[This is a monthly roundup of news articles and other materials circulating on Resistance, Subversion, and Social Mobilization in the Arab world and reflects a wide variety of opinions. It does not reflect the views of the DARS Page Editors or of Jadaliyya. You may send your own recommendations for inclusion in each monthly roundup to DARS@jadaliyya.com.]
Protesters in Lebanon Demand Economic Relief as Coronavirus Lockdown Eases, The Wall Street Journal (28 April 2020)
As lockdown restrictions ease in Lebanon, protesters have returned to the streets to demand relief from the country’s ailing economy. One person was killed in Tripoli as demonstrators clashed with soldiers.
75% of Lebanon needs aid after coronavirus, and hungry protesters are back on the streets, CNN (29 April 2020)
Rising hunger and a deepening economic crisis have sparked renewed protests against the Lebanese government. After nearly two months of lockdown, food prices are skyrocketing and the Lebanese lira is in free-fall.
‘We are starving’: Hunger and economic collapse drive Lebanon’s protesters back to the streets, The Independent (29 April 2020)
Protesters have defied the coronavirus curfew and social distancing measures to express their outrage at Lebanon’s worst financial crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. They firebombed cash machines in the north of the country as others gathered around the Central Bank in Beirut as the Lebanese lira plummeted to a low of 4,300 to the US dollar.
Lebanon: Hunger Protests Besiege Diab’s Government, Asharq Al-Awsat (29 April 2020)
Over the last few days of April, Lebanese citizens staged overnight demonstrations and blocked off roads in Beirut and northern Lebanon. Prime Minister Hassan Diab describes the developments and attacks on private property as “malicious intentions to shake security.”
Iraq Protesters return to Tahrir Square, denounce PM-designate, Middle East Monitor (29 April 2020)
Iraqi protesters gathered in Tahrir Square in Baghdad after the government enacted a partial relaxation of its anti-coronavirus measures during the month of Ramadan. Some held photos of Prime Minister-designate Mustafa Kadhimi with a red “X” on his face in rejection of his candidacy.
Palestinians protest against heavy-handed Israeli response to coronavirus lockdown, Middle East Eye (1 April 2020)
Protests broke out in Jaffa after police attacked five young men and arrested four, leading to a more aggressive response from Israeli officers in the predominantly Palestinian community. According to Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council member Amir Badran, the incident began when police stopped a teenager and asked for identification.
Israelis protest at court ahead of anti-Netanyahu petitions, The Daily Star (30 April 2020)
Dozens gathered outside of Israel’s Supreme Court to rally against petitions to disqualify Benjamin Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while facing criminal charges. The court was scheduled to hear petitions from several nonprofit advocacy groups against a coalition government deal reached by Netanyahu and former army chief Benny Gantz. Netanyahu was charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.
Algeria Sentences Another Protest Figure to Jail, Asharq Al-Awsat (6 April 2020)
An Algerian court sentenced Abdelouahab Fersaoui, who heads the civic youth group Youth Action Rally and has become a leading figure in the country’s Hirak protest movement, to one year in jail. He was arrested in October during a demonstration and has been accused of carrying out an “attack on the integrity of the national territory.”
Opinion & Commentary
Lebanon’s protests are far from over, Al-Jazeera (27 April 2020)
Aya Majzoub points out that although the streets of Lebanon have gone quiet, the rampant corruption, extreme inequality, regressive tax system, rapidly deteriorating standards of living, and almost non-existent social safety net that drove a million Lebanese people to the streets to protest are as prevalent as ever. Months before the COVID-19 outbreak, the World Bank predicted that the portion of Lebanon’s population living below the poverty line would rise from thirty percent to fifty percent in 2020. She predicts that although the majority of citizens are still at home, they will return to the streets in a renewed fight against inequality, sectarianism, and corruption.
The Coronavirus Has Put an End to Mass Protests in the Middle East (For Now), The National Interest (3 April 2020)
Stratfor Worldview notes that although the COVID-19 pandemic has quelled the protest movements across the Middle East and North Africa, the underlying factors driving these movements remain largely unresolved. It concludes that the resulting economic crises in these countries will leave them with even fewer tools to appease protesters once the pandemic is over.
Will the Virus Trigger a Second Arab Spring? The New York Times (6 April 2020)
Frederic Wehrey argues that a swift public health and economic response could strengthen authoritarian rule by these regimes, but not indefinitely. He points out that a critical lesson of the 2011 Arab uprisings and the protests that erupted last year is that without more inclusive governance, less corruption and greater economic equity, the demands for citizen buy-in are likely to grow in the Middle East in the pandemic’s aftermath.
