To say that 2022 was anything but yet another rollercoaster for Lebanon would be an understatement.
The situation in the country remains the same as it was last year, if not somehow finding ways to worsen in various aspects.
It was a turbulent year in Lebanese politics, with both parliamentary and presidential elections just months apart that saw surprises, upsets and more of the same failure and inaction on the part of the country’s politicians.
With one crisis after another, and old crises worsening, it is easy to forget some of what happened throughout the year.
Because of this, NOW decided to go back to the start of the year and take a look at some of the biggest stories that happened in Lebanon and the region.
Buckle up and get ready to go down memory lane.
Hariri where art thou? If anyone in Lebanon thought that 2022 was going to be a calm year when it came to the country’s politics, before January was even over, they were reminded that this was definitely not going to be the case.
Saad Hariri, son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, announced that after over a decade in politics and several stints in the premiership, he would be resigning from Lebanese politics as a whole.
Frankly, it probably should not have come as much of a surprise. His Future Movement party was losing support and he was constantly being undermined by political opponents. So the writing was on the wall.
It still had a huge impact on Lebanese politics, though, as Hariri was essentially the leader of the Sunni community and served as a sort of political foil to Hezbollah.
11 months later, the Sunnis are still without a leader and Hezbollah has no serious, organized opposition in Parliament.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati enjoys a fair amount of support from the Sunni community, but he is still a long ways away from the status that Hariri enjoyed. Even Ashraf Riri, a newly elected MP from Tripoli, stands little chance of filling Hariri’s shoes as he was only able to get elected after Hariri and his party were no longer running in the elections.
Whether or not Hariri was an effective politician is irrelevant in this case as the gap he left has yet to be filled and it will likely be a long time before someone else comes close.
Death on the Mediterranean: With Lebanon in its third year of an economic crisis that has been described as one of the worst that the world has seen in 150 years, it comes as little surprise that many people have been trying to leave the country in search of a better life and future.
However, this does not come cheap and if you cannot get a visa, your options become severely limited.
This has led to countless people attempting to get smuggled out of the country on boats to Cyprus. Tragically, not all of them make it.
Regarding this, there were two main incidents that caught the public’s attention in 2022.
The first was in April, when a boat carrying dozens of people sank off the coast of Tripoli. According to survivors and their families, the boat sank because the army rammed into it, a claim that the Lebanese military strongly refutes.
Many took it as the people are dying in Lebanon and they are being killed when they try to leave, meaning that no matter what they do, they will die. This led to two days of protests and mourning in Tripoli as bodies were recovered and quickly buried.
The second incident occurred at the end of September when a boat carrying an estimated 150 people sank off the coast of Tartus in Syria. Only a handful of them ultimately survived.
This led to more mourning in Tripoli as families buried their lost loved ones, sometimes entire families, or frantically searched for any news as to whether or not someone might have survived.
While the majority of the public has mostly forgotten about these tragedies, they are unlikely to be the last that we hear about. People are continuing to try to be smuggled out of Lebanon as the economic crisis worsens, and as long as the crisis persists, these smuggling attempts will only increase.
The elections: The 2022 elections were the moment that many Lebanese were waiting for. Since the start of the October 17, 2019 popular uprising, activists and everyday citizens alike were talking about how they would vote out the ruling political elite in the next elections.
While that did not happen in the May elections, it was a start.
A dozen “change” MPs were elected and Hezbollah and its allies lost their majority in Parliament. The other traditional parties in the opposition, while making gains, also were unable to form a majority, creating a hung parliament where no side has a clear majority.
While this may not have been the massive change that activists and civil society were hoping for, it did show that there was an appetite for change in Lebanon, even if it is only coming in a trickle.
That being said, the country’s politics are still primarily controlled by Hezbollah and its allies. The opposition is horribly dysfunctional and unable to unite. Even the “change” MPs are unable to effectively work together, with several of the members announcing that they were leaving the change bloc. They did get the walls surrounding Parliament taken down, so there is that at least.
On top of this, the “change” MPs saw their numbers thinned out a bit when the Constitutional Council ruled that Rami Finge, a “change” MP from Tripoli, had actually lost to Hezbollah ally Faisal Karame in the election, annulling Finge’s victory.
Parliament remains divided, which has caused problems when it comes to electing a new president. But more on that later.
