Since the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war in the 1990s, Lebanon has, for the most part, maintained a reputation of being a rare liberal hub in the Middle East – in particular when it comes to press freedom and journalists’ ability to work in the country.
For the most part, this remains true. Journalists are able to work generally unimpeded outside of a few restrictions – such as not insulting the president – which has allowed the press in Lebanon to flourish.
Nonetheless, some in Lebanon’s political establishment continue to try and silence journalists and the press.
Dima Sadek, a journalist with the Lebanese broadcaster MTV, was recently found guilty of “defamation and libel” after a lawsuit was filed against her by the head of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil.
The lawsuit came after the journalist bashed Bassil and the FPM for “incitement” and “racism” following the assault of two men from Tripoli by supporters of the FPM who forced one of the men, Zakaria al-Masri to say that “Aoun is your God and God of Tripoli.”
At the time, she described the incident as “racist and Nazi acts.”
With the guilty verdict, Sadek was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 110 million lira. Sadek is expected to appeal the verdict and, given how cases like this have gone in the past, she has a high chance of winning on appeal.
Bassil and the FPM are some of the worst offenders when it comes to using the judiciary as a tool to silence dissent and criticism.
In most of the cases, the defendants have either outright won the case or won on appeal, but it does not change the fact that this is an attempt to intimidate the press from being critical of Bassil and his party.
Lebanon has a vast and diverse press, but this is put in jeopardy when individuals and parties use the state’s tools as a means of silencing the press.
In order for a society to thrive, it requires a free press that can do its job without fear of retribution.
A game of violence: Over the weekend there were armed clashes in the neighborhood of Chiyeh in Beirut’s southern suburbs between two families.
The clashes took place, reportedly, due to one person losing a lot of money through gambling.
— السياق (@alsyaaq) July 15, 2023
According to reports, the fighting took place between Amer Dimashq, who is affiliated with the Amal Movement, and his associates and Ali Nimr al-Khalil, who is affiliated with Hezbollah, and his associates. One person was injured in the fighting and was taken to the hospital.
The Dimashq family are nephews of Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri’s head of security. Al-Khalil are relatives to the head of the Ghobeiry Municipality, which neighbors Chiyeh.
These types of clashes have become an increasingly common occurrence in Lebanon amid the ongoing economic crisis.
Five in your eyes: The group of five nations, which includes Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France and the United States, is meeting today to discuss the issue of Lebanon’s deadlock in electing a president.
The meeting is expected to be primarily led by the French, whose new envoy to Lebanon, Jean-Yves Le Drian, is taking the lead on the Lebanon file.
Following the meeting, Qatar is also expected to make a proposal of four potential names for president to the parties in Lebanon. So far only Sleiman Frangieh and Joseph Aoun are the only two known names.
It is not just the presidency on the table, though. There are plans to discuss other issues, such as government formation and policies – which could prove beneficial as to avoid new deadlock not far down the line.
Lebanon has been without a president for 259 days.
Rising heat: Tensions on the Lebanese-Israeli border remain at a simmer, with several Hezbollah members injured after Israel launched a stun grenade at them.
Israel claims that the men in question were attempting to damage the border fence.
In the latest addition to the growing list of events taking place along the border, Israeli soldiers threw a stun grenade to disperse individuals who #Israel says were trying to damage the border fence in Bustan. Three #Hezbollah members were taken to the hospital for treatment.
— Nicholas Frakes | نيكولاس فريكس (@nicfrakesjourno) July 12, 2023
While these individuals were unable to do any damage to the fence, others had better luck, with pictures emerging over the weekend of people removing Israeli cameras from one part of the fence.
Tensions on the border have been steadily rising in recent weeks, starting after Hezbollah placed military tents on disputed land in the Shebaa Farms, and being further exacerbated after Israel officially annexed the Lebanese section of the village of Ghajar.
