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Lebanon: Detonation of instability

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On August 4th two powerful explosions shook Beirut destroying the port and most the city. According to recent reprots, the explosion was caused by the inflammation and detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonia nitrate. Reports of August 8th say the blast killed more than 150 people, while the number of injured exceeded five thousand. The political and social repercussions of the disaster may affect the entire Eastern Mediterranean.

In the estimates of The Economist, up to 300,000 people, or 5 percent of the population of Lebanon were left without homes as a result of the disaster. According to reports of August 6th, the authorities estimate losses at 3−5 billion dollars, which makes up about 10% of the country’s GDP. Restoration of the port infrastructure alone will require “hundreds of millions of dollars”, – the government says. Meanwhile, given the closed land borders with Syria and Israel, the port was one of the two, along with air communication, major supply channels for the country. The prime grain warehouse is now ruined, the remaining grain reserves will last “less than a month”.

On August 7th President Michel Aoun said that, according to one of the versions, the explosion was caused by “external intervension”. On August 8th Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that the main cause of the catastrophe was “years-long corruption and negligence” Diab called for early parliamentary elections without which, he said, the country would be unable to overcome the current crisis.

On August 8th mass protests rolled through Beirut with particiapants demanding the resignation of all members of the country’s leadership.Protests quickly grew into clashes with law enforcers and at some point the protesters seized offices of the Lebanese Foreign Ministry. Army units have now been brought into the city. By August 9th the number of those hurt exceeded several hundred.

Lebanon has been the scene of a fierce internal struggle which is closely intertwined with geopolitical processes in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranea, ever since it was created in 1943. In 1990, after a 15-year civil war, economic restoration began, which was based on foreign loans and foreign assistance, first of all, from rich countries of the Middle East, and on money transfers from the Lebanese diaspora. Lebanon’s economy heavily depended on the import of “practically everything” while political power and major monetary flows, including distribution of foreign aid, landed in the hands of several dozen affluent families and clans.

The current crisis takes origin in the events that took place in the Greater Middle East in the early 2010s. Iran’s leadership took the «Arab Spring» and the war in Syria as a direct threat. Using its influence, which relied on confessional and cultural similaries, Tehran created a network of “Islamic resistance”that incorporates “trans-border non-governmental actors in …..Syria and Lebanon”. Given the situation, Iran’s opponents fear that the Islamic Republic is set on “consolidating a fairly vast territory in the Middle East which is populated mainly by Shiites”.

Iran’s growing influence has affected the political layout in Lebanon. In the course of presidential elections in May 2018 the main pro-Iranian group, Hezbollah, and its allies, got an opportunity to block decisions that require a qualified majority. As a result, experts say, supporters of rapprochement with Iran acquired an effective instrument which enabled them to “manipulate Lebanon’s political system ….in their own interests”.

In turn, leading Sunni countries of the Gulf Region have been demonstrating an ever worsening discontent over the Lebanese Sunnis’ inability to resist Iran’s growing might. Кuwait, Saudi Arabia and UAE were cutting down on financial assistance to Lebanon, even after the country’s government was headed by Saad Hariri, who holds Saudi citizenship.

Simultaneously, behind-the-scenes battles have intensified on the territory of Lebanon between Iran and the USA-Israel alliance. According to western observers, the war in Syria has boosted Lebanon’s value, both in terms of logistical support, and as one of the anti-Israeli frontlines. “In the face of Trump-Netanyahu-Muhammed bin Salman partnership the pro-Iranian “resistance axis” has strengthened its positions, building a “territorial corridor” that links Tehran with Beirut via Iraq and Syria”. In Lebanon as well, the intensification of American pressure on Iran, designed to “crash this “resistance axis” and stop the “regionalization” of “Hezbollah”, was making itself felt. In 2019 Washington imposed sanctions against Hezbollah, which dealt a strong blow on currency influxes into Lebanon. Just recently, prior to the explosion in Beirut, Hezbollah and Israel exchanged mutual threats yet again to carry out strikes along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Yet another important instance of Lebanese geopolitics of late is the growing confrontation between Turkey and its opponents. Critics say President Erdogan “wants to return to the sea expanses to gain control of the Eastern Mediterranean with a view to monopolize operations to prospect for gas reserves on the Cyprus shelf and thwart the building of a gas pipeline from Lebanon into Greece”. Such a course of events runs into fierce resistance from the fledgling informal regional alliance of Greece, Cyprus, France, Egypt, Israel and Jordan.

