Lebanon ‘is a hostage to the veto power’ of Hezbollah, says Lebanese economist Nadim Shehadi

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Updated 20 February 2023

Lebanon ‘is a hostage to the veto power’ of Hezbollah, says Lebanese economist Nadim Shehadi

Lebanon ‘is a hostage to the veto power’ of Hezbollah, says Lebanese economist Nadim Shehadi
  • Regards Lebanese crisis as part of a ‘broader regional problem, which needs to be treated as such’
  • Says shortcomings of the political class does not justify calls for the abolition of the entire system

DUBAI: Eighteen years ago this month, Rafik Hariri, a prominent politician and former prime minister of Lebanon, was assassinated by a suicide truck bomb in Beirut. Originally a philanthropist before his engagement in politics, Hariri, who had made his fortune in construction, donated millions of dollars to victims of war and conflict in Lebanon, and later played a major role in ending the civil war and rebuilding the capital city.

Hariri’s assassination marked the beginning of dramatic political change and movements calling for democracy in Lebanon. For years after his assassination, politicians and important figures opposed to the influence of both Syria and Hezbollah in the country were targeted.

Despite an international tribunal finding members of Hezbollah guilty of Hariri’s assassination after passionate calls for an investigation into his death, the Iran-backed militia group has only tightened its grip on Lebanon, keeping the country in a dire state.

“Hariri was killed 18 years ago and it took about 15 years to destroy the whole country after everything he tried to build,” Lebanese economist Nadim Shehadi said on “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News current affairs talk show which engages with leading policymakers and business leaders.

“The Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the independent international investigation commission came to Lebanon, and it took them about 15 years to produce their result. And for the first time in the history of Lebanon, where we have had several assassinations, for the first time, we had a conviction,” Shehadi said.

But according to him, despite a conviction in Hariri’s case, Hezbollah’s influence over Lebanon means that the real perpetrators of the assassination will go unpunished, and the group will continue to hold the country hostage.

Lebanon’s various political and economic crises have only intensified in recent years, with inflation in the country rising to the highest in the world in 2021 and the value of the Lebanese lira plummeting drastically.

Last year witnessed a series of bank holdups by armed customers seeking to withdraw their frozen deposits. In a country whose capital was formerly referred to as the “Paris of the East,” two-thirds of the population now suffers from poverty, with regular electricity blackouts and shortages of basic necessities such as medicine and water increasingly commonplace.

A protester throws a brick at a bank after setting fire to tires during a demonstration in Beirut on February 16, 2023. (AFP)

The country’s chronic instability has deepened in recent years in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the 2020 Beirut port explosion which killed hundreds, left hundreds of thousands homeless, and damaged over half of the city while inflicting massive economic losses.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the two international organizations which campaign against injustice and inequality, have called the investigation into the blast a “farce.”

Shehadi asserts that despite Lebanon’s historically “very healthy and functioning judiciary,” Hezbollah has interfered with the investigation.

This series of disasters have pushed many Lebanese to call for the removal of the entire political class, something that Shehadi views as a “ridiculous demand.”

Lebanese wait to fill their gas cylinders in the southern city of Sidon amidst a deepening economic crisis, on August 10, 2021. (AFP)

In his opinion, Lebanon’s political system is not “sectarianism,” as some observers term it, but rather “a political system based on a social contract between communities and which has maintained the country … even before the state was created.”

“We have a banking system which was the banking center of the region. We have political parties. These are pillars that distinguish Lebanon … and the revolution is asking almost for the dismantlement of all these pillars,” he told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

While Shehadi acknowledges there are definitely issues with Lebanon’s political class, which he says was compromised by 15 years of occupation and political infiltration by the Syrian regime, “this doesn’t justify calling for the abolition of the whole system.”

Eight months after the country’s general elections, Lebanon still has not reached a consensus regarding its president or a functioning parliament.

Lebanese protesters gather to protest against tax increases and official corruption outside the Sidon branch of Lebanese Central Bank in southern city on November 30, 2019. (AFP)

Urgent political reforms are needed to unlock the $3 billion in emergency funds from the International Monetary Fund, but with Lebanon’s political system in tatters and its parliamentarians regularly staging walkouts, accessing these funds seems unlikely.

Shehadi said that while he is not opposed to a “fragmented” parliament with diverse political opinions, “what we have is not a fragmented parliament. What we have is a paralysis of all institutions that’s been building up for 15 years, 17 years almost.”

He added that Lebanon and its institutions are “a hostage to the veto power” of Hezbollah, which has gained footholds in Lebanon by means of assassinations and building of political alliances.