Nasrallah speaks: The incident in which the Hezbollah members were injured by the Israeli stun grenade took place just hours before Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, was set to speak for the first time after a little over a month of silence.
In his speech, Nasrallah did not say much about the political situation in Lebanon, claiming that there were not really any new developments to discuss (ironically it is partly because of Hezbollah and its insistence on continuing to back Frangieh for the presidency that has caused this), and instead focused on what has been happening on the southern border.
Some takeaways from #Nasrallah’s speech tonight.
When it comes to the tents in the Chebaa Farms, Nasrallah says that the #Hezbollah soldiers have “instructions on how to handle the situation if #Israel” attempts to remove the tents. When it comes to Hezbollah’s history…
— Nicholas Frakes | نيكولاس فريكس (@nicfrakesjourno) July 12, 2023
Nasrallah made it clear that Hezbollah was not going to back down in regards to its tents, and especially not when it comes to the occupation of Ghajar.
There is currently a diplomatic effort by the UN underway to bring about an end to the current tensions in the hopes of preventing a new conflict that would be devastating – especially for Lebanon, which is in the midst of one of the worst economic crises that the world has seen in over a century.
The refugee issue: The European Parliament voiced its support to keep Syrian refugees in Lebanon last week, leading to widespread condemnation from Lebanese officials and politicians.
The West has long been criticized in Lebanon for its policy when it comes to Syrian refugees.
The Western world does not want Syrians seeking refuge in its countries and insists that they stay in Lebanon. However, the West also largely fails to provide anywhere close to enough funding to help the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, putting a larger burden on a country already struggling with an ever-worsening economic crisis.
This situation is more than enough to have a serious discussion about Western double standards, but, instead, there has been a push in recent months to simply just send the refugees back to Syria despite the risks that it poses to their lives. Lebanese politicians have also been more than happy to scapegoat the refugees and blame them for many of the problems that Lebanon is facing.
Other issues: The European Parliament also looked to highlight other issues plaguing Lebanon, even if they did not get as much publicity.
Some of the other points mentioned include the disarmament of Hezbollah, holding of municipal elections, election of a president, an independent and transparent investigation into the Beirut Port explosion and for the political elite to take responsibility for their shared role in leading Lebanon to the point that it is currently at.
A lot of these are things that Lebanon has heard countless times over the years but, given that they are all words with no follow-up, nothing ever is done about any of it.
In the end, this will be another international call that Lebanon ignores.
A shocking crime: Last week, a video emerged of children at a daycare in Metn being abused by workers at the center, sending shockwaves throughout Lebanon.
The daycare has since been shut down, and two of the workers at the center have been taken into custody.
While abuse of the most vulnerable, women, children, the elderly and refugees, is not a new phenomenon, it has increasingly come to light through the use of social media.
The current laws in Lebanon often fail to help protect these vulnerable individuals.
The end of the calm: The lira once against started to fluctuate over the weekend after several months of relative stability.
In the span of less than an hour, the lira nearly surpassed 100,000 to $1 but quickly returned to around 92,000 to $1.
— Nicholas Frakes | نيكولاس فريكس (@nicfrakesjourno) July 15, 2023
Since then, the lira has continued to fluctuate minimally.
There has been a lot of speculation about the reason for the movement in the lira. Some have said that it was caused after a Lebanese bank said that it would buy dollars at any price, while others have speculated that it is because Riad Salameh, the head of the Central Bank (BDL), is set to leave his post at the end of the month and the future of who will lead BDL is unclear.
Field trip: On Monday, July 17, a man held up a bank in Antelias in an attempt to retrieve his trapped savings.
The man held up the Antelias branch of al-Mawarid Bank, along with his 13-year-old son, demanding access to $15,000 of his own money.
خاص جمعية صرخة المودعين من داخل بنك الموارد أنطلياس المودع أدغار عواد يحرر كامل وديعته البالغة 15000 دولار pic.twitter.com/8ajMZCL4PH
— جمعية صرخة المودعين (@sarkhitmoudiin) July 17, 2023
According to the group Depositors’ Outcry, the man was able to retrieve the full amount he was demanding.
