Rear View – Lebanon in review
A weekly recap of the most important events you should know about that happened from 14-21 August 2020
Last week was interesting for Lebanon, apart from the UN Special Tribunal delivering its final verdict on the Hariri assassination, which I commented on in a series posted last Saturday, there were some other developments that I believed deserved highlighting to those of you keen to keep track of why Lebanon is in the crisis it is in today.
To be clear from the outset, I am NOT anti-Hezbollah, nor am I pro or anti any other religious or sectarian group, whether Christian, Muslim, Druze, Jew, atheist, LGBTQI, etc. What I am is 100% PRO-LEBANON, so the comments made on social media, in blogs, articles, etc. are made based on this ONE FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH. So I ask you to judge me on this basis only, because I DO NOT have any prejudices – preconceived or otherwise!
Now let’s get to the recap…
14 August: HEZBOLLAH HAPPY WITH STATUS QUO:
We start with the speech given on August 14th by the Secretary General of Hezbollah (the Party of God) and their religious leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah.
Firstly, Why was he delivering a speech on 14 August? Because this date marks the anniversary of the end of the 2006 War with Israel which started on 12 July 2006 after two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped in a border skirmish and later killed by Hezbollah. That incident resulted in the most disproportionate response by the Israeli air and land forces for the next 32 days, with Israeli planes bombarding Lebanese, towns, roads, bridges, power stations, and many other crucial infrastructure and utilities across the entire length and breadth of the country and garnered the condemnation of the world against Israel for their inhumane and inappropriate response with UN Resolution 1701 being passed that finally ended the conflict. In the end, the Israeli forces failed to destroy Hezbollah which actually defied and ultimately defeated the far superior Israel military might resulting in an historic victory for Hezbollah. It was the first recorded historical victory of an Arab force against the Israeli Army…so all in all this is a momentous day in Lebanese and Arab history…so profound in fact, that Hezbollah built a museum in honour of that victory and their historical battles against the Israeli forces. I visited Mleeta, the museum, in 2018 during filming for my film, and interviewed Ahmad Mansour, the Media and PR director of the Museum.
For those that are not familiar, Hezbollah was first established as a militia in 1985 for the specific purpose of expelling all Israeli forces from Lebanon and protecting Lebanese borders. Israel had invaded Lebanon in 1982 and oversaw the worst massacre in Lebanese war history when it shielded Christian militia forces who entered Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Chatilla, and murdered thousands of Palestinians in an attempt to crush the Palestinian forces of PLO leader Yasser Arafat. So that’s a quick history lesson for you to give you context.
So last week, Sayed Hassan, spoke in commemoration of that event, BUT what we are interested in is how he turned that speech into a rally call for his supporters against any attempts to establish a “neutral” government in Lebanon, instead calling for the “Next” prime minister to form a “national unity government”. So here’s my take on all of that: Firstly, forming any government and appointing yet “another” PM is ALL A WASTE OF TIME if we are being honest, because the next PM that gets appointed, has to be approved by all the key power broking parties, including Hezbollah, Free Patriotic Movement, Amal, Lebanese Forces, Future Party, and the Progressive Socialists. The rest of the parties including the Kataeb Party are secondary and too small to have any sway and impact because they don’t have enough seats in the parliament and because they are definitely outside this alliance that truly controls the political levers in Lebanon. So, if all these agree on someone, what that means in REAL terms, is that they can control that person and get him/her to do as they wish. So the suggestion of forming a “unity” government, really stems from this understanding, so don’t be mistaken or fooled into thinking it means unity in the way you and I define it, nor how the Oxford English Dictionary defines it.
So going back to the proposition of forming a “neutral” government, you should be able to work out now why neither Nasrallah nor the Free Patriotic Movement led by, former foreign minister Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law of the President, Michel Aoun, DON’T want a neutral government. Nor do other parties including Nabih Berri’s Amal Party or Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialists. Saad Hariri’s Future Party and Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces Party on the other hand, have openly indicated much more of a willingness to accept a neutral government. But that’s not been really tested so we can’t get too excited about that possibility.
So in summary, what this means is that nothing is going to change in Lebanese politics whilst these key leaders remain in office and remain as heads of their parties. So don’t get your hopes up but do STAY HOPEFUL!!!
