HomePoliticsBriefingBack and forth

Back and forth

Of government formation, maritime border negotiations, dwindling electricity, military funding, shootings in Tripoli, homophobia, a victory for the LGBTQ+ community, Syrian support Russia, an update on the Shireen Abu Akleh killing, another Palestinian killed, a chemical spill in Jordan and a lawuit against Mohammed bin Salman. Your weekly update from Lebanon.

Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati arrives at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on June 23, 2022. Photo: Anwar Amro, AFP

For the past week, Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati has been holding meetings with President Michel Aoun to discuss the makeup of the new government, which Mikati is racing to form before the President’s term ends in October.

Mikati wasted no time, already proposing a list to Aoun that is, according to reports, practically the same government that exists now in a caretaker capacity, with a few changes.

Supposedly, Aoun did not outright reject the list like he did when former prime minister Saad Hariri tried to form a government a little over a year ago, but he did have a few notes for Mikati that he wanted addressed before he would sign off.

This is how government formation in Lebanon works.

Constant negotiations until enough stakeholders are satisfied and vote to give the government confidence, often elongating the process to months or, at times, over a year before a final list is formed.

This is why there is skepticism as to whether or not Mikati will actually be able to form a government in the short time that he has.

There is a reason why Mikati is trying to keep the government, for the most part, the same.

He only has around four months to form the government and, even if he is successful, it will have to resign once again after a new president is elected according to the constitution.

So what is the point of putting a lot of time and effort into forming a brand new government when he will have to do the same thing later this year?

If Mikati fails to do this, it does not bode well for the post-presidential election government formation, when he will need to form a brand new and serious government that can enact the necessary changes so that the country can start to recover from the ongoing economic crisis that has brought the country to the brink of collapse.

Parliament is as divided as it has ever been, with no one side or bloc possessing a clear majority, requiring a lot more negotiations so that things can actually get done.

Parliament might approve the same government that exists now if that is what Mikati presents to them, although the Lebanese Forces and opposition MPs are unlikely to support it, but that generosity is unlikely to extend after the presidential election when there is no risk of Lebanon entering a political and constitutional crisis in the event that there is neither a government nor a president. 

This political back and forth that has existed for decades when it comes to government formation is not going to fly this time around because if it continues, it is going to make an already dire situation even worse.

In Lebanon

Eyes in the sky: Israel says that it shot down three drones sent by Hezbollah to the Karish field where an Israeli gas platform is located.

This comes as Lebanon and Israel are looking to restart indirect negotiations over their maritime borders.

Located in Line 29, Lebanon initially argued that the Karish field lay in disputed territory and that Israel should not be allowed to drill for gas there, but, following US intervention, Lebanon seems to be open to withdrawing its claims to the field.

After Israel shot down the drones, Hezbollah confirmed that it had indeed launched them, saying that they were on a reconnaissance mission and that the “message had been received.”

Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, chastised Hezbollah and said that they were putting the maritime border negotiations at risk.

Hezbollah continues its path of terrorism, undermining Lebanon’s ability to reach an agreement on the maritime border. Israel will continue to protect itself, its citizens and its assets,” Lapid said.

However, the negotiations would not be happening without Hezbollah giving the Lebanese government at least its implicit consent, and any final deal would likely have to be approved by Hezbollah first.

Darkness: Lebanon’s state electricity company, Électricité du Liban, released a statement saying that, for the month of July, it would be taking measures in order to prevent the country from falling into total darkness, despite private generators being the ones keeping the lights on rather than EDL.

According to EDL, the amount of fuel received from Iraq was barely enough to run the only two remaining power plants at half capacity for around 18 days.

Because of this, the Deir Ammar plant will be shut off on July 3 and restarted on August 7 so that the hours provided can be increased for the upcoming Eid al-Adha celebrations on July 9 to July 11.

Another fuel shipment is not expected until July 25 and cannot be unloaded until July 28.

The Zahrani plant will operate at half capacity until it runs out of fuel, which is expected on July 19, when it will be shut down until more fuel can be added.

Funding the military: Qatar has donated around $60 million to Lebanon’s military since the start of the ongoing economic crisis as part of an effort to maintain stability in the country.

The announcement by Qatar’s news agency came prior to Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani’s visit to Lebanon.

Lebanon’s military has, in the past, received funding both through foreign financial donations and goods by friendly nations.

Since the worsening of Lebanon’s economic crisis, morale in the military has deteriorated as soldiers’ salaries have been slashed.

Last July, Qatar announced that it was donating 70 tons of food to the military every month for a year.

One of Lebanon’s military’s biggest donors is the US government, which has continued to donate money and supplies to the country’s armed forces.

Shooting in Tripoli: Lebanon’s military raided several apartments in Tripoli after they were shot at and pelted with stones when a Mercedes was seized belonging to a man known as Abu Timor.

According to the military, several arrests were made, along with seizures of weapons and ammunition.

The same day, a man stabbed a soldier at a checkpoint multiple times, critically injuring him.

The assailant was shot and killed by another soldier.

Homophobia in Tripoli: Protesters held a sit-in in Tripoli’s al-Nour Square in opposition to the legalization of homosexuality and civil marriage in Lebanon.

The organizer of the protest, Sheikh Khaled al-Munjid, said that the possibility of same-sex and civil marriage being legalized in Lebanon was a “red line” for him and his followers, calling it an attack on their “religion” and “morals.”

This demonstration came amid increased attacks on the LGBTQ+ community in Lebanon with religious and political figures condemning the community and, in some cases, calling homosexuality “unnatural.”

