[News] Technocracy now: The US is working to turn Lebanon’s anti-corruption protests against Hezbollah

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Dec 2 16:48:17 EST 2019


https://thegrayzone.com/2019/12/01/us-working-lebanon-corruption-protests-hezbollah/ 



  Technocracy now: The US is working to turn Lebanon’s anti-corruption
  protests against Hezbollah

December 1, 2019
------------------------------------------------------------------------


      While Lebanon’s protests remain focused on the economy and
      widespread corruption, Washington is increasingly determined to
      exploit the movement as a geopolitical weapon in the region.


      By Rania Khalek

*/This is part one of a two-part report./*

Lebanon erupted in massive protests this October. The demonstrations 
transcended sect and class, and quickly spread across the country. The 
movement was spurred by the levying of regressive taxes and the 
persistence of a corrupt neoliberal order that has mismanaged the 
economy and hollowed out the public sector while enriching a handful of 
elites amid a looming economic collapse 
<https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2019/11/23/middleeast/lebanon-economy-protests-intl/index.html?__twitter_impression=true>. 


Though the protests remain focused on class issues and corruption, the 
US is increasingly determined to co-opt the movement for its own goals. 
At the forefront of Washington’s agenda is ousting Hezbollah from the 
Lebanese governing coalition and marginalizing the Shia 
political-military movement as a means of weakening Iran. In its place, 
the US and its proxies inside Lebanon are demanding a “technocratic” 
government with no interest in resisting Israel.

Former US ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman explicitly spelled out 
US interests during recent congressional testimony, proclaiming 
<https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/whats-next-for-lebanon-examining-the-implications-of-current-protests/> 
thatthe protests “fortunately coincide with U.S. interests” against 
Hezbollah. He urged stepped-up American intervention, emphasizing “the 
value of domestic initiative combined with external [Western] support.”

Leftist groups responded angrily to Feltman’s rhetoric, staging a 
protest outside the US embassy and posting a massive billboard in 
downtown Beirut depicting the former diplomat above a slogan calling on 
Washington to leave Lebanon alone.

American meddling in the protests is not yet a full-scale operation, 
however it has been seen through the presence of US-backed political 
parties and activists backed by the most familiar outfits of the US 
regime-change machine: the National Endowment for Democracy 
<https://thegrayzone.com/2018/08/20/inside-americas-meddling-machine-the-us-funded-group-that-interferes-in-elections-around-the-globe/> 
(NED), the US Institute for Peace (USIP), and USAID 
<https://thegrayzone.com/tag/usaid/>.

Together, these elements are seeking to popularize the call for a 
technocratic, Hezbollah-free government in provocative actions across 
the country.


      A leaderless resistance pressures the government

Based in downtown Beirut, the protests initially included Hezbollah’s 
working-class base and civil society activists, symbolizing a rejection 
of the sectarian power-sharing system that was installed under French 
colonial rule and re-enforced under the post-civil war Taif agreement.

Within days, however, the protests began to morph into a strange 
leaderless mix of middle and lower middle class students, along with 
liberals, civil society and NGO activists, US-backed political parties, 
small leftist groups, hipster types, and anti-Hezbollah activists.

While the vast majority of protesters simply sought a functioning 
government that could provide for their basic needs, the current make-up 
of their movement and lack of ideology among most demonstrators created 
a wide opening for meddling by outside actors. This was especially true 
for the US, which has honed methods to co-opt anti-government protest 
movements and manipulate them into carrying out regime-change goals.

In Lebanon, the US has been openly determined to overturn Hezbollah’s 
win in the 2018 elections that gave it a majority alongside its 
coalition allies the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party, 
and Amal, a Shia party. This governing coalition enabled Hezbollah to 
protect its traditional interests, among which deterring Israel is 
paramount, without serving as the face of the government.

Hezbollah grew out of Israel’s occupation in Lebanon, and managed to 
liberate the south from Israeli occupation in 2000 and again when the 
Israelis invaded in 2006. Hezbollah was also crucial to the defeat of 
ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the collection of US-backed extremist groups in both 
Syria and Lebanon in the proxy war that began in 2011.

Today, the pro-Hezbollah March 8 coalition represents one of the two 
major political blocs that divide the Lebanese polity. The other is the 
American- and Saudi-backed March 14 alliance.

