HomePoliticsBriefingContinuing the fight

Continuing the fight

Of the anniversary of the October 17 uprising, deporting Syrian refugees, negotiations in Switzerland, France pressuring Lebanon to elect a president, maritime border deal between Lebanon and Israel completed, cholera outbreak in Lebanon, fire and shooting at Iran’s Evin Prison, Iraq elects a president, Saudi Arabia’s fued with the US and Turkey’s “fake news” law. Your weekly update from Lebanon.

Thousands of Lebanese went to the streets on October 19, 2019 after the start of the popular uprising two days prior to demonstrate against the country's politicians and the decades of corruption in Lebanon's politics. Photo: Nicholas Frakes, NOW

It has been three years since the Lebanese people took to the streets in what was the start of a months-long popular uprising against the country’s ruling class and the decades of corruption that have plagued it following the end of the 15-year civil war.

As with most anniversaries of significant events, one looks back at the time that has passed to see what has changed.

For Lebanon, it has been both a lot and very little.

The lira has continued to fall in value, reaching a new all-time low of 40,200 to US$1, a low that will surely be surpassed before the day is over. Living conditions have continued to worsen as prices rise and more and more people are able to afford increasingly less and as the state continues to fail at meeting the people’s basic needs. 

Many of our friends and family have long since left the country, having decided they no longer have any opportunities or a future here.

And then there was the August 4 port explosion in Beirut, which shattered Lebanon’s capital and countless lives as well. A crime for which there has still been no justice.

The politics are the same for the most part.

Even after three years of constantly worsening economic crisis, Lebanon’s politicians still have not passed any reforms that would help to start the process of rebuilding the country.

It has been five months since the May 15 parliamentary elections and the country still has no government. President Michel Aoun is set to leave office in less than two weeks, potentially plunging the country even deeper into a crisis that has no end in sight as the various political factions continue to vie for power and influence rather than coming together and choosing someone that can lead the country.

13 new opposition MPs were elected in the May 15 election, but in the time that they have been in office, they have not given the people much hope of change.

It was to be expected, as 13 MPs are just a drop of water in the ocean of Lebanese politics. They were not necessarily even whom revolutionary activists would have liked to have seen in power, but they are a start nonetheless.

I remember being on the streets of Beirut at the start of the uprising, and seeing both the anger and hope on people’s faces as they called for the “downfall of the regime” and cursed politicians, calling them out for their corruption and theft.

This has since faded, and I mostly see desperation on people’s faces now.

Many of the same people that I saw charging into tear gas are now concerned more with being able to make ends meet and, if possible, find opportunities abroad in the hopes of being able to live the normal life that Lebanon cannot give them.

This is not to say that the uprising has totally failed. 

It succeeded in one very important aspect: the Lebanese people are done taking what the politicians say and do. It is no longer okay in their eyes. They do not simply just want accountability or change; they are demanding it.

But change will take time, and even if there are no protests in the streets every day, or every anniversary for that matter, the fires that were started on October 17, 2019 continue to burn in the hearts of the Lebanese people both at home and abroad.

In Lebanon

Get on with it: French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna visited Lebanon to meet with political leaders and push them to elect a new president as Aoun’s term is set to expire at the end of the month.

Colonna stated that Lebanon, which is already in the midst of a devastating economic crisis, cannot handle the political crisis that would ensure if Parliament fails to elect a president before Aoun leaves office.

“Lebanon cannot handle the danger of a vacuum in its political leadership,” the foreign minister said.

If Lebanon fails to form a government and elect a president before Aoun’s term end, it will likely drastically worsen the already constantly deteriorating economic situation in the country.

No vote: Lebanon’s Parliament has failed, for a second time, to elect a new president after not enough MPs were present at the scheduled parliamentary session.

Only around 70 MPs actually showed up to the session, failing to meet a quorum and forcing the session to be ended.

A new session has been scheduled for October 20, but there is still no candidate with enough backing to be elected.

A “historic” agreement: Lebanese President Aoun announced in a speech that his country approves the final version maritime border deal with Israel after months of mediation by the US.

This is the first agreement demarcating the two countries’ borders, despite them still technically being in a state of war against one another.

Israel’s cabinet also approved the draft deal and it now goes to the Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, for a 14-day review prior to the final cabinet vote to approve it.

The French company Total will start exploring the Qana Prospect, which falls under Lebanon’s territory, once the deal has been officially signed to see if there are any commercially viable natural gas reserves that can be exploited, a process that is likely to take several years.

Go back to where you came from: Following the announcement that Lebanon was agreeing to the maritime border deal with Israel, Aoun said that Lebanon would begin sending Syrian refugees back to Syria starting this week.

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, this has nothing to do with the plan floated back in July which stated that they would send 15,000 refugees back every month, and Lebanon’s security chief Abbas Ibrahim stated that an initial “batch” of 1,600 people would be returned.

It is unclear how many refugees are actually going to be returned and over what period of time. Few Syrians in Lebanon feel that their home country is safe enough to return to, with President Bashar al-Assad and his regime still in power.

Human rights groups have continued to argue that Syria is still not safe for refugees to return to, but some countries have disregarded these warnings and continue to consider sending them back.

Coming together: Lebanese political parties were set to meet with Switzerland’s ambassador on Tuesday, October 18 to prepare for upcoming dialogue sessions between the various factions, but the informal dinner was postponed following comments that some political parties would not take part.

Initially, the meeting would see the Lebanese Forces, Amal Movement, Hezbollah, Free Patriotic Movement, Progressive Socialist Party and Ibrahim Mneimneh from the change bloc sit down together informally to lay the groundwork for future official talks in Geneva.

However, Lebanese Forces Leader Samir Geagea said that his party would not be taking part as holding dialogue with Hezbollah was “useless.”

