HomePoliticsBriefingThe pride of Lebanon

The pride of Lebanon

Of attacks on the LGBTQ+ community in Lebanon, an energy deal, government formation, rising fuel prices, bread shortages, failing infrastructure in Tripoli, discontent banks, the South Lebanese Army in Israel, a new Covid wave, attacks on women in the region, negotiations between Iran and the US and a golden buzzer. Your weekly update from Lebanon.

A protester holds a sign calling for equality for the LGBTQ+ community in Lebanon during the March 8, 2020 International Women's Day march through Beirut. Photo: Nicholas Frakes, NOW

Members of Lebanon’s LGBTQ+ community have long had to carefully navigate their lives due to the views and policies put in place by the country’s religious and political authorities.

Despite Lebanon having a reputation as being a liberal oasis in a sea of conservatism in the Middle East and the LGBTQ+ community certainly enjoying more freedoms than they would in other countries throughout the region, they are far from being able to live their lives like any other person in the country.

Homosexuality is still viewed as being “abnormal” by religious extremists and homophobes, and members of the community continue to be targeted and persecuted.

Lebanon’s interior minister, Bassam Mawlawi, sent a letter to security forces telling them to prevent any gatherings that are meant to “promote aberration,” a derogatory term to describe homosexuality.

Later in the week, a billboard in Achrafieh consisting of flowers forming the Pride flag was vandalized and destroyed by members of a conservative Christian group.

Finally, a protest and march in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community in front of the Interior Ministry that was planned for Sunday, June 26, was postponed

The demonstration was meant to condemn the rise in homophobic language being used by political and religious officials, but was canceled in lieu of death threats and calls for a counter-protest against the LGBTQ+ rights activists.

Things are definitely changing in Lebanon when it comes to views on the LGBTQ+ community. NOW’s Dana Hourany published an article earlier this month on how some MPs are planning to introduce a bill that would abolish a penal code that criminalizes homosexuality. 

Nonetheless, Lebanon was reminded through the recent events that despite any progress that has been made in regards to LGBTQ+ rights, there is still a long way to go.

In Lebanon

Tortured: Syrian and Lebanese laborers working in Majdal al-Aqoura as cherry pickers were tortured and humiliated by their employer after they confronted him when he refused to pay them their wages.

The employer accused the workers of stealing sunglasses and a watch. When they assured him that they did not do this, they were beaten with “sharp objects and electrical wires”

Pictures and videos of the incident were subsequently published on social media.

Lebanon’s security forces said that they were investigating the incident, particularly looking at their employer, Tony Boulos.

Government formation (with a twist): Najib Mikati was once again tasked with forming a new government after a majority of MPs voted in favor of his designation on Thursday, June 23.

Mikati will have around four months to form a government before President Michel Aoun’s term ends. Analysts and MPs are not optimistic.

Mikati began working on forming the new government today, assuring the public that it will be quick, promising to at least present a basic outline to Aoun soon.

Given that the government would have to resign once more after a new president is elected, some believe that Mikati may just present the same government, or one similar to its current makeup. 

Tripoli’s failing infrastructure: A three-story building in the Dahr el-Maghar neighborhood of Tripoli collapsed yesterday evening, killing a woman and her daughter and injuring others.

Tripoli’s infrastructure has long been unorganized and scattered, leading to the destruction of buildings, such as the one that collapsed yesterday, after they never received the repairs that they needed.

Following the incident, the Tripoli municipality said that they approved the demolition of buildings that have cracks in them.

The municipality did not say if people living in these buildings would be compensated for losing their homes, or if other buildings would be repaired rather than completely destroyed.

Drama at the bank: Two Lebanese banks disavowed a statement put out on behalf of the Association of Lebanese Banks criticizing the Lebanese government’s staff-level agreement with the IMF, saying that they had not been aware that a letter was being published.

