In the 315 days that Lebanon has been without a president, there have been few moments where anyone could honestly say that things appeared to be moving in the direction of filling this vacancy; especially as the international community has mostly sat on the sidelines.
However, now, it seems like there might finally be some progress after months of nothing but talk from the country’s politicians.
The five-nation group on Lebanon, consisting of the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, is reportedly seeking to push for army commander Joseph Aoun to become Lebanon’s next president.
This comes as little surprise, as Aoun is widely considered to be a centrist who does not belong to one political camp or the other. The five countries are expected to try and use as much influence as they can to secure Aoun’s nomination for the presidency, with Qatar looking to persuade Iran on the decision.
The same reason for Aoun’s widespread popularity is also the reason why his election is anything but guaranteed. Hezbollah wields a sizeable influence in Parliament and, even just from a numbers standpoint, it would not be possible to elect a president without a chunk of Hezbollah’s bloc joining in on the vote – something that will not happen unless the party gives its approval.
For Hezbollah, Aoun’s centrist stance and close ties with the West do not go in his favor as they are concerned that he could cause them problems upon his ascension to Baabda. This could mean looking to disarm Hezbollah, or even hinder their efforts in the South and Bekaa.
Hezbollah has maintained its support for Sleiman Frangieh.
But, should Hezbollah ultimately get on board with Aoun’s candidacy, it would almost assuredly mean that he would be elected.
The Free Patriotic Movement is currently in talks with Hezbollah, and the party’s head, Gebran Bassil, is staunchly opposed to Aoun becoming president. But if Aoun is able to check Hezbollah’s boxes, then Hezbollah would no longer have any need for the FPM’s alliance in the presidential vote. Samir Geagea and the Lebanese Forces would most likely vote in favor of Aoun, as would the Druze Progressive Socialist Party headed by Teymour Joumblatt, putting Aoun over the minimum number of votes needed to get elected.
France’s envoy to Lebanon, Jean-Yves Le Drian, is set to arrive in Beirut on September 11, and, while no one is expecting a miracle, it could go a long way in helping to get unified support around Aoun.
However, as with everything in Lebanese politics, it all comes down to the deal.
Fighting resumes: After nearly a month of calm, there have been renewed clashes in Sidon’s Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp.
The truce between Fatah and Islamist militants in #AinElHilweh collapsed last night and carried on into today which has resulted in at least 20 people injured. Three shells reportedly struck the camp. Calm has returned to the camp but there is still sporadic gunfire. #عين_الحلوة pic.twitter.com/0KTrhwdzR1
— Nicholas Frakes | نيكولاس فريكس (@nicfrakesjourno) September 8, 2023
The fighting between Fatah and Islamic militant groups began on the night of September 7 and carried on throughout the weekend, killing at least nine people and injuring over 120 more. Five Lebanese soldiers were also injured when a stray shell hit a military center.
Efforts to establish a new ceasefire had mostly failed, as any agreement reached lasts for less than a day.
Many homes have been destroyed in the renewed round of fighting, and thousands of people have been displaced.
Sparking fear: Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati warned that a new influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon could “create harsh imbalances” in the country.
The new round of Syrians attempting to enter the country stems from the ongoing economic collapse in their home country caused by years of fighting, economic mismanagement, corruption, and Western sanctions forcing the vast majority of Syrians into poverty.
Lebanon itself has been going through its own economic crisis for four years, with many in the country’s political establishment putting a bulk of the blame on Syrian refugees in the country and seeking to have them deported back to their own country.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon have long been scapegoats for those looking to cast blame for any of the country’s problems.
Targeting the press: Lebanese journalist Mariam Lahham became the target of investigation due to a social media post that she made which top judge of the Supreme Sunni Sharia Court, Mohammed Assaf, said defamed him and incited members of the Sunni community against him.
The post in question by Lahham accused Assaf of having a conflict of interest over a case. She was asked to delete the post and, after refusing, was held even longer. A search warrant was also issued which was executed by security forces on her home without her lawyer present. They then accessed her laptop and deleted the post themselves.
During the search, security forces reportedly found a cigarette containing marijuana.
While she was released from detention, Lahham still faces charges after her case was referred to the anti-drug bureau.
Food insecure: Humanitarian organization Mercy Corps released a report detailing the potential impact that the war in Ukraine could have on the Middle East and North Africa region.
The report expressed concerns over the possibility of food insecurity in Lebanon as a result of the war.
According to the report, should things escalate in the Black Sea, it could have a significant impact on Lebanon which imports a majority of its wheat from Ukraine.
