BEIRUT: Lebanese banks began a three-day closure on Monday following a decision by the Association of Banks aimed at preventing break-ins and holdups by depositors.
It comes after a series of high-profile incidents in bank branches, with depositors attempting to withdraw US dollar savings that have been frozen for three years.
Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi described the bank break-ins in Beirut and other regions as “organized.” The Association of Banks demanded that “necessary measures be taken” in order to ensure the safety of employees and customers, and to preserve depositors’ rights.
Some bank central departments remained administratively functional on Monday, while the central bank’s Sayrafa platform was unaffected by the strike. The black market US dollar exchange rate failed to rise as significantly as expected as a result of the political and security turmoil in the country, with the rate standing at 38,350 Lebanese pounds.
When branches reopen, a number of banks are planning strict self-protection measures by subjecting customers to inspections and only receiving those who have scheduled appointments.
President of the Lebanese Depositors Association Hassan Moghnieh warned that “the strike will not resolve the ongoing crisis. When work resumes next Thursday, banks might witness a new wave of holdups, which means that the solution resides elsewhere.”
On Monday morning, a number of activists tried to break into the Justice Palace in Beirut in protest against the detention of activists who took part in bank holdups. The army prevented the families and activists from entering the palace.
Screams were heard as protesters demanded the release of Mohammed Rustom and Abdul Rahman Zakaria, who were detained for breaking into Blom Bank to support depositor Sali Hafiz, who had earlier used a plastic gun to demand her deposit to treat her sick sister.
Political analyst Ali Hamadeh said: “The anger of the Lebanese citizens is great and everyone is talking about the need for a revolution that turns the tables on the whole ruling class.”
The recent developments in the country — the rise of the dollar exchange rate, the absence of a cap on the rise of the dollar on the black market and fears of a presidential vacuum — have left the Lebanese public deeply concerned.
Groups also protested worsening living conditions, including electricity shortages, by blocking streets in Beirut and other regions with garbage bins, as well as burning car tires.
Economic analyst Violette Balaa said: “As long as the political class will keep turning a deaf ear to the depositors’ and citizens’ sufferings, no one can guarantee that some beneficiaries won’t take advantage of the security situation that became delicate as a result of the negative shocks of the social and living reality.”
Balaa warned that “spinning around in circles will not benefit either political class, banks or depositors.”
On Monday, an IMF delegation arrived in Beirut and immediately began talks with Minister of Finance Youssef Khalil, bank managers and a group of experts. The delegation will also meet with a number of political officials, bankers and economic bodies.
The IMF delegation is headed by Mission Chief for Lebanon Ernesto Ramirez-Rigo.
He described his mission as “highly precise,” saying that its main objective is “to learn about the actions taken by Lebanon under the senior staff-level agreement reached with the IMF.
“Its second objective is to urge Lebanese officials to continue implementing the terms of the agreement in order to reach future understandings.”
According to financial observers, none of the items of the agreement reached with the IMF last April have been implemented. The president froze a law approved by Parliament related to bank secrecy.
Moreover, Parliament has yet to approve the 2022 budget, the capital control law and the bank reconstruction law included in the stalled recovery and rescue plan.
Syrian refugees under pressure to return face an uncertain future tinged with fear
Countries that had offered sanctuary are devising plans to return displaced households, either voluntarily or by force
Human rights monitors say returnees are often harassed, detained without charge, tortured, and even disappeared
Updated 7 sec ago
DUBAI: When Amir left his war-ravaged hometown of Homs, western Syria, in 2013, he believed he was heading somewhere that would offer him and his family lasting security and sanctuary from his nation’s grinding civil war.
Packing what few belongings were left unscathed by the regime’s incessant barrel bombing, Amir boarded a bus bound for Lebanon with his sister, Alia, and her toddler, Omar, where the trio settled in a camp in Arsal, Baalbek.
“My brother is a proud man,” Alia told Arab News from her adopted home in Lebanon. “After our parents died under rubble, he took it upon himself to fend for us and to raise my son, Omar.”
In doing so, Amir and his family joined the ranks of millions of Syrians displaced by the civil war — the majority of whom have settled in neighboring Turkiye, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, while others have struck out for Europe and beyond.
What started in 2011 as a peaceful protest movement demanding greater civic freedoms quickly escalated into one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, with a death toll now numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
Another 100,000 people have disappeared, likely abducted by security service agents to be tortured and killed in Bashar Assad’s prisons. To date, around 13 million people have been displaced by the war — 5.6 million of them fleeing abroad.
