Vultures circle over another Lebanese crisis

Beirut port devastated by the 4 August blast

The widespread devastation and mass anger following the 4 August Beirut port explosion led to the collapse of another Lebanese government. Lebanon’s acute economic and political crisis is shattering the myths of post-war stability and capitalist development, with widespread proletarianisation and deepening impoverishment of refugees and migrants. Huge protests since 2015 have confronted privatisation, garbage in the streets, healthcare cuts and astronomical taxes imposed on the masses. Presiding over a succession of national disasters are the billionaires and millionaires of the Lebanese ruling class, allied to pro-imperialists and Zionists within and outside of Lebanon’s borders. The ghosts of wars past are stalking the present with a vengeance.

 

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Old demons haunt Lebanon

Protests in Beirut

The economic and political crisis which has brought millions of protestors to the streets of Lebanon since October 2019 has intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the same period, the Lebanese pound has lost 80% of its value. While the government attempts to negotiate a bailout with the IMF, aiming to sustain the banking sector and the privileges of the rich, unemployment and famine stalk the country, and refugee camps in particular. Nationally, 50% are now in poverty and unemployment has reached 35%. US imperialism and its allies are exploiting the crisis to try and destroy Hezbollah, with new measures introduced by Trump to recolonise the region.

 

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Lebanon: ‘All of them must go, all of them’

Protesters in Beirut (photo: Shahen Araboghlian)

After two weeks of non-stop protests, there is no sign that the Lebanese people are going to leave the streets until all the country’s political leaders resign their offices. The resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri on 28 October is not enough. ‘All of them must go, all of them’ is the persistent call from the huge demonstrations which have numbered up to two million people, half of Lebanon’s population. These protests have cut across the sectarian divisions which have been structured into the country’s constitution since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. The massive movement is leading to strains within the Hezbollah resistance movement as it struggles to respond to this new situation. LAMA ABBAS reports.

 

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Lebanon: Saudi terrorists target Hezbollah

president Hariri with saudi strong man prince mohammed bin salman
President Hariri with Saudi strong man Prince Mohammed Bin Salman days before his 'resignation'

The forced resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh on 4 November, and its subsequent if temporary retraction on 22 November, reveals the developing rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, Hariri’s leadership has proved incapable of suppressing the anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist movement of Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia and Israel, with the backing of President Trump, are determined to destroy Iranian influence; the imperialists want to maintain their domination of the region and its oil reserves. Louis Brehony reports.

Hariri’s resignation was broadcast on his own Future TV channel as reports were confirmed that he and his family were being held in detention. Although he said during the staged interview that he remained in Saudi Arabia in ‘complete freedom’, the Saudis refused to allow him to use his own film crew. He explained that, ‘I wanted to make a positive shock for the Lebanese people so the people know how dangerous is the situation we are in’ and blamed Hezbollah and Iran for rising regional tensions. Hariri remained in Riyadh for a further two weeks before flying to France on 18 November, finally returning to Lebanon on 22 November.

 

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Lebanon: capitalism stinks

Over the summer a new street movement brought Beirut to a standstill as Lebanese protesters raged against the side-effects of privatisation, which left uncollected garbage rotting in the streets. The #YouStink campaign mobilised demonstrations of tens of thousands, with many rapidly becoming radicalised, calling for 'revolution against the system.' State police and organised thugs responded with brutal violence and targeted Syrian and Palestinian refugees. In a country paralysed by corruption, privatisation, sectarianism and, the primary cause of all three – imperialist intervention – the only certainty is that the current state of things cannot continue.

The spark for the protests was the closure in 17 July of the Naameh landfill site which had already taken over 15 million tons of rubbish when its planned capacity was only two million tons. Sukleen, the private company running waste disposal, refused to collect any more trash. By 26 July, 20,000 tons of rubbish were rotting on Beirut streets leading to the first protests. Government promises to find a new landfill site proved groundless and protests started to broaden their opposition to governmental incompetence in the management of other services. There are three-hour rolling power cuts in Beirut, which are extended in the summer, with some of the poorer neighbourhoods going days without electricity. Water shortages still abound, an absurdity in a country with 16 rivers. Last year, private water companies prospered as they filled water tanks after a particularly dry winter led to severe shortages as early as May. About a third of that water was wasted because of ailing infrastructure, with bursting water pipes flooding streets whenever the government turned the taps on.

