Opinion

Lebanon’s epic post-explosion leadership failure

Lebanon’s epic post-explosion leadership failure

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The Port of Beirut after the blast. (AFP)

Only a few hours after the March 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “The person who has perpetuated this violence against us… has no place here. There is no place amongst us for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence.”
The attacker had chosen a mosque and an Islamic center for his heinous crime, in which he used six guns, including two semi-automatic AR-15 style rifles, to kill 51 Muslim civilians during prayer time, while broadcasting the attack live on his Facebook page. It was an unprecedented attack that shook public opinion worldwide.
The next day, Ardern — the youngest prime minister to assume office in New Zealand in more than 150 years and the youngest female world leader at the time — dressed in black and wore a head scarf to visit victims’ families and other members of the Muslim community to personally offer her condolences and say “the whole country is united in grief.”
Her ability to show empathy as a leader was swiftly followed by strict laws to ban most semi-automatic weapons and restrict access to guns in the country. Her promise to seek justice for the victims’ families was fulfilled when the attacker, Brenton Tarrant, a white supremacist, was in August jailed for life with no possibility of parole. Facing such an unprecedented tragedy with decisive decision-making and swift responses turned the young prime minister into one of the most popular leaders in international politics.
Comparing Lebanon to New Zealand wouldn’t really be fair for obvious reasons. However, in the days and weeks following the largest explosion to ever hit Lebanon’s capital — the Aug. 4 Beirut port blast that killed close to 200 civilians, injured thousands and destroyed more than 300,000 homes and businesses — I have searched in vain for just one responsible, decisive, empathetic, angry statement from any Lebanese leader. The utter lack of leadership qualities shown in the aftermath of the disaster is yet another tragedy in Lebanon.
So I have decided to list some of the statements that were made. Most of them came in the days immediately after the massive blast hit the port, where 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate was illegally stored for years without any accountability.
President Michel Aoun said: “I don’t have direct authority to intervene in the port.”
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said: “We don’t operate nor control nor intervene in the port, nor do we know what it contains nor what takes place inside its premises.”
Then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab said: “I promise the Lebanese that I will not allow this disaster to pass without holding those responsible accountable. The investigation will not take long and will include all those who are involved.”
Free Patriotic Movement leader and former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said: “The authorities cannot say they didn’t know. Of course they knew… Now if Hezbollah proves to be involved in this, of course it should be held accountable.”
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for an Arab or international investigation into the explosion.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “The reforms needed must be implemented. For my part, I am now more committed to implementing it.”
The head of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, said: “Our resignations are ready in our pockets.”
MP Walid Jumblatt said: “If we submit our resignations today, which electoral laws will be used in the next elections? What is the new law? We demand a new non-sectarian electoral law.”
For the record, six weeks after the catastrophic blast, only one of the officials mentioned above has resigned. None of the others have taken an ounce of responsibility or apologized to the people of Lebanon. Keep in mind that all of them have held various positions in the government since the ammonium nitrate was first received at the port in 2013.
In fact, the above statements went out of their way to deflect any direct responsibility or accountability, throw vague accusations at others, and some of the so-called leaders refused to resign before having the audacity to demand a safe transition for their seats into the near political future.
During times of crisis, be it political or business, here are the top three qualities a leader or corporate executive must prove to his people/company.
1. The ability to empathize: Not just with genuine, compassionate statements like Ardern’s immediately after the terrorist attack in her country, but also with the ability to physically be present in the field. In the case of Lebanon, not one official showed up in Beirut’s destroyed streets and neighborhoods, while people were shoveling the rubble away from their ruined homes. Not one official went to help with the makeshift humanitarian initiatives launched by civilians.
2. Communication skills: A leader managing a crisis must show their ability to relate to and communicate with the people. This will restore some of the inevitable loss of trust by keeping them in the loop with the latest information. In Lebanon’s case, a daily press conference should have been held to keep people up to date with rescue efforts, the humanitarian situation and the economic repercussions.
3. Decision-making powers: A compassionate leader during a time of crisis who lacks decision-making powers will no doubt fail to impose solutions or change the status quo, thus losing the trust of his employees/people. Such a loss will certainly lead to his demise, much like the Lebanese officials who are currently in power.

Some of the leaders managed the crisis by uttering irresponsible and provocative statements.

