The death of the Second Republic: Understanding the spark for social mobilization in Lebanon
Felt across the Mediterranean on August 4th, 2020, some 2,750 tones of ammonium nitrate stored in the port of Beirut exploded, killing at least 190 people and injuring at least 6,500, resulting in an estimated $10–15 billion USD in property damage, and leaving an approximately 300,000 people homeless. The ammonium nitrate gas had been stored in a warehouse without proper safety measures in place for the previous six years, after having been confiscated by the Lebanese authorities from the cargo ship MV Rhosus that had docked in Beirut and been declared unseaworthy. The official cause of the detonation is under investigation. Yet the ruling elites’ failure to address the presence of the material in the port and the subsequent explosion perhaps signifies the apex of political corruption and public negligence.
In addition to daily disruptions in terms of social service provision, public inefficiency and corruption, the global financial crisis and the rise in influence of Hezbollah, investment, aid, and remittances has starkly declined. This has been coupled with enhanced sanctions against Hezbollah from neighboring Gulf states and the United States, making future investment in Lebanon unattractive at best. Months prior to the protests, Lebanon itself was also inching towards an economic collapse. The economy grew a meager 0.2% in 2018, possessing the third highest public debt burden in the world. Its credit rating was downgraded earlier this year, and unemployment had reached 20% according to the IMF, which also noted the systemic corruption in Lebanon and the government’s inability to implement reforms. By late September, the circulation of US dollars plummeted, with people unable to withdraw USD from Lebanese ATMs, seriously impacting companies importing gas, wheat and medicine, “all of which needed to pay in dollars but sold their goods for Lebanese pounds.”
Buckling under these pressures, on October 17th of 2019, Lebanon erupted into a series of demonstrations, increasingly known as the October revolution, amassing somewhere between 1-1.5 million protestors in the streets and mobilizing Lebanese expats in 35 countries around the world in 90 cities.These protests are believed to have been triggered by the state’s failure to adequately put a stop to the worst wildfires in decades, which burned large swathes of the countryside on October 15th, as well as a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls, and the impending economic crisis. The movement mobilized Lebanese citizens of all sectarian backgrounds, ages and classes across the country, beyond typical locations of social contestation (primarily Beirut), demanding the removal of the political elite, an end to rampant corruption and, for the first time an overhaul of the entire political system.
In a structure of governance characterized by traditional alliances of patronage and clientelism, bolstered by sectarianism, corrupt practices have thrived. Existing literature largely attributes this dynamic to the sectarian power-sharing system governing Lebanon since its independence. Yet, corruption appears to have reached levels in the post-civil war era that is unmatched, at least in the perceived experience of Lebanese. The revolutionary movement exhibited narratives surrounding corruption that highlighted its linkages to other forces in the system, offering alternative explanations. The events of October 17th provide an opportune moment to interrogate the mechanisms that have allowed corruption to reach the intolerable levels one observes in Lebanon today. In studying the response of Lebanese citizens to the current uprisings, we can begin to understand why Lebanese citizens now refuse to tolerate it in its the current state.
Structural inequalities and the spark
After years and years of swelling corrupt political practices, economic exploitation and the marriage of these two forces, signs of a potential dollar liquidity crisis began to materialize in September of 2019. The looting of state funds created conflict, not between rich and poor but rather generated a reaction against the perceived predatory behavior of the political and economic elite in rent-seeking. In addition to the very real concerns for survival and ensuring their livelihoods, the driver for many Lebanese was a call to restore their dignity. The theft and ensuing deprivation had reached unprecedented levels. The crony neo-liberal and the confusion of public and private sectors facilitated corruption and sectarianism, which was also reproduced by these mechanisms. Echoed in many of the discussions and interviews I conducted while carrying out research Lebanon in December and January of 2020, the lack of access to basic services and the consistent interruption of quotidian life compounded by long-term, structural social inequality pushed some to drop political clientelism and go down in the streets. Therefore, this movement triggered a struggle to reclaim basic fundamental rights surrounding daily needs and by extension—dignity. Anger over the hi-jacking of this dignity manifested itself in the discourse surrounding the ever-increasing brain drain, personal status laws, citizenship laws, youth unemployment, increasing emigration and declining remittances. Consequently, a popular campaign expressed throughout the movement was جنسيتي كرامتي or “My nationality, my dignity.”
The spark for the popular reaction can be found in the uncontrolled forest fires and the WhatsApp tax proposed in the days leading up to October 17th. The Lebanese are no strangers to taxes with this scale of impact. However, the proposed tax on WhatsApp calls reverberated throughout the country for both its symbolic significance but also the timing of its discussion.
Following these fires (which the state was unable to address due to its failure to carry out maintenance of the required emergency helicopters), and as the WhatsApp tax was announced and discussions ensued, a post on social media circulated that perhaps best embodies the larger meaning imbued in the reaction to the tax. In the post, an individual speaks of his experience as a young Lebanese living abroad in the diaspora. He recounts how his mode of communication with his family and friends in Lebanon is primarily through WhatsApp, common for the vast majority of Lebanese. He speaks of a bitterness for being unable to participate in this turning point that is the result of “decades of culminated degradation.” Family and friend WhatsApp group chats are often the most effective window into both daily life back home, but also understanding current events on the ground as many do not trust traditional media outlets. Photos and videos of solidarity protests across the diaspora are all sent back through these chats in support. The individual who authored the text describes families scattered across the world, as well as a friend, a recent graduate working in Dubai out of necessity rather than choice. He goes on to add that the nation is “fragmented due to the sectarian divides maintained by politicians who have more interest in money laundering and less in public affairs.” He asserts that this political fragmentation transcends to the familial and social level, citing the lack of sufficient telecommunication infrastructure (i.e. results of political disputes) preventing Lebanese from calling their loved ones abroad as a prime example. Significant life events, achievements and memories have been reduced to digital communication, and yet even this option was threatened on October 17th. Therefore, he concludes that this is not about “protesting a WhatsApp tax; (they) are protesting all the factors that have resorted (their) feeling of belonging to the realm of virtual reality.”