Soon after Geagea’s remarks, the Swiss embassy announced that the dinner had been postponed to a later date, making the possibility of future talks uncertain.

Cholera update: Lebanon has recorded two cholera deaths since the start of its outbreak in the country several weeks ago.

Since then, over 40 cases have been recorded in the north and Bekaa.

Lebanese officials have said that they are working to get the outbreak under control, but it is unclear to what extent they will be able to do so.

FPM’s “special forces”: A photo has emerged of FPM MP Charbel Maroun posing with a group of armed men posing with the hand gesture that represents the President’s political party.

According to the MP, this photo was taken during the FPM’s commemoration of October 13, when the Syrian army stormed Baabda and removed Aoun from power and marking the end of the civil war, at the Forum de Beyrouth.

Maroun confirmed that the men were part of the FPM’s security division and that they are present at all of the party’s events for security purposes.

During a rally in Achrafieh, one NOW reporter was told to leave the area by the FPM’s security while they were casually viewing the event.

In the region

Evin prison burns: Iran’s notorious Evin prison caught fire over the weekend. Video and eyewitness accounts also recalled shouting and gunfire coming from the prison. Official tallies have eight prisoners dying so far as a result of the fire.

There has been no official explanation for the cause of the fire, but it t has since been extinguished.

The government has insisted that the fire had nothing to do with the nationwide protests taking place throughout the country.

Evin prison is often where political prisoners are sent to carry out their sentences. Prisoners are often beaten and tortured while there.

The end of a crisis: Iraq’s parliament successfully elected Abdul Latif Rashid as the next president of the country.

This brings the end of a yearlong political deadlock that saw the nation’s politics come to a standstill as competing groups could not agree on a candidate to lead the country or form a government.

Following his election, Rashid named Muhammed al-Sudani as the prime minister, much to the dismay of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his supporters, who vocally opposed al-Sudani’s nomination.

Al-Sudani will now have to form a government that could exclude al-Sadr, potentially leading to further clashes on the streets of Baghdad.

Fighting in northern Syria: The militant Islamist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) took control of the city of Afrin in the Aleppo governorate from Turkish-backed forces but agreed to turn it back over to Syrian National Army (SNA) forces after Turkish intervention, only for these negotiations to break down..

HTS had combined forces with other groups, such as the Hamzah Division, Sultan Suleiman Shah Division, and Ahrar al-Sham, to attack the SNA’s third legion, ultimately leading to the coalition taking the city which has been controlled by the Turkish-backed group since 2018.

Soon after, Turkey intervened and an agreement was struck between HTS and the third legion in which the city would be handed over to Ahrar al-Sham, which is part of the SNA, while HTS maintained a presence in the city.

However, further negotiations deteriorated, and both sides are preparing for more fighting.

HTS has captured around 30 other military posts that are in areas controlled by Turkish-backed groups.

The fighting started after a citizen journalist and his wife were killed in the northern town of al-Bab in which Turkish-backed groups were accused of the killings.

The UN’s envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, has called for a nationwide ceasefire following the new round of fighting.

Bombing in Damascus: A bus carrying around 50 soldiers in western Damascus was hit by an IED, killing nearly 20 and injuring around 20 more.

There have been similar attacks in recent years, many of which the government has blamed on the Islamic State, which lost its territorial foothold in 2019.

Butting heads: Saudi Arabia rebuffed US President Joe Biden’s urging the OPEC+ countries not to cut fuel production for a month until after the November midterm elections in the US.

These cuts will see oil prices rising and will serve to help Russia better fund its invasion of Ukraine.

National Security Coordinator John Kirby said that the US presented the Saudis with analysis to show them that they had no market basis to cut production.

Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the US has been strained since Biden took office, and even after a trip to the country where he famously gave Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman a fist-bump.

Silencing dissent: Turkey’s parliament has approved a new law that would make it punishable by prison time to disseminate “fake news” that served to “harm the nation”.

The law has been widely criticized by rights groups and reporters globally who argue that this is just another attempt by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to silence critics, especially leading up to the 2023 elections.

Those found guilty of breaching the law could face a prison sentence of one to three years.

Erdogan now has 15 days to sign the legislation or to send it back to Parliament.

What we’re reading

A new money system: With the capital controls put into place by Lebanon’s banks, it has become nearly impossible for depositors to access their money. But with crisis comes opportunity as Samara Azzi wrote on the new “banking” sector in Lebanon.

A false savior: When Lebanon and Israel announced that they had reached an agreement demarcating their maritime borders, Lebanese politicians were quick to say that the Qana Prospect would be Lebanon’s saving grace from the worsening economic crisis. However, I found that while it could definitely help the country that is only if they first pass reforms.

The defenders: There are so many different advocates looking to support the “little guy” in their fight to get what is theirs. For Lebanon’s depositors, this is no different. NOW’s Dana Hourany spoke with three groups that look to defend depositors’ rights.

Close but no cigar: The clashes in Tayyouneh were some of the worst fighting that Lebanon has seen in years. NOW’s David Isaly explained that while any thought that this would be the beginning of a wider conflict, it never actually happened.

Hanging onto power: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps are deeply engrained into the country’s politics and the ongoing protests could upset this. The New York Times’s Ben Hubbard and Farnaz Fassihi look at why the IRGC is threatened so much by the protests.

An endless cycle: Since the US invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, drug smuggling has become increasingly rampant. The Washington Post’s Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim looked at the rise of crystal meth in the country and how little has been done to truly combat it.


Podcasts: In the latest episode of Sarde after dinner, Mouin and Médéa spoke with actor Badih Abou Chakra about the entertainment industry in Lebanon and the region,  the different kinds of cinema, and his experiences in New York City following the September 11 attacks.

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