Lebanese Christian parties set demands for next president

Special Lebanese Christian parties set demands for next president
President of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil. (AFP)
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Updated 03 August 2022

Lebanese Christian parties set demands for next president

Lebanese Christian parties set demands for next president
  • Some political circles are discussing the possibility of Gebran Bassil — President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law and head of the Free Patriotic Movement — becoming the next Lebanese president
  • Others believe either that Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea or Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun could be the next president

BEIRUT: Lebanese political parties are setting demands over the election of a new Lebanese president ahead of an urgent constitutional deadline later this year.

According to the country’s Constitution, Parliament must meet on the 10th day preceding the expiration of the president’s term (Oct. 31) to elect a new president, in the event that the parliament speaker fails to hold a session before that date.

Some political circles are discussing the possibility of MP Gebran Bassil — President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law and head of the Free Patriotic Movement — becoming the next Lebanese president.

Others believe either that Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea or Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun could be the next president. Some have proposed electing independent Maronite figures unaffiliated with conflicting parties, focusing on the importance of having a president who steers clear of internal, regional and international disputes.

Lebanon had previously fallen into a presidential vacuum for more than two years after the end of former president Michel Suleiman’s term. Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, only reached office after reaching a settlement with the head of the Future Movement, Saad Hariri. But Hariri later regretted his involvement after Aoun and his political team turned their back on him.

On Wednesday, the two largest Christian parties in the country put forward their demands for the next president, portending a difficult electoral battle ahead.

The FPM issued a statement, stressing the need to hold presidential elections on time per the Constitution and in a manner that respects the national political will expressed by the Lebanese public in the recent parliamentary elections.

“The next president should accelerate the adoption of reform laws in Parliament to sign the final agreement with the IMF and other reform laws, such as restoring funds transferred abroad by completely lifting the bank secrecy of public officials, reexamining the public sector and rationalizing it, developing public employee competencies, activatating the supervisory bodies to curb corruption, developing a plan to implement automation, putting e-government into practice, restructuring the Banque du Liban and rebuilding the banking sector,” the FPM statement read.

On the other hand, LF leader Geagea said in a press conference that he would reject a “moderate consensual president.” He added: “We oppose with all our might electing a president from the March 8 forces.” The March 8 alliance includes Hezbollah and its allies.

Following a meeting between the LF parliamentary bloc and the party’s central council, Geagea said: “The main factors that have brought upon us the current crisis are the confiscation of the state’s strategic decision, mismanagement and corruption.”

He added: “The main actor behind this crisis is Hezbollah, which confiscated Lebanon’s strategic decision. It is also directly responsible for mismanagement through smuggling, for example, and through its alliance with the corrupt in the country to cover its actions and its illegal position.”

Geagea said: “The presidential election should be the first step on the path to salvation. Otherwise, we will be facing the worst.”

He added that the opposition must agree on a candidate who can achieve sovereignty and reforms.

“If the next president is affiliated to the axis of resistance, we will face strong Arab isolation. This axis has never been an axis of development and reconstruction.”

Geagea said: “How can we agree on a consensual president when we are completely different; one sovereign party and one nonsovereign party? We reject a consensual or centrist president. Rather, a president must be elected to solve the crisis. Governments of national unity have only reached national unity in poverty and humiliation. We cannot thus adopt the same logic for the presidency.”

He called on opposition MPs to further discuss the issue and form a committee to agree on one candidate.

Geagea said that he is a “natural candidate for the presidency,” but that his bid would only be valid if opposition MPs agree to run a single candidate of their own.

Meanwhile, as Lebanon commemorates on Thursday the second anniversary of the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion, the World Bank issued a report saying: “Lebanon must critically adopt and efficiently implement a comprehensive program of macroeconomic, financial and sector reforms that prioritize governance, accountability and inclusiveness. The earlier these reforms will be initiated, the less painful the cost of recovery will be on the Lebanese people.”

The report added: “Public finance in post-civil war Lebanon has been an instrument for systematic capture of the country’s resources, as it served the interests of an entrenched political economy. Excessive debt accumulation was used to give the illusion of stability and reinforce confidence in the macrofinancial system for deposits to continue to flow in. Lebanon’s depression — deliberate in the making over the past 30 years — has hollowed out the state of the provision of basic services to its citizens.”


Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer

Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer
Updated 9 sec ago

Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer

Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer
  • Ranald Crook, 76, was trapped in the country for 8 years over a commercial dispute
  • His warning follows claims that another Briton was tortured, killed by secret police

LONDON: A British engineer trapped in Qatar for almost eight years over a commercial dispute has urged people to think hard before accepting large salaries to work there, after his own exhausting battle to leave followed the alleged torture and death of another Briton in 2019.

Ranald Crook, 76, was unable to fly home from Qatar because of a series of travel bans imposed on him at the request of former business associates, which left him tangled in legal actions in which every victory of his resulted in the initiating of a new case against him. 

Crook spoke to The Times after reading on Thursday about a former senior vice president of Qatar Airways who was found dead in a Doha hotel room on Christmas Day in 2019 following his arrest and alleged torture by secret police.

Marc Bennett was accused of keeping confidential information belonging to the airline after his resignation in October that year, and was held for three weeks in a state security detention center before being released without charge but banned from leaving the country.

Qatari authorities claimed his death was suicide, but a British coroner found “no evidence of suicidal intent.” The UK Foreign Office urged Qatar on Wednesday to look into the allegations thoroughly.

Not only did Bennett not leave a suicide note or email or text his family and wide circle of friends, but the night before his death he had a video call with his wife and children during which, The Times reported, he was “laughing and joking.”  

Bennett’s widow Nancy said: “There are so many questions. He left here with the whole world ahead of him.”

Crook, who finally returned to the UK at the end of 2021, said he was drained by his ordeal. He warned Britons to think hard before accepting large salaries to work in Qatar, noting that while still in the country, his wife would wake because he had been crying in his sleep.

He added: “If you go to work there, be very careful. Look very carefully at those you’ll be working with and their reputations.

“The accusations are made in five minutes, but it takes years to clear your name. I thought I had been cleared in November 2016, but another case began and another travel ban was slapped on.

“I wasn’t served with any court papers, I found out about the second action by chance in April 2017. There shouldn’t even have been a travel ban but this was Qatar, and these things happen.”

Both the detention of Crook and the circumstances surrounding Bennett’s death have raised further concerns in the build-up to the World Cup in November, and the decision to allow Qatar to host it.


HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity

HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity
Updated 36 min 47 sec ago

HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity

HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity
  • EU-Israel Association Council meeting taking place next week after 10-year hiatus
  • Human Rights Watch: European officials should stop ‘reciting empty platitudes’

LONDON: Human Rights Watch has urged the EU and its member states to use next week’s EU-Israel Association Council meeting to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity.

The meeting comes just weeks after Israeli authorities raided and ordered the closing of the offices of seven prominent Palestinian civil society organizations — some of which receive EU funding — despite objections from the bloc and its member states.

“Europeans should know they’ll be shaking hands with representatives of a government committing crimes against humanity and outlawed prominent civil society groups challenging these abuses,” said Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel and Palestine director.

“Pretending it’s business as usual with Israel amid escalating repression sends the message that EU condemnation is worth little more than the paper it’s written on.”

Criticized by Palestinian, European and international NGOs, as well as 47 members of the European Parliament, next week’s meeting will mark the first in a decade after they were paused following Israel’s objections to the EU’s position on West Bank settlements.

HRW, however, has said the bloc’s position represents “empty platitudes” that fail to consider the human rights identified as essential within the Association Council.

Alon Liel, former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told the press earlier this year that as long as the Europeans did not take concrete action, “Israel doesn’t give a damn. It feels very confident this anti-human rights behavior will have no cost in the international arena.”

In May 2021, EU member states abstained or voted against the UN Human Rights Council’s establishment of an inquiry to investigate abuses and identify the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite consistent voting to support accountability mechanisms in other contexts.

“The decades-long European failure to take action in the face of grave human rights abuses has emboldened Israeli authorities to brazenly escalate their repression of Palestinians,” said Claudio Francavilla, EU advocate at HRW.

“Instead of reciting empty platitudes, European officials should use the Association Council to finally condemn Israel’s apartheid and persecution and make clear there will be meaningful consequences should the Israeli government not reverse course.” 


