Lebanon’s powerhouse Hezbollah hit by backlash after blast

Lebanon’s powerhouse Hezbollah hit by backlash after blast

Sara Jaafar joined a group of political activists gathered on Aug. 4 to discuss strategies to challenge Lebanon’s entrenched rulers when their building was shaken and the windows blasted out by the giant explosion that rocked Beirut. The spreading of falsehoods around the hiring practices of financial institutions is “unhelpful” and “unfair,” the Monetary Authority of Singapore said in response to queries about the fallout from recent changes in rules on foreign employment, the Straits Times reported. The outreach includes a series of conversations called “Shop Talk.”

BEIRUT (AP) – Sara Jaafar joined a group of political activists gathered on Aug. 4 to discuss strategies to challenge Lebanon’s entrenched rulers when their building was shaken and the windows blasted out by the giant explosion that rocked Beirut.

She took cover from the flying debris, thoughts rushing through her head of past political assassinations in Lebanon. Her immediate reaction was that Hezbollah, the militant group that dominates power here, was targeting the dissidents’ meeting.

The blast was in fact at the port of Beirut, caused by a stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored there for years. So far, it appears to be a result of longtime government mismanagement. No direct connection to Hezbollah has emerged in the explosion that wreaked destruction across the city and killed at least 180 people. Theories abound about what triggered the explosion, including even a possible Israeli strike against Hezbollah.

Jaafar’s initial reaction reflected the fear Hezbollah has instilled among many Lebanese and the power it has succeeded in projecting over the past decade.

For many, the Iran-backed Hezbollah now stands at the top of Lebanon’s sectarian-based system of power – and so is complicit in the corruption many blame for the port disaster and for driving the country into near bankruptcy.

“Who controls most of everything?” asked Jaafar, a secular Shiite. Hezbollah and its ally, President Michel Aoun, “are the people in charge. … They bear the responsibility.”

In the wake of the blast, Hezbollah has come under unprecedented public criticism and its role in Lebanese politics under intense scrutiny.

Cardboard effigies of Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and other politicians were hanged on nooses at a rally after the blast. Some accused Hezbollah of storing weapons at the port, a claim it denies. Hezbollah’s political rivals seized the opportunity to fan hostilities against it and its allies.

Social media posts mocked Nasrallah’s speeches. One noted how the U.S. killing of Iranian commander Qassim Soleimani in Iraq in January prompted Nasrallah to weep and threaten revenge – while in his first speech following the blast, he was smiling and calm.

“There is a paradox there with Hezbollah. They have never been more powerful politically and militarily. But they have never faced such an array of challenges as well,” said Nicholas Blanford, a Beirut-based Hezbollah expert.

The season of discontent against Hezbollah comes as Lebanese suffer under an economic crash that has driven nearly half of the population into poverty. Rather than push for reform, critics say, Hezbollah has stood by its political allies who resist change. It also denied support to nationwide protests that erupted in October demanding the end of the dysfunctional political structure. U.S. sanctions against Iran and Hezbollah made things harder.

For years, Hezbollah maintained a clean reputation and distance from Lebanon’s political elite.

It developed its power and resources as a resistance movement against Israel and became virtually a state within a state, heading a powerful military force and a welfare network for its Shiite supporters.

Hezbollah remains Lebanon’s only armed force outside the military. It controls the borders and plays a crucial role in Iranian-backed wars in the region, like Syria’s.

In 2005, an explosion killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and changed Lebanon’s political course. The bombing, blamed on Hezbollah, sent nearly a million people into the streets, forcing Hezbollah’s ally Syria to end its occupation of Lebanon.

After that, Hezbollah began seeping into the system – from having a handful of Parliament members to becoming Lebanon’s most powerful political faction.

Hezbollah and its allies formed the last Cabinet. Its failures came to be seen as Hezbollah’s, Blanford said.

And they were many: The government failed to enact reforms, stem the financial meltdown or reach a rescue package with the International Monetary Fund. It finally resigned after the explosion.

Hezbollah plays a significant role in forming the new government.

To deflect criticism, Nasrallah addressed supporters several times, denying Hezbollah had anything to do with the port explosion.