The March 14 bloc includes the Future Party, headed by Sunni leader and 
Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has been hobbled since the Saudis 
withdrew their financial support and briefly kidnapped and tortured him. 
Then there is Druze leader Walid Joumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party 
(PSP), which is neither progressive nor socialist; and the Lebanese 
Forces led by Samir Geagea, a Maronite Christian leader and formerly 
imprisoned war lord.

According to cables published by Wikileaks, Geagea was the main US 
embassy contact 
<https://search.wikileaks.org/?q=jeffrey+feltman+geagea>during the 2008 
clashes between the two blocs. In meetings at the embassy, Geagea 
repeatedly asked Washington to supply 
<https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08BEIRUT662_a.html>his militia with 
weapons against Hezbollah.

On the other side is the March 8 bloc comprised of the Shia parties: 
Hezbollah, led by Hassan Nasrallah, the charismatic and well-known 
spiritual leader, and Amal, which is headed by the speaker of Lebanon’s 
parliament, Nabih Berri. The final component of the coalition is the 
Christian FPM, led by Lebanese President Michel Aoun. Since the civil 
war, these parties have defined Lebanon’s political make-up and 
substantially influenced regional dynamics.

The protests that have swept Lebanon over the past month have placed 
enormous pressure on the governing coalition, while offering perceived 
political openings for its most opportunistic opponents – especially 
those with historic ties to the US.

Due to the irresponsible decisions of the ruling politicians seeking to 
pit their streets against each other, the situation has escalated in 
recent days. To understand how the potentially explosive situation has 
developed, it is important to examine the genesis of the protests.

*Rising up against a failed oligarchy*

On October 17, protests erupted spontaneously in downtown Beirut in 
reaction to a raft of regressive taxes. These included a tax on 
Whatsapp, one of the only free methods of communication in an otherwise 
expensive telecommunications market.

But the levies were themselves preceded by a series of events that led 
to the inevitable explosion. In early October, Lebanon’s forests were 
devastated by wildfires due in large part to government negligence and 
ineptitude. The state had for instance failed to even pay for the most 
basic maintenance of the helicopters needed to put out the fires.

At the same time, a shortage of US dollars, which Lebanon’s economy 
depends on, led to panic about a looming collapse — something economists 
have been predicting for years.

The public rage was compounded by the fact that 30 years after the civil 
war, the weak Lebanese state was still not able to provide basic 
services like 24-hour electricity, potable water, or waste management. 
This was a result of the neoliberal order that was imposed on Lebanon 
after the civil war by international financial institutions in 
coordination with the country’s ruling elites.

Lebanon’s main political parties are run by civil war-era warlords who 
have exploited a dysfunctional system to make themselves billionaires. 
They and their children flaunt their wealth in the streets and on social 
media.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri presents perhaps the most visible and 
cartoonish example: the ultra-wealthy fail-son was revealed in October 
to have sent $16 million 
<https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20191001-hariri-said-to-have-given-16-million-to-south-african-model/>to 
his South African mistress.

Another factor driving the protests was frustration with the country’s 
sectarian system, which generates corruption and gridlock. Under 
Lebanon’s power-sharing agreement, the president must be a Christian 
Maronite; the prime minister must be Sunni Muslim; and the speaker of 
parliament is mandated as a Shia Muslim.

This dynamic forces Lebanese citizens into a state of dependence on 
their communal sect leaders for services rather than the state, leading 
to a weak central government. The different sect leaders are extremely 
corrupt and have enriched themselves through nepotism, theft, and a 
Ponzi scheme economy.

The powerful banking sector is also politicized; it has been turned into 
an enemy of Hezbollah through its partnership and cooperation with 
American sanctions. Moreover, the head of the Central Bank, Riad 
Salamah, has aspired to remove the FPM-affiliated foreign minister, 
Gibran Bassil, and replace the current president, Michel Aoun. He also 
wants to weaken Hezbollah, which he and the banking sector view as a 
magnet for US sanctions and, therefore, a liability to their bottom line.