Rubble: On top of the Lebanese economy coming crumbling down, the country’s infrastructure has seemingly done the same.
This goes for people’s homes as well.
In July, a building in the Daher al-Maghr neighborhood of Tripoli collapsed, killing several of its residents.
This collapse came as little surprise to the residents of the neighborhood, no matter how devastating it was, as practically the entire neighborhood has been on the verge of collapse.
The neighborhood has fallen into severe disrepair and, because of the economic crisis, they cannot afford to fix it.
According to residents of the area, they had contacted the Tripoli Municipality to help make the buildings safer but the municipality told them that they would have to wait until after the weekend. The building then collapsed on Sunday.
The country’s failing infrastructure and the large number of homes that have been built without permits only helps to ensure that more incidents like in Daher al-Maghr happen throughout the country.
The remains of the building may have since been picked up, but the dark shadow that is cast across Lebanon remains.
Falling hopes: It was two years to the day when the silos at Beirut’s ports started to collapse.
The silos were heavily damaged in the August 4, 2020 Beirut Port explosion but remained standing long after that.
But then, in 2022, they caught fire and smouldered and burned for weeks until large sections collapsed to the ground, sending smoke and debris into the air.
This was a hugely symbolic moment, not just for the victims and their families, but for all Lebanese seeking justice for the explosion. It served as an apt metaphor for the investigation into the blast, and for the dashed hopes that there will actually be justice in the end.
Part of the silos remain standing, but it is unclear if they will also eventually collapse or if the government will have them demolished. The government insists that it is not planning on doing so, but that could change as easily as the wind blows.
Consequences: In September, the Vatican announced that it would be defrocking Lebanese priest and convicted child molester Mansour Labaki in a blow to the criminal who has been hiding out in a monastery in Lebanon for several years.
Last year, I reported on Labaki and the abuses that he committed after a French court convicted him in absentia in November.
Unfortunately, while he has been defrocked and can no longer legally operate in his full priestly duties, this is likely to be the biggest punishment that he actually faces.
Labaki has been living safely in Lebanon and has enjoyed being about to live his life normally, even though he is supposed to effectively be in isolation. Lebanon has made no indications that they will extradite him to France despite the nature of his crimes, committed both in Lebanon and France, and his conviction.
More likely than not, the 82-year-old will live out the rest of his days in Lebanon as a free man.
Hold up: After three years of economic crisis and depositors not being able to access their money, there comes a point where people can only take so much.
It all started when Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein held up a bank in Hamra in August to demand his trapped savings so that he could help his ailing father.
Then came Sali Hafiz the following month, who also demanded her trapped savings so that she could pay for her sister’s cancer treatments.
What followed was a string of hold-ups by other depositors who demanded access to their own money, which the banks have withhelddue to the informal capital controls put in place by the banks themselves.
In response to the hold-ups, banks across Lebanon shuttered their doors for an indefinite period, twice.
While the banks eventually reopened, there is still apprehension about more of these heists occuring, prompting the Lebanese army to train on how to respond to such situations.
#Lebanon’s army carried out an exercise in #Jounieh on what to do in the event that there is a bank hold up, something that has become a common occurrence in the country as desperate depositors try and gain access to their trapped savings. #لبنان https://t.co/klrkNvs95W
— Nicholas Frakes | نيكولاس فريكس (@nicfrakesjourno) November 8, 2022
Many of those who have already successfully retrieved some of their money have openly stated that they will do it again if they do not get the remainder of their savings.
This could all be solved by Parliament passing a formal capital control law and implementing economic and financial reforms. But this is not likely to happen any time soon and so people are going to continue to be forced to take matters into their own hands.
A monumental deal: Lebanon and Israel technically remain in a state of war since Hezbollah and Israel fought a war in July 2006.
Even after the end of the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon in 2000, the two sides never formalized their borders.
But in October, the two countries signed a maritime border agreement.
However, the agreement had nothing to do with establishing peace or normalizing relations. It was all about money.
Along the borders, there are potentially billions of dollars worth of natural gas hidden beneath the waves.
While Israel is set to begin production in the Karish Field, Lebanon has the Qana Prospect which, once exploration is completed, could eventually be developed.
Neither field would have been able to be exploited if there was no maritime border agreement, though Israel was going to begin production in the Karish Field before an agreement was even signed.
