HomePoliticsBriefingThe silencing of the lambs

The silencing of the lambs

Of child abuse in Lebanon, forced repatriation to Syria, increased telecommunications costs, possible water crisis, Saudi dissident killed, civil marriage through loopholes, music festival in Baalbek, Biden’s upcoming visit to the Middle East, aid to Syria, Assad visits Aleppo, hostages in Iran and Russia gets drones from Iran. Your weekly update from Lebanon.

The Lebanese government is looking to forcefully repatriate Syrian refugees in Lebanon despite the risks that it poses for the refugees themselves. Photo: Nicholas Frakes, NOW

Lebanon has long failed its victims of sexual abuse, including children.

When cases have occurred, there is mass condemnation by the public and calls for the perpetrator to be arrested and put on trial, only for political connections to obstruct any sense of justice.

After Mansour Labaki was found guilty in absentia in France and sentenced to 15 years in prison for child rape and sexual assault, I wrote an article about how Lebanon continues to fail these victims.

Labaki abused countless children in Lebanon and abroad, and was even condemned by the Vatican.

Survivors testified about what he did to them, recounting their traumatic experiences to make sure that he faced justice and would not be able to do the same thing to anyone else again.

Despite all of this, Lebanon has done nothing to hold him accountable.

Why? Because he was arguably one of the biggest Christian figures in Lebanon for a time, and he had connections in both the religious and political establishment, ensuring that he would be able to live the rest of his life as a free man, never to face any consequences for the horrors that he committed.

Now, with a new case coming to light, I fear something similar will occur.

In al-Qaa, a village in the Bekaa, it recently came to light that a retired military officer, Elias al-Daher, abused, photographed, and took videos of around 20 children, both boys and girls, over the span of three years, only to be caught after one of the children exposed him.

The response from the public was swift.

He should face the harshest punishment possible for his crimes, they argued.

A group of protesters even gathered outside the Justice Palace in Beirut in a demonstration against the lack of effort by authorities to combat crimes like rape, harassment, and the killing of women.

The response from the mayor of al-Qaa, Bashir Matar, left much to be desired.

Although he said that the man is a criminal and should be investigated by the judiciary, he also seemed to downplay the severity of the crimes committed by al-Daher.

There is a great exaggeration of the issue in the media, both in terms of the number of children who are said to have been raped or harassed, or in terms of the fact that there is a political cover that protects and covers him,” Matar said.

Matar continued to stress that the judiciary would need to decide what to do after investigating the issue, but few in Lebanon have any faith left in the judiciary to follow through with this.

The investigation into the August 4 Beirut Port explosion has seen no results and is on an indefinite pause.

Lokman Slim was killed over a year ago and the investigation has gone nowhere.

Labaki, despite a number of people willing to testify against him, has somehow escaped a case in Lebanon.

So why should this time be any different?

In Lebanon

Forced repatriation: Lebanon’s caretaker Minister of the Displaced, Issam Charafeddine, said that Lebanon is planning on sending around 15,000 Syrian refugees a month back to Syria, despite objections by the UN and rights groups.

While he did not offer a timetable as to when the forced returns would begin, Charafeddine said that they hope to begin the process of repatriating around 1.5 million Syrian refugees within months. The government has long argued that the presence of the Syrians is a significant burden on the Lebanese economy and the country’s infrastructure.

According to the government, the Syrian government would provide temporary shelters for the returning refugees and would drop all charges against anyone that was in the opposition.

The likelihood of this actually being the case is extremely slim, and many of those forced to return would likely be disappeared by the regime’s security apparatus.

The UNHCR, in a statement, argued that forcing the refugees to return would likely endanger their lives.

Too expensive to work: At the start of July, Lebanon’s telecommunications sector drastically increased its prices. Instead of being priced at the official 1,500 rate, it is now being priced at the Central Bank’s Sayrafa rate which is currently sitting at around 25,400.

This was done amid the ongoing economic crisis and the continuous challenges to secure fuel as it also increases in price.