Iraq is fudging its coronavirus figures to quell public rage, TRT World (16 April 2020)
Tallha Abdulrazaq draws attention to numerous reports warning that Iraq’s COVID-19 numbers are much higher than official figures. In mid-April, the government reported only 1,400 cases with 78 deaths—figures that are quite clearly fudged. He concludes that with the Iraqi government now standing accused of falsifying the true extent of the virus, Iraqis will begin to wonder why they tolerate a regime that plays political games with their lives and could be the spark they need to solidify their popular dissent for years to come until real change comes to Iraq.
Iraqis, Lebanese not to compromise on reforms, Gulf Today (12 April 2020)
Michael Jensen points out that while the coronavirus pandemic has driven Lebanese and Iraqi revolutionaries from the streets and squares of their countries, they are devising new means of sustaining their demands for political reform. He concludes that an easing of social distancing restrictions is certain to bring more Iraqis and Lebanese to the streets than before the pandemic given the devastating effect that COVID-19 will have on both countries.
Algeria’s Ruling Cabal Can’t Buy Its Way Out of Trouble, Bloomberg (2 April 2020)
Bobby Ghosh assesses the current status of Algeria’s ruling elite, and points out that in the December 2019 presidential election all five candidates were regime loyalists, which greatly displeased many in the Hirak protest movement. He concludes that come summer, the ruling elite may find it expedient to make a major sacrifice to appease the popular mood.
Arts & Culture
World Press Photo Winner Captures Poetic Moment At A Protest, NPR (17 April 2020)
The World Press Photo Foundation announced on Thursday the winners of its 2020 photo and storytelling contests, one of which was photographer Yasuyoshi Chiba’s image “Straight Voice.” The photo captures a young man amid a blackout in Khartoum with his face illuminated by the cell phones of protesters.
Celebrating the power of collective action, Gulf News (4 April 2020)
The latest exhibition at Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) celebrates the power of collective action and the resilience of the human spirit in overcoming the most difficult challenges. The show brings together the work of nine artists that offer an insiders’ perspective of the recent wave of protests across much of the Arab world.
Yemen’s Al-Mahrah calls for armed resistance against Saudi ‘occupation,’ Middle East Monitor (12 March 2020)
Shaikh Ali al-Harizi, a leader of the resistance movement in the Yemeni province of al-Mahrah that opposes Saudi and UAE involvement in Yemen, has called for armed resistance against the Saudi occupation following recent Saudi air raids. In an interview with YemenNet, al-Harizi confirmed that “the sons of Mahrah” are at war with Saudi forces, which he stated have violated Yemen’s sovereignty.
Tensions escalate in Derra, ‘cradle of the Syrian revolution,’ Al-Jazeera (5 March 2020)
In the southern Syrian province of Deraa, tensions escalated after government forces led by the Syrian president’s brother Maher al-Assad carried out a raid against opposition fighters controlling parts of the town of al-Sanamayn. Deraa was an opposition stronghold until 2018 when Russian and Iranian-backed government forces launched an operation to retake the province. According to Istanbul-based researcher Ahmed Aba Zeid, Deraa is a unique case when compared to other Syrian provinces, as it did not have a mass exodus after the regime takeover, with many supporters of the revolution and opposition fighters refusing to leave.
Iraq’s PM-designate faces resistance of Shia bloc, The Arab Weekly (22 March 2020)
Iraqi President Barham Salih asked Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi to form a new government on 17 March by after two large parliamentary blocs failed to nominate a candidate. Zurfi faces a tough task of bringing together Iraq’s fractured political scene. Zurfi has announced a twelve-point plan, which includes early snap elections, addressing the COVID-19 threat and securing Iraq’s 2020 federal budget. Shi‘i parties have begun a media campaign against Zurfi, accusing him of corruption while he was governor of Najaf, a position which he was appointed to by US civilian administrator Paul Bremer following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
For Iraqis, no easy escape from Iran’s domination, Arab News (2 March 2020)
The Iraqi government is currently faced with two destabilizing forces: the grassroots political movement calling for the resignation of the current legislative body and the transparent prosecution of corrupt political representatives, and the deeply entrenched influence of the Iranian regime. Independent observers say that Baghdad has two options: to remain a puppet or Iran and continue its failed attempt at repressing the protests or take the demands of the Iraqi people seriously and adopt a pro-sovereignty doctrine.
IMF deal would spark ‘popular revolution’ in Lebanon, Hezbollah believes, Reuters (3 March 2020)
In response to ongoing discussions of a possible IMF bailout package as a solution to Lebanon’s public debt crisis, a senior Hizballah official stated that such a deal would spark “a popular revolution.” Hizballah MP Hassan Fadlallah told Reuters that his party’s position was against this type of program and not against the IMF as an organization.
Iraq’s protesters struggle to keep waning movement going, The Associated Press (14 March 2020)
Over the past six months, the Iraqi protest movement has faced one setback after another, with the coronavirus pandemic serving as yet another major blow to the demonstrators’ momentum. In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, only a few hundred protesters turn up where once thousands would gather to decry rampant government corruption, poor social services, and unemployment. A looming economic crisis linked to the current pandemic and ongoing political dysfunction could eventually breathe new life into the movement, however.
Lebanon’s Government Is Accused Of Swarming WhatsApp To Catch Protesters, NPR (9 March 2020)
Authorities in Lebanon are using WhatsApp to identify protest leaders and arrest them. After Lebanon’s mainstream media outlets, many of which are owned by the state, downplayed the protests, activists turned to social media platforms to spread their message. According to Beirut-based researcher Aya Majzoub, Lebanese activists can go to prison for saying something that can be deemed as defamatory to public officials on social media.
‘They’re the virus’: Iraq’s coronavirus outbreak refuels anti-government protests, Rudaw (3 March 2020)
The coronavirus pandemic has fueled the grievances of Iraqi protesters, who have been demonstrating against corruption and poor public services for six months. Iraqis have taken public health into their own hands, as activists deliver lectures on coronavirus prevention and hand out free medical masks. The threat of COVID-19 is particularly dire in Iraq, which has fewer than ten doctors for every ten thousand residents according to the World Health Organization.
Popular, Political Pressure on Algerian Judiciary to Try Bouteflika, Asharq Al-Awsat (3 March 2020)
The Algerian judiciary has been facing popular and political pressure to try former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in major corruption cases that landed a number of his former senior aides behind bars. A judge at the Justice Ministry’s Judicial Research Center said the former president will likely be given a written interrogation. Former minister and diplomat Abdelaziz Rahabi spoke openly in a television interview and asserted that Bouteflika’s trial is required “even if symbolically.”
Opinion & Commentary
Since You Cannot Protect Us, Resign, Asharq Al-Awsat (5 March 2020)
Hanna Saleh points to the Lebanese Prime Minister’s admission that the Lebanese state is no longer capable of protecting the Lebanese and providing them with a dignified life and continues to critique his recent public remarks. Saleh concludes that the anger of Lebanese citizens is legitimate, and their task is to take back power so that the country and its citizens are liberated from division, arrogance, and the continual violation of their rights.
New Iraqi prime minister faces uphill task, Gulf News (18 March 2020)
The Gulf News Editorial Board argues newly appointed Iraqi Prime Minister Adnan al-Zurfi faces a tough task in dealing with the ongoing protests, frequent rocket attacks on coalition forces, American air raids on Iran-backed militias, and the coronavirus outbreak. Zurfi has promised to hold new elections within a year of forming his cabinet and pledged to respond to the demands of protesters to end corruption.
How powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr could snuff out Iraq’s mass street protests, The Washington Post (4 March 2020)
While initially supportive of the protest movement in Iraq, Shi‘i cleric Moqtada al-Sadr switched his position and fractured the movement. His supporters initially added heft to the movement, but some have now turned on the protesters and attacked the cleric’s critics with knives. One expert has noted that Sadr decided it was time to trade his backing of the popular movement for a central role in the coalition of Iranian-backed militias. Considering his significant following and his opposition to the protesters’ demands for radical change, it could be Sadr who extinguishes this historic movement.
What do Algerians really want? Daily Sabah (2 March 2020)
Abdennour Toumi points out that since the Algerian presidential election of December 2019, the Hirak protest movement’s imperatives and dynamics changed, as not much has improved for Algerians since the ouster of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Toumi argues that in order for the movement to create real change, the Hirak needs to incorporate real opposition, professional media, a sharp elite, connected civil society activists, and structured labor unions.
Coronavirus Blunts Momentum of Second Arab Spring, Bloomberg (26 March 2020)
Bobby Ghosh refers to the recent wave of protests as a “Second Arab Spring” and assesses the current state of the protest movements in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, and Iraq. He acknowledged that in each country lingers the sense of a job left unfinished as their political systems remain largely intact. He asserts that protesters should shift their focus to online activism, although this approach is becoming more difficult to pull off.
The Palestinians refuse to give up their cause, deal or no deal, Middle East Monitor (16 March 2020)
Dr. Adnan Abu Amer discusses the economic aspects of Donal Trump’s “deal of the century,” which he views as an attempt to buy Palestinians’ approval of the plan. Of the fifty-billion-dollar total provided for in the deal, twenty-eight billion dollars would be allocated to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. He asserts that all of the financial incentives are meaningless given the failure to create a real breakthrough in the frozen political negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, as it is impossible to separate the economy from the political and security situation in occupied Palestine.
