Posts Tagged ‘Libya’

Libya strongman says UN-backed government’s mandate expired

December 17, 2017


© Tunisian Presidency/AFP | A handout picture released by the Tunisian Presidency Press Service shows Libyan General Khalifa Haftar speaking during his meeting with the Tunisian president on September 18, 2017 at Carthage Palace in Tunis

BENGHAZI (LIBYA) (AFP) – Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar insisted Sunday that the mandate of the country’s UN-backed government has run out after what he said was the expiration of a tattered 2015 political deal.The UN-brokered agreement signed in Morocco on December 17, 2015 established Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) for a one-year period, renewable only once.

Despite that deal, Libya has remained divided between the GNA government in Tripoli led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and a rival administration backed by Haftar in the east.

In a televised speech Haftar, who has never recognised the GNA’s authority, said the “expiry of the Libyan political accord” marked a “historic and dangerous turning point”.

“All bodies resulting from this agreement automatically lose their legitimacy, which has been contested from the first day they took office,” he said.

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday insisted the 2015 deal remains the “only viable framework” to prepare for elections next year.

The UN in September launched a fresh push to agree a new accord aimed at bringing stability to Libya, which has been in chaos since the 2011 ouster of long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

One of the main stumbling blocks is the inclusion in any potential government of Haftar, whose Libyan National Army dominates the country’s east.

In a statement on Sunday the UN’s special representative to Libya Ghassan Salame said Libyans were “fed up with violence” and hoped “for a political solution, for reconciliation and for harmony”.

“I urge all parties to heed their voices and refrain from any actions that could undermine the political process,” the statement said.



East Libyan commander Haftar says will listen to will of ‘free Libyan people’

December 17, 2017

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FILE PHOTO: Libya’s eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar attends General Security conference, in Benghazi, Libya, October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori Reuters

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control parts of the country, said on Sunday he would listen to the will of “free Libyan people,”, in the strongest indication so far that he might run in elections expected next year.

Haftar styles himself as a strongman capable of ending the chaos that has gripped Libya since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

His comments, made at a military graduation ceremony, recall those of Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when he was testing the ground before becoming a presidential candidate. Sisi was eventually elected in 2014.

Just as Sisi built up wide support after toppling Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013, supporters of Haftar speak of a similar situation developing in Libya, with rallies held in some eastern cities calling on him to run.

“We declare clearly and unequivocally our full compliance with the orders of the free Libyan people, which is its own guardian and the master of its land,” Haftar said in a speech.

He spoke in the eastern city of Benghazi, from where his forces managed to expel Islamist militants during a three-year battle.

Haftar, a general from the Gaddafi era, also dismissed a series of U.N.-led talks to bridge differences between Libya’s two rival administrations, one linked to him in the east and one backed by the United Nations in the capital Tripoli.

“All the dialogues starting from Ghadames and ending in Tunis and going through Geneva and Skhirat (in Morocco) were just ink on paper,” he said, listing host cities of U.N. talks.


The United Nations launched a new round of talks in September in Tunis between the rival factions to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, but they broke off after one month without any deal.

A major obstacle to progress was the issue of Haftar’s own rule. He remains popular among some Libyans in the east weary of the chaos but faces opposition from many in western Libya.

In his speech Haftar said his forces, known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), could be only placed under an authority that had been elected by the Libyan people, in a further indication that he might take part in the election.

Haftar’s supporters had set Sunday as a deadline for a U.N. deal or calling on the general to take over for several years. The U.N. has rejected this.

The large North African country has been in turmoil since Gaddafi’s downfall gave space to Islamist militants and smuggling networks that have sent hundreds of thousands of migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Haftar is just one of many players in Libya, which is controlled by armed groups divided along political, religious, regional and business lines.

The president of the eastern House of Representatives backing Haftar, Aguila Saleh, said it was time to start preparing for elections, according to a video posted on social media.

“I urge to join preparing parliamentary and presidential elections,” he said.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Gareth Jones and David Evans

Libyan leader: Qatar, Turkey and Sudan stoking conflict — Russia’s strategy in North Africa and the Middle East becomes more clear

December 16, 2017

Ahmed Gaddaf Al-Dam, cousin of Ahmed Gaddaf Al-Dam’s former President Muammar Qaddafi. (Reuters)

CAIRO: Ahmed Gaddaf Al-Dam, political leader of the Libyan National Struggle Front (LNSF) and cousin of the late Muammar Qaddafi, accused Qatar, Turkey and Sudan of working to fuel the conflict in his country.