The ties that bind
This testimony situates this moment of social contestation in a context of meaning beyond the tax itself. As argued by Erica Simmons, threats to norms and values in a society leave room for the possibility to mobilize across typical points of division. Therefore, the implications of the WhatsApp tax relate to their larger meaning as a threat to an imagined community and the failure to protect this community. In addition to the added cost the tax would impose, it signifies the greed of the political class. First, this tax and its invasive nature into Lebanese daily life reminded citizens of financial decadence of the political class and their inability and incompetence to find alternative methods of extracting state revenue that would not punish or burden the working class. Rather than investigating theft, corruption or inflated public salaries, the elites turned immediately to further dispossess their own people. It also illustrates the way in which the political class continues to overstep and exploit without facing significant consequences. Secondly, this proposed tax symbolized both total control over the destiny of the citizen and the complete indifference on the part of the political elite to the plight of their constituents. The most basic right to communicate with one’s community, family and the larger world was instantly threatened and devalued. Even on the precipice of economic collapse, with thousands forced to leave the country in search of a better life, the audacity of the powers responsible for this crisis attempted to sever one of the only tools remaining that connects individuals to their home. Therefore, the tax highlighted more broadly the violation of fundamental principles that are consistently denied to the Lebanese citizen, which infringes upon their dignity and welfare that is carried out with callousness and disregard.
The mobilization was by no means consistent across different social stratifications in Lebanon. As the weeks went on, it became evident that two types of individuals either possessed the privilege or the imperative to revolt. The former is able to protest due to privileges such as not having children, their age, or possessing a foreign passport. The latter is so poor that they no longer have anything to lose. As a result, the majority of those I observed participating as the movement progressed were youth (typically unemployed), students, activists and individuals from the poor, working classes. Those residing between these two segments may or may not have expressed sympathies towards the revolution. However, either due to their own savings or family that face the risk of a chaotic transition or threat to their position in society, the consequences of upheaval did not seem worth upsetting the secure, status quo. However, the two segments visible in the street possessed similar grievances and demands, both frequently speaking of theft and stolen money. They also highlighted the need for the removal of the ruling political elite, the need to fight corruption and push for an independent judiciary and technocratic government, calling for the fall of the sectarian regime. Whether compelled by poverty or the dearth of viable futures for graduates and the youth, both linked these grievances to what one artist and activist would label as the political elite maintaining a façade masking what is really “neo-liberal sectarianism” driven by greed and corruption. It seemed that those who refused to support the movement or were unable to participate were partially motivated by fears surrounding escalation and violence, due to very recent memories of civil war traumas. However, the generations born after this era and those with nothing to gain from the status quo proved to be liberated of this apprehension. In this case, the significance of the infringement on virtual communication is two-fold: for the working poor, this serves as the final blow after decades of mismanagement, underdevelopment and neglect. For youth, this tax reminds them that if they are forced to leave, their bonds will be tested, and the political class is failing to entice them to ever return.
The movement and reactions to this social mobilization also revealed resilient generational divides. Older generations with more recent memories of conflict were quick to take stock in conspiracy theories, mistrust of the movement and a victimization narrative regarding foreign interference. In one interview, a participant highlighted how older Lebanese often trace roots of corrupt practices to the deeply rooted Ottoman and French style kinship-based structures in the Levant, which ultimately serves as another form of exoneration of current leadership. During the clashes between security forces and protestors in downtown Beirut in the “week of rage,” I had a conversation with a woman from Jounieh, who upon observing the protestors fighting more forcefully with the security forces and damaging property, lamented what she saw as the demise of the revolution. Disturbed by the violence she was witnessing, she quickly placed blame on “Muslim Brotherhood” extremists coming from Tripoli to infiltrate the protests. This claim evolved into a critique of the Sunni leadership more broadly, specifically Hariri and the Future movement. These examples in which people divert responsibility to other religious communities or political dynasties other than their own or consistently across the entire political class illustrate an infantilization of the generations affected by the height of sectarian politics—violent conflict along religious lines. I argue this infantilization is carefully crafted by the ruling elite as a means of maintaining their hold on their respective constituents. However, through a new, common struggle, younger people in particular began to shed this mentality, instead adopting an outlook of increased autonomy to seize and claim their rights. Efforts to shed this mentality appear to signify foundations for new-found trust between citizens, but also in the institutions laid to waste during the civil conflict. Calls to end foreign interference from all external powers categorically is a departure from the rhetoric of previous generations. Additionally, though not universal, there was an emergence of a budding political consciousness.
The clientelist bargain
The mobilization, particularly of the two segments most active indicate an alteration of the sort of bargain Lebanese citizens are bound by in the consociational, post-Taif system. In this bargain, the citizen is forced to pledge allegiance to the Zaimor respective political leader representing their community or sect. This leader promises protection to his community in what he portrays as a treacherous political arena, in which their position will be precarious without his leadership. In return for loyalty and submission, citizens will have access to social services and connections depending on their level of demonstrated allegiance. This relationship calls on the citizen to overlook or disregard corruption and impunity in their own political community due to the lack of any viable alternative in the political and social system where these connections are essential for survival. Additionally, some citizens have internalized a narrative of infantilization and genuine fear of the chaos that would ensue if they deviate from their Zaim. This bargain in recent years proved to no longer benefit most citizens, leading many to social mobilization, triggered by the WhatsApp tax. Daily life had become so unbearable in terms of basic needs not being met but also the repeated violation of peoples’ dignity visible in social injustice. Therefore, the payoff no longer outweighed the corruption inherent to this relationship. Such a reaction to the sparks (WhatsApp tax, the fires) perhaps underscores a struggle for dignity and pride in citizenship, that is universal, as such factors do not possess sectarian dimensions, but threaten the lives of all.
