HomePoliticsBriefingFirst day of work

First day of work

Of the return of Nabih Berri, fighting in Baalbek, maritime border conflict, calls for sanctions, eco-conservation, another dead IRGC official and retaliatory kidnappings. Your weekly briefing from Lebanon.

Thirteen independent candidates who previously took part in the 2019 Lebanese protest movement pose for a picture before the Martyrs' Statue at the Martyrs' Square in the centre of the capital Beirut on May 31, 2022, while on their way to the parliament headquarters during a march with relatives of the Beirut port blast victims and supporters from the port site. Photo: AFP

What should we be expecting from the newly elected opposition MPs?

In an ideal world, they would oppose all sides of the establishment, never siding with them, and constantly pushing for the “change” agenda that they were elected on.

However, this is not entirely realistic, and that is something that many people seem to have a hard time understanding.

During the vote for the deputy speaker of parliament, the opposition MPs cast blank ballots, refusing to vote for either Elias Bou Saab or Ghassan Skaff. But, during the second round of voting, they voted in favor of Skaff, leading to some criticism from activists who expressed concern that the 13 MPs would vote for either establishment-backed candidate.

Some of the opposition MPs, following the parliamentary session, posted on social media explanations as to why they voted the way that they did, which, in itself, was a huge step when it comes to transparency within parliament, but it did little to calm the worries of activists.

The problem is that, sometimes, the opposition MPs will have to make tough decisions because, if they do not, then Parliament could be stalled at times since there is no clear majority, and, if they always just cast blank or protest ballots, then what was the point of electing them in the first place?

If that is all they are going to do, they might as well have just remained activists.

Politics are inherently imperfect, and Lebanese politics is beyond problematic. If the people who voted for these new MPs genuinely want to see a shift in the country, then this is something that will take time and patience.

We cannot expect the world from these MPs. They are very limited in what they are capable of doing, and they are going to have to vote if the country is to start moving in a new direction.

When opposition MPs Michel Douaihy and Firas Hamdan pulled their candidacies for secretary positions in Parliament because they are reserved for specific sects, something that is not explicitly stated in the Lebanese constitution but has long been a tradition, that was a way that they could go through the parliamentary process while taking a stance and calling attention to issues within the system.

People need to manage their expectations.

Just because they may have to sometimes vote for candidates, laws, or even governments that activists oppose, it does not necessarily mean that they are going back on their words.

Currently, a new government needs to be formed before October, when President Michel Aoun’s term ends and, should one actually be formed before time runs out, are the opposition MPs expected to vote against giving it confidence?

Some may believe that if they are opposed to the establishment and the government is without a doubt going to consist of politically affiliated individuals, then they should vote against it.

But the reality is much more complicated. Lebanon is in the midst of a crippling economic crisis and there needs to be a new government to at least manage it and prevent a political crisis on top of the economic one.

Can the MPs really afford to oppose a new government even if it is less than ideal?

The MPs can still stand by the ideas that they campaigned on and they should be held accountable if they go against them, just as all politicians should be, but to place such high expectations and demands on them without factoring in the nuances of the complex situation that they and the country are in is only going to be counterproductive and will serve to further divide the already deeply fragmented opposition.

Berri unsurprising results: Nabih Berri was re-elected as speaker of parliament for the seventh time during the first parliamentary session of the newly elected parliament on May 31. Elias Bou Saab, from the Free Patriotic Movement, was elected as deputy speaker.

No one was really all that surprised by Berri’s victory. He and his allies, while not having a majority, maintain the largest bloc in Parliament. But what did surprise people was how he barely made it over the threshold to win.

Berri only won 65 votes, the bare minimum for a majority, which was a drastic decrease from the landslide victories that he has grown accustomed to.

The opposition MPs also used the vote as a way of bringing up various issues that have fallen from the spotlight as of late.

Instead of voting for a candidate, the MPs wrote phrases calling for justice for the victims of the Beirut Port explosion, Lokman Slim and justice for women who have experienced sexual assault.