They are doing so “for the service of Israel, the fragmentation of Libya and the division of its territories, the forfeiture of its people and resources, and the installation of a puppet government,” he said in a statement.
Hundreds of Daesh militants have entered Libya via Tunisia from Syria and Iraq, he said, accusing European countries of overlooking this.
“Libya has been subjected to a major conspiracy, and the West does not want to end the conflict in Libya because Western interests conflict with Arab interests,” he added.
A spokesman for the Libyan National Army (LNA) earlier warned of continued pockets of Daesh and Al-Qaeda in the country, and said intelligence reports confirmed the movement of Daesh terrorists from Syria and Iraq to Libya with the help of foreign countries.
Gaddaf Al-Dam said the LNA “captured a few weeks ago many groups of intruding terrorists in Kafrah” in southeast Libya, and some terrorists entering the country then head to Egypt.
He accused some quarters in Qatar and Libya of conspiring to kill him, warning them that they are “messing with the lion’s tail.”
Libyans are helpless due to the lack of a recognized political administration that can protect them, Gaddaf Al-Dam said.
“I feel pain every day and cry every morning because of the situation Libya has reached,” he added.
The LNSF was established on Dec. 16, 2015, and includes 10 Libyan political organizations inside and outside the country.
It supports the LNA under the command of Khalifa Haftar to “restore the sovereignty of Libya and purge it from terrorism and terrorists, and restore safety and security to the Libyan people.”
The LNSF says it aims to reach lasting national reconciliation without any foreign interference.
Gaddaf Al-Dam warned all those conspiring against Libya: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
Meanwhile, the LNA said the operation to clear Benghazi of terrorist pockets is ongoing. The area around the Baladi Hotel has witnessed fighting for about 10 days amid a cautious advance by the LNA due to the presence of land mines.
Gaddaf Al-Dam said he was not surprised by US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital because that was his declared position since the election campaign.



Moscow’s top diplomat said Tuesday that his country sought a role in ending the ongoing conflict in Libya just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the beginning of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, where the leader recently declared victory over ISIS.

During a meeting in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Libyan Government of National Accord Foreign Minister Mohamed Taha Siala that the Russian government was prepared to work with all parties in Libya, which has been ravaged by war since a rebel and jihadi uprising, supported by Western military alliance NATO, overthrew and killed longtime leader Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011. Russia has been critical of the U.S. and its allies’ efforts in the North African state and has also held talks with Libyan military leader Khalifa Haftar, a rival to the U.N.-backed government.

Related: U.S. made secret deal with ISIS to let thousands of fighters flee Raqqa to battle Assad in Syria, former ally says

“The Russian Federation is ready to provide all-around support towards achieving a final arrangement. We established contacts with absolutely all political groups and tribes at the very beginning of the Libyan crisis,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov later added, “We still maintain close interaction with all the parties involved. We hope that we will be able to increase bilateral cooperation with a united, sovereign and free Libya when the situation stabilizes and all the threats to Libyan statehood and security are removed.”

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  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) welcomes his U.N.-backed Libyan counterpart Mohamed Taher Siala for their meeting in Moscow on December 12, 2017. Russia has sought to capitalize on Western setbacks in Libya by asserting its own role, which may also build on Moscow’s victory in Syria by bolstering a presence in the Mediterranean.YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

After the death of Qaddafi, who critics at home and in the West accused of human rights abuses and political oppression, Libya’s internal factions quickly turned on one another, opening the door for Islamist insurgency, much of which has been linked to Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The ongoing violence and instability led former President Barack Obama to call U.S. intervention in Libya his “worst mistake.” Years before his own presidency, Donald Trump warned in 2011 that “As bad as Qaddafi was—what comes next in Libya will be worse—just watch,” although he at times also appeared to support U.S. intervention.

As the ongoing conflict was largely overshadowed by bloodshed in Iraq and Syria, Libya was once again sprung into international headlines when a CNN investigation last month produced graphic images of a slave trade that has flourished amid lack of a unified national authority. The U.S. has been a staunch supporter of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, but Russia has pursued a more multifaceted approach, courting both the U.N.’s ally as well as the Tobruk-based House of Representatives led by Haftar, whose armed forces helped defeat jihadis attempting to establish their own, ultraconservative rule over the country.

