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L’Orient-Le Jour is a French-language newspaper published in Lebanon. Founded in 1971 after the merger of L’Orient and Le Jour, it is said to be the most liberal newspaper in the Arab world.
Members of the Young People Against Corona campaign in Tripoli, Libya
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

The Kids Are Alright: What's Missing In The COVID-19/Youth Narrative

In the rush to vilify 'irresponsible' young people, we too often overlook the efforts they're making every day to help us through the pandemic and make the world a better place.

The headline is being repeated around the world: Young people are disregarding social distancing guidelines and sparking a rapid rise in coronavirus cases.

The narrative fits within stereotypes that seem to come around with each new generation: Self-centered youth have little regard for the well-being of others and, despite the real risk, believe themselves immune to disease and other mortal threats. But while some Millennials are seeking solace in large-scale gatherings (from a birthday party in Melbourne to a rave in central France and karaoke bars in Japan), many others are using their privilege to aid in the crisis response.

Young people are serving as vaccine testers. They're working essential jobs. Many have gotten involved in volunteer work. If they are in otherwise good health, these teenagers and 20-somethings are less susceptible to severe forms of coronavirus, and this protected status has a tangible benefit to others.

Human challenge trials have been proposed as a way to fast-track a coronavirus vaccine, but to be done ethically, this unconventional approach requires healthy, young participants. The advocacy group 1 Day Sooner has signed up over 32,600 challenge trial volunteers from 140 countries. Co-founder Sophie Rose — age 22 — had been conducting cancer research at the University of Oxford when the pandemic hit.

Many are using their privilege to aid in the crisis response.

"If the last six months have taught us nothing else, the progression of this entire thing has been fairly uncertain," she told the journal Science. "There is a world in which we have a vaccine by then and that would be great, but there's also a world in which we don't. I know I would much rather live in a world where we were ready to implement a human challenge study."

Younger people are also uniquely adaptable to transitioning their efforts to give back online and garner support virtually. Mutual aid networks have popped up in places ranging from Germany to the UK to around the United States. This concept is not new: The term "mutual aid" dates back to 19th- and 20th-century Russian philosopher Peter Kropotki. But now, young community members are organizing through Google spreadsheets, providing financial support to the most vulnerable as well as help with food and medical deliveries and other services.

Young pro-democracy protesters at a Harry Potter-themed demonstration in Bangkok on Aug. 3 — Photo: Andre Malerba/ZUMA

"There are safeguarding concerns, and that is why we are encouraging people to keep it as local as possible," 23-year-old Seren John-Wood, who helped establish a mutual aid project in Lewisham, told the British dailyThe Guardian. "The solidarity that has emerged from this is incredible. We are hoping this will forge long-lasting connections."

Younger people have also been at the forefront of recent protest movements, demanding a global reckoning on racism and holding elected leaders accountable in their handling of the COVID-19 crisis. In Thailand, youth recently dressed up as Harry Potter characters at demonstrations against King Rama X, who spent quarantine at a hotel in Europe. Marching at universities and town halls, they called for increased freedoms and an overhaul of the Thai constitution.

After Tuesday's catastrophic explosion, it was Beirut's young population who became first responders.

In Lebanon, anti-government protests that began in 2019 were revitalized earlier this summer, largely by young people and students who have been hit hard by the country's economic crisis. As one young protestor told L'Orient-Le Jour, "I demand the fall of this rotten power. We have no jobs, no roads, no water, no electricity. What more do you want?"

And after Tuesday's catastrophic explosion, it was Beirut's young population who became first responders, going from relaxing in bars and restaurants (it was the first day they were allowed to be open after quarantine) to cleaning up the streets, repairing structural damage and helping the wounded.

The deadly blast was a crushing blow to a country already deep in crisis. But it also showed the ability of young activists to put their words into action, proving that when long-held institutions of power fail, those wanting a better world for future generations are prepared to step in.

