HomePoliticsBriefingA temporary reprieve

A temporary reprieve

Of the World Cup in Qatar, still no president in Lebanon, searching for gas, prosecutor in case against Central Bank governor resigns, ISIS capitalizing on economic crisis, pro-Hezbollah news network hacked, cholera update, attacks on Kurds in Iraq and Syria, protests in Iran, fire in Gaza, murders in camp in Syria, and MBS gets off for Khashoggi murder. Your weekly update from Lebanon.

Flags of countries participating in the FIFA World Cup 2022 tournament are displayed in a street in the Lebanese capital Beirut, on November 19, 2022. Photo: Anwar Amro, AFP

The FIFA World Cup kicked off in Doha last night with Qatar, the host nation, losing to Ecuador in the very first match of the tournament.

For the Lebanese watching the match from their home country with friends, family or even just strangers, it did not matter who was playing or who won. Rather, it was about the love of football and the joy of watching the biggest football competition amongst like-minded individuals.

While Lebanon still has not received the rights to broadcast the matches on Lebanese TV, that could change soon as the Lebanese side has continued to negotiate with World Cup Authorities, with the main issue being about how Lebanon would pay the millions of dollars for permission to broadcast the tournament.

Still, with most cafés and restaurants having subscriptions to other broadcasters who already have permission, many in the country were able to tune in to watch the start of the World Cup.

Almost every store boasts flags of the various countries competing in the tournament and, as the opening ceremony began, cars flooded the streets, with passengers honking their horns and waving the flag of their favorite team, which, in Lebanon, means primarily Germany, Brazil and Argentina.

In Tripoli, people shot in the air to celebrate the beginning of the World Cup.

Lebanon is still in the midst of a crippling economic crisis that has severely affected the lives of nearly everyone in the country, but, at least while there is a match on, the World Cup provides the people will a temporary escape from their daily struggles and gives them a few hours every day where they can smile. As long as there is electricity at least.

In Lebanon

Another failed election: If you thought that I was not going to mention the continued lack of a president in Lebanon, you are sadly mistaken. It has been three weeks since Michel Aoun left office and the country’s politicians have continued to fail to even narrow down the list of potential candidates to make it a competitive race between two or three people.

On November 17, Parliament failed for a sixth time to elect a new president, with the most votes continuing to be blank ballots. Michel Maowad received 43 votes, Issam Khalifa got seven, Ziad Baroud had three, Michel Daher got one, “New Lebanon” received nine and Sleiman Frangieh entered the race with one vote.

Parliament seems no closer to coming to a consensus on a candidate than they were over a month ago when they first started the voting process. And while Parliament continues to fail in its duties, the economic crisis in Lebanon deepens unimpeded, with the Lira reaching a recent high of 40,250 to $1. 

Hezbollah is rumored to want Frangieh in the presidency, but Gebran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement and son-in-law of former President Aoun, despite being a close ally of Hezbollah, refuses to support Frangieh. This is probably due to Bassil’s own presidential ambitions.

Parliament is scheduled to meet again on Thursday to vote once more, but it has become hard to view these sessions as anything other than weekly failures that are simply Lebanon’s politicians just going through the motions rather than actually doing something.

Another roadblock: The prosecutor leading the case against the governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank has resigned, creating yet another problem in the case against the country’s embattled Central Bank head.

The resignation of Jean Tannous, the public prosecutor, has thrown the case against Riad Salame into chaos as the Central Bank’s governor looks to avoid prosecution in his home country.

In addition to charges in Lebanon, Salame is also facing prosecution in France and other European countries for various financial crimes, such as money laundering.

In an effort the stall the investigation, Salame has filed lawsuits against the prosecution, a tactic borrowed from those being investigated for the August 4 Beirut Port explosion that has proved successful so far.

The hunt begins: French energy giant Total is set to begin exploring the Qana Prospect in southern Lebanon after Israel signed a maritime border deal with its northern neighbors.

Lebanon hopes that Block 9, more commonly known as the Qana Prospect, will yield billions of dollars in natural gas which the country could then exploit to turn the small Mediterranean country into an energy giant.

However, there are no guarantees that any gas reserves will be found in Block 9 and it is also possible that if there are any, they could be too small to be worth trying to exploit.

Energy experts have said that Lebanon needs to first pass reforms before it begins exploiting any natural gas or else it risks losing money to corrupt politicians who could steal some of the profits for their own benefit.

The welfare state: The United Nations’ World Food Program has announced that it is increasing its annual budget for Lebanon, effectively allowing the international organization to provide food assistance for a third of the country.

Previously, the WFP provided only $700 million of food assistance to Lebanon but that was nearly doubled to $1.3 billion in 2022. Now, the WFP says that it is allocating $5.4 billion for the next three years. In theory, this will feed around two million people.

The aid will be split evenly between Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the Lebanese in most need.

Over three-quarters of Lebanon’s six million residents have been forced into poverty due to the ongoing economic crisis that has seen the prices of basic goods skyrocket, making many basic foods inaccessible for many.

Anniversary of Pierre Gemayel’s assassination: Supporters of the former Lebanese politician Pierre Amine Gemayel commemorated the 16th anniversary of the politician’s assassination on November 21, 2006.

MP Nadim Gemayel tweeted that after “16 years, you are still in our hearts” and expressed the support for the ideas in which he was “martyred” for, particularly Lebanese sovereignty.

Other politicians, such as presidential hopeful Michel Maowad, expressed support for Gemayel’s ideas and the 2005 uprising that led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.

The perpetrators of Gemayel’s assassination were never arrested, and his death was another in a string of assassinations following that of Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005. Others killed at the time include Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir on June 2, 2005, journalist Gebran Tueini on December 12, 2005, politician George Hawi on June 21, 2005 and politician Walid Eido on June 13, 2007.

Capitalizing on crisis: The self-proclaimed Islamic State has said that Lebanon’s economic crisis has presented the terrorist group with the opportunity to recruit in the country.

Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis has seen a majority of the country forced into poverty with few being able to afford anything close to what they used to by before the crisis began in 2019.

In December 2021, NOW reported on how the economic crisis could be used by extremist groups like ISIS to find new recruits.

NOW found that most people said that if they joined the terrorist group it would be for the money, despite the fact that they disagree with the group’s extreme ideology. 

Alone: Reportedly, some Syrians in Lebanon who rely heavily on the UNHCR’s support are being told that they will no longer be receiving aid after the new year.

For years, the UNHCR has been deeply underfunded, making their ability to support refugees around the world that much harder.

According to the UNHCR, they are $700 million short of the funding that they need and, last month, they said that if they do not receive the injection of funds, then they would have to cut some aid, potentially a death sentence for some refugees.

Israeli spy in Hezbollah: A former Hezbollah fighter, Hussein H., was arrested in Lebanon for spying for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

The man fought with Hezbollah from 2011 until 2020 and was allegedly paid in cash and gifts by Mossad.

According to reports, the man was groomed and blackmailed into spying for the Israeli intelligence organization.

Hussein H. comes from a family of staunch Hezbollah supporters, with his father having been a commander for the group who was killed in Syria.

In January 2022, Lebanese security forces broke up what was allegedly the largest Israeli spy ring in Lebanon’s history. At the end of October, four others were arrested for allegedly working with Mossad, including one former Hezbollah fighter.

Hezbollah news outlet hacked: The Hezbollah-affiliated news outlet Al-Mayadeen reported that their social media accounts had been hacked Thursday evening.

During the hack, the outlet’s social media accounts reported that an explosion was heard at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport. Upon regaining control of their accounts, Al-Mayadeen denied the validity of any of these reports.

ISIS was allegedly behind the hacking, although Al-Mayadeen did not comment on who was behind the hack outside of saying that they knew where it had taken place.

Cholera update: The cholera outbreak has continued to slow down, with the country reporting 580 confirmed cases with another 3, 429 suspected cases. 20 deaths have been recorded so far.

In the region

Turkey and Kurds trade fire: A week after a bombing in Istanbul, Turkish forces bombed Kurdish regions in Iraq and Syria on Sunday, killing dozens.

In response, Kurdish forces fired four rockets into Turkey today, causing several injuries.

Turkey blamed the bombing in Istanbul on a woman that the government alleged was from Syria and who was trained by Kurdish forces. Both the PKK and YPG have denied any involvement in the bombing.