Recently imposed US sanctions have already led to the liquidation 
<https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1900376/fears-over-exclusion-shiites-lebanese-banking-sector>of 
a Shia-owned Lebanese bank, Jammal Trust, on the highly dubious grounds 
that it was financing Hezbollah activity. (Jammal Trust was, in fact, a 
close ally of the US embassy 
<https://thegrayzone.com/2019/09/03/pro-israel-sigal-mandelker-fbi-americans-iran/>and 
partnered with USAID to fund literacy programs in the country). **

There was little doubt that an economic crisis was on the way in 
Lebanon, but US sanctions have accelerated the process. Sanctions 
against Hezbollah and anything deemed remotely affiliated with the Shia 
political movement are a part of the US’s maximum pressure campaign 
against Iran. They aim to bleed Hezbollah’s social welfare programs, 
which ultimately hurts 
<https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/05/article/iran-sanctions-to-hit-hezbollah-welfare-programs/>the 
poor in their constituency, and threatens the businesses of wealthy 
Shias as well.

In such a precarious economy, a few US sanctions were all that was 
needed to immiserate a large sector of the Lebanese public.**

This was the backdrop to the display of mass outrage that erupted in 
downtown Beirut this October. At first, a small group of demonstrators 
occupied the area. They included middle class activists from a 2015 
protest against a lack of sanitation as well as poor Shias. In the 
course of their demonstration, they ran up against a convoy belonging to 
the minister of education, Akram Chehayeb. His bodyguards reacted with 
fear and then hyper-aggression, firing their rifles into the air.

Videos of the violent spectacle spread on social media, provoking more 
citizens to join the protest. The next wave of demonstrators aimed their 
anger at the downtown property that belongs to Solidere, the real estate 
privatization and redevelopment company of former prime minister Rafiq 
Hariri, which profited tremendously after the civil war while 
transforming the ruins of downtown into a bubble of inaccessible luxury.

The next two days saw groups of young masked men on motorbikes 
efficiently coordinating roadblocks across the city, lighting garbage 
bins and tires on fire. Many of them were Hezbollah supporters.

/Above: Young men on motorbikes set up roadblocks with trash cans and 
burning tires. October 18, 2019/

/Above: Young men set fires to block the road. October 18, 2019/

“We started destroying and blocking what we believed is sucking the last 
cent out of our pockets: Solidere,” one of them told me.

Meanwhile, the protests ballooned, filling the streets downtown and 
spreading to other parts of the country, bringing in people from all 
classes and sects. But the momentum was short lived.

Hezbollah’s base played an important role in the protests in the early 
stages, hoping the street actions would provide opportunity to pressure 
Amal, the rival Shia party headed by Nabih Berri, the speaker of the 
parliament. Berri is viewed as one of the most corrupt politicians in 
Lebanon. Hezbollah’s attempted reforms to help the poor had been 
obstructed by Amal, hence the attempt to put pressure on Berri. Amal was 
up to its eyeballs in corruption, feasting on the Shia share of the 
public budget, and constantly provoking Hezbollah’s constituency.

Days into the protests, Hezbollah supporters from the student unions 
made a strong showing in protests outside the Central bank. But then, 
they were sideswiped by the right-wing.

*US-aligned parties join the protests*

On day three, Samir Geagea, the leader of the US-backed Lebanese Forces 
(LF), removed his four ministers from government, supposedly in 
solidarity with the protests. LF is a right-wing pro-American party that 
had been one of the most brutal militias in Lebanon’s civil war. And 
Geagea’s decision changed the course of the movement.

Walid Jumblatt of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) threatened to 
remove his own ministers, placing his party in the opposition. 
Meanwhile, LF and PSP supporters joined the protests by obstructing 
major roads outside of Beirut: LF blocked the main highway at Jal el Dib 
and other areas in the north while PSP blocked the roads in the south.

Next, Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, placing his Saudi- and 
US-backed Future party on the side of the protesters as well. Future was 
now in the protest ranks, reinforcing the blockading of roads in the 
south alongside members of PSP.

As these forces stepped up their involvement, working-class Hezbollah 
supporters began to withdraw from the movement, especially as certain 
elements began chanting against Hezbollah and its weapons. Suddenly, the 
protests had assumed a familiar and ominous March 8 versus March 14 feel.

Throughout this period, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah 
delivered several speeches criticizing the protests as vehicles for 
outside funding and hostile political parties. His rhetoric only 
inflamed the protesters and deepened the well-entrenched resentment of 
Hezbollah.