In the region
Abbas visits Jenin: After Israel ended its raid on the Jenin refugee camp and pulled out of the area, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas paid a visit to Jenin in a show of solidarity with the people in the besieged area.
The problem with the visit was that no one in Jenin wanted Abbas there. Abbas had not visited Jenin since the last Palestinian presidential election in 2005 and, since then, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, the governing body for Palestinians, have become a joke to many Palestinians.
The PA and Abbas have done little to nothing to combat Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory, and have been more focused, in the widely-held view of many Palestinians, on maintaining their grip on power and getting rich.
This has allowed groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other militant groups to gain a significant foothold and support in Palestine, while the actual Palestinian government slowly crumbles.
Back to the streets: Israelis have once again taken to the streets to protest the government’s proposed judicial reform legislation.
Union leaders and military reservists have all also threatened to go on strike once again, putting the country at risk of coming to a standstill, should the proposed legislation go forward as planned.
There has been steep opposition to the legislation since it was announced after the formation of the new government in December 2022.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is stuck between a rock and a hard place with this legislation. Should he proceed with it, it poses the risk of irreversibly damaging the country but, if he does not, then he runs the risk of his government collapsing and him losing power.
Assad tightens his grip on power: After the United Nations failed to pass an extension on the cross-border aid to the opposition-controlled parts of Syria, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that he would allow the UN convoys to continue making its deliveries under one condition: he and his government would get oversight.
For years Assad has been trying to find a way to regain control over the entirety of his country, and this may once again put him on the path of doing so.
Assad and his supporters have largely described those living in the opposition-controlled areas as being “terrorists,” with the Syrian and Russian militaries continuing to lay siege to them.
The UN has yet to accept or reject Assad’s offer but, with few other options, they might be forced to do so, marking another win for Assad.
Iraqi PM in Syria: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani visited Syria on July 16, marking the first time that an Iraqi leader has visited the country since the start of the civil war.
According to the two leaders, they discussed combatting drugs, the return of Syrian refugees to Syria, and lifting Western sanctions against Syria.
Iraq was one of the few countries to maintain relations with Syria after the civil war began.
The morality police return: Iran’s morality police appear to have once again returned to the streets of Iran after months of absence in a renewed campaign by the Iranian government to enforce its strict dress code.
For months, the morality police had been mostly absent in Iran after the start of the nationwide uprisings following the death of 22-year-old Jina “Mahsa” Amini at the hands of the morality police.
Since then, many have continued to fight the country’s strict dress code.
In the months since the protests have died down, Iran has tried to reinforce the dress code to varying degrees of success.
What we’re reading
A new film festival: Lebanon is the home of several film festivals. However, NOW’s Dana Hourany reported the Mizan Film Festival. Coming from the Lokman Slim Foundation, the new festival will look at political assassinations in Lebanon.
The border: A lot has been happening on the Lebanese-Israeli border. I wrote about the recent tensions, why this is happening, and what is likely to happen going forward and the situation between Hezbollah and Israel continues to heat up.
Silence: Iraq has a long history of silencing anyone that it feels is too critical or could challenge the government’s authority. The New York Times’s Alissa J. Rubin looked at a new regulation that is supposed to stop “degrading content” but has been used to crack down on criticism.
Podcasts: This latest episode of The Beirut Banyan is for those who enjoy long and in-depth debates. Ronnie Chatah spoke with Nadim Shehadi, a columnist, and Federal Lebanon co-founder Hicham Bou Nassif about supernational identities, the current situation in Lebanon and possible solutions to the various problems Lebanon is facing.
Médéa Azouri and Mouin Jaber take us for a Sarde by the sea in the latest episode of their podcast where they discuss the people you see at the beaches in Lebanon, summer flings, living in the moment, and nostalgia for Lebanon’s summers.