He made thinly veiled warnings to critics. In an Aug. 14 speech, Nasrallah warned repeatedly against pushing Lebanon toward civil war. He urged supporters to “hold onto their anger” over criticism, hinting it would be unleashed against opponents.

In Hezbollah’s stronghold in the Beirut suburb Dahiyeh, supporters saw the explosion as a conspiracy to weaken Lebanon and the group.

“We had two places to bring money and assistance from: the port and the airport. Something had to happen somewhere so that the siege (on Lebanon) is tightened and so that these people rise against their rulers,” said Issam Kaeen, a 42-year-old coffee shop owner.

Mohammed Abi Shakra, who owns a women’s wear shop, said an Israeli attack on the port can’t be ruled out. “This is a conspiracy against the Lebanese people to make them poor, to incite civil war,” he said.

Meanwhile, social tensions are on the rise. Opponents of Hezbollah clashed twice with the group’s supporters, including a gunfight on Thursday that killed two bystanders and wounded several. Gunmen reportedly opened fire over religious banners raised by Hezbollah supporters.

“There is no god but God, and Nasrallah is the enemy of God,” mourners chanted at a funeral of one of the killed.

Following the explosion, Hezbollah made some internal changes, part of a shift inward after the nationwide protests and its receding role in Syria’s war, an official with the group said. The group’s security chief was given a bigger portfolio and the head of an agency that coordinates with allies was replaced. Media operations are also changing, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to confirm media reports.

After the blast, Jaafar and other victims demanded an international investigation. “We lost our homes, our kids, our fathers and our city. We lost everything,” she said in an angry speech at a gathering near the port.

“All of them means all of them,” the small crowd chanted, naming Nasrallah among other leaders they want out of power.

Her apartment in a landmark building nearby was devastated by the blast. An architect, Jaafar is considering leaving the destruction as a reminder of how it all went wrong.

Active since the October protests, Jaafar is frustrated by the small turnout in rallies since the blast but recognizes an outpouring of public anger is only one requisite for change. She, like many in Lebanon, sees her country’s political crisis as a product of rivalry between Hezbollah’s patron, Iran, and the U.S. and Gulf states. Only a resolution to that conflict will force change, she said.

“I understand why they exist. They filled the gap where the state failed,” said Jaafar. But “we want a real nation, a real country,” she said. “This is a jungle.”

Jaafar said protest activists are realizing they must work with allies within the system for change – push for early elections and challenge Hezbollah and its allies in Parliament.

“We won’t get rid of them in one election,” she said.


Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed reporting.

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com

Author: The Washington Times http://www.washingtontimes.com

MAS Says Falsehoods Around Financial Sector Hiring ‘Unfair’: ST

MAS Says Falsehoods Around Financial Sector Hiring ‘Unfair’: ST

The Monetary Authority of Singapore headquarters in Singapore.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore headquarters in Singapore.

Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg

Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg

The spreading of falsehoods around the hiring practices of financial institutions is “unhelpful” and “unfair,” the Monetary Authority of Singapore said in response to queries about the fallout from recent changes in rules on foreign employment, the Straits Times reported.

“The propagation of falsehoods by some individuals is unhelpful for an informed discussion on these issues; not to mention, unfair to the financial institutions concerned as well as to the foreigners who work here and contribute to Singapore,” the MAS said in a statement, according to the newspaper. “We hear the views and concerns of Singaporeans who have spoken up on the issue of local representation in the financial sector.”

Singapore on Thursday announced an increase in the minimum monthly salaries of employment and S-pass holders, which could make it tougher for companies to hire foreigners over Singaporean applicants. In the financial services industry, the minimum qualifying amount for an employment pass will be increased to S$5,000 ($3,680), given higher pay in the sector. It’s the first time such requirements have been set higher for a particular industry, the Ministry of Manpower said.

Employment pass holders in other sectors must now earn S$4,500 a month, up from S$3,900, and S-pass holders must meet a S$2,500 threshold instead of S$2,400.

The city-state’s central bank is “stepping up efforts to ensure more diversity in firms and functions, and equal opportunity for Singaporeans” and will release more details in coming months, according to the newspaper.

“Singaporeans are generally doing well in the financial sector, but MAS would like to see more of them move into the senior ranks,” the central bank said in the statement.

Singapore’s business community has been under pressure to maintain an appropriate balance of local and foreign workers, with the city-state’s economy facing its worst recession on record. MAS Managing Director Ravi Menon said last week the central bank would “intensify” its engagement with financial firms on their hiring practices in order to grow the “Singaporean core.”

Source: www.bloomberg.com

Author: By
Michelle Jamrisko

How the Joe Biden campaign is investing in outreach to Black men

How the Joe Biden campaign is investing in outreach to Black men

The outreach includes a series of conversations called “Shop Talk.”

With a backdrop of civil unrest after the shooting of Jacob Blake and thousands descending on the nation’s capital on the anniversary of the March on Washington in a show of support for racial equity, the Biden campaign is beefing up its efforts to engage Black men.

The campaign’s strategy includes a series of conversations called Shop Talk, meant to simulate the raw conversations had in Black barber shops. The events could be an opportunity to increase turnout. Only 54% of eligible Black men voted in 2016 compared to 64% of eligible white men, according to Pew Research.

The Biden campaign’s first virtual stop was in Wisconsin and the campaign has plans for similar events in other battleground states.

“To have that space is an example of how our campaign is bringing likeminds together to stand up for the issues they care about the most,” said Biden strategic communications director Kamau Marshall in a statement to ABC News. “By selecting a state to anchor the conversation each week, we’re confident that these gatherings will energize more Black men to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — the candidates that will undoubtedly champion their safety, economic prosperity and physical and mental well-being.”

For its first event on Thursday, the campaign enlisted rapper and producer Jermaine Dupri to participate in a panel discussion with community leaders from the state and Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

“Before a person goes to prison they’re in a courtroom, before their courtroom, they have an encounter with a police officer and too often that encounter is deadly,” Barnes told participants. “We see people charged, getting these trumped up charges, or stuff that so many people are able to get away with in a neighborhood three miles away, right? And these are experiences that most of us have had.”

After speaking with the Blake family and other community members in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Barnes called the situation in the town where Blake was shot, “challenging.” He said that the issues surrounding racial inequity and injustice predate the Trump administration, but still urged Black men to support the Biden-Harris ticket, saying Joe Biden’s policy shifts since the presidential primary are a signal that former vice president is willing to listen to the concerns of voters and evolve.

“I know we have a much better chance of holding [Biden] accountable than we do with the current occupant of the White House, and that means a whole lot because at least, Joe Biden has been responsive to the things that people have been calling out for,” Barnes said.

The Trump campaign, in contrast, is moving to open up community centers for voter outreach in communities of color with plans to register voters and pitch them on Trump’s passage of the criminal justice reform legislation, the First Step Act.

Though criminal justice reform remains a significant issue, the Biden campaign seeks to engage Black men on issues beyond that, highlighting the aspects of Biden’s “Build Back Better” economic plan designed to strengthen educational and economic opportunities for Black people.

“I think that Black men are very strong-willed,” said Chuck Creekmur, the CEO of hip-hop news site AllHipHop, who participated in the panel discussion. “I think that we are looking for an opportunity and a fair opportunity to make our own way and to create our own power within our own communities.”

Jermaine Dupri, in an interview with ABC News, urged the Biden campaign to be explicit and unapologetic in explaining how their policy proposals will improve Black communities.

“Something needs to happen where they say ‘we’re doing this to for Black people’ and not feeling bad about saying that,” said Dupri.

The discussions will also open the floor for participants to address potential sore spots for the campaign, including Biden’s role in the 1994 Crime Bill and Sen. Kamala Harris’ records as a prosecutor and as California’s attorney general. The pair’s record on criminal justice reform and Biden’s previous “you ain’t black” comments, which Biden later apologized for, are points the GOP seized on during the Republican National Convention.

“We’re going to have honest conversations,” said political commentator and longtime Harris supporter Bakari Sellers, who is assisting in the effort.

“I feel like she does have to address some of that stuff and I can’t say that it’s gonna win everybody, but I think that it will turn heads,” said Dupri. “A lot more than it will if she doesn’t address it.”

ABC News

Source: abcnews.go.com

Author: ABC News

Lebanon’s powerhouse Hezbollah hit by backlash after blast

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