Lebanon endures gloomy Christmas amid currency crash

Freedivers dressed in Santa Claus costumes pose for a picture while submerged under water off the coast of Lebanon’s northern city of Batroun on Friday. (AFP)
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Freedivers dressed in Santa Claus costumes pose for a picture while submerged under water off the coast of Lebanon’s northern city of Batroun on Friday. (AFP)
Michel Tawil, a gift shop keeper, wraps a gift at a shop in Beirut, Lebanon December 22, 2021. Picture taken December 22, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Michel Tawil, a gift shop keeper, wraps a gift at a shop in Beirut, Lebanon December 22, 2021. Picture taken December 22, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 25 December 2021

Lebanon endures gloomy Christmas amid currency crash

Freedivers dressed in Santa Claus costumes pose for a picture while submerged under water off the coast of Lebanon’s northern city of Batroun on Friday. (AFP)
  • Maronite Patriarch Al-Rahi calls on politicians to visit the homes of hungry people
  • Many parents forced to tell children: ‘Santa Claus will not be coming this year’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Christians will celebrate Christmas this year amid some of the harshest economic conditions in the country’s history, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi said on Friday.

In his Christmas message, Al-Rahi reprimanded Lebanon’s politicians for “ruminating on disagreements.”

Al-Rahi said: “It would be better if officials would walk among the people, roam the streets, enter homes, visit the sick, talk to parents, listen to their suffering and the cries of their children, and see how many people go to bed hungry every night.

“It would serve them well to see how many people are homeless now, how many girls and boys are not enrolled in schools.

“If they were to see the situation in public hospitals and schools, orphanages and institutions for people with special needs, they would be ashamed of themselves and they would resign,” he said.

“Despite all that, we see the people in power immersed in their conflicts and looking for tricks, compromises and bargains to take revenge, to distance their opponents, to appoint their accomplices, and plot to postpone the parliamentary and presidential elections, only to serve their personal interest, at the expense of Lebanon and the Lebanese,” Al-Rahi stressed.

The patriarch’s plea came as Christmas decorations — much like market activity — appeared timid in most Lebanese regions.

Many Lebanese will not celebrate a festive Christmas this year following the country’s financial collapse and fears over a COVID-19 outbreak over the holidays.

Thousands of Lebanese expatriates, including those who left Lebanon over the past couple of years, have flocked back home for the holidays.

“On Wednesday alone, 91 planes carrying Lebanese returning to spend the holidays with their families and to renew their confidence in Lebanon landed at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport,” said Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamia.

Streets that used to be bright with Christmas lights have plunged into darkness amid the power cuts and rationing hours.

Two years into the country’s unprecedented economic crisis, many Lebanese have forgotten what holiday joy feels like.

People in supermarkets have complained of an additional rise in prices.

“Everything is priced in US dollars or in Lebanese pounds based on the black market exchange rate, except for our salaries. How can we live like this?” Rana, a housewife, told Arab News.

It would be better if officials would walk among the people, roam the streets, enter homes, visit the sick, talk to parents, listen to their suffering and the cries of their children, and see how many people go to bed hungry every night.

Maronite Patriarch, Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi

The price of a kilogram of chestnuts — a popular food during the holiday season — reached 150,000 Lebanese pounds ($99), while the price of an imported mango reached 50,000 Lebanese pounds.

A Christmas staple, the traditional cake, is also expensive, and being sold in many stores for more than 300,000 Lebanese pounds.

Jewelry traders have reported almost no sales during the Christmas season, and many parents have told their children that Santa Claus will not be coming on Dec. 25.

Meanwhile, a growing number of beggars have been imploring restaurantgoers for food scraps, with four out of five Lebanese are now living below the poverty line.

The most humiliating scene this Christmas came when public sector employees, members of the military and security service personnel were filmed queuing for hours in front of banks to collect their salaries.

The Lebanese Central Bank had issued a circular allowing public sector workers to buy dollars from banks at a fixed exchange rate.

And by taking those dollars and exchanging them for Lebanese pounds at the black market rate, some employees were able to net an extra 450,000 Lebanese pounds for every $100.

Based on the black market rate, military personnel now make less than $50. Before the economic crisis, their salaries were equivalent to about $1,000.

Footage of the scenes went viral online, provoking outrage from hundreds of activists and Lebanese citizens.

“Market activity is slow,” said Nicolas Chammas, chairman of the Beirut Merchants Association.

“We had hoped things would pick up during the holidays, especially after the losses that the sector endured during summer,” he added.

“Unfortunately, shoppers were few and their purchasing power has significantly diminished. This is the weakest holiday season we’ve experienced since 1975.

“Even in the midst of the war, the market had never witnessed such depression. Very few people bought toys, electronics, jewelry, and perfumes this year.

“Before the economic crisis, these products were resulting in an income of $250 million per week before Christmas. Today, we estimate only $10 million to $15 million per day. This is a real disaster.”

He attributed the change to a decline in purchasing power among the Lebanese public.

People need to secure their basic needs first in terms of food and fuel before they can consider buying gifts, Chammas said.

“We’ve hit rock bottom. Only about 50 percent of shops have survived the crisis, but not all will make it through the year,” he added.

“The few people who contributed to market activity this Christmas are expatriates who returned to Lebanon for the holidays.”

Pierre Al-Ashkar, head of the Syndicate of Hotel Owners in Lebanon, has warned that the return of expatriates during the holiday season will fail to revitalize the tourism sector.

