- Massive protests have swept across Lebanon for nearly a week.
- The protests started over proposed taxes on WhatsApp, among other things, but have morphed into calls for an overhaul of Lebanon’s entire political system.
- The protests have largely been peaceful, and many have described them as an unprecedented showing of unity in a country normally divided along sectarian lines.
The Situation in Lebanon
Massive protests in Lebanon entered their sixth day on Wednesday with no signs of abating.
The demonstrations started last Thursday after the government announced new taxes, including a $6 monthly fee for calls on free apps like WhatsApp.
In Lebanon, the protest quickly evolved into broader calls for economic and political reforms.
Lebanese Political System
To understand what’s going on and what the protestors are asking for, we have to take a look at Lebanon’s political system.
In Lebanon, power is spread out among the three largest religious communities: Christian, Sunni, and Shia. Because of this, the political system is very sectarian— meaning that leaders govern based on religious differences and divides.
For nearly 30 years now, that political system has largely been credited with keeping relative peace. Now, protestors are saying that it has created corruption and allowed elites to maintain power and enact policies that benefit them and make them wealthier while the rest of the people suffer.
Meanwhile, many of those policies have put Lebanon in the middle of a massive financial crisis, with some economists warning that it could face a complete economic collapse.
Lebanon also has one of the world’s highest debt to GDP ratios, and that massive debt means the government does not have as much money or resources to address social and economic problems.
Many in Lebanon’s lower and middle classes experience power and water cuts almost daily, forcing huge swaths of people to pay high fees to access private generators and buy bottled water.
Even when the water is on, it is highly polluted due to a trash crisis that started in 2015 and has never been fully resolved.
Unemployment is also very high, especially among young people, and many are also upset that the ruling elite have done little to stop forest fires that have been raging all over the country in recent weeks.
On top of everything, Lebanon has a massive population of Syrian refugees, which is currently estimated at 1.5 million. That number could grow as hundreds of thousands are of people in Northern Syria are being forced to flee due to the Turkish incursion.
Protests Ramp Up
Although many have been upset for a while, Lebanon’s politicians have used sectarianism to control their populations and prevent different religious groups from unifying against them.
All of that now seems to have changed.
While smaller protests have gone on throughout Lebanon for weeks now, the government’s decision to raise and implement more taxes seems to be the straw that broke the camels back.
Many perceived the move as the elites— who have done nothing to help people already paying tons of money for basic services in the midst of an economic crisis— basically telling the general population to give them more money.
During the first few days of protests, thousands of people in cities all over the country came out to demonstrate. Young people, most of whom were men according to reports, protested by lighting fires, smashing windows, and chanting against the government.
Protestors reportedly clashed with police, who responded with tear gas. The government quickly scrapped the WhatsApp tax after the protest started, but it was too late.
A New Kind of Protests
Things started to change Saturday when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets all over the country for peaceful protests— the largest Lebanon has seen for nearly 15 years.
People usually divided along sectarian lines have come together to demonstrate against their own leaders, calling for them to step down and for a wholesale change of the political system.
Those protests were different from other recent protests all over the world. For one, the peaceful demonstrations that started Saturday and have continued ever since are just that— peaceful.
There have been few reports of any violence at all, both among protestors and with the police. In fact, many protestors and reporters on the ground have described the demonstrations as a huge celebration largely marked by hope and joy.
“I feel euphoric,” One protestor in the capital city Beruit told NPR. “For the first time, I see the people of my country standing united together against this tyranny. I’m very proud to say I’m Lebanese because the Lebanese people are not scared anymore.”
Despite the hope and optimism, the underlying anger and frustration that brought the Lebanese people together of course still remains.
Government Response & Continued Protests
In response to the protests, several government ministers and deputies have reportedly stepped down.
On Monday, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced a list of reforms which included: no new taxes, cutting government officials’ salaries in half, privatizing the telecom industry to cut down on cellphone plan costs, overhauling the electricity sector, and eliminating some governmental bodies, among other things.
During a speech following the announcement, Hariri told the demonstrators, “Your movement is what led to these decisions that you see today.”
But protestors did not seem to buy it. Many believed it was an empty promise, while others did not want the same people who got the country into the place it is now to be the ones to try and fix the problems they largely created.
Following Hariri’s speech, thousands of people gathered outside his office in Beruit. People chanted “revolution, revolution!” and “the people want to bring down the regime!”
With the protests still ongoing, the mood reportedly still seems optimistic. However, many are watching carefully to see what happens next and if that mood will change.
Regardless, this is a huge deal and an unprecedented showing of unity among different groups of people in Lebanon.
