The Scandinavian countries have had a fraught relationship with Islam over the years.
In 2005, a Danish newspaper published a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which led to outrage from Muslims worldwide over the drawings, as well as planned attacks by extremists.
Now, in the latest fissure between Muslims around the world and Scandinavia, a Swedish court ruled that the current laws in the country do not prohibit the burning of the Quran or any other holy texts as a form of protest. Naturally, this meant that someone decided to burn a Quran in front of a Stockholm mosque soon after the ruling.
This led to the storming of the Swedish embassy in Baghdad after Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on his supporters to descend to the streets.
Then there was a second Quran burning which, once again, led to the storming and burning of the Swedish embassy in Baghdad. However, Iraq went one step further and severed diplomatic ties with Sweden.
Lebanon also saw its own protests on July 21 when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called for a protest following Friday noon prayers. There was a large turnout in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Baalbek and the south, with protestors coming out to hold up their Qurans in condemnation of the recent burnings.
Nasrallah also called on countries in the region to break off relations with Sweden, but only Iraq has so far done so.
The protests were without a doubt within the people’s rights. The burning of the Quran is something that is deeply offensive to many Muslims and, if they are bothered by it, then they have every right to take to the streets and make their displeasure heard in a peaceful manner.
However, what is really telling is that both Sadr and Nasrallah, whose words each command a significant following, used their influence to mobilize their supporters over a more populist issue rather than focusing their efforts on the other problems that face their respective countries.
This rhetoric from Sadr and Nasrallah, while partly having to do with the offensive nature of burning the Quran, had more to do with showing that they continue to enjoy popular support in their communities and that they are not so easily dismissed.
But why not use their influence to mobilize their forces over other issues? Lebanon has been without a president for 266 days and the economic crisis is continuing to destroy the lives of countless people.
The problem is that Hezbollah has a vested interest in the current political instability in Lebanon. The weaker the state, the easier it is for them to operate as the strongest political force in the country.
Because of this, Nasrallah is more than happy to tap into populist rhetoric to maintain his base but will always stop short of pushing for the real change that Lebanon needs to move forward and away from the crises plaguing it and its people.
More rhetoric: It is not just protests over Quran burning that Nasrallah has been discussing in his recent speeches. The Hezbollah leader also struck out at the LGBTQ+ community, denouncing the “growing phenomenon of deviance, decadence, disintegration, and family chaos … [that] threatens the country’s stability and its demographic and confessional composition.”
Hezbollah and its opposition to the LGBTQ+ community are nothing new. Since the group’s inception in the 1980s, they have made their opposition well-known.
The LGBTQ+ community has been increasingly targeted in Lebanon by various religious groups, with one of the most notable being by the Christian Soldiers of God, and government ministries.
While Lebanon has a thriving LGBTQ+ community and scene, this targeting forces them to hide more and further represses an already oppressed community.
Burnt to the ground: Two refugee camps in Lebanon caught fire last week – one in Sidon on July 20 and another in north Lebanon on July 21 – as refugees continue to face the prospect of forced deportation from Lebanon.
The fire is believed to have been caused by an electrical short circuit that, coupled with the heat, quickly spread throughout the camp.
No fatalities were reported.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been increasingly targeted by politicians as the government looks to deport them from the country, and use them as scapegoats for all of the crises Lebanon is facing.
A ticking clock: Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati met with the four vice governors of the Central Bank as Riad Salameh’s term as head of BDL comes down to its final week.
This meeting came as the vice governors put pressure on the government to make changes before they take over following the end of Salameh’s tenure as BDL chief.
One of these issues has been the phasing out of the Sayrafa platform for an exchange platform, rumored to either be Bloomberg or Refinitiv. However, depending on how this new platform is implemented, it could have a significantly adverse effect on the dire economic situation.
The vice governors had previously threatened to resign in an attempt to make policy changes that would allow them to distance themselves from the policies of Salameh.
Border update: The Kfar Chouba municipality built a road along the Blue Line as tensions continue to rise along the Southern border.
As residents of the area approached the border, Israel fired smoke grenades to disperse them.
This has been the latest event in a growing list of rising tensions between Hezbollah and Israel.
While most analysts have argued that this will not lead to another war, it is not outside of the realm of possibility as both sides continue to push each other.
Abandoned: Three infants were found abandoned throughout Lebanon last week in a dark reminder of the toll that the economic crisis is having on people.
The first child was found by a dog in front of the Tripoli municipality. The dog carried the baby in a bag until someone discovered it. The other two infants were found in a box by the Ibrahim River.
The incidents sparked outrage over how someone could abandon their child.
For many in Lebanon, it has become nearly impossible to live a normal life and take care of themselves and their families.
Shut down: An NGO in the Mount Lebanon area was shut down after it was deemed that it posed an “imminent danger” to children.
The NGO, Village of Love and Peace, claimed to offer protection for at-risk children or abandoned children, but it has since emerged that the NGO actually exploits them.
