Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens
A farmer collects wheat in field at Houla village in southern Lebanon. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 July 2022

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

Lebanese protests erupt as grim economic strain worsens

BEIRUT: The Lebanese have once again sporadically taken to the streets of Beirut and other urban areas to protest the continued strain on their living conditions, but no official nationwide movement has erupted to unify their anger.

On Tuesday, protesters closed the offices of a mobile phone operator in Tripoli, north Lebanon, and asked employees to leave their offices in protest against the rise in prices.

There are growing concerns in Tripoli as thousands of families are unable to provide their basic daily necessities.

Security reports have indicated that nighttime crime is on the rise, punctuated by random shootings in popular neighborhoods. Fears have been compounded after a majority of people in Tripoli have stopped paying their private generator subscriptions, practically living in the dark 24/7, because they can no longer afford the fees.

Many Lebanese have also given up another basic service — the internet — after bundles were priced in dollars. Caretaker Minister of Communications Johnny Korm said: “The new cell phone bill is calculated by dividing the previous bill by three and multiplying it by the Central Bank’s Sayrafa exchange rate (25,300 LBP/USD) or multiplying it by 2.5 for the Ogero service.”

Korm added: “Indeed, we expect many to stop using cellphones altogether, but it is too early to give accurate figures. Consumption has so far decreased by 8 percent since the beginning of July.”

Protesters blocked roads in Beirut, complaining about the loss of access to the public water network for the third week, and lamenting the regular power cuts that have blighted all areas due to the suspension of production plants.

Just one power station, the Deir Ammar plant, has continued operations amid a scarcity of fuel coming from Iraq, which is less than the expected quantity as Baghdad battles its own power sector struggles.

Although the Ministry of Economy said that there is enough flour to meet Lebanon’s consumption needs, citizens are still queuing at bakeries that are only selling one bundle of bread per customer in an attempt to provide bread to the largest possible number of customers.

Meanwhile, some are selling bread on the black market amid fears that wheat will not be available after Eid Al-Adha since the Central Bank is yet to open credits for wheat imports.

MP Wael Abu Faour reported: “According to the security services, organized gangs are stealing subsidized flour and selling it on the black market.”

The World Bank country classifications by income level on July 1 showed that Lebanon has become a lower-middle-income country.

“For the eleventh consecutive year, Lebanon’s real GDP per capita fell in 2021, and the country also experienced sharp exchange rate depreciation,” the report stated, as the per capita gross national income in 2021 amounted to $3,450, after it was $5,510 in 2020.

Representatives from the General Labor Union, the Forces for Change groups, the private sector and civil society bodies discussed on Tuesday “a mechanism of action to end the government’s policies of starvation and humiliation and its petty decisions to increase prices, through the deliberate killing of the Lebanese people and the financing of corruption that has been rampant for many years.”

They unanimously agreed on “the absolute rejection of any increase in prices, especially telecommunications and the internet, because it is deliberate theft to continue financing the corrupt system and its groups that are holding on to their posts and suffocating citizens.”

They further called on the Lebanese to be ready to participate in the upcoming moves to restore their rights, the most basic of which are telecommunications services and the internet.

While Lebanon’s economic deterioration worsens and politicians fail to form a government that can approve the reforms required by the International Monetary Fund, the EU’s Electoral Observation Mission — which monitored the Lebanese parliamentary elections on May 15 — issued a report that slammed several aspects of how the elections were held.

Gyorgy Holvenyi, the head of the EU team, said during a press conference in Beirut: “The conclusion in the mission’s final report is that although preparations were affected by limited financial and human resources, the election authorities delivered the May 15 parliamentary elections in the scheduled time. However, these elections were overshadowed by widespread practices of vote-buying and clientelism, which distorted the level playing field and seriously affected the voters’ choice.”

In its report, the mission noted: “The campaign was vibrant but marred by various instances of intimidation (including on social media) and cases of campaign obstruction. Besides, the legal framework for campaign finance suffers from serious shortcomings concerning transparency and accountability.”

The mission included a series of recommendations to improve the electoral process in the future. “These recommendations are setting a framework for a gradual Lebanese-led reform process,” Holvenyi emphasized, adding: “The EU stands ready to support Lebanon in implementing these recommendations to improve future election processes if deemed necessary, feasible, and useful.”


Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage

Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage
Updated 04 February 2023

Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage

Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage
  • Iran has been rocked by nationwide unrest following the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 in police custody, one of the strongest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution

TEHRAN: Social media images purported to be of an emaciated jailed Iranian dissident on hunger strike have caused outrage online as supporters warned on Friday he risks death for protesting the compulsory wearing of the hijab.
Farhad Meysami, 53, who has been in jail since 2018 for supporting women activists protesting against Iran’s headscarf policy, began his hunger strike on Oct. 7 to protest recent government killings of demonstrators, the dissident’s lawyer said.
The images of Meysami went viral on social media on the same day Iran released award-winning director Jafar Panahi on bail after seven months in jail. Panahi said the images of Meysami reminded him of survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Iran’s judiciary denied the hunger strike claim and said the photos were from four years ago when Meysami, a physician, did go on hunger strike.
As evidence, the semi-official YJC news agency posted what it said was Meysami’s latest photo, in which he does not look emaciated and is sitting on the floor of his prison cell with a bag of what looks like chips next to him.
Reuters was unable to confirm when the pictures were taken.
Iranian authorities released Panahi on bail after he started a hunger strike this week to demand to be freed pending a retrial, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing the Directors Guild of Iran.
There was no official word from Iran’s judiciary on the release, but videos on social media purportedly showed Panahi speaking to well-wishers outside Evin prison.
“The images of Farhad Meysami... remind one of the people in Auschwitz or of (Mahatma) Gandhi, since Meysami has written about non violence,” Panahi said. “Many are left behind bars... so how can I say I feel happy?“
Iranian authorities detained Panahi in July to serve a six-year sentence which a court originally ordered in 2010 for “propaganda against the system.” In October, the ruling was quashed by Iran’s supreme court which ordered a retrial.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide unrest following the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 in police custody, one of the strongest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
Morality police arrested Amini for flouting the hijab policy, which requires women to dress modestly and wear headscarves. Women have played a prominent role in the protests, with many waving or burning their headscarves.
Rights groups say more than 500 protesters have been killed and nearly 20,000 arrested. At least four people have been hanged, according to the Iranian judiciary.
“My client Farhad Meysami’s life is in danger,” tweeted lawyer Mohammad Moghimi. “He went on hunger strike to protest the recent government killings in the streets.” He said Meysami had lost 52 kg (115 lb).
Images show Meysami curled up on what looks like a hospital bed, and another standing, his ribs protruding.
“Shocking images of Dr. Farhad Meysami, a brave advocate for women’s rights who has been on hunger strike in prison,” tweeted Robert Malley, Washington’s special envoy for Iran.
“Iran’s regime has unjustly denied him and thousands of other political prisoners their rights and their freedom. Now it unjustly threatens his life,” he said.
Amnesty International said: “These images (of Meysami) are a shocking reminder of the Iranian authorities’ contempt for human rights.”
In a letter published by BBC’s Persian Service on Thursday, Meysami made three demands: an end to executions, the release of political-civil prisoners and an end to “forced-hijab harassment”.
“I will continue my impossible mission in the hope that it may become possible later on with a collective effort,” he wrote.

 


Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi

Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi
Updated 04 February 2023

Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi

Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi
  • Exiled Nobel-winning former judge speaks out
  • Revolution is a ‘train that will not stop,’ she says

JEDDAH: Protests in Iran over the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman are the start of an irreversible “revolutionary process” that will eventually lead to the collapse of the regime, one of Tehran’s most eloquent critics said on Friday.

Shirin Ebadi, the distinguished Iranian lawyer and former judge who lives in exile in London, said the protests were the boldest challenge yet to the legitimacy of Iran’s clerical establishment.

“This revolutionary process is like a train that will not stop until it reaches its final destination,” said Ebadi, 75, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work defending human rights.

“The protests have taken a different shape, but they have not ended,” she told Reuters in a phone interview from London.

Iran’s clerical rulers have faced widespread unrest since Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the morality police on Sept. 16 last year after she was arrested for wearing “inappropriate attire.”

This image grab from a UGC video posted on Feb. 3, 2023, reportedly shows protesters demanding the release of political prisoners during a march in Iran's southeastern city of Zahedan. (AFP)

Iran has blamed Amini's death on existing medical problems and has accused its enemies of fomenting the unrest to destabilise the regime.