For Lebanon’s poorest, this is yet another blow, adding an expense that many can no longer afford.

This includes Lebanon’s domestic workers, many of whom are already drastically underpaid, if paid at all. Their phones are their connections to the outside world, to friends and family and to potential employers.

Now, with the rising costs, they have to limit their usage. Without their phones and internet connectivity, they, like so many others, risk losing so much and becoming further isolated.

Water world: Lebanon is already facing an economic crisis, fuel crisis, electricity crisis, potentially a political crisis, bread crisis and, now, a possible water crisis is blooming on the horizon.

Because of the ongoing power cuts, it has become more difficult for households to pump water, leading to a water scarcity in some areas.

According to Jean Gibran, the general director of the Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Establishment, if no assistance is provided in securing diesel, then, within two months, all of Lebanon could lose access to water.

While other issues, such as repairs, are being addressed in regard to the water stations, Gibran says that the biggest issue is fuel and electricity and, without it, there is nothing that they will be able to do to fix the situation.

A family affair: Saudi dissident Manea al-Yami was killed in Beirut’s southern suburbs on Sunday amid a family dispute, according to Lebanese authorities.

Al-Yami was a founding member of the National Assembly Party, whose members live in exile, which is critical of King Salman and the al-Saud royal family and calls for the creation of an elected parliament in Saudi Arabia.

According to Lebanese security forces, al-Yami’s two brothers stabbed him to death and were later arrested and confessed to the killing.

The brothers said it was because of “family reasons.”

The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, responded to the killing of the Saudi national, tweeting that he “highly appreciated the efforts of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces in uncovering the facts and bringing the perpetrators to justice for the murder of a Saudi citizen killed in Beirut’s southern suburbs.”

Loopholes: According to Lebanese law, you have to marry someone from the same faith as yourself unless religious authorities say otherwise. So civil marriage in Lebanon is out of the question.

That did not stop Omar Abdel Baqi, Druze, and Najwa Sbeity, Shiite, from tying the knot over the weekend.

They even did it while on Lebanese soil given how hard it is for Lebanese to travel because of the economic situation in the country right now.

Their way around the law? They were married by a judge in the US state of Utah who officiated the wedding online so that the marriage would be filed in the US, and the Lebanese authorities would be compelled to register the marriage.

This wedding came amid renewed talk over whether civil marriage should be allowed in Lebanon, which religious authorities have staunchly opposed.

Should the marriage actually be registered, a new avenue would open for those wishing for a civil marriage in Lebanon rather than having to travel abroad, usually to Cyprus.

Siding with the banks: Newly elected MP Melhem Khalaf has faced criticism for his stance on the agreement between the Lebanese government and IMF, as his comments appeared to parrot statements made by the Lebanese Association of Banks.

Khalaf’s biggest criticisms about the deal have to do with the distribution of losses, claiming that any difference between the large and small depositors was “unconstitutional” and that there was no difference between who would bear the brunt of the losses.

The former head of the Beirut Bar Association also expressed reservations about canceling bank shares, claiming that it would hurt the small shareholders and small owners of instruments issued by the banks.

He also argued that the state should not bear the losses of the private banking sector.

Song and dance: The Baalbek Music Festival has been a staple of the country for years.

However, the global pandemic and the economic crisis put a hamper on things.

Now, the festival has returned for the first time since the start of the economic crisis in late 2019.

Most of this year’s acts were local artists, and they were met with enthusiastic attendees enjoying the music and the temporary escape from the daily hardships that they face in Lebanon.

In the region

Biden of Arabia: US President Joe Biden will make his first visit to the Middle East tomorrow since taking office a year and a half ago, visiting Israel, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia.

While in Israel and Palestine, Biden will likely be pushed on the issue of the killing of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who also held US citizenship, by Israeli forces while covering an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in Jenin.

Multiple investigations, including by the US, point to Israel being responsible for Abu Akleh’s death.

In Saudi Arabia, Biden will meet with the leaders from the six GCC countries along with the leaders from Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt, to discuss Iran’s role in the region and how its activities pose a threat. Lebanon is notably absent from this meeting.