According to lawyer Diana Assaf, a video emerged that purportedly showed children being sexually harassed at the NGO. Allegedly, children in its care were being trafficked, sold to families for money, and hospital records were being forged.
The NGO looked after several girls ranging from newborn to 17. Its closure comes after a daycare center was shuttered following the abuse of children in its care by some of its workers.
More clashes: In what have become increasingly common sights in Lebanon, there were several clashes last week throughout the country.
In the Lija neighborhood, there was a clash between two groups, unconfirmed reports claim them as members of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, which resulted in one person being injured.
اشكال كبير واطلاق نار وسقوط جرحى في منطقة حيّ اللجا – المصيطبة / بيروت بين حزب الله وحركة امل pic.twitter.com/qwaDUQ47U9
— لــبــنــان الـتـغييـر (@lebprotests) July 22, 2023
Another clash erupted in Batroun over the weekend for unknown reasons. Some have said that the fighting was between members of the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces, although this also remains unconfirmed.
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These sorts of clashes have become increasingly common throughout the country amid the economic crisis.
In the region
Passed: The Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, passed a contentious part of its judicial reform bill that limits the powers of the Supreme Court despite widespread opposition to the legislation.
The bill was largely opposed by a large swathe of Israeli society, including labor unions and members of Israel’s military.
This bill has the potential of tearing apart Israeli society, with over 10,000 members of Israel’s military reservists saying that they will refuse to serve if the bill goes forward – a move that former Israeli military leaders said could irreparably damage its military capabilities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had little choice when it came to the legislation. If he opposed it, he would likely see his government collapse after its far-right members pull support.
Released: Two political prisoners in Egypt were pardoned as the country continues to face scrutiny over its human rights abuses.
Patrick Zaki was recently convicted after he published an article about the treatment of Egypt’s Christian minority. He has since returned to Italy where he did his postgraduate studies following massive support calling for his release.
Mohamed al-Baqer, a human rights lawyer, was also released after facing what other lawyers called dubious charges.
Other high-profile political prisoners, such as Alaa Abdel Fattah, remain behind bars.
Going on trial: A French court ordered Majdi Neamah, the former spokesperson for the Army of Islam, to face war crimes charges in a Paris criminal court.
Charges include crimes committed against civilians and prisoners, the recruitment of minors, and the forced disappearance of four activists.
This is the latest instance of the legal concept of universal jurisdiction being utilized to try war crimes cases that occurred in Syria.
The first took place in Koblenz, Germany with the case of Anwar Raslan who headed the Branch 251 detention center in Syria that saw countless people tortured, raped and executed under his watch.
What we’re reading
Sustainability: In Lebanon, people are very good at finding new and inventive ways to make money. Rodayna Raydan wrote about how some rural homeowners are turning their homes into charming guest houses for tourists.
Lights, camera, justice: NOW’s Dana Hourany wrote about a new film festival that looks at political assassinations and the pain that is brought with it.
Edification: Access to education in Lebanon has continued to decrease, as the economic crisis has worsened. NOW’s Robert McKelvey wrote about how schools are being left to fend for themselves, and students are suffering.
Help is not on the way: Israel has long been criticized for its targeting of civilians during its military incursions. The Washington Post’s Steve Hendrix and Sufian Taha, with photos by Lorenzo Tugnoli, wrote about the paramedics who are being increasingly targeted as they try to save people’s lives.
Fight night: Political talk show host Marcel Ghanem is not a stranger to controversy.
Last week, he hosted former MP Wiam Wehab and journalist Simon Abu Fadil, which led to blows after Wehab through his glass and started attacking Abu Fadel.
— وقائع (@waqa2e3) July 20, 2023
This led to a fight erupting both inside and outside of the studio, ultimately requiring the military to intervene.
The end of an era: Those traveling through Beirut’s airport are all too familiar with the overpriced food and drink available.
Well, now they are no more (sort of), with Cafématik shutting its doors at the airport.
The shops are being replaced with other overly priced outlets like Zaatar w Zeit and Dunkin Donuts.
Still, the knowledge that these overpriced sandwiches will no longer be offered at the airport are still cause for many to celebrate.
Podcasts: In the latest episode of The Beirut Banyan, Ronnie Chatah spoke with the soon-to-be former German ambassador to Lebanon, Andreas Kindl, about the day-to-day life of an ambassador, where local expectations and the realities of the job diverge, and a contentious discussion on Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
After a brief hiatus, Sarah al-Asmar is back to host a new episode of GENXZ where she is joined by MP Elias Hankach (Kataeb-Metn) to discuss Roumieh prison, a look back on Kataeb’s role in the civil war, and how to navigate the current political paralysis.
Mouin Jaber and Médéa Azouri are joined once more by the comedic duo Nathalie Masri and Nadyn Chalhoub to discuss the end to Cafématik at the airport, film censorship in Lebanon, and what Lebanon’s image really is.