Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government

Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, waves as he arrives for a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut. (AP)
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Updated 27 June 2022

Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government

Lebanon PM holds talks in push for ‘last minute’ new government
  • If the proposed government fails to receive Aoun’s approval, then Lebanon will face fresh political gridlock

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati has held an initial round of nonbinding parliamentary consultations to discuss the formation of the country’s new government.

After the end of the consultations on June 28, Mikati is expected to submit a draft government to President Michel Aoun. The mission of the new government will be defined in a brief ministerial statement, including the urgent issues that could be accomplished in the few remaining months of Aoun’s presidency, which ends on Oct. 31.

If the proposed government fails to receive Aoun’s approval, then Lebanon will face fresh political gridlock.

That scenario could further damage the country’s ability to tackle urgent issues, “because we are running out of time and crises are succeeding one another, and are getting magnified,” one political observer said.

They warned that if Aoun blocks the proposal, “it means that the term of the new government will not exceed two months.

“If we take into consideration that drafting the ministerial statement, approving it and submitting it to the parliament for the government to gain the confidence vote, then this means that the government term will be of two months and would not be expected to resolve the crises or start the necessary 27 administrative and financial reforms determined by the International Monetary Fund.”

The Development and Liberation bloc headed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called for “forming the government as soon as possible.”

After the bloc met Mikati, lawmaker Ali Hassan Khalil said: “We stressed the necessity of approving the financial recovery plan — which has not yet been referred to Parliament according to the constitutional procedures — while preserving the depositors’ credits in full.”

Berri’s bloc stressed the “necessity of resolving the issue of the electricity plants away from the debates that have been taking place lately, and of restructuring this sector.”

Khalil said: “We did not propose the form of the government because Mikati is aware of the current balances of power, and what concerns us is that the government be efficient.”

After meeting with Mikati, Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab said that he is “keen on forming the government fast in collaboration with President Aoun.”

Bou Saab, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement bloc, a Hezbollah ally, stressed the need to “form a government of political representation,” and called on the new government “to communicate with the Syrian government to resolve the crisis of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.”

The new government must repatriate Syrian refugees and revive the Kuwaiti initiative to rehabilitate Lebanon’s relations with the Gulf countries, he added.

The Lebanese Forces bloc said: “The Lebanese Forces will not participate in the new government.”

Lawmaker Georges Adwan said: “We want a government that recuperates the state’s decision and that rehabilitates Lebanon’s relations with other countries.”

Adwan called on Parliament to “elect a new president of the republic as soon as possible.”

The Democratic Gathering bloc, which represents the Progressive Socialist Party, declared that it would not feature in the new government. However, Taymur Jumblatt, president of the bloc, said: “We will help in forming it.”

President of the Hezbollah bloc, lawmaker Mohammed Raad, said: “We are not against the participation of anybody in the government, and we tender our hand to everybody.”

Before the parliamentary consultations began, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassim called for amendments to be made to the standing caretaker government “in order not to waste time and exhaust the formation of the government with conditions and counter-conditions.”

He said: “Let anybody who wants to participate in the government to do so and cooperate, or let the prime minister-designate change some ministers in order not to fall into the trap of new names, which might take a long time.”

In Sunday’s sermon, Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that he opposed the Christian blocs’ refusal to nominate a leader of the new government during compulsory consultations last week. He called on political parties to cooperate with Mikati “away from conditions that are not adequate for this crucial period, nor for the time available to them.”

He urged the need to “form a national government fast, and focus on preparing for the election of a rescue president to save the country, for any delay would only be explained by the desire to distract us from this constitutional duty.”

The two biggest Christian parties in Lebanon, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, did not nominate Mikati to head the new government. Political observers fear that Aoun’s party, the FPM, will try to impose strict conditions on the formation of a new government.

After meeting with Mikati, reform lawmakers declared that they will not take part in the new government. Lawmaker Halime El-Kaakour said: “We will not participate in any quota government. We demanded a small government of independents with exceptional prerogatives.”

Independent lawmaker Abdul Rahman Bizri said: “We might be heading towards a minority parliamentary government,” adding: “As independent political powers, we had remarks on the performance of the previous governments, especially the ones that were headed by Mikati.

“Had these government made achievements we would not have reached this point. We will not obstruct, and our dealing with Mikati will be based on his handling of hot issues.”

Meanwhile, employees of the Banque Du Liban declared a warning strike for one day on Tuesday in protest against legislative prosecutions and accusations by the prosecutor general of Mount Lebanon, judge Ghada Aoun, against BDL and its employees.