The billionaire Prime Minister Hariri had been a staunch ally of America 
and Saudi Arabia who even holds Saudi citizenship. Before his 
resignation, Hariri was part of Hezbollah’s governing coalition. 
Coalition leaders feared that the Americans would target the whole 
government and place the country under crushing sanctions without a 
Western-aligned figure like him. Determined to delegitimize the 
coalition, Saudi Arabia forced Hariri to resign at gunpoint in 2017, but 
he ultimately returned to the government.

This time around, Hariri leveraged the protests to try to pressure 
Michel Aoun to drop his son-in-law Gibran Bassil as foreign minister, 
whom anti-government elements blamed for giving Hezbollah legitimacy on 
the international stage. But Aoun wouldn’t budge. So Hariri resigned.

Hariri’s resignation not only obstructed the government from dealing 
with the economic crisis, it exposed the role of Hezbollah in the 
government and thereby risked a new round of sanctions. Hezbollah 
leadership believed that the prime minister’s departure was influenced 
by the US and the Saudis, and with good reason given the history.

As the political divide widened, the protests became increasingly 
dominated by members of the middle class and the Western-backed civil 
society and NGO sector. This element diverted the initial working class 
demands for justice into an all-out attack on Hezbollah, its weapons, 
and its leadership.

The popular chant “/killun yaani killun/,” or “all of them means all of 
them,” which was initially directed at Lebanon’s entire cast of leaders, 
soon turned into an anti-Hezbollah slogan, with protesters adding, “and 
Nasrallah is one of them.” Clashes between supporters of Amal and 
Hezbollah and the middle class demonstrators soon followed.

The White House was initially cautious and quiet about the protests, 
uncertain where they might lead. But a day after Hariri’s October 29 
resignation, Pompeo issued a statement 
<https://twitter.com/secpompeo/status/1189328721469153281?s=21>supporting 
the protests and the formation of a new government.

Suddenly, a series of panelists and think pieces materialized explaining 
how the US should exploit the situation against Hezbollah — and, by 
extension, Iran. Washington views everything in Lebanon through an 
anti-Iran lens, and sees Hezbollah purely as a proxy of the government 
in Tehran.

The Atlantic Council <https://thegrayzone.com/tag/atlantic-council/>, a 
Washington-based think tank funded by weapons companies and Western 
governments as well as Bahaa Hariri, the brother of Saad Hariri, 
published a plea 
<https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/revolution-in-lebanon/>for 
Trump to exploit the Lebanon protests as a pretext for forcibly 
disarming Hezbollah. The author was Frederic Hof, the former US special 
envoy to Syria and a senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center, which is 
named after the father of Saad Hariri.

Those who had worked to turn the so-called Arab Spring in Washington’s 
direction were out in force again.

*Enter the NGO industrial complex*

Unfortunately for Washington, the core of the protest movement remained 
primarily focused on the economic crisis. Though Hezbollah had bolted 
the protest ranks, leftist groups like the Lebanese Communist Party, 
Citizens in a State, the Shaab (People) Movement, and other 
socialist-oriented elements remained involved.

In the past weeks, these groups had been holding discussion groups and 
working to influence as many protest participants in a left-wing 
direction. However, they represent a small slice of Lebanese society and 
lack the resources of US-backed parties and civil society groups.

By contrast, the Sabaa party is flush with funding. It was founded by 
Jad Dagher, a notoriously shady Lebanese businessman who used to belong 
to the Phalange, another right-wing Christian party close to the US 
which carried out infamous massacres during the civil war.

Dagher and his company DK Group were added 
<https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2666.aspx>to 
the US sanctions list in 2014 for allegedly aiding the Syrian 
government, but were removed 
<https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20160830.aspx>from 
the list in 2016. On average, the removal of a company from the US 
Treasury Department’s sanctions list takes around eight to 10 years 
<https://www.albawaba.com/business/us-removes-lebanon%27s-dk-group-from-trade-blacklist-879308>, 
leading some to wonder what kind of deals Dagher cut to get him off the 
list in just two.

Sabaa, which claims to have a disdain for political parties, is 
considered by the left to be a right-wing party operating under the 
guise of non-sectarianism and liberalism. The group has kept up a 
significant presence in downtown Beirut’s Martyr’s Square, setting up a 
PA system that blasted music so loud it was difficult to have any sort 
of meaningful discussion. Notably, the group kept its name and logo 
absent from all protest materials. Some left-wing activists I spoke to 
suspected that Sabaa was using the blaring music to drown out their 
ability to organize effectively.