On the one hand, Turkey has been increasing its influence in Lebanon in recent years. “Operating in the country are public organizations which serve Turkey’s interests. Meanwhile, sceptics say that “as the Turkish economy continues to deteriorate, the lira rate against the dollar sees only occasional stoppages in its ever continuing downfall”. For Ankara, given the corona crisis, excessive bluntness and a stake on open confrontation look hardly practicable. “Another scenario” provides for ‘”distracting the attention” of opponents with the help of third countries”. Extensive assistance to Lebanon could fit in well with such an “image-oriented” approach.

Yet another factor that played a noticeable role in the social and economic destabilization of Lebanon is the influx of Syrian refugees. Nearly 1 million Syrians have moved to Lebanon in nine years. (The population of Lebanon proper is just over 6 million). This produced a negative impact on the labor market and put more pressure on the already struggling public infrastructure. Experts say “a considerable part” of refugees “live beyond the poverty line”, which only makes local problems worse.

Finally, the fifth factor that has aggravated the position of Lebanon yet further is the coronavirus epidemic. Most businesses had to shut down in the middle of March in order to stop the spread of infection. Quarantine restrictions were eased only in May. Coming to the fore now is the epidemic-triggered fall of oil and gas prices. 

Gulf countries are a popular destination for Lebanese labor migrants, including representatives of highly qualified specialists. Until recently, these countries received nearly 40 percent of Lebanese exports. In turn, residents of oil and gas monarchies supplied Lebanese coffers with up to one third of tourist business revenues. A decrease in oil prices led to a new reduction of financial assistance to Lebanon on the part of rich neighbors.

By the early 2010s, given the above-mentioned circumstances, the economic model, which largely relied on loans, began to falter. Tourism revenues were running low, real estate prices dropped, trade routes via Syria were blocked. The GDP began to decrease in 2018. Deficit of the budget and purchase balance acquired a “chronic” nature. By the end of 2019 state debt amounted to nearly 180 percent of the GDP. Practicaly half of the state budget went to service debt in 2019. By the end of last year, after ten years of growth, the volume of deposits in Lebanese banks began to dwindle as well.

In autumn 2019 Lebanon was gripped by mass protests, which are believed to have been caused by the introduction of a monthly 6-dollar tax on the use of WhatsApp messenger. The protesters quickly picked up slogans that call for a battle against corruption, cronism and incompetence on the part of the authorities. In October Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, under pressure from the protesters. The “technocratic” government of Hassan Diab was formed only in January 2020. Diab’s candidacy was backed mainly by members of the March 8 Coalition, which is oriented at Damascus and Tehran. The main “achievement” of the new became the announcement in March this year of the first in the country’s history default on eurobonds. 

Lebanon turned to the IMF for help. By April 30th the Cabinet had finally agreed on the preliminary “plan of restoration” of the economy, which formed the foundation of talks with the Fund. Negotiations are still under way. The government and parliament are engaged in fierce disputes as to the losses the country’s banking sector and its clients will have to sustain in the course of implementation of anti-crisis measures. In all likelihood, the losses will amount to billions of dollars. A number of observers say measures proposed by the IMF inflict a blow, in the first place, on the interests of pro-Iranian forces in Lebanon.

At present, western economists predict a 13-percent decrease of the Lebanese GDPin 2020. “The economic catastrophe is progressively sweeping” the country. Here are facts. By early August «the electricity grid produces only a few hours of energy per day, while billions disappear in the state-run energy supplying organization. The streets are cluttered with litter». The Lebanese pound has lost 80 percent of its value since autumn last year, while “prices are rising practically daily”. Financial hunger and deficit of commodities have put the state healthcare system “on the verge of collapse”. According to The Economist, meat has disppeared from the menu of Lebanese military. In the middle of the summer the authorities raised bread prices yet again. Meanwhile, the large-scale assistance announced by many countries of the world in the first hours after the explosion in the port can ease things only for a few weeks.