For months, Iranians from all walks of life have called for the fall of the clerical establishment, chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Amini’s death has unbottled years of anger among many Iranians over issues ranging from economic misery and discrimination against ethnic minorities to tightening social and political restrictions.

As they have done in the past in the face of protests in the past four decades, Iran’s hard-line rulers have cracked down hard. Authorities have handed down dozens of death sentences to people involved in protests and have carried out at least four hangings, in what rights activists say is a crackdown aimed at intimidating people and keep them off the streets.

BACKGROUND

The crackdown has stoked diplomatic tensions at a time when talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are at a standstill.

The rights group HRANA said 527 protesters had been killed during unrest, of whom 71 were children, and nearly 20,000 protesters had been arrested.

However, protests have slowed considerably since the hangings began. Videos posted on social mediashowed people chanting “Death to Khamenei” from rooftops in some cities, but nothing on the scale of past months.

Ebadi said the state’s use of deadly violence would deepen anger felt by ordinary Iranians about the clerical establishment because the their grievances remain unaddressed. “The protests have taken a different shape, but they have not ended,” she said.

The crackdown has stoked diplomatic tensions at a time when talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are at a standstill.

To force the regime from power, Ebadi said the West should take “practical steps” such as recalling their ambassadors from Tehran, and should avoid reaching any agreement with Iran, including the nuclear deal. 

With deepening economic misery, chiefly because of US sanctions over Tehran’s disputed nuclear work, many Iranians are feeling the pain of galloping inflation and rising joblessness.

Inflation has soared to over 50 percent, the highest level in decades. Youth unemployment remains high with over 50 percent of Iranians being pushed below the poverty line, according to reports by Iran’s Statistics Center.

(With Reuters)


Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone
Updated 04 February 2023

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone
  • Video taken of the attack showed an explosion at the site after anti-aircraft fire targeted the drones, likely from one of the drones reaching the building’s roof. Iran’s military has claimed shooting down two other drones before they reached the site

TEHRAN: Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press on Friday showed damage done to what Iran describes as a military workshop targeted by Israeli drones, the latest such assault amid a shadow war between the two countries.
While Iran has offered no explanation yet of what the workshop manufactured, the drone attack threatened to again raise tensions in the region. Already, worries have grown over Tehran enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, with a top UN nuclear official warning the regime had enough fuel to build “several” atomic bombs if it chooses.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose earlier tenure as premier saw escalating attacks targeting Iran, has returned to office and reiterated that he views Tehran as his country’s top security threat. With State Department spokesperson Ned Price now declaring Iran has “killed” the opportunity to return to its nuclear deal with world powers, it remains unclear what diplomacy immediately could ease tensions between Tehran and the West.
Cloudy weather had prevented satellite pictures of the site of the workshop since it came under attack by what Iran described as bomb-carrying quadcopters on the night of Jan. 28. Quadcopters, which get their name from having four rotors, typically operate from short ranges by remote control.
Video taken of the attack showed an explosion at the site after anti-aircraft fire targeted the drones, likely from one of the drones reaching the building’s roof. Iran’s military has claimed shooting down two other drones before they reached the site.
Images taken on Thursday by Planet Labs PBC showed the workshop in Isfahan, a central Iranian city some 350 km south of Tehran.
An AP analysis of the image, compared to earlier images of the workshop, showed damage to the structure’s roof. That damage corresponded to footage aired by Iranian state television immediately after the attack that showed at least two holes in the building’s roof.
The Iranian state TV footage, as well as satellite photos, suggest the building’s roof also may have been built with so-called “slat armor.”
The structure resembles a cage built around roofs or armored vehicles to stop direct detonation from rockets, missiles or bomb-carrying drones against a target.
Installation of such protection at the workshop suggests Iran believed it could be a drone target.
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry in July claimed to have broken up a plot to target sensitive sites around Isfahan.
A segment aired on Iranian state TV in October included purported confessions by alleged members of Komala, a Kurdish opposition party that is exiled from Iran and now lives in Iraq, that they planned to target a military aerospace facility in Isfahan after being trained by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service.
It remains unclear whether the military workshop targeted in the drone attack was that aerospace facility.
Iran’s mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the satellite images and other questions about the workshop.
The attack comes Iran’s theocratic government faces challenges both at home and abroad.
Nationwide protests have shaken the country since the September death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman detained by the country’s morality police.
Its rial currency has plummeted to new lows against the US dollar.
Israel is suspected of launching a series of attacks on Iran, including an April 2021 assault on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges.
In 2020, Iran blamed Israel for a sophisticated attack that killed its top military nuclear scientist.
Israel has not commented on this drone attack.
However, Israeli officials rarely acknowledge operations carried out by the country’s secret military units or the Mossad.
A letter published Thursday by Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Amir Saeid Iravani, said that “early investigations suggest that the Israeli regime was responsible for this attempted act of aggression.”
The letter, however, did not elaborate on what evidence supported Iran’s suspicion.

