Violence seeps into Lebanese life due to economic crisis

With virtually no national welfare system, Lebanon's elderly are left to fend for themselves amid their country's economic turmoil. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
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With virtually no national welfare system, Lebanon's elderly are left to fend for themselves amid their country's economic turmoil. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Violence seeps into Lebanese life due to economic crisis
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People wait to buy lemonade in Batroun, Lebanon June 5, 2021. Picture taken June 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
Violence seeps into Lebanese life due to economic crisis
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The owners of Lebanon’s private generators warned of their own power cuts due to lack of fuel as the country’s economic crisis deepens. (AFP)
Vehicles queue-up at a petrol station in the Balamand area on the coastal highway in near Beirut on June 21, 2021 amid dire shortages due to an ongoing economic collapse. (AFP / JOSEPH EID)
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Vehicles queue-up at a petrol station in the Balamand area on the coastal highway in near Beirut on June 21, 2021 amid dire shortages due to an ongoing economic collapse. (AFP / JOSEPH EID)
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Updated 24 June 2021

Violence seeps into Lebanese life due to economic crisis

Vehicles queue-up at a petrol station in the Balamand area on the coastal highway in near Beirut on June 21, 2021 amid dire shortages due to an ongoing economic collapse. (AFP / JOSEPH EID)
  • Fistfights turn into shootings as people clash over who gets to fill their tank first at gasoline stations

BEIRUT: Violence has seeped into daily Lebanese life due to the country’s severe economic crisis and a breakdown in official security, with fights and even shootings at gas stations.

Lebanon is experiencing an economic crisis that is likely to rank as one of the world’s three worst in more than 150 years, according to the World Bank.
There are shortages of essential items such as fuel and medicine, while bread has become more expensive after the Syndicate of Bakery Owners raised prices now that government subsidies on sugar and yeast have ended.
People are queuing for hours at gas stations, and fistfights turn into shootings as people clash over who gets to fill their tank first.
People are taking their own lives or destroying their sources of income in desperation.
A 25-year-old man named Mathew hanged himself in his apartment in the Keserwan area, while a man in Baalbek tried to commit suicide in his shop because of the debts he had accumulated. Another person set fire to his bean cart in a Beirut street after receiving an order to remove it. The cart was his sole livelihood.
Living conditions have deteriorated considerably amid a political deadlock over the formation of a new government. There is a dispute between Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and President Michel Aoun about who should be in the new administration and what roles they should have, among other issues.
Hariri was named to form a new government last October but has yet to succeed. The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after a massive blast in Beirut on Aug. 4 that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.
One activist turned his aim at the country’s authorities, tweeting: “You have turned Lebanon into a jungle and put people at the mercy of thugs at gas stations. You have humiliated people in every detail of their lives. We place the scenes of shootings at gas stations in God’s hands because we have no one in Lebanon to complain to. They are all responsible without exception.”

HIGHLIGHT

There are shortages of essential items such as fuel and medicine, while bread has become more expensive after the Syndicate of Bakery Owners raised prices now that government subsidies on sugar and yeast have ended.

A resident from Beirut’s southern suburbs said that official security was no longer enough to deal with the chaos and violence that was finding its way into everyday life. “The official security forces, which have shared the task of providing security in the southern suburbs in recent years with Hezbollah and the Amal movement, have asked those in charge of these neighborhoods to participate in protecting the security of gas stations because the official security services are unable to cover all neighborhoods,” the resident told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
Self-security was not limited to Beirut’s southern suburbs, the resident added, but extended to Beirut and other neighborhoods, including Ain El-Remmaneh and Furn El Chebbak.
Fadi Abu Shakra, a representative of the union for fuel distributors and gas stations in Lebanon, spoke about the dangers of the new development.
“Some individuals who imposed themselves as in charge of security at gas stations are using extortion,” he told Arab News. “The riots and attacks in front of the stations are no longer bearable. The owners of over 140 gas stations refused to receive gasoline from the companies because they were exposed to extortion and beatings, and could not protect themselves.”
He called on the security services to protect the gas stations which, he said, were “only trying to do their jobs.”
But Brig. Gen. Anwar Yahya, a former judicial police chief, said that the Internal Security Forces were not responsible for “ensuring public order” in front of gas stations. “This falls within the responsibilities of municipalities, and there is a law that stipulates this,” he told Arab News. “But the municipalities are also suffering under low budgets. Some parties are involved in certain municipalities and they can assist them in such matters. However, when such individuals have a greater influence than the official security forces, the state’s stature diminishes.”
The economic crisis had affected the Lebanese armed forces, he added, and the international community’s cooperation to support them was “an expression of its fear” about the military “crumbling” under the pressure of events in Lebanon.
Security services have been submitting daily reports on their pursuit of people smuggling subsidized materials to Syria and on those being arrested for harming social and food security.
Yahya, who spent 39 years in the security field, said people expected the state agencies to provide protection and that the army remained the “ultimate salvation.”
“The most important thing is to speed up the formation of a government because people are hungry,” he added.
He stressed that, until the time came when there was a new government, an individual’s primary role was maintaining self-protection. “Among the preventive measures that citizens can take are locking doors and windows, applying the principles of neighborhood security, and informing the police of every emergency.”


Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt

Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt
Updated 21 September 2021

Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt

Sudan state media report ‘failed’ coup attempt
  • A top government source said the plotters had attempted to take over the state media building but ‘they failed’

KHARTOUM: A coup attempt in Sudan “failed” early Tuesday, state media reported, as the country grapples with a fragile transition since the 2019 ouster of longtime president Omar Al-Bashir.

Top military and government sources said that the attempt involved a group of officers who were “immediately suspended” after they “failed” to take over the state media building.

“There has been a failed coup attempt, the people should confront it,” state television said, without elaborating.

Senior member of Sudan’s ruling body, Taher AbuHajja, said “an attempt to seize power has been thwarted.”

Another senior ruling body member, Mohamed Al-Fekki said: “Everything is under control and the revolution is victorious.”

Traffic appeared to be flowing smoothly in central Khartoum, AFP correspondents reported, including around army headquarters, where protesters staged a mass sit-in that eventually led to Bashir’s ouster in a palace coup.

Security forces did however close the main bridge across the Nile connecting Khartoum to its twin city Omdurman.

Sudan is currently ruled by a transitional government composed of both civilian and military representatives that was installed in the aftermath of Bashir’s April 2019 overthrow and is tasked with overseeing a return to full civilian rule.

The August 2019 power-sharing deal originally provided for the formation of a legislative assembly during a three-year transition, but that period was reset when Sudan signed a peace deal with an alliance of rebel groups last October.

More than two years later, the country remains plagued by chronic economic problems inherited from the Bashir regime as well as deep divisions among the various factions steering the transition.

The promised legislative assembly has yet to materialize.

The government, led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, has vowed to fix the country’s battered economy and forge peace with rebel groups who fought the Bashir regime.

In recent months, his government has undertaken a series of tough economic reforms to qualify for debt relief from the International Monetary Fund.

The steps, which included slashing subsidies and a managed float of the Sudanese pound, were seen by many Sudanese as too harsh.

Sporadic protests have broken out against the IMF-backed reforms and the rising cost of living, as well as delays to deliver justice to the families of those killed under Bashir.

On Monday, demonstrators blocked key roads as well as the country’s key trade hub, Port Sudan, to protest the peace deal signed with rebel groups last year.


Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85
Updated 21 September 2021

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85
  • Tantawi has participated in most of Egypt’s wars, including the wars of 1956 and 1967, the War of Attrition, and the 1973 October war

DUBAI: Former Egyptian Minister of Defense Mohamed Hussein Tantawi has died on Tuesday aged 85 after suffering from health problems for the past three months, local daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

Tantawi has participated in most of Egypt’s wars, including the wars of 1956 and 1967, the War of Attrition, and the 1973 October war.

He further assumed the presidency of Egypt in his capacity as head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after the resignation of former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11 of 2011.


French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions
Updated 21 September 2021

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions
  • Le Drian lauds August’s Baghdad Convention but warns Iran has repeatedly breached its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA
  • Minister laments ‘breach of trust’ by the UK and US over scuppering of a French submarine deal with Australia

NEW YORK: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has celebrated progress in diplomacy in the Middle East and promised that France will continue to take an active role in ensuring the region remains stable.

In a wide-ranging press conference held on Monday and attended by Arab News, Le Drian also lamented the recent “breach of trust” by the UK and US over the sale of submarines to Australia.

France had originally been slated to supply submarines to Australia as part of that deal, but Canberra did a U-turn in favor of an agreement with the US and UK, in what some have called an embarrassment for the French.

“In the Middle East, stability and security shall be the heart of our priorities. These require a regional dialogue, including in the unprecedented format of the Baghdad Conference on Aug. 28,” Le Drian said.

The Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership brought together many of the key powers in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, and Iran for dialogue aimed at easing security tensions in the region. France also attended the summit and has taken an active role in mediating conflict and disputes in the Middle East, in some form, for centuries.

“It was an exceptional meeting because those who attended were not used to sitting at the same table,” said Le Drian, who is currently in New York for the UN General Assembly’s week of high-level meetings.

“We managed to launch some sort of new spirit and to gather some support for a willingness to reduce regional tensions in an unprecedented format.”

Iran’s presence at the conference, he continued, may be seen as a “positive signal,” but he said that he would convene a meeting of the joint commission of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) because, “regarding Iran, we note that the negotiations were interrupted at the request of Iran and we need to make sure that, this week, we try to launch some positive momentum or negotiations to resume.”

The JCPOA, widely referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, saw heavy restrictions and monitoring placed on Tehran’s nascent nuclear program in return for much-needed sanctions relief. Iran and the US, which also left the deal, have been in negotiations for years over a bilateral return to the deal, but those have stalled in recent months.

“In the meantime, Iran keeps breaching some commitments that they made within the JCPOA,” said Le Drian, who also warned that “time is playing against the potential (nuclear) agreement because, as time goes by, the Iranian authorities are speeding up their nuclear activities.”

