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Raging Lebanon: The Country In Deep Crisis

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“And that’s just one of the many problems plaguing the country and shutting the system down, making ‘LebanOFF’ more than just an amusing slogan

Lebanon is apprehended in a deep political division mirroring the regional fault lines. Sectarianism has been the key element entrenched in the system of Lebanon. Lebanese political institutions thwart the country’s idea by making it dependent on the sectarian leaders. The political leaders from each sect have maintained their power and influence through a system of patronage to shield the passion of the religious communities by lending financial incentives, legal and illegal means of aid to its people. The Taif Agreement is considered the bedrock of this political system. The root of the problem today evoked from the protests of the 14th March protest which was led by Saad Hariri’s political block with the backing of Saudi Arabia and the USA, whereas the March 8th protest led by Michel Aoun’s party and the Hezbollah, with the support of Syria and Iran. The new technocrat government in Lebanon has the support of the March 8th alliance. The Hezbollah is identified as a terrorist organization by the US and the EU has blacklisted its armed wing. Lebanon’s religious diversity makes the country prone to external power interference, like Iran’s backing of the Shia militant Hezbollah movement, which is actively involved in Syria’s civil war. Hezbollah is a fundamental power intermediary that dominates the government of Lebanon.

 Syria influences Lebanon’s foreign policy and internal policies, and its military forces from 1976 until 2005. After the civil war, former militia leaders took control over the government ministries and public institutions by patronizing networks into the bowels of the system. Government jobs, contracts, and other resources are allocated by the sect through the process known as muhasasa.

U.S.-Lebanon Relations

Lebanon’s foreign policy captures the dynamic overlap between domestic and foreign politics. Often in Lebanese politics, local actors deploy transnational ideologies or bandwagon with external actors to gain a stronghold in domestic political struggles. Lebanese Government compromised with the sovereignty of the state and its foreign policy. The March 14 alliance, led by Saad al-Hariri,  Walid  Jumblatt,  and  the  Lebanese  Forces,  sought  to  realign Lebanon’s international foreign  policy with USA whereas the alliance led  by  Hizbullah,  Michel  ‘Awn’s  Free Patriotic Movement, and Nabih Berri, resisted this foreign policy since then. The country needs international funds to break out from 152% debt of GDP ratio. It needs billions of dollars to bailout from the IMF and the World Bank. Lebanon’s currency is falling by 60% and banks are limiting cash withdrawal. The United States pursue close ties with Lebanon, to preserve its independence, sovereignty, national unity, and territorial integrity. The United States, along with the international community, supports the exercise of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) 1559, 1680, and 1701, including the disarming of all militias, delineation of the Lebanese-Syrian border, and the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) throughout Lebanon. The United States assures a peaceful, prosperous, and stable Lebanon significant to peace in the Middle East. Lebanon hosts the highest per capita number of refugees in the world, with over one million registered refugees from Syria, between 170,000 and 270,000 longstanding Palestinians registered with the UN, and over 20,000 Iraqi and other refugees. Since the Syrian crisis, U.S. humanitarian assistance in Lebanon reconciles the Syrian refugees and host communities with food, shelter, medical care, clean water and sanitation, education, and psychosocial support.

The Deep-Rooted Crisis

The recent colossal explosion in Beirut, nearly 200 people died with 6,000 injured and left a quarter of a million became homeless. Initially, people believed a blast is an act of war or terrorism as residents of Lebanon’s capital tended to the injured and cleared the wreckage for survivors. The Lebanese had worst experiences; frequent airstrikes and car bombings because of the wars than the industrial disasters. Reconstructing the areas damaged by the blast could cost up to $15 billion and is likely to accelerate an economic collapse in Lebanon that coincided with the 2019 protests. Lebanon ranks 138th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s global Corruption Perceptions Index. The very system of sectarian power-sharing which is fuelling the patronage networks has handicapped Lebanon’s governance.

The environmental crisis began decades ago in Lebanon. In 2015 Lebanon’s waste crisis began with a landfill site closed and government authorities failed to implement a contingency plan in time to replace it. Its dumping and burning waste on the streets became rampant causing environmental and health issues. The Human Rights Watch calls it “a national health crisis”. The Lebanese government is relying on oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean to fuel even opening up tenders for France’s Total and Russia’s Novatek for offshore drilling. The power plants pump out plumes of thick grey smoke into an otherwise bright blue sky. Plastic is turning up on beaches around the world, but the difference in Lebanon is that rubbish is also being directly dumped into the sea and coastal landfills are spelling disaster for the shoreline’s ecosystem and public health.