The Shia population in Lebanon has historically been the most disadvantaged, despised and deprived. After decades of political activism by Musa Sadr and the Amal movement and in recent years through Hezbollah, this community can obtain services and social support through these entities. This provision comes at the price of authoritarian and mafia like behavior in asserting control in these areas and demands for unwavering loyalty, at times through coercion. In Tripoli however, the historically privileged Sunni populations during the Ottoman era have not been afforded the same sort of bargain. With over half the population living below the poverty line and infrastructure crumbling, the city exemplifies state neglect and indifference, despite possessing some of the wealthiest political representatives in the country. This city also became infamous for political violence and recruitment into extremist organizations, due in part to the impact of the Syrian conflict. Naturally, the call to rise on October 17th reverberated strongest with citizens of Tripoli.
The bargain is broken
Consequently, social grievances and the absence of strong institutions or an independent judiciary were highlighted frequently throughout the demands of the protest movement in and beyond Tripoli. With the economy on the verge of collapse, no one individual outside the core political elite can run or hide from the disruption of basic routines by unbridled corruption. One interviewee went so far to say that this sort of bargain between the Zaim and the citizen illustrates an abusive relationship with the state. The polity endures the abuse because it is convinced of the need for its partner to protect them. The state or political elite act as this protector, all the while extracting and exploiting more and more. At a certain point, this dynamic becomes so unbalanced that the abused—the people—snap in defiance demanding their dignity and humanity. In the discourse regarding the movement, corruption was discussed and perceived as part and parcel of the economic system and vice versa. As a result, a common reverberation of anger over these forces led to the empowerment of the individual, but also mass mobilization. The individualization of political agency and the mobilization of society marks a rearrangement of trust in individual leaders or political parties to trust in a more widespread and diffused social community, but also in stronger institutions in the future. Though increasingly compelling for only certain segments and classes in society, for those galvanized to enter into the streets, the fear of consequences associated with such calls had virtually disappeared. Renouncing the tax and state policies in recent months and years, consequently, symbolizes the delegitimization of the system and the status quo that is unable or refuses to ensure basic rights to its citizens.
 Sullivan, Helen, et al. “The Making of Lebanon’s October Revolution.” The New Yorker, www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/the-making-of-lebanons-october-revolution.
 “The Lebanese Revolution – Reporting the Lebanese Revolution of 2019.” The Lebanese Revolution – Reporting the Lebanese Revolution of 2019, www.lebaneserevolution2019.com/.
 Deutsche Welle. “Lebanon Faces Race against Time to Avoid Financial Collapse: DW: 01.10.2019.” DW.COM, www.dw.com/en/lebanon-faces-race-against-time-to-avoid-financial-collapse/a-50655866.
 Civil marriage is not recognized in Lebanon, and family courts are left to the respective religious sect of the community in question. These courts often put women at a disadvantaged in regards to marriage, divorce, the custody of children, and inheritance. “Lebanon: Laws Discriminate Against Women.” Human Rights Watch, 2 Jan. 2019, www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/19/lebanon-laws-discriminate-against-women.
 As the law stands, Lebanese woman are unable to pass their citizenship on to their children. “Lebanon: Discriminatory Nationality Law.” Human Rights Watch, 14 Nov. 2019, www.hrw.org/news/2018/10/03/lebanon-discriminatory-nationality-law.
 Jounieh is a coastal town 16 km from Beirut. The greater area is overwhelmingly Maronite Catholic, the home of the Patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church and Harissa, a shrine of Mary and pilgrimage site called Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon.
Unleashing an Iranian tiger
A Gulf investor with an analytical and artistic bent, Ali al-Salim pinpointed the long-term challenges Saudi Arabia faces as it reestablishes relations with Iran.
While most analysts focused on the immediate reduction of regional tensions and the possible opening for an end to the eight-year-long Saudi military intervention in Yemen as a result of a Chinese-mediated agreement to restore diplomatic relations between two Middle Eastern arch-rivals, Mr. Al-Salim is looking at Iran’s long-term competitive edge compared to the kingdom.
“As relations between Saudi and Iran begin to thaw, the logic for Saudi’s ambitious ‘Trojena’ ski resort will come further into question. Iran boasts world-class ski resorts an hour from Tehran and 90km of slopes. Oh, and it’s all natural, even the snow,” Mr. Al-Salim said on Twitter.
Mr. Al-Salim was referring to a yet-to-be-built resort on mountain peaks overlooking Neom slated to be home to 7,000 people by 2026 and annually attract 700,000 visitors. Trojena would be the Gulf’s first outdoor ski resort.
Neom is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s US$500 billion fantasia. It is a futuristic science-fiction-like new city and tourism destination along the Red Sea in a mostly unpopulated part of the kingdom.
Somewhat incongruously, the Olympic Council of Asia has awarded Trojena the right to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games.
In contrast to Iran’s up to 5,600-metre high, 600-kikometer-long Alborz mountain range that stretches along the Caspian Sea, snow falls occasionally on Trojena’s 2,400-metre high Sarawat mountains.
To compensate for its shortage, Trojena plans to create an outdoor ski slope by blasting artificial snow on the mountains. This slope would be powered by renewable energy.
In Mr. Al-Salim’s mind, Trojena appears to be emblematic of the broader challenge posed by an Iran that eventually is freed of the shackles of crippling US sanctions and has rebuilt its economy.