Practically all observers are positive that both the economic and political models of Lebanon are suffering a fiasco. It is unclear if there are still forces inside the country that could send it on the track of consolidation. The Lebanese society is historically divided into fiercely competing ethno-religious groups. The May 2018 elections revealed the presence of a new generation of politicians who are attempting to speak from the position of national interests. However, they are yet to prove their ability to compete for power and influence with the young generation of representatives of old clans and families.

Gaining from further destabilization in Lebanon are major ”ethno-confessional communities, frantically competing for power”. The weaker the Lebanese state, the more influence is accumulated in the hands of community leaders. Ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis each of the communities has been running their own hospitals and has been trying to attract supporters by handing out food and even money.

Of external players, the ones interested in further escalation of conflict in “the country of cedars” are those who are set on preventing the stabilization of Syria. And those who expect to continue to exert pressure on Iran. Speaking in favor of the opposite scenario are opponents to further militarizatioin of Eastern Mediterranean and to a new outbreak of geopolitical struggle on the vast territory covering Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Lebanon is in need of urgent and extensive assistance. Otherwise, the country risks stepping over the line of political chaos yet again. Given the dwindling resources, the current situation promises further aggravation of the struggle for influence, both in Lebanon, and in neighboring regions.

From our partner International Affairs

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Middle East

Call for International Community: A Story of Israeli Colonialism

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One of the biggest myths about the Israel-Palestine conflict is that it has been going on for centuries, that this is all about ancient religious hatreds. Truth be told, while religion is included, the contention is for the most part around two gatherings of individuals who guarantee a similar land. It really goes back about a century, to the early 1900s. Around at that point, the locale along the eastern Mediterranean we currently call Israel-Palestine had been under Ottoman Empire for a considerable length of time. It was religiously diverse, including mostly Muslims and Christians but also a small number of Jews, who lived generally in peace and it was changing two important ways. In the first place, more individuals in the area were building up a feeling of being ethnic Arabs as well as Palestinians, a national personality. At the same time, not so far away in Europe more Jews joining a movement called Zionism, which said that Judaism was not just a religion but a nationality, one that deserved a nation of its own. Following quite a while of mistreatment, many accepted a Jewish state was their lone method of wellbeing. They saw their notable country in the Middle East as their best trust in building up it. In the primary many years of the twentieth century, a huge number of European Jews moved there. After World War one, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the British and French Empire carved up the Middle East, with the British taking control of the region it called the British Mandate for Palestine.

At first, the British allowed Jewish immigration, but as more Jews arrived, settling into farming communes, tension between Jews and Arab grew. The two sides submitted demonstrations of brutality and by the 1930s, the British started restricting Jewish movement. Accordingly, Jewish civilian armies framed to battle both the neighborhood Arabs and to oppose British rule. Then, came the Holocaust, leading many more Jews to flee Europe for British Palestine, and galvanizing much of the world in support of Jewish state. In 1947, as sectarian violence between Arab and Jews there grew, the United Nations approved a plan to divide British Palestine into two separate states: One for Jews, Israel and one for Arabs, Palestine. The city of Jerusalem, where Jews, Muslims, and Christians, all have sacred destinations, it was to turn into a special international zone. The arrangement was intended to give Jews a state, to set up Palestinian autonomy, and to end the partisan viciousness that the British could not control anymore. The Jews accepted the plan and declared independence as Israel but on the other hand, Arabs throughout the region saw the UN plan as just more European colonialism trying to steal their land. Many of the Arabs states, who had just recently won independence themselves, declared war on Israel to establish a unified Arab. The new state of Israel won the war in any case, all the while, they pushed well past their fringes under the UN plan, taking the western portion of Jerusalem and a great part of the land that was to have been a piece of Palestine. They also expelled huge number of Palestinians from their homes, creating a massive refugee population whose descendants today number about 7 million. Towards the end of the war, Israel controlled the entirety of the region except for Gaza, which Egypt controlled, and the West Bank, which Jordan controlled. This was the start of the decades-long Arab-Israeli clash. In 1967, Israel and the neighboring Arab states battled another war. At the point when it finished, Israel had held onto the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and both Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.