This led to increased tensions between the two countries, as Hezbollah claimed Karish Field as part of Lebanese territory, and insisted that they would not allow Israel to drill without a deal.
Fortunately, conflict was averted with the agreement, but it was harshly criticized on the Lebanese side by some who argued that Lebanon accepted a bad deal.
The French energy giant, Total, is set to begin exploring the Qana Prospect early next year in the hopes of finding a viable amount of natural gas that could be exploited in the future.
Cholera: Since 2020, Lebanon has been dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic, but by mid-2022,vthe light at the end of the tunnel had appeared.
Then a new health crisis began in the country.
Cholera cases were discovered in the northern Akkar region, marking the first outbreak since the 1990s.
While initially constrained in the north, the bacteria quickly spread to all regions of the country.
The cholera outbreak has reached nowhere near the levels that coronavirus did and has since come under control, but it highlighted the failing infrastructure in the country and the need to make serious changes, or risk yet another health crisis.
Going out on a failure: After six years, President Michel Aoun’s term officially came to an end on October 31, opening the way for a new president to take office.
The problem is that no one knows who that will be. It has been nearly two months since Aoun’s term ended, and Parliament has failed to elect a president a whopping 10 times so far.
The key words being “so far” as the country’s politicians are likely to continue on this path for quite some time.
This is bad for a multitude of reasons. The first one is, obviously, that Lebanon has no head of state.
But the next one has much darker implications. Lebanon has no president, but it also has no government, as Mikati failed to form one before Aoun left office.
This means that there is no government to act as a sort of placeholder until a new one can be elected, and the caretaker government can only really manage the crisis rather than actually do anything about it.
Parliament’s failure to elect a president is also coupled with infighting between Hezbollah and its Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, who disagree over who should be the next president.
Hezbollah wants Sleiman Frangieh, but is willing to settle for Joseph Aoun, while the FPM, headed by Michel Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, refuses either of these candidates.
In the end, all that matters is that the next president gets Hezbollah’s seal of approval. If the FPM does not agree with Joseph Aoun being the next president, then they will just have to deal with it.
Either way, Hezbollah will get what it wants, the only question is how long it is going to take.
Attack on UN: In an outlying incident, a UNIFIL soldier was shot dead in December after his convoy ended up in a village south of Sidon on their way to the airport.
The soldier was killed in al-Aaqibiyeh when his convoy turned into the village in the middle of the night, raising suspicions from the local residents as their village was not on their normal patrol route.
What followed was a shooting that killed one and injured three others.
Hezbollah, whose stronghold is in south Lebanon, denied any involvement in the incident.
According to Lebanese authorities, there have been “difficulties” with the investigation, which in Lebanese political terms basically means that no one is going to be held accountable for the murder.
In the region
Prison break: It was not only Lebanon that started the year off with a bang.
In January, ISIS staged an attempted breakout at the Ghwaryan prison in Hasakah, leading to days of fighting in Syria’s majority Kurdish north.
Though the group was largely unsuccessful in its efforts, it showed the world that while ISIS may no longer have any territory under its control, they are still largely able to plan and carry out major operations.
A boy and the world: It can be interesting to see what events captivate the world and hold global attention for more than a few moments.
One of these events occurred at the start of February when a 5-year-old boy became trapped in a well in Morocco.
The boy, Rayan, was eventually retrieved, but it was too late and he died after being trapped for four days.
Despite the tragic ending to the story, it was a rare moment that saw people from all backgrounds come together in support of the workers trying to save Rayan.
Returning to the global stage: When the civil war broke out in Syria and the world saw the atrocities being committed by the government in the name of President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader was quickly ostracized.
That seems to be slowly changing, though, as Assad visited the UAE in what was his first trip to an Arab country since the civil war started in 2011.
Assad has been slowly working his way back into the good graces of the Arab world in the hopes that other nations will begin normalizing relations with him once again.
There has even been talk of Syria rejoining the Arab League, but this has yet to materialize.
Assad is still a long way away from normalizing relations with the Arab world, much less the West, but it could be only a matter of time before this changes as interests realign and the world decides to look past the countless crimes Assad’s regime committed against the Syrian people.
Murdering a journalist: In May, veteran Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by an Israeli soldier while covering a raid in Jenin.