 


Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah
Updated 04 February 2023

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah
  • Party chief threatens to disrupt election over militant menace
  • MP Rifi: ‘Hezbollah has turned Lebanon into terror camp, Captagon lab, murder scene’

The head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, Sami Gemayel, has threatened to disrupt presidential elections if the other parties try to elect a president who would provide cover for Hezbollah’s weapons.

Speaking at the party’s general conference on Friday, Gemayel — a fierce opponent of Hezbollah — said that what was happening was an attempt to change the face of Lebanon.

The opening session of the general conference was attended by anti-Hezbollah political figures, who also expressed opposition to the party’s recent actions.

Gemayel’s parliamentary bloc is the third largest Christian bloc following the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces Party.

They are trying to kill our country by killing freedom, cooperation, democracy, a strong and free economy, and Lebanon’s openness to the world.

Sami Gemayel

“They are trying to kill our country by killing freedom, cooperation, democracy, a strong and free economy, and Lebanon’s openness to the world,” he said.

Gemayel added that the battle today was not against a certain category of Lebanese people, but rather over Christian and Muslim coexistence.

“However, there is a huge group of Christian and Muslim Lebanese, and of all denominations, who believe that Lebanon is a message of civilization and development.

“They also believe in freedom and were born clinging to this freedom.

“Whoever is trying to eliminate the Lebanese spirit is not a group of Lebanese, but rather an armed party that is taking its sect hostage and trying to turn the conflict in Lebanon into a sectarian one,” he said.

Gemayel talked about suspicious land purchases, demographic change, institutional crippling and a systematic attack on free media.

He said: “We could not force the Syrian army to withdraw until we stood hand-in-hand in Martyrs’ Square. Today, we will not be able to preserve Lebanon unless we all unite again.”

Gemayel said that the ruling class handed over the country to Hezbollah under the pretext of defending Christians.

“We had warned against handing over the country to Hezbollah,” he added.

“We warned against economic collapse and international isolation. Some are clearly trying to kick us out of the economic, diplomatic, and political equations, but the true will of the Lebanese people was expressed in the Cedar Revolution and the Oct. 17 Revolution.”

Gemayel added: “Today, there are two states in Lebanon, the Lebanese Republic, and another state, which is the Islamic Republic of Hezbollah, and each state has its own funding, army, and foreign policy.

“The Islamic Republic is trying to put its hand on the pluralistic Lebanese Republic, and we need to fight such attempts. We cannot continue to deal with the dictatorial practices in a traditional manner; compromising with the Islamic Republic has dragged us into this catastrophic situation. We kept making one concession after the other, one settlement after the other.

“From this moment on, we refuse to submit to Hezbollah’s will."

Gemayel continued: “We call on all the Lebanese to assume their responsibilities, and we want Hezbollah to know that we will no longer accept this status quo.

“If a divorce between the two states is inevitable, then so be it. Hezbollah ought to announce it, but we will not accept living like second-class citizens. We will not submit; we will resist.

“The Kataeb Party is not a fan of war. We support the state and the army, but if anyone dares approach our homes, we will defend ourselves,” he added.

On the second anniversary of the assassination of researcher Lokman Slim, who was known for his outspoken opposition to Hezbollah, Gemayel noted: “We know that no trial will ever be held to shed light on Slim’s assassination.”

He added: “We thus know the extent of intimidation to which the Lebanese who oppose Hezbollah are subjected.”

Slim’s family and friends commemorated the second anniversary of his assassination on Friday in the absence of an indictment from the Lebanese judiciary.

Slim had told the public that he was receiving death threats from Hezbollah prior to his assassination in southern Lebanon.