In October, the U.N. Security Council agreed to revise and reinforce a previous 2015 agreement that would see a unified, inclusive government. Lavrov emphasized Russia’s support for this initiative on Tuesday and told Siala that he looked forward to his “views on the Libyan settlement process, especially ahead of the next UN-mediated intra-Libyan meeting between Tripoli and Tobruk representatives next week.”

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) welcomes General Khalifa Haftar (L), commander in the Libyan National Army, during a meeting in Moscow, Russia August 14, 2017.SERGEI KARPUKHIN/REUTERS

While the U.S. has also thrown its weight behind the same peace process, Washington and its allies have viewed Moscow’s role in Libya and the Mediterranean in general with deep suspicion. A year after the U.S. began bombing ISIS targets in Syria in 2014, Russia joined in at the request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who, like Qaddafi, was considered an illegitimate leader by the West, Turkey and Gulf Arab states, as they sponsored a 2011 insurgency against the Syrian leader. Russia’s backing has since helped the Syrian government regain control of most of the country, where a coalition of Syria, Russia and Iran declared victory last month.

Putin recently announced the beginning of a withdrawal of his troops from Syria but said that Moscow’s Mediterranean bases near the eastern cities of Latakia and Tartus would remain. This move, along with Russia’s role in Libya and further evidenced by last week’s agreement allowing the Russian military to use Egyptian airspace, reported by United Press International, has compelled some observers to draw a link between Russia’s strategy in North Africa and the Middle East and its greater effort to counter NATO in Europe.

Russia ready to consider easing arms embargo for Libya

December 13, 2017


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Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (left) and Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar are seen with French President Emmanuel Macron (center) during talks to “facilitate a political agreement” July 25, 2017 in France

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is ready to consider easing an arms embargo for Libya, the Interfax news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying on Wednesday.

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said this month he was hopeful that a U.N.-imposed arms embargo would be partially lifted against some branches of the country’s military.

The Libyan government is allowed to import weapons and related materiel with the approval of a U.N. Security Council committee overseeing the embargo imposed in 2011.

Reporting by Polina Devitt; writing by Dmitry Solovyov; editing by Polina Devitt

Amnesty International claims EU ‘complicit’ in Libya migrant abuses

December 12, 2017

Rights group Amnesty International has accused EU governments of supporting migrant abuse in Libya. Echoing previous reports, it found widespread abuse of migrants in Libya by the government, smugglers and armed groups.

A migrant finishes his lunch while others wait to return to their barracks, at a detention center for migrants (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

The European Union is complicit in the abuse of tens of thousands of migrants in Libya in order to stem migration from North Africa, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

The human rights group said European governments are training and funding the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrants at sea, who are then sent to detention centers where they are subject to abuse.

“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these crimes,” Amnesty Europe Director John Dalhuisen said.

Read more: Jean-Claude Juncker — Migrants ‘need legal ways to come to Europe’

Sharp drop in migrant arrivals

Led by Italy, the EU has been providing technical and financial support to the Libyan coast guard and immigration authorities in a bid to stop migrants, mostly from West Africa, from using Libya has a launch pad to reach Europe with the help of human smugglers.

There has been a one-third drop in migrant arrivals through the central Mediterranean in the first 11 months of this year, to 116,400 compared to the same period last year, the EU’s border agency Frontex said Monday. Much of the drop has been since this summer, when Italy moved to expand cooperation with Libya. More than 600,000 migrants have used the route over the past four years.

The EU has rejected criticism of its Libya policy. It has recently moved to increase funding for detained migrants and improved conditions after reports of abuses and migrants being sold into slavery.  The bloc has also tried to accelerate the repatriation of migrants from Libya to their countries of origin.

Watch video26:00

Is Libya a failed state?

Cutting migrant flows at expense of human rights

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Amnesty said that due to Libyan coast guard interceptions, at least 20,000 migrants had been put in overcrowded and unsanitary detention centers in Libyan government controlled areas.

More than 400,000 migrants are believed to be in the country including in areas outside government control, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Amnesty reported migrants have been subject to arbitrary detention, torture, forced labor, extortion and even unlawful killings by authorities, human traffickers and armed groups and militias.

It also accused the Libyan coast guard of corruption and cooperation with human smugglers.

