HomePoliticsBriefingA taste of justice

A taste of justice

A little justice for the families of the Beirut Blast victims, deadlock over Lebanon’s presidency continues, another arrest warrant for Lebanese, renewed attacks on banks, UAE visa ban lifted, attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, migrant ship sinks off the coast of Greece, a new nuclear deal, bettering ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran and US helicopter crash in Syria. Your weekly update from Lebanon.

Portraits of the victims of the Beirut Blast drawn by American Artist Brady Black; installed by the artist on May 5, 2021. Photo: Nicholas Frakes, NOW

When it comes to the August 4 Beirut Port explosion, there had been no trace of justice. 

Despite Lebanese officials claiming that the investigation would only take a few days to complete, the victims and their families – not to mention the Lebanese people – have now been waiting for nearly three years for anyone to be held accountable for destroying half of Lebanon’s capital city and killing over 200 people.

Those accused by the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, have worked endlessly to obstruct the investigation and, at one point, Hezbollah’s  digital campaign against Bitar in an effort to remove him.

Even when Bitar tried to restart the investigation, it was quickly shut down again, remaining stuck in place with nowhere to go until a judge rules that he can proceed. However, even then, those working to obstruct the investigation have shown that they will quickly find a way to halt it once more.

A small semblance of justice, however, did come on Tuesday, June 13, when a London court ruled that Savaro Ltd., the company that had sold the ammonium nitrate that was stored in Beirut’s port, is required to pay more than $1 million in damages to several of the Beirut Blast victims and relatives of victims.

This was the first instance of a court ruling in favor of the victims and ruling that damages should be paid to the victims.

The case had been brought by the Beirut Bar Association against Savaro Ltd. on January 31.

It is unclear who will pay out the court-awarded damages as the actual owner of the company is unknown.

Following the verdict, Paul Naggear, father of Alexandra, one of the youngest victims of the explosion, said that any movement being made to bring justice to the victims is taking place outside of Lebanon.

It shows you how much they’ve obstructed things in Lebanon. It was really good to hear this news, because it’s progress,” he added.

This court ruling is a major victory for some of the Lebanese seeking justice but, in order for it to occur, it had to take place outside of the country. 

The Lebanese people as a whole deserve justice for the crimes committed against them on August 4, 2020. They have already made it clear that even as the months and years go by, they will not allow the memory of that fateful day to be forgotten and become another anecdote.

The people have gotten a taste of justice, and they want more.

In Lebanon

Predictable results: On June 14, Parliament failed for the 12th time to elect a president despite there finally being two main candidates in mostly opposition-backed Jihad Azour and Hezbollah-backed Sleiman Frangieh.

Just like the first 11 votes, after the first round of voting, Parliament lost quorum after a group of MPs exited the chamber in order to prevent it from going to a second round which only requires a simple majority to elect a president.

While Azour was favored to win the most votes, he barely fell short of 60, only receiving 59 votes, partly due to several “change” MPs’ refusal to back him.

As a way of breaking the deadlock, since neither side is seemingly willing to compromise for the time being, Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Elias Bou Saab proposed to Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri the possibility of holding early elections, arguing that the country does not have the time to wait months for a consensus to be reached on a candidate. Berri did not dismiss the idea and instead said that they will “see what happens next time.”

French envoy to Lebanon Jean-Yves le Drian is also expected to make a visit to Lebanon on Wednesday in order to help break the deadlock.

Lebanon has been without a president for 230 days.

More warrants: Interpol issued an international warrant for 82-year-old George Lotfi for the criminal possession of stolen property and possessing looted artifacts.

The notice, which is not legally binding and does not require Lebanon to take action against Lotfi, was issued on June 16.

Lotfi was initially called in by Lebanese authorities earlier this year where he denied all of the charges against him – insisting that he bought the antiquities from an archeologist which he then sold to the US. It was later discovered that the 27 pieces were stolen from a warehouse in Lebanon in 1981.

The US said that it would repatriate the pieces on the condition that Lebanese authorities arrest Lotfi. No action has been taken against him so far.

Bank attacks return: Protesters once again targeted Lebanon’s banks on June 16 as frustration pertaining to the economic crisis and people’s trapped savings boiled over.

Bank Audi, Bank of Beirut and Byblos Bank in Sin el-Fil were targeted by protesters who proceeded to set tires alight and smash the banks’ windows.

Since essentially the start of the crisis, banks have implemented informal capital controls that have severely restricted how much depositors are able to access from their accounts. In 2022, and periodically in 2023, some depositors took matters into their own hands by holding up their local bank so that they could access their money.

While there has been a lot of talk amongst politicians about the need to bring about the end of the economic crisis, now in its fourth year, there has been little action taken to actually do this.

Ban lifted: The United Arab Emirates announced on June 16 that it was lifting a visa ban on Lebanese citizens.

The ban was put in place several weeks ago, although no announcement was made, which prevented Lebanese citizens from being able to apply for visas to the UAE.

According to UAE officials, the ban was put in place over security concerns but did not specify what those concerns were exactly.

