Journalists In Lebanese ‘Al-Nahar’ Daily In Pointed Criticism Of Country’s Leaders: Your Corruption Has Turned Lebanon Into Hell And Is Driving Its Citizens To Suicide.
On January 21, 2020, a new government, headed by Hassan Diab, was announced in Lebanon. Although it is a government of experts, its members are not independent, since they were selected and are supported by political elements from the March 8 Forces, including Hezbollah, Amal and their allies in the Christian sector (President Michel ‘Aoun and Foreign Minister Gebral Bassil), in the Druze sector (Talal Arslan) and in the Sunni sector (opponents of Sa’d Al-Hariri). The new government was established after the former prime minister, Sa’d Al-Hariri, resigned in response to the Lebanese protests against government corruption and the severe economic crisis in Lebanon. Diab’s new government, which, as stated, represents the camp of Hizbullah and its allies, will have to contend with this crisis, which is manifested, inter alia, in a shortage of medicines and withdrawal limits for bank accounts denominated in foreign currency, and has triggered calls for a tax revolt. The crisis has also led to a spate of suicides by Lebanese citizens.
Since the outbreak of the mass protests in mid-October, Lebanon’s Al-Nahar daily has consistently taken a stance in support of the protesters and their demands. Recently, following the series of suicides triggered by the economic crisis, and in light of the political impasse in the country and the difficulties encountered during the efforts to form the new government, Al-Nahar has adopted an even more radical stance. Its columnists directed harsh criticism at Lebanon’s politicians, including President Michel ‘Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, outgoing PM Al-Hariri and others, accusing them of theft and corruption, of enriching themselves at the expense of the public, and of starving the people while displaying indifference to their suffering.
Conspicuous among these articles were a column by Rajeh Al-Khouri and an opinion piece by Al-Nahar deputy general manager Michelle Tueini. The latter is a member of the family that owns the daily and the daughter of journalist Gebran Tueini, who opposed the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and was assassinated in 2005. Tueini and Al-Khouri both blamed the heads of the Lebanese state for the economic crisis in the country and for the frustration and despair felt by its people. Tueini also slammed ‘Aoun, Berri and Al-Hariri for ignoring the brutality of the security forces towards the protesters, and called on all three leaders to resign. Al-Khouri contrasted the desperate plight of the citizens who had taken their own lives with the leaders’ arrogance, indifference and disconnect from the people, and held the leaders responsible for the suicides.
The following are excerpts from Tueini’s and Al-Khouri’s articles.
Senior Journalist Michelle Tueini Calls On Lebanon’s Leaders To Resign: You Abetted The Starving And Oppression Of The People
Al-Nahar deputy general manager Michelle Tueini wrote on December 18, 2019: “To the President of the [Lebanese] Republic [Michel ‘Aoun], Parliament Speaker [Nabih Berri] and Prime Minister [Sa’d Al-Hariri]. I hope this article reaches you, because I am not sure you read the papers. I hope one of your advisors tells you about it. Of course, these advisors tell you only what you want to hear. They probably tell you that what is happening [in Lebanon] is a conspiracy by foreign elements and that you should stand firm against them. Perhaps they tell you that some people want to get rid of you and strip you of your status, and therefore you must resolutely come out against them.
“I am sure you are unaware of the sentiments of the Lebanese people, who have lost everything, even their jobs and their future. I am sure you are unfamiliar [with these feelings] and do not know or understand them. May I ask you, the three leaders of [my] country, where your children and grandchildren are, if you have any? Are they also without a job or a position? Is their money also trapped in the banks, like ours is? Are their facilities collapsing and are their salaries withheld, like ours are? Are they too begging the banks to let them [withdraw] a few dollars for healthcare or in order to send to their children who have emigrated from Lebanon due to the shortage of job opportunities? Are they too consumed with fear for their children’s future, like we are?
“If the answer [to these questions] is yes, how can you stand it that in your era, on your watch, your people are suffering hunger, cold and fear? How is it that you continue to form governments as though nothing has happened? How can you fail to comprehend that Lebanon, the Lebanese, the international community and common sense will accept only one thing: an economic rescue government comprising honest technocrats? Who convinced you that the goal [of the protests] is to oust you and that you must stand fast? Why doesn’t anyone tell you that Lebanon is about to give up the ghost and that only a miracle can wake and revive it? But you, your parties and your successors are certainly not that miracle.
“To the President of the Republic [Michel ‘Aoun] I say: [Your] term in office began with totally corrupt elections, which produced MPs who won [their seats] thanks to their millions. And the middle of your term in office was marked by an economic collapse and the suppression of freedoms and protests. Why do you not tell the army to stop harming young [protesters] like they did in the town of Jal Al-Dib [in Mount Lebanon governorate], where young [protesters] were brutally beaten and their spines were broken [just] for wanting a better future?
“To Prime Minister [Al-Hariri] we say: Why do you let the security forces behave this way and beat women in front of Interior Minister [Raya Al-Hassan]?
“To Parliament Speaker [Berri] we say: Why do you let the parliamentary guard brutally beat up our young people? How can it be that in ‘Ain Al-Tineh [Berri’s official place of residence], they beat up journalists, media figures and protesters, to the point where a female colleague [of mine] in Al-Nahar was bleeding from the mouth?
“The Lebanese people are hungry. The Lebanese people are destitute and the young people are losing their jobs… Lebanese people are being beaten for saying no to starvation and oppression, and you, the three heads of state, what are you doing? Putting everything off from Monday to Thursday and then from Thursday to Monday. But pain and hunger cannot be put off.