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Amnesty called on EU governments to open pathways to legal immigration to Europe, pressure Libya to end arbitrary detentions and grant full access to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

“By supporting Libyan authorities in trapping people in Libya, without requiring the Libyan authorities to tackle the endemic abuse of refugees and migrants or to even recognize that refugees exist, European governments have shown where their true priorities lie: namely the closure of the central Mediterranean route, with scant regard to the suffering caused,” said Dalhuisen.

Watch video03:31

Niger’s migration problem

cw/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

‘Iran Has Gotten Away With Murder Since 1979,’ Saudi Arabia Says

December 4, 2017

Haaretz Via Reuters

When Italy organized a conference focused on the Middle East, the Gulf and North Africa, it promised to look beyond the turmoil roiling the region and instead promote a “positive agenda.”
But many of the 45 heads of state, ministers and business leaders who attended the event over the past three days saw little future cheer.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, captured the gloom, bemoaning “a lack of wisdom” in the region, with “no hope” on hand for ordinary people hoping for an end to years of conflict, upheaval and sectarianism.

“Maybe I have presented a dark picture, but it is not as dark as I have explained, it is darker,” said Thani, whose country is suffering an economic blockade by its Arab neighbors, which accuse Qatar of supporting

Qatar denies the accusations and the crisis has pushed the tiny, gas-rich state closer to Shi’ite Muslim Iran, the regional rival to Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia.

The foreign ministers of both Iran and Saudi Arabia addressed the conference, taking turns to trade barbs.

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Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir

“Since 1979, the Iranians have literally got away with murder in our region, and this has to stop,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Friday, accusing Tehran of interfering in the affairs of numerous Arab states, including Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

A day earlier, on the same stage, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Saudi Arabia of blocking ceasefire efforts in Syria, “suffocating” Qatar, destabilizing Lebanon and supporting Islamic State.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

He also dismissed suggestions that Tehran was meddling in the affairs of its troubled neighbors or that it should stop supporting militia groups, like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Casting around for reasons to be positive, most speakers pointed to the defeat of Islamic State, which used to rule over millions of people in Iraq and Syria, but now controls just small pockets of land after months of fierce military assaults.

However, officials warned the group would not die easily.

“It has been defeated as a military force on the ground, but it is likely to go back to cities to create destruction and terror,” said Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, predicting the militant group could still be around in 10 years.

Iraq’s foreign minister bemoaned the destruction it had left in its wake, and called on the world to unite to help rebuild his country in the same way they had come together to fight ISIS.

“The world owes this to us,” said Ibrahim al-Jaafari. “A lot of destruction demands a lot of reconstruction. Mosul is not at all what it was like before. It used to be beautiful. It had a university. Now it is just ruins.”

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warned that IS fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq had come to his country, where an attack on a mosque in Sinai last month had killed more than 300 people. They were also heading to lawless Libya, he said.

Amidst all the talk of war and chaos, there was little mention of diplomatic efforts to restore peace to the region.

“At a time when you have so many sources of tension, so many fuses, so many humanitarian catastrophes, you also have so little diplomacy,” said Robert Malley, vice president for policy at the non-governmental International Crisis Group.

Underscoring this point, no one from the White House administration took part in the conference – a signal some diplomats put down to a general disengagement from the Middle East by President Donald Trump. Last year, the then secretary of state, John Kerry, participated.


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Macron proposes military action against human traffickers

November 29, 2017



© Screengrab FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-11-29

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday told FRANCE 24 he was proposing police and military action against human traffickers to combat migrant slave trading.

“Human trafficking is a criminal offence. It’s not for us just to denounce the problem, but to act, attacking collectively these networks of human traffickers because they operate from the Sahel all the way to Libya and they have connections which enable them to operate all the way to the Mediterranean,” explained Macron.

In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 on the sidelines of the 2017 African Union – European Union (AU-EU) summit in Ivory Coast, Macron said he would be having further meetings with EU and AU representatives to propose taking police and military action against traffickers.

Slavery and human trafficking dominated the AU-EU summit, which came just two weeks after US network CNN aired footage of African migrants being sold in Libya.

The video sparked a massive outcry with several African leaders calling on the international community to take urgent measures to put an end to the practice.

Macron stressed that when he called for police and military action, he did not mean “waging war” on Libya, a country that has suffered from a brutal civil war since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

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African, European leaders gather for summit

Macron was speaking in Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast, where more than 80 African and European leaders gathered for the EU-AU summit focused on promoting jobs and stability for Africa’s exploding population, with some calling for a new “Marshall Plan.”