Jessy El-Murr

All the Lebanese party leaders in current and past governments have failed to show these top three leadership qualities during times of crisis and beyond. In fact, some of them managed the crisis by uttering irresponsible and provocative statements, threatening the Lebanese with the lifting of subsidies on wheat or fuel, plunging the country into additional economic despair. In addition, other party officials have resorted to bringing back old sectarian fears by provoking armed clashes in several parts of the country.
From the painfully slow and dodgy start to the investigation into the Beirut blast to the questionable forensic and financial audit and the questions surrounding the tendering process, as well as the provocative visit to Beirut of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and his threats to Israel from Lebanese soil (despite the Foreign Ministry’s official refusal of his visit, as reported in local media), Lebanese officials have succeeded in showing one unique quality: Combining excess official titles with a complete and utter lack of leadership skills.

  • Jessy El-Murr is a certified media trainer and a multilingual digital journalist who spent over 18 years writing and presenting political, military and digital news stories for international news outlets. Twitter: @jessytrends
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Warnings as Lebanon misses government formation deadline

France said it regretted that Lebanese leaders have failed to form a new government in line with a commitment made to Macron. (File/AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2020

Warnings as Lebanon misses government formation deadline

  • Macron has visited Lebanon twice in less than a month, trying to force change on its leadership amid the crises and last month’s massive explosion
  • Beirut’s chief prosecutor charged four people with negligence over a huge fire last week at Beirut’s port

BEIRUT: France said on Wednesday it regretted that Lebanese political leaders have failed to form a new government in line with a commitment made to President Emmanuel Macron, but that it was not too late to do so.
The statement by Macron’s office came after Lebanese politicians missed a 15-day deadline to form a crisis Cabinet, with many remaining deadlocked on Wednesday on which political faction gets to have the key portfolio of the finance ministry.
The deadline was set as part of a French initiative by President Emmanuel Macron who has been pressing the leaders in Lebanon to form a Cabinet made up of specialists who can work on enacting urgent reforms to extract the country from a devastating economic and financial crisis.
The crisis has been worsened by the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port caused by the detonation of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrates, which killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands and caused losses worth billions of dollars.
“It is not yet too late: everyone must assume their responsibilities and finally act in the sole interest of Lebanon by allowing Moustapha Adib to form a government that reflects the seriousness of the situation,” the French statement said, referring to the Lebanese prime minister-desginate.
The French leader has described his initiative, which includes a road map and a timetable for reforms, as “the last chance for this system.”
While initially committing to the plan and naming a new prime minister-designate who promised to deliver a Cabinet within two weeks, Lebanese politicians have been unable to meet the deadline amid divisions over the initiative itself and the manner in which the government formation is being carried out, away from the usual consultations and horse-trading among political factions.

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Adib’s French-supported efforts to form a government of experts without party loyalists hit snags the last few days, particularly after the US administration slapped sanctions on two former Cabinet ministers and close allies of Hezbollah, including the top aide to the powerful Shiite Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Berri, who heads the Hezbollah-allied Shiite Amal movement, is now insisting on retaining hold on the Finance Ministry, which has been held by a Shiite close to Berri and Hezbollah for the past 10 years. He has also objected to the way the Cabinet formation was being undertaken, apparently angered that Adib has not been consulting them.
A government opposed by Lebanon’s two main Shiite groups would find it difficult to pass a vote of confidence in parliament.
Local reports said Adib, a Sunni according to Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system and former diplomat who is supported by Macron, got the backing of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and was appointed to form a Cabinet on Aug. 31. Local reports said he was inclined to step down if no breakthrough was achieved in the next 24 hours.
Hariri, in a tweet, said the Ministry of Finance and other ministerial portfolios “are not an exclusive right for any sect” and that the insistence on retaining the ministry for one sect was undermining “the last chance to save Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
Walid Joumblatt, a leading politician and head of Lebanon’s Druze sect, said some people “do not understood or do not want to understand that the French initiative is the last chance to save Lebanon and prevent its demise.”
Macron has visited Lebanon twice in less than a month, trying to force change on its leadership amid the crises and last month’s massive explosion in Beirut’s port.
Lebanon, a former French protectorate, is mired in the country’s worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. It defaulted on paying back its debt for the first time ever in March, and the local currency has collapsed, leading to hyperinflation and soaring poverty and unemployment.
The small, cash-strapped country is in desperate need of financial assistance but France and other international powers have refused to provide aid before serious reforms are made. The crisis is largely blamed on decades of systematic corruption and mismanagement by Lebanon’s ruling class.
Also on Wednesday, Beirut’s chief prosecutor, Ziad Abu Haidar, charged three Lebanese and a Palestinian with negligence over a huge fire last week at Beirut’s port that badly polluted the air and traumatized the city’s residents, still reeling from the August explosion. The fire also heavily damaged a warehouse where the International Committee of the Red Cross stores thousands of food parcels and cooking oil, the state-run National News Agency reported.
There were no casualties in the blaze, which was the second fire at the port since last months massive blast. Two of the three Lebanese and the Palestinian were ordered arrested, the report said, without elaborating.