Turkey has routinely attacked Kurdish areas under the claim that they are attacking PKK positions, a group that the Turkish state considers a terrorist organization and with whom they have been engaged in a decades-long armed conflict.

A tough week for Kurds: It was not only Turkey taking shots at the Kurds last week, with Iran looking to get in on the action as well.

Iranian drones and missiles struck Kurdish areas in northern Iraq late Sunday night, according to the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, a Kurdish opposition group in exile.

The head of the IRGC’s Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, also threatened Iraq with invasion if the new prime minister, Mohammed al-Sudani, did not do more to secure its borders and prevent Kurdish groups from smuggling weapons into Iran, a claim that the Kurdish groups deny.

Protests continue in Iran: For over two months, nationwide protests have gripped Iran as the Iranian people continue to demonstrate against the government, calling for its downfall, and the security forces work to violently suppress it.

Initially, the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Masha Amini, also known as Zhina in her native Kurdistan, sparked the protests. But, since they began, countless others have been killed, further igniting protests, with the most recent death being that of nine-year-old Kian Pirfalak.

Thousands of protesters have also been injured since the uprising began, with many of those hurt having to be care in seeking medical attention or else they risk being arrested by the security forces in the hospitals.

Despite the violent crackdown, the protests show no signs of ending any time soon.

The cost of blockade: At least 21 people were killed in Gaza after a fire broke out at a residential building on November 17.

The fire took place during a birthday celebration in the densely populated Jabalia refugee camp.

The fire was caused by fuel that was being stored in the apartment in order to power private generators.

Authorities in Gaza blamed Israel and Egypt’s blockade of Gaza, which began in 2007 after Hamas took over following Israel’s withdrawal from the area, for leading to the conditions which caused the fire to start.

Brutal killings in ISIS detention camp: The headless bodies of two young girls were found in the sewage system of the Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria.

The girls, aged 12 and 15, are believed to have been killed by agents sympathetic to ISIS inside the camp.

The Kurdish authorities who administer the camp have stated that they are unable to ensure the safety and security in the camp, which was set up to detain foreign members of ISIS, due to the camp’s size. Most nations have refused to repatriate their citizens, leaving many of the residents there in limbo.

This was the first ISIS-related incident in Al-Hol since September, when Kurdish authorities raided the camp to crack down on ISIS’s presence.

Getting away with murder: A US court ruled that Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, cannot be tried in a civil court case that looked to hold him accountable for the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

According to the court’s decision, MBS cannot be tried as he is the head of state of a foreign country. MBS was named the prime minister of Saudi Arabia in September.

The CIA, in a report, said that MBS is more than likely the one who ordered Khashoggi’s death in 2018.

What we’re reading

Let them eat nothing: Since the start of Lebanon’s economic crisis, inflation has skyrocketed, causing the prices of basic goods and food to become nearly unaffordable for most in the country. NOW’s former managing editor Ana-Maria Luca and NOW reporter Philippe Pernot looked at the growing issue of food insecurity in Lebanon.

Voice of the voiceless: For an uprising to be successful it needs to come from the people and be done by the people. That being said, a little support never hurt. I wrote about the need for the international community to listen to the Iranian people so that they can best support the ongoing protests.

No change: Lebanon has effectively become a bankless society with a growing reliance on companies like OMT, which have been used by the elite to continue getting rich. Samara Azzi wrote about the lack of effort from Lebanon’s politicians when to comes to making any effective changes.

To leave or to stay: Hundreds of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has returned to Syria under what the Lebanese government has called “voluntary returns”. NOW’s Philippe Pernot looked at the decision that Syrians are having to make and whether or not they should return to their home country.

Going into exile: One of the lesser talked about aspects of the protests in Iran is how the country’s ethnic minorities fit into the demonstrations. For decades they have been repressed by the regime and, as the New York Times’s Jane Arraf, Sangar Khaleel and Emily Garthwaite found, some of Iran’s Kurds are crossing the border to Iraq to train with the armed opposition.


Close but no cigar: Lebanon did not qualify to participate in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

They did not even get close to qualifying.

However, the Lebanese flag did make it next to the football pitch at one of the stadiums during the Qatar-Ecuador match.

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