Lebanon holds its breath as 3 million set to vote in pivotal poll

Lebanese civil servants assigned to run polling stations receive sealed ballot boxes at the governmental saray in Sidon on May 14, 2022 on the eve of the parliamentary elections. (AFP)
Lebanese civil servants assigned to run polling stations receive sealed ballot boxes at the governmental saray in Sidon on May 14, 2022 on the eve of the parliamentary elections. (AFP)
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Updated 15 May 2022

Lebanon holds its breath as 3 million set to vote in pivotal poll

Lebanese civil servants receive sealed ballot boxes at the governmental saray in Sidon on May 14, 2022. (AFP)
  • The elections will be under an Arab, European, US and Russian microscope as well. A five-member Russian delegation is observing the Lebanese poll for the first time
  • Ballot boxes were delivered to all governorates on Saturday morning in preparation for their distribution to the polling stations

BEIRUT: Lebanon is holding its breath as 3 million Lebanese prepare to head to polling stations from 7 a.m. on Sunday to elect 128 MPs after a fiercely contested and divisive electoral battle.

The elections are taking place amid sectarian incitement and blatant bribery in all regions by various political forces, the pace of which has increased in recent weeks.

On Saturday, the online armies of the competing forces worked to spread rumors on social media about some candidates withdrawing. It remains to be seen whether the sharp polarization will succeed in encouraging voters to head to the polls.

The elections will be under an Arab, European, US and Russian microscope as well. A five-member Russian delegation is observing the Lebanese poll for the first time. About 80 European observers will also be present in all constituencies. Around 18 Arab observers within the Arab League delegation and about 40 from the American National Standards Institute are also participating.

However, the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections has the largest share of observers: A total of 1,000 will cover 16 percent of the polling stations, in addition to several itinerant observers.

Ballot boxes were delivered to all governorates on Saturday morning in preparation for their distribution to the polling stations. Meanwhile, security forces were deployed to all regions.

About 14,000 polling stations cover voters inside Lebanon and expats overseas, who voted a week ago.

These elections are crucial because, for the first time, civil society movements are competing against the conventional political forces accused of failing to administer the country for decades, in the hopes of saving Lebanon from the deepening financial and economic crises.

Regional and international forces are looking to see what the elections will produce in terms of the balance of power, as the country struggles to stay afloat.

Before the electoral battle, the forces of change had intended to form only 15 electoral lists. However, they ended up with 60 lists out of 103 competing lists.

Following the expat voting, some lists affiliated with the forces of change withdrew in favor of similar lists in Akkar, northern Lebanon and the western Bekaa-Rashaya in order to secure victory for certain candidates.

Public affairs expert Zina Helou told Arab News: “This step may be because these candidates have realized their weakness and they may have been subjected to some pressure, or the voters may have let them down, or they may have been paid off to withdraw from the competition.

“In any case, they either do not have the slightest responsibility toward their country or have been bribed. It is known that there is no value for withdrawals after the deadline, as all electoral lists will be displayed in the polling stations.

“I think that those in charge of the electoral law should later impose a fine on everyone who withdraws after the deadline. The elections were an opportunity that these forces of change have unfortunately missed out on.”

She added: “I believe the voter turnout on Sunday may not exceed 40 percent, which is very low, and I may be wrong. But given the campaigns and alliances, this round of elections is similar to the one that took place in 2005 after the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and the subsequent political division between rival forces. Despite all the polarization at the time, the voter turnout did not exceed 40 percent.”

Helou said: “Normally after crises and revolutions, voting rates are low, and this is what we have witnessed in several Arab countries. In addition, there is a logistical obstacle in Lebanon in terms of the voters’ ability to physically go to polling stations. As a result, many will give up their right to vote.”

She added: “The speech by President Michel Aoun, even if it constituted a violation of the electoral code of conduct, may contribute to raising or lowering the percentage of voter turnout on Sunday.”

Helou said: “The mood of the Lebanese voter was fragile ahead of the elections and could be affected either negatively or positively by any speech.

“The expat vote may create enthusiasm among local voters, but we have to wait to find out. Either way, the forces of change must carry on with their mission after the elections.”

The new parliament will have to elect a new speaker amid opposition to the re-election of Nabih Berri, and also elect the next Lebanese president in October.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi addressed Lebanese voters and candidates on Saturday, saying: “Change remains dependent on the density and quality of voting, respect for democracy and the constitution, and the formation of a new government quickly so as not to disrupt other elections.”

He added: “Whatever the results, the formation of the next government, implementing reforms and adopting a system of active neutrality remain the pivotal solution that guarantees Lebanon’s existence, and preserves its independence, stability, and unity.”


France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps

France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps
Updated 05 July 2022

France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps

France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps
  • Minors were handed over to child protection services while the mothers would face judicial proceedings

PARIS: France has repatriated 35 children and 16 mothers from camps in Syria where family members of suspected Daesh terrorists have been held, the foreign ministry said in Paris.
“France has today undertaken the return to the country of 35 French minors who were in camps in northeast Syria. This operation also includes the return of 16 mothers from these same camps,” a statement said, adding that the minors were handed over to child protection services while the mothers would face judicial proceedings.


Israel PM visits France with Lebanon gas row topping agenda

Israel PM visits France with Lebanon gas row topping agenda
Updated 47 min 11 sec ago

Israel PM visits France with Lebanon gas row topping agenda

Israel PM visits France with Lebanon gas row topping agenda
  • Yair Lapid took over the premiership on Friday following the collapse of Israel’s coalition government

TEL AVIV: Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid departed on his first foreign trip in office Tuesday to France, where he will ask for backing on a gas dispute with Lebanon that days ago saw Israel shoot down three Hezbollah drones.