Initially, the Israeli government denied any wrongdoing, instead insisting that Palestinian militants, who were nowhere near her position, were actually at fault for killing her.
But after many news outlets published investigations into her murder, the Israeli military eventually said that it was possible that one of their soldiers killed her, by accident.
Al-Jazeera and Abu Akleh’s family have filed a petition with the International Criminal Court to investigate her killing, insisting that it was a targeted assassination.
Israel has refused to cooperate with any investigation.
The ICC has yet to rule whether or not they will take up the case but if they do, then it could carry war crimes charges against Israel.
The fist bump heard around the world: US President Joe Biden made his first Middle East trip in July in what was largely viewed as an unsuccessful trip.
During the visit to the region, Biden went to Israel, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.
In Israel, Biden claims that he confronted the government over the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, who held US citizenship.
But there has been little change since Biden’s visit. The Israeli government continues to deny any wrongdoing and no one has been held accountable for her killing.
In Saudi Arabia, Biden controversially gave Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a fist bump when he met him.
President Biden greeted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump Friday as he arrived in Saudi Arabia for a controversial meeting with the country’s leadership.https://t.co/UoZipJv4s2 pic.twitter.com/uGZRoBQ5t8
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 15, 2022
While meeting with the Saudi leader, Biden claims that he also confronted him about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives in Istanbul in 2018.
However, the case of Khashoggi has largely been quashed, with Turkey choosing to let the Saudis take over the investigation despite criticism that they would only cover up the murder.
The US-Saudi relationship has worsened since then, as Saudi Arabia appears to be aligning itself more east than west as it has traditionally done.
Another war in Gaza: At the start of August, Islamic Jihad in Gaza waged a weekend-long war with Israel that saw 43 killed and hundreds injured as a result – mostly Palestinians.
Islamic Jihad made little gains in the conflict.
Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, stayed out of the fighting, having fought its own conflict with Israel as recently as 2021.
Since then, there have been a few bombings here and there in Gaza, but it has remained relatively calm since the ceasefire.
That being said, Gaza is a powder keg and could easily turn into yet another war at any point.
Muqtada al-Sadr leaves politics: Iraqi politics, like Lebanese politics, can be tumultuous at times.
In August, as the country’s politicians worked on forming a government and electing a president, the supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took to the streets to protest the attempts after al-Sadr’s MPs resigned from Parliament.
Eventually, after several violent clashes with the security forces, al-Sadr said that he would be stepping away from Iraqi politics, something that he has claimed several times before. This led to further fighting.
However, eventually, calm was restored and Parliament was able to elect a new president and a new government after nearly a year of deadlock.
The government does not include any members from al-Sadr’s camp and could prove troublesome in the future if he denounces the government and calls for its fall.
Women, life, freedom: Arguably one of the biggest stories to come out of the region this year are the nationwide protests that have gripped Iran since the end of September after a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Zhina “Mahsa” Amini, died after being detained by the country’s morality police.
Following her death, Iranians called for the abolishment of the morality police and for fewer restrictions when it comes to how women can dress.
These demands evolved into calls for regime change, especially as the security forces cracked down hard on the protesters, killing and arresting an unknowable number of people.
The West has largely supported the protests but has refrained from getting directly involved as to prevent any accusations that they are working towards overthrowing the government in Tehran.
Three months later, the protests persist, and the government continues to arrest and kill protesters, with two executions carried out this month after the men were sentenced to death.
It is not clear for how much longer the protests will carry on though, and how many more could face execution.
However, the Iran that existed prior to the protests is long gone and no matter what happens next, there will be a different dynamic in the country.
Netanyahu returns: After being ousted from power over a year ago, Benjamin Netanyahu is set to return as Israel’s prime minister, bringing along with him the most right-wing government that the country has ever seen.
Netanyahu has had to increasingly go to the right as he has increasingly alienated other more moderate politicians in his quest to remain in power.
This new government could have serious repercussions.
In Israel, some have criticized the incoming government and its plans as eroding away at Israel’s democracy. Regionally, it will put to the test Israel’s newfound relationships with its Arab allies following the Abraham Accords.
It also holds the potential of starting regional conflict if the new government is able to fulfill its goals.
The government still needs to be given approval by the Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, so we will likely not see the implications that this government will have until well into 2023.