Shehadi compares Hezbollah’s gradual infiltration of state institutions in Lebanon to the behavior of drug cartels in power in narco-states in Latin America.

Hezbollah supporters attend a televised speech by the group's leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut's southern suburbs on January 3, 2023. (AFP)

“They bribe politicians, the judiciary, the police, the army. Those who cannot be co-opted, if you like, are probably dead, and those who can be framed or blackmailed — that’s how criminal organizations gain power in a country,” he said.

The Lebanese parliament has held eleven electoral sessions to elect the president since Sept. 29 last year, with every session failing to elect a candidate.

In recent days, Joseph Aoun, commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, has emerged as a potential contender. However, this would require a constitutional amendment, and consensus from the parliament, which is currently headed by Speaker Nabih Berri.

Though he calls Berri “a brilliant operator” who is familiar with the ins and outs of Lebanon’s tangled political web, Shehadi says Berri is “also a hostage himself.”

Berri is the leader of the Amal Movement, which engaged in a years-long war with Hezbollah in the 1980s which saw thousands killed.

In this photo taken on June 6, 2020, Lebanese troops block supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movements Hezbollah and Amal trying to crash through a rally in Beirut decrying the collapse of the economy. (AFP)

“It ended with an agreement between them, sponsored by Iran and Syria, whereby they basically formed one block in parliament and one list, which means they have the monopoly of Shiite representation. They do not have a monopoly of Shiite support, but they have the monopoly of Shiite representation because of the way they manipulate lists in their areas,” Shehadi said.

During multiple electoral sessions stretching from September 2022 to January this year, many MPs left their ballot papers blank, with some in early sessions even casting their votes for “For Lebanon,” “Righteous dictator,” and “Nobody.”

Shehadi explained that major decisions and appointments within the Lebanese administration must be made by consensus, and with the signature of the president, speaker of the parliament, and prime minister. In the midst of the current political power vacuum, this means that the government in Lebanon has all but ceased to function.

“We had that for 29 months, without a president, without a parliament, and without a functioning government … we had a caretaker government, until our politicians, if you like, compromised and accepted to elect the favorite candidate of Hezbollah. So, we are in the same position, and it’s a difficult position because the longer we resist, the more damage there is, and I think our economic collapse is mainly caused by paralysis,” Shehadi said.

A January 19, 2023, photo shows Lebanon's Parliament convening to elect a new president. Because of sectarian divisions, the election failed. (AFP file)

“The priority now is to have a president and a functioning parliament and a functioning government so that state institutions do not collapse further.”

Shehadi added that though there is no shortage of credible candidates, the parliament is “held hostage, and the whole system is held hostage because you need a certain majority to start the process of elections. You need a two-thirds plus one majority, which means that one-third of parliament can spoil the process.”

Even if this litany of political challenges were overcome and Lebanon managed to receive assistance from the IMF, Shehadi said that IMF funds would not be a solution to all of Lebanon’s financial problems. However, he stressed that “engagement with the IMF is crucial.”

“Following the IMF recommendations is very important, especially on fiscal and monetary policy. There’s a lot of opposition to some of the IMF reforms, which I understand,” he said, adding that many observers say that $3 billion in funds will do very little to alleviate the country’s $90 billion deficit.

“But I think, in my view, it’s more important to remain engaged. The country is being paralyzed and isolated from the West, from the Arab countries, and now will be isolated from international institutions too, like the IMF and the World Bank and the UN and all that. It’s very damaging to ignore the IMF route.”

Nadim Shehadi speaks to Frankly Speaking host Katie Jensen. (Supplied)

Shehadi concurs with the World Bank’s assessment of the meltdown in Lebanon as one of the worst modern crises in recent history. But asked if he thinks there is a way out of the quagmire, he replied: “Yes, but I don’t see it only for Lebanon. The whole region is suffering from the same problem. The Lebanese case is similar to what is happening in Palestine, in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, and this could spread to other countries in the region who could be vulnerable.”

He continued: “It should be treated as a regional phenomenon, which is, basically, the role of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IRGC, as a paramilitary, non-state actor, has taken over the Iranian state and society in the same way as Hezbollah is acting in Lebanon, in the same way as Iranian-sponsored militias are behaving in Iraq, and definitely in the same way as Hamas has paralyzed the whole of the peace process in Palestine.”

Hezbollah supporters attend a memorial service in Beirut for Qasem Soleimani, the slain top commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. (AFP file)

Under the circumstances, Shehadi said the multidimensional crisis in Lebanon is part of a “broader regional problem, which needs to be treated as such. Lebanon is the fault line or the weakest point. A lot of the region’s ills, or problems, surface in Lebanon first.”