Lapid took over the premiership on Friday following the collapse of Israel’s coalition government, which will see the country return to the polls in November for its fifth election in less than four years.

The new leader was confronted with his first test a day later, when Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement launched three drones toward an offshore gas field in the eastern Mediterranean.

Speaking before his departure from Tel Aviv, Lapid said he will raise the matter with French President Emmanuel Macron.

“We will also discuss of course what has occurred recently off the coast of Lebanon,” Lapid said.

“There have been repeated attacks on Israeli gas rigs. Israel will not accept this type of attacks on its sovereignty.”

Lebanon rejects Israel’s claim that the Karish gas field lies within its territorial waters.

Israel and Lebanon resumed negotiations on their maritime border in 2020, though the Karish site sits outside of the disputed area and is marked as Israeli on previous United Nations maps.

The US-backed talks have been stalled by Beirut’s demand that the UN maps must be modified.

Hezbollah’s backers Iran will also be on the agenda at the bilateral talks in Paris, as Israel stands firmly opposed to international efforts to revive a nuclear accord with Tehran.

“It’s important that our position against this agreement is heard,” Lapid said Tuesday.

Israeli officials fear that giving Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program could allow Tehran to boost funding to Hezbollah, as well as the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

A senior Israeli official said the Lebanon gas issue will be high on agenda during talks at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

“We will ask France to intervene to secure the negotiations that we want to lead until the end of the gas issues,” the official told journalists traveling with the premier.

Lapid’s Paris visit comes days ahead of US President Joe Biden traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories, before flying to Saudi Arabia for energy talks.

Washington is seeking to stabilize the global energy market following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which led Moscow to cut its gas supplies to some European countries.

Israel and Egypt signed a deal last month to boost gas exports to the European Union, as the bloc attempts to end its dependency on Russian energy.

“The Lebanon issue is essential and Lapid will come back to the Israeli position, according to which Hezbollah is first and foremost a threat to the future of Lebanon,” said the Israeli official, who requested anonymity.

Israel and Lebanon remain technically at war but agreed to talks aimed at delineating their maritime border to allow both countries to boost gas exploration.


Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council

Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council
Updated 04 July 2022

Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council

Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed to London to inaugurate the first partnership council between his country and the UK.

The council will be co-chaired by Shoukry and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. It will include political consultations and discussions on economic and trade issues, with the participation of British Trade Policy Minister Penny Mordaunt.

A spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the launch of the council comes in light of strengthening cooperation between the two countries in various fields.

While in London, Shoukry met with Lord Tariq Ahmad, British minister for South Asia, North Africa, the UN and the Commonwealth, to discuss bilateral relations.


Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan

Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan
Updated 04 July 2022

Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan

Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan
  • The woman, who was rushed to the hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit, was listed in fair condition.

AMMAN: A woman was stabbed by her husband in a public street in Karak in front of the Karak Sharia Court on Monday, according to a Jordanian security source.

The unidentified man pulled out a knife and stabbed his wife in the back, chest and right hand, according to a source at Al Karak Public Hospital.

She was rushed to the hospital shortly after and admitted to the intensive care unit. She was described as in fair condition.

The attacker has since been apprehended, and police are currently investigating the incident.

According to eyewitnesses, family disputes between the couple led them to review the case at Sharia court before the situation escalated and the husband attacked the victim.

Following the death of 18-year-old Iman Ersheid, who was shot dead on campus, public outrage in Jordan has fueled calls for the death penalty to be enforced in such cases.

Last week, the High Criminal Court in Jordan sentenced a 50-year-old to death for stabbing his ex-wife before the Northern "Rusaifa" Sharia Court in a similar incident.


US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling
Updated 05 July 2022

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling
  • Navy targets weapons and drugs in Arabian Gulf and Red Sea

JEDDAH: The US Navy is offering cash rewards of up to $100,000 for information leading to the interception of smuggled weapons and narcotics in the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea.

The initiative by the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet does not directly name Iran but analysts said it was clearly aimed at curbing the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthi militia in Yemen and restricting the lucrative regional drugs trade operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Any destabilizing activity has our attention,” 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins said. “Definitely we have seen in the last year skyrocketing success in seizing both illegal narcotics and illicit weapons. This represents another step in our effort to enhance regional maritime security.”
Operators fluent in Arabic, English and Farsi will staff a phone hotline, and the Navy will also take tips online in Dari and Pashto. Payouts can be as high as $100,000 or the equivalent in vehicles, boats or food for tips that include information on planned attacks targeting Americans.
Asked whether new seizures could increase tensions with Iran, Hawkins listed the weapons and drugs the Navy hoped to intercept under the program. “That’s what we’re after,” he said. “That’s not in the interest of regional stability and security.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

The fleet and its allies seized $500 million in drugs alone in 2021, more than the four previous years combined, and intercepted the shipment of 9,000 weapons, three times the number in 2020.
Despite a UN Security Council arms embargo on Yemen, Tehran has long been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. UN experts have examined missiles aimed at civilian targets and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and traced the components back to Iran.
The rewards program is the latest initiative under 5th Fleet Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who also launched a drone task force last year amid rising tension with Iran. The US Navy and Revolutionary Guard naval forces have had several encounters in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Houthis said last week they were monitoring increased US activity in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.“Because of this, defense and confrontation options are open,” a spokesman said.