The BDL syndicate threatened open strikes that would paralyze Lebanon’s banking sector, unless the Supreme Judicial Council and the minister of justice intervene to put an end to the actions of the judge.


Four Yemeni soldiers killed, 25 wounded in Houthi attacks during truce

Four Yemeni soldiers killed, 25 wounded in Houthi attacks during truce
Updated 12 sec ago

Four Yemeni soldiers killed, 25 wounded in Houthi attacks during truce

Four Yemeni soldiers killed, 25 wounded in Houthi attacks during truce
  • US envoy Tim Lenderking says international community has made ‘significant progress’ toward ending the war

JEDDAH: Yemen’s army claimed on Saturday that four of its soldiers were killed and 25 more wounded in Houthi attacks, accusing the Iran-backed militia of breaching a United Nations-brokered truce hundreds of times in the past week.

The international community is pressing the Houthis to open roads in Taiz and turn the truce into a lasting peace settlement to end the war.

The army’s media center said in a statement that the Houthis committed 351 violations last week alone by shelling and mounting ground attacks on government troops, launching explosive-rigged drones, gunning down army troops, mobilizing new forces and creating new military posts in Taiz, Hajjah, Marib, Hodeidah, Dhale and Abyan.

Under the truce that came into effect on April 2 and has been renewed twice since, both sides agreed to stop fighting, to facilitate the departure of commercial flights from Sanaa, to ease restrictions on the movement of fuel ships through Hodeidah port, and to open roads in Taiz and other provinces.

Yemen’s government and military officials have warned that the continuation of deadly strikes by the Houthis and the failure to lift their seven-year siege on Taiz would jeopardize the truce and efforts to end the war.

Residents of Taiz said on Saturday that the Houthis had fired a number of artillery rounds at A-Shemasi neighborhood in the east of Taiz, causing large explosions. It is not known whether there were any casualties.

People in Taiz have repeatedly complained that the Houthis have not honored the truce and continue to strike densely populated districts.  

Despite local and international pressure, the Houthis have rejected the UN’s proposal to open a main road and four small roads around Taiz, insisting on opening just one narrow, unpaved road.

In New York, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said on Friday that talks over opening roads in Taiz and other governorates were “still ongoing.”

“What we have seen since this ceasefire has been agreed to is a good amount of flights going in and out of Sana’a Airport,” he added during his daily press briefing.

US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking said that the international community has made “significant progress” toward ending the war in Yemen and that his priority is to get roads in Taiz open, add flights to more destinations from Sanaa airport, and to accelerate salary payments to public servants in Houthi-controlled areas.


Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US

Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US
Updated 3 min 30 sec ago

Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US

Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US
  • Lebanese-American Hadi Matar signals ties with Tehran-backed Hezbollah

CHICAGO / NEW YORK / WASHINGTON, DC: Hadi Matar, the 24-year-old New Jersey suspect charged with attempted murder over a vicious knife attack on author Salman Rushdie on Friday, is believed to have been motivated by pro-Iranian regime sympathies and the death fatwa placed on the novelist in 1989 by the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

Rushdie was speaking at a literary festival in upstate New York when Matar rushed onto the stage and stabbed the prize-winning author multiple times, including in the face, arm and abdomen, police allege.

The suspect had a pass to attend the literary conference hosted by the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York, according to police.

Hospital officials said that Rushdie, 75, is likely to lose an eye as a result of the attack.

The celebrated author suffered nerve damage to one arm, a serious injury to his liver and is on a ventilator.

Although police officials investigating the attack have not speculated on Matar’s motives, or possible official or unofficial ties to extremist pro-Iranian groups, many experts linked the incident to Iran’s longstanding, extremist terrorist agenda.

Matar’s Facebook cover page, which was widely shared on social media, shows the suspect is a follower of the Tehran regime’s hard-line agenda.

The page includes images of Khomeini, the regime’s founder, and current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, leaving no doubt about Matar’s indoctrination and sympathies with the Iranian regime.

“The attack on Salman Rushdie by a reportedly pro-Khomenei individual would seem to qualify as an act of terrorism. The documented threats to Americans by Iran are certainly terrorism,” Norman Roule, an adviser to the United Against Nuclear Iran coalition, based in Washington, posted on Twitter.

“How would we have responded if these were AQ-related attacks? Why the difference?”

 

 

Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Washington-based Arab Center, a think tank focusing on US foreign policy in the Middle East, told Arab News that pockets of pro-Iranian activists exist in the US, but usually stay under the radar.

