After targeting the Syrian refugee community in Lebanon a few months ago, it seems that Lebanon’s ruling establishment has found a new target to scapegoat: the LGBTQ+ community.
It started with seemingly out-of-nowhere comments by some political and religious leaders, such as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in the lead-up to Ashoura, where they expressed their opposition to homosexuality and its “normalization” in Lebanon, claiming it would lead to the corrupting of the country’s families and children.
This opposition to the already marginalized community has even taken some ridiculous turns, such as when the caretaker culture minister, Mohammed Mortada, pushed to ban the new Barbie film for promoting homosexuality. This was ultimately overruled and Barbie will premier in Lebanese theaters at the start of September.
However, there have been some serious attacks on the community.
On the night of August 23, members of the far-right ‘Soldiers of God’ attacked the Madame Om bar in the Mar Mikhael neighborhood of Beirut for promoting homosexuality. Several people were injured in the attack.
Last night, the far-right group Soldiers of God attacked a bar in #Beirut for supposedly promoting homosexuality and calling it “forbidden” and that this was “only the beginning.” Several people were injured. #Lebanon #LGBTQ+ #لبنان #بيروت #جنود_الرب pic.twitter.com/Fv40PCLucY
— Nicholas Frakes | نيكولاس فريكس (@nicfrakesjourno) August 24, 2023
In videos taken of the incident, the attackers can clearly be heard calling homosexuality “forbidden” and promising that this attack was “only the beginning.” While there have so far not been any more attacks, the incident has sent a chill throughout the LGBTQ+ community who fear for their personal safety and the safety of their community, especially in light of rumors of further planned attacks.
Arguably even more serious are plans by Tripoli MP Ashraf Rifi to propose legislation that would criminalize homosexuality in Lebanon. While it is not explicitly illegal in Lebanon to be gay, Article 534 has been used to target the LGBTQ+ community. Having a law that specifically makes it illegal to be gay in Lebanon would be a major blow to the community and could pose significant risks for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+, both when it comes to their legal and personal safety.
All of this rhetoric and being targeted by the establishment is nothing new for the LGBTQ+ community as it has happened on and off for years. Still, that does little to alleviate any fears.
Even if the spotlight eventually moves away from the LGBTQ+ community, it is clear that the targeting and scapegoating of marginalized communities in Lebanon will only continue on to the next one that proves to be the most convenient.
Innocence lost: Nearly four weeks ago, Naya Hanna, 7, was struck by a stray bullet that put her in a coma. 23 days later, she has died.
The response to Hanna’s death was quick, with many calling for justice for the young girl who had her entire life and future taken away from her.
MP Adib Abdel Massih said that he would propose legislation in Hanna’s name that would increase the punishment for shooting in the air for all occasions, as well as punish the owners of the land that the people were shooting on.
After seven-year-old Naya Hanna died 23 days after being struck by a stray bullet, MP Adib Abdel Massih said that he would submit a bill to Parliament on Wednesday in her name that would raise the penalties for shooting on all occasions. #Lebanon #نايا_حنّا #لبنان
— Nicholas Frakes | نيكولاس فريكس (@nicfrakesjourno) August 27, 2023
Lebanon already has a law in place that criminalizes shooting in the air, which punishes the shooter with possible prison time as well as a fine, but this is one of the most ignored and least enforced laws in Lebanon, as people shoot in the air for any reason on a daily basis throughout the country.
A new wave: Syria is currently facing a debilitating economic crisis with a weakening national currency and rising prices that are making life harder for Syrians throughout the country, leading to protests in parts of the country (more on that later).
The worsening situation has spurred concerns that this could lead to another mass exodus from the country to neighboring countries like Lebanon, creating a new refugee crisis.
Lebanon is already the home for well over a million Syrian refugees who fled the civil war and have been increasingly targeted and scapegoated by politicians in Lebanon.
With pushes to send the refugees back to Syria, it is unlikely that a new wave of refugees would receive a warm welcome in Lebanon, especially as the international community does little to help the refugees already in the country.
Renewing peace: The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon’s (UNIFIL) mandate is up for its yearly renewal, but this time things have become a bit more complicated as the Lebanese government has expressed opposition to certain parts of the text.