The other large group present at the downtown protests was Beirut 
Madinati, a liberal group founded by civil society activists and 
professors from the American University of Beirut. This group emerged 
from the 2015 “You Stink!” protests, which mobilized against the lack of 
trash pickup and other middle class civic concerns.

One of Beirut Madinati’s most high-profile founders is Jad Chaaban 
<https://staff.aub.edu.lb/~jc11/index.htm>, an AUB economics professor 
who has worked at the World Bank and founded the Lebanese Economic 
Association, a business roundtable that receives support 
<http://lea-econ.org/our-partners/>from USAID, Booz Allen, the World 
Bank Group, and the Ford Foundation. It goes without saying that he is 
considered an ally in Washington.

Then there are the groups of artists who use slogans from Syria’s 
protests, but updated for the Lebanese context. For instance, the famous 
chant “/erhal erhal ya Bashar/” (leave leave oh Bashar [al-Assad]), 
which was heard in Syrian cities back in 2011, was remixed to “/erhal 
erhal ya Aoun,/” referring to the Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

Many of the NGOs that are present express solidarity with the economic 
demands at the core of the protest movement. However, these groups are 
funded by outside forces and inculcated in the discourse of American and 
European liberalism.

A perfect example is Legal Agenda, a Lebanese NGO financed 
<https://www.legal-agenda.com/moumawilin.php>by the European Union, the 
Swiss embassy, the German government-funded think tank Heinrich Böll 
Stiftung, and the Open Society Foundation of anti-communist billionaire 
George Soros. The organization offers legal advice to marginalized 
groups, a noble cause to be sure. Some members appeared to be assuming 
an anti-Hezbollah line, however, commenting to me that they were 
convinced the militia had plans to use its weapons on protesters.

Another notable NGO is Megaphone News <https://megaphone.news/>, a 
social media oriented outlet that bills itself as independent 
<https://www.france24.com/en/20191116-megaphone-the-independent-media-giving-voice-to-lebanon-s-uprising>, 
but which is funded by the European Endowment for Democracy, the 
European government-backed sister organization of the US regime-change 
outfit the National Endowment for Democracy. Founded in 2017, Megaphone 
has played a critical role in the production of memes, videos, and music 
since the start of the uprising.

These various groups do not necessarily share a unified agenda and do 
not always get along. Perhaps the only thing that brings them together 
is their resentment of Hezbollah.

The leftists are upset with Hezbollah for its domestic policies. They 
argue that Hezbollah is complicit in the neoliberal policies that have 
ruined the economy – or at the very least, that Hezbollah has not done 
enough to confront the notoriously corrupt players in their coalition.

They are also angry that Hassan Nasrallah criticized the protests as a 
vehicle for foreign influence. After scuffles broke out between 
Nasrallah’s supporters and protesters, he instructed his constituents to 
leave the demonstrations to avoid further clashes. This upset the 
leftists even more, as they wanted Hezbollah to continue contributing 
manpower and resources to the movement.

However, Hezbollah supporters argue that their party has not been in 
power long enough to change anything. They insist on a strategic 
alignment with parties like FPM and Amal in order to protect their 
capacity to resist Israeli aggression. And they are convinced it is 
necessary to be wary of foreign influence over protests in a country 
like Lebanon that outside powers are constantly meddling in.

Given the participation of their pro-American political rivals and the 
anti-Hezbollah sentiment among some segments of protesters, Hezbollah 
members understandably view the protests with deep suspicion.

At a demonstration of students from Lebanese American University (LAU) 
and American University of Beirut (AUB) on October 26, for example, 
there were chants in favor of disarming Hezbollah. Others chanted 
against Nasrallah. To Hezbollah ears, this rhetoric amounts to a call 
for the wholesale destruction of their movement.

At that same event, AUB president Fadlo Khuri joined student protesters, 
encouraging them to continue expressing themselves in the streets. 
Khuri’s sudden support for free expression came as a surprise to some 
who have worked under his administration. They describe him as 
right-wing and in line with US foreign policy.

Since Khuri took over AUB, pro-Palestine and pro-Hezbollah faculty have 
complained about his relentless hostility. It was Khuri, for example, 
who blocked 
<https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/04/14/reports-circulate-american-beirut-has-blocked-permanent-appointment>Palestinian-American 
professor Steven Salaita from securing a permanent position at the 
school. But now he has suddenly become a champion of free speech.