Now, many of those countries that had offered sanctuary have devised plans to return their Syrian guests, either voluntarily or by force, despite warnings from aid agencies and refugees themselves that Syria remains unsafe and blighted by poverty.
Syrian refugees are viewed by the Assad regime and its loyalists as traitors and dissidents. Human rights monitors have identified cases of returnees being harassed, detained without charge, tortured, and even disappeared.
Nevertheless, countries like Lebanon, Turkiye and Denmark, grappling with their own economic pressures and rising anti-immigrant sentiments, have been upping the ante on Syrians to return home, claiming the civil war is now over.
In 2021, Denmark adopted a “zero asylum-seekers” policy, resulting in many Syrians who had been based there since 2015 having their residency status revoked, while others were removed to deportation facilities.
Struggling to take care of its own native population, the caretaker government of crisis-wracked Lebanon announced its own repatriation plan in October this year, with the aim of sending back 15,000 refugees per month.
The situation in Turkiye is no different, according to reports. Stories have emerged on social media of refugees being forced to sign voluntary return forms.
According to reports from the France-based advocacy group Syrians for Truth and Justice, Syrians dropped off at the Bab Al-Salama border crossing by Turkish authorities are classified as “voluntary returnees,” despite this being a regime-controlled crossing.
Returnees — voluntarily or otherwise — often face harassment, extortion, forced recruitment, torture and arbitrary arrest upon arrival on the regime side, irrespective of their age or gender.
Mazen Hamada, a high-profile activist and torture survivor who has testified about the horrors of Syrian regime prisons, mystified the world when he decided to return to Damascus in 2020.
Hamada, who long spoke of his mental torment following his release and his loneliness in exile, returned to Syria from the Netherlands under an amnesty agreement supposedly guaranteeing his freedom.
However, upon arrival in Damascus in February 2020, Hamada was arrested and has not been seen or heard from since.
Last year, human rights monitor Amnesty International released a report, titled “You’re returning to your death,” which documented serious violations committed by regime intelligence officers against 66 returnees, 13 of whom were children.
Five returnees had died while in custody, while the fate of 17 remains unknown. Fourteen cases of sexual assault were also recorded — seven of which included rape — perpetrated against five women, a teenage boy, and a five-year-old girl.
Voices for Displaced Syrians, another advocacy group based in Istanbul, published a study in February this year, titled “Is Syria safe for return? Returnees’ perspective,” based on interviews with 300 returnees and internally displaced persons across four governorates.
Their accounts outlined extreme human rights violations, physical and psychological abuses, and a lack of legal protections. Some 41 percent of respondents had returned to Syria voluntarily, while 42 percent said they had returned out of necessity, as a result of poor living conditions in their host country and a longing to reunify with family.
Concerning their treatment upon arrival, 17 percent reported they or a loved one had been arbitrarily arrested, 11 percent spoke of harassment and physical violence inflicted upon them or a family member, and 7 percent chose not to answer.
As for internally displaced persons, 46 percent reported they or a relative had been arrested, 30 percent recounted bodily harm, and 27 percent said they had faced persecution owing to their origins and hometowns. Many also reported difficulties reclaiming private property.
Despite the mounting body of evidence suggesting the regime is continuing to target civilians it considers dissidents, several countries are choosing to pursue normalization with Assad, lobbying for his rehabilitation into the Arab fold and reopening their embassies in Damascus.
For the relatives of returnees who have since gone missing, these developments smack of betrayal.
Amir, who eventually returned to Syria voluntarily, appears to have suffered the same fate as the activist Hamada. Tired of living in poverty in Lebanon, far from his extended family, he went back in Oct. 2021. He has not been heard from since.
“Life in Lebanon has become rather unbearable. Amir would return humiliated every time he left the house,” his sister Alia told Arab News.
Having initially lived in a UNHCR-provided tent in Arsal, Amir and his family finally managed to acquire a small one bedroom house near the camps. Alia said it was a constant struggle to scrimp together enough money to pay the rent.
Most refugees are unable to secure consistent employment due to their lack of official papers, which, under normal circumstances, would grant them residency and facilitate a stable income. Amir, like many working age men around him, resorted to hard manual labor.
Those who try to find work in the big cities risk being arrested at Lebanese checkpoints, imprisoned, and deported for staying in the country illegally.
Since Amir’s disappearance, Alia has been forced to make do on a single income cleaning houses.
