May 07/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

Second Letter to the Corinthians 09,01a/.05-15/"Now it is not necessary for me to write to you about the ministry to the saints, So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion. The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, ‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!'

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 06-07/18
Low turnout and high stakes as battles play out across Lebanon/Najia Houssari/Arab News/May 06/18
Queue-jumping, wasta and paying for votes — just another election day in Beirut/Tarek Ali Ahmad/Arab News/May 06/18
Hezbollah sips at the heart of the Lebanese state/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/May 06/18
Latest Lebanese Related News/ The Associated Press/ May 06/18
A Look at the Key Players In the Lebanese Elections/Associated Press/Naharnet/May 06/18
Saudi Arabia’s Quality of Life Program Vs Skeptics/Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al Awsat/May 06/18
Mike Pompeo and US diplomacy victories without bullets/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/May 06/18
No excuse for our ignorance in an information age/Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/May 06/18
When will Iraq become another Armenia/Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/May 06/18
Armenian Genocide: Turkey Cracks Down/Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/May 06/18
Protesting Iranians disregard regime’s clampdown/Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/May 06, 2018

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on May 06-07/18
Lebanon's Fake and illegitimate Parliamentary Elections
Early Results Emerge in Lebanon's Parliamentary Vote
Low turnout and high stakes as battles play out across Lebanon
Queue-jumping, wasta and paying for votes — just another election day in Beirut
Long-lasting Parliament Bids Farewell: Many Failures, Modest Achievements
Lebanon: Fierce Electoral Battle to Weigh Strength of Sunni, Christian Leaders
Polling begins in Lebanon’s first parliamentary election in 9 years
Hezbollah sips at the heart of the Lebanese state
Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 06-07/18
Aoun Casts Vote, Urges Lebanese to Practice 'National Right Out of Conviction'
LADE Says Mashnouq ‘Violates Election Silence’
Minor Clashes, Violations Mar Electoral Process
First-Time Voters Eager to Weigh in on Lebanese Election
Vote Unlikely to Change Lebanon Balance of Power
A Look at the Key Players In the Lebanese Elections
Hariri Says No Fear over Security after Elections
Key Political Players Wrangle in Heated Chouf-Aley Vote
Top Parties Seek to Protect Monopoly as Lebanon Votes
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 06-07/18
Rouhani says plans in place for any Trump decision on Iran nuclear deal
Iran nuke deal on table as Boris Johnson heads to Washington
Trump 'Committed' to Iran Regime Change, Giuliani Says Days Before Nuclear Deadline
Netanyahu: Iran Must Be Stopped, Even if It Means Conflict – and Better Sooner Than Later
Morocco Counterterrorism Director: Special Laws to Face ISIS Returnees
Two Palestinians killed in latest Gaza cross border violence
Iraqi air force strike targets ISIS commanders’ position inside Syria
East Euphrates: Fighting Among Washington Allies
MWL Chief to Asharq Al-Awsat: Iran Defames Islam
A Crushing Defeat for Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan
Iraq Warns Against Disabling Electronic Polling on Election Day
Tunisia Votes in First Free Municipal Elections
Saudi Detains 'Thousands' for Months without Trial, Says HRW