Other News Highlights
15 August: NO PEACE WITH ISRAEL:
President Aoun was interviewed on French TV and asked if he was ready to make peace with Israel to which he responded that Lebanon still had many problems to resolve with Israel before peace could be considered. One of those issues included Israel’s daily violation of Lebanese air space and unprovoked attacks on Lebanese properties by militarised drones at least two of which have occurred in the past 12 months. Will Israel ever stop bullying Lebanon? Seriously. This is not a religious issue this is a domination and control issue and constantly making those poor people living in villages along and near the Israeli border fearful on a daily basis.
When I interviewed Andrea Tenenti, the spokesperson for UNIFIL, United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon, in 2018, he literally said: “…we have permanent violations, like air violations IDF (Israeli Defence Force) violations, Israeli violations of the Lebanese air space. This is something that we are protesting to the UN Security Council and with both the countries on a daily basis to ask Israel to stop violation of the Lebanese airspace. There is also permanent violation of Lebanese Territory in the northern part of the village of Ghajar,” Tenenti.
“UNIFIL has a long presence in Lebanon. UNIFIL has been here since 1978…now we are 40 years of UNIFIL in south of Lebanon and but since 2006 the situation has changed completely, even the mission’s mandate has changed. After that 2006 war there has been a huge deployment of troops we moved from around 2000 troops in 2006 before the war, to almost 30,000 peacekeepers immediately after. Now UNIFIL has around 10,500 troops coming from 41 different countries monitoring the cessation of hostilities in the south of Lebanon and what’s important we are working in close coordination with the Lebanese Army to ensure the stabilty,” Mr Andrea Tenenti (see pictures)
16 August: BASSIL WARNS HEZBOLLAH:
FPM leader Gebran Bassil held a press conference during which he surprisingly, or connivingly, used cautionary language against his party’s political ally, the Hezbollah Party. He claimed that whilst they were aligned over issues related to Israel, his party would not defend nor shield Hezbollah if they or any of their members were found to be corrupt. Other analysts believe this could have been a power play by Bassil warning Nasrallah ahead of the proposed “Unity Government” formation, that his party would look to do deals with other parties if Hezbollah did not ensure that the FPM candidates got a good share of the most powerful ministries and primary portfolios, that these political parties that I wrote about above, would divvy up amongst themselves and those in alliance with them. But as FPM and Hezbollah have the most seats, they have the greatest power and so, to my point above in relation to Hezbollah not wanting a “neutral” government, this is a clear demonstration of how politics is poorly and personally executed in Lebanon and that it is all corrupt and further supports the case for a neutral government, and perfectly leads into the next point…
17 August: INTERESTING…
Gregg Carlstrom, The Economist’s Middle East correspondent, Tweeted last week and it went viral. WHY? Read the tweet and everything will be clear about how astonishingly screwed up Lebanon’s political elite are. The Tweet: “Lebanon’s political class couldn’t be bothered to move the giant bomb out of Beirut or help repair the damage it caused, but finds the time to call me to complain about how they’re covered in a foreign publication. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised but it’s mind-boggling.” No shit Sherlock!!! (sorry I couldn’t resist – but I’m totally with Gregg)
17 August: STATE OF EMERGENCY
The State of Emergency was last week extended to September 18. This was first introduced as a result of the 4 August Beirut Port explosion and was to last two weeks. Legal experts are saying the extension is illegal and unconstitutional as it does not have the two thirds approval of the cabinet, and considering a large number of ministers resigned after the explosion, that is not possible. However, when has the government ever done anything recently that is constitutional?
The problems this raises are the following:
- Grants the Lebanese Army exceptional powers over law and order and places other security agencies under their command.
- It gives the Army far-reaching executive authority to control civilian life. This includes the prohibition of gatherings, setting curfews, conducting house searches without permission and the extension of military jurisdiction over civilians.
** The latter is a major concern as it will limit the peoples’ civil liberties such as right to protest and a free press.
19 August: POVERTY HITS NEW HIGHTS.
Poverty reached perilous highs last week with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia releasing a report estimating that 55% of all Lebanese are living below the poverty line. That was a massive, nearly 30%, increase on last year’s 28% recording.
That means that 2.7 million people are living on less than $14 per day and the rates of suffering from poverty tripled from 8% to a staggering 23%. Things are hopelessly grim across all Lebanon.
21 August: NEW COVID-19 LOCKDOWN BEGINS:
Lebanon began a two-week partial lockdown last Friday as the country registered a new all-time record of 628 coronavirus cases and three new deaths.
The majority of the new cases were detected among the local population at 619, and nine among incoming travellers, raising the total number of registered cases to 11,580.