The shortage of US dollars in the country’s commercial banks, which led to the Lebanese pound losing value against the dollar for the first time in two decades on the newly emerged black market. The economic upheaval emerged when the importers of wheat and fuel demanded to be paid in dollars, bakeries, and petrol station unions called for strikes. Lebanon is dealing with its worst economic crisis in decades. It has the third-highest public debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio in the world at 150%. Youth unemployment is 37%, while the overall unemployment rate has reached 25%. A third of the population is living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Interest payments consume almost half of government revenues crippling public finances. A public sector wage increase in 2017 and higher interest rates have added to the budget deficit.

Considering the ratio of Human Rights Violation in Lebanon; during the October 2019 anti-government demonstrations the security forces of the nation propelled excessive violence force against the protesters, including prosecutions for defamation and menacing freedom of speech. The 2017 anti-torture law fell short of civil society expectations and Lebanon’s obligations under international law. Lebanon continues to try civilians, women, children in its military courts for taking part in the protest. Transgender women in Lebanon also face systemic violence and discrimination in accessing basic services, including education, employment, health care, and housing.

The Quick Fix

Lebanon has several social and economic issues even the judicial system is faulty in assistance to the promotion of workforce employability and productivity, good governance, social cohesion, and economic growth. The major issues include; lack of access to clean water and improved education services to Lebanese communities, electricity, and refugee crisis. Including the growing economic crisis, escalating violence and trampled liberty needs to be concluded in the 21st century. The increasing problems like high taxes and lack of jobs have agitated the new generation. The truth is Lebanon never really recovered from a long and devastating war. The corrupt political and finance game in the region is creating havoc. But a majority supports the sectarian politics seeing ideology and the ripped out benefits in the power-sect. There should be advanced science labs and research technology for recycling and improved waste management systems in the country. Lebanon’s government must ensure the safety of its people including common environmental and health issues. The youth needs healthcare, jobs, and good educational institutions; end the sectarian opportunists’ system of politics and high-level corruption outright a democratic regime.

The author is a post-graduate scholar who completed her M.A in politics and International Relations from Pondicherry University, 2020. She has published articles on various topics related to the field of study and analysis in different platforms

Middle East

China in the Middle East: Stepping up to the plate

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By defining Chinese characteristics as “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” a formula that implies conflict management rather than conflict resolution, Messrs. Sun and Wu were suggesting that China was seeking to prepare the ground for greater Chinese engagement in efforts to stabilize the Middle East, a volatile region that repeatedly threatens to spin out of control.

The scholars defined China’s goal as building an inclusive and shared regional collective security mechanism based on fairness, justice, multilateralism, comprehensive governance, and the containment of differences.

By implication, Messrs. Sun and Wu’s vision reflected a growing realization in China that it no longer can protect its mushrooming interests exclusively through economic cooperation, trade, and investment.

It also signalled an understanding that stability in the Middle East can only be achieved through an inclusive, comprehensive, and multilateral reconstructed security architecture of which China would have to be part.

Messrs. Sun and Wu’s article, published in a prominent Chine policy journal, was part of a subtle and cautious Chinese messaging that was directed towards players on all sides of the Middle East’s multiple divides.

To be clear, China, like Russia, is not seeking to replace the United States, certainly not in military terms, as a dominant force in the Middle East. Rather, it is gradually laying the groundwork to capitalize on a US desire to rejigger its regional commitments by exploiting US efforts to share the burden more broadly with its regional partners and allies.

China is further suggesting that the United States has proven to be unable to manage the Middle East’s myriad conflicts and disputes, making it a Chinese interest to help steer the region into calmer waters while retaining the US military as the backbone of whatever restructured security architecture emerges.

Implicit in the message is the assumption that the Middle East may be one part of the world in which the United States and China can simultaneously cooperate and compete; cooperate in maintaining regional security and compete on issues like technology.

That may prove to be an idealized vision. China, like the United States, is more likely to discover that getting from A to B can be torturous and that avoiding being sucked into the Middle East’s myriad conflicts is easier said than done.

China has long prided itself on its ability to maintain good relations with all sides of the divide by avoiding engagement in the crux of the Middle East’s at times existential divides.

Yet, building a sustainable security architecture that includes conflict management mechanisms, without tackling the core of those divides, is likely to prove all but impossible. The real question is at what point does China feel that the cost of non-engagement outweighs the cost of engagement?

The Middle East is nowhere close to entertaining the kind of approaches and policies required to construct an inclusive security architecture. Nevertheless, changes to US policy being adopted by the Biden administration are producing cracks in the posture of various Middle Eastern states, albeit tiny ones, that bolster the Chinese messaging.

Various belligerents, including Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Turkey, but not Iran or Israel, at least when it comes to issues like Iran and the Palestinians, have sought to lower the region’s temperature even if fundamentals have not changed.