Arab envoys urge UK PM to rethink Jerusalem embassy move

Arab envoys urge UK PM to rethink Jerusalem embassy move
Updated 51 min 9 sec ago

Arab envoys urge UK PM to rethink Jerusalem embassy move

Arab envoys urge UK PM to rethink Jerusalem embassy move
  • Letter signed by all Arab states, including those that signed Abraham Accords with Israel
  • Liz Truss warned that embassy move could jeopardize free-trade agreement with GCC

LONDON: Arab ambassadors have urged Prime Minister Liz Truss to backtrack on “an illegal and ill-judged” plan to move the UK Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, warning that it could jeopardize a free-trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council, The Guardian reported on Friday.

The comments were made in a private letter sent before her trip to the UN last week. It was signed by all Arab states, including those that signed the 2020 Abraham Accords with Israel.

Palestinian Ambassador Husam Zomlot said: “Any embassy move would be a blatant violation of international law and the UK’s historic responsibilities.

“It undermines the two-state solution and inflames an already volatile situation in Jerusalem, the rest of the occupied territories, and among communities in the UK and worldwide. It would be disastrous.”

It is the understanding that some of the states most inclined to the accords are those particularly concerned, believing that the accords could be thrown into disrepute by the claim that they paved the way for the embassy move.

Given that the pending UK-GCC FTA is seen as central to Truss’s foreign policy for the region, any worries that this may be thrown into doubt could cause a backtrack.

Allies in Europe have also questioned the move, letting the UK know that they consider it unwise, while others have privately speculated that Truss’s decision is based as much on her desire to be perceived as a “disruptor” as it is anything to do with her close ties with Israel.

A former British diplomat told The Guardian: “She seems to think she should ape (former President) Donald Trump (who moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem in 2018). The difference is that the US is big enough to get its way in the Middle East. The UK is not.”

The former diplomat added: “If the UK shifted its embassy it would … damage British interests in the Arab world.”

Truss pledged to the Conservative Friends of Israel during her leadership campaign that she would open a review into the location of the UK Embassy, instituting the review last week during a meeting at the UN with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

Details of how the review is being conducted inside the Foreign Office have yet to be made public.


Yemen truce deadline approaches as wait for peace drags on

Yemen truce deadline approaches as wait for peace drags on
Updated 30 September 2022

Yemen truce deadline approaches as wait for peace drags on

Yemen truce deadline approaches as wait for peace drags on
  • Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the The Coalition has left hundreds of thousands dead
  • Talks to strike a lasting peace deal and a definitive end to the war remain at a standstill

SANAA: As a cease-fire deadline in war-ravaged Yemen draws near, civilians hope the truce will be extended — fearing any fresh fighting would wipe out the small gains they have made.
In the rebel-held capital Sanaa, agriculture graduate Loujain Al-Ouazir has been working to raise goats and chicken poultry for three years on a farm on top of one the ancient city’s iconic mud brick tower houses.
Ouazir only managed to make the farm successful in recent months amid the truce, which allowed goods to move more freely and cut the price of supplies.
“Thanks to the truce, the prices of animal feed and fuel have come down,” Ouazir said. “It’s easier to bring in feed and goats from other regions.”
Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the The Coalition has left hundreds of thousands dead and created what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
A UN-brokered cease-fire, which took effect in April and has twice been renewed, has reduced casualties by 60 percent and quadrupled fuel imports into the rebel-held Hodeida port, more than 40 humanitarian groups said on Thursday.
The truce has largely held, although the rival sides have traded blame over violations.
Ouazir said the relative peace — especially an end to air strikes in Sanaa — has created a safer environment for her business of selling milk and eggs.
“I hope the truce will continue until the war stops completely,” she said, adding that she dreamt of expanding her farm “on the ground, and not on the roof of the house.”
The truce is due to expire on Sunday, with the UN working to ensure each side agrees to extend once again.
Under the truce, commercial flights have resumed from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt, while oil tankers have been able to dock in Hodeida, also under Houthi control.
The series of temporary truces have brought some respite to a people exhausted by eight years of war, where about 23.4 million of Yemen’s population of 30 million rely on humanitarian aid.
But there has been little fundamental progress toward peace.
A seige remains in place on Taiz, a large city in the southwest controlled by the government but surrounded by Houthi forces.
Despite the cease-fire, the main roads around the mountainous city remain shut.
In the center of Taiz, old pickups are packed tight with passengers who want to go to the nearby town of Al-Hawban, taking bumpy back roads through the mountain.
Before the war, it was a simple journey of 15 minutes.
“Now I need four or five hours,” Taiz resident Bassem Al-Sabri said.
Diego Zorrilla, UN deputy humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said the truce had improved the situation “in many respects” but “life remains difficult” for the vast majority.
“From a humanitarian point of view, the renewal of the truce on October 2 is a moral imperative,” Zorrilla said.
“Only a resolution of the conflict can allow the economy to recover, lift people out of poverty and reduce humanitarian needs,” he added.
Talks to strike a lasting peace deal and a definitive end to the war remain at a standstill.
In May, the UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said the truce “presented a window of opportunity to break with the violence and suffering of the past.”
But in view of the stalled peace talks, a key aim of the truce, it has therefore “fundamentally changed nothing” and is proving to be “a failure in certain respects,” said Thomas Juneau, from the University of Ottawa.
“On the Houthi side, there is no serious will to negotiate and therefore to make compromises with the government,” said Juneau.
On the government side, differences between multiple anti-rebel factions have widened.
“We have seen the lines of fracture which were very deep widen, tensions worsen and, in many cases, become violent,” he said.
For Juneau, there is an “absurdity in renewing a truce which does not work,” and which therefore only “delays the return” of violence.
But, he added, “I don’t see any other alternative.”