“He couldn’t take it anymore, being spoken to like a little boy by some of his employers and the degrading comments he’d hear at times,” said Alia.
“It happens to me too, but I hold back my tongue. I cannot afford to stand up for myself. He thought he would take his chances and return to Syria in the hope of finding us a place, back to familiarity.”
She says she begged her brother not to leave, aware of the many refugees they knew personally who had been mistreated upon their return to Syria. Some had been held in prison until they made bail, while others had gone missing.
“But he didn’t listen,” said Alia. “It’s been over a year since he left and I haven’t heard from him.”
Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record
Senate Speaker Abdel Wahab Abdel Razek accused the European Parliament of continually adopting positions and policies based on ‘fragile assumptions and misconceptions’
Abdel Razek: ‘Unfortunately, these policies are outdated, reminiscent of a European colonial legacy, and reveal nothing but a hidden desire to spread the culture of a particular civilization’
Updated 28 November 2022
CAIRO: The Egyptian Senate has branded a European Parliament resolution criticizing Egypt’s progress on improving its human rights record as being based on “fragile assumptions and misconceptions.”
Senate Speaker Abdel Wahab Abdel Razek told a House of Representatives plenary session that the decision was unacceptable and went against “international rules and norms.”
The European Parliament resolution highlighted what it described as a lack of improvement in Egypt’s human rights situation including on the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly or association, and media freedoms.
Calling for a review of the EU’s relations with Egypt in light of “very limited progress on its human rights record,” the European Parliament also demanded the “immediate and unconditional release of a number of political activists, journalists, lawyers, and social media influencers.”
In a speech, Abdel Razek said: “We all received with displeasure the decision issued by the European Parliament on Nov. 24 regarding the human rights situation in Egypt.”
He accused the European Parliament of continually adopting positions and policies based on, “fragile assumptions and misconceptions and an attempt to claim that it has the authority to evaluate and hold others accountable outside the borders of its members, in violation of international rules and norms.
“Unfortunately, these policies are outdated, reminiscent of a European colonial legacy, and reveal nothing but a hidden desire to spread the culture of a particular civilization. These are issues that no free country, particularly Egypt, will accept,” he added.
In a statement on Friday, the Egyptian Parliament said the resolution, “shows again that the European Parliament insists on adopting an arrogant approach toward Egypt, giving itself the right to use a host of sheer lies to deliver a judgement regarding some recent developments inside Egypt.”
Abdel Razek noted that Egypt had sought to strengthen efforts to improve the lives of its citizens.
He highlighted the Decent Life Initiative as one of the country’s most important projects bringing together the public and private sectors, and civil society, to help boost living standards for Egypt’s neediest groups.
He added that Egypt had launched a national dialogue to identify issues of concern to citizens and had also reactivated the Presidential Pardon Committee which had previously worked to grant amnesty to convicts and reintegrate them into society.
In addition, millions of refugees and asylum seekers had been welcomed to Egypt, Abdel Razek said, adding that efforts to promote and preserve all human rights within the framework of a national vision were ongoing.
Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales
709 detainees were freed from different prisons in the country
Prominent Iranian actor Hengameh Ghaziani had also been released on bail
Updated 28 November 2022
TEHRAN: Iran has released more than 700 prisoners after the national team’s World Cup football victory over Wales, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said Monday.
It announced that “709 detainees were freed from different prisons in the country” following the 2-0 victory on Friday.
Among those are “some arrested during the recent events,” Mizan Online said, making indirect reference to demonstrations which have shaken Iran for more than two months.
It gave no further detail.
The ongoing protests were triggered by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest by morality police for an alleged breach of Iran’s strict dress rules for women.
Other Iranian media separately reported that prominent Iranian actor Hengameh Ghaziani had been released on bail after her arrest for having supported the protests.
Two of the most prominent figures detained over the demonstrations — former international footballer Voria Ghafouri and dissident Hossein Ronaghi — were also let out on bail, reports said.
State news agency IRNA reported on Monday that former state television host Mahmoud Shahriari, 63, had been released after two months in prison for “encouraging riots.”
Iran on Friday scored twice deep into stoppage time to stun Wales and breathe new life into its World Cup campaign ahead of a politically charged showdown Tuesday against the United States.
Iran lost its first World Cup match to England, 6-2.
Iran’s judiciary says more than 2,000 people have been charged since the start of the protests.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk last week said around 14,000 people have been arrested.