Israel’s military is still occupying the Palestinians territories of the West Bank and Gaza, and this was when the conflict became an Israeli-Palestinian struggle. The Palestinian Liberation Organization, which had shaped during the 1960s to look for a Palestinian state, battled against Israel. At first, the PLO asserted all of what had been British Palestine, which means it needed to end the state of Israel altogether. Battling among Israel and the PLO continued for quite a long time, in any event, including a 1982 Israeli intrusion of Lebanon to kick the gathering out of Beirut. The PLO later said it would acknowledge isolating the land among Israel and Palestine, yet the contention proceeded. As the entirety of this was going on, something sensational was changing in the Israel-involved Palestinian domains, Israelis were moving in. these individuals are called pilgrims and they made their homes in the West Bank and Gaza whether Palestinians needed them or not. Some moved for strict reasons, some since they need to guarantee the land for Israel, and others are regularly financed by the Israeli government. Today there are few hundred thousand pioneers in an involved area even though the International thinks of them as unlawful.

Firstly, and most importantly to resolve any problem we must diagnose the real problem. It is essential to recall that there is no “Palestine issue” but instead an “Israeli colonial problem”. Problems are getting unbearable for Palestinians, however. Inside the West Bank, Palestinians were being surrounded by a somewhat-increasing number of settlements, which mostly respond with wars and now and then with barbarianism and so most clearly require ordinary lives. Within Israel however, the overwhelming majority have been unconcerned, as well as the repression usually holds the argument mildly excluded throughout their daily lives, despite snippets of short and surprising brutalities. There is almost no political desire for peace, no one really recognizes where the conflict is headed. A Third Intifada possible? There will be a collapse in the Palestinian Authority?  In either circumstance, everyone understands that scenario, as they are at present, will no doubt endure. Israel’s occupation over the Palestinians becomes too precarious yet to think permanent, so it would be a ton more awful, even if anything sensational shifts.

The overall creation of the whole situation must determine the outcome; two states or one bi-national entity. The continuing with speculation about the manifestation or duality of states is indeed not unnecessary; it may prove destructive and crippling.Through the past, facts are obvious that colonialism cannot continue until forever. Similar situation applies for Israel, Israel will also end its occupation similarly as every single major power ended theirs.The sooner the better for both Palestinians and Israelis likewise.

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When is usury usury? Turkish fatwa casts doubt on Erdogan’s religious soft power drive

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Turkey’s state-controlled top religious authority has conditionally endorsed usury in a ruling that is likely to fuel debate about concepts of Islamic finance and could weaken President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to garner religious soft power by projecting Turkey as a leader defending Muslim causes.

The ruling, issued by the Directorate of Religious Affairs or Diyanet that is part of Mr. Erdogan’s office, stated that interest-based home loans were exempted from the 1,400-year-old ban on interest as a form of usury, provided they were extended by a Turkish state bank for the purchase of real estate in a government housing project.

The ruling is widely being seen as serving the interests of Mr. Erdogan’s government rather than a reform of Islam.

“The fatwa is likely to be a hot discussion for a number of weeks or months… We’ll have to see if the fatwa will really increase Islamic mortgage markets. I assume that is the main reason why they made such a controversial fatwa… It will strengthen those opposed to Islamic finance,” said Indonesian Islamic finance scholar Fauziah Rizki Yuniarti.

The fatwa was issued in the wake of reports that Mr. Erdogan had pressured commercial banks to continue granting cheap loans to boost the construction industry. Responsible for the construction of affordable housing, the government’s Housing Development Administration has become an important driver of the Turkish economy that has fuelled an increase in home sales.

The fatwa came days before Mr. Erdogan rattled financial markets by reverting for the first time in two months to his tirade against high interest rates that he asserts bankrupt businesses and fuel inflation. In a surprise move, Mr. Erdogan appointed in November a new central bank governor and promised to adhere to more orthodox monetary policies that would include higher interest rates in a bid to stem a slide of the Turkish lira.