The two-day summit in Abidjan opened as the EU following the twin shocks of unprecedented migration and terrorist attacks.

It comes as China, India, Japan, the Gulf Arab states and others also compete for influence on a continent where the 28-nation EU remains as a whole the biggest economic and political player.

Millions of Africans on the move

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani told parliamentarians from both continents before the summit that there was little time to find ways to meet the needs of an African population set to more than double by 2050 to around 2.4 billion people.

“Africa will have to create millions of jobs to accommodate the new arrivals in the job market,” Tajani said in Abidjan.

Millions of Africans have already been on the move within the continent to seek jobs or flee conflict but also across the Mediterranean, mainly via Libya to Italy.

The EU this year began to reduce the flow through cooperation with the Libyan authorities following a more comprehensive deal with Turkey, which has sharply cut the flow of those fleeing the Middle East to Greece.

African ‘Marshall Plan’

More that 1.5 million people from the Middle East and Africa have entered Europe in the last two years and EU officials fear new and even greater influxes in the future.

EU officials said the migrant influx, which sparked political divisions across the EU, as well as frequent Islamist attacks in Europe have been a wake-up call to tackle the root causes of why people leave their homes.

The EU has already set up multi-billion euro funds to promote Africa’s economic development while deepening counter-terrorism cooperation with African countries where Islamist militant groups are spreading.

The multi-billion dollar Marshall Plan launched by the United States after World War II is widely credited for helping Europe achieve its current prosperity and stability.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

HRW condemns summary executions in eastern Libya

November 29, 2017


© AFP | A member of the self-styled Libyan National Army loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar fires a rocket-propelled grenade during clashes with militants in the eastern city of Benghazi on November 9, 2017


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Human Rights Watch on Wednesday condemned a series of summary executions of dozens of people in areas of eastern Libya under the control of controversial strongman Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

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Khalifa Haftar

The New York-based watchdog called on Haftar’s Libyan National Army to make good on a promise to investigate the latest killings and to hand over a suspect wanted by the International Criminal Court in connection with previous executions.

Police discovered the bodies of 36 men, all of them executed, near Al-Abyar, 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Libya’s second city Benghazi, on October 26.

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Two days later, Haftar ordered the military prosector to investigate but no findings have been announced and no suspects have been detained.

“The LNA’s pledges to conduct inquiries into repeated unlawful killings in areas under their control in eastern Libya have so far led nowhere,” said HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, Eric Goldstein.

“The LNA will be condoning apparent war crimes if their pledge to investigate the gruesome discovery in Al-Abyar proves to be another empty promise,” he added.

A local security official told AFP at the time that the bodies found in Al-Abyar belonged to suspected jihadists, 19 of them foreigners.

Human Rights Watch said it had reviewed multiple lists containing a total of 25 names of men found at Al-Abyar, but could not verify which were civilians and which, if any, were fighters affiliated with forces opposing the LNA.

However, it cited relatives of six of the dead as saying that they were civilians who had been taken from their homes by armed men in front of family members.

The Al-Abyar killings were the latest in a series of summary executions in areas of eastern Libya under Haftar’s control over the past two years.

In August, ICC judges issued an arrest warrant for Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf Al-Werfalli, a commander of the the Benghazi-based Al-Saiqa brigade, on suspicion of involvement in war crimes including executions of 33 people.

Werfalli is accused of having ordered or personally carried out seven executions between March and July this year and in June 2016 that were filmed and posted to social media sites.

The LNA has said Werfalli is already in custody and will be tried by a military tribunal.

Libya has been wracked by lawlessness ever since the NATO-backed overthrow of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

It has two rival administrations — a UN-backed government based in the capital Tripoli and a rival one backed by Hafar in the east.


Libya: Mass Extra-Judicial Execution


Need for Investigation, Accountability

Where Did Lebanon Go Wrong?

November 26, 2017
 NOVEMBER 26, 2017 09:04

What went wrong with the country that had the potential to be, and for a while seemed ready to become, the Switzerland of the Middle East?

A military parade celebrates the 74th anniversary of Lebanon's independence in Beirut, Lebanon

Lebanese band members take part in a military parade to celebrate the 74th anniversary of Lebanon’s independence in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. (photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)

Hypocrisy, tragedy and irony joined hands in downtown Beirut Wednesday, as the Land of the Cedars wore an artificial smile for its Independence Day in a heroic effort to appear happy, unified and sovereign.

