Lebanon news updates for Wednesday September 9

National dialogue meeting at the parliament ,  Beirut, Lebanon  Sept 9, 2015
National dialogue meeting at the parliament , Beirut, Lebanon Sept 9, 2015

Here are the latest updates on current issues in Lebanon

Many are pessimistic about the National Dialogue session called for by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, and are convinced the meetings will end in failure, specially because there is no agreement on the election of a president.

Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014, as parliament has been unable to obtain the necessary quorum to elect a new president. Furthermore, parliamentary elections have been cancelled twice and parliament extended its own mandate on both occasions, as it was unable to reach a consensus on an electoral law.

The talks will be attended by the heads of all the parliamentary blocs except the Lebanese Forces. The “You Stink” activist group and its affiliates have called for a popular demonstration in Downtown Beirut next to the parliament where the dialogue talks will be held.

The talks are expected to address a number of issues including: the vacant presidency, the parliament and government agenda, as well as the electoral draft law.

Analysts predicting that Hezbollah and its March 8 allies will push most for a proportional electoral draft law with the aim of securing several Sunni seats in the new parliament and thereby weakening the March 14 alliance . For this reason analysts are predicting the March 14 alliance will oppose the proportional law.

Lebanon’s track record of fruitful national dialogue sessions has been pitiful. According to several analysts, the dominant perception among many Lebanese is that this latest round of dialogue is just a stalling tactic to contain the momentum garnered by the protesters, while at the same time, provide the traditional political leaders with an opportunity to form a united front against the growing popular resentment on the streets.

Some analysts believe that resorting to national dialogue goes further to marginalize the roles and functions of parliament.
“What is the point of parliament if you’re having the national dialogue? These dialogues should be taking place among the elected officials in parliament, not by the heads of sectarian groups,” said Sami Nader, a political science professor at the University of St Joseph. “Essentially, it is freezing the whole system and bringing tribal chiefs into a pseudo-institution,” Nader told Al Jazeera.

“The purpose behind [the dialogue call] is to try and make a breakthrough and barter on the different issues; if we go this way with the presidency, then we can move that way with the right for citizenship,” he continued. “All in all, it’s a stalling tactic and a show to pay lip service to the people and say ‘look, we’re meeting’.”

According to Maha Yahya, a senior analyst with Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Berri is attempting to use old tactics from 2006 and apply them in 2015.

“It’s the exact same toolbox as 2006, and it highlights that the political class doesn’t really know how to deal with the current situation, as this tool is no longer workable in Lebanon,” Yahya told Al Jazeera. “The 2006 dialogue session led to nowhere, and the 2012 Baabda Declaration was pretty much rejected weeks later.”

Yahya believes the move is an attempt to “reign in the anger on the streets”, but that it is not likely to happen. “If they do move forward on some things, it may diffuse some tensions; but the momentum has picked up and people won’t settle for mere lip service,” Yahya added.

“They need to stop holding people’s quality of life hostage for their own political interests. The protests today have created an increasing sense of urgency to reach a compromise.”

Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea said from Doha where is on an official visit:
“The dialogue will solve nothing, it will only attract attention away from electing a president. The problem lies in the statelets inside the state, a possible reference to Hezbollah.

“PM Tammam Salam will withdraw from the dialogue session if the garbage crisis was not the first item on the agenda that will be addressed” , VOL (93.3) radio station quoted ministerial sources as saying.

Speaker Nabih Berri has already arrived at the parliament to head the talks.

MP Michel Aoun accompanied by Gibran Bassil arrived at the parliament .

Protesters tossed eggs at Aoun’s  convoy, MTV reported

Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh accompanied by Yussef Saadeh arrived at the parliament
Deputy Speaker Farid Makari arrived at the parliament. He told reporters try to be optimistic even though there isn’t much to hope for .
Finance minister Al Hassan Khalil arrived at the parliament.

MP Walid Jumblatt, Talal Arslan, former PMs Fouad Siniora and Najib Mikati arrived at parliament

The dialogue session kicked off at 12:04 pm

The dialogue session ended and Speaker Berri is expected to hold a press conference.