Unshackled and recovered, Iran brings to the table much that Saudi Arabia has and more. With a population close to 90 million, Iran is almost three times the size of the kingdom. It ranks as the world’s third-largest oil and second-largest natural gas reserve holder.
Beyond boasting one of the Middle East’s largest domestic markets, an innovative and technology-savvy youth, a deep-seated identity rooted in empire, and a battle-hardened military, Iran occupies strategic geography at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe, and a coastline along the Arabian Sea, the western end of the Indo-Pacific.
To be sure, Iran has a long way to go to fully capitalize on its assets with no immediate prospect of its clerical regime doing what it would take to persuade the United States to lift sanctions, rebuild confidence with its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, and introduce necessary political, economic, and social reforms.
As a result, Saudi Arabia has a first-starter advantage, which Mr. Bin Salman is bent on exploiting with his social reforms and efforts to diversify the Saudi economy to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil exports, of which Trojena is one building block.
Even so, the restoration of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia constitutes a first step to strengthen the Iranian economy. This would enable Iran to position itself as not just a formidable political rival but also an economic competitor.
“Evidently, de-escalation will reduce the cost of regional security for all parties and free up more potential for trade and cross-border investments and partnerships that the region needs,” said Bijan Khajehpour, a keen observer of the Iranian economy.
Iranian hopes have been buoyed by plans by the United Arab Emirates to boost annual trade with Iran to US$30 billion in the next two years, up from $20 billion in 2022, Emirati interest in Iranian infrastructure, including the strategic Arabian Sea port of Chahbahar, and prospects for Saudi investment in the Islamic republic.
Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan recently told a private sector forum of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund that investment in Iran could happen “very quickly.”
Optimistically, Mr. Al-Jadaan went on to say that “there are a lot of opportunities for Saudi investments in Iran. We don’t see impediments as long as the terms of any agreement would be respected.”
Mr. Al-Jadaan’s remarks did not refer to US sanctions, the elephant in the room. Instead, he hinted at Iran’s need to clean up multiple legal and operational ambiguities that pose obstacles to foreign investment, even without considering externally imposed restrictions.
Laying out a roadmap for Saudi and Gulf investment in Iran, Mr. Khajehpour suggested that initially, investors could target non-sanctioned industries, such as food and pharmaceuticals while developing “creative banking and financial solutions” that would enable circumvention of sanctions.
Furthermore, Mr. Khajehpour held out the possibility that the United States could provide waivers for investments that address water scarcity and climate change.
If and when sanctions are lifted, the sky is the limit.
Opportunities range from cooperation on petroleum products and petrochemicals, development of an offshore Saudi-Iranian-Kuwaiti gas field, and connecting electricity grids, to investment in transportation linkages, according to Mr. Khajehpour.
Saudi interest in getting in on the ground floor of Iran’s eventual reemergence extends beyond geopolitical, security, economic, and commercial considerations.
Economic cooperation has the potential to blunt the impact of an unleashed Iran by making the kingdom a partner.
“Iran’s rise is inevitable. When it happens, the Middle East will be a different place. Saudi Arabia knows that. It sees the short- and long-term benefits of recalibrating relations with Iran. Iran hasn’t quite thought that far but ultimately it will,” said a European official who closely monitors Middle Eastern developments.
The New Middle East: The Winners and Losers
The Middle East and the Gulf regions are experiencing a political and diplomatic movement that they have not witnessed in the last three or four decades.
Behind this movement are the influential states such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and, to a lesser extent, Egypt. A few years ago, it was impossible to imagine any political or diplomatic rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, between Turkey and Egypt, and between a number of Arab states and Syria.
For decades, the US has been working on a “New Middle East” that embraces Israel, and then the circumstances tend towards a “new one that includes Iran!
What led to this movement, which will have repercussions on alliances and threads of differences?
There are several regional and other remote factors that are no less influential.
Domestically, it is clear that the region, with its leaders and people, is tired of wars and turmoil and is now envious of the world’s progress while it is mired in its endless complexes and crises.
Internationally, it is possible to talk about the US role and then the political and social changes in Europe coinciding with the rise of international powers on the periphery such as India, China and others, and finally the war in Ukraine.
The beginning was with the arrival of President Donald Trump and his resort to painful language in its frankness, which does not hide that the man does not respect the region and its leaders, but rather considers it a mere bazaar in which he markets whatever he wants without objection from anyone, and a mere ATM that withdraws from it whenever he wants and as much as he wants. Not to mention his frankness that he will not fight wars on behalf of a region he deems lazy and backward and refuses to rely on itself. Trump embodied this conviction when he refused to strike Iran in response to the dangerous Houthi attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia in mid-September 2019.
This crude frankness and lack of respect led the Middle East and the Gulf region, especially states that considered the United States an eternal ally such as Saudi Arabia, to ask: What will the Democrats do to us if Trump, our Republican ally, disrespects us like this?
Then came their reply. The Democrats did not wait long after Joe Biden came to the White House to take an approach similar to Trump’s, but for other reasons and from a different mentality. In addition to the annoyance of Saudi Arabia and other states in the region about the issues of rights and freedoms hinted at by the Biden administration, there is the great confusion shown by this administration in dealing with the problems of the region, in contrast to Trump’s frankness, and its excessive interest in the conflict with China and later the war in Ukraine at the expense of the US’s allies traditionalists in this region.
The Trump and Biden administrations should be given credit for waking up the leaders of the Middle East and the Gulf, because their approaches were a wake-up call that it would be dangerous to ignore. The service provided by the two administrations to the staff of the region is that they are equal in their disdain for everyone: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, with a keenness to further strangle Iran and Syria for well-known reasons.