American-made Patton tanks rolled by Martyrs’ Square, while white-socked horses – the cavaliers atop them gripping bed sheet-sized Lebanese flags – ambled by the red-carpeted podium, where the country’s lost son, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, exchanged whispers with the ally of his father’s assassins, President Michel Aoun.

Next to the pair, the speaker of parliament for the past 25 years, Nabih Berri, sat regally, enjoying his role as nominal leader of the Shi’ites, even though all know that their real leader is the gowned cleric ensconced underground several blocks from the parade.

All also listened politely as Aoun warned Israel of an “appropriate response,” should it operate in Lebanon, just like they nodded fatalistically the previous week when he made the laughable claims that Hezbollah plays “a complementary role to the Lebanese Army,” and that Lebanon needs the Shi’ite militia because otherwise it won’t be able “to battle Israel.”

The absurd insinuations – that Israel and the Christian Aoun want to duel, that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese national interest rather than its scourge, and that Hassan Nasrallah is subordinate to the government which he undermines every day – are perfectly acceptable rhetoric in Lebanon, a land where what you think you don’t say, what you say you don’t think, and anything your leaders do or – as happens more often – don’t do is immediately understood as a foreign plot.

Yes, it’s been an eventful 74 years since France set Lebanon free; so many years, and so little independence, security and self-respect in a land of beauty, wealth and worldliness that became a kingdom of hatred, treachery and deceit.

The future’s ailments were hinted at already in 1941, when French fascists clashed in Lebanon with British and Free French forces (and also several dozen Hagana fighters, including Moshe Dayan, who then lost his eye in a battle south of Tyre).

Lebanon thus emerged as an arena for other people’s wars, a role it would play intermittently to this day, mocking its founders’ hope to make it the Switzerland of the Middle East.

Benefiting from a commercial heritage that harks back to the ancient Phoenicians, the only Arab land without one inch of desert could have been that regional oasis, both physically and politically, and for a while indeed was a colorful island of tolerance, prosperity and hedonism in an otherwise austere and angry Middle East.

Yes, the real future was hinted at again in 1958, when Gamal Abdel Nasser and Dwight Eisenhower sparred in Lebanon, as the former’s demand that Beirut sever diplomatic ties with Western powers made its leaders invite an American invasion. Even so, Lebanon soon returned to storm life.

In the 1960s Beirut was home to 100 mostly foreign banks which offered shady depositors full secrecy, minimal taxation and lax currency restrictions alongside a booming gambling industry studded by 64 nightclubs and laced by azure beaches that bustled with bikinied women, all of which was unthinkable elsewhere in the Arab world.

The country thrived. Car purchases soared more than tenfold between 1950 and 1965, tourists crowded ski resorts nestled in pristine cedar forests, per capita income was higher than Saudi Arabia’s, hundreds of seaside restaurants served exquisite international menus and new hotels were adding new stories even before inaugurating their lobbies.

It was not to last.

First, Yasser Arafat used Lebanon for his attacks on Israel. Then Syria, which saw Lebanon as part of a Greater Syria, fueled a Muslim-Christian war, before invading the country it would occupy for 29 years. Then Ariel Sharon sent the IDF chasing after Arafat all the way to Beirut. Finally, following Iran’s Islamist revolution, Tehran pocketed the poor and neglected Shi’ite south, soon turning it into a radical state within a state.

The 15-year civil war took 100,000 lives, while Lebanese patriots were assassinated by the dozens, from former president René Moawad (1989), former prime minister Rafik Hariri (2005), president-elect Bashir Gemayel (1982) and former finance minister Mohamad Chatah (2013), to the sons of former presidents Suleiman Frangieh, Amin Gemayel and Camille Chamoun, respectively Tony (1978), Pierre (2006), and Danny (1990), who was mowed down in his apartment along with his wife and two boys.

The end of the civil war saw some of the previous Lebanon’s cosmopolitan spirit restored, but the island of tolerance it once seemed ready to become had vanished.

Lebanon found itself repeatedly between the lion and the tiger.

Having finally seen Syria and Israel leave, it woke up with Iran pulling it from the head and Saudi Arabia by the feet. After having somehow restored peace between Christian and Muslim, it now found itself smack on the cracking Sunni-Shi’ite fault line.