Biden hopes to revive the tattered Iran nuclear deal, but, as there has been no progress for months, he needs to start planning ahead in case the deal falls through and they are unable to curb Iran from moving forward with the construction of a nuclear weapon, along with countering its regional activities.

Missed deadline: After failing to approve an extension on a humanitarian corridor at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border before Sunday, the UN Security Council is set to approve an alternative plan put forward by Russia.

Prior to the Sunday deadline, Russia was in fierce opposition to renewing the agreement for another year, arguing that the areas that the humanitarian aid went to were coopted by terrorists and that the aid would be better suited to go through Damascus and with the help of the Syrian government, an ally of Russia.

Given that having the Syrian government play a role in the aid process was a nonstarter for the Western countries, Russia proposed a six-month extension instead of the full year, which was also rejected by the rest of the Security Council.

However, when it came to the vote on Friday, Russia vetoed the year-long extension and, since it is a permanent member of the Security Council, it defeated the proposal.

Only China and Russia voted in favor of the six-month extension.

Now that aid is halted at the border, the rest of the Security Council has bent to Russia’s demands, deciding that six more months of aid are better than none.

The scene of the crime: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his family visited Aleppo on July 8 to tour the city and inaugurate a new power station.

The visit also served as a symbol of how the city that was once controlled by rebel forces looking to oust the President was firmly under the control of the government.

It was Assad’s first visit to the city since it was recaptured by government forces in 2016.

Opponents of Assad decried the visit and pointed out that the once-bustling city was now empty and reduced to rubble due to bombardment by the government forces.

From Tehran with love: The Biden administration says that Iran is set to deliver drones to Russia for use in its invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Analysts have said that Iran was a logical choice for Russia, as Iran has been spending the better part of the last two decades refining its drone technology and that the Iranian drones have been more battle-tested than the Russian ones.

Prior to the invasion, Russia licensed most of its drone technology from Israel but, because Israel has tried to remain neutral in the conflict, that source is no longer available to Russia.

Locked up abroad: Iran announced that it had detained several foreigners, including a former British diplomat, over accusations of spying.

Giles Whitaker, the UK’s former deputy head of mission in Tehran, Maciej Walczak, a Polish scientist, and the spouse of an Austrian diplomat were all detained by Iranian security forces who claimed that they were spying after they allegedly collected soil samples in the Shahdad Forest, a restricted area.

These detentions are nothing new for Iran.

For years, Iran has arrested foreigners in its country, under sometimes ludicrous claims, to use them as bargaining tools during negotiations.

What we’re reading

Deal or no deal: Biden’s attempts at restarting the Iran nuclear deal have been going on since practically the start of his presidency. But they have led nowhere thus far. As NOW’s David Isaly found, recent negotiations have also led nowhere, but there is still the possibility of a deal.

More problems: What happens if Lebanon only has a caretaker government when the president’s term ends? It has never happened before in Lebanon’s history and the Constitution does not address the issue. I try to answer this question.

Lackluster celebrations: Eid al-Adha celebrations following the completion of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca have always been big and festive. However, with Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis, NOW’s Philippe Pernot found that celebrations have largely been limited in Tripoli.

Growing attacks on women: The MENA region has been shocked recently by a growing number of attacks on women and girls throughout the region. Dana Hourany looked at this rise in violence, why it’s happening and what can be done about it.

Return to the unknown: Few countries have agreed to repatriate its citizens who used to belong to ISIS. Iraq is one of those that has made more of an effort to do so. But as the Washington Post’s Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim found, they are not always sure what they are going back to.


Beware the yellow monsters: The new film Minions: the Rise of Gru has been banned in Lebanon without officials giving a reason for the ban.

Two possible reasons have been given by viewers.

The first is that one of the villains appears as a nun while the second is because two male characters are shown embracing in the background for a few seconds.

Podcasts: In this week’s interaction of Sarde after dinner, Medea Azouri and Mouin Jaber sat down with Nadra Assaf to discuss dance in the Arab world.

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