In the midst of that labor, Russia’s war broke out against Ukraine to shuffle the cards across the world, but specifically in the Middle East and the Gulf regions due to its traditional strategic tensions and its richness in oil and natural resources, and the need for both conflict camps to gain its support for it.
As far as the Ukraine war and above all Europe, it constituted a wake-up call in the positive direction of the Gulf leaders. The Ukraine war was an outlet for these leaders on more than one level. It first gave them the opportunity to maneuver and express their displeasure with the US insults. And I gave them an alternative that is no less powerful than the traditional West, which they can deal with in better conditions and without insults, which is the camp of Russia, China and dozens of states that swim in their orbit around the world.
It would be a mistake to be overly optimistic about this multi-faceted movement. Realism requires acknowledging that the more exceptional it is, the more reasons for its failure it contains in the absence of sufficient sophistication and the required sacrifices from all parties. One of the weaknesses of this movement is that it is the result of pressure, driven by need, not by conviction. Iran is stifled by sanctions and the unstable internal situation. Saudi Arabia can no longer tolerate a single missile from the Houthis. The economy and financial situation in Türkiye is in dire straits. Egypt is not moved by anything other than “rice”. The regime in Syria wants to get out of its isolation, which will be the culmination of what it considers a victory over its opponents. The UAE wants to prove to US that it is not everything in this universe.
This is on the political level. On the practical level, there are many obstacles that will stand in the way of this movement, especially when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Turkey. It is a good coincidence (and bad at the same time) that normalization (or lack thereof) between Riyadh and Tehran will be reflected far beyond the two states, and the same applies to Ankara and Cairo.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are separated by political, religious and strategic differences that are not easy to overcome. The theaters of confrontation between the two states are vast, including Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and inevitably there are other areas and issues that constitute points of contention.
Turkey and Egypt are stuck on many issues, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, Libya and the energy fields in the Mediterranean. In addition to Egyptian foreign policy that is not completely independent and directed by the winds of the Gulf, Turkish foreign files, including normalization with Egypt, remain dependent on the results of the presidential elections scheduled in Turkey in late May.
It will also be necessary for the Arab and Gulf leaders who decided to engage in this movement, taking into account that the United States will not easily accept maneuvers behind its back in a region that it has considered guaranteed for more than seventy years. There is also the position of Israel, which will not accept the rehabilitation of the Iranian regime in the region, and will not easily swallow that the region has favored Iran.
The consolation is that this movement is not isolated from what is happening in the world, but is part of it. What is happening in the world outweighs the US and Israel and is happening against their will. It is an opportunity that will not be repeated easily if the region knows how to benefit from it for the benefit of all.
How Beijing take advantage of US’s attempts to get rid of Netanyahu and expel him from power?
What caught my eye most after the success of Netanyahu’s hard-line government in Israel in January 2023 was the same American fear of its hard-line policies against the Palestinians and the region, especially after the Israeli occupation authorities announced an increase and expansion in the number of settlements and settlement units in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem. Indeed, real American signs began to get rid of the Netanyahu government in Israel. In addition to the American fears circulating on the horizon in anticipation of any rapprochement between China and Israel. This was explicitly announced by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Multilateral Affairs and Global China Issues, “Jung H. Pak”, at the China-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership Conference, known as: “SIGNAL”.
And it was held immediately after Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in the Israeli elections, with the announcement of “Jung H. Pak”, that:
“Israel must take more steps to protect its “advanced biotechnologies from the Chinese investment”
The same American fears about the position of the Netanyahu government and its policies regarding China as a strong competitor to Washington in Tel Aviv and the region, occurred at the end of 2019, before the end of the previous term of “Benjamin Netanyahu” in power, when the Israeli government led by “Netanyahu” and under strong and intense pressure from Washington decided to establishing (a consultative mechanism on aspects of national security for foreign investments) and the meaning here is basically China. Therefore, the previous Netanyahu government’s approval of this US policy towards China came as an Israeli attempt mainly to manage obstacles and slowdowns in order to maneuver between US demands and Chinese economic opportunities in Tel Aviv.
And this matter has become applicable to the Israeli government that preceded the current Netanyahu government regarding the exercise of maximum American pressure in the face of the Hebrew state to ease its relations with Beijing. In July 2022, US President “Joe Biden” and former Israeli Prime Minister “Yair Lapid” published a joint declaration on (establishing a strategic dialogue on advanced technologies in Israel) to warn mainly against transferring that advanced Israeli technology with the help of the United States of America to China, and holding this strategic dialogue is mainly between Washington and Tel Aviv, headed by the US and Israeli national security advisors (Jake Sullivan and Eyal Holata). On October 12, 2022, the outgoing Israeli government headed by “Yair Lapid” decided to strengthen the advisory mechanism on foreign investments, especially with China, primarily to satisfy Washington. This is the same as confirmed by the US Ambassador to Israel, “Tom Needs”, when he said, “The US administration has also reached understandings with Israel regarding trade with China, and that it will tighten control over the sale of domestic technology to China, for fear of it falling into the wrong hands”, in an explicit reference to china.
However, after the victory of the Netanyahu government in the January 2023 elections, we were surprised by a severe deterioration in relations between Washington and Tel Aviv, to the extent that planning began in the White House in Washington and the “CIA” to get rid of the Netanyahu government and its hard-line policies in Palestine and the region, in anticipation of embarrassing Washington by all parties in the region and reduce confidence in them. Which made me pause for a long time on this serious issue of the American planning to get rid of Netanyahu’s extremist government, and how can Beijing take advantage of this to strengthen its presence and influence in Israel and the region? Especially after those statements from an American military official, that the United States of America is trying to get rid of Israeli Prime Minister “Benjamin Netanyahu” because of its lack of commitment with Washington.