“Unprecedented” Sandstorm
The sandstorm that hit Lebanon Monday afternoon , led to 1724 cases of asphyxiation and the death of 4 people according to the Red Cross. The storm is expected to subside later on Wednesday.
Update : The sandstorm has extended its stay in Lebanon till this Friday. The temperature throughout lebanon will be above normal during this period and expected to start going down later on Friday .
Over 2000 cases of asphyxiation have so far been reported

You Stink protest
The mass protests were initially triggered by the garbage collection crisis but have now morphed into a much larger movement against government corruption and political dysfunction.

Civil society groups that organised a massive protest on August 29 have made fresh calls for another rally on Wednesday against the dialogue outside parliament offices.

“This 16th century ‘House of Lords’ needs to end,” said Nizar Ghanem, an activist with the You Stink campaign, in reference to the national dialogue sessions. “The idea that our politics can be done by a handful of feudal patriarchs is not acceptable, and what they’ve been doing over the last 15 years is basically gutting out our institutions.”

The entrances to the al-Azarieh building, where the headquarters of the environment ministry are located have been closed to prevent the protesters from entering the building , VOL 100.5 radio station reported

People have started gathering in Tripoli’s al-Nour square to take part in the protests in downtown Beirut, VOL 93.3 RADIO STATION reported.

The protesters issued an official statement in which they said at the Martyrs Square :
“Their dialogue is a conspiracy against us. They convened because they are afraid of us.” In reference to the dialogue talks held today at the parliament .
“We are not here to say ‘No’. We came here to say ‘Yes’ to the State and ‘No’ to the state of corruption and distribution of shares.”
“We are the ones who forced the closure of the Naameh landfill, the annulment of the tenders and the fall of the ‘wall of shame.'”
“We gathered to stress our unity … while their dialogue is focused on the distribution of shares.”
“Enough with humiliation, corruption and sectarianism. We tell the corrupt political class that we have risen to restore our independence and build a democratic state that addresses people’s concerns.”
“For the sake of Lebanon, we will demand accountability for all wrongdoers, because public right is not a farm.”
” We call for finding an immediate, eco-friendly solution for the removal of garbage and releasing the funds of municipalities. We reject landfills, incinerators or dumping at sea and we support sorting at the source.”
“We call for the resignation of the environment minister, holding the interior minister and anyone who assaulted protesters accountable, and releasing the detainees.”
” We call for parliamentary elections as soon as possible and we will continue the journey with every citizen who has hope in Lebanon.”
“We call on all students and syndicates to unite and hammer nails into the coffin of the sectarian regime.”

Gemayel has the solution

Phalange party chief Sami Gemayel announced Tuesday that he has the solution to Lebanon’s crisis and his bloc will propose the following during todays dialogue session

“First, we elect a president. Then we form a new Cabinet, which could be a neutral or technocratic Cabinet, and then we hold parliamentary elections on the basis on a new electoral law that allows for better representation.”
“We can do it in 24 hours from now.” he stressed.
“Even if we fail, at least we will have done our best and we won’t tell the people that we didn’t try.” He said .

Extraordinary cabinet session
PM Tammam Salam kicked off an Extraordinary cabinet session to deal exclusively with garbage crisis
All cabinet ministers attended with the exception of Hezbollah minister Mohamad Fneish and FPM minister Gibran Bassil who boycotted the session. Education Minister Bou Saab said his colleague’s absence is a message of protest over the issue of the cabinet’s work mechanism.
Environment Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq said ahead of cabinet session:
“I support Agriculture Minister Akram Shehayyeb’s plan and a decision must be taken.”
Minister Wael Abou Faour said ahead of cabinet session:
” Shehayyeb did the needed and political forces must abide by the plan and today’s cabinet session must be decisive.”

No plan details were provided but Shehayyeb was quoted as saying last Friday following a meeting with Salam :
“We put forward a proposal that includes transitional measures to ensure the regularity of waste services and to remove the trash from all the streets.”