Lebanese poll hopefuls ‘buying their way to power’ with cash bribes

Special Lebanese poll hopefuls ‘buying their way to power’ with cash bribes
Parliamentary election campaign billboards hang on both sides of a highway in the area of Zouk Mosbeh north of the Lebanese capital. (AFP)
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Updated 12 May 2022

Lebanese poll hopefuls ‘buying their way to power’ with cash bribes

Lebanese poll hopefuls ‘buying their way to power’ with cash bribes
  • A Shiite voter in Beirut’s second constituency told Arab News that he had been offered $300 if he and his family agreed to vote for a particular businessman

BEIRUT: With Lebanon’s crucial parliamentary elections on Sunday expected to go down to the wire, candidates and party supporters have been accused of trying to buy their way to victory by offering cash bribes to undecided voters.

A Shiite voter in Beirut’s second constituency told Arab News that he had been offered $300 if he and his family agreed to vote for a particular businessman.

The man, who asked to be identified only as Mohammed, said: “Supporters campaigning for their parties call me every day to ask who I will be voting for. I have no idea how they got my number. Some offer ration cards, others money, to either vote for them, or even boycott the elections or cast a blank ballot.”

Mohammed, who has no links with the Amal Movement or Hezbollah, said he is unlikely to vote. “All the parties in power had the opportunity to fulfill their promises, but they have left their people mired in their misery. We will not re-elect them.”

Electoral bribery has long been a problem in Lebanon, despite laws banning the practice, but has become more widespread and visible with the collapse of the national currency and decline in living conditions.

Now, if rumors from the money exchange black market are to be believed, the exchange rate will drop ahead of the elections as parties attempt to buy votes using US currency.

One money changer, who declined to be named, told Arab News: “Electoral spending is expected to rise during the next few days as parties attempt to buy the largest number of votes, through direct bribes.”

People in Beirut have reported that money changers have been stopping passers-by in the street to ask if they want to exchange their dollars.

Many believe the election result will depend on undecided voters or those desperate for money, who will end up voting for the highest bidder.

Lebanese electoral law states: “During the period of the electoral campaign, the provision of services or the payment of funds including the obligations and expenses of candidates shall be prohibited.”

Nadim Abdelmalak, head of Lebanon’s supervisory commission for elections, said recently: “The commission has not received any complaint from any party regarding electoral bribery.”

However, according to the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, rapidly worsening living conditions are reinforcing the presence of bribery, especially with  about 80 percent of the population facing poverty as a result of the country’s economic crisis.

The unemployment rate is also approaching 40 percent amid a record collapse of the national currency against the dollar, while a freeze on bank withdrawals and the withholding of depositors’ funds are also threatening household budgets.

Ihab, a cab driver and voter in the Beirut’s second district, said that “he doesn’t mind receiving help from any electoral list.”

Many electoral lists offered gas and food vouchers. “They even offered to pay the generator bills and they are now offering to rent my car to transport voters for payment in dollars. I agreed, but I will not vote for anyone.”

LADE said that it had evidence of candidates distributing baby milk in the north of Lebanon, while others have donated solar panels to light roads.

Samer, a voter in the Zahle district, said that “as the electoral battle in the region heats up, the bribes will double and this will manifest on the election day. Those voting in the morning will be less bribed than those voting in the afternoon.”

Bribery appears commonplace in the electoral districts where competition is fierce, especially Beirut I, Beirut II, Zahle, Keserwan, Jbeil, Batroun, Koura, Bsharri, Zgharta and Chouf Aley.

However, the contest seems less heated in regions controlled by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.

Mayssa, from the Baalbek–Hermel district, said: “A group from Hezbollah visited our home in the southern suburbs of Beirut and asked about the number of voters in the family. They assured us that transport will be available from Beirut to the district. They didn’t offer anything else.”

With fuel prices at crippling levels, most parties are offering voters in remote areas gas vouchers to cover their driving costs to polling stations.

The cost of refueling a car often exceeds 500,000 Lebanese pounds ($300), which means voters in isolated villages can face a $600 bill to drive back and forth to vote.

