Tag Archives: Lebanon

The Hidden Political Poison That Iraq And Lebanon Are Really Protesting About

Thousands of locals in Lebanon have been protesting since Thursday against what they say is a corrupt government. On Friday, those demonstrations – sparked by proposed taxes at a time of rising living costs – devolved into some violent clashes. Currently the Lebanese leadership is trying to resolve the issue.

The recent protests in Iraq and the current demonstrations in Lebanon have something unique in common. Both countries’ political systems have what may best be described as an unofficial quota system that dictates the way their democracy works and how politicians, and even bureaucrats, take power.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 4, 2019 in Middle East


Tags: ,

The new revolutionaries of the Middle East share this one fatal flaw

Revolutions are like electricity. An electric shock of the most unexpected kind. The victims think at first it must be a powerful wasp sting. Then they realise the entire house in which they live has been electrocuted.

They react with howls of pain, promises to move home or to rewire the entire place, to protect the occupants. But once they realise that the electricity can be tamed – however ruthlessly – and, most important of all, that it has no controlling element, they begin to relax. It was all a faulty connection, they say to themselves. A few tough and well-trained electricians can deal with this rogue power surge.

That’s what’s happening in Iraq and Lebanon and Algeria. In Baghdad and Kerbala, in Beirut and in the city of Algiers – and, once again, in miniature and briefly, in Cairo. The young and the educated demanded an end not just to corruption but to sectarianism, to confessionalism, to religious-based mafia governments of immense wealth, arrogance and power.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 31, 2019 in Middle East


Tags: ,

Hezbollah threatens the peaceful and non-sectarian protests in Lebanon

Those tens of thousands of largely young protesters demanding a non-sectarian Lebanon were joyful, filled with happiness, determined that this time they would change the wretched confessional nature of their state forever. Then the Hezbollah turned up, a truckload of them, dressed in black and shouting through loudspeakers and holding up posters of their all-Shia militia heroes. Squads of Lebanese interior ministry police appeared in the side streets.

It was perfectly clear to all of us that the Hezbollah, heroes of the Lebanese resistance until they began sacrificing themselves on the battlefields of Syria, were attempting to sabotage the entire protest movement. The young men and women in the street shouted as one: “The government is corrupt, the sectarian leaders are corrupt, all members of parliament are thieves — thieves, thieves, thieves.” But they never – deliberately – mentioned the name of the Hezbollah chairman Sayed Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah serves in the Lebanese government.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 28, 2019 in Middle East



Lebanese rioters won’t change anything while sectarian elites cling to power

Burning tyres do not a revolution make. The pictures are good, the television footage dramatic. Brave words sound good, but soundbites don’t bring down governments.

Certainly not the Lebanese government, whose sectarian elites have been running their country in a cesspit of corruption ever since the French mandate decided after the First World War that Lebanon should be a sectarian country run by dividing Christians, Sunni Muslims and Shia in a mutual pact of patriotism, fear, jealousy and distrust. (The British, remember, did the same in Palestine, Cyprus – yes, and Northern Ireland too. The French did it in Syria.)

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 28, 2019 in Middle East, Uncategorized



In Beirut, I can no longer get American dollars out of the ATM. This is what it tells me about Lebanon’s economy

I sniffed something was wrong in Lebanon when the Central Bank governor Riad Salame announced to us all that there were plenty of dollars in the system. No shortages. No tightening of the purse strings. I still have the papers with his announcement on page one.

Both before, during and after the 1975-1990 civil war, you’ve been able to pay for anything here in Lebanon in US dollars: dinner bills, rent, militias, guns (during the war), cars, airline tickets, groceries. The Lebanese pound fell amid the conflict but settled afterwards – courtesy of the country’s billionaire prime minister Rafiq Hariri – at 1,500 “Lebs” to the dollar.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 3, 2019 in Middle East



Lebanon’s crisis is almost unstoppable. Drone warfare is on the horizon

After two civil wars, multiple invasions and political assassinations galore, you might think Lebanon deserves a break from the greatest crisis since its last greatest crisis. But no – here we were this week with the Israelis claiming the Hezbollah were running a missile factory in the Bekaa Valley and the prime minister – the Lebanese one, not the Israeli – claiming that the world’s investors could put their money in his country even though this infinitely small nation has one of the world’s highest debt to GDP ratios. One-hundred-and-fifty per cent to be precise.