Police Cause Stampede Killing 125 at Indonesian Soccer Stadium
The sports game turned bloodbath was among the deadliest in the sport’s history.
Trampled by the Crowd
At least 125 people died after police fired tear gas, sparking a chaotic stampede toward the exits at a soccer match in Indonesia, according to local officials.
The game between Arema, the home team in East Java’s Malang city, and Persebaya Surabaya took place Saturday night at the Kanjuruhan Stadium.
The event organizer had prohibited Persebaya fans from attending the game in an effort to prevent rivalrous brawling, but that only ensured the stadium would be exclusively packed with riled-up Arema fans.
When Arema lost 3-2, hundreds of spectators poured onto the field and some reportedly threw bottles and other objects at the players and managers. Several cop cars were also toppled outside the stadium and set ablaze.
Eyewitness accounts claim that riot police beat people with shields and batons, then fired tear gas canisters directly into the crowd and even into the stands.
Hordes of people, many of them dizzy and blinded by the chemical, clambered desperately for the exits.
The ensuing stampede quickly left 34 people dead, both from being trampled and suffocated, including two police officers and possibly some children, according to some reports. Many more were badly hurt and rushed to hospitals, but as dozens of them succumbed to their injuries, the death toll climbed to at least 125.
An official estimate initially put the number at 174, but it was later revised down due to some deaths being counted twice.
As many as 300 other individuals may have sustained injuries during the incident.
Who is to Blame?
Some human rights groups pointed fingers at the police for provoking the mayhem by improperly deploying tear gas.
“The excessive use of force through the use of tear gas and inappropriate crowd control was the cause of the large number of fatalities,” Indonesia’s Legal Aid Foundation said in a statement.
The Foundation also blamed the local soccer committee, which sold 42,000 tickets in a stadium only meant to seat 38,000 people, for filling the venue over capacity.
Typically, tear gas is meant to put distance between the rioters and police, dispersing the crowd in an intended direction, not to be used indiscriminately in a secure location like a sports stadium.
Moreover, the global soccer governing body FIFA prohibits the use of tear gas.
“I regret that this tragedy occurred,” President Joko Widodo said in a televised address. “And I hope this is the last football tragedy in the country.”
He said he had asked National Police Chief Listyo Sigit to investigate the incident and ordered an evaluation of security at soccer matches.
East Java’s police chief Nico Afinta defended the use of tear gas in a news conference on Sunday.
“We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as (fans) began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” he said.
Indonesia’s soccer association, known as PSSI, suspended the premier soccer league Liga 1 indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the remainder of the season.
Dozens of Indonesians have died in soccer-related violence since the 1990s, but Saturday’s tragedy is among the deadliest in soccer history.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The New York Times)
Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall in Cuba as Florida Braces for Devastation
When it hits the sunshine state, Ian is expected to be a category 3 hurricane.
Ian Lands in Cuba
Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba Tuesday morning as a major category 3 storm, battering the western parts of the country with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that life-threatening storm surges, hurricane-force winds, flash floods, and mudslides are expected. Officials said that around 50,000 people have been evacuated as of Tuesday afternoon.
According to reports, flooding has damaged houses and tobacco crops in the region, and widespread power outages have also been reported.
As dangerous conditions continue in Cuba, Ian is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico and pass west of the Florida Keys later on Tuesday, becoming a category 4 before the end of the day.
Officials predict it will drop back to a category 3 before making landfall as a major hurricane in Florida, which it is expected to do Wednesday evening.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said that Ian is currently forecast to land “somewhere between Fort Meyers and Tampa.” She added that the storm is expected to slow down as it hits Flordia, extending the potential devastation.
Forecasts of Ian’s path, however, remain uncertain, leaving residents all over Florida scrambling to prepare for the storm.
Schools have closed down, airports have suspended operations, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has activated the National Guard and taken steps to ensure power outages can be remedied, warning that many should anticipate losing power.
There are also numerous storm and surge watches and warnings in place across Florida and in parts of Georgia and South Carolina.
Evacuation warnings have been implemented throughout many parts of Florida, and officials have said that around 2.5 million people were under some kind of evacuation order by Tuesday afternoon.
Mandatory evacuations have been put in place in several counties, largely focused on coastal and low-lying areas. Some of those evacuation orders have extended to parts of Tampa — Florida’s third-largest city.
Tampa has not been hit by a major hurricane in over a century — a fact that just further emphasizes the unusual path this storm is taking.
Florida’s Division of Emergency Management has a tool to track evacuation zones, as well as more resources at floridadisaster.org. For those looking for shelter, the Red Cross has a system to find one nearby.