Because of this, Shehadi added, international and regional engagement and cooperation are crucial components to solving Lebanon’s crisis, and that the international community must refrain from seeing Lebanon as a hopeless case.

“We are definitely hostages, but we still have a say in the country and we need international support to get out of the grip of (Hezbollah). And again, the grip is regional. So, our fate is similar to Iraq, similar to Palestine, similar to Syria, and similar to Yemen,” he said.

“I don’t think one can see it in a fragmented way. And it’s wrong to abandon a place just because it’s considered to be lost. Lebanon is not a lost case.”


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Palestinians condemn US congressional hearing as unfair and misleading

Palestinians condemn US congressional hearing as unfair and misleading
Updated 29 September 2023

Palestinians condemn US congressional hearing as unfair and misleading

Palestinians condemn US congressional hearing as unfair and misleading
  • Only pro-Israeli figures were invited to the hearing, which discussed a law banning US aid to the Palestinian Authority because it “rewards Palestinians to murder Israeli citizens”
  • Palestinian minister Qaddura Fares said such hearings treat Israel and its supporters as the only sources of information about Palestinian issues

WASHINGTON: Palestinian officials in Ramallah on Thursday described a US congressional hearing that accused the Palestinian Authority of supporting violence against Israelis in the occupied West Bank as “misleading and unfair.”

Only supporters of Israel were invited to attend the hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia on Wednesday, which discussed the implementation of the Taylor Force Act, a 2018 law that bans the provision of US financial aid to the PA on the grounds that the authority “rewards Palestinians to murder Israeli citizens.”

Palestinian officials told the Arab News that the organizers of the hearing failed to invite them to present the views, and in doing so had revealed its “bias” in favor of Israel and the anti-Palestinian sentiments of some members of Congress.

The hearing was led by Joe Wilson, a Republican member of the House of Representatives who chairs the subcommittee. He accused the Palestinian government of operating a system of “pay to slay,” in which Palestinians are rewarded for killing Israelis, an allegation Palestinian officials vehemently denied in comments to Arab News.

Eliot Abrams, a pro-Israel former deputy assistant to the president and national security adviser, and several other members of the subcommittee also accused the PA of participating in a system that “honors and rewards terrorists.” Several representatives of right-wing, pro-Israel US organizations who spoke during the hearing made similar claims and called on US President Joe Biden to halt financial aid to Palestinians.

Palestinian officials said such allegations are “totally untrue” and “misleading.” Qaddura Fares, the Palestinian minister of detainees’ affairs, told Arab News that such US hearings treat Israel and its supporters in the US as the only sources of information about issues involving the Palestinians or their cause.

He described the hearing as “misleading and one-sided” given that Palestinians were not invited to present their side of the story or even consulted. The subcommittee should have asked Palestinian officials or their representatives to participate, he added, in the interests of balance and fairness.

Fares said the welfare-payment system to families of people killed or imprisoned by Israel, which lies at the heart of the “pay to slay” allegations, operates in accordance with Palestinian law, under which the government is obliged to provide financial support to any family that loses its breadwinner as a result of Israel’s actions as an occupying state.

Wasel Abu Yousef, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official, told Arab News that successive US administrations and Congress have often engaged in “covering up for the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people” instead of supporting the peace and security of both sides.

“The issue of financial and moral support for the families of martyrs who were killed by the Israeli occupation forces, and those who were detained by it, cannot be neglected or bypassed by any Palestinian official,” he added

According to Abu Yousef, 260 Palestinians have died as a result of Israeli actions so far this year, and about 220 were killed last year.

Fares, whose ministry helps to support the families of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails, said there are about 5,200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, including about 1,200 administrative detainees who are being held without charge or trial, and 170 children under the age of 18.

Israeli authorities imprison thousands of Palestinians each year, he added, for nonviolent actions such as raising a Palestinian flag, participating in anti-occupation protests, or political activism on college campuses.

He said only 10 percent of Palestinian prisoners, about 500 in total, are serving life sentences in Israeli jails, indicating that they were convicted of involvement in the killing of Israeli citizens. In accordance with Palestinian law, Fares said, the families of those people should not have to suffer, be held responsible for their relative’s crimes, or be deprived of social support services provided by the government.

Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah official, told Arab News the issue of Palestinian support for the families of martyrs and detainees will only end when the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land ends.

“It appears that some members of the US Congress only care about supporting the continuation of Israeli occupation, not an equitable peace between the two peoples,” he said.