NOW Lebanon’s Dana Hourany looked at these recent attacks and why the LGBTQ+ community is, once again, being used as a scapegoat.

A small victory: Despite all of the attacks on the LGBTQ+ community in Lebanon, the community did get a small win when Lebanon’s Psychiatric Society released a statement saying that homosexuality is not a disease.

In the statement, the group said that “homosexuality cannot be considered a disease that requires treatment.”

In addition to this, they also condemned conversation therapy as being baseless and stressed the importance of “rejecting inaccurate stigmas for some behaviors that psychology no longer considers pathological, but a natural expression.”

The pandemic continues (to get worse): The number of Coronavirus cases in Lebanon continue to increase alarmingly, with over a thousand new cases being confirmed on average.

Deaths remain low, but those could go up as time goes on.

Lebanon’s vaccination rate remains relatively low, with only around 45 percent of the country fully vaccinated.

In the region

With friends like these: Syria is set to recognize the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine as being independent and sovereign following a meeting with representatives from both regions.

Syria is a close ally of Russia, which has propped up the Assad regime after the start of the country’s revolution and subsequent civil war in 2011.

Syria’s foreign ministry added that talks were ongoing to set up diplomatic ties with the regions.

Another Palestinian killed: Yet another Palestinian has been shot and killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank as killings by the Israeli military continue to rise.

According to the Palestinian foreign ministry, 19-year-old Amel Abdallah Alwaneh from near the city of Jenin was shot and killed.

The Israeli military said that its soldiers fired on a man that was suspected of throwing firebombs at its forces and that the situation was “under review.”

Few critics of Israel have much faith that Israel is capable of conducting a fair investigation and adequately punishing those involved.

An expert opinion: The Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian governing body, has handed over the bullet that killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an early-morning raid by Israeli forces in the Jenin refugee camp in the north of the West Bank to US authorities for it to be further analyzed.

The Palestinians hope that this will help to clarify any information about Abu Akleh’s killing.

Israel continues to dispute that its forces were the ones responsible for Abu Akleh’s death, arguing that they would need to examine the bullet in order to be sure. The Palestinian Authority has outright rejected the notion, arguing that Israel cannot be trusted with the investigation.

The New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and CNN each conducted their own investigations into the killing and all determined that Israeli forces were most likely responsible.

In addition to this, the US State Department determined that Israel was most likely responsible for Abu Akleh’s killing but added that it was impossible to determine if it was deliberate or not.

Suits: A US judge has asked the Biden administration if it believes that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, should be immune from a lawsuit filed by Hetice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Cengiz and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) filed a lawsuit against MBS for his reported role in the assassination, dismemberment and coverup of Khashoggi’s killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

MBS and two of his co-defendants filed a motion to have the case dismissed.

US President Joe Biden said that he would treat Saudi Arabia like a “pariah” state, but is now planning a visit to the country to meet with MBS, sparking criticism of him and his policies directed toward the Gulf country.

A tragic mistake: At least 13 people were killed after a tank of chlorine gas was accidentally released at a port in Jordan.

The gas was being put onto a ship when it fell and released its contents all on the dock in Aqaba, causing around 250 people to fall ill, and killing 13 after they were exposed to the toxic material.

In a video released by Jordanian state media, dock workers are seen fleeing the area to try and escape the chemical.

Jordan’s prime minister commissioned an investigation into the incident.

What we’re reading

The deal: With Lebanon’s economic crisis going on for nearly three years now, the government has promoted a deal with the IMF as the only possible way for the country to start recovering. However, NOW Lebanon’s Dana Hourany looked into this argument and it is not all that it may seem.

All aboard!: Lebanon’s public transportation system is more of an informal network of buses and vans that loosely connect parts of the country together. After France donated buses to Lebanon, the hopes of a new, formal system resurfaced. NOW Lebanon’s Philippe Pernot looked at the politics behind this deal.

The neglected: Low-income areas around the world often see informal and unsafe houses and extensions built as residents of these neighborhoods need to be in the city and have nowhere else to go. Lebanon is one of the few countries that does nothing about it. I looked at what happened when a building collapsed in the Daher al-Maghr neighborhood of Tripoli and the lack of attention given to low-income neighborhoods in Lebanon by its officials.

The approaching crisis: With the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, tourism has drastically decreased over the last two years, something that has hurt Lebanon’s already ailing economy. Many are viewing the pandemic as a thing of the past, but as cases begin to creep up again, the possibility of a booming tourism season puts the country at risk of another serious outbreak as NOW Lebanon’s Philippe Pernot discovered.

Equality for all: The Middle East is known for a lot of things. Great food. Extremely welcoming people. But it is far from a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community. Dana Hourany looks at the uphill battle that the community faces as they strive for equal rights.

A thing of the past: The Nile River in Egypt has long been romanticized with its houses on the water. But that is coming to an end as Egyptian authorities look to demolish and repurpose these homes. The Washington Post’s Heba Farouk Mahfouz and Paul Schemm looked at how this decision affects those who have lived on these houseboats for years.


Podcasts: After weeks of talking politics in the build-up to the May 15 parliamentary elections, Ronnie Chatah is going in a different direction with the most recent episode of the Beirut Banyan. Chatah spoke with Maroun Habib about curiosity and passion for astronomy and astrophotography and how it can be a “healing” hobby in today’s climate in Lebanon.

Which generation has it better? That is the question that Sarde after dinner tries to answer with their guest Chaker Bou Abdalla where they discuss growing up during the civil war, how the world was before technology became such an integral part and his analysis of the current generation.

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