 

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Lebanon: Protests against Saniora government continue

FRFI 195 February / March 2007

In a desperate attempt to shore up the puppet Saniora government, the imperialist powers came together in a ‘donor’ conference in Paris on 25 January and pledged $7.5bn aid for the reconstruction of Lebanon. They did so amid massive protests led by Hizbullah and the largely Christian Free Patriotic Movement united in the Lebanese National Opposition. The aid is linked to a reform plan adopted by the Lebanese cabinet on 4 January which proposes to raise value-added tax and privatise telephone and electricity sectors. Lebanon’s state debt, currently running at 41 billion dollars, is 185% of GNP, making it one of the world’s most indebted nations. Its economy remains at a virtual standstill following the Israeli blitzkrieg last summer.

Opposition to the reforms started with a sit-in organised by Lebanon’s main labour union in Beirut. Throughout January there have been continual protests culminating on 23 January with a one-day general strike to bring down the imperialist-backed government. Led by Hizbullah, the stoppage marked the first escalation by the opposition since its supporters began an open-ended daily sit-in around government offices in central Beirut on 1 December 2006 to demand a national unity cabinet. ‘In the face of the obstinacy of the government barricaded behind the walls of the Grand Serail, the opposition calls on its supporters to step up their peaceful and democratic protests and on all Lebanese to observe a [one-day] general strike’, an opposition statement said.

 

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Imperialists attempt to destabilise Lebanon

FRFI 197 June / July 2007

The days since 19 May have seen the Lebanese army ruthlessly pound the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr Al Bared outside Tripoli in an effort to destroy Fatah Al Islam, a group that is linked to Al Qaida. The Lebanese government blames the organisation for two bus bombings in a Christian area outside Beirut last February. The death toll of the clashes is at least 79, including many civilians, but the actual toll may be higher as there are no accurate figures for causalities inside the camp.

Palestinian factions inside and outside Lebanon have condemned Fatah Al Islam. Lebanese representative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Abbas Zaki said: ‘Palestinians ought not to be drawn into the matter because they, as much as the Lebanese, consider Fatah Al Islam a dangerous terrorist group that threatens their safety’. Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal called Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora on 22 May to urge him to ‘protect Palestinian as well as Lebanese souls’ inside the Nahr Al Bared camp. It is possible that sections of the Siniora government have deliberately provoked the confrontation. The previous week Siniora had called on the UN to set up the Hariri tribunal, which is opposed by the mass of the people as an attack on Lebanese sovereignty. Both President Emile Lahoud and parliament, whose approval is required, are against the measure. The tribunal would be the first international jurisdiction established exclusively with the task of enforcing a national law.

 

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Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

FRFI 193 October / November 2006

The tragedy of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon started with their expulsion from Palestine in 1948. Since then there has been a constant worsening in their conditions. According to the United Nations for Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East March 2006, there are 405,452 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, of whom 220,000 live in 12 official refugee camps. UNRWA reports of all the 4.375 million Palestinian refugees they serve in the Lebanon, West Bank, Gaza, Syria and Jordan that those in Lebanon have the highest percentage living in abject poverty. The total population of refugees is estimated at 5.5 million, as there are a further 263,000 internally displaced in 1948 who became Israeli citizens, and 773,000 displaced by the 1967 war.

The Israeli invasion of 1982 and the consequent expulsion from Lebanon of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) resulted in a sharp deterioration in the conditions of Palestinian refugees there. Until that time, the PLO had provided work for about 65% of the Palestinians in Lebanon as well as health and education services. The Oslo peace process in the early 1990s marginalised them further and made their right of return, recognised in the UN Resolution 194 of December 1948 and re-affirmed by the UN over 110 times, as remote as ever as the PLO concentrated its diplomatic efforts on the West Bank and Gaza. The international aid the PLO has received has mainly been invested in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. Budgets of international organisations operating in Lebanon, especially UNRWA, have also been cut down drastically. Finally, the international boycott of the Palestinian Authority following the Hamas victory in the elections in January 2006 has increased their distress.

 

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