“This issue is very sensitive for the Palestinian people because it touches the core of their existence and their struggles to free their country and end the Israeli occupation.”

Libya flood deaths expose climate chasm in conflict-hit states

Libya flood deaths expose climate chasm in conflict-hit states
Updated 29 September 2023

Libya flood deaths expose climate chasm in conflict-hit states

Libya flood deaths expose climate chasm in conflict-hit states
  • Scientists: climate change made the heavy rainfall that led to Libya’s floods up to 50 times more likely and caused up to 50 percent more rain during that period of the year

MISRATA, Libya/BEIRUT: Over a month ago, Asmahan Balauon, a member of Libya’s eastern-based parliament, requested that it should establish a climate change committee.
She was told a date would be set to discuss the issue — but her efforts were overtaken by the fatal floods that struck the city of Derna this month after heavy rains caused the collapse of two dilapidated dams, unleashing a torrent of destruction.
“Unfortunately, our attention to... laws and elections and these things was a hindrance,” said Balauon, who is based in the coastal city of Benghazi.
Storm Daniel moved far faster than the conflict-torn nation’s politicians, triggering flooding that overwhelmed infrastructure and swept away parts of Derna, destroying hundreds of buildings.
The UN has confirmed more than 4,000 deaths from the disaster, while over 8,500 people remain unaccounted for.
A further 40,000 were displaced across northeast Libya, including at least 30,000 residents inside Derna, the UN said.
Scientists working with World Weather Attribution, a research collaboration that examines the role of global warming in specific weather events, said climate change made the heavy rainfall that led to Libya’s floods up to 50 times more likely and caused up to 50 percent more rain during that period of the year.
They also blamed other factors including building in flood plains, the poor condition of infrastructure, and years of armed conflict.
Libya’s situation echoes that of other turbulent countries like Afghanistan and large parts of Africa’s Sahel region, which face growing climate-related threats while grappling with political instability and weak governance, making it harder to access funding for measures to protect people and assets.
Back in 2007, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel peace prize laureate, described this situation as “adaptation apartheid.”
“Leaving the world’s poor to sink or swim with their own meagre resources in the face of the threat posed by climate change is morally wrong,” he wrote in a UN report. “Unfortunately... this is precisely what is happening.”
That observation about the lack of finance for vulnerable people on the frontlines of a warming world — repeated many times since by a growing chorus of climate justice activists — appears to have changed little on the ground.
Ciaran Donnelly, a senior vice president for international programs at the International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian agency, pointed to “an emerging kind of tiered system.”
He identified about 15 countries simultaneously suffering from climate volatility and conflict-driven political fragility, including Yemen and Somalia.
Much of the donor cash available for building resilience to more extreme weather and rising seas depends on having an effective government to receive the money — a requirement that risks excluding politically unstable states, he said.
“Countries... where you have this kind of weak public sector, just won’t be able to access (climate funding) and they’ll get further behind,” Donnelly said. “It really becomes a kind of self-reinforcing, vicious cycle.”
Climate change — while all but absent from the political narrative in Libya — has had a pronounced effect on the life of Walid Fathi, a 34-year-old government employee living in Al Bayda, a city west of Derna.
The floods swept away the back wall of his home and killed his neighbors, a family of seven.
What meagre savings he can muster from his salary will go toward fixing his house. He now lives in uncertainty and fear, afraid of the weather and what winter might bring.
“We do not know what to do,” he said. “We are afraid — we do not have anywhere to go.”
Neither the internationally recognized government in Tripoli nor the eastern authorities that have controlled Derna since the Libyan National Army (LNA) ousted jihadists from the city in 2019 had attempted to repair long-known weaknesses in the dams or tried to evacuate people before the forecast storm hit.
In addition, people living in different parts of the city were given different instructions by the authorities, said local families. Those living by the shore were told to evacuate, while others in the center were told to stay put, they noted.
The LNA under Khalifa Haftar is the dominant player in the eastern half of Libya, a nation that has been divided since a NATO-backed uprising toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Mohamed Manfour, commander of an airport near Al-Bayda in the east, blamed the flood disaster on the international community and on governments ruling the two halves of the country.
“There are mistakes in the infrastructure, mistakes in the construction and architecture, mistakes in the lack of maintenance of dams,” he said in a phone interview.
In the hours after the catastrophe, LNA chief Haftar said on local television that the flood-hit area was suffering “difficult and painful moments,” adding he had issued orders for necessary support to be provided.
Tim Eaton, a senior research fellow on the Middle East and North Africa with Chatham House, a London-based think-tank, said the focus of many who have managed to gain power in Libya “has been staying in power,” rather than working to protect the population from external threats like climate change.
“You are definitely not going to be able to do these things and access these (climate) funds if nobody is really thinking about them and it’s not part of the political discourse,” he added.
Earlier this month, the head of the World Meteorological Organization said casualties could have been avoided in Libya’s floods if the divided country had a functional weather service.
Over in the west, at the Meteorological Center in the capital Tripoli, the number of people with technical expertise in climate change “can be counted on your fingers,” spokesperson Mohieddine Bin Ramadan told Context.
The center, which falls under the transportation ministry, lacks radars that can accurately measure rainfall across the country. Bin Ramadan said the public administration is corrupt — and bureaucracy often delays orders for months and years.
“If the government does not take care of the center, then we cannot keep up with climate change,” he said. “We are missing a lot of things; it is not easy.”
The transportation ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The same issue affects climate services and infrastructure in other places around the world.
Depending on how they are managed and funded, they can either expose people to the impacts of climate change — as in Libya — or help protect them if well-maintained and planned to stand up to future climate risks.
Most of the Earth’s dams were built in the 1960s and 1970s, said Caitlin Grady, an engineering professor at George Washington University in the United States, adding that many are now reaching the end of their lifespan, threatening disaster.
“We’re still going to have extreme rainfall events all over the world,” she said, adding “I would expect this to keep happening in multiple locations unless something changes in our fight” against climate change and for climate adaptation.