      Hijacking the protests

The leaderless, ideologically diffuse nature of Lebanon’s protest 
movement leaves it vulnerable to hijacking by powerful outside actors. 
Almost anyone can show up and inject their agenda into the movement, but 
under another name.

Most participants in downtown Beirut say they hate politics, had no 
interest in the country’s affairs before the protests, and appear easily 
moved by anyone with a slick message. They are the perfect audience for 
groups like Beirut Madinati and other civil society groups that spout 
empty platitudes and always seem to skirt the issue of Israel.

A telling moment arrived a week into the protests when an American AUB 
lecturer <https://staff.aub.edu.lb/~webbultn/v8n7/article10.htm>, Robert 
Gallagher, grabbed the microphone at a political discussion in downtown 
Beirut to call for the creation of a parallel government. Rather than 
shout Gallagher down, his audience erupted in applause.

    US 'colour revolution' agent tries to hijack Lebanese protests.
    Robert L. Gallagher, formerly US embassy, telling young #Lebanese
    <https://twitter.com/hashtag/Lebanese?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw>
    people "we have to take over the functions of government". Gallagher
    is in #Lebanon
    <https://twitter.com/hashtag/Lebanon?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw>
    since 2007 and a professor at the #American
    <https://twitter.com/hashtag/American?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw>
    University of Beirut pic.twitter.com/oilhXUt1wI
    <https://t.co/oilhXUt1wI>

    — tim anderson (@timand2037) October 29, 2019
    <https://twitter.com/timand2037/status/1189111487253532674?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw>

Regardless of the intentions of the leftists involved, Hezbollah views 
the calls for the downfall of the government as an attempt by its 
adversaries to reverse the party’s democratic victory in the 2018 
elections.

The dividing line between protesters and those critical of the 
demonstrations has become so extreme that friendships have ended. Some 
Lebanese are no longer invited to gatherings with friends for merely 
criticizing the Western-backed elements of the protests. And families 
supportive of Hezbollah have blocked relatives online for attending the 
demonstrations.

Despite the in-fighting, the leftist parties are still supportive of 
Hezbollah’s role as an armed resistance organization. This 
differentiates them from the liberals and right-wing elements in 
downtown Beirut who are centering their resentment on Hezbollah to an 
almost obsessive degree.

Rania Masri, an official with the leftist party Citizens in a State, has 
insisted that pro-resistance groups remain in the protest square rather 
than cede the ground to reactionary conservative groups.

“Do we let others who are involved decide the discourse? Or do we try to 
influence the discourse? We consider ourselves to be responsible 
therefore we will not be bystanders,” Masri remarked to me. “Foreign 
intervention is a given. The question becomes how to deal with them and 
protect the country. We have to be wise. And not leave the political 
discourse to them.”

While leftists attempt to hold the line, pro-US parties and activists 
affiliated with NGOs and civil society groups have been most successful 
in crafting the protest demands and occupying the media limelight. These 
elements have been especially adept at popularizing the call for a 
technocratic government that would boot Hezbollah out of any future 
administration.


      Demanding a technocratic government, looking to Hong Kong for
      inspiration

The protest demand which has garnered the most media attention has been 
the call for the installment of a “technocratic government.”

Activists from civil society groups have been pumping out printed fliers 
and posters clamoring for a technocratic government. Some of the major 
local media outlets owned by oligarchs with competing political agendas 
suddenly began reporting, with an unusually unified message, that the 
main protest demand was for technocracy.

This call quickly spread among non-ideological protesters across the 
country who have proven themselves to be susceptible to catchy slogans.

But what does a “technocratic government” mean in practice in Lebanon?

It would not necessarily comprise a non-political government, but one 
that would negate the key political issues that are confronting the 
country, especially Israel, Palestinian refugees, and the plight of the 
country’s poor.

Most importantly, a technocracy would mean a government without 
Hezbollah that cannot resist Israel or the extremist Gulf proxies that 
threatened Lebanon during the war on Syria. This is why Hezbollah and 
its allies have been so staunchly opposed to replacing the current 
government.

Unsurprisingly, this demand, which was initiated by pro-American 
political parties and US government-funded outfits, is music to the ears 
of Washington.