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 06-07/18
Lebanon's Fake and illegitimate Parliamentary Elections
LCCC/07 May/18/The parliamentary elections in occupied Lebanon came to end yesterday at 7PM, Beirut local time. More than 100 nominees were winners before the election process started. No surprises took place because Hezbollah occupies the country and did impose its tailored electoral law. Meanwhile the whole election charade was prefabricated and most of the successful MP's were practically appointed. This Parliament is heading to legitimize Hezbollah's militia in case the Iranian occupation remains controlling Lebanon. The final results of the election are expected by the end of today.
Early Results Emerge in Lebanon's Parliamentary Vote
Naharnet/May 06/18/Preliminary results started emerging around mmidnight Monday after Lebanon voted in its first parliamentary elections in nine years. Media reports said the Hizbullah-AMAL Movement coalition won all seats in south Lebanon's second and thirds electoral districts. The coalition's campaign meanwhile said its list won four seats in Beirut's second district -- one for Hizbullah, one for AMAL, one for al-Ahbash and one for the Free Patriotic Movement. According to media reports, the list of Prime Minister Saad Hariri's al-Mustaqbal Movement won six seats in the district as the businessman Fouad Makhzoumi won a Sunni seat. In Beirut's first district -- Ashrafieh, Saifi, Rmeil and Medawar -- the list backed by the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party won three seats as three seats went to the list backed by the Free Patriotic Movement and the Tashnag Party and two went to the Kollouna Watani civil society coalition -- Joumana Haddad and Paula Yagoubian. Also according to media reports, MP Bahia Hariri retained her seat in Sidon as Popular Nasserite Organization chief Osama Saad won the city's second Sunni seat and his ally Ibrahim Azar won a Maronite seat in Jezzine. The FPM meanwhile won two seats in Jezzine, including that of incumbent MP Ziad Aswad. Elsewhere, FPM chief Jebran Bassil announced that he won a Maronite seat he ran for in Batroun and that the FPM has won a seat in Akkar. The Marada Movement meanwhile announced that it won four seats in the Batroun-Koura-Bsharri-Zgharta district as three went to the coalition of the Free Patriotic Movement, al-Mustaqbal Movement and Michel Mouawad and three other seats were clinched by the Lebanese Forces-Kataeb Party alliance. In Tripoli-Minieh-Dinniyeh, the lists of ex-PM Najib Miqati, al-Mustaqbal Movement and ex-minister Faisal Karami were leading the vote count. In Baabda, the Hizbullah-FPM coalition won four seats as the LF and the Progressive Socialist Party managed to win two seats. In northern Metn, the leading candidates at 12:30 am were Sami Gemayel, Ibrahim Kanaan, Eddie Abi al-Lamaa, Michel Murr, Hagop Pakradounian and Elias Bou Saab.
Low turnout and high stakes as battles play out across Lebanon
Najia Houssari/Arab News/May 06/18/Beirut: Participation in Lebanon’s election on Sunday appeared low, as parties struggled to persuade people to go to the polls despite a new voting system designed to improve representation. But the turnout varied dramatically between districts. There were low rates in Beirut 1, where there is a Christian majority, with no more than 19 percent by the afternoon, but people voted in larger numbers in places with Sunni majorities, such as Saida (almost 50 percent) and Beirut 2 (above 33 percent). In Baalbek-Hermel, which is predominantly Shiite, officials had to request more ballot boxes because so many voters turned up. The varying turnout reflected the tough competition between the two main parties dominating Lebanese politics: the Future Movement of Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Hezbollah, the Shiite militant and political organization backed by Iran. The new complex voting system based on proportional representation also presented problems. Candidates and parties complained of the slow voting process caused by the new method, which the voters were struggling to get used to. This led to the formation of long queues and some even giving up and going home rather than wait several hours to cast their ballots. Others decided to postpone voting until later in the day. Three pens with embedded cameras were seized with voters in the Bekaa — in Zahle, Buarij, and Kafar Zabad.
Brig. Gen. Elias Khoury, secretary of the Central Security Council, said 52 violations were recorded. “These included voters recording their voting processes behind the partition — a prohibited act that cancels the voter’s ballot,” he said. Voter turnout was slow in the morning in the main cities but in the villages and towns of the provinces, voter enthusiasm exceeded expectations. Yahya Shams, head of the “Dignity and Development” list in Baalbek-Hermel, which was competing against the Shiite alliance’s list, said that recorded violations included using vehicles to block the roads and preventing voters from reaching voting centers. “Hezbollah supporters also rallied around the voting centers in an attempt to intimidate voters,” he added, stressing that he had made a complaint about the violations. In the south, anti-Hezbollah candidate Ali Al-Amin said there had been attempts to prevent his supporters from entering the voting centers. Al-Amin was treated in hospital after he was attacked by Hezbollah supporters last month during campaigning. The elections were held amid intense security measures taken by the army and the internal security forces. Specialist patrols watch deployed in Beirut and other areas to try to ensure bitter rivalries did not cause violence. Cars flaunting Hezbollah and Amal Movement flags were seen carrying voters from Beirut’s southern suburbs to the city center. Hariri waited his turn with voters at a polling station in Beirut before casting his ballot in front of throngs of photographers.
“Order is good,” he said as he left the voting center. “I did my duty and voted like any other Lebanese citizens. As we look around us and see that Lebanon is holding democratic elections, we know that the country is in good shape.”Some voters told Arab News how they were prompted to take part in the election by the unruly behavior of some of the party supporters. Manal, a young woman from Beirut, said a group of Hezbollah supporters roamed the streets near her home the night before, shooting in the air. “I did not wish to vote, but what happened prompted me and my brother to go to a voting center and elect the Future Movement’s list,” she said.