Eritrean diplomat asks: ‘Why is the Sudan conflict not an important issue’ for the UN?

Eritrean diplomat asks: ‘Why is the Sudan conflict not an important issue’ for the UN?
Sophia Tesfamariam, Eritrea's ambassador to the UN. (AN photo)
Updated 29 September 2023

Eritrean diplomat asks: ‘Why is the Sudan conflict not an important issue’ for the UN?

Eritrean diplomat asks: ‘Why is the Sudan conflict not an important issue’ for the UN?
  • Permanent Representative to UN Sophia Tesfamariam urges Africans to strengthen their institutions, find their own solutions in interview with Arab News
  • Candidly discusses challenges facing the continent, underscores need for reforms to make the UN a more effectual organization

NEW YORK CITY: Even as the 78th session of the UN General Assembly came to an end on Tuesday, it was clear that the curtain was not about to come down on the conversations about the tensions between the Global North and the Global South, the UN’s role in an emerging multipolar world order, and the stubborn persistence of conflicts and inequalities worldwide.

In a candid interview on the sidelines of the event in New York, Sophia Tesfamariam, the permanent representative of Eritrea to the UN, shared with Arab News her insights on the current state of affairs in the world, with a particular emphasis on the situation in violence-torn Sudan and the dynamics of African diplomacy.

Sophia Tesfamariam, Eritrea's ambassador to the UN, believes the internecine conflict in Sudan is not just due to the big egos of rival warlords but also a result of "external interventions, historical and more recent, often driven by military and economic interests." (Arab News photo)

A seasoned diplomat, she pulled no punches in discussing the myriad challenges facing her region and the wider world, while underscoring the need for reforms to make the UN a more effectual institution, for the forging of true partnerships that respect African voices, and for African nations to take charge of their own destinies.

Tesfamariam also offered her perspective on the origins and consequences of the conflict in Sudan, Eritrea’s neighbor to the west, which continues to escalate and shows no sign of abating amid continual reports of atrocities and human rights violations, including sexual violence and the disposal of corpses in mass graves.


Eritrea, which gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, occupies a strategically important area in the Horn of Africa.

The country’s representative to the UN, Sophia Tesfamariam, wants UN chief Antonio Guterres to be vocal about African issues.

The conflict in the country between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces has so far killed more than 4,000 people and wounded at least 12,000. It has displaced 5.3 million within Sudan and sent a human tide of refugees into neighboring countries, including Eritrea. In the western Darfur region, the scene of a genocidal campaign in the early 2000s, the conflict has morphed into ethnic violence, with the UN and rights groups reporting that the RSF and allied Arab militias are attacking African tribes and clans.

This picture taken on September 1, 2023 shows a view of destruction in a livestock market area in al-Fasher, the capital of Sudan's North Darfur state, amid the war between the Sudan Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Security Forces. (AFP)

Tesfamariam described the shock that was felt in the region as Sudan descended into turmoil, saying it was something “that should have never happened” because it goes contrary to “the culture of the Sudanese people, their history, their background.”

She added: “For Sudanese people to have warring in the middle of their towns, the middle of the cities, this urban warfare is new. It’s not something that anybody can get used to.”

A handout picture taken on April 19, 2023 and obtained from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on April 21 shows a crowded ward at a hospital in El Fasher in Sudan's North Darfur region, where multiple people have been wounded in ongoing battles there. (Photo by Ali Shukur/MSF/AFP)

The crisis cannot be attributed solely to a battle of egos between the leaders of the two military forces, Tesfamariam said. Rather, she believes “this final act” is the result of the external interventions, historical and more recent, often driven by military and economic interests, that have hindered the ability of the Sudanese people to take charge of their own destiny and development since gaining independence.

Although the Sudanese people initiated the revolution that led to the overthrow of President Omar Bashir in April 2019, their aspirations were seemingly hijacked by various external interests, regional and international, which contributed to the ongoing clashes between factions within the country, according to Tesfamariam.

This picture taken on September 17, 2023 shows a raging fire at the Greater Nile Petroleum Oil Company Tower in Khartoum amid fighting between the regular army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. (AFP)

“And this, to me, looks like what triggered these two sides (the SAF and RSF) to finally see who gains an upper hand,” she said.

“If you’re going to peel back the pieces like an onion to see where the source of this conflict is, at the source of all this you will find intervention to be the culprit.”

The conflict, which began on April 15, came on top of an already dire humanitarian crisis that has been ravaging Sudan for decades. Things have become so desperate that about 25 million people need aid just to survive, but humanitarian agencies are hamstrung by lack of access, precarious conditions on the ground, and bureaucratic restrictions on their movement both into Sudan and then to the places where the needs are most acute.

Tesfamariam highlighted the historical relationship between her country and Sudan. There was a time, for example, when Sudan was a welcoming host of refugees from Eritrea, during the latter’s struggle for independence from Ethiopia, which lasted for decades and ended in 1991.

An Ethiopian woman walks carrying packages on her back in the border town of Metema in northwestern Ethiopia on August 1, 2023. (AFP/File Photo)

“We don’t do refugee camps,” she said. “These are Sudanese. This is their home. They can come any time. And if they need to take refuge in Eritrea today, the communities of Eritrea will welcome them as one of their own as they welcomed us when we were going to Sudan.

“So, the humanitarian situation for us is something of a historical necessity, almost, an opportunity to pay back the Sudanese people for what they did for us and are continuing to do for us all these years.”

As for the international community, Tesfamariam voiced disappointment about its failure to force the feuding factions to agree to a lasting truce, despite many attempts.

“24-hour ceasefire, 48-hour ceasefire — what do these mean?” she said. “How does it give you hope as a person living in a city to know that the guns are going to stop for 24 hours? And then what happens after 24 hours?

“So, these meaningless, endless ceasefire negotiations that go nowhere tell me the international community is not serious about bringing an end to the conflict in Sudan, and the warring parties are not serious in their commitments to their people.”

A convoy of the World Food Programme (WFP) are seen in the village of Erebti, Ethiopia, on June 9, 2022, on their way to Tigray, where hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes by war. (AFP/File Photo)

Tesfamariam reflected on what she described as “the total ineptitude and total failure” of the UN system, including the Security Council, where, in her view, double standards are now the order of the day.

“Where is the interest?” she asked. “There are people dying on the streets of Sudan. But you have spent many, many meetings, and even many General Assembly meetings, on Ukraine. Why is Sudan not an important issue for you?

“I think this total lack of interest says a lot about the UN and its structures, and the way it works and its failures and its inadequacies to resolve issues for which it has been created.

“(The total lack) of any credible action by the (Security) Council tells me that it may not be what we think it is — this governing body that can bring peace and security to all of us — and maybe they’re leaving us to our own devices. And that’s a dangerous way to go.

“What exactly is the UN here for? It makes me wonder. So this continuous call for reform of the Security Council, reform of the General Assembly and what it can do and what is viable to do, I think, will continue. And these will be the examples that we will raise in the future to say, ‘Where was the UN?’ And I am sure future generations will also be inquiring about that.”

Eritrea's UN envoy Sophia Tesfamariam laments “the total ineptitude and total failure” of the UN system in seeking a solution to the Sudan crisis. (AFP/File photo)

Tesfamariam called on Antonio Guterres, the UN’s secretary-general, to “pay attention” and be vocal about African issues.

“Right now, there is no voice for Africa,” she said. “Yes, it is good they tell you ‘African solutions for African problems.’ But when you come right down to it, if there’s no third party involved, nothing happens. Nothing moves.”

While there is indeed a growing sense that African issues should primarily be addressed by the African Union and sub-regional organizations, Tesfamariam said she has noticed a big discrepancy between theory and reality.

Despite the rhetoric of “African solutions for African problems,” she contended, the AU does not seem to be afforded the same weight or resources as its European counterparts, including the EU.

US Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should “pay attention” and be vocal about African issues, according to Eritrean Ambassador Tesfamariam. (AFP)

“Is the AU office here (at the UN) as fortified and given all the resources and attention and ability, and even the mandate, to interact with the UN the same way as the EU is?” she asked.

“I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s there. But can we just blame it on the EU or the UN and others for not taking an interest? What are Africans doing, also?”

She continued: “Why is it that when the AU meets every year, the first wave of people who come in, sit down to listen to your discussions are the Europeans and the Americans? Do you get the same respect and luxury to go and sit in the EU meetings in Europe to find out what they are discussing? No.

“So why do you continuously relegate yourself to these kind of positions for Africans? But when you cannot pay your own bills, when everybody else is funding every single project that you have all over the place, he who pays the piper picks the tune.

“How do you say no to the largesse that’s coming from EU, from the UN and other agencies that will dictate what should be done with your agency? Why does finance have to be the center of it all? I think if Africans come up with the solution, they will also find ways to finance the projects and initiatives they are trying to push.” 

Leaders of African Union member states join a family photo session during a recent assembly  in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Union needs to strengthen itself, grow more assertive and become a vocal advocate of African interests, says Eritrean Ambassador Sophia Tesfamariam (AFP/File photo)

To start with, according to Tesfamariam, the AU needs to strengthen itself, grow more assertive and become a vocal advocate of African interests. Next, she underscored the need for Africans to take responsibility for their own issues, strengthen regional and continental institutions, and find their own solutions to problems.

She criticized the current financial dependency in Africa on external entities, arguing that it often leads to the dictation of terms by donors that might not align with Africa’s interests.

“Africans themselves have got to take responsibility,” said Tesfamariam. “We need to start looking at ourselves, to do some soul-searching and say, why are we not doing more to strengthen our own regional and continental institutions?

A file photo shows Eritrea's UN Ambassador Sophia Tesfamariam speaking during a UN General Assembly meeting. (AFP/File photo)

“These institutions can’t just be a talking shop anymore. In practical terms, what are we doing to respond to the needs of our people, of our region? How do we form partnerships — not ‘who-gives-and-who-receives’ kind of partnerships but real partnerships, where we share interests and then do things together for the benefit of global security?”

While conceding that efforts to make a dent in the “entrenched” international architecture is still “a work in progress,” Tesfamariam added: “We are not giving up now.”

She pledged to continue to work to amplify Africa’s voice in international forums, taking heart from the fact that “over the years we’ve been able to find more like-minded people.”

She added: “I am not here alone. If I felt alone before, I now have a mutual grievance society at the UN whose members feel exactly the way Eritrea feels — that same frustration with the UN and its ineptitude in some of the things, and with our failure to coalesce as a group to make a difference, to bring change to some of the issues that we have raised here.”


Israel’s top court weighs rules on removing prime minister

Israel’s top court weighs rules on removing prime minister
Updated 28 September 2023

Israel’s top court weighs rules on removing prime minister

Israel’s top court weighs rules on removing prime minister
  • Premier Benjamin Netanyahu faces protests against the government’s judicial overhaul

JERUSALEM: Israel’s top court heard appeals on Thursday against a law restricting how a prime minister can be removed from office, as current Premier Benjamin Netanyahu faces protests against the government’s judicial overhaul.

The hearing got underway as Israel is deeply divided over the judicial reforms, which have triggered one of the country’s biggest ever protest movements against the hard-right government.

Eleven of the Supreme Court’s 15 judges heard three appeals against the incapacity law that was passed in March as an amendment to one of Israel’s Basic Laws, the country’s quasi-constitution.

Under the law, a prime minister can only be declared unfit for office by themself or a two-thirds majority of the Cabinet, and the decision must be supported by at least 80 of parliament’s 120 lawmakers.

Supreme Court Judge Yitzhak Amit argued it amounts to a “personal” amendment intended to protect Netanyahu from impeachment proceedings.

A lawyer representing the government, Yitzhak Bart, acknowledged the law was passed for “political reasons linked to the prime minister” but argued the move was to “fill a gap in the law.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin declared the hearing “an attempt to overturn the elections, in a statement published by his office.

Netanyahu in May 2020 became Israel’s first sitting prime minister to stand trial over a series of graft allegations, which he denies.

In February, an anti-corruption group lodged a petition with the Supreme Court aimed at declaring Netanyahu unfit for office over his trial.