He said that about 90 percent of expatriates own homes in Lebanon. Very few Arab tourists are also arriving for holiday, Al-Ashkar added.

 


One killed in renewed anti-coup protests in Sudan

One killed in renewed anti-coup protests in Sudan
Updated 21 May 2022

One killed in renewed anti-coup protests in Sudan

One killed in renewed anti-coup protests in Sudan
  • The victim, who was not identified, died as a result of "a bullet to the chest" in the capital's twin city of Omdurman
  • Saturday's protests came after thousands took to the streets Thursday to oppose the power grab

KHARTOUM: Sudanese security forces killed one protester on Saturday during renewed demonstrations against a military takeover that derailed a transition to civilian rule last year, medics said.
The victim, who was not identified, died as a result of “a bullet to the chest” in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, the pro-democracy Central Committee of Sudan Doctors said in a statement.
The latest death brings to 96 the toll from a crackdown on anti-coup protests which have taken place regularly since the October 25 military putsch led by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, the committee said.
Saturday’s protests came after thousands took to the streets Thursday to oppose the power grab, mainly in Khartoum but also elsewhere, renewing demands for civilian rule.
About 100 people were injured during Thursday’s demonstrations, according to the doctors’ committee.
At the same time two leading anti-coup figures from Sudan’s Communist Party were arrested. They were released on Friday.
The United Nations, along with the African Union and regional bloc IGAD, have been pushing to facilitate Sudanese-led talks to resolve the crisis after the latest coup in the northeast African country, one of the world’s poorest.
But civilian forces have refused to enter negotiations involving the military, while Burhan has repeatedly threatened to expel UN envoy Volker Perthes, accusing him of “interference” in the country’s affairs.
In late March Perthes said Sudan was heading toward “an economic and security collapse” unless its civilian-led transition was restored.


Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report

Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report
Updated 21 May 2022

Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report

Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report

DUBAI: Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior has seized an Iranian ship carrying 240 tons of smuggled diesel, a report by Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV said Saturday. 

The ministry said it has seized the ship in territorial waters and has arrested its crew members, who were Iranian. 

It said the Iranian ship crew were buying fuel from smaller ships at certain prices. 

The ministry also said an investigation is underway to reveal all the circumstances of the smuggling incident. 


Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes – health ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 May 2022

Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes – health ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
  • Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces early Saturday during a raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.
“A 17-year-old boy was killed, and an 18-year-old was critically wounded by the Israeli occupation’s bullets during its aggression on Jenin,” a statement by the health ministry said.
Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks in Israel in which 19 people were killed.
Thirteen Palestinians were injured last week during an operation by Israeli forces in the camp in which one Israeli commando and one Palestinian were also killed.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett named the Israeli commando as Noam Raz.
The Palestinian was later named as Daoud Al-Zubaidi, a brother of Zakaria Al-Zubaidi, who headed the armed wing of the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and briefly escaped from Israeli prison last year.
The raids came hours before violence erupted at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist who was killed last week while covering another Israeli raid on the camp.
As her funeral unfolded, Israeli police stormed the grounds of a Jerusalem hospital as the body of the slain journalist was being transported for burial, prompting an international outcry.

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Israeli missile strikes kill 3 near Syria capital: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 May 2022

Israeli missile strikes kill 3 near Syria capital: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
  • Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government positions as well as bases and weapon depots for allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah

DAMASCUS: Israeli surface-to-surface missiles killed three people near the Syrian capital Damascus on Friday, state media said quoting a military source.
“The Israeli enemy carried out an aggression... that led to the death of three martyrs and some material losses,” Syria’s official news agency SANA quoted the source as saying.
The missiles came from the Israeli-occupied Golan heights and were intercepted by the Syrian air defenses, the military source said.
AFP correspondents in the Syrian capital said they heard very loud noises in the evening.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said that the three people killed were officers and that four other members of the air defense crew were wounded.
The Israeli strikes targeted Iranian positions and weapon depots near Damascus, the monitor said.
A fire broke at one of the positions near the Damascus airport, where ambulances were seen rushing to the site of the strikes, according to the Observatory.
The latest strike follows one on May 13 that killed five people in central Syria, and another one near Damascus on April 27 which, according to the Observatory, killed 10 combatants, among them six Syrian soldiers, in the deadliest such raid since the start of 2022.
Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government troops as well as allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, it has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of them.
The Israeli military has defended them as necessary to prevent its arch-foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.


Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties
Updated 21 May 2022

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties
  • On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created "National Consultative Commission for a New Republic"
  • Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited "national dialogue"

TUNIS: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied on Friday appointed a loyalist law professor to head a committee charged with writing a constitution for a “new republic”, through a national dialogue that excludes political parties.
On July 25 last year, Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, sidelining the political parties that have dominated Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
He has since vowed to scrap the country’s 2014 constitution and draft a replacement to be put to referendum in July, but has repeatedly inveighed against political parties despite calls for an inclusive dialogue.
On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created “National Consultative Commission for a New Republic”, charged with drawing up a draft constitution.
Saied has also created three other committees to focus on socio-economic issues, the judiciary and on national dialogue.
While major organisations including the powerful UGTT trade union confederation are supposed to be involved, no political party is set to take part.
Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited “national dialogue” – at the same time attacking the political parties he accuses of having plundered the country.
Since his July power grab, many Tunisians have supported his moves against a political class seen as corrupt, but opponents have labelled his moves a coup and he has faced calls from home and abroad for a dialogue involving all of the country’s major actors.