Despite the ban being lifted, some reported still experiencing problems when trying to apply through the online platform.

Not proud: It is currently Pride month around the globe in which members of the LGBTQ+ community celebrate the wins that they have made over the years in gaining equal right and treatment, as well as take note of the progress that still needs to be made.In Lebanon, however, there is yet another attempt to clamp down on the already marginalized community.

The Islamic Cultural Center issued a notice to the Court of Cassations to have the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Helem dissolved because its “exposure to Islamic and Chrisitan religious values, provoking social and moral strife and threatening civil peace.”

Lebanon’s LGBTQ+ community has long been targeted, with a right-wing Christian group called Soldiers of God destroying billboards that support the community, and the caretaker interior minister, Bassam Mawlawi, banning LGBTQ+ gatherings and events.

While Lebanon technically does not have any law against homosexuality, Article 534, which stipulates that any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature is punishable by up to one year in prison, has been used by authorities to target and harass members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Alleged Hezbollah financier returns to Lebanon: Mohamad Youssef Hamoud returned to Lebanon on June 14 after serving 23 years in a US prison for helping to finance Hezbollah.

The nature of Hamoud’s release remains a mystery as the now 49-year-old was initially sentenced to 155 years in prison for being part of a cigarette smuggling network that looked to finance Hezbollah before his sentence was reduced to 30 years on appeal.

He was greeted with Hezbollah flags upon his return to Lebanon.

While Hamoud continues to deny the charges, he told the press that even if he did not help fund Hezbollah over two decades ago, he would be “proud to send money to Hezbollah.”

In the region

Yet another tragic voyage: A ship carrying as many as 750 migrants sank off the coast of Greece on June 14 with hundreds still missing.

The ship had departed from Libya and was meant to dock in Italy before it capsized.

As with many other migrant ships, it contained parts of or entire families looking to escape war and poverty in the hopes of finding a better life in the West.

The Mediterranean has for years seen migrant ships departing from the MENA region for Europe. While some make it to their destination, many sink along the way.

A new deal: The US is looking to strike an informal agreement with Iran over its nuclear program in the hopes of averting a potentially dangerous conflict in the event that Iran is able to construct a nuclear bomb.

This new agreement would see Iran agree not to enrich its uranium from 60 percent to the 90 percent needed to construct such a weapon, as well as halt attacks on US forces in Syria, cooperate with international nuclear inspectors, and stop selling missiles to Russia.

In return, the US would avoid tightening sanctions on Iran’s already struggling economy, not seize foreign tankers carrying oil, and not seek punitive measures against Iran in the UN or IAEA. There is also talk that the US would allow Iranian funds frozen abroad to be released but under very specific circumstances so that they would not be used for buying or supplying weapons to its regional militias.

The Biden administration has been trying to restart the 2015 nuclear deal after then-President Trump pulled out in 2018 but has so far failed to do so.

Strengthening ties: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan was in Tehran on Saturday, June 17, as the two countries work on bettering relations following years of tensions.

During the visit, bin Farhan announced that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was officially invited to visit Saudi Arabia.

Bin Farhan also inaugurated the reopening of the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Iran and Saudi Arabia had stopped diplomatic relations for seven years until a surprise announcement in March declaring that China had helped to broker an agreement between the rival countries that saw them reestablish ties.

Crash: A helicopter reportedly carrying members of the US Army’s elite Delta Force unit crashed in Syria on June 13, injuring 22 troops.

The problem arose when one of the helicopters had an issue with one of its rotors while it was landing at an unidentified military base.

Delta Force has often been used for targeted operations against ISIS militants and their leaders in Syria.

What we’re reading

Bringing down the house: Israel has, for years, used home demolitions as a way of trying to deter Palestinians from taking action against the occupation and carrying out attacks. The Washington Post’s Shira Rubin wrote about how the new far-right government has escalated the use of home demolitions despite criticisms that it does little else than punish more people.

Expansion: Illegal settlements in the West Bank are nothing new, as nearly every Israeli government has allowed for their expansion. However, now, these settlements are expanding under the watch of hard-line settler Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, The Washington Post’s Steve Hendrix, Sufian Taha and Eleanor Reich looked at the return of one controversial settlement that was destroyed in 2005.


Podcasts: In the latest episode of The Beirut Banyan, host Ronnie Chatah gets put in the hot seat for a change when he sat down with journalist Imogen Kimber to discuss her journalism career, the role of the media and how journalists differ from opinion writers, before they take a trip to Ireland to discuss sectarian tensions there.

This episode is for all the potheads out there, GENXZ is back with a new episode where Sarah al-Asmar speaks with MP Antoine Habchi (Baalbek-Hermel-Lebanese Forces) about the legalization of cannabis, a draft law that has yet to be acted upon that looks at its medical and industrial use and the general attitudes surrounding cannabis in Lebanon. 

It’s wedding season…Sarde after Dinner’s Médéa Azouri and Mouin Jaber talk about wedding culture in Lebanon, and even get into some controversial topics – like who to invite and where to seat them.

Until next week, follow NOW Lebanon on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. And stay safe!