In his November testimony 
<https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/whats-next-for-lebanon-examining-the-implications-of-current-protests/>to 
congress, former US ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman highlighted 
the advantage in the demand: “With the demonstrators calling for a 
technocratic rather than political government, our public messaging can 
emphasize our expectation that a new Lebanese government, if it seeks 
international support, should effectively and immediately address the 
reform aspirations of the Lebanese people,” he said.

By clamoring for a technocracy, the veteran US operative argued, 
protesters can “seize the next electoral opportunity to strip Hezbollah 
of the parliamentary partners it uses as force multipliers to assert its 
will politically.”

The US Institute for Peace, a State Department cut-out that was founded 
under Reagan alongside the NED, echoed Feltman’s call.

    #Lebanon
    <https://twitter.com/hashtag/Lebanon?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw>'s
    protesters have several commons core demands: the resignation of the
    current cabinet; a new, technocratic, reformist government; and the
    reduction of taxes on poor communities. https://t.co/9ianOF9wbg

    — U.S. Institute of Peace (@USIP) October 28, 2019
    <https://twitter.com/USIP/status/1188805111797039104?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw>

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, Feltman’s longtime informant, was 
the first <http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/265795>to publicly call 
for a technocratic government, and has continued 
<https://www.lbcgroup.tv/news/d/lebanon-news/480400/geagea-calls-for-forming-technocratic-government-a/en> 
to do so 
<https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2019/Nov-08/495226-geagea-sees-politicians-on-another-planet-fears-unrest.ashx>. 
With his eyes on the presidency, Geagea has blamed Hezbollah for 
obstructing the formation of this technocratic government while lashing 
out at his Christian rivals, the FPM, for their alliance with the Shia 
party.

The social media influencer Gino Raidy 
<https://twitter.com/jaafarabdulkari/status/1189852025602924544?s=21> 
also amplified the call for the appointment of a technocratic 
government. Raidy is a popular blogger who sits on the board of March 
Lebanon, an NGO that receives funding from NED 
<https://marchlebanon.org/en/about/partners>in addition to the British 
and Canadian embassies <https://www.marchlebanon.org/en/about/>.

Through his Western-backed organization, Raidy has argued against the 
Lebanese government imposing boycotts on Israel 
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/lebanon-bans-new-film-the-post-citing-spielbergs-ties-to-israel/2018/01/15/7cbefacc-fa0f-11e7-b832-8c26844b74fb_story.html>. 
He has also expressed disdain 
<https://ginosblog.com/chill-wonder-woman-isnt-banned-in-lebanon-16c07d481780>for 
activists in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions 
(BDS) movement on his personal blog.

Raidy recently bragged on Instagram about meeting with a Hong Kong 
protester in Lebanon 
<https://www.instagram.com/p/B4vP21cHFR-/?igshid=60nvy9h6gzja>on 
November 11 –  the same day Nasrallah gave a speech emphasizing need for 
Lebanon to defy the United States and open up to China.

This was not the first time Raidy has expressed interest in Hong Kong. 
Three days into the Lebanon protests, he wrote on Instagram 
<https://www.instagram.com/p/B32lgc8HWZC/>, “If we need to, we will 
resist like our brothers and sisters in Hong Kong.”

The Hong Kong protests have rapidly transformed into a separatist 
movement that has overseen terrifying acts of violence against 
supporters of China, including the recent lighting of a man on fire 
<https://edition.cnn.com/2019/11/10/asia/hong-kong-protester-shot-intl-hnk/index.html>for 
disagreeing with anti-Beijing activists. An elderly man was killed with 
a brick 
<https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3037822/hong-kong-protests-elderly-man-hit-head-brick-during-clash>for 
the same reason.

Many Hong Kong opposition figures receive funding from the same US 
sources 
<https://thegrayzone.com/2019/08/17/hong-kong-protest-washington-nativism-violence/>as 
Raidy, and are openly coordinating with American political leadership.

Raidy admitted on his widely read blog that his initial excitement about 
getting involved in the protests had everything to do with exploiting 
anti-Hezbollah sentiment. “The moment that made me get in my car and 
drive down to protest, was seeing men and women in Dahieh and Nabatieh 
coming out and showing clear dissent towards the Shia duo of Hezbollah 
and Amal,” he wrote 
<https://ginosblog.com/lebanons-protests-some-thoughts-after-the-2nd-day-e0d6838c4265>.