In my opinion, and according to my reading of the scene, it is expected that China will take advantage of this loophole in the tense US-Israeli relations during the current Netanyahu government, to enter as an active and influential party in the peace process in the Middle East. This is what Netanyahu expects even during his previous term, when he expected Beijing to play an important role in (European-American mediation diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians). It also brings me to a previous meeting chaired by “Netanyahu” and attended by Chinese and Israeli diplomats, in which “Netanyahu” told the Chinese directly, saying literally: “I believe we can work together to meet the challenges of achieving peace in the Middle East”. This aroused the anger and fears of the Americans about China’s entry as an active party and a reliable partner for all parties in the region in the peace process and its management between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Hence, China, through its intellectual and research centers and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, began a serious follow-up to the crisis situation between Washington, Tel Aviv, and the hardline Netanyahu government, after the success of “Benjamin Netanyahu” in 2023 to think about the Chinese entry effectively in the line of the flaring crisis between Washington and Tel Aviv to play the role of mediation regionally and internationally in order to lead China’s efforts and the mediation process in the region and between the Palestinians and the Israelis, especially those related to building settlements and settlement units for the extremist Netanyahu government in the West Bank and the occupied Palestinian territories.
In this regard – and on a personal academic level – I am reminded of what I wrote about an analysis published several years ago, specifically on June 2, 2014, entitled:
“The impact of Chinese labor in Israel on Arab national security”
This aroused the Israelis’ ire and anger at me, with my extensive analysis and my talk about Chinese labor in Israel, especially in the construction sector, which is estimated at more than 23,000 Chinese workers in Israel, which the Israeli occupation authorities are trying to benefit from in the process of building Israeli settlements and settlement units, especially that illegal Chinese labor, which entered Israel through illegal ways, so the Israeli occupation authorities are trying to take advantage of it in illegal actions affecting the construction of Israeli settlements, and this has become the most issue that causes and continues to strain relations between China and Israel. This is what I wrote about specifically, personally and academically, in June 2014, by emphasizing that this issue of Chinese labor in Tel Aviv, specifically those working in the construction sector, has become the most threatening file for Chinese-Israeli relations, with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs objecting several times to its Israeli counterpart by seeking their help in Illegal actions related to the construction of Israeli settlements and the Chinese demand to expel them and not seek help from them, and my candid statement in my analysis referred to and published in 2014, that this issue of Chinese labor in Israel, specifically in the construction sector, did not occur to any Egyptian or Arab researcher unless he lived He went to China himself, listened to all opinions, and analyzed them.
I mentioned in my previous analysis, published on June 2, 2014, regarding (Chinese labor in Israel, especially in the construction sector), which is a permanent source, and perhaps also unheard and uncirculated in our Arab region and Palestine, despite its extreme danger in studying the file of relations between China and Israel. In general, it is difficult for any researcher in the joint Israeli-Chinese political affairs to access these data and statistics, especially those related to the availability and access to necessary data, information and details about Chinese labor in Israel, or Israeli labor in China. Israel constitute a few separate groups, including small groups of Chinese students studying in Israeli universities, businessmen, merchants, workers and Chinese investors in the construction sector in Israel, and they are the majority in the business community and workers in Tel Aviv.
It remains a noteworthy note for me in this context, which is China’s keenness to increase the number of its citizens working in ”Israel”, which number approximately 20 thousand workers, and who transfer 330 million dollars annually to Beijing.
My analysis, referred to and publicly published on June 2, 2014, came as a result of the recent increase in joint Chinese-Israeli studies to establish a system for the employment of migrant labor between China and Israel. Under this project, the focus is on Chinese immigrants who were recruited to work in Israel under legal contracts. It was found that many of these immigrants face a state of illegality within the framework of their presence in the State of Israel. The operating system seeks to integrate these Chinese immigrants as well as mediators in the field of work and employers, from both the Chinese and Israeli sides, and to achieve a joint Chinese-Israeli benefit – especially in the informal Chinese-Israeli business sector, represented in preserving illegal Chinese labor, especially in the building and construction sector, amounting to 23 thousand workers – through the availability of many special Israeli facilities for them in the residency and work system in Tel Aviv.
In my research, published on June 2, 2014, I warned of the seriousness of the Israeli government’s policies in using those illegal Chinese workers in the construction sector in building Israeli settlements – which itself is a source of tension between China and Israel – especially with the Israeli government adopting several policies to encourage Chinese and foreign labor in general and expatriates to work in Israel, including expelling Palestinian workers from their jobs and fighting them for their livelihood, and replacing them with cheap Chinese labor. And by analyzing the impact of Chinese labor coming to Israel on our Arab national security, we will notice that more than half a million immigrants from the developing world, especially China, have flocked to Israel, since the first Palestinian uprising in the early nineties of the last century, to replace the Palestinian workers who were the main source of labor in Israel, which I have analyzed and referred to academically and in research, has increased the concern of some, considering that the expulsion and disposal of Palestinian labor comes within the framework of a long and systematic Israeli plan to build new settlements within the occupied Palestinian territories, which infers from it that the replacement of This Palestinian employment with Chinese and others comes within the framework of gaining international sympathy from the countries of these nationalities to turn a blind eye to such Zionist moves, and it is an analysis that deserves study and analysis, even if it is far-reaching.