In the event that Lebanon’s supply chain is disrupted, it could further exacerbate tensions in the country and make an already bad situation even worse.
Budgeting: Currently, the Council of Ministers is discussing the 2024 budget and there is a major planned change in what is being discussed.
For the first time, the budget is apparently stepping away from the national currency, the lira, in favor of something a little more stable: the dollar.
The new planned budget would have taxes and fees collected in dollars.
The idea behind this is that it would allow the government to begin rebuilding Lebanon’s treasury and its ability to finance. However, there are concerns that this would mean more price hikes for the average person in Lebanon, making life even harder.
Term extended: The age limit for the role of Grand Mufti of Lebanon was raised by the legislative body of Dar al-Fatwa from 72 to 76 which, by extension, extended the mandate of the current grand mufti, Sheikh Abdullatif Derian.
The decision by the body was, according to a press release, a “unanimous” decision.
Derian was elected as grand mufti in 2014 and, at 70, was set to leave office in two years but now will remain in the position until 2029.
Prior to the raising of the age limit, Derian had rejected the proposal.
In the region
Another earthquake: Over the weekend Morocco was struck by a magnitude 6.8 earthquake near the city of Marrakesh, leading to widespread destruction and over 2,000 killed.
The country has continued to be hit by aftershocks.
A rescue effort is underway to try and recover as many missing people trapped under the rubble as possible.
This earthquake was the largest to hit Morocco in 100 years.
Fighting comes to an end: Armed clashes between the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and local Arab tribes in eastern Syria have reportedly ceased, bringing the two weeks of fighting to an end.
According to the SDF, the fighting stopped on Friday after their forces took back the areas in Deir Ezzor that it had lost at the start of the conflict.
While the fighting may have come to an end now, there are no guarantees that calm will remain should tensions rise once more between the SDF and local forces.
Looking for help: The United Nations envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, is seeking donor support amid Syria’s worsening economic crisis and urged donors not to stop sending their funding.
Donor support for UN projects in Syria has been increasingly dwindling as the war and various crises have continued, with the UN compelled to shutter some of its programs due to budget cuts.
The economic crisis in Syria has led to rare protests in Sweida, that have continued for several weeks as protesters call for the downfall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The UN estimated that around 90 percent of Syrians in government-held territory live in poverty.
A contentious case: Israel’s Supreme Court is set to take up a case over part of the government’s judicial reform plan on September 12 which will draw the eyes of the nation.
The case will revolve around a section of the plan that removes the court’s ability to rule on “reasonableness” which has been used in the past to strike down government plans.
The court could rule in a variety of ways ranging from striking down the law, to upholding it, to upholding the law but narrowing its scope. Depending on how the court rules, it could create a constitutional crisis should the government refuse to recognize the court’s decision.
A potential ruling could take weeks or even months.
Hunger strikes and protests: Street protests have broken out in the Gulf Arab nation of Bahrain – a rarity in a country that crushed protests during the Arab Spring.
The protests were spurred by hundreds of prisoners going on hunger strike to demand better conditions.
Bahrain is a Shiite-majority country that is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.
During the Arab Spring, there were protests against the monarchy that were quickly put down by security forces.
What we’re reading
Lifting her own weight: When Joya Khairallah stood on the podium after the end of the International Powerlifting Federation’s World Junior Championships, she had not only won a medal for her country, she had also broken a world record. NOW’s Dana Hourany spoke with Khairallah about her journey into powerlifting and the challenges that she faces.
Two crippled sectors: Maan Barazy wrote a couple of pieces last week. The first looks at Lebanon’s ailing power sector that is running on fumes (no pun intended). The second is about the case against former Central Bank head Riad Salameh and the tactics that he’s using to avoid prosecution.
Opposing views: It is always awkward to work with someone who has staunchly different views than yourself. That is especially true in Israel right now where the country is split between those who support the government’s controversial judicial reform bill and those who are opposed to it. The Washington Post’s Shira Rubin looked at the story of two doctors who work together at the same hospital but differ drastically in their views on the future of their country.
A story in every thread: For Palestinians, their embroidery is more than just a beautiful piece of art. It tells the story of their people. The New York Times’s Raja Abdulrahim wrote about the efforts to keep this tradition alive among the younger generation.
She’s here: On September 7, Lebanese society collapsed in on itself after the Barbie film officially opened in theaters.
At least that was what was supposed to happen after critics of the film tried to ban it for supposedly spreading homosexuality and for spreading values contrary to Lebanese society.
In reality, many in Lebanon, at least those who can still afford it, flocked to theaters to see the film that honestly probably gained a lot more popularity in the country due to the controversy surrounding the film.