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The Lebanese take their fight against a century-old political order to the polls

Above the rubble caused by nearly three years of economic collapse rise endless rows of election billboards. Some show relatively unknown candidates presented by new political groups. But most display the menacing faces of politicians from decades-old sectarian parties. Almost all campaign slogans promise “change”.
The irony escapes no one in a country where negligence by the political elite nearly destroyed the capital in the largest non-nuclear explosion in history.
On Sunday, Lebanese citizens will vote for a new parliament for the first time since an October 2019 uprising demanded the fall of a century-old political order. The road to political change has been rocky, and it is far from certain that this year’s elections will bring a new political composition.

But it is a moment of judgment for the Lebanese political elite. The establishment they represent is a microcosm of the region’s decades-old fault lines, pitting groups backed by Iranian and Saudi rivals against one another. A shift in Beirut’s political order could mark a first step in pulling the country out of its proxy hodgepodge of conflict and producing a ripple effect in a region where protest movements have so far failed succeeded in bringing about political change.

Much has happened since Lebanese protesters took to the streets in 2019, toppling three-time Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government of national unity and leaving a political crisis in its wake. A financial collapse has impoverished nearly three-quarters of the population, according to the United Nations. A banking crisis has seen the life savings of many Lebanese evaporate. Meanwhile, the kleptocratic elite is said to have moved billions of dollars out of the country, prompting Western authorities to launch investigations into the country’s notorious central bank governor, Riad Salameh. Then the Lebanese woes culminated in a giant explosion in the heart of their capital in August 2020, after improperly stored chemicals ignited in the port of Beirut, devastating many parts of the city and killing more than 200 people.

Lebanese elites have acknowledged their collective political bankruptcy while desperately trying to escape responsibility for their individual failures – and their support base has not held them accountable. Iran-backed Hezbollah campaign rallies drew tens of thousands on Monday. Their rivals, such as the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces, have also mobilized thousands of volunteers. Meanwhile, anti-establishment groups have experienced infighting that has prevented them from creating a unified electoral coalition, diminishing their chances of success at the polls.

Yet activists have been rigorous in their campaigns for change on social media and on the ground. Tens of thousands of people from the wider Lebanese diaspora cast ballots last weekend and turnout was clearly higher than in the 2018 elections, with many saying they voted for unestablished groups.

Images of voters in long queues snaking outside Lebanese embassies and consulates abroad have been broadcast on national television channels, encouraging those who have lost hope and raising the specter of a protest movement making inroads into mainstream politics.

An irresistible desire for change in Lebanon, and in the region in general, is undeniable. Whether that translates into political change is another question — one the election results could help clarify.

The summary

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan dies aged 73

The United Arab Emirates announced that flags would be flown at half mast for a period of 40 days, starting Friday, and work would be suspended in the public and private sectors for three days.

  • Background: Sheikh Khalifa’s role was largely ceremonial since he suffered a stroke and underwent surgery in 2014. Since then, his brother, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, is the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, managing the day-to-day affairs for the Gulf state.
  • Why it matters: Under the rule of Sheikh Khalifa, the United Arab Emirates emerged as an economic and military powerhouse in the Middle East. He has carried out military interventions abroad and invested billions of dollars in the global economy, but has also engaged in bold diplomacy in normalizing relations with Israel. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, known by his initials MBZ, is expected to continue on the path of the late president.

EU says talks with Iran ‘positive enough’ to reopen nuclear talks

The EU’s foreign policy chief said on Friday he believed there had been enough progress during consultations between his envoy and Iranian officials in Tehran this week to restart nuclear talks after two months of talks. dead end.

  • Background: Talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers have been suspended since March, mainly due to Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of groups designated as terrorist organizations.
  • Why it matters: If a nuclear deal is reached, it would lift sanctions on Iran, adding more than a million barrels of Iranian oil to the global market as Western states seek to dampen rising prices oil caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Middle Eastern states with the capacity to increase production have so far refused to do so.

Israeli police beat pallbearers of Al Jazeera journalist’s coffin with truncheons

Israeli police used batons to beat crowds carrying the coffin of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the courtyard of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Jerusalem on Friday. The coffin was shaken and pushed back into the hospital before being allowed to go to its final resting place at Mount Zion Cemetery. Police roadblocks were erected near the hospital.

  • Background: The American-Palestinian journalist was shot dead on Wednesday while covering Israeli military raids in the West Bank city of Jenin. The Washington Post reported that Israeli military investigators took weapons from some Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers as part of an investigation into three shootings that day.
  • Why it matters: One incident, according to the Washington Post source, took place “in a street about 150 meters (about 490 feet) from where Abu Akleh was killed.” The source said this incident was “most likely to be involved in Shireen’s death”. During the incident under investigation, IDF soldiers were in a vehicle and at least one armed Palestinian was shooting at the vehicle, the source said. Military investigators are trying to determine Abu Akleh’s whereabouts during this exchange, according to the source.

What to watch

The legacy left by Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is “very clear”, said CNN’s Eleni Giokos. Watch CNN’s special tribute to the late Al Jazeera reporter here:

Around the region

A Syrian refugee who fled war in his country nine years ago has become a millionaire thanks to his coding skills.

In a story of perseverance and drive, 32-year-old Mahmoud Shahoud won the $1 million prize at Dubai’s One Million Arab Coders initiative, beating 256 other contestants from 50 countries.

The Dubai government’s initiative aims to increase digital literacy in the Arab world by teaching 1 million young people in the region to code. Six projects from Arabs around the world attempted to develop the most innovative coding project this year.

Shahoud fled Syria in 2013 and settled in Turkey, where he now lives, according to Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper. He signed up for free training offered by the initiative that allowed him to create Habit 360, an app that helps people start, track and organize habits and routines. It is currently only available on the Google Play Store, where it has been downloaded over 100,000 times.

The coder plans to donate half of his earnings to help orphaned Syrian refugees, and the rest will go towards setting up his own tech startup in Dubai, where he plans to move, according to the newspaper.

Five finalists also won $50,000 each for their projects, with apps like Muhammad Al-Iskandarani’s Muaahal program, which helps individuals qualify in all fields through simplified education, and 3lfraza’s app. Iman Wagdy, who provides fresh food prepared by women at home.

By Mohamed Abdelbary

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