Hezbollah fears IMF conditions could reignite Lebanon’s uprising, Al-Arabiya (17 March 2020)
David Daoud asserts that Lebanon is headed towards an inevitable economic collapse, and points out that Hizballah has distanced itself from Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who has asked the IMF to help Lebanon avert the looming crisis. IMF austerity measures would likely reignite the protest movement that Hizballah worked so hard to quell. Daoud concludes that Hizballah does not want to see a more prosperous Lebanon, as such an outcome would create credible competitors to its state-within-a-state and its powerful patronage system. He adds that Hizballah does, however, wish to avoid total paralysis as this could lead to Lebanon’s economic collapse and widespread instability.
Commemorating Land Day amid lockdown in Palestine, Al-Jazeera (30 March 2020)
This year, Palestinians will commemorate Land Day at home amid the coronavirus pandemic that has left much of the global population under lockdown. Yara Hawari points out that this is not a new experience for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who are accustomed to lacking freedom of movement. She also draws attention to the fact that Israel is exploiting the lockdown as the Israeli government continues to preside over the removal of Palestinians from their land. She concludes that, while Israeli settler colonial expansionism will not rest, neither will Palestinian perseverance.
Algeria’s women: Unsung heroes of the revolution, Middle East Eye (8 March 2020)
Malia Bouattia marked International Women’s Day by drawing attention to Algerian women’s participation in revolution, both past and present. She recounts the life of Nabila Djahnine, a women’s rights activist who was assassinated during the civil war in the 1990s, and states that Algerian women were betrayed in the aftermath of the revolution and independence as the regime consolidated its power. She also describes her aunt Nejma’s contributions to the struggle for women’s rights, and acknowledges the ongoing battle of millions of Algerian women for equal treatment and a better life.
Arts & Culture
In Lebanon, the revolution will be televised, Al-Monitor (22 March 2020)
In mid-February, the first online channel dedicated to covering the revolution in Lebanon started testing, and is set to begin broadcasting in the coming months. Called Assolta4 TV, the program will feature interview and opinion programs on the movement’s goals and demands along with news coverage of social and political issues. The channel will not be competing with traditional media and has no major funders.
The Public Source: a website started by two journalists changing the way Lebanon’s stories are told, The National (5 March 2020)
A Lebanese non-profit digital media project called The Public Source launched in January with the intent of publishing in-depth long-form investigative reports focusing on the causes of the current popular movement in Lebanon. The bilingual English-Arabic site launched with a series of first-person reflections on and analyses of the protest movement, and also includes articles such as Lebanon’s brain drain and the impact of the country’s economic problems on migrant domestic workers.
Malcolm X and the Sudanese, Al-Jazeera (18 March 2020)
The Sudanese revolution has sparked an interest in pan-Africanism among Sudanese youth and celebrations of Nubian culture, although many are still unaware of how much Malcolm X was drawn to Nubian civilization and the deep impact that it had on him. The civil rights activist traveled to Sudan in 1959, and referenced his visit to the country throughout his lifetime. Ahmed Osman, a Sudanese man who grew up during the first wave of African decolonization, told the author that he saw Malcolm X as a part of the Sudanese revolution given his love for the country.
Palestine’s recent history through political landscape posters, Middle East Monitor (17 March 2020)
A poster collection assembled by Palestinian ambassador Ali Kazak in the 1970s has recently arrived at the Palestinian Museum in Birzeit. Such political posters were produced by the PLO and Fatah to provide a counter-narrative to refute the false claims being made by Zionists between the mid-1960s and late-1980s. The show opened on 25 February and quickly attracted attention, but the exhibit is now closed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
5 Syrian-Directed Documentaries That Reclaim Syria’s Revolutionary Narrative, Egyptian Streets (3 March 2020)
In recent years, a new generation of Syrian filmmakers has emerged who are dedicated to putting the voices of their countrymen and women at the forefront of the conversation. Five films, in particular, have drawn the author’s praise, including a documentary featuring ninety minutes of raw scenes from life in the war-torn country and a piece depicting the story of Dr. Amani Ballour, the first woman to ever lead a hospital in Syria.
Algerian women embrace a spirit of resilience and revolution, Al-Jazeera (12 March 2020)
Against the backdrop of the current anti-government Hirak protest movement, a new generation of Algerian women are finding inspiration from female freedom fighters from Algeria’s past. Revolutionary figures such as the eighty-four-year-old Djamila Bouhirad are speaking out to encourage Algeria’s youth to take their future into their own hands and continue fighting for positive change.
Palestinian Cinema in the Days of Revolution, The New Arab (3 March 2020)
Nadia Yaqub’s research on Palestinian cinema reveals how Palestinian film emerged from the trauma that occurred while Palestinians were resisting the occupation of their land. In her book Palestinian Cinema in the Days of Revolution, Nadia Yaqub studies Palestinian films “within regional and global conversations and practices surrounding the filmmaking and politics of the era.”