The current evacuations are being driven by a number of very serious threats posed by Hurricane Ian. According to the NHC, hurricane-force winds, tropical storm conditions, heavy rainfall, and flooding are expected throughout much of the region.
“Considerable” flooding is also expected in central Florida and predicted to extend into southern Georgia and coastal South Carolina.
One of the biggest threats this hurricane poses is storm surge flooding at the coast — which has been a driving factor in the evacuations.
“Life-threatening storm surge looks increasingly likely along much of the Florida west coast where a storm surge warning is in effect, with the highest risk from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region,” the NHC warned Tuesday.
As many experts have pointed out, these dangerous threats of storm surges and catastrophic flooding have been drastically exacerbated by climate change. Specifically, sea level rise driven by climate change makes surges and flooding more likely and more extreme.
According to Axios, a profound example can be found in St. Petersburg, Florida — which is expected to be impacted by Ian — and where sea levels have risen by nearly nine inches since 1947.
That, however, is not only the real-time impact of climate change that is evident from this storm. In addition to climate change being “linked to an increase in rainfall from tropical storms and hurricanes,” Axios also notes that Ian “has been rapidly intensifying over extremely warm sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean that are running above average for this time of year.”
“Climate change favors more instances of rapidly intensifying storms such as Hurricane Ian, due to the combination of warming seas and a warmer atmosphere that can carry additional amounts of water vapor,” the outlet added.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Giorgia Meloni Claims Victory in Far-Right Shift for Italy
Her party has neofascist roots, and she has praised Mussolini in the past.
An Election Without Precedent
Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party grabbed the largest share of votes in Italy’s national election by a wide margin, giving the post of prime minister to the first woman and most right-wing politician since Benito Mussolini.
She declared victory early Monday morning after exit polls showed her party overwhelmingly in the lead with at least 26% of the vote, making it the dominant faction in the right-wing coalition, which got 44%.
The other two parties in the alliance — Mateo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia — took 9% and 8% of the vote, respectively.
The center-left alliance only garnered 26% of the vote, with 63% of votes counted, according to the interior ministry.
Voter turnout dropped to a record low at only 63.91%, nine points below the rate in 2018, with turnout especially dismal in southern regions like Sicily.
Meloni is set to become prime minister in the coming weeks as a new government is formed, and the rest of Europe is bracing for what many see as a neofascist demagogue to take power in the continent’s third largest economy.
Speaking to media and supporters following the preliminary results, Meloni said it was “a night of pride for many and a night of redemption.” She promised to govern for all Italians and unite the country.
But her relatively extreme politics — opposed to immigration, the European Union, and what she calls “gender ideology” — unsettles many who fear she will roll back civil rights and form a Euroskeptic alliance with other far-right leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban.
The Next Mussolini?
During the election, Meloni stressed that she is a conservative, not a fascist, but opponents point to her rhetoric, past statements, and party’s history as evidence to the contrary.
“Either you say yes or you say no,” she howled to Spain’s far-right Vox party earlier this year. “Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby. Yes to sex identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, not the abysm of death. Yes to the university of the cross, no to the Islamist violence. Yes to secure borders, no to mass migration. Yes to the work of our citizens, no to big international finance. Yes to the sovereignty of peoples, no to the bureaucrats in Brussels. And yes to our civilization.”
Meloni co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012 as an alternative to the more mainstream right-wing parties. It has roots in the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neofascist party that sprouted in the wake of World War II to continue Mussolini’s legacy after his party was banned. The Movement’s symbol — a tricolor flame — remains on the Brothers of Italy’s Flag today, and Meloni has refused to remove it.
She joined the MSI’s youth branch in the 1990s and went on to lead it after the party was renamed the National Alliance.
“I believe that Mussolini was a good politician, which means that everything he did, he did for Italy,” Meloni said at the time.
For the first decade, Brothers of Italy struggled to win more than a single-digit percentage of the vote, and it only garnered 4% in the 2018 election.
But in 2021 and 2022, it distinguished itself as the only opposition party to the unity government that fell apart last July, causing its popularity to inflate.
But the party still wrestles with its fascistic roots; last week, it suspended a member who was running for parliament because a local newspaper revealed that he had made comments supporting Adolf Hitler.
In an August video, Meloni promised to impose a naval blockade in the Mediterranean to interdict Libyan refugees from crossing to Southern Europe on boats. She has also discussed pulling Italy out of the Eurozone or even the E.U. entirely, but she moderated her rhetoric toward Europe during the election.
Italy has received some 200 billion euros in European pandemic recovery funds, and it is set to receive more unless the Union punishes Meloni’s government for democratic backsliding.