Bank Audi and Al-Mawarid Bank disagreed with the statement published by the DecisionBoundries financial advisory firm, which stated that ABL had “very serious reservation about the recent SLA” and that it would likely “further harm Lebanon’s economy,” most likely in an “irreversible manner.”

In response, ABL stated that it “does not fully oppose” the agreement, but that they would like to have further consultations on how an estimated $70 billion in losses in the financial sector would be dealt with.

A full deal with the IMF requires that Lebanon pass and implement reforms, including with the country’s banking sector.

Lighting up Lebanon: Lebanon, Syria and Egypt signed a gas deal on Tuesday, June 21, formalizing an agreement months in the making that would see Egypt send some of its surplus natural gas to Lebanon through Syria so that the Lebanese state electricity provider can provide more power to the crisis-stricken country.

The deal, however, still requires funding by the World Bank in order for Lebanon to be able to afford the gas. It also requires the US to give the agreement an exemption from sanctions. Neither of these are certain to be approved.

In order to receive the World Bank funding, Lebanon would need to enact reforms, such as auditing Électricité du Liban (EDL), the state electricity company, something that analysts are skeptical would actually happen.

On top of this, the extra hours being provided by the Egyptian gas would not solve the underlying problems within Lebanon’s energy sector, meaning that, eventually, the country will be right back where it is now.

No bread: Lebanon has begun to see the beginning of a bread crisis, as many bakeries and shops that sell the Lebanese staple were quickly running out or did not have any at all as large lines formed outside of the bakeries from the early hours of the morning.

In some instances, people were forced to buy bread on a black market at significantly higher prices as subsidized flour is sold to make double the profits.

The caretaker Economy Minister urged authorities to crack down on this new and growing black market.

Exile: Israel approved housing allowances for former members of the South Lebanese Army who are now residing in Israel after they were forced to leave Lebanon following Israel’s withdrawal in May 2000.

Around 400 former SLA fighters will receive a one-off payment of around $161,000 over the next four years in order for them to secure housing.

The SLA consisted of Lebanese citizens who worked with and received support by Israel during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.

They are accused of committing heinous torture against prisoners, particularly in the notorious Khiam Prison.

Riding the new wave: Corona Virus cases in Lebanon remain high as a new wave of the pandemic makes its way through Lebanon.

According to caretaker Health Minister Firas Abiad, this new wave is caused by a new strain of the virus that is making its rounds globally. 

The ministry urged people to get vaccinated, noting that only around 45 percent of Lebanon has been fully vaccinated.

In the region

Attacks on women: Last week saw two women studying at university murdered for rejecting a man’s advances and marriage proposals.

It started with Naiyera Ashraf, a 21-year-old Egyptian student, who was brutally killed when a man went to her university in Mansoura and attacked her with a knife. According to local media, she had rejected his marriage proposal.

Then, just three days later, Eman Ersheed, also 21 and a nursing student in Jordan, was killed when a man went to her university in the capital Amman and shot her five times.

Ersheed’s killer later killed himself after being chased by the police.

Flights return to Damascus: Nearly two weeks after flights to Damascus’s only international airport had to be rerouted following an Israeli airstrike that damaged the airport, the facility has reopened.

On June 10, an Israeli airstrike significantly damaged the airport’s infrastructure, forcing it to close until the proper repairs could be made, particularly to the runways with the main runway being made unusable.

The Syrian government allegedly uses the airport to store weapons and transport weapons and supplies to the Iran-backed Shiite group, Hezbollah, in neighboring Lebanon.

Regional superpowers negotiate: Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Mustafa al-Kaghimi met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in the capital Tehran. The visit was part of an effort to restart talks between Iran and its regional rival, Saudi Arabia, after negotiations between the two countries stalled in April amid heightened regional tensions.

Iran and Saudi Arabia broke off ties in 2016 after the Saudi government executed prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr and, angry protesters stormed two Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

The two countries have long been on opposite sides throughout the region, in particular with the civil war in Yemen where the officially recognized government backed by the Saudis is fighting against the Houthis backed by Iran.