The fatwa, much like Mr. Erdogan’s hesitancy to criticize China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in its north-western province of Xinjiang, is likely to cast doubt on Turkey’s religious soft power efforts that involve not only voicing support for Muslim causes but also the construction of mosques in far-flung places across the globe as well as efforts to shape the religious and political beliefs of Turkish diaspora communities in Europe.

Turkish diplomats are likely to use the fatwa to counter mounting criticism in Europe from French President Emmanuel Macron and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz who have been leading a crackdown on political Islam and pointing fingers at Turkey because it supports groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

After swiping insults in recent months, Messrs. Macron and Erdogan have sought to dial down tensions. Mr. Macron last week responded positively to a New Year message in which Mr. Erdogan expressed condolences for several violent attacks in France last year.

The message was part of Turkish efforts to take the sharp edge off its multiple regional disputes that involve European nations as well as Israel and Saudi Arabia. The moves were in anticipation of US President-elect Joe Biden taking office and in advance of European Union and NATO summits that could censor Turkey.

“Turkey is an ally, that in many ways… is not acting as an ally should and this is a very, very significant challenge for us and we’re very clear-eyed about it,” said Anthony Blinken, Mr. Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, during his Senate confirmation hearing on Monday.

A Turkish plan to open three schools in Germany has run into opposition from conservative and left-wing politicians. Turkey argues that the schools would be responding to community demands that students have an opportunity to opt for Turkish as an elective alongside other foreign languages.

Markus Blume, general secretary of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), asserted that “we don’t want Erdogan schools in Germany.”

Left Party member of parliament Sevim Dagdelen charged that “it is fatal for the government to negotiate the opening of private schools in Germany while the Turkish autocrat drives the critical intelligentsia of his country into prison or exile.”

The school controversy came amid a heated debate about a plan to train imams of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), one of Germany’s largest Muslim associations that maintains close ties to Mr. Erdogan’s religious affairs directorate.

The training would compete with a similar course at the University of Osnabruck that has been endorsed by Germany’s Council of Muslims whose 15-20,000 members include Muslims of German and Arab as well as Turkish descent.

The government has pressured DITIB, which operates close to 900 of Germany’s 2,600 mosques and employs 1,100 Turkish-funded and trained imams, to opt for German-educated clerics who in contrast to their Turkish counterparts are fluent in German.

The government stopped subsidizing DITIB in 2018 while Germany’s intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, reclassified the group as a nationalist rather than a religious organisation.

It will take more than a fatwa on interest to counter increasingly deep-seated Western distrust of Mr. Erdogan even if Western elites may read the ruling as an indication that the Turkish president potentially is mellowing.

Mr. Erdogan may, however, have to explain his apparent willingness to opportunistically break with religious norms to a Muslim world in which he ranks as one of the most popular figures despite widespread elite hostility towards him.

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The leading causes behind today’s unstable Iraq

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Nawshirwan Mustafa, Southern Kurdistan’s leader, writer, historian and a prominent head of the region’s leading opposition party who passed away four years ago had in one of his books portrayed Iraq to be “The museum of nations”. In the book “Rotating in circle, the inner side of the events: 1980-1984”He inscribed that the country is a hub of numerous nations including Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Assyrians as well as numerous religious groups as of Sunnis, Shiites, Yazidis, etc. In other words, he believes that Iraq was initially comulsively constructed irrespective of the intentions of who lived in it in a manner that met the economic and political interests of the superpowers of that era. By era, he is referring to post ottoman period that was succeeded by the creation of a number of states incorporating Iraq in 1932.

Those various nations and groups have always caused clashes and challenges for the country known as an Arab state to an extent that since it’s inappropriate formation, It has never had a long term political, security and economic stability if we are to ignore social aspects. The country had always hosted war, coup d’état and crisis, conquered countries and countries conquered it.

Surpassingly, if we now encounter someone from any ethnic and/or religious folk, they would reveal their keen on owning a state, a region with its parliament, president and military. We should therefore wonder how come in a such non-homogenous country, with multiple ethnicities (each owning their cultural and accentual traits), and multiple religions, their people can be tolerant, preserve peace, embrace diversity, thereby become democratic for which the United states invaded it.

In a state where is forcefully annexed, we should not be astonished that it will always remain divided, living together will be a serious challenge, and worse than all, external powers will utilize the diversity of the ethnicities as they had always done and the outcome of these are what we are witnessing now.

Consequently, we notice that in Iraq occurs sectarian conflicts, Al-Qahida emerges, ISIS appears, almost each party is associated with a foreign agenda (the latter phenomenon somehow is in Kurdistan as well based on analytical descriptions). On the other hand, a recognized US think tank believes that Iran has always been intervening in Iraq alongside bolstering different militias.

Moreover, according to political analysts, Turkey is also a recognized player in the country. In the excuse of Turkmens, securing borders and ties with a few political factions, it treats Iraq as if it is still a former colony of their elder empire. The United States in addition will never evacuate it as it invested in it with a war that estimates its cost to be four trillion dollars. We may not have space to highlight other industrial western countries as well who consider Iraq as a tray covered with cakes due to its unique natural resources, each trying to take a peace from it.

Among numerous evidences for the geopolitical divisions of the country, the most recent one to be spotted is those soldiers of the Militia group known as “Hasaib Ahl Alhaq”, an externally backed and trained group whom in a recorded video threatened the government of Iraq to release their soldiers who were caught by the administration of the new Iraqi premier Mustafa Kadhmi. The soldiers the group was calling their freedom were five men caught and incarcerated by the Iraqi government following the strategic agreement signed between the United States and the Iraqi government, a deal that limited the authority of the paramilitary groups in Iraq and contained some other military and security points.

The aforementioned fighters were caught for their involvement in an attack on the US embassy in Baghdad on December 20 of last year. In the video they shouted, called for the freedom of their friends and revealed that they were religious fighters, fought against American imperialism and is now ready to fight as well. They also spoke out that “any touch on a religious fighter is a touch on every one of them, they are only awaiting order from their leader ‘Qais Xaz Ali’.” Qais is the leader of the group ‘Hasaib Ahl Alhaq’.

That incident was huge in Iraq, took the attention of the mass media outlets, social media and the people to an extent that same night the prime minister went out to the streets of Baghdad driving a car himself, giving the message that Iraq is safe and they save the security of the country.

The stability of any country relies on the security and military forces. Lack of stability can ruin life and the people pay huge prices. The toughest challenge of the series of the post 2003 Iraqi governments were their failure in spreading security and stability for the country. As a result, the region became a stadium of civil war, the birth of terrorist groups as well as the international interventions. Kadhmi’s government has been enormously repeating that they would secure the country, and bring about a stable and calm life for Iraqis, but they are yet to do so.

The military groups that were highlighted above are known to be one of the essential factors for why we are witnessing an unstable, corrupted and ruined Iraq. They are armed, militarily trained, financially supported and do not obey the government, making it almost impossible for the government to control and disarm them. The Sunni religious groups on the other hand are also to take a great share for the political, security and economic flaws of their country. Sunnis are still seriously concerned for the loss of their power before the invasion and are dreaming of taking it back. More importantly, they have always been marginalized by the majority Shiite based governments, resulting in their backlash of bolstering groups like ISIS and Al-Qaida.

To conclude, to save Iraq from those unfavorable catastrophes and providing it with a structure of a proper, peaceful, and stable country,  we would go back to the beginning of our writing and that is the root from which the country is constructed. Iraq is a forcefully combined country, created without taking into account the real intentions of its diverse ethnic and religious groups. The European colonial powers of that era-post ottoman period- designed its borders with a pen according to their political and economic interests. Therefor, ever since its creation, the country had been hosting political conflicts, coup d’états, civil war, terrorism, anti-homogeneity, conquerence and invasion. The Kurds say whatever you plant, you will cultivate it. Indisputably, it is that annexation and combination that resulted in a such politically, economically and socially unstable Iraq and only recreating the country on a foundation that reflects the intentions and considerations of its own entities can cure it from those challenges. US president elect Joe Biden is known to be the owner of the project of dividing Iraq into three regions: Sunnis, Kurds and Shites. He believes that implementing such a project would save Iraq from those struggles that the country had been suffering from for years!

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