Revealed: How a bank in Turkey funded Hamas terror operations

Updated 25 October 2020

Revealed: How a bank in Turkey funded Hamas terror operations

  • American court ruling shines new light on Erdogan’s support for violent extremists

JEDDAH: A US district court ruling that a foreign bank based in Istanbul helped finance the Hamas terror group has heaped further pressure on Turkey over its tacit support for terrorism funding.

Ankara has remained silent on the verdict, but the court’s findings are likely to isolate Turkey further on the international stage and damage its relations with Israel.

Three US law firms, including Stein Mitchell, last year launched legal action against the Kuveyt Turk bank over alleged terror financing.

The firms were acting on behalf of the estate of husband and wife Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, who were murdered in their car in a West Bank terror attack in 2015. The couple’s four children were also in the vehicle, but survived.

Eitam Henkin was a US national and his wife a foreign national.

The attack was praised by Hamas as an act of “brave resistance” and “heroic.”

In its ruling, the US eastern district court of New York said that the Kuveyt Turk “knowingly maintained several bank accounts for a Hamas operative who was the terrorist organization’s primary Turkish fundraising entity.”

According to the court, the bank “fully understood the operative’s role in supporting Hamas’ illicit and violent activities.”

“We all know about Iran’s longstanding support for Hamas. But less understood is the fact that Turkey, a NATO ally, provides significant support to the terrorist group,” Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted on Friday.

Plaintiffs in the case claimed that the bank aided and supported the murders by providing banking services to three customers, including a known Hamas operative, Jihad Yaghmour, and a Hamas-run institution, the Islamic University of Gaza.

However, the complaint also accused Turkey of acting as a “major political and financial supporter for Hamas,” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly meeting senior Hamas leaders.

Turkey’s acceptance of 11 Palestinian prisoners released under a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas in 2011 was also included in the court ruling as a proof of close ties between Ankara and the terror organization.

The court also criticized Turkey for its failure to ban the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, known as the IHH, a prominent fundraiser for Hamas in the country.

The foundation has been operating as part of the Union of Good, a global fundraising network for the terror organization, since October 2000. The network gathers over 50 separate Islamic organizations, several of which are designated as global terror groups by the US Treasury Department.

IHH made headlines after the Mavi Marmara raid when volunteers from the group on board a Turkish-owned vessel attempted to bypass the Gaza blockade in May 2010. Israeli forces stormed the ship and killed 10 activists on board, including Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish origin.

The US court harshly criticized the IHH for supporting the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), which served since the 1990s as the principal recruitment source for Hamas ranks, especially Al-Qassam Brigades.

According to the court ruling, from 2012-2015, Kuveyt Bank conducted criminal activities by maintaining several bank accounts for Yaghmour, IHH and IUG. These included Euro-dollar accounts used to transfer funds though bank accounts in the US.

On Thursday, The Times newspaper in the UK claimed that Hamas had set up a secret headquarters in Istanbul to carry out cyber strikes and counter-intelligence against Saudi and UAE embassies in the Middle East and Europe.

Based on Western intelligence sources, the unit is allegedly run by Hamas’ military leadership in Gaza and directed by Samakh Saraj, a senior Hamas member.

In August, the US criticized Turkey over Erdogan’s hosting of two Hamas leaders in Istanbul, the second time this year, saying that the officials were “specially designated global terrorists.” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh was a guest of honor at the meeting.

“President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza,” the US State Department said.

However, Turkey continues to court Hamas despite US objections amid claims that Ankara has granted passports and citizenship to dozens of militants in the past two years, including senior members of a Hamas terror cell.