This is what prompts me to declare, for the first time internationally, that I am trying to obtain official Israeli data from the Ministry of Immigration and Foreign Workers in Israel, pertaining to and affecting my academic work, to know the number of Chinese workers in Tel Aviv in an accurate academic and statistical way, but my request was completely rejected by Israel because that affects Israeli national security. This Israeli refusal to accurately disclose the number of Chinese workers – legal and illegal – in the Hebrew state, came when I wrote my internationally published book in English and classified as one of the most important books in the world, on:
“The impact of Jewish minorities and Israeli think tanks in China on Arab national security”
It is the book that caused a strong international uproar, to the extent that Harvard University, ranked first in the United States and internationally, bought copies of it, in addition to purchasing copies of it from major American and international universities, which placed them in their libraries for public viewing, as well as mentioning, referring, and introducing me to the official American university websites globally to introduce me to American students and researchers, and I published with him (a biography introducing me) on the official websites of these universities, so it was the largest American university that bought and presented my book, on: “The Influence of Jewish Minorities and Israeli Think Tanks in China on Arab National Security”. These are: Universities (Harvard, Washington, Stanford, Ohio, Columbia, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Yale), and other American and international universities.
The danger of my book, American, Israeli, and international, comes from my reference for the first time internationally about (the impact of recruiting Chinese Judaizers into the Israel Defense Forces on Arab national security in the future, and the impact of Chinese labor in Israel on Arab national security as a whole), and even on the strained relations between China and Israel at the same time. This is in the wake of the official Chinese demands from their Israeli counterparts to expel those illegal Chinese immigrant workers, mainly from building Israeli settlements, in violation of United Nations resolutions and international legitimacy, and the Israeli governments’ negligence of those Chinese claims, regarding the failure to use Chinese workers, especially illegal ones, in building Israeli settlements and demanding their expulsion. immediately with the Israeli non-compliance with that decision. And as I indicated, the Israeli side rejected any attempts by me to circumvent in order to obtain those accurate percentages and statistics about the numbers of formal, unofficial or illegal immigrant Chinese workers, especially those working in building Israeli settlements and settlement units illegally, with the Chinese government constantly objecting to those Israeli steps in using them to embarrass the Beijing government mainly in Palestine and the countries of the region, which is what Israel aims primarily for in the future, such as their use of Judaized Chinese to fight the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the occupied Palestinian territories in the Israeli Defense Forces. This is what I strongly warned in my book referred to because of its seriousness.
On the American side, the continuation of the extremist Netanyahu government in building settlements and settlement units has become what arouses Washington’s anger and fears the most, like the Chinese as well, and threatens the continued survival of Israeli Prime Minister “Benjamin Netanyahu” at the helm of power in Israel, with what has been observed of desperate American attempts to get rid of immediately and remove him from power. There are several fundamental reasons that prompted Washington to take this decision to get rid of “Netanyahu” now, even though it was his biggest supporter, to describe the new government led by “Netanyahu” as “the most right-wing” in the history of Israel. Also, the new Netanyahu government is the most religious and strict in the history of Israel, due to its composition and composition of several ultra-Orthodox parties, an extremist religious faction, and the far-right Likud party, in addition to the assistance of several other figures in forming the Netanyahu government, which is considered controversial, due to its hardline stances towards the Palestinians, the Palestinian cause, and the Arab region completely that Israeli government, with its new components, will undermine the potential of the Palestinians to obtain their legitimate rights through the expansion of the settlement and Judaization policy, and its complete lack of respect for international law, through its frank and direct announcement of its approved plan and policy to expand the settlement units in the West Bank and on the occupied Palestinian territories. With the presence of a severe American warning to establish new settlements in the northern West Bank, with the increasing American criticism in the face of the extremist Netanyahu government, regarding the law of separation or disengagement, which was signed in 2005, and related to the construction of Israeli settlements.
Hence the summoning of Israel’s ambassador to Washington, “Mike Herzog” in the US State Department, following the background of the cancellation of a number of articles of the Secession Law in the Israeli Knesset, in which members of Parliament, the “Israeli Knesset”, canceled a number of provisions of the Separation Law, which prohibited Jews from living In the northern regions of the West Bank, however, hard-line members of the Knesset formed a strong bloc to cancel several articles of the Separation Law to expand their right to settlement, claiming that the lands of the West Bank in Palestine are part of their historical homeland, as well as the Israeli claim that expanding settlement construction will help in Fighting what they called terrorism and developing the land of Israel according to their claim, which Washington, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, all countries in the region and the international community completely reject. This is what the US State Department itself officially described as a “provocative step” that violates promises. With the American warning to Netanyahu’s hardline government, that the plan to cancel a number of articles of the (Separation Act) to expand settlements in the northern West Bank constitutes an obstacle to American-Israeli peace in Palestine and the Middle East region, and impedes American plans to expand the circle of peace and agreements with the countries of the region and Israel. Hence the US administration’s warning to the Netanyahu government that the Knesset’s decision to annul some articles of the 2005 disengagement or separation law, related to the northern West Bank, is counterproductive to calm efforts, and hinders the possibility of pursuing confidence-building measures and creating any political horizon for dialogue.
And the most dangerous thing remains for me, according to my reading and analysis of the scene, is the possibility of displacing the Palestinians from their lands by the extremist government of Netanyahu, which has already been monitored, through the Israeli occupation authorities taking several steps to expel the Palestinians in (Silwan neighborhood) in the West Bank in preparation for the establishment and establishment of new settlements, and thus with the expansion of the process of forced displacement of the Palestinians from their lands, we will be facing ethnic cleansing operations, and confrontations will occur that must be dealt with inevitably. And with the placement of Islamic and religious sanctities under the Hashemite tutelage and King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the stern warning by King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein of Jordan came to warn against crossing the “Israeli red lines” in the city of Jerusalem, with direct confirmation by King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein With his personal readiness for conflict in the face of the Netanyahu government and its extremist policies, if the status of the holy places in Palestine changes. There is also widespread Jordanian concern about those who are trying to pressure Israel and Netanyahu’s extremist government to introduce changes in his guardianship over Islamic and Christian holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem, and this is what King Abdullah bin Al Hussein warned of that he has “red lines” that Israel must pay attention to, and not to go beyond it at all, which Washington fears of wider regional unrest with the Netanyahu government and its hard-line policies towards the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab region, especially Egypt and Jordan.