Antoun Issa <https://www.mei.edu/experts/antoun-issa>, a non-resident 
scholar at the UAE-funded Middle East Institute 
<https://thegrayzone.com/tag/middle-east-institute/>, also called for a 
technocratic government, tweeting 
<https://twitter.com/antissa/status/1189871137397891073?s=21>, 
“Protestors demands are clear – from north to south, to Beirut and the 
Bekaa. An independent, technocratic government.” Soon after, Issa 
agitated 
<https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/470037-unrest-in-lebanon-and-iraq-is-a-chance-for-the-us-to-turn-the?amp>for 
Washington to use the protests in Lebanon and Iraq against Iran.

After his recent resignation, the longtime US ally Hariri conditioned 
<https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2019/Nov-12/495391-hezbollah-role-seen-blocking-salvation-govt.ashx>his 
participation in a future government on it being technocratic and 
politically neutral. Hezbollah, meanwhile, was pushing for a mixed 
government with space for both politicians and technocrats.

With Hariri refusing to budge on his insistence 
<https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1998671/lebanon-hariri-insists-technocrat-government-not-rushing-preside-it>on 
a technocratic government, negotiations over the formation of a new 
cabinet have collapsed, plunging the government into a gridlock as 
economic catastrophe looms.


      Bringing Ukraine to Beirut

Hong Kong is not the only US-backed color revolution upheaval being 
marketed to protesters in Lebanon.

On November 8, a group called ARD.NEWS <https://www.ard.news/>screened 
the controversial 
<https://www.thenation.com/article/the-heartbreaking-irony-of-winter-on-fire/>Netflix 
documentary “Winter On Fire.” The film presents a one-sided view of the 
Euromaidan <https://thegrayzone.com/tag/euromaidan/> protests, 
completely erasing the neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist elements that 
formed the front lines of the demonstrations to topple the government 
and replace it with a hopelessly corrupt, EU-friendly technocracy.

This conflict has turned Ukraine into Europe’s poorest country, 
rendering its citizens dependent on a remittance economy and desperate 
to leave. A civil war has broken out in the country’s east, where the US 
has supplied arms to the Ukrainian military and ancillary groups like 
the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion 
<https://thegrayzone.com/tag/azov-battalion/> to fight Russian-backed 
separatists.

“Winter on Fire” has also been screened at anti-government US-backed 
protests in Hong Kong and Venezuela. The film is essentially a how-to 
guide for effectively shutting down a city and toppling a government 
through violent, sustained street protests. (ARD.NEWS has also featured 
the NED-funded activist Gino Raidy at their events.)

ARDfounder Michel Saman is a 28-year-old French-Lebanese entrepreneur 
who left his travel startup in France to participate in the protests in 
Lebanon. He and his ARD colleagues live mostly outside of Lebanon. They 
hope that by screening films like the one about Ukraine, they can help 
inspire the protesters in the country, though it is unclear what they 
hope to achieve.

“And if it turns bloody, we live outside, we’ll come back in five years 
and revolution, revolution, revolution. But there is a chance right 
now,” Saman told me.

He added that the uprising in Lebanon has presented a market opportunity.

Asked how ARD was financing its project, Saman stated, “So far we didn’t 
need any funding. Yes a lot of organizations here are funded, but we’re 
not serving food. We’re really educating the mind for free. It costs us 
$50 for a speaker. Instead of having a beer I just pay $50, you know 
it’s nothing.”

When ARD’s event host Maya Acra asked the audience what similarities 
they saw between the protests in Lebanon and Ukraine, she was met with 
blank stares. No one raised their hand to speak during a 
question-and-answer period. Weeks later, when the documentary was 
screened in Tripoli, its impact remained unclear.

It remains to be seen whether the protests can be co-opted and 
redirected towards US-centric regime-change goals. For now, they remain 
focused on the economy, but the atmosphere is growing more tense by the day.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

/In part two of this report, we will see how US-backed political parties 
are employing provocative tactics to turn up the heat on Hezbollah and 
its allies, while hardliners in Washington refine their plans to exploit 
the deepening economic desperation of average Lebanese citizens./


Rania Khalek is an independent journalist living in Beirut, Lebanon. She 
is the co-host of the Unauthorized Disclosure 
<https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/unauthorized-disclosure/id824470090?mt=2> 
podcast.

-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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