Now, as it prepared to celebrate what its leaders call independence, Lebanon saw its prime minister survive Saudi brutalization, only to return to Iranian emasculation, after having been redeemed by the same France whose historic departure Beirut’s cheering crowds, titular leaders, parading horses, bereted cavaliers and husky chariots of war have all gathered to hail.

Why is Lebanon so subjugated, disjointed, disoriented and helpless? What is its original sin, and could its fate have been different? Of course it could have.

Lebanon could have avoided, and still can shed, the parochial system whereby its parliament and key offices are pre-allocated according to religious affiliation, and it could have avoided, and still can shed, the norm whereby political leadership passes from father to son.

Had it been a country of all its citizens, Lebanon would not have been the fractured state and compilation of estranged communities, militias and warlords that has been such tempting prey for successive abusers, from Nasserist Egypt to Islamist Iran.

Such thinking crosses no mind in Lebanon. Like Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya, the Land of the Cedars remains addicted to a feudal mindset whereby tribe supersedes state, and lineage overpowers merit.

That is why Lebanon, instead of becoming its neighbors’ antithesis, is a microcosm, engine and battleground of a hopelessly tribal, sectarian and hateful Middle East.


Saudi vows new Islamic alliance ‘will wipe terrorists from the earth’

November 26, 2017


© AFP / by Anuj Chopra | A member of the Saudi Royal Guard stands on duty inside the hall where the first meeting of the defence ministers of the 41-member Saudi-led Muslim counter-terrorism alliance is taking place in the capital Riyadh on November 26, 2017


Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince vowed to “pursue terrorists until they are wiped from the face of the earth” as officials from 40 Muslim countries gathered Sunday in the first meeting of an Islamic counter-terrorism alliance.

“In past years, terrorism has been functioning in all of our countries… with no coordination” among national authorities, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the Saudi defence minister, said in his keynote speech at the gathering in Riyadh.

“This ends today, with this alliance.”

The summit is the first meeting of defence ministers and other senior officials from the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, which officially counts 41 countries and identifies as a “pan-Islamic unified front” against violent extremism.

The alliance was announced in 2015 under the auspices of Prince Mohammed, whose rapid ascent since his appointment as heir to the throne in June has shaken the political scene across the region.

The alliance groups largely, although not exclusively, Sunni-majority or Sunni-ruled countries.

It excludes Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, Shiite-dominated Iran, as well as Syria and Iraq, whose leaders have close ties to Tehran.

Sunday’s meeting coincides with an escalation in tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, particularly over wars in Syria and Yemen and the political structure of multi-confessional Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supporting armed groups across the Middle East, including Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah and Yemen’s Huthi rebels.

The meeting also comes as several military coalitions, with backers including both Iran and key Saudi ally the United States, battle to push the Islamic State group from its last remaining bastions in Iraq and Syria.

The alliance meeting in Riyadh brings together Muslim or Muslim-majority nations including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Uganda, Somalia, Mauritania, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen and Turkey.

Retired Pakistani general Raheel Sharif has been appointed commander-in-chief.

– ‘Distorted image of Islam’ –

The alliance aims to “mobilise and coordinate the use of resources, facilitate the exchange of information and help member countries build their own counter-terrorism capacity,” Sharif said.

While the alliance officially includes Qatar, which is the target of a six-month boycott led by Saudi Arabia, organisers in Riyadh said no Qatari officials were present at the meeting.

Qatar’s flag was also absent.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain abruptly cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June, accusing the emirate of being too close to Iran and supporting Islamist extremism.

Qatar denies the allegations.

Egypt, which sent a military official and not its defence minister to the Sunday meeting, is reeling from a Friday attack on a mosque that killed more than 300 people during prayer time.

While IS has not claimed responsibility, Egyptian authorities say the organisation is the main suspect as the mosque is associated with followers of the mystical Sufi branch of Sunni Islam, whom IS has branded heretics.

Prince Mohammed said Friday’s “painful event” was a reminder of the “danger of terrorism and extremism”.

“Beyond the killing of innocent people and the spread of hatred, terrorism and extremism distort the image of our religion,” he said.

Since his sudden appointment as crown prince, Prince Mohammed has moved to consolidate power, announcing crackdowns on both terrorism and corruption.

A corruption purge saw around 200 Saudi elites including princes, ministers and business tycoons arrested or sacked earlier this month.

by Anuj Chopra