BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun asked for diplomatic assistance on Tuesday in an attempt to overcome the political deadlock surrounding the attempted formation of the country’s new government.
The move came after Monday’s meeting with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri failed yet again to agree on a new cabinet as Aoun insisted on getting a “blocking third” in the proposed government.
Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari was one of two diplomats to visit with Aoun on Tuesday.
“I told President Aoun that the Kingdom is committed to Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” Bukhari said after his first visit to Lebanon in almost two years.
“I stressed the importance of putting the national interest first in order to move forward with the implementation of drastic reforms that could restore the international community’s confidence.”
Bukhari also called on parties to accelerate the formation of a government capable of achieving the aspirations of the Lebanese people.
“Saudi Arabia has always expressed its support and solidarity with the brotherly Lebanese people, steadfast in the face of crises,” he said.
French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Griot also met with Aoun on Tuesday but did not make a statement.
Another failed attempt to form a government sparked more security and economic concerns on Tuesday. The dollar exchange rate reached 15,000 Lebanese Pounds (LBP) to the dollar, which was an increase of LBP4,000 in a single day.
I told President Aoun that KSA is committed to Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari, Saudi ambassador to Lebanon
According to a security source that spoke to Arab News, there has been an increase in armed robberies during the economic crisis, which has also led to the theft of government property.
Iron manhole covers have been stolen off the roads in several regions in an attempt to be sold for scrap, while a high-tension tower in Northern Bekaa reportedly fell because the steel mesh corners supporting the tower were taken by thieves. The fall cut transmission lines between the Deir Ammar Power Plant and other power stations.
Lebanon’s national electricity company, Electricite du Liban (EDL), said: “We found out that the corners of other towers were stolen, putting them at risk of falling. Repairs will require time and there is a difficulty finding the necessary financing in foreign currencies.”
The country’s critical situation prompted UN Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon Najat Rushdie to call on political leaders for action.
“Lebanese leaders should put their differences aside, assume their responsibilities, put an end to the current state of failure, listen to the people’s desperate calls and provide them with solutions,” Rushdie said.
“The UN remains committed to supporting the Lebanese people and the country’s stability, political independence and sovereignty.”
The Arab League, represented by assistant secretary-general Hossam Zaki, called upon the political parties “to put the national interest first and work urgently to overcome the political deadlock that has exacerbated the suffering of the people.”
According to Sky News, Zaki said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit is greatly concerned by the Lebanese political disputes and feels the country is headed toward a severe crisis.
“The Arab League is ready to do whatever is asked of it in order to bridge the gap and find an agreed-upon solution that would allow the prime minister-designate to form his government,” Zaki said.
“It should be a government that operates through the skills of specialists in order to save Lebanon from its difficult current situation by implementing the necessary reforms that meet the ambitions and aspirations of the Lebanese people.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai on Monday and expressed “his great interest in the situation in Lebanon,” stressing the importance of forming a government and keeping Lebanon away from all conflicts.
Tunisia’s Ennahda puts off party meeting amid crisis
Dozens of younger party members and some leaders called on Ghannouchi to resign
Updated 31 July 2021
TUNIS: The head of Tunisia's biggest party, Ennahda, on Saturday postponed a meeting of its highest council after senior members called for his resignation over his handling of the political crisis, party sources said.
Rached Ghannouchi, who is also parliament speaker, has played a central role in Tunisia's democratic crisis this week after President Kais Saied seized executive authority.
The moves have caused the biggest crisis in Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy.
Saied's moves, which also included freezing parliament and dismissing the prime minister, have also thrown Ennahda into turmoil, leading to recriminations within the party over its strategy and leadership.
The party has been the most consistently powerful in Tunisia since the revolution, playing a role in backing successive coalition governments and has lost support as the economy stagnated and public services declined.
On Saturday Ghannouchi postponed a meeting of its Choura Council, the party's highest internal authority, shortly before it was due to take place, three party sources said.
Dozens of younger party members and some of its leaders including Samir Dilou, a parliament member, had called on Ghannouchi to resign, the sources said.
Ghannouchi has led Ennahda for decades, including from exile in Britain before the revolution, after which he returned to a tumultuous welcome at Tunis airport. He stood for election for the first time in 2019, winning a parliament seat and becoming speaker.
