Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs divided over PM designation

A general view shows the parliament building in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 June 2022

Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs divided over PM designation

  • Najib Mikati, caretaker premier, enjoys the support of the traditional parliamentary blocs that will rename him to head a four-month government

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s political class was squabbling on Wednesday to agree on a Sunni figure to designate as the future prime minister, ahead of binding parliamentary consultations with President Michel Aoun on Thursday.

Parliamentary blocs attempted to communicate with each other but failed to agree on a name.

Najib Mikati, caretaker premier, enjoys the support of the traditional parliamentary blocs that will rename him to head a four-month government. Its term will conclude when Aoun’s term ends in October and a new president is elected. Meanwhile, many have been discussing designating Nawaf Salam, a former ambassador and judge on the International Court of Justice.

Hezbollah and its allies are seeking to establish a parliamentary majority for its political side and to secure the votes of 65 MPs for its candidate, with the head of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc saying it must “realize the importance of resistance.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s Christian ally the Free Patriotic Movement refused to designate Mikati and is setting impossible conditions, such as requesting sovereign ministries, and most importantly, keeping control of the Energy Ministry.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the party’s MPs will not designate anyone “because the proposed candidates do not meet our criteria.”

The Progressive Socialist Party and the Kataeb Party have decided to designate Salam.

The Takaddom party’s MP Mark Daou and MP Najat Saliba have voiced their decision to designate Salam, while other independent and reformist MPs have refrained from announcing their decisions.

However, independent MP Nabil Badr said that he and 13 other MPs will designate Mikati, which will increase the latter’s chances with the support he will receive from the MPs of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, and others.

It remains uncertain whether or not Mikati will be able to form a government that is acceptable to the ruling parties within a short time, especially after some recent governments took a year to form.

This new political confusion wreaked havoc on the management of the country’s affairs. Bakeries and shops ran out of bread on Wednesday, with the owners of mills and bakeries blaming the Economy Ministry.

Similar to gasoline and medicine, Arab bread made from subsidized wheat is now being sold on the black market at a very high price.

On Wednesday, Economy Minister Amin Salam referred the issue to the Financial Public Prosecution, in which he mentioned “the greed of those monopolizing people’s sustenance.”

The minister’s office said: “Some bakery owners sold subsidized flour for Arab bread on the black market at double prices. They have also been using it to make sweets, cakes and French bread, generating double profits. They are thus wasting public money.”

Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s central bank governor, said in an interview that when he accepted to “lend the Lebanese state, it was because there were laws allowing it to borrow from the Banque du Liban, and depositors believe that the money they put in the banks was taken by the BDL, and this is not true.”

He added: “The wrong political decisions that were taken have led to the local currency’s depreciation. Those responsible are blaming BDL and me. I never imagined some would default or try to shut down banks and turn the economy into a cash economy.

“The secret for the BDL standing on its feet lies in our commitment to not implement any reckless policy and we were thus able to secure financing for the country. Without the BDL, the government would not have been able to purchase wheat and medicines. We devised plans that introduced dollars to the BDL, which allowed it to use its reserves to secure subsidies. We only used $2.2 billion from the end of 2021, until June 15. We still have $11 billion."

Salameh stressed: “Lebanon needs between $15 billion and $20 billion to get back on its feet. The BDL was not late in providing dollars to importers of medicines for chronic illnesses, including cancer medicines. Subsidized medicines were cut off and medicines sold in dollars are available. It is not my job to go after these dealers.”

Speaking about Lebanon’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund, he said: “An amount of $3 billion from the IMF is not enough. Lebanon needs $400 million every month to secure diesel and gasoline alone, in addition to $35 million to secure medicines, as well as it needs $300 million annually to secure wheat. However, Lebanon needs the IMF, through which it will regain trust.”

He added: “Mafias are taking over the pharmaceutical, wheat, and gasoline sectors, and the state feeds the mafias’ profits. Some are trying to blame the BDL, and I have confronted such attempts. I cannot give names, but it is clear who these parties are.”

Speaking about the politicians who transferred their money abroad, he said: “The banks provided us with information, not names, because they do not have the right to give out people’s names, but we can review the banks’ documents to see if these regulations were done properly.

“Political pressure is being exerted on me by my political opponents, who tell some judges what they should do. Those who want my head say so publicly.”

Sudan protesters take to the barricades again

Updated 07 July 2022

Sudan protesters take to the barricades again

JEDDAH: Protesters in Sudan took to makeshift street barricades of rocks and tires for a seventh day on Wednesday as military leader Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan fired the last civilian members of the country’s ruling council.

Burhan, who seized power in a coup last October, has vowed to “make room” for civilian groups to form a new transitional government after he disbanded the ruling Sovereign Council, which he chairs. The council’s members said they had received no formal notification and were surprised to discover that their official vehicles had been taken away.

Protesters have demanded a restoration of the transition to civilian rule despite repeated crackdowns by the security forces, who have in recent days fired live bullets, launched barrages of tear gas canisters and deployed water cannons. At least 114 people have been killed in the crackdown since October.

The transitional government uprooted by Burhan last year had been forged between the military and civilian factions in 2019, following mass protests that prompted the army to oust dictator Omar Bashir.

Sudan’s main civilian alliance, the Forces for Freedom and Change, said Burhan’s latest move was a “giant ruse” and “tactical retreat.” They also called for “continued public pressure,” and protesters returned to the streets of Khartoum on Wednesday.

Democracy campaigners say the army chief has made such moves before. In November, a month after the coup, Burhan signed a deal with Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister he had ousted in the power grab and put under house arrest, returning him to power.