Caretaker Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib rejected a proposed renewal agreement from the United Nations Security Council because it “does not refer to the necessity and importance of UNIFIL coordinating its operations with the Lebanese government, represented by the Lebanese army.”
The main sticking point has to do with the scope of UNIFIL’s activities in Lebanon with the current plan allowing the peacekeeping force to operate without having to always coordinate with the Lebanese army.
If the UN fails to renew UNIFIL’s mandate, it would likely aggravate the already tense situation along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
A deadly accident: Two Lebanese soldiers were killed when a helicopter crashed in the mountains east of Beirut on August 23.
According to the Lebanese army, the helicopter crashed during a training flight in the area.
No cause for the crash has been given.
The Lebanese Armed Forces has become largely dependent on foreign aid to pay the soldiers’ salaries – and even their meals – as the economic crisis has made it impossible for the Lebanese state to take care of its troops.
Return to sender: The ammunition confiscated by the Lebanese army following the clashes in Kahaleh is reportedly going to be returned to Hezbollah once the investigation is completed.
A judicial source told @Annahar that after the investigation into the events that took place in #Kahaleh, the ammunition that was being transferred in the truck will be turned back over to #Hezbollah. #Lebanon #لبنان #الكحالة #حزب_الله
— Nicholas Frakes | نيكولاس فريكس (@nicfrakesjourno) August 22, 2023
Following the clashes, Hezbollah expressed assurance that the ammunition would be returned to them.
Four people from Hezbollah and four from Kahaleh have been called in for questioning to ascertain what happened in the clashes.
It is not clear who, if anyone, will be held accountable for the clashes.
Taking a joke: Lebanese comedian Nour Hajjar was detained on August 25 after a performance in which he joked about Lebanese soldiers having to take on multiple jobs in order to survive amid the ongoing economic crisis.
The performance was posted by the popular awk.ward network and its co-founder, Dany Abou Jaoude was also told to appear for questioning.
Awk.ward’s venue was also reportedly visited by the military.
This is the latest in a crackdown on free speech in Lebanon.
Pen pals: MPs have begun responding to French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian’s questionnaire about what they are looking for in the next president.
So far, only the Amal Movement, headed by Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, have really responded to the letter but the Free Patriotic Movement and Marada Movement are also preparing their responses.
The Progressive Socialist Party, which is aligned with the opposition, is still mulling over whether or not to respond but they are supposedly leaning towards responding.
“Change” MPs, except for Elias Jrade who already sent his response, are still undecided. 31 opposition MPs have all signed a joint statement that they would refuse to have any dialogue with Hezbollah until after a president is elected.
Lebanon has been without a president for 308 days.
The search begins: Lebanon has officially begun drilling in the Qana Prospect to see if there are significant natural gas reserves under the waters off the coast of Lebanon’s south.
Lebanon’s politicians have billed this project as the thing that will save Lebanon from disaster and pull the country out of economic collapse without the need of a deal with the International Monetary Fund.
However, there are no guarantees that there are any significant fuel reserves in the area and, even if there are, it would be years before Lebanon reaps the rewards of the discovery.
There are also concerns about how much of an impact corruption would have on any potential profts, diluting the positive impact that it would have on the country.
Stranded: After a report that cited the many safety issues at Lebanon’s only public airport, there are concerns that the airport could face partial closures.
The air traffic controllers at the Rafik Hariri International Airport said that they would go on some sort of strike starting September 5 where they would only work from 7am to 8pm, ensuring that no night flights would be able to come to Lebanon.
Standard regulations stipulate that there should be at least 87 air traffic controllers, while the Beirut airport currently only has 13.
Even a partial closure of the airport would have a devastating impact on the country.
The death of a journalist: Journalist Talal Salman died at the age of 85 on August 25 after a long battle with an illness.
Salman helped to found and publish the Lebanese daily Assafir, which was one of the leading newspapers in the country until its closure in 2016.
The journalist was well-known for his strong opinions and his relationships with leaders and officials throughout the region.
Salman was buried in his hometown of Shamstar the following day.