Fighting in Baalbek: The Lebanese army performed raids against drug cells in the el-Sharawneh neighborhood of Baalbek over the weekend, leading to the death of one soldier and around seven injured during the entirety of the operation.

Several people were arrested as a result of the raids and weapons were confiscated. 

However, the army said that many suspects were able to escape when MP Ghazi Zeaiter insisted that the raid be temporarily put on hold so that he could enter his home in Kayyal.

The army attempted to pursue the suspects who fled.

Crisis in the South: Israel began preparations to drill in the Karish field for natural gas, a move that Lebanese officials have said is a violation of disputed territory, and that they would view any activity in the disputed area as an act of aggression.

Israel argues that the Karish field is within their free economic zone and not in disputed waters.

The problem with Lebanon’s argument is that it does not have any real legal basis against Israeli drilling in the area.

When Lebanon submitted official maps to the United Nations, demarcating its borders, in 2011, it only went up to line 23. The Karish field is in line 29 which Lebanon now says is within its territory.

However, in order for this to be legally considered disputed territory, Lebanon’s presidency needs to sign a decree to amend the maps and then have them sent to the UN.

Lebanon and Israel have been in indirect negotiations over maritime border demarcation for several years but have seen little results.

Sanctioning obstruction: Opposition MP Marc Daou has been one of the newly elected MPs that has garnered some of the most attention when he defeated Hezbollah-allied Talal Arslan in a surprise election win.

Now, Daou is calling on the US to sanction those who have been accused in the Beirut Blast investigation and those who are involved in the Central Bank.

Daou argued that since the political establishment has continued to undermine justice in Lebanon, protecting politicians from investigation and doing little to nothing to end the economic crisis that has been ongoing for nearly three years, there are few other options outside of the US sanctioning these individuals.

The US has continued to sanction Hezbollah and Hezbollah-affiliated associates. Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, was also sanctioned by the US for corruption, though many viewed those as being due to his alliance with Hezbollah.

Another stalled investigation: Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh and his brother, Raja, are suing the Lebanese state over alleged mistakes during a probe into the two brothers for embezzling funds.

The lawsuit alleges that public prosecutor Jean Tannous was biased and does not have the legal authority to access banking information.

Many fear that the Salameh brothers’ lawsuit could stall the investigation indefinitely as it was filed in a public court where the members have not even been named yet.

New evidence: Two years since Byblos Bank banker Antoine Dagher was found murdered in a parking lot near his home, new evidence has emerged that could point to the possible motive for Dagher’s killing.

According to journalist Edmond Sassine, Dagher was in possession of documents that illustrated that he was following up on ties involving Hezbollah’s Qard al-Hassan Bank and Byblos Bank clients Abbas Ghorayyeb, Mustafa Harb, Izzat Akar, Ahmed Yazbeck, and Hassan Othman.

All of those that Dagher had been looking into were sanctioned by the US, with allegations that they used Qard al-Hassan as a means of evading sanctions.

In a two-part report, LBCI said that Dagher was close to the US Treasury and Byblos Bank’s Banking Control Unit which aims to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.

According to Sassine, Dagher also had similar files on Hezbollah-linked individuals and financers close to the Syrian government.

Security forces have reached no conclusions in their investigation in the two years since he was murdered.

Environmentally conscious: India’s embassy in Lebanon inaugurated two eco-conservation projects in the Chouf Biosphere Reserve as part of World Environment Day.

The projects saw some 800 saplings and plants in the al-Mrusti and Maasser areas of the biosphere as a quick impact project meant to add to the preservation of the reserve as well as a multipurpose reception cabin in the Maasser area.

Lebanon has major issues when it comes to pollution, with the vast majority of the beaches in the country being unsafe to swim to varying degrees.

There are also multiple waste dumps throughout the country and garbage is often burnt by citizens due to a lack of waste treatment options.

The increased use of private generators has also led to a higher output of air pollution.

In the region

Supporting allies: The Ukrainian embassy in Beirut has accused Russia of sending 100,000 tons of wheat that the invading country stole to its regional ally Syria.

While there has been no independent verification of the Ukrainian claims, satellite imagery showed a Russian flagged ship, the Matros Pozynich, loading wheat at a port in Russian-annexed Crimea and then later docked at a port in Latakia, Syria.