Yemen violence increases as Houthis reject truce calls
The Houthi military escalation came as the US rebuked the group for attacking Marib and rejecting peace efforts to end the war
Updated 31 July 2021
ALEXANDRIA: Violence increased in Yemen during the weekend as the Houthis rejected calls to stop hostilities and comply with peace initiatives.
Dozens of combatants, including a government commander, were killed in the past 48 hours in fighting between troops and the Houthis in the provinces of Marib, Lahj, Shabwa and Al-Bayda with the Houthis scaling up their attacks on government-controlled areas.
The heaviest fighting was reported in Marib, where forces foiled the militia’s attacks in areas outside the city of Marib and claimed limited gains in Al-Rahabah district.
Yemen’s army on Saturday mourned the death of Brig. Abad Ahmed Al-Hulaisi Al-Muradi, who was killed while fighting the Houthis in contested areas south of Marib city.
The Houthi military escalation came as the US rebuked the group for attacking Marib and rejecting peace efforts to end the war.
Commenting on the visit of US special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking to Saudi Arabia, the US Department of State said on Friday: “During this trip, Lenderking called for an end to the stalemated fighting in Marib and across Yemen, which have only increased the suffering of the Yemeni people. He expressed concern that the Houthis continue to refuse to engage meaningfully on a ceasefire and political talks.”
Muin Shreim, acting UN special envoy for Yemen, who also concluded a brief visit to Riyadh on Friday, urged parties to stop military operations in Yemen and Saudi Arabia and resume talks under a UN-brokered peace plan. “This is key to reduce threats to civilians, alleviate the dire humanitarian situation and pave the way for a sustainable, comprehensive and just peace and for reconciliation and recovery in Yemen,” Shreim said.
One expert said the Houthis had intensified their operations to seize control of new areas and improve their bargaining position.
“The Houthis responded to the UN and international initiatives and movement by expanding (militarily) in order to get more points of strength and impose facts on the grounds,” Ali Al-Fakih, editor of Al-Masdar Online, told Arab News.
Diplomatic efforts to end the war had, he said, experienced a “feeling of disappointment” because the Houthis had rejected peace initiatives from the UN and Saudi Arabia, while also snubbing the former UN Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, the US envoy, and Omani mediators.
Yemeni political analyst Saleh Al-Baydani said the Houthis sought to assert full control of the northern half of the country, arguing that simultaneous military and international diplomatic pressure on the Houthis would force them into accepting a peace plan and stopping hostilities.
“Forcing the Houthis to comply with the option of peace can only be achieved through two parallel tracks,” he told Arab News. “The first is mounting military pressure on the ground and the second is applying real international pressures that go beyond condemnations and statements.”
The Houthis have also exploited the government's focus on defending Marib city, its last major stronghold in the north, and leaving other provinces unprotected and vulnerable to the group’s attacks, according to analysts.
Al-Fakih said the Houthis intensified their activity in Lahj, Shabwa and Al-Bayda after failing to make a military breakthrough during their offensive on Marib city, adding that more aggressive and unified strikes against their military targets and drying up their financial sources would help to push them into accepting peace.
Najeeb Ghallab, the undersecretary at Yemen’s Information Ministry and a political analyst, said the group’s ideological leaders who believed they had “a mandate from heaven to rule Yemen, and those who enriched themselves during the war” would resist any move to end the war.
“The Houthi group is convinced that any path to peace in Yemen represents a threat to it. The war extends their rule of areas under their control,” Ghallab said.
Deadly attack on Kurdish family sparks public anger
Similar attacks against Kurds have seen an uptick recently with cases in the provinces of Afyon, Konya and the Turkish capital Ankara
Updated 24 min 45 sec ago
ANKARA: Seven people from a Kurdish family, including three women, were shot dead by armed assailants in the central Anatolian province of Konya on Friday.
The attackers also set the house alight after the daytime massacre.
“We warned the authorities several times,” the family’s attorney Abdurrahman Karabulut tweeted on July 30.
They had been living in Konya for 24 years and were attacked by 60 ultranationalists in May, with four family members grievously wounded by knives, stones and sticks. They were told they would no longer be allowed to live in that district.
Following the May attack, 10 people were detained and seven of them were taken into custody. But many were released.
The Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği) has been following the case for months and was informed that the family members were being harassed. IHD chair Eren Keskin tweeted: “They murdered the family they previously attacked.”
Authorities knew the family were at risk and failed to protect them, Human Rights Watch Turkey director Emma Sinclair-Webb said.
Violence against Kurds has sparked public anger over the past few months. The assaults are believed to be the result of political polarization in the country, where the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has been threatened with closure and hundreds of its politicians have been slapped with a five-year ban.
During an armed assault on the HDP’s office in the western province of Izmir in June, a female party staff member was killed.
Similar attacks against Kurds have seen an uptick recently with cases in the provinces of Afyon, Konya and the Turkish capital Ankara.
Far-right and pro-government media have been fueling conspiracy theories against the HDP with an increasingly hateful and racist discourse against Kurds.
Although witnesses said the attack was racially motivated, authorities rejected this allegation and said the investigation was ongoing and so far without any connection to their Kurdish origin.
Yaşar Dedeogullari, one of the victims, said back in May that the family was attacked because they were Kurds.
“We are nationalists, you are Kurds, we will get you out of here, this is what they have been saying for 12 years, we will not let Kurds live here,” he said.
In a joint statement, 48 bar associations across Turkey recently criticized the pro-government daily Yeni Safak for targeting the 15 bar associations that had condemned the attacks on Kurds.
A Yeni Safak headline read “Barons of Qandil” - a reference to the headquarters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the northern Iraqi mountains.
“We received news of a terrible massacre from Konya. Since the subject is very sensitive, I did not want to talk before the details were clarified. Our delegation is currently in the region. Findings will be shared,” the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party tweeted.
“Our most valuable asset is the Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood. I know that our country faces several problems, but our hearts are together. I call out to the gangs who make the mistake of considering themselves as the deep state: We will definitely not allow your efforts to disrupt the brotherhood of our people!” he added.
From Morocco to Sudan, North Africa grapples with crippling new wave of COVID-19
North African states are seeing varying degrees of success at containing the coronavirus amid a devastating third wave
Slow vaccine rollouts, lockdown fatigue and the spreading Delta variant stretch health systems and economies to the limit
Updated 31 July 2021
DUBAI: First identified in India, the highly transmissible coronavirus delta variant has since been detected in around 100 countries, prompting new waves of infections, travel restrictions and concerns over the effectiveness of vaccines.
One region that has been especially hard hit is North Africa, where the economic havoc caused by lockdowns has forced governments to reluctantly reopen borders and businesses despite the slow pace of inoculation.
Tunisia, with a population of 11.69 million, has reported 582,638 infections and 19,336 deaths since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, making it one of the worst-hit nations in Africa, alongside Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.
The collapse of the health system and severe economic hardship triggered mass protests that in turn have plunged the country into a political crisis.
War-ravaged Libya has also witnessed an alarming surge of COVID-19 cases over the past month. Because of its two centers of political power with parallel institutions, its response and vaccination rollout have been disjointed and sluggish.
The country’s National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) recorded 3,845 new COVID-19 cases on July 25 — at that time the highest daily rate since the onset of the pandemic.
Libya has recorded roughly 246,200 cases and 3,469 deaths, but the true figure is likely far higher given the country’s acute shortage of tests and laboratory capacity.
“We are alarmed at the rapid spread of the virus in the country,” AbdulKadir Musse, UNICEF Special Representative in Libya, said in a statement.
“The vaccination rate is very low, and the spread is fast. We must be quicker in our response. The most important thing we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the variants, is ensure everyone who is eligible gets vaccinated.
“Countries with high coverage of two doses of vaccines have been able to drastically reduce the rate of hospitalization and deaths. We also need to follow and abide by preventive measures.”
Also known by its scientific name B.1.617.2, the delta variant was first detected in the Indian state of Maharashtra in October 2020, but was only labeled a “variant of concern” (VOC) by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 11 this year.
The strain, itself the product of multiple mutations, is thought to be 60 percent more infectious than the alpha (or Kent) variant, an earlier mutation that emerged in southern England in November 2020.
Arab countries of North Africa have particularly felt the economic pain of the coronavirus crisis. Find out why here.
