Many people are directing their ire at the banks and the government, which they blame for the country’s almost unprecedented economic collapse.
A Shotgun, a Gas Canister, and a Whole Lot of Medical Bills
A man in Lebanon attracted hundreds of sympathetic protestors Thursday when he attempted to forcefully retrieve his own savings from a bank at gunpoint.
Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, barged into a Beirut bank armed with a shotgun and a gas canister, threatening to set himself ablaze if he was not given $200,000 from his account.
In response to a devastating economic and financial crisis, Lebanon’s banks have imposed severe restrictions on the amount of money depositors are allowed to withdraw.
Hussein came to get the money he considered rightfully his, saying he needed it to pay medical bills for his son and his father, who is reportedly in the hospital.
The bank employees refused to hand over the money and most customers fled the building during the initial panic, leaving at least six people trapped inside after he shut the doors.
Hussein reportedly fired at least two shots, but nobody appeared to have been injured.
Police showed up and began negotiating with Hussein, and he rejected a proposed $5,000, $10,000, and $30,000 in exchange for his surrender.
Meanwhile, crowds of onlookers gathered outside the building, many of whom expressed support for the gunman.
“Down with the rule of the banks!” They chanted. “Give him his money! Give him his money!”
After a roughly six-hour standoff with police, Hussein laid down his weapon and exited the bank in exchange for $35,000 to be delivered to his brother.
One of the Worst Economic Calamities in History
Lebanon has been embroiled in an ever-deepening downward economic spiral since October 2019 that has only been put under increased stress from the coronavirus pandemic.
The United Nations has estimated that nearly 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, and the country’s local currency has lost over 90% of its value.
For Lebanon, which imports many essential goods, monetary depreciation hits especially hard. As a result, the country has seen widespread infrastructure failure, with 20-hour-long power cuts, as well as fuel, food, and water shortages.
Inflation rose to 145% last year, and rising food prices have made it extremely difficult for many poor residents to survive.
Currently, banks only allow depositors to withdraw a maximum of $400 per month.
The World Bank has ranked the crisis, which it called a “deliberate depression,” one of the top ten, possibly top three most severe economic collapses globally since the 1850s.
The situation is “orchestrated by the country’s elite that has long captured the state and lived off its economic rents,” the bank said. “This capture persists despite the severity of the crisis.”
Although some saw hope in the May elections that ushered in new independent candidates, the government is still largely ruled by the same families and parties that fought each other during the country’s civil war ending in 1990.
The government has so far resisted proposed economic and political reforms, leading to popular unrest.
Lebanon’s GDP plummeted from nearly $52 billion in 2019 to a projected $21.8 billion in 2021, marking a 58.1 percent contraction, according to the World Bank. It was the highest contraction in a list of 193 countries.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (Vice) (World Bank)
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.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (NPR)
Iranian Protests Sparked by Death of Mahsa Amini Spread Internationally
Anger initially directed at the police has now shifted to the Islamic regime itself, with Iranian-Americans protesting outside the U.N. Headquarters as their country’s president spoke inside.
Hijabs Go Up in Flames
The largest protest movement in recent years has gripped Iran since the so-called morality police allegedly beat 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for violating the dress code last week, leading to her later death.
Demonstrations spread from the capital Tehran to at least 80 other cities and towns, with videos on social media showing women burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in defiance.
In response, the government has gradually extended a virtual internet blackout across the country, blocking access to What’s App and Instagram.
To prevent protests from spreading, Iran’s biggest telecom operator largely shut down mobile internet access again Thursday, Netblocks, a group that monitors internet access, said in a statement, describing the restrictions as the most severe since 2019.
Clashes between police and protestors have killed some, but death toll reports on Thursday were conflicted. The Associated Press tallied at least nine people dead, while Iran’s state television put the number at 17, and a human rights group estimated at least 31 deaths.
The violence began on Saturday, shortly after the news that Amini had died the day prior in the hospital where she was comatose for three days.
Previously, the morality police arrested her for violating Islamic law requiring women to cover their hair with a head scarf and wear long, loose-fitting clothing.
Multiple reports and eyewitness accounts claimed that officers beat her in the head with batons and banged her head against one of their vehicles, but authorities have denied harming her, saying she suffered a “sudden heart failure.” Her father told BBC that she was in good health and that he had not been allowed to view her autopsy report.
“My son was with her. Some witnesses told my son she was beaten in the van and in the police station,” he said.
Surveillance footage was released showing Amini collapsing inside the hospital after grabbing her head, seemingly in pain.
From Anti-Hijab to Anti-Regime
Although the protests began in reaction to Amini’s death and Iran’s repressive policing, they quickly flowered into a mass opposition movement against the Islamic regime as men joined ranks of demonstrators and chants of “Death to the dictator!” broke out.
The anger was directed at the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as President Ebrahim Raisi, who attended the United Nations General Assembly this week. Iranian-Americans rallied outside the U.N. Headquarters Wednesday to voice their discontent as Raisi addressed the assembly.
“The hijab is used as a weapon in Iran,” one woman told CBS in Los Angeles. “It is a weapon against the West, and women are used as pawns.”
“Let this be the George Flloyd moment of Iran,” she added.
There have also been demonstrations of solidarity in countries such as Lebanon, Germany, and Canada.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera) (BBC)
Queen Elizabeth II Dies at 96
“I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world,” her eldest son and successor, King Charles III said.
The Passing of a Historic Monarch
Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in Britain’s history, passed away on Thursday afternoon, per an announcement from Buckingham Palace.
According to the Palace’s statement, The Queen “died peacefully” while at her Balmoral estate in Scotland. Reports say she was surrounded by family members, including her eldest son and successor, who announced in the hours after her passing that he will go by King Charles III. Several of her other children and grandchildren were also present.
Early on Thursday morning, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen was under medical supervision as doctors were concerned for her health. Soon after, BBC One suspended its programming to focus on coverage of the Queen. Anchors donned black attire while other media outlets and royal circles began to prepare for the 96-year-old monarch’s passing.
The Queen took the throne at the age of 25 following the death of her father, King George VI. She served her tenure for 70 years, becoming not only the longest-serving monarch in the U.K., but also the second-longest serving monarch in world history.
As the world changed drastically over the course of those seven decades, the Queen became a symbol of reliability and security for many. During her reign, 15 Prime Ministers took office in the U.K. She met regularly with leaders both in the country and abroad.
“She is unlike any other monarch in our history – she’s our longest-lived, longest-serving, longest-reigning monarch,” royal biographer Robert Hardman told BBC News. “She just stands for this constancy, this sense of permanence and stability. And I think over the years people have probably taken her for granted often. Suddenly, at times like this, we all realise… how precious she is.”
Charles Becomes King
In addition to King Charles III, she is survived by her other three children, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward. Her grandson Prince William is now the heir to the throne, followed by his children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis.
The Queen’s husband Prince Philip died last year.
According to the palace, King Charles III and his wife will remain in Scotland and return to London on Friday. Over the next ten days, the family will enter a period of grieving and succession.
“We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished Sovereign and much-loved Mother,” The King said in a statement. “I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world.”
“During this period of mourning and change, my family and I will be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which the Queen was so widely held.”