Saad Hariri resigned as Lebanon's prime minister on Nov. 4

Lebanon, Palace Intrigue And Risks Of The Next Proxy War


Lebanon can be seen as a microcosm for the entire Middle East: intractable sectarian conflict, economic potential, terrorist threats and a labyrinthine web of competing national interests. These days, it seems, the small nation of just over six million inhabitants risks again becoming the live theater for the region to play out its many rivalries with the next proxy war.

The surprise resignation one week ago of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has indeed had repercussions well beyond Beirut, not least because it was announced from the Saudi capital. A Sunni Muslim with dual Lebanese-Saudi nationality, Hariri had been leading a national unity government that included the Shia party/military organization/terror group Hezbollah, a close ally of Iran, Saudi Arabia's archrival. In his strongly-worded resignation speech, Hariri — whose father, former Prime Minister Rafik, was assassinated in 2005 allegedly by Hezbollah — said he feared for his own life, and attacked both the organization and Tehran, saying that "Iran's arms in the region will be cut off."

The move quickly fueled speculation that Hariri had been at least pressured, if not detained, by Saudi Arabia, as part of the kingdom's broader strategy against Iran. Hariri's televised interview Sunday, in which he said he would "soon" return to Lebanon to formally hand in his resignation that President Michel Aoun has so far refused, will have done little to contradict this perception, as The New York Times noted.

Saudi Arabia is trying to "move its confrontation with Iran from Syria to Lebanon."

French journalist Jean-Pierre Perrin of the investigative website Mediapart offers further suspicions of foul play by Riyadh. The journalist noted the virtually simultaneous news of Hariri's resignation and the wave of highly-politicized arrests led by Saudi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Perrin reports that Hariri and his construction company Saudi Oger (which closed in July) allegedly played an important role in laundering money for Mohammed bin Salman's rivals, many of whom were arrested in what critics have described as a purge. Seen from this angle, a trapped Hariri provides the Crown Prince with the stone that could kill two birds: reinforce his hand domestically and increase the pressure on Iran.

Beyond that, these moves might also serve to show, as former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro wrote in Haaretz, that Saudi Arabia is trying to "move its confrontation with Iran from Syria to Lebanon," with Iran's ally Bashar al-Assad "clearly having survived the challenge posed by Saudi-backed rebels." And some observers are worried that by shifting the focus to Lebanon, Riyadh is trying to draw Israel into the conflict and get it to "do its dirty work."

Writing for Hebrew-language website Walla, Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff plays down the risk of an escalation because of Hariri, but he observes nonetheless that "it's been a very long time since the Sunni-Shia split was this sharp and clear. The removal of the Islamic State from the scene also removes the common interest of the Iranians and the Saudis, leaving an unbridgeable gap. This is a basic religious gap, a conflict more than 1,400 years old, which has reemerged."

In Beirut meanwhile, La Stampa"s Giordano Stabile reports that most people believe the theory of Hariri as "a prisoner of Riyadh" and that the fear of yet another war is on everybody's minds. In his editorial for the Lebanese French-speaking newspaper L'Orient-Le Jour, Elie Fayad urges the country to "get out of the mess it finds itself in. ... Because if Saudi Arabia has shot itself in the foot, as some seem to believe, Lebanon should avoid aiming at its own brains."

One can only hope. But sadly, for both the people of Lebanon and the entire Middle East, it again looks like the gun is in the hands of others.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon
Giacomo Tognini

The Latest Anti-Immigrant Party On The Rise ... In Lebanon

The Lebanese 'Party of Hope' calls for the immediate expulsion of more than one million Syrian refugees.

ZOUK MOSBEH — Dozens of supporters turned out recently in this coastal town north of Beirut to inaugurate a new political party, the Lebanese Party of Hope, which advocates the expulsion of an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees currently in Lebanon.