Salam, who works in a Beirut hotel, said: “Hezbollah is confident that they will win the elections. That is why they are not urging us to vote for them, although I am reluctant to vote because I no longer believe in anyone.”


Ashrafs opens new Sony showroom at Bahrain City Center

Ashrafs opens new Sony showroom at Bahrain City Center
Updated 8 sec ago

Ashrafs opens new Sony showroom at Bahrain City Center

Ashrafs opens new Sony showroom at Bahrain City Center
  • The showroom will provide customers with a cutting-edge shopping experience, allowing them to browse the latest Sony technology and products

MANAMA: Ashrafs Bahrain, one of the most popular shopping destinations in the Kingdom, is showcasing Sony's extensive product line at its new electronics showroom at Bahrain City Center.

Chairman Farouk Yousif Almoayyed, YK Almoayyed & Sons, Executive Director Amal Yousif Almoayyed, Deputy Managing Director Ashrafs and Jobin Joejoe, and Sony Middle East and Africa were present at the showroom's opening.

The new store will provide customers with a cutting-edge shopping experience by allowing them to browse the latest Sony technology and electronic products, the company stated.Customers will be able to choose from a wide variety of home entertainment, smart devices, premium audio accessories, mobile phones, and ecosystem products.

"We are delighted to announce our presence at the new Ashrafs Bahrain. Shoppers in the kingdom can now enjoy a world class shopping experience and discover a range of Sony products." Joejoe said.

"Consumers in Bahrain are very tech-savvy, and we are excited for Sony fans, including movie buffs, sports fans and gamers, to try our ecosystem of products and enjoy a truly immersive experience," he stated.

The new store will also feature Sony's new Bravia XR series and the Sony WH-1000XM5.


Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London
Updated 54 min 44 sec ago

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London
  • Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is attending the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London.

The event, which is being held on July 5-6, is hosting 500 religious, government and civil society leaders from 60 countries to call for more action to protect freedom of religion or belief around the world.

In the opening speech of the conference, the UK’s Prince Charles said in a recorded message: “Freedom of conscience, of thought and of belief is central to any truly flourishing society. It allows people to contribute to their communities without fear of exclusion, to exchange ideas without fear of prejudice, and to build relationships without fear of rejection. A society where difference is respected, where it is accepted that all need not think alike, will benefit from the talents of all of its members.”

Speaking at the conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Center in London, UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss said: “The freedom to believe, to pray and commit acts of worship, or indeed not to believe is a fundamental human freedom and has been one since the dawn of time. Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful. This fundamental right is covered in the very first clause of Magna Carta and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is one of the Four Freedoms Franklin D. Roosevelt said were ‘essential everywhere in the world.’”

Yesterday, the Egyptian minister, at the start of his London visit, met UK Minister of State for North Africa, South and Central Asia, the Commonwealth and the UN Lord Tariq Ahmed. The two discussed the conference, Egypt’s preparations for hosting and chairing COP27 in November, and the importance of continuing coordination between Egypt and the UK.


6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot

6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot
Updated 58 min 58 sec ago

6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot

6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot
  • Distraught residents search for missing relatives
  • Al-Qaeda known to be active in area

AL-MUKALLA: At least six people were killed and more than 30 injured on Tuesday when two massive explosions destroyed an arms warehouse in the southern Yemen province of Abyan.

The first blast happened in the morning inside a busy popular market near the weapons depot in Lawder, a large town in the province. As dozens of people milled around after the explosion, a second blast detonated in the two-story building containing the arms depot.

Officials said they could not give a precise number of casualties as the dead and injured were still arriving at Al-Shaheed Mahnef hospital in Lawder. Residents rushed to the hospital to searching for missing relatives and friends, and medical staff called for blood donations. The poorly equipped and understaffed hospital was forced to refer critical cases to larger hospitals in Abyan and Aden.

Authorities launched an investigation into the explosions, but Al-Qaeda are known to be active in the area and twin explosions a short time apart are a terrorist tactic to increase the number of casualties.

Abyan is a contested province between the internationally recognized government and separatists loyal to the Southern Transitional Council. It was the site of fierce battles in 2019 and 2020 that claimed the lives of many soldiers and Houthi terrorist militia fighters.

The Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda exploited the anarchy in the province to make a comeback.

Suspected Al-Qaeda militants in the province are still holding five UN workers who were abducted in February while returning to neighboring Aden after finishing a field mission.

Local officials and tribal mediators have failed to convince the abductors to release the workers. The kidnappers insist on swapping them with allied prisoners in Aden and demand a ransom of thousands of dollars.

Elsewhere in Yemen, EU envoys have asked the Iran-backed Houthi militia to de-escalate and implement the elements of the UN-brokered truce, mainly lifting their siege on the city of Taiz.

The ambassadors of France and Germany and the Swedish special envoy to Yemen called Hussein Al-Azi, a Houthi leader, to ask him to accept the UN proposal on opening roads in Taiz and work on achieving peace after he threatened to resume military operations in the central province of Marib.

The ambassadors asked the Houthi leader to constructively engage with the UN Yemen envoy’s proposal and create “positive public rhetoric.”

It was “time to continue delivering on the expectations of Yemenis, who want and need peace,” the EU mission in Yemen said. 


Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai

Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai
Updated 05 July 2022

Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai

Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai
  • Suspect arrested during sting operation before applying a Botox injection for $1,275
  • If found guilty, the unlicensed doctor could face three years in jail, lawyer tells Arab News

DUBAI: An investor in a medical consultation company could face up to three years in jail, and/or a fine up to $542,700, if found guilty of practicing unlicensed medicine in Dubai.
Prosecutors referred the unidentified investor to the Dubai Misdemeanours Court for practicing medicine without obtaining a proper license after he was found to be injecting patients with cosmetic Botox and fillers.
Haifa Al-Marzouqi, assistant chief prosecutor at the Dubai Public Prosecution, said in a statement on Tuesday that the Dubai Healthcare Authority received a tip from an informant about a person practicing cosmetic medicine and applying fillers and Botox on patients at their homes.
“In collaboration with the DHA’s inspection department, someone posed as a potential patient and contacted the suspect to apply on her cosmetic injections. As part of a sting operation, the suspect was apprehended in a flat that was rented for that purpose,” said Al-Marzouqi.
Primary interrogations unveiled that the suspect is an investor in a medical consultation company and not a licensed doctor.
Lawyer Faisal Al-Zarouni told Arab News, that if found guilty, the suspect could be facing between one month and three years in jail, a fine varying between $54,270 and $542,700 or both punishments.
“According to the law … based on which prosecutors are requesting the court to try the suspect, it means the latter provided the health licensing authorities with false documents to obtain a license and practice medicine,” said Al-Zarouni.
Al-Marzouqi said the suspect came to the flat carrying a medium-sized handbag containing medical equipment and medical ointments.
After examining the informant’s face, he provided her with a medical consultation and advised that she needed a Botox injection in her forehead, and said he would charge her an amount of $1,275 for the procedure.
When asked how the public could prevent themselves against falling victim to unlicensed doctors, Al-Zarouni advised them to inquire about the doctor’s licenses listed on the DHA’s website.
Sources told Arab News a hearing will be scheduled next month.
 


President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha

President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha
Updated 05 July 2022

President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha

President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha
  • The presidential pardon comes within UAE's humanitarian initiatives based on forgiveness and tolerance

ABU DAHBI: President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has ordered the release of 737 prisoners in the UAE, ahead of Eid Al-Adha, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

The pardoned prisoners had received prison sentences for a variety of offenses and the President also pledged to settle the financial obligations of the released prisoners.

The pardon is part of the UAE's humanitarian initiatives based on the values of forgiveness and tolerance, allowing the released prisoners to begin a new chapter in their lives and positively contribute to society, WAM reported.

In November, the former president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan also ordered the release of 870 prisoners to commemorate the UAE's milestone 50th National Day.

This was followed by the release of 540 prisoners in March, ahead of Ramadan.

With Eid Al-Adha approaching, the President's annual pardon aims to strengthen family bonds by reuniting inmates with their mothers, wives, and children.