Istanbul bombing: In November, a bomb went off in Taksim, a popular shopping district in Istanbul, killing six people and injuring dozens more.
This was the first bombing that Istanbul has seen since 2016.
Turkey was quick to lay the blame on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Defense Units (YPG) despite both groups denying any involvement in the bombing.
Since then, Turkey has threatened a ground invasion.
The US has urged against this, especially as the YPG is a close US ally in fighting ISIS, but it is not clear if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will listen to the US, especially as there is a presidential election coming in 2023.
Turkey has long talked about another invasion into Syria to create a buffer zone that would see the Kurdish population on the border forcibly displaced.
Morocco: The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world, drawing in billions of viewers when it takes place every four years.
This year, it was held in the Middle East for the first time in the tournament’s history.
Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup was controversial, as there were accusations of bribery to win the hosting position, as well as the thousands of migrant workers who died building the necessary infrastructure to host such an event.
But when the first whistle blew, signaling the start of the cup, all of that disappeared.
People from all around the world tuned in to watch the matches, glued to their screens as they watched their favorite teams compete.
In the Middle East, though, Morocco served as a surprise fan favorite. The Moroccan national team became the first African and Arab team to reach the semifinals of the World Cup, defeating heavyweight teams like Spain and Portugal along the way.
While Morocco ended up losing to France in the semifinals and Croatia after that, ultimately placing fourth, they were easily the winners of the tournament in the eyes of the Arab and African world.
Our favorite stories of 2022
Trapped: When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, it was not just Ukrainians who were affected. There were Lebanese too who were stuck in the country and trying desperately to get out. Dana Hourany spoke to one of them back in March.
Change is coming: During Lebanon’s May 15 parliamentary elections, few expected the “change” movement to do well. While they did not do extremely great, they exceeded expectations. David Isaly wrote about Marc Daou’s victory in Aley following the May 15 vote.
Home: The disenfranchised in Lebanon have often been left on their own, neglected by the government. In doing so, they were forced to build their own homes without any permits or safety measures in place. I wrote about how all of this led to a building collapsing in Daher al-Maghr.
(In)equality: For Muslims, Eid al-Adha is an important holiday meant for joy and celebration. However, Philippe Pernot found that the economic crisis in Lebanon has changed all of that.
Pushed into the ocean: Lebanon’s economic crisis has hit so many people hard. For some, it is too much and they fell that they have no other option but to attempt getting smuggled out of the country by boat. I wrote about how one smuggling attempt ended in tragedy.
Controversial film: Cinema can be weirdly controversial at times. When Netflix released its Arabic-language take on the classic Italian film Perfect Strangers, it was well-received throughout the Middle East for the most part.
However, it did receive some criticism for it having an LGBTQ+ character and some extremely mild sexual content (more so implications).
In Egypt there were even calls to ban the film.
The film, despite its “controversy”, did succeed at one thing, sparking debate amongst the Arab world.
A glimpse of light: Lebanon does not have a good national football team. Like at all.
They have failed to ever qualify for the World Cup no matter how hard they try.
That being said, Lebanon’s national basketball team is a different story.
In July, the team placed second in the FIBA Asia cup, nearly defeating Australia 75-73.
The team has also qualified for the FIBA World Cup next year.
In the group stage, Lebanon remained undefeated, even beating teams like New Zealand and advancing to the knockout round
Even if the team does not make it any further, they are already the people’s champions in Lebanon and they made their country proud with everything that tey have accomplished this far.
Lebanon has talent: On the 17th season of America’s Got Talent, the Lebanese dancing group Mayyas surprised the world by not only being one of the top acts in the season but also winning the entire competition.
— America’s Got Talent (@AGT) September 20, 2022
When the team returned to Lebanon they were given a hero’s welcome for bringing a win home for their country.
Podcasts: Ronnie Chatah’s podcast the Beirut Banyan is just awesome. But his most recent two episodes were easily some of his best this year for different reasons. Two weeks ago, Chatah spoke with George Wardani in what was a great conversation where they were not afraid to speak openly and challenge what the other was saying. More recently, Chatah spoke with Gabrielle Elia in what can only be described as beautiful storytelling.
For those interested in what it is like being in Iran during the current protests, you cannot go wrong with Post Reports and their episode where they spoke with a mother and son about their lives amidst the ongoing nationwide demonstrations.