Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon

Special Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon
Elections held by professional syndicates in Lebanon over the past few weeks have not ended in tangible change. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 02 December 2021

Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon

Opposition factions disagree on alliances needed for change in Lebanon
  • Professional syndicates elections fail to inspire political shifts

BEIRUT: Elections held by professional syndicates in Lebanon over the past few weeks have not ended in tangible change.

The results of polls for the Lebanese bar associations, the Order of Pharmacists of Lebanon, and the Lebanese Press Editors’ Syndicate returned expected candidates, while the elections of the Lebanese Dental Association were suspended after a fight broke out between members.

Hezbollah members, meanwhile, entered the vote counting hall and proceeded to destroy ballot boxes.

However, the elections of the Order of Engineers and Architects saw the only official breach for the opposition candidates.

The last of these elections were those of the Press Editors’ Syndicate, which was held on Wednesday and saw an unprecedented voter turnout exceeding 73 percent. Twenty-seven candidates contested 12 seats on the syndicate’s council.

Joseph Kosseifi, the re-elected head of the syndicate, told Arab News that “journalists are part of this Lebanese society, but the syndicate is not politicized. It is the least politicized of the liberal professions syndicates. It is normal for journalists to have political tendencies, however, the work of the syndicate is related to the profession.”

Many of the candidates had called for change. May Abi Akl, who scored the second largest number of votes among the candidates who lost, was one of them. She noted that her decision to run for election “aimed at bringing about change within the Press Editors’ Syndicate and preventing the election of a closed list that only represents itself. Our objective was to introduce new blood into the syndicate and we were able to stir up the still water.”

As the results were announced on Wednesday night, the opposition candidates chanted “down with the rule of the ruling class.” However, Kosseifi said: “Whoever wants real change has to be a partner within the public assemblies and this is not happening. All the revolution on the streets was able to achieve is make people protest and scream. Apart from that, they failed to achieve a qualitative breach.”

Activist Dr. Ziad Abdel Samad said that “the elections of the liberal professions syndicates gave indications regarding the alignment of the ruling parties. Their performance was not good, even among themselves. We saw the Shiite duo, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, working alone, while the Future Movement-Progressive Socialist Party alliance was somewhere else. On the other hand, the weakness of the ruling parties was not matched by a unified opposition.

“There are two opinions within the opposition. Some say that holding on to pure opposition will not achieve anything and that it sometimes needs an alliance with the opposing political forces to bring down the symbols of the ruling class. For example, an alliance between the opposition forces and the Kataeb Party could make a difference in regards to removing the representatives of the Free Patriotic Movement. However, others stress the importance of unifying all of the forces that are not part of the ruling class to be able to confront it,” Abdel Samad explained.

Electoral expert Zeina El-Helou told Arab News: “The political forces, no matter how opposed to the ruling class, want to build an alliance with me in order to take from me, not to give me. There are fundamental differences between the forces of the revolution and the opposing political forces. We do not agree on any political objective. How can we be their allies? They tell us to be their allies now and oppose them in Parliament. Does that mean that we are replacing one party of the ruling class with another party? We do not want to fight battles in Parliament. We want the Parliament to work. We want to make changes.”


EU’s Borrell in Tehran for talks on reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact

EU’s Borrell in Tehran for talks on reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact
Updated 25 June 2022

EU’s Borrell in Tehran for talks on reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact

EU’s Borrell in Tehran for talks on reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact
  • France urged Tehran to take advantage of Borrell’s visit to restore the pact while it remained possible

DUBAI: European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met Iran’s top diplomat on Saturday, Iranian state TV reported, as the bloc seeks to break an impasse between Tehran and Washington over reinstating a nuclear pact.
The United States said earlier in June it was awaiting a constructive response from Iran on reviving the 2015 deal — under which Iran restricted its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions — without “extraneous” issues.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian last week called on Washington, which exited the deal and then imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran during the Trump administration in 2018, to “be realistic.”
It appeared on the brink of revival in March when the EU, which is coordinating negotiations, invited ministers to Vienna to seal it after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and President Joe Biden’s administration.
But the talks have since been bogged down, chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list.
Two officials, one Iranian and one European, told Reuters ahead of Borrell’s trip that “two issues including one on sanctions remained to be resolved,” comments that Iran’s foreign ministry has neither denied nor confirmed.
France, a party to the deal, on Friday urged Tehran to take advantage of Borrell’s visit to restore the pact while it remained possible.


Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources
Updated 25 June 2022

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources
  • Mohammad Hamad, 16, was shot and wounded near the village of Silwad

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian teenager died from his wounds hours after being shot by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian sources said Saturday.
Mohammad Hamad, 16, was shot and wounded on Friday evening near the village of Silwad, near Ramallah in the northern West Bank, and died hours later, a Silwad councillor told AFP. The Israeli military did not immediately comment.
The teenager was near a road leading to the neighboring settlement of Ofra when he was wounded by Israeli soldiers, the councillor said.
His death comes amid a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Nineteen people, mostly Israeli civilians — including 18 inside Israel and a Jewish settler — have been killed in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs since late March.
Israeli security forces have responded with raids inside Israel and in the West Bank in which three Israeli Arab attackers and at least 46 Palestinians have been killed.
Among those killed were suspected militants but also non-combatants, including an Al Jazeera journalist who was covering a raid in Jenin.


Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
Updated 25 June 2022

Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
  • UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948

UNITED NATIONS: Donors pledged about $160 million for the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees, but it still needs over $100 million to support education for more than half a million children and provide primary health care for close to 2 million people and emergency cash assistance to the poorest refugees, the agency’s chief said Friday.
Briefing reporters on the outcome of Thursday’s donor conference, Philippe Lazzarini said the pledges when turned into cash will enable the UN Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA to run its operations through September. But “I do not know if we will get the necessary cash to allow us to pay the salaries after the month of September,” he said.
“We are in an early warning mode,” Lazzarini said. “Right now, I’m drawing the attention that we are in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers, cannot be paid.”
UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.
There are now 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, including their children and grandchildren, who mostly live in camps that have been transformed into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But UNRWA only helps the more than 500,000 in school and close to 2 million who have health benefits.
Lazzarini said the more than $100 million shortfall in funding for 2022 is about the same as the shortfall that UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade, but while income has stagnated costs have increased.
In past years, UNRWA has been able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost control measures, he said, but today it’s not possible because there is very little left to cut without cutting services.
“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” the UNRWA commissioner-general said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who cannot spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”
Lazzarini said UNRWA’s problem is that “we are expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we are funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions.”
Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of the “de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” he said.
Lazzarini said the solution to UNRWA’s chronic financial problem requires “political will” to match the support for the agency’s work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.
He said UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe and last year the Biden administration resumed funding which was cut by the Trump administration, but he said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3 percent of the agency’s income.
Donors have also faced financial difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now there’s a major effort to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, he said.
“We will know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency,” Lazzarini said.
Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he said.
Ahead of Thursday’s donors conference, Israel’s UN Ambassador Erdan Calls on countries to freeze contributions until all UNRWA teachers that it claims support terrorism and murdering Jews are fired.
Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s UN Mission Friday which he hadn’t read, but he said all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of UN values and misconduct “we will take measures in line with UN policies.”


Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery
Updated 24 June 2022

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery
  • PM-designate to meet MPs as first step towards forming new govt

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s newly reappointed prime minister-designate Najib Mikati has called on the Lebanese to leave their differences aside and put the country on the path to recovery.

Mikati, currently serving as caretaker PM, was named prime minister-designate by President Michel Aoun on Thursday after binding parliamentary consultations.

The billionaire, who has already served in the role three times, received the support of 54 of 128 MPs.

However, if he fails to form a new government in the four months before President Michel Aoun’s term ends on Oct. 31, no executive decisions will be able to be taken during that time.

Meanwhile, 25 MPs designated Nawaf Salam, a former Lebanese ambassador to the UN and now a judge at the International Court of Justice, while one MP, Jihad Al-Samad, designated former premier Saad Hariri, arguing that “Hariri is the top representative of the Sunni community in Lebanon.”

Forty-six MPs, including Christian MPs affiliated with the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, in addition to some reformist MPs, refrained from designating anyone.

Mikati is expected to hold non-binding parliamentary consultations by Monday or Tuesday to elicit MPs’ opinions, and to see whether the new government will be a government of national unity.

Following the binding parliamentary consultations, many MPs stressed the importance of forming a government.

MP Sami Gemayel, head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, said: “I wish MPs would stop saying that there will be no government before the presidential elections. The country cannot wait, and the people cannot wait, nor can the economy or the national currency. Lebanon cannot withstand four more months like this.”

Calling on the forces of change to unite to form an opposition force, opposition MP Michel Moawad said: “The dispersal of the opposition is a major obstacle to our ability to achieve change.

“We have a collective responsibility in the opposition to agree on the crucial milestones; otherwise we will bear the responsibility for what is happening in the country.”

Hezbollah did not announce its position on participating in the government, but did designate Mikati to form it.

MP Bilal Abdallah, from the Democratic Gathering bloc, told Arab News: “When it comes to forming a government, the current stage is different from the previous ones. Last time, we designated Mikati and participated in his government, but we have a different approach today. We have called on unifying the political position of the opposition, but no one answered our call. The majority remains divided.”