Ahead of the Supreme Court session, dozens of protesters rallied outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, where four people were arrested, according to the police.

Demonstrations have been held at least weekly since January and have consistently drawn tens of thousands to rally against the government, which took office in December and includes extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox ministers.

Netanyahu’s Cabinet argues the reforms are necessary to rebalance powers between elected officials and judges, while opponents say they pave the way for authoritarian rule.

Before its amendment, the incapacity law lacked detail on the justifiable reasons to remove a premier from office, or on the procedure required.

Petitions to the court demand the amended incapacity legislation either be scrapped or deferred until after the next election.

Any amendment to a Basic Law carries the same quasi-constitutional legal status and the Supreme Court has never struck down such a law in the past.

Israeli media nonetheless reported that the judges could postpone application of the amendment until the next election, as requested by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.

The question would then arise as to whether she could dismiss Netanyahu over the graft allegations.

An Israeli prime minister has been declared unfit for office only once, when Ariel Sharon was hospitalized in 2006 and replaced by his deputy Ehud Olmert.

The opposition subsequently sought to have Olmert removed, as he was prosecuted while in office, but the Supreme Court rejected their complaint.

Judges reached a similar conclusion in 2021 when they ruled Netanyahu could stay in power despite the corruption charges against him.

He was subsequently voted out of office, only to return to the premiership following November’s election.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court held a landmark hearing on a law which curtails judges’ ability to strike down government decisions.

Iraqis who fled Daesh blame political rot for tragic wedding fire

Iraqis who fled Daesh blame political rot for tragic wedding fire
Updated 28 September 2023

Iraqis who fled Daesh blame political rot for tragic wedding fire

Iraqis who fled Daesh blame political rot for tragic wedding fire

HAMDANIYA, Iraq: Iraqi Christians once driven from their village by Daesh are blaming another enemy for an inferno that killed more than 100 of their friends and relatives at a wedding this week: chronic political rot and lax governance.

After returning from years of exile during Iraq’s war with the extremist forces, residents rebuilding their lives in their hometown of Hamdaniya said that where the vanquished terrorists had failed to kill them, corruption succeeded.

Daesh “didn’t kill us, this catastrophe killed us,” Priest Boutros Shito said, speaking at a local church hall while mourners buried the remains of their loved ones.

Shito lost both his parents, two of his sisters and two nephews to the fire, which tore through a packed wedding hall in Hamdaniya, also called Qaraqosh, on Wednesday. More than 100 people died, government officials said.

“In this country, we always wait until a disaster occurs and then deal with the results,” Shito said. 

“Our home is now empty of family because of greed and corruption.”

Government officials have announced the arrest of 14 people over Tuesday night’s fire, including the owners of the events hall, and promised a swift investigation with results announced within 72 hours.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani visited victims of the blaze at two local hospitals on Thursday and said he directed that the strictest-possible legal penalties be imposed “on those who were negligent and responsible for the tragic fire incident.”

Witnesses said the blaze began about an hour into the event when flares set fire to a ceiling decoration. 

They said the hall had no visible fire extinguishers and few emergency exits and that it took firefighters half an hour to get there.

It is the latest in a series of tragic accidents across Iraq that have killed hundreds of people in the last few years, including a fire at a Baghdad hospital in 2021 and a capsized river ferry in Mosul in 2019.

All the accidents have been blamed on negligence, lax regulations and corruption.

Criticism of a lax approach to public safety is common in Iraq, a country where the state has been weakened by recurring conflict since the 2003 US invasion, and where services are impaired by pervasive corruption.

After decades of dictatorship and internal oppression, the 2003 invasion unleashed violence and civil war that fueled extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda.

In 2014, in a spillover from the Syrian civil war next door, Al-Qaeda successor Daesh marauded into northern Iraq and took over a third of the country.

Majority-Christian Hamdaniya was among the scores of towns and cities Daesh fighters captured after declaring an Islamic caliphate from nearby Mosul, Iraq’s second-biggest city.

Most of Hamdaniya’s inhabitants fled, fearing persecution and death at the hands of the extremists.

Iraqi and international forces expelled the terrorists from Hamdaniya in 2016 during a campaign to defeat the group in Iraq and Syria. Many residents have since returned with the Daesh threat gone. 

But after the wedding fire this week, some say any hopes for a better future are being crushed by the reality of a haphazard and dysfunctional effort to rebuild their homeland. The events hall where the fire took place this week was built in 2016 right after the Hamdaniya was recaptured as a way to encourage the return of normal life.