Saad Hariri, the prime minister in question – and yes, his father was indeed assassinated by a huge car bomb a few hundred metres from my own home in Beirut – has been trying to talk down the threat of a credit-rating downgrade just as Lebanon itself declared a “state of economic emergency” on Monday. It was his high-spending billionaire father who kicked off his country’s near-bankruptcy with a massive new city centre after the civil war had destroyed much of Beirut. That is the second civil war we are talking about. It lasted 15 years and cost around 150,000 lives. The figure, by the way, creeps up to 175,000, depending on the newspapers you choose to trust.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 12, 2019 in Middle East



An Isis killer and an unlikely hero have heaved open the cracks in Lebanese politics

Saber Mrad grinned up from his bed on the third floor of the Islamic Hospital with a hero’s smile.

“I’ve always been the kind of person to interfere if someone’s being hurt,” he said. “I’ve never been scared in my life.” Which is just as well. For the cheerful Lebanese with the Australian accent, his torso covered in bandages and far too many tattoos, had deliberately crashed his car into the motor-cycle-riding Isis killer who opened fire on crowds of civilians preparing for the Eid al-Fitr festival in the Northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

The back of Mrad’s head is also swathed in gauze and bandages because – this being a truly bloody tale without many Hollywood happy endings – the Isis veteran from Syria shot him three times in the brain and once below the neck.

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 17, 2019 in Middle East



Lebanon is on a tightrope, balancing Saudi, Iranian and Western interests – its position is precarious

Facing possible invasion from both Britain and Germany in 1940 and determined to remain neutral, the Irish government in Dublin asked one of its senior ministers to draft a memorandum on how to stay out of the Second World War. “Neutrality is a form of limited warfare,” was his eloquent but bleak response.

The Lebanese would agree. For seven years, they have been pleading and praying and parleying to stay out of the Syrian war nextdoor, to ignore Israel’s threats, Syria’s sisterly embrace, America’s warnings, Russia’s entreaties and Iran’s blandishments. I guess you have to be an especially gifted people to smile obligingly – ingratiatingly, simplistically, bravely, grovellingly, wearily – at all around you and get away with it.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 11, 2018 in Middle East



Mapping the Blurred Lines of Beirut’s Languages

A sign across from a quiet Beirut park advertises a taxi service: “For everyone, everywhere,” the sign reads in French. “Day and night,” it says in Arabic on the other side of the sign. Two sheets of printer paper are taped up on a wall nearby. One advertises an apartment for rent, delivering different pieces of information in English, French, and a transliteration of Arabic into Latin letters. On the wrinkled page pasted next to it, a hookah delivery service lists its flavors in Arabic—alternating between Arabic and Latin script—and entices customers with an offer of “free delivery” in English.

Beirut, Lebanon’s cosmopolitan capital, is famous for the chaotic jumble of languages it contains. Arabic, French, and English mix and mingle in writing and in conversation. For visitors and locals alike, it can be hard to pin down just how they interact, and the unwritten rules for how they’re used.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 9, 2018 in Middle East



Tension mounts in Lebanon as Saudi Arabia escalates power struggle with Iran

In Beirut’s southern suburbs, where buildings scarred with wars of old blend with posters of the latest dead, talk of another conflict has taken hold. A fight on a scale not seen before may be brewing, say locals like Hussein Khaireddine, a barber who says he and his family in the Shia suburb of Dahiyeh have grown used to tensions over decades.

“This one’s different,” he said. “It could lead to every valley and mountain top. And if it starts, it may not stop.”

The trepidation extends beyond the city’s predominantly Shia suburbs and south Lebanon, which bore the brunt of the 2006 war with Israel, to all corners of a country that has suddenly found itself at the centre of an extraordinary regional crisis. The turmoil had been brewing for years. But it was brought to a head on 3 November, at a lunch in Beirut being hosted by prime minister Saad Hariri. Midway through the meal with the visiting French cultural minister, Françoise Nyssen, Hariri received a call and his demeanour changed. He excused himself and left for the airport, without his aides.–power-struggle-saad-hariri-resignation

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 23, 2017 in Middle East


Tags: , ,