HomePoliticsBriefingAnother roadblock

Another roadblock

France’s efforts to help elect Lebanon’s next president, schools being used by militants, danger at Beirut airport, Salameh’s accounts frozen, rising tuition, raid on extremists, drilling for fuel, police brutality against Palestinian, Saudi border guards killing migrants, activist released in Egypt, activists arrested in Iran and oil tanker emptied in Yemen. Your weekly update from Lebanon.

French special envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian arrives for a meeting in the southern suburbs of Beirut on July 27, 2023 during his three-day visit to help resolve divisions that have left the presidency vacant for nearly nine months. Photo: Joseph Eid, AFP

France’s envoy to help elect a president in Lebanon, Jean-Yves Le Drian, is off to a rough start in his mission to break the ongoing deadlock that has kept the country without a president for 301 days.

He had already visited Lebanon twice since his designation as France’s envoy, but, apparently, those two trips were not enough for him to come up with a plan that he could propose to the various Lebanese factions.

Instead, he reached out to the parties to ask what their criteria is for the next president. The opposition quickly rejected taking part in Le Drian’s questionnaire, saying that their thoughts on who should be president have already been made clear.

Le Drian is scheduled to return to Lebanon for a third time in September but, if he is still only planning on holding talks and does not have any concrete proposals, it calls into question what the former French foreign minister has been doing for the last few months.

There has also been speculation that following the opposition’s rejection of Le Drian’s letter, France might suspend his mission. Should this happen, it could deal another blow in the efforts to break the ongoing stalemate in Parliament.

Lebanon’s political parties have been stuck in place for months, unable to make any advances in proposing candidates who could win enough votes to become president.

After breaking with Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement is in talks with its onetime close ally to try and come up with an agreement over a name that both parties could support for the presidency. However, even if they can agree on a candidate, given the current makeup of Parliament, they would still need members of the opposition to back the candidate, which will be easier said than done.

Both the opposition and the Hezbollah-aligned bloc are refusing to budge and reach a compromise, all but ensuring that the presidential vacuum will continue for the foreseeable future unless Le Drian, in his next visit, is able to pull a rabbit out of his hat.

In Lebanon

Cut off: The United Nations has said that it was temporarily suspending its services in the Ain el-Hilweh camp to protest the presence of militants in their facilities in the camp.

UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, said that they were suspending all of their services on Friday and would reopen on Saturday after militants remained in their facilities, including schools run by the UN agency.

This came after week-long clashes between Fatah and Islamic militant groups at the start of the month.

Around 13 people were killed in the fighting, and an estimated 50 others were injured. Many people were displaced as a result of the intense battles that destroyed people’s homes and places of work.

A safety risk: A new report on Lebanon’s only public airport, the Rafik Hariri International Airport, found numerous safety issues that pose significant risks to public safety and need to be urgently addressed.

The report, carried out by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and International Civil Aviation Organization, detailed issues in the airport’s air-traffic control, communication, navigation, surveillance, and meteorological systems.

It also noted a shortage in air traffic control staff that is largely due to the sectarian nature of virtually everything in Lebanon; meaning that a certain quota of a specific sect needs to be met even if there are other qualified individuals from a different sect ready to fill the roles.

In addition to potentially causing issues with the international community, this poses a significant public safety risk that could have significant repercussions.

Access denied: Lebanon’s former central bank governor, Riad Salameh, had his accounts frozen in his home country in yet another blow to the embattled former official.

Salameh’s son Nady, brother Raja, and other former associates have also had their accounts frozen.

Salameh and his associates are facing charges and investigations in Lebanon, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland for financial-related crimes.

He continues to deny all charges.

The cost of education: Lebanon’s only public university is set to raise tuition prices ahead of the upcoming school year, putting further strain on prospective students who are looking to get a university degree.

The Lebanese University has long been a dependable option for students who could not necessarily afford to go to one of Lebanon’s significantly more expensive private universities. Last year, yearly tuition cost around 885,000 Lebanese Lira for a Lebanese or Palestinian studying for a bachelor’s degree. It will now increase to between 12 to 13 million lira.

This decision to raise tuition fees comes as the university has been under immense financial pressure, and amid speculation that it would soon have to close its doors. The university has been prone to temporary closures due to strikes led by underpaid teachers.

While the spike in tuition fees did not come as a surprise for many and the university remains significantly more affordable than other universities in Lebanon, the rise in prices will likely make it impossible for some students to get any university degree as Lebanon’s population continues to struggle with the ongoing economic crisis.

Raided: Hezbollah’s forces raided an apartment in the al-Salam neighborhood of Beirut’s southern suburbs over the weekend that reportedly housed extremists who were planning on carrying out a terror attack in Lebanon.

Two individuals were apprehended while a third attempted to flee by jumping to his death from the balcony. The man who died was reportedly involved in the Sayida Zeinab bombing in Syria the day before Ashoura.

This raid came at a time when Hezbollah is under immense criticism for its weapons after it clashed with residents of the village Kahaleh when a truck carrying munitions for the Iran-backed party tipped over.

Hezbollah has been long criticized for its maintenance of weapons following the end of the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.

Eco-friendly sanctions: The Lebanese environmental organization Green Without Borders and its head, Zuhair Nahla, were sanctioned by the US on August 16 for its alleged collaboration with Hezbollah.

The organization is believed to be using its work planting trees and expanding green spaces to help cover up Hezbollah movements and to provide bases of operation for its operatives.

In January, the AP’s Bassem Mroue and Fay Abuelgasim reported on the accusation that Green Without Borders is facing.