Jahshan said that he believed Matar might be a “lone wolf” motivated by the Iranian regime’s longstanding fatwa, and rhetoric against Rushdie and other Western officials, but is surprised the attack was carried out now.

“One would think, after so many years, this fatwa issued by Iran and supported by many in the region, including in Lebanon, has somewhat dissipated, diminished, if you will, in intensity and in emotional attachment to it,” Jahshan told Arab News.

The fatwa against Rushdie was tempered in 1998 after Khomeini’s death, with the Iranian leader’s successors saying they no longer supported calls for Rushdie’s killing. But the fatwa was never officially revoked.

Jahshan said that the fatwa still holds relevance for some who continue to support Iran.

“I'm certainly not surprised that there are people who still take these things seriously. Support (for) terror attacks against civilians for political reasons have diminished in many parts of the world, but they continue to exist at least on the individual level,” he said.

“So the fact that it’s an individual who doesn’t seem to be tied to any particular organization or set-up, whether in this country or outside, is not surprising. That’s the fad right now. That’s a common trend. But, again, one has to wait for the investigation to proceed and see what connections they might come up with after the investigation.”

Immediately after the attack, pro-Iranian and pro-Hezbollah social media feeds lit up with praise for the alleged assailant, but many were later removed.

The IranArabic Twitter account with more than 90,000 followers called Matar a “Lebanese hero who stabbed Satan Salman Rushdie, author of 'The Satanic Verses,' in which he insulted the Prophet of guidance and mercy, the Messenger of God, Muhammad.”

Some activists in Detroit, where Lebanese Shiites and support for Hezbollah are strong, said they are not surprised by the attack, adding that pro-Iranian activism there is often high profile, but also that they feared speaking out publicly because of fears for their safety.

“People are afraid to speak out here in Detroit against Iran or Hezbollah,” one Detroit activist said, asking not to be identified.

The FBI issued an alert in 2020 warning of possible terrorism from pro-Iranian sympathizers and agents in the US after the drone assassination of Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force and responsible for a series of violent terrorist attacks against anti-Iran regime dissidents.

The attack on Rushdie comes after the US Justice Department revealed a plot to assassinate former US National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Shahram Poursafi, identified by US officials as a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, is currently wanted by the FBI on charges related to the murder-for-hire plot.

Matar was born in the US, but may not have escaped the extremist indoctrination that many young people, and even children, are forced to go through in pro-Iranian Hezbollah strongholds. Exporting the extremist ideology of the Iranian "revolution" is a key goal of its proxies in the Middle East.

But they seem to have also established a presence in the American heartland as well.

Analysts discovered this summer that a pro-Iran mosque in Houston was forcing young children to take part in chants called “Salam Farmande,” or “Hello Commander” in Farsi. The ceremony, which has been posted on social media, closely mirrors Iranian and Hezbollah indoctrination intended to instill total loyalty to Khamenei.

In a recent report published by the Middle East Forum, a think tank that monitors extremism, Adrian Calamel, an analyst specializing in the Middle East and terrorism, said that the song is part of the recruitment drive for the Iranian regime.

“It’s enlisting the children to be the next generation of martyrs,” he said. “The song itself says, ‘we are ready to die for the commander.’”

Calamel warns that Shiite mosques similar to the one in Houston are centers of Iranian influence in the US.

“Al-Qaeda can’t set up these centers, Daesh can’t set up these centers, but Iran can,” he said.

It is unclear how Matar was radicalized, but clearly there is a broader trend of political and religious indoctrination that is being pushed by sympathizers of Iran’s brand of religious extremism that justify and encourage attacks like the one against Rushdie.


Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in major Cabinet reshuffle

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in major Cabinet reshuffle
Updated 13 August 2022

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in major Cabinet reshuffle

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in major Cabinet reshuffle
  • The Cabinet shake-up was approved by parliament in an emergency session and affected 13 portfolios, including health, education, culture, local development and irrigation ministries
  • President El-Sisi said the shake-up came in consultation with Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly

CAIRO : An emergency session of parliament on Saturday approved several cabinet changes in Egypt’s first major reshuffle since 2019, with 13 ministers moved, the National Media Authority reported.
A statement said the House of Representatives had approved “all the nominations set forth in a letter from President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi regarding a ministerial reshuffle.”
El-Sisi’s official Facebook page said the president had urged parliament to discuss the changes in the more than 30-strong cabinet, which were agreed following consultations with Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli.
The president said in a Facebook post that the changes aimed at “developing the governmental performance in some important files ... which contribute to protecting the state’s interests and capabilities.”
There has been only one reshuffle since Madbouli took office in 2018, in December 2019.
Following parliamentary approval, the new ministers are now expected to be sworn in.
The reshuffle does not include the key defense, interior, finance or foreign ministries.
But it does appoint new ministers of health, tourism and antiquities, commerce and industry, irrigation, civil aviation, immigration, education, higher education, military production, manpower, public business sector, culture and local development.
Banker Ahmed Issa took over the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry, replacing Khaled Al-Anani who led Egypt’s efforts in recent years to revive the tourism industry, a pillar of the economy. Such efforts included displaying ancient discoveries, opening new museums to attract international tourists.
Hani Sweilam, professor of water resources management at Germany’s RWTH Aachen University, was named as Irrigation Minister. He replaced Mohammed Abdel-Aty who oversaw years of technical negations with Ethiopia over its controversial dam on the Nile River’s main tributary.
The decision to replace outgoing irrigation minister Aty comes just a day after Addis Ababa announced it had finished its third filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
The Ethiopian water project damming the Nile is proceeding without agreement from downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.
The new irrigation minister is Hani Sewilam, a professor of sustainable development and water resources management at the American University in Cairo.
He assumes the post amid increasing fears over water security and an impending water crisis.
Other notable swaps include tourism and antiquities. Khaled Anani is credited with several high-profile attempts to revive Egypt’s vital tourism industry, and he is succeeded by Ahmed Issa Abu Hussein.
The health portfolio has been filled by Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, the acting minister since October.
Abdel Ghaffar’s former post of higher education minister will be filled by his deputy, Ayman Ashour.
Another notable appointment is Egyptian Air Force chief Mohamed Abbas Helmy, who takes on the civil aviation portfolio.
The government has held talks in recent months with the International Monetary Fund for a new loan to support its reform program and to help address challenges caused by the war in Europe. The government has received pledges from wealthy Arab Gulf nations for billions of dollars in investments, some of which are for private industry.
(With AFP and AP)


15 migrants found dead on border with Sudan, say Libya officials

15 migrants found dead on border with Sudan, say Libya officials
Updated 13 August 2022

15 migrants found dead on border with Sudan, say Libya officials

15 migrants found dead on border with Sudan, say Libya officials
  • The agency said nine other migrants survived while two remain missing in the desert

CAIRO: Libyan authorities said Saturday they found at least 15 migrants dead in the desert on the borders with Sudan, the latest tragedy involving migrants seeking a better life in Europe via perilous journeys through the conflict-wrecked nation.
The Department for Combating Irregular Migration in the southeastern city of Kufra said the migrants were on their way from Sudan to Libya when their vehicle broke down due to lack of fuel.
The agency said nine other migrants survived while two remain missing in the desert. There were women and children among the migrants, but the agency did not elaborate on how many. It also did not reveal causes of the migrants’ death, but said they did not have enough food and water.
It said the migrants were all Sudanese — from a country in turmoil for years. The migrants likely attempted to reach western Libya in efforts to board trafficking boats to Europe.
The agency posted images on Facebook showing bodies purportedly of the dead migrants who were later burned in the desert.
The tragedy was the latest in Libya’s sprawling desert. In June, authorities in Kufra said they found the bodies of 20 migrants who they said died of thirst in the desert after their vehicle broke down close to the border with Chad.
Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Human traffickers in recent years have benefited from the chaos in Libya, smuggling in migrants across the country’s lengthy borders with six nations. The migrants are then packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and set off on risky sea voyages.


Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle
Updated 13 August 2022

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle

Egypt appoints 13 new ministers in Cabinet reshuffle
  • Secretary-General of the House of Representatives Ahmed Manaa invited Parliament’s 596 MPs to attend the meeting without disclosing further information

CAIRO: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt announced a Cabinet reshuffle Saturday to improve his administration's performance as it faces towering economic challenges stemming largely from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Cabinet shake-up, which was approved by parliament in an emergency session, affected 13 portfolios, including health, education, culture, local development and irrigation ministries.
Also included in the reshuffle was the tourism portfolio, a key job at a time when Egypt is struggling to revive the lucrative sector decimated by years of turmoil, the pandemic and most recently the war in Europe.
The changes, however, didn’t affect key ministries including foreign, finance, defense and the interior, which is responsible for the police force.
El-Sisi said the shake-up came in consultation with Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly. He said in a Facebook post that the changes aimed at “developing the governmental performance in some important files ... which contribute to protecting the state’s interests and capabilities.”
The new ministers are expected to be sworn in before el-Sissi later Saturday or early Sunday.
Egypt’s economy has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine, which rattled global markets and hiked oil and food prices across the world.