A potential revival of the 2015 international Iran nuclear agreement could provide a monkey wrench.

There is little doubt that any US-Iranian agreement to do so would focus exclusively on nuclear issues and would not include other agenda points such as ballistic missiles and Iranian support for non-state actors in parts of the Middle East. The silver lining is that ballistic missiles and support for non-state actors are issues that Iran would likely discuss if they were embedded in a discussion about restructured regional security arrangements.

This is where China may have a significant contribution to make. Getting all parties to agree to discuss a broader, more inclusive security arrangement involves not just cajoling but also assuaging fears, including whether and to what degree Chinese relations with an Iran unfettered by US sanctions and international isolation would affect Gulf states.

To be sure, while China has much going for it in the Middle East such as its principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others, its affinity for autocracy, and its economic weight and emphasis on economic issues, it also needs to manage pitfalls. These include reputational issues despite its vaccine diplomacy, repression of the Uyghurs in the north-western province of Xinjiang, and discrimination against other Muslim communities.

China’s anti-Muslim policies may not be an immediate issue for much of the Muslim world, but they continuously loom as a potential grey swan.

Nevertheless, China, beyond doubt, alongside the United States can play a key role in stabilizing the Middle East. The question is whether both Beijing and Washington can and will step up to the plate.

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Middle East

The US doesn’t deserve a sit on the UNHRC, with its complicity in the Saudi war crimes in Yemen

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A family in the Al Dhale'e camp for people displaced by the conflict in Yemen. YPN for UNOCHA

Last week, the US State Department communicated its intention of joining the UN Human Rights Council later this year. The UN General Assembly will be voting this October on who gets to join the 47-member UN Human Rights Council. 47 members is less than a fourth of all UN member states, so only very few countries get a seat and a say.

The United States does not deserve to join the UN Human Rights Council, with its complicity in the Saudi war crimes in Yemen.

The Human Rights Council is often criticized, especially by the right in the US, for having only bad human rights actors with atrocious records as members. But the US is not an exception to the atrocious human rights record club. 

In the seemingly war-less Trump period, the US nevertheless still managed to get engaged in war and war crimes in the completely devastated Yemen, which was hit by the worst humanitarian crisis and famine over the last years, after US-backed Saudi forces basically flattened the country. Over 13mln people suffered from starvation. Media and human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch alike have pointed to US complicity in war crimes in Yemen.

Months ago, I criticized UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore for lauding the Saudis’ “humanitarian leadership” in Yemen for the price of USD 150mln. The UN blue-washing partnerships were possible after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres removed Saudi Arabia from the UN blacklist in 2020 to make sure the rivers of cash by the Saudi humanitarian heroes kept flowing in the UN’s direction. But in October this year, it is not Antonio-it’s not a big deal-Guterres that decides who gets on the UN Human Rights Council. It’s all the UN member states. And many of them will not be impressed by the Saudi humanitarian leadership.

And even though a month ago, new US President Joe Biden announced that the US is ending its support for the Saudi offensive – and in parallel the US intell revealed the Khashoggi report which outlined the Saudi prince’s involvement in the murder of the journalist – questions still persist about the US role in the Yemeni situation from now on. 73% of all Saudi arms imports come from the US. The US State Department will simply be playing on words from now on in redefining what constitutes “offensive” support for the Saudi coalition, as the State Department Spokesperson Ned Price seemed to suggest. Any military expert knows how difficult it is to differentiate between offensive and defensive capabilities. Unless it’s really barb wire standing on your border, it’s pretty hard to make the case that something will serve for only defensive purposes. Especially if the “defense-only” capabilities are for a war-driven Saudi-led coalition. So, basically the Biden policy is the Trump policy, but much more polished. The language is more technocraticly elegant, but the essence is the same – just like many of the other decisions by the Biden Administration in its first weeks. It’s basically Trump, only the phrasing is much more polished and professionally shrewd.

This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Yemen’s Houthies for breaking the peace in responding to the Saudi forces, but it is safe to say that there isn’t much peace to break in Yemen, and the US has also taken care of that. So, Blinken’s statement reveals a new doze of hypocrisy – hypocrisy, which also characterizes the US’s decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council.

Biden’s Syria strikes that left many Biden supporters quite surprised last week also indicated that many of us who thought Biden would be a classical Democrat centrist were actually wrong. Biden has much more in common with the right now, judging by his very first policy choices – at home and foreign policy wise.

The US government will have to try a bit harder than “we are not Trump”, if it wants to convince the rest of the countries in October that it deserves a sit on the human rights table. If the Biden Administration continues the same way, it’s not going to be able to do so.

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Middle East

Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania

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Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.

Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.

In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!

During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.

In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.

A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”

This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.

Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.

Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.

For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.

In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.

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