Columnist Rajeh Al-Khouri: Lebanon’s Leaders, Corrupt And Indifferent To The People’s Suffering, Drive Them To Suicide
In a December 3 column, Rajeh Al-Khouri likewise addressed the Lebanese leaders, saying: “The flames that ended the life of George Zreik, from [the village of] Bkeftin, who self-immolated because he could not pay his daughter’s school fees, will eventually burn down your own homes, so well-protected by muscular guards, gangs and highway robbers… The noose that ended the life of Naji Al-Fulaiti, who hanged himself on December 1 in his disaster-stricken home in the town of Irsal because he had become so poor that he could not give his daughter 1,000 [Lebanese] pounds for a manqousha [Lebanese pita] or buy a sip of milk for his baby, this noose may [tighten around the necks of] the senior politicians in their secure fortresses… [This noose] can give them the death by hanging they deserve for creating this incredible hell over the last 40 years… It is they who heaped this oppression, bitterness and terrible suffering on the wretched people who, unable to bear the pain, succumbed and decided to martyr themselves.
“My ‘honorable’ [Lebanese leaders], do you understand what it means when your people come to prefer death over life in this wretched land, and when you turn their lives into death?… They constantly think of escaping into death, which is more merciful than a life of humiliation, deprivation, insult and the degradation of the soul… My ‘honorable’ [Lebanese] politicians, you have turned Lebanon into hell. Do you know what it means when over 45% of citizens live under the poverty line[?] This will lead to a great increase in suicides by fire or by hanging. The killing may also take the form of cutting [your] throats as an act of revenge, not just suicide. Do you understand what it means that [even] the luckier employees and civil servants received [only] half their pay this month, and next month may receive nothing at all?
“You who quarrel over the government’s makeup and hue… [over] budgets and portfolios, do you realize that over 76% of the Lebanese are taking part in these protests and [demonstrations of] anger, which have been growing in intensity for 47 days, and that figures like George Zreik and Naji Al-Fulaiti are among them[?] Yet you treat this entire popular tsunami as nothing more than a little cloud of dispute that will pass because people are so discouraged…
“Have you seen or heard about Halima Fawzi Mu’allem, [a Lebanese woman] who was photographed sitting… with her son, [holding] a sign offering her kidney for sale at the ‘attractive price’ of only $5,000, because she could not pay her rent… and was facing eviction at any moment, Allah have mercy on her[?] Or about the man from Tripoli who also offered to sell his kidney? Why don’t you make a bid for that kidney? Or are you waiting for the price to come down?
“Oh you politicians [who pretend to be] gods and speak of the Lebanese paradise, come down from your penthouses and take a look at [this] unbelievable hell, and again, Allah have mercy [on us all].”
n another column published two days later, on December 5, following yet another suicide incident, Al-Khouri wrote: “Whatever form the next government takes, the politicians, who over the past 40 years have steadily increased their corruption, thieving and barbaric plundering of public funds, will be unable to stop the wave of people who kill themselves by self-immolation or by shooting themselves in their desperate heads or in their devastated hearts. This is because the crisis [which affects] the economy and people’s everyday lives has grown bigger than [the politicians themselves], and because the theft and the sucking of the people’s blood will not cease and the greed of most of [our] senior politicians knows no bounds.
“Yesterday the protest activists waved slogans [like] ‘how many suicides do you want?’… [following] the suicides of George Zreik, Naji Al-Fulaiti and Dani Abu Haider, from Al-Nabaa [in the Mount Lebanon region], who also joined [the list of suicides]. [In addition, a man named] Muhammad self-immolated in Tripoli, but to his sorrow, his friends saved him. The gates of hope are closing in the hearts and minds of many, due to the degrading poverty, the pain of deprivation and the sight of children and family-members suffering hunger and destitution.
“How many suicides do you want? [It seems that your] answer is, You can all go ahead and kill yourselves. Two million out of four million Lebanese can go ahead and kill themselves… as long as our millions remain safe and sound [in our bank accounts]. Let the entire nation kill itself. This will not detract from our determination to hold on to the reins of power and continue our thieving and plundering of public funds.
“In a country with $100 billion in debt, we do not see a single thief or corrupt [official] go to prison. Not one of them has been held to account or punished. No government you establish… will be able to do anything [about this] or arrest any of the criminals, or defend a single poor man from want. [However,] the price of gasoline may rise to the point where the poor will not be able to afford self-immolation, and price of gunpowder may the get so high that a desperate man will not be able to [afford] a bullet to shoot himself in the head, which is already exploding with pain…
“Most of you have been members of government and heads of ministries. You were leaders and sources of authority, party to the deals and the theft in the guise of legal [business] that has turned Lebanon into a hell where the poor and needy are burning. So what will change tomorrow? Will the devil’s minions grow [angel] wings? All of you, all of you, [want to be] in the government?
“The day before yesterday, the disabled took the streets, weeping with distress, want and neglect. Yet we witnessed a disgrace: nearly none of you – the parliament members and ministers of this innocent and tormented nation – noticed that this situation merits tears and shame, rather than the happy smiles that you, the Lebanese MPs, flashed in every direction in front of the cameras, while a boy was weeping for his father who had killed himself due to the distress of poverty and want. We have seen you stuffing millions into your pockets, while Al-Fulaiti took his own life because he did not have 1,000 liras to buy his daughter a manqousha. Do you expect us to believe that your next government will rescue Lebanon from this hell and these suicides born of despair?”