Kuwait announces winners of National Assembly elections

Kuwait announces winners of National Assembly elections
Updated 30 September 2022

Kuwait announces winners of National Assembly elections

Kuwait announces winners of National Assembly elections

DUBAI: Kuwait has announced the winners of Thursday’s National Assembly elections after months of political gridlock in the oil-rich country.

Thousands of Kuwaitis turned up at polling stations to select 50 members out of the 305 candidates, who will be in office for the next four years, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported.

The candidates also included 22 women who competed for the seats in five different constituencies. The Parliament has been all-male since the only woman MP lost her seat in December 2020.

Only two women were elected, according to the results published on KUNA.

The winning candidates for the first constituency:

1. Abdullah Al-Mudhaf

2. Hasan Johar

3. Osama Al-Zaid

4. Ahmad Lari

5. Issa Al-Kanderi

6. Adel Al-Damkhi

7. Osama Al-Shaheen

8. Saleh Ashour

9. Hamad Al-Medlej

10. Khaled Al-Amairah

Second constituency:

1. Bader Al-Mulla

2. Mohammad Al-Mutair

3. Shuaib Shabaan

4. Hamed Al-Bathali

5. Khalil Al-Salih

6. Falah Al-Hajri

7. Aliya Al-Khaled

8. Hamad Al-Mutar

9. Abdulwahab Al-Issa

10. Abdullah Al-Anbaie

Third constituency:

1. Ahmed Al-Saadoun

2. Mahalhal Al-Mudhaf

3. Abdul Karim Al-Kanderi

4. Muhanad Al-Sayer

5. Abdulaziz Al-Saqebi

6. Jenan Ramadan

7. Ammar Al-Ajmi

8. Hamad Al-Obaid

9. Fares Al-Otaibi

10. Khalil Abul

Fourth constituency:

1. Shuaib Shabab Al-Muwaizri

2. Mohammed Al-Mutairi

3. Mubarak Al-Tasha

4. Mubarak Al-Hajraf

5. Thamer Al-Dhafiri

6. Marzouq Al-Shimarri

7. Saad Al-Rashidi

8. Abeed Al-Mutairi

9. Abdullah Al-Enezi

10. Yousef Al-Bathli

Fifth constituency:

1. Hamdan Al-Azmi

2. Saud Al-Hajri

3. Khalid Al-Otaibi

4. Al-Saifi Mubarak Al-Saifi

5. Mohammad Al-Huwaila

6. Hani Shams

7. Majed Al-Mutairi

8. Mohammad Al-Mahan

9. Marzouq Al-Hubaini

10. Faisal Al-Kanderi

The polls are the sixth to take place in 10 years in Kuwait – the only Gulf Arab state with a fully elected parliament.

The elections came after Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah announced the dissolution of parliament in June following disputes between lawmakers and the government, the fourth to be named in two years.