Drill baby drill: An offshore drilling rig arrived in Lebanon on August 16 to begin drilling this month in the Qana Prospect to gauge if there is a viable amount of natural gas under its waters.

Lebanon, which is in the midst of one of the worst economic crises that the world has seen in over a century, hopes that the discovery of a large natural gas reserve could help to pull the country out of the dark hole that it finds itself in.

Last year, Lebanon and Israel reached a historic maritime border deal that allowed for this exploration to take place.

Despite optimism about what the discovery of gas could mean for Lebanon, Maan Barazy wrote for NOW about the many problems that still face Lebanon’s electricity sector.

In the region

Police brutality: Israel’s police have once again fallen under scrutiny after a Palestinian man was arrested, beaten and had a Star of David imprinted on his cheek.

According to Israeli media, 16 officers were present at the arrest but “none of their body cameras were working.”

Accusations that a Star of David was imprinted on the man’s face have been disputed by the police, who have said that the marks on the man’s face are from the shoelaces on an officer’s boot.

This incident comes amid rising tensions and violence between Palestinians and Israelis. 

One Israeli was killed and another wounded in Hebron on August 21 in what Hamas described as a “natural response” to the ongoing situation. An estimated 180 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed so far this year.

Protests in Syria: Two government-held provinces of southern Syria saw rare protests erupt amid the worsening economic situation in the country as purchasing power continues to dwindle.

The protests were limited to the provinces of Daraa, where protests began in 2011 before spreading across the country, and Sweida in the south, far from the capital Damascus but echoed the feelings of many Syrians suffering under the worsening economy.

At the start of the year, the Syrian Pound was at 7,000 to $1 but has since dropped to between 15,000 to 16,000. Prior to the start of the civil war in 2011, the Syrian pound was at 47 to $1.

The government has yet to comment on the protests which have entered their second day today.

Death on the border: Human Rights Watch, in a new report, detailed the killing of hundreds of Ethiopian migrants by Saudi border guards as the migrants tried to cross from Yemen to safety.

The report, which is disputed by the Saudis, included first-hand accounts by individuals who witnessed Saudi border guards shooting at migrants trying to pass from Yemen. Some accounts mentioned that around 30 people were killed at one time.

This comes amid a surge in violence against Ethiopian migrants along the border.

Many Ethiopians were displaced and fled their home country when fighting broke out between government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in 2020.

More pardons: Egyptian activist Ahmed Douma was released from prison after around 10 years behind bars for his role in the anti-government protests that started in 2011.

Douma’s pardoning is the latest in a recent string of pardoning that also includes Patrick Zaki and Mohamed el-Baqr.

However, many political prisoners remain imprisoned, such as Alaa Abdel Fattah, who has become one of the most prominent political prisoners in the country.

More arrests: The Iranian government arrested 12 female activists ahead of the one-year anniversary of the start of the nationwide uprising following the death of Jina “Mahsa” Amini while she was in the custody of the country’s morality police.

According to Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, those arrested have a history of “anti-security activities” and that two of the women had received money from Western security services, including Israel, but provided no evidence to back up such claims.

Few believe that the women will receive a fair trial if they remain in custody.

The 2022 uprising served as one of the most significant challenges to the Islamic Republic in years and continues to have repercussions to this day.

Preventing disaster: The UN successfully offloaded more than a million barrels of oil on board a decaying supertanker off the coast of Yemen, preventing what could have been a serious ecological and humanitarian disaster.

The tanker had been sitting off the coast of Yemen for years amid the ongoing conflict in the country between the Iran-backed Houthis and the internationally recognized government and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Eventually, the UN was able to broker a temporary truce between the warring sides so that the oil could be offloaded.

While the oil may no longer be on board, there is no consensus on to whom the oil belongs, with both sides staking a claim to it.

What we’re reading

Banned?: When caretaker Culture Minister Mohammed Mortada announced that he was seeking to ban the Barbie film, it sparked outrage throughout the country by those who saw no reason to ban the film, while others, who viewed the film as an attempt to spread homosexuality, supported the call. NOW’s Dana Hourany looked at the attempts to ban the film and how it fits into the ever-growing list of things meant to target the LGBTQ+ community in Lebanon.

No impact: The clashes in Kahaleh sparked significant anger throughout Lebanon – especially amongst the country’s Christian communities. However, I wrote about how, despite the anger, this is not likely to have much of an impact on the country’s politics.

On the front line: Fires are continuing to burn in Syria amid the hot summer months while the country’s economy is collapsing. The Washington Post’s Mohamad el-Chemaa wrote about the firefighters who are trying to put these fires out all the while living off minuscule salaries and diminished resources.

Drought: Iraq has been at the forefront of the global issue of water scarcity brought on by climate change. The Washington Post’s Mustafa Salim looked at the rice farmers who once tended to large fields who now only tend to dirt.

Speaking out: Sheikh Yasser Auda has been vocally opposed to the corruption facing Lebanon and Iraq as well as the violence perpetrated against opponents of the Iran-backed groups in each of the countries. The Associated Press’s Bassem Mroue and Qassim Abdul-Zahra spoke with the sheikh,  who maintains that he will not be silenced even as the pressure continues to build against him.


Umrah Diab: The famed Egyptian singer Amr Diab held a concert in Lebanon over the weekend that brought in around 15,000 attendees who could not wait to hear him sing.

Some made jokes about the concert as Diab asked those attending to wear white, drawing comparisons to the white attire people are required to wear when they make the pilgrimage to Mecca.

The concert also drew criticism as the organizer reportedly forbade any press covering the concert to write anything negative about the event.

Until next week, follow NOW Lebanon on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And stay safe!