More bad news

Of a shooting in Tripoli, an investigation into the sinking of a migrant boat in April, the maritime border, burning low-quality fuels, the sexual assault of a young girl, the bombing of a Hezbollah-linked politician’s garden, Tarek Bitar’s ousting from the Beirut blast case, an internal purge within the Free Patriotic Movement, the death of the Queen, Russia’s Idlib moment, the Iran deal, the 9/11 anniversary, and an Egyptian hunger striker. Your weekly update from Lebanon.

Smoke rises Tripoli's Bab al-Tabbaneh Sunni neighbourhood on October 27, 2014, after troops entered the neighbourhood where thousands of civilians had fled deadly fighting with Al-Qaeda-linked militants who have battled the army across the northern city for three days. Troops carried out house-to-house searches as they advanced and made several weapons seizures. Photo: Joseph Eid, AFP.

Another week, another tragedy.

This time, four were killed in Tripoli during a shootout.

Next week, perhaps, another person driven to the edge of their sanity will attempt to rob a bank of their own money.

It just never seems to end in Lebanon.

I generally like to highlight some good news that has happened in Lebanon, but, frankly, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to do so.

For some, the death of the Queen of the United Kingdom was a pleasant surprise, but, again, such satisfaction achieves very little.

The Queen’s death also happened to come a few days before the 21st anniversary of 9/11, an event that ruptured the Middle East and has led to the suffering of millions in the region due to the US’s hubris and incompetence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The maritime border issue has also continued to fester, but hopefully, some sort of deal (even if it’s not that good for Lebanon) could hopefully ease tensions and put Lebanon on track to extract some gas (even if such a prospect is years away).

Otherwise, things seem to be business as usual. The Lebanese people continue to suffer, while the wealthy and the political class continue to ignore them.

In Lebanon

Tripoli shooting: Four people were killed in a shootout at a cell phone store in the al-Tal neighborhood of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second biggest city.

The Lebanese army said that an unnamed man with a criminal record, including terrorism charges, attacked the store while accompanied by three other people on motorcycles.

The shootout left the storeowner, two employees, and the wanted man dead, with another of the attackers being arrested by security forces.

The motives for the attack are unclear, and the army has not said much regarding the incident other than there will be an investigation.

It has also been reported that one of the victims of the shooting was an Alawite.

Considering that the army said that one of the attackers had been charged with terrorism in the past, there is worry that this event could escalate into sectarian clashes between Tripoli’s Sunni and Alawite populations.

In the past, these clashes have generally occurred between the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh and the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsin.

Said sectarian clashes can be traced back to the Lebanese civil war, and more recently, the Syrian civil war, in which Tripoli’s Sunni population largely supported the Syrian rebels and the city’s Alawite population largely supported the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad, who himself is an Alawite.

Indeed, the same shop was attacked in 2009 during clashes between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsin.

The shooting comes as violence of all varieties across Lebanon continues to rise.

No evidence: In a controversial investigation, an Australian NGO reported that the Lebanese navy did not ram a migrant boat that sunk off the shore of Tripoli in April, as the wreckage of the boat was intact.

Families of the over 40 victims of the incident have heavily criticized the Australian NGO, AusRelief, which contracted a Pisces VI submarine to attempt to retrieve the wreck and the bodies.

They say that the organization did not complete its mission and the Lebanese army is obstructing justice by not releasing high-resolution images of the wreck.

Al Jazeera reported that the pictures that it received seemed to indicate that the investigation’s findings were correct.

However, Al Jazeera also clarified that much of the controversy regarding the ship’s sinking revolves around the army’s attempts to conceal the damage to the ship and its conduct regarding any photos of the wreck.

The investigation comes as migrants continue to attempt to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe as Lebanon’s crises worsen.

Recently, a boat with reportedly 60 people on board became stranded earlier this month.

The maritime border: The delineation of Lebanon’s maritime border with its southern neighbor continues as Hezbollah’s deadline draws closer.

Though I have repeated over the last few weeks that the likelihood of war is always lower than most people think, tensions are still the highest since Hezbollah’s last war with Israel in 2006.

Amos Hochstein, the US’s chief negotiator for the issue, said after meeting with top officials, such as President Michel Aoun, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, that “we’re making very good progress. I’m very hopeful that we can reach an agreement.”

Hochstein also indicated that if all can be agreed upon, a deal could be made in the next three weeks, averting the threat of war.

Though both sides have made aggressive statements, it seems that neither are interested in a war right now.

Though Hezbollah has acted defiantly regarding the contentious Karish gas field, it would likely not seek to upend any deal that is reached.

Bad options: Plumes of thick black smoke have been billowing from the Zouk power station just north of Beirut, as Lebanese authorities burn low-quality fuel to keep the lights on, even if it’s only for a few hours per day.

Experts warn that the emissions from burning such fuel could have severe health and environmental consequences.

The shipment, which arrived in January, was initially refused for use, but with the fuel crisis only worsening, the Middle East Power (MEP), the private company operating two new power plants, eventually began using it.

This comes as the Lebanese government has lifted all subsidies on fuel, meaning that all fuel imports will be fully priced at the dollar-to-lira parallel market exchange rate.

A young girl sexually assaulted: Last week, a man walked into Beirut’s Coral Beach hotel, entered the woman’s bathroom, and raped a 10-year-old girl.

The man entered the hotel without being stopped, with security camera footage capturing his face and his entrance into the woman’s bathroom

The man was swiftly identified and arrested.

NOW’s Dana Hourany wrote about social violence directed toward women and children last month.

Blowing up a garden: A bomb exploded outside the house of Ali Hamieh, the Hezbollah-backed Lebanese Public Works and Transport Minister, last week.