The minister also addressed the latest developments in Afghanistan, recently seized by the Taliban after 20 years of US presence in the country.

He said that France and its European partners had sent across a number of “very clear requirements” of the Taliban. Those include allowing people to leave the country if they wish, preventing the country from becoming a haven for terrorists, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the country, and ensuring the rights of minorities, women, and journalists are upheld.

“Should the Taliban fail to meet these requirements, they will ban themselves from the international community,” Le Drian said.

He also supported the allocation by the UN of €100 million ($117,289,000) to Afghanistan and pointed out that the Europeans had already pledged over €600 million in humanitarian aid for Afghans.

Much of Le Drian’s attention throughout the conference, however, was focused on the recent news that Australia would scrap a lucrative deal with France to buy French-made submarines, and instead form a pact with the UK and US to purchase nuclear submarines.

That deal has proved highly controversial in France and across mainland Europe, and resulted in a diplomatic row between the longtime allies.

Le Drian said that Presidents Macron and Biden will “discuss the matter very frankly” when they speak.


Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM Mikati

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 21 September 2021

Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM Mikati

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lebanon’s new government said its permission was not sought regarding the import of Iranian diesel

BEIRUT: Iranian fuel shipments imported into Lebanon by Hezbollah constitute a breach of the country's sovereignty, Prime Minister Najib Mikati reiterated on Monday.

Lebanon’s new government, which was backed by a parliamentary vote of confidence on Monday, has said its permission was not sought regarding the import of Iranian diesel.

Hezbollah has stored the diesel in tanks in the Baalbek area owned by Al-Amana fuel company that has been under US sanctions since February 2020 due to its ties to the Iranian-backed group.

It began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran last Thursday, a move it says would ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon. 

A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.

“The violation of Lebanon's sovereignty makes me sad," Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting last week.

He added: “But I'm not concerned that sanctions can be imposed” on Lebanon “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”

Late on Friday, the Lebanese broadcaster LBCI said that a new group of tankers carrying Iranian fuel entered Lebanon through the Hermel area, populated mainly by Shiite Muslims from whom Hezbollah draws its support.


Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor
Updated 21 September 2021

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017

BERLIN: Tarek Saad is keen to help other Syrian refugees who have fled the war in their homeland to make a new home in Germany and he sees the federal election on Sept. 26 as an opportunity to do just that.

Saad is campaigning in his adopted state of Schleswig-Holstein on the Baltic coast for the Social Democrats (SPD), a party he joined in 2016, just two years after he arrived in Germany bearing two gunshot wounds he had survived in Syria.

“I thought the things making my life difficult must be tormenting others as well. To overcome them as quickly as possible, one should be in a political party,” said the 28-year-old student of political science.

“Our parents lived under a different political system for long years (in Syria) ... This is an opportunity to develop a new generation (in Germany),” said Saad, who like many refugees will vote for the first time as a German citizen.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017.

Not all newly naturalized refugees are as clear as Saad about their voting intentions.

“I am happy to have this opportunity but I am being cautious and maybe I won’t vote,” said Maher Obaid, 29, who lives in the town of Singen near the Swiss border.

Obaid, naturalized in 2019, said a lack of clarity among the parties on foreign policy issues, especially Syria, was behind his hesitation.

The number of Syrians who have acquired German citizenship rose by 74 percent in 2020 to 6,700, federal statistics show. The total number of Syrian refugees is estimated to be much higher, at over 700,000, but getting citizenship requires time and effort.

A 2020 study by the Expert Council on Integration and Migration (SVR) found that only 65 percent of Germans with a migration background voted in 2017, against 86 percent of native-born Germans.

Language fluency and socio-economic situation were two factors determining migrants’ participation, along with the length of their stay, the study found.

“The longer a person stays in Germany ... the more likely they are to feel they understand and can participate in political life,” it said.

Historically, migrants from southern Europe and Turkey who came as guest workers saw the Social Democrats as the party that best represented their interests, a study by the DIW research institute showed.

By contrast, Syrians were more likely to support Merkel’s conservatives who shaped the migration policy from 2013 to 2016 when the majority of them arrived in Germany, the study found.

But with Merkel bowing out of politics after 16 years at the helm, many Syrians are now making different calculations.

“Syrians should be very smart ... What Merkel did was right but what is her successor doing?” asked Abdulaziz Ramadan, head of a migrant integration organization in Leipzig who was naturalized in 2019.

An informal poll among members of a Syrian migrants’ group on Facebook showed most would now vote for the SPD, followed by the Greens, if they were entitled to vote. The option “I don’t care” was the third choice.

Mahmoud Al Kutaifan, a doctor living in the south-western city of Freiburg, is among the few Syrians who were naturalized in time to vote in the 2017 election.

“Out of emotion, I voted then for the party of Mrs. Merkel because she supported refugees,” he said.

While he has not regretted that decision, he, like many other German voters pondering the post-Merkel era, is unsure how to cast his ballot this time round.

“The election date is approaching but I honestly haven’t decided yet.”