MP Ashraf Rifi said: “They are trying once again to impose a president and government by taking advantage of the vacuum and making threats.

“Lebanon was an icon in the East, but the axis of evil turned it into a terror camp, a Captagon lab, and a murder scene. They are now seeking to elect a puppet to continue controlling the country.”

 

 


Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites
Updated 03 February 2023

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites
  • To incentivize readers, Egypt’s publishers’ association has encouraged sellers to give the option of buying books in instalments through popular buy-now-pay-later services

CAIRO: Thousands of Egyptian bibliophiles weave through a labyrinthine display of books, reviving an annual tradition at the Arab world’s largest book fair, but this year it comes at a steep cost.
The 54th Cairo International Book Fair was overshadowed by a punishing economic crisis that has seen Egypt’s currency, the pound, halve in value and prices skyrocket in the past year.
Organzers say the fair lured more than half a million visitors on its opening weekend alone — but with publishing houses already struggling to cover the rising cost of printing, many fear this will not translate to sales.
“We expected a much smaller turnout this year than we had,” said Wael Al-Mulla, one of more than 800 publishers at the fair.
Budgets are tight in Egypt, where inflation hit 21.9 percent in December, forcing many to dip into their savings to cover ever-rising daily costs.

BACKGROUND

Egypt’s robust publishing industry — historically a key exporter of Arabic literature, to which readers would flock for the region’s cheapest volumes — has already shown signs of trouble.

“Books are a luxury product,” said Mulla, who heads the Masr El-Arabia publishing house. “They’ll inevitably be less of a priority when people need to budget for the basics.”
A steep currency devaluation has compounded costs for import-dependent publishers, leading many to hike the price of books by up to double.
“You could once come with 2,000 pounds (now $66) and fill a suitcase with books,” said Mohamed El-Masry, CEO of El-Rasm Bel Kalemat Publishing.
“You can’t do that any more,” the 38-year-old lamented.
To incentivize readers, Egypt’s publishers’ association has encouraged sellers to give the option of buying books in instalments through popular buy-now-pay-later services.
State-owned publishers have also offered heavily discounted Arabic classics for under 30 pounds, or $1.
According to sellers, readers — eager for their annual haul despite the crisis — are deploying new methods to lessen the burden.
“We see most people coming with their friends as a group. They’ll decide what they want, divide the books among themselves and then pass them around,” said Abdallah Sakr, 33, a publishing manager at El-Mahrousa.
“Everyone’s surprised when they see the prices, but there’s still a desire to read. So instead of buying five books they’ll get two, or one instead of two,” he added.
To survive the crisis, publishing houses have grown more selective.
As the pound plummeted, the price of basic paper stock — all imported — quadrupled, forcing publishers to “decrease commissions and print fewer books per edition”, Mulla said.
“I have to be very careful with my choice of books, only picking the titles I’m really sure will be popular.”
Egypt’s robust publishing industry — historically a key exporter of Arabic literature, to which readers would flock for the region’s cheapest volumes — has already shown signs of trouble.
“Some publishing houses have had to downsize to the bare minimum, or halt activities until the economic landscape is a little clearer,” Mulla said, noting some had already had to shut down their presses permanently.
In a corner of the fair, vendors from the city’s well-known Azbakeya second-hand book market appeared unfazed by the economic downturn.
Nestled against the walls of the historic Azbakeya Garden, the stalls have for over a century sold used books, as well as pirated prints, for a fraction of the prices elsewhere.
As in past years, the booksellers have carted their innumerable volumes from the bustling market in central Cairo to the polished new exhibition centre on the city’s outskirts.
Like hundreds of thousands of loyal readers, 39-year-old Mohamed Shahin “made a beeline” for the Azbakeya booksellers with his family in tow, he said.
“This is the most popular place at the fair, even though the good books sell out quick because there aren’t a lot of copies,” 18-year-old engineering student and volunteer Malak Farid said.
Mohamed Attia, an imam in his 40s, travels to Cairo for the fair every year from his hometown of Dakahlia, some 150 km north of the capital.
With most volumes going for less than one dollar, the Azbakeya market has long been a treasure for Attia, and now it has become a necessity.
“Books are so much more expensive this year,” he said.
But, he added with relief, “prices in Azbakeya have remained the same” — a rare boon in today’s economic climate.