But many people rejected that pact and took to the streets again, and Hamdok resigned in January warning that Sudan was “crossing a dangerous turning point that threatens its whole survival.”

United Arab Emirates cuts red tape to attract digital businesses

Updated 06 July 2022

United Arab Emirates cuts red tape to attract digital businesses

  • UAE aims to make it easier for digital companies to incorporate
  • Sets a target for 300 digital companies to incorporate within a year

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates is cutting red tape to make it easier and quicker for digital companies to incorporate, the latest economic policy announcement as the government seeks to further diversify the economy away from oil revenues.

Trade minister Thani Al Zeyoudi, flanked by executives from many state-linked entities, on Wednesday announced the changes that include better access to the financial and banking system.

“We want to show digitally enabled companies from Europe, Asia, the Americas, that the UAE is the world’s best place to live, work, invest and scale,” the minister told reporters, setting a target for 300 digital companies to incorporate within a year.

Those setting up in the UAE, home to financial center Dubai and oil-rich Abu Dhabi, would have visas issued sooner and be offered attractive commercial and residential leases, he said.

As other governments step up national efforts to increase renewable energy sources and move away from fossil fuels, the UAE is rolling out a series of initiatives to double the economy to $816 billion by 2030.

“We want to show that we are here to help; from commercial licenses and work visas, to opening bank accounts, finding office space and the perfect place to live,” Al Zeyoudi said.

United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani Al Zeyoudi gestures during an interview with Reuters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 30, 2022. (REUTERS)

Some company executives complain about the bureaucracy involved in setting up a business, including in hiring international staff in a country where citizens are a minority.

Still, the UAE’s Dubai has established itself as the region’s premier business hub and is already home to many multinational corporations and international businesses.

But regional competition has intensified as Saudi Arabia takes steps to re-mold itself as a leading financial and tourism center under the leadership of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“We’re moving from a regional hub to a global hub,” Al Zeyoudi said. “We’re competing with the big, big boys now.”

Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

Updated 06 July 2022

Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

  • Army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition

CAIRO: Sudan’s military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan issued a decree relieving the five civilian members of the sovereign council from their duties, a statement on the council’s telegram account said on Wednesday.
Burhan said on Monday the army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition, and urged political and revolutionary groups to start talks to form a transitional government.

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank arrest raid

Updated 07 July 2022

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank arrest raid

  • At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank

JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH: The Israeli military said it shot and killed a Palestinian man during an arrest raid near the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday.
The army said that during one of a series of raids carried out across the Palestinian territory, its troops fired at a suspect who attempted to escape arrest in the village of Jaba.
“The force gave medical treatment to the suspect, but later pronounced him dead,” the army said. It said the incident was under investigation.
The Israeli military said its forces were conducting counter-terrorism operations across the West Bank and had arrested 24 suspects.
“I heard Israeli forces shouting at a man, asking him to stop before I heard eight shots fired,” said a Palestinian Jaba resident, who asked not to be identified.
The Palestinian Health Ministry issued a statement saying it received confirmation of the death of Rafiq Riyad Ghannam from the agency that coordinates affairs with Israel. Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, said the 20-year-old man was severely wounded during clashes in the village.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said that Israel was “preceding President Biden’s visit by more field executions and escalation of aggression against the Palestinian people.”
Biden is expected to meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders before he heads to Saudi Arabia on his July 13-16 trip.
Ghannam was the second Palestinian from Jaba killed in recent days. On Sunday the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said 19-year-old Kamel Abdallah Alwaneh died a day after he was shot by Israeli troops. The army said soldiers came under attack “during routine security activity near the town of Jaba” and shot a man suspected of throwing a firebomb.
The Israeli military has carried out near-daily raids in Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank following a series of deadly attacks by Palestinians earlier this year that killed 19 Israelis, with several of the attackers coming from the Jenin area.
Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in these Israeli army raids. Most of the dead were alleged to have opened fire on Israeli forces or hurled stones or firebombs at them. The dead also include at least two apparent passersby.
Palestinians were also angered this week by the results of a US investigation into the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who had been shot during an Israeli raid in Jenin last month.
The US State Department said on Monday Abu Akleh was likely killed by Israeli gunfire which was probably unintentional. The Palestinian investigation concluded she was shot deliberately, an allegation that Israel denies.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and the Palestinians seek it as the heartland of a future state. Israel considers the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people.
Almost half a million Israeli settlers live in dozens of West Bank settlements scattered across the territory, alongside around 3 million Palestinians who live under Israeli military rule.
The Palestinians and much of the international community consider Israel’s West Bank settlements a violation of international law and an obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict.
(With AP and Reuters)

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

Updated 07 July 2022

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

ALGIERS: Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met publicly for the first time in over five years, on the sidelines of Algerian independence anniversary celebrations.
Algeria’s state broadcaster reported late Tuesday that representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Islamist Hamas movement also attended this meeting, which it called “historic.”
The pair, who officially last met face-to-face in Doha in October 2016, were brought together in a meeting with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, whose country marked the 60th anniversary of independence from France.
Abbas’ secular Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority that rules the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has been at loggerheads with Hamas since elections in 2007, when the Islamists took control of Gaza.
Tebboune and Abbas also signed a document to name a street “Algeria” in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
As well as Abbas and Haniyeh, Tebboune on Tuesday hosted several foreign dignitaries, who watched a huge military parade to mark independence in 1962 when Algeria broke free from 132 years of French occupation.