Abdallah said that the FPM did not designate Mikati the last time, but insisted on selecting all the Christian ministers in his government.

“Will this happen again this time? That political team’s demands will be even more impossible to meet if it wishes to disrupt the presidential elections. We got so used to seeing this team disrupting political life; how can we trust that it wants to hold presidential elections on time? They have always disrupted government just to have their way. Disruption is their middle name.”

Meanwhile, the FPM is continuing its campaign against Riad Salameh, seeking to have the central bank governor replaced before the end of Aoun’s term.

Controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun filed another lawsuit against Salameh, his four former deputies, former director-general of the Ministry of Finance Alain Biffany, and several central bank employees in light of a complaint submitted by the People Want Reform group against Salameh and anyone whom the investigations show to be involved in illicit enrichment, money laundering, forgery, counterfeiting and fraud.

Aoun, who is affiliated with the FPM, referred the case to the first investigative judge in Mount Lebanon, requesting the arrest of Salameh and the others, and referring them to the Mount Lebanon Criminal Court, while maintaining the travel ban issued against Salameh.

Earlier, Aoun personally supervised a raid on Salameh’s home in the Rabieh area.

State security officers searched the house and opened safes, only to find that the property had been abandoned and the safes contained only some papers, which were confiscated.


Morocco: 18 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Spain's Melilla

Morocco: 18 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Spain's Melilla
Updated 25 June 2022

Morocco: 18 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Spain's Melilla

Morocco: 18 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Spain's Melilla
  • About 2,000 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday
  • The casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence

RABAT, Morocco: At least 18 African migrants died when a huge crowd tried to cross into the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Morocco, according to an update from Moroccan authorities.
Around 2,000 migrants approached Melilla at dawn Friday and more than 500 managed to enter a border control area after cutting a fence with shears, the Spanish government’s local delegation said in a statement about the first such incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
Moroccan officials said late Friday that 13 migrants had died of injuries sustained in the incursion, in addition to five who were confirmed dead earlier in the day.
“Some fell from the top of the barrier” separating the two sides, a Moroccan official said, adding that 140 security personnel and 76 migrants were injured during the attempt to cross.
The Spanish Civil Guard, which monitors the other side of the fence, said it had no information on the tragedy and referred enquiries to Morocco.
The border of the Spanish enclave and the neighboring Moroccan city of Nador were calm early Saturday, without police deployment, AFP journalists said.
Morocco had deployed a “large” number of forces to try to repel the assault on the border, who “cooperated actively” with Spain’s security forces, it said earlier in a statement.
Images on Spanish media showed exhausted migrants lying on the pavement in Melilla, some with bloodied hands and torn clothes.
Speaking in Brussels, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez condemned the “violent assault,” which he blamed on “mafias who traffic in human beings.”
Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other tiny North African enclave, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for migrants.
On Thursday night migrants and security forces had “clashed” on the Moroccan side of the border, Omar Naji of Moroccan rights group AMDH told AFP.
Several of them were hospitalized in Nador, he added.
The AMDH’s Nador chapter called for the opening of “a serious investigation to determine the circumstances of this very heavy toll” which shows that “the migration policies followed are deadly with borders and barriers that kill.”
It was the first such mass incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
In March, Spain ended a year-long diplomatic crisis by backing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara going back on its decades-long stance of neutrality.
Sanchez then visited Rabat, and the two governments hailed a “new stage” in relations.
The row began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence Polisario Front, to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021.
A month later, some 10,000 migrants surged across the Moroccan border into Spain’s Ceuta enclave as border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.
Rabat calls for the Western Sahara to have an autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty but the Polisario Front wants a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination as agreed in a 1991 cease-fire agreement.
In the days just before Morocco and Spain patched up their ties, there were several attempted mass crossings of migrants into Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest such attempt on record. Nearly 500 made it across.
Patching up relations with Morocco — the departure point for many migrants — has meant a drop in arrivals, notably in Spain’s Atlantic Canary Islands.
The number of migrants who reached the Canary Islands in April was 70 percent lower than in February, government figures show.
Sanchez earlier this month warned that “Spain will not tolerate any use of the tragedy of illegal immigration as a means of pressure.”
Spain will seek to have “irregular migration” listed as one of the security threats on the NATO’s southern flank when the alliance gathers for a summit in Madrid on June 29-30.
Over the years, thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) border between Melilla and Morocco, or Ceuta’s eight-kilometer border, by climbing the barriers, swimming along the coast or hiding in vehicles.
The two territories are protected by fences fortified with barbed wire, video cameras and watchtowers.
Migrants sometimes use hooks and sticks to try to climb the border fence, and throw stones at police.