It is unclear if either Saudi Arabia or Iran are interested in beginning talks once more.

Back to the table: The EU and Iran announced that they will be reconvening talks over the 2015 nuclear deal after stalling for months. Tensions between the EU and Iran have risen as the country continues to enrich uranium and recently removed 27 cameras put in place to monitor its activities at its various facilities.

The EU is desperate for a revived deal as the continent looks to distance itself from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, leading to the need to find a new source of fuel.

It is unclear if the renewed talks will go anywhere, particularly as Iran has demanded that the IRGC be removed from the list of terror organizations, something that the US has said that it will not do.

An activist’s death: Amnesty International condemned the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian ruling governmental body, for failing to hold its security forces accountable after the death of activist Nizar Banat.

Banat’s family said that security forces entered their home late one night and beat the activist, a critic of the Authority, with batons, leading to his death.

While 14 officers were arrested, no top-level officials have been held accountable for Banat’s death.

The Palestinian Authority has long been accused of using violence and intimidation to silence critics.

Further confirmation: The UN’s human rights office has accused Israel of killing veteran Palestinian Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and has called for a criminal probe into her death.

According to the UN office, Abu Akleh’s death was likely caused by “Israeli security forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians.”

Israel continues to insist that the shooting was not deliberate and that they are willing to conduct its own investigation if the Palestinians turn over the bullet removed from Abu Akleh during her autopsy by Palestinian officials. 

Critics of Israel point to previous supposed investigations that led nowhere or saw a lack of punishment for the perpetrator.

The office’s findings further confirm reports by the Associated Press, Washington Post, CNN and New York Times, which all pointed to Israel as the killers of Abu Akleh.

What we’re reading

The deal: With Lebanon signing an energy deal with Egypt and Syria, I spoke with analysts about how realistic of an agreement it is and if it will really help solve Lebanon’s energy problems.

Justice: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon recently ruled on another perpetrator of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others, sentencing him to life in prison in absentia. The investigation into the August 4 Beirut Port explosion remains stalled. But even if it leads to justice, NOW Lebanon’s managing editor, Makram Rabah, argues that it may not be enough to bring Lebanon back from the edge.

Speaking out: A common argument when it comes to survivors of sexual harassment or assault is why they did not speak out after it happened. However, it is not always that easy, as journalist Luna Safwan explains.

An impossible task: Mikati needs to form a new government before Aoun’s term ends in October. Given Lebanon’s history when it comes to government formation, this will not likely end well. I spoke with analysts and an MP about what they believe the future holds for Lebanese politics.

Stuck: When the IRGC was labeled as a terrorist organization by the US, to most outside observers, it seemed like a no-brainer. However, the AP’s Amy Taxim looks at the mandatory conscripts who can now not enter the US even though they had no choice on whether or not to serve or where they served.

Moving forward: For over a decade, Libya has been embroiled in a seemingly never-ending civil war as multiple factions fight for control of the country. However, the New York Times’s Vivian Yee spoke with Libyans who are trying to move forward from all of the fighting and war.

The wall: For 20 years, Israel’s wall that separates Israel from the West Bank has stood tall and expanded, upending the lives of countless Palestinians and making life that much more challenging for them. The AP’s Oded Balilty looks at the wall 20 years on in this incredible photo essay.


The golden buzzer: Lebanon was awash with pride after a Lebanese dance group known as Mayyas got a golden buzzer during a recent episode of America’s Got Talent.

Here is the performance that won them the admiration of their native Lebanon.

Podcasts: Ronnie Chatah is back with the Beirut Banyan in a short episode where he discusses the recent binding consultations where Parliament chose a prime minister to try and form a government. Specifically, Chatah looks at the opposition MPs who decided to not vote for Nawaf Salam and his thoughts on these new MPs and what they have done so far.

After a week off, Sarde after dinner is back and they want to make you hungry. In this episode, they host Anthony Rahayel who discusses Lebanese cuisine. Do not listen on an empty stomach.

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