In many countries, including the UK, delta has now become the dominant strain. Although it is thought to cause more severe symptoms than its ancestor variants, placing additional strain on health services, there is currently not enough data to suggest it is more deadly.
More encouraging is the data on the effectiveness of vaccines. A study by Public Health England found the Pfizer vaccine was 94 percent effective against hospitalization after one dose and 96 percent effective after two doses, while AstraZeneca was 71 percent effective after one dose and 92 percent effective after two.
This is all good for countries with high rates of vaccination such as the UK. But for countries in the developing world, including the Arab states of North Africa, the slow rollout of vaccines means there is limited protection against the virus.
Delta is taking a terrible toll in these countries, leaving hospitals overburdened and mortuaries short of space.
Africa as a whole recently recorded a 43 percent week-on-week rise in COVID-19 deaths. Hospital admissions have increased rapidly and countries face shortages of oxygen and ICU beds.
According to the WHO, the continent has vaccinated around 52 million people since the start of the rollout in March and only 18 million are fully vaccinated, representing 1.5 percent of the continent’s population compared with more than 50 percent in some high-income countries.
South Africa, with its population of almost 60 million, has recorded 2,422,151 cases and 71,431 deaths since the pandemic began. Based on deaths per head of the population, Tunisia tops the region.
However, the picture is not uniform across the region. To date, 1.63 percent of Egyptians and 1.68 percent of Algerians have been fully vaccinated, compared with 27.68 percent of Moroccans, and 8.24 percent of Tunisians. Just 0.43 percent of Sudanese have received two doses, while data for Libya is unavailable.
“Different countries have different epidemiological situations, so we can’t generalize all of North Africa,” Abdinasir Abubakar, head of the Infectious Hazard Management Unit at the WHO regional office in Cairo, told Arab News.
Some countries have “really invested so much in vaccination and this is paying off,” while other countries have focused on enforcing public-health measures to slow the spread of the virus, he said.
“I think Morocco has really made a great investment and progress on administering more people with the vaccine compared to a number of other countries. And the cases you see are actually very minimal compared to previous waves, so I wouldn’t worry much about Morocco,” Abubakar said.
Nevertheless, cases in Morocco have been steadily increasing since mid-May, prompting the government to announce an extension of its state of emergency until Aug. 10.
Having already inoculated older age groups, Moroccan health authorities are now offering vaccines to people over the age of 30. But compliance with social-distancing and other hygiene regulations appears to be slipping.
“In Casablanca, I saw many people wearing masks but without adhering to other physical and social-distancing measures,” said Um Ahmad, who recently returned to Dubai following a family visit.
“I saw crowds on the streets and in markets as usual. And when I visited Fez, I saw people living normally with no precautionary actions whatsoever. I even asked my relative ‘are we on a different planet?’”
In Algeria, which decided to close its borders to curb the spread of the delta variant, there is another more pressing problem — a shortage of oxygen in its hospitals to treat the seriously ill, forcing the government to establish a special unit to supervise the distribution of oxygen cylinders.
Egypt has reported a recent decline in the number of COVID-19 cases, with officials recording less than 70 new infections and less than 10 deaths per day. The country has even started sending its surplus medical kits to Tunisia.
But here too, public compliance with social-distancing measures leaves much to be desired. Eman Amir, an Egyptian working in Dubai who traveled to Cairo in May to visit her ailing mother, said she was shocked by the public’s relaxed attitude toward virus containment.
“Those who don’t care whether they die of coronavirus are those who feel they have little to lose given their already precarious existence,” she told Arab News, referring to contract and informal-sector workers most affected by pandemic restrictions.
In neighboring Sudan, cases are surging, particularly in the eastern city of Port Sudan, capital of the Red Sea State.
Dr. Ahmed Dreyer, the state’s director of the Emergency and Epidemic Control Department, has urged authorities to impose a three-week lockdown — known in policy circles as a circuit breaker — to help contain the spread of the delta variant.
Hana, a young Sudanese woman who lives with her family in Dubai, says many people back home are still not convinced the coronavirus even exists — the product, it would seem, of widespread misinformation.
“People have enough problems to worry about,” Hana said. “They don’t want to add to them and worry about the pandemic.
“They try to lead normal lives, by earning their livelihood and putting bread on the table.”