The 100,000 tons of allegedly stolen wheat is valued at around $40 million.

Russia has previously denied allegations that it has stolen wheat from Ukraine.

In total, Russia is accused of stealing 500,000 tons of wheat from Ukraine since the start of the invasion on February 24.

Surprising sentencing: A British man was sentenced to 15 years in prison after an Iraqi court found him guilty of attempting to smuggle artifacts out of the country.

The court’s harsh sentence for retired geologist Jim Fitton was shocking for him and his defense attorney, who believed that he would only receive no more than a year sentence.

A German national who was tried alongside Fitton was found not guilty and will be released.

Retaliation: Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei confirmed that Greek oil tankers were taken in a raid by the government last month after the ships sailed into the Persian Gulf.

Khamenei said that it was retaliation for the seizure of Iranian crude off the coast of Greece.

“Who is the pirate? You stole our oil, we took it back from you. Taking back a stolen property is not called stealing,” the Supreme Leader said.

This is not the first time that Iran has hijacked foreign vessels.

Last year, Iran briefly seized a ship carrying asphalt with the Panamanian flag and, in November, they captured and held a Vietnamese oil tanker.

Most famously, Iran seized a South Korean tanker and held it for months over billions of dollars in assets that were frozen in Seoul.

Mysterious death: Around a week after Colonel Hassan Sayyed Khodayi was gunned down in front of his home, another IRGC officer was found dead under mysterious circumstances.

Colonel Ali Esmaelzadeh is said to have fallen from the balcony at his home but some reports also allege that he committed suicide or was killed.

Israeli intelligence officers told the New York Times that Israel was not involved in Esmaelzadeh’s death.

The Saudi-funded, London-based Iran International claimed that Esmaelzadeh was spying for the Israelis and, subsequently, was killed by the Iranians.

There has been no independent confirmation of this claim and it has been refuted in the Iranian press.

Like Khodayi, Esmaelzadeh was a member of the secretive Unit 840 in the Quds Force, the foreign arm of the IRGC, which, according to Israel, is tasked with killing foreigners abroad.

What we’re reading

Forming alliances: NOW Lebanon’s David Isaly looked at the possibility of an  alliance between the Lebanese Forces, which is the largest Christian party in Parliament, and the newly elected opposition MPs. While both sides are opposed to Hezbollah and its bloc, there is still a big gap between them that would require a lot of effort to surpass.

Class struggle: Do the new opposition MPs represent Lebanon’s working class? Philippe Pernot looks at this topic and why the country’s working class is anything but represented in Parliament.

Summer heat: Those that were in Lebanon during the summer of 2021  still remember the searing heat and the humidity that they had no respite from due to a fuel crisis. I look at how this summer is shaping up and whatever happened to these energy deals that were supposed to be finalized months ago.

Flags: There is already heightened conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, marred by a wave of killings by Palestinians and escalating violence by settlers and raids by Israeli security forces on the al-Aqsa Mosque and throughout the West Bank, which have resulted in the deaths and injuries of many Palestinians. Now, Tia Goldenberg looks at the battle by Israeli security forces and politicians against the flag of Palestine.

Feeling the burn: Gaza is often described as an open-air prison that few are able to escape from due to the Israeli blockade on the area and strict border restrictions. That does not mean that some Palestinians there do not make the best of the situation. Raja Abdulrahim spoke with bodybuilders in the Strip about what it is like for them there, and the challenges that they face when it comes to pursuing their passion at home and abroad.


Celebrating the return of the king: During Parliament’s Tuesday vote on the speaker of parliament, security forces standing guard outside danced and celebrated after Berri successfully won re-election.

Podcasts: No matter what you may think of him, Jad Ghosn came close to winning a seat in Parliament during the May 15 elections, losing by only 88 votes. The popular podcaster joined Sarde after dinner this week to discuss the first session of Parliament, what he learned during his campaign, dynamics amongst the opposition during the election, criticisms over his personal positions and what we may see in Parliament going forward.

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