Netanyahu’s hard-line government has also caused an escalation of American, international, and regional concerns about the possible development of Israeli-Palestinian violence, and questions about the future of Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors and Western allies themselves, especially since this year has already been the bloodiest for the Palestinians and Israelis, which brings to mind the specter of a new Palestinian uprising, and this is what Washington and the “Joe Biden” administration fear most in the region.
Hence the US administration’s endeavor to get rid of the Netanyahu government, despite its confidence in the Israeli Knesset, due to a state of fears and warnings, whether Western or Arab, against forming a government that relies on the extreme right led by “Benjamin Netanyahu”, with the increasing American accusations against the new government of Israel, describing it as the most strict and extremist in the history of Tel Aviv, with the Israeli Prime Minister “Benjamin Netanyahu” relying in its formation on a group of the most extremists within the occupied entity, amid expectations of an intensification of the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and fears of the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising. New because of his government’s policies against the Palestinians, especially after the Netanyahu government announced its new agenda regarding settlement expansion in the West Bank, and its disrespect for the decisions of Washington, the international community and the neighboring Arab region in particular, which arouses the anger and fears of the Americans and all neighboring parties, for fear of Situations ignite. This is after the decision to expand settlements and settlement units of the Netanyahu government violated all resolutions of international legitimacy, most notably Resolution No. (2334) issued by the UN Security Council, which confirmed that settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and contrary to United Nations resolutions and international legitimacy. Hence, the expansion of Israeli settlements during the Netanyahu era ignites the Palestinian front and the entire region, and makes resistance and unity a first priority for the Palestinian people in the face of the priorities of the new Israeli government led by “Netanyahu” by escalating the resistance, expanding its area, and applying pressure with all available means to uproot and expel the Jewish settlers.
The United States of America expressed its concern about the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new settlement policies, coinciding with Washington’s opposition to any measure that contradicts the principle of the two-state solution. Therefore, American calls increased for Netanyahu to meet with Biden to discuss peace opportunities with the Palestinians, especially after approval The Knesset over the Netanyahu government in January 2023. Here, the administration of US President Joe Biden finds it difficult to deal with the Netanyahu government, especially since most of it is from the extreme right, especially Itamar Ben Gvir, the Israeli Minister of National Security. Hence, the United States of America sought to find a way to deal with members of the extreme right in the Netanyahu government, in order to avoid problems with its close ally, Israel. Especially with the Netanyahu government’s hard-line orientations regarding the settlement expansion plan in the West Bank at the top of its list of priorities, as well as building more settlement units, and this was explicitly announced by Netanyahu’s Likud Party, with its emphasis on “development and expansion of settlements throughout the land of Israel, specifically in The cities of Galilee, the Negev, the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria,” which are biblical names for the West Bank.
On the other hand, hard-line members of the Israeli Knesset responded to US criticism of the Netanyahu government regarding the expansion of settlement construction, by warning the US administration not to interfere in Israel’s security policy in the West Bank. Rather, the Israeli justification came to Washington through a number of Knesset members and the extremist Israeli government, that the allegations about building settlements in Area “C” will increase tensions between Israelis and Palestinians is a fundamental error from the Israeli point of view, warning of the increasing pressure of the US government on the issue of canceling the separation law in North of the West Bank, because Washington’s pressure on Israel in this context constitutes damage to Israel’s security, according to the current Israeli perception. This constituted fundamental and strong reasons for Washington to try to completely get rid of the provocations of the Netanyahu government and its strict policies towards the Palestinians and the region, and its non-compliance with any previous decisions reached regarding the settlements and the Jordanian Hashemite guardianship over religious sanctities in East Jerusalem, and others.
On the other hand, the American concern has become about the relationship between China and Israel during the era of the “Benjamin Netanyahu” government, in light of the role that Tel Aviv played in transferring some advanced Western military technologies to Beijing. The most numerous plane in China is the (J-10), whose design is believed to have been based initially on the Israeli plane project “Lavi”, which Tel Aviv secretly presented to Beijing during the eighties, noting that the Israeli plane, in turn, is influenced by the design of the American “F-16”. And that was after Washington had provided some of its information and technologies to the Israeli project, meaning that American technology had infiltrated Beijing through Tel Aviv.
Hence, we arrive at a conclusive and final analysis that states the extent to which the Chinese are able to benefit from the strained relations between Washington and Tel Aviv to achieve their interests, either by pressuring the hard-line Netanyahu government to expel illegal Chinese workers from the Israeli settlement lands, or by obtaining advanced Israeli advantages and technologies provided to them mainly from Washington. It is the same thing that threatens US national security in terms of fear of growing relations between China and Israel, especially during the Netanyahu era, which ultimately leads to the success of the Chinese in exploiting those tense relations between the United States of America and Israel The current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is at the helm of power in the Jewish state. This is what makes Tel Aviv very angry with Washington in favor of rapprochement with the Chinese, who – in my opinion – have read the scene well and planned for it to achieve their interests at the expense of the Americans, and to enter as a reliable mediator and sponsor of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict on the one hand, and to plan for a China obtains advanced American technologies from the Netanyahu government, whose relationship is already tense with Washington, in light of the United States’ efforts to expel “Netanyahu” from the Israeli authority, and also to create increasing Chinese pressure on the Netanyahu government to renew its request to expel illegal Chinese workers, mainly from working in the construction sector. And construction in Israeli settlements and settlement units. In my belief and my final analysis, China is the primary beneficiary in all circumstances and circumstances from the strained relations between Washington and Tel Aviv.
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