The Beirut-based daily L'Orient-Le Jourreports that the question of what will happen to the refugees once the Syrian civil war draws to a close is a deeply divisive topic in Lebanese politics. Some parties are pushing for a voluntary repatriation led by the refugees themselves, while others prefer the involvement of security forces.

The Party of Hope is demanding immediate negotiations with the Syrian government to repatriate all of the displaced. "The government must block Syrians from entering and must re-establish control over our borders, revoke the refugee status of Syrian refugees who cross the border and seek more international aid to deal with the situation," party leader Farès Ftouhi told L'Orient-Le Jour.

We aren't against Syrians, we are for them.

Lebanese parties that oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refuse to talk to him, as any negotiation is perceived as legitimizing his regime. The Lebanese government has distanced itself from Assad since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, a choice decried by the Shia Lebanese militia Hezbollah, a staunch ally of Damascus.

The Party of Hope warns that delaying the issue further could lead to a back-door naturalization of Syrian refugees, though that is unconstitutional. Granting Lebanese citizenship to millions of predominantly Sunni Muslim Syrians would upend Lebanon's political landscape, in which religion determines everything from the presidency to the number of seats a party wins in parliament.

"We aren't against Syrians, we are for them," said Ftouhi. "We support their secure and orderly return to Syria."


Beirut Bombing Kills 43, ‘Unacceptable' Says L'Orient Le Jour

Two suicide bombings claimed by ISIS killed 43 people and at least 239 others Thursday evening in the Lebanese capital's southern neighborhood of Bourj el-Barajneh, a busy commercial and residential and stronghold of Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah.

The Lebanese daily L'Orient-Le Jourcalled the attack "unacceptable" on its front page Friday, which was decreed a national day of mourning. "The fear of terrorist attacks in Lebanon reappeared a few days ago with analysis linked to developments in Syria," the French-speaking newspaper also says. "No one, however, expected this fear to become true so soon with a double bombing in the heart of Beirut's southern suburb (where) Hezbollah is the most vulnerable."

The two blasts, which reportedly happened seven minutes apart, are the deadliest terrorist attack in the country since the end of the civil war in 1990. They are also the first to target a Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon in more than a year, at a time where the group is increasing its involvement in the neighboring Syrian conflict.

L'Orient-Le Jour quotes Hezbollah members as saying that a third suicide bomber failed to detonate his explosive belt as he was killed by the first explosion. Local residents cite the heroism of a man named Adel Termos, who stopped one of the terrorists from entering a Shia mosque, full of people praying, before he detonated in the street.


Russia Stepping Into Syria Is Sign Of Iran Failure To Protect Assad

Russia's decision to send troops into Syria in defense of its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, is now at the center of a major diplomatic standoff between Moscow and the West. But the move by Russian President Vladimir Putin to send military support to combat ISIS insurgents is also a sign of concerns at the military "shortcomings" of the Hezbollah militia and Iran's revolutionary guards, which have been fighting alongside Assad since 2011.

As regional powers and the West mull over a possible political solution to nearly five years of civil war, Russia's "immediate" concern was said to be for "Tehran's evident military incapacity to protect" the Assad regime, writes Philippe Abi-Akl, a columnist in Lebanon's L'Orient Le Jour.

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Hezbollah flag in Lebanon. Photo: OpenDemocracy

According to Abi-Akl, Hezbollah — a militia that Iran created in Lebanon in the 1980s — and Iran's own revolutionary guards, had "failed" to beat Syrian rebels and secure key regime positions on the Golan Heights.

Western observers believe Russian entry was subject to "prior coordination between Moscow and Tehran," the columnist reports.

Russia's enhanced standing as a key mediator, if not the principal foreign actor, in the Syrian war, Abi-Akl has "blatantly eclipsed Iran's role." Beside winning the "trust" of the Syrian regime, he concludes, Russia had "deftly" managed to "weave" ties with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two powers keen to see Iran as absent in Syria.