The explosive, which was wrapped in electrical wires, was detonated in Hamieh’s garden outside his home in the village of Taraya near Baalbek.

Hamieh’s spokesperson did not immediately reply to the AP’s inquiry about the incident.

A never-ending perversion of justice: Last week, judge Tarek Bitar was taken off the 2020 Beirut port blast case by Justice Minister Henry Khoury.

Khoury is now expected to propose a candidate for the position.

A senior judicial source told Reuters that the new judge would not be empowered to charge suspects. Bitar hit back against the decision and will likely counterattack via legal pathways.

It has been over two years since the port blast and no progress has been made in holding those responsible accountable.

The decision also provoked protests by the families of victims of the blast.

Trouble in Bassil’s paradise: Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Saturday, September 10, that Gebran Bassil, the leader of the Hezbollah-aligned Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), is attempting to purge the party of his detractors.

Bassil was allegedly “testing the waters” of the party’s base by expelling former lawmaker Ziad Aswad. This move also led to ex-MP Mario Aoun resigning from the party and criticizing Bassil.

Aoun denied some claims that he was outright banned by the FPM.

Presidential elections: With Lebanon’s presidential elections only about a month away, Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces (LF), said recently that “the LF, the group of Sunni MPs, the change and independent MPs, the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), and the Kataeb Party,” have held a series of contacts and meetings over the past ten days to decide on a presidential candidate.

Such an alliance, if politically viable, could potentially yield a president.

Geagea also said that though Hezbollah is allied with Gebran Bassil and the FPM, it does not want to see him become president, creating a minor debacle for the Party of God.

MP Michel Mouawad and Tracy Chamoun are allegedly potential picks.

A patriarch’s criticisms: Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Rahi has criticized the efforts of certain political parties to obstruct the implementation of Lebanon’s constitution, the formation of its government, and the crucial upcoming presidential elections.

Al Rahi touched upon a variety of issues, especially Najib Mikati’s to form a new cabinet and the interference in the Beirut port blast investigation.

The death of a monarch: The UK’s Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8 at the age of 96 years old.

In Lebanon, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced a three-day mourning period for the late monarch.

Her death led to mixed reactions on Lebanese social media.

Though some in Lebanon announced their grief, others had less flattering things to say about the Queen.

In the region

Russia’s Idlib moment: As Russian forces have been routed from their positions in the Kharkiv Oblast, Syria watchers have pointed out some similarities with the Syrian government’s 2015 route in Idlib.

After months of fighting, Russian troops managed to capture about a 3rd of Kharkiv, but their positions were wrapped up when Ukrainian forces managed to penetrate the Russian line forcing a route.

Similarly, Syrian rebel factions, then made up of an alliance between Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) named Jaish al-Fatah (the Army of Conquest) wrapped up the government’s positions stretching from Idlib city, through Ariha and Jisr al-Shughour into the al-Ghab plain.

Though the government said it had “withdrawn” from the area due to manpower shortages, videos released by the rebels suggested otherwise.

The rebel advance in the Idlib governorate was one of the main reasons Russia directly intervened in the conflict, demonstrating that Iranian ground support via Shiite militias from Lebanon (Hezbollah), Iraq, and Afghanistan was not enough to prevent rebel advances in locations of secondary importance.

The Iran deal: Israel has recently announced that a deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program is currently not expected to happen, at least not before the US mid-term elections which are to be held in November.

Israel, an ardent critic of a potential agreement, has repeatedly said that US President Joe Biden should avoid a deal with Tehran.

Indeed, this close to the mid-term elections, it may not be politically expedient for Democrats if Biden makes a deal, something that Republicans could use as ammunition in their campaigns.

The 21st anniversary of 9/11: Yesterday was September 11, the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York which brought down the world trade center and destroyed a section of the Pentagon.

The attacks caused ripples across the world, from Iraq to Sri Lanka, leading the US under the Bush administration to declare the “war on terror.”

Said war on terror only led to failure as extremism has metastasized across the world, and the US has shifted its focus toward Russia and China, more traditional rivals.

I wrote about 9/11 and the war on terror last month.

Climate and hunger: Jailed British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah recently warned that he may die in prison, as he reaches six months on hunger strike.

El-Fattah’s list of demands included the release of those detained by the Egyptian security forces and thousands held without charge in pre-trial detention.

El-Fattah’s work, as well as many other activists, involves climate change, and Egypt’s Cop27 climate conference in Sharm El Sheikh is about to open.

Following the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in 2013 by Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, human rights abuses in Egypt, which were already pretty widespread under Hosni Mubarak, gravely worsened.

The brutality of Egypt’s prison system and detention of activists is only really rivaled by Syria.

Egypt is a strong ally of the US and Israel in the Middle East.

What we’re reading:

The rich getting richer: Lebanon’s financial and banking crisis created one of the greatest shifts in wealth that has ever occurred in the country’s history. Samara Azzi explored this transfer in wealth.

An environmental conflict: Northeast Syria’s environment has been severely affected by climate change, bad policies, and war. Philippe Pernot asks if its autonomous administration is capable of doing anything about it, especially under Turkey’s threats of invasion.

Contentious lines: Though Lebanon and Israel are moving toward demarcating their maritime border, the lack of a unified front on the Lebanese side has drastically affected what kind of deal will ultimately come through, writes NOW’s Nic Frakes.

The fluidity of memory: Despite Saddam Hussein’s human rights abuses during his tenure, the late Iraqi leader remains a popular figure in neighboring Jordan for taking on the US and championing pan-Arabism, writes Mohammad Ersan for Middle East Eye.


Podcasts: Médéa Azouri & Mouin Jaber spoke with Hamed Sinno, Mashrou’ Leila’s lead singer, about his life outside Lebanon for the past three years and regional troubles on Sunday’s Sarde After Dinner podcast.

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