In the region
Protests continue: Anti-government demonstrations in Sweida and Daraa continue as Syrians become fed up with the worsening economic situation in the country in some of the largest protests seen in government-controlled areas since before the start of the civil war.
The vast majority of Syrians already live in poverty, and the devaluation of the Syrian Pound coupled with rising costs has made life all but unbearable for many in the country.
What sets these protests apart from ones in the past is the participation of local Arab tribes, which have previously sat on the sidelines in more of a neutral role.
The Syrian government has yet to respond to the protests. Daraa was where the Syrian uprising began in 2011, where the government responded with disproportionate violence against the peaceful protesters.
They knew: Since a Human Rights Watch report detailing the abuses by Saudi border guards against Ethiopian migrants was released last week, it has since come out that the United States, one of Saudi Arabia’s closest allies, knew about the abuses well before the report was released.
According to reports, the US had details about the Saudi border forces shooting and killing Ethiopian migrants trying to cross the Saudi-Yemeni border back in December 2022.
Since receiving the information, the US has not publicly criticized the Saudi’s conduct.
The US has largely failed at trying to curb human rights abuses in the Kingdom.
Another BRIC in the wall: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Argentina, Ethiopia and Iran have all been invited to join BRICS, an alliance between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
While this is a significant development in itself, this is also a win of sorts for Iran, which has faced economic and political unrest in the last year.
Iran has been largely left to its own devices due to the sheer number of sanctions put in place by the US and helps to pull the Gulf country from its isolation.
The short-term impacts could be minimal but, in the long-term, this could prove a fruitful relationship for Iran which has been increasingly gravitated towards Russia and China.
A consequential meeting: Libya’s foreign minister has been dismissed after Israel revealed that they met with Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister.
According to Israel, the two foreign ministers met in Rome last week, marking the first meeting between officials from the two countries.
The meeting supposedly had to do with preserving the history of Libya’s former Jewish population and possible support for humanitarian issues.
Libya’s foreign ministry tried to play down the meeting as being unplanned, claiming it took place during a meeting with Italy’s foreign minister. It is unclear why Israel would publicly acknowledge such a meeting when Libya and Israel do not have diplomatic ties and, by acknowledging that they took place, would have a negative impact on relations.
What we’re reading
Broken glass: Many efforts have been made since the August 4, 2020 Beirut Port explosion to preserve people’s stories and experience. NOW’s Robert McKelvey spoke with Zeina Saab about her book which contains 22 personal accounts of the explosion and the importance of books such as hers.
10 years: On August 21, 2013, the Damascus suburb of Ghouta was struck by chemical weapons killing over 1,400 people. Since the attack, all evidence points to the Syrian government being the perpetrator. The Washington Post’s Joby Warwick wrote about this dark day and what has happened since then, including efforts for justice.
The forgotten camp: It has been over six months since the devastating earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria. While Turkey is beginning to rebuild, Syria mostly remains in ruin. The New York Times’s Raja Abdulrahim, with photographs by Nicole Tung, looked at the situation in Syria and the challenges of rebuilding.
The great escape: On August 25, Apple TV+ released a docuseries about former Reneult and Nissan executive Carlos Ghosn which looks at his rise to power, his sudden downfall, and his cinematic escape to Lebanon where he remains.
The four-part series gives the viewer unprecedented access to Ghosn, his wife, former colleagues, journalists covering what happened, as well as the people who helped smuggle Ghosn from Japan to Beirut.
Having watched the series, I can personally attest that it will keep you glued to your seat until the credits roll.
Man in red: A video went viral on social media over the weekend of a man walking through the southern city of Sidon while wearing a red dress.
فستان يستفز أهالي صيدا في السوق التجاري
والصدمة الكبرى جعلت الناس تتمنى الزلزال والحرب على ان يشاهدوا هكذا مناظر pic.twitter.com/UdDvpbac2p
— Ahed Madi عاهد ماضي (@77ahed) August 27, 2023
The move sparked criticism from people on the street with one person reportedly forcing the man to change his clothes.
In response to the backlash, the man in question posted a video explaining that it was a joke between him and his friend and apologized for his actions.