billions of pounds in aid for Syria since 2012, politicians and the media in the UK need to do more to shine a light on the conflict and the suffering of ordinary Syrians, Lawley said, especially after the government’s recent announcement of cuts to the aid budget.

“The UK government is the third-biggest donor to the Syrian humanitarian aid response and should be proud about the enormous amount of good it is doing to help the people impacted by the conflict,” he said.

“However, with the recent announcement of the government about plans to cut the aid budget, this is making us at Syria Relief, and many of our colleagues in the (nongovernmental organization) community very concerned about what this could mean to the Syrian people — many of whom are some of the most vulnerable people on the globe.

“I think the government should be shouting from the rooftops about the incredible things that the UK aid budget has achieved. If it had, I think there would have been more opposition from the public about the announcement to cut the budget.

“Being a global leader in helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people should be worn as a badge of national pride, not treated like a dirty little secret.”

The war in Syria began in 2011 amid pro-democracy protests in Deraa. Tensions escalated after the Assad regime crushed dissenters who staged a “day of rage” on March 15, which ultimately led to more people flooding city streets demanding the president step down.


US patience with Iran on nuclear deal ‘not unlimited’: State Department

US patience with Iran on nuclear deal ‘not unlimited’: State Department
Updated 25 February 2021

US patience with Iran on nuclear deal ‘not unlimited’: State Department

US patience with Iran on nuclear deal ‘not unlimited’: State Department
  • Iran has not formally responded to a US offer last week to talk with Iran in a joint meeting with the countries that negotiated the deal

WASHINGTON: The United States' patience with Iran on returning to discussions over the 2015 nuclear deal is "not unlimited," State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday.
Iran has not formally responded to a US offer last week to talk with Iran in a joint meeting with the countries that negotiated the deal.
Asked at a news briefing whether there was an expiration date on the offer, Price said Iran's moves away from compliance with the 2015 agreement's restrictions on its nuclear activities made the issue an "urgent challenge" for the United States.
"Our patience is not unlimited, but we do believe, and the president has been clear on this ... that the most effective way to ensure Iran could never acquire a nuclear weapon was through diplomacy," Price said.