Queue-jumping, wasta and paying for votes — just another election day in Beirut

Tarek Ali Ahmad/Arab News/May 06/18
Lebanese from across the country headed to the polls on Sunday
It is the country's first parliamentary elections in nine years
BEIRUT: As Lebanese made their way to the voting stations in the country’s first parliamentary elections in nine years, the streets of Beirut came alive.
Roads filled with cars plastered with banners and posters representing the candidate or the lists people were supporting. Drivers relentlessly honked their horns to draw attention to their allegiance.
The capital is split into two voting districts, Beirut 1 and Beirut 2. Beirut 2 proved to be the most competitive in the country, having a total of nine candidate lists going head to head for 11 seats of the parliament — the most in all voting districts.
While voter apathy seemed as high this year, as it has been for past elections, some of those who had taken the trouble to reach the polling stations were frustrated by the long queues and disorganization.
“People are coming into the polling stations, cutting in line due to the typical ‘wasta’ while we are standing at the back of the line like proper citizens,” an angry voter in a polling station in Hamra told Arab News.
“We’ve been here for an hour waiting and we’re still at the back of the line … I’m here to practice my right for democracy, I’m not obliged to wait two to three hours. I’ll just leave.”
Blogger Nadia Mneimne told Arab News that owing to disorganization throughout the station, several people had to wait outside for hours as well.
Across the capital, stands plastered with political party colors and housing rival party supporters lined the sidewalks leading to the polling stations. Party members bluntly asked voters who they were voting for, and told them why they should vote for their candidates.
In Beirut, a cauldron of religions and powerful political dynasties, it was clear which particular sect dominated which area by the number of banners representing the political parties.
With voter turnout usually low, parties and coalitions have been resorting to old tricks deployed in previous elections to persuade people to vote for them, voters told Arab News.
Mona Fayed, who was voting in the gritty, working-class Zaqaq Al-Blat area, said she knew people in her area who had been paid by election campaigns to go and vote.
“There are a lot of people who are being paid to vote,” she told Arab News. “The political parties are taking advantage of the poor and their financial situations and giving them money just to go down to the voting stations and vote for their lists.”
Voters living abroad also told how some candidates paid for their flights so they could come and vote for them.
A Lebanese term referring to a privilege certain people get from being well-connected and/or having a lot of money, thus people who have ‘wasta’ will get something based on favoritism rather than merit.
“I don’t have a passport but I’ve got the identity card so I can vote,” a British-Lebanese voter told Arab News. “I’m not going to tell you which political party paid our expenses, but I can tell you for certain that it isn’t the only party that has done such a thing.”
Paying for votes is strictly against election rules but common in Lebanese elections. And while paying to fly voters in for election day seems an expensive way to gain a vote, Lebanese expats said they had been offered similar deals as candidates and parties battle to gain small margins against their opponents for one of the parliament’s 128 seats.
While many polling stations faced similar issues of long queues, others appeared to be coping easily with the voters.
“These are the first elections that are exciting and comfortable,” Habib Hassan Syed Hussein, voting in Zuqaq Al-Blat, told Arab News. “Finally there is a sense of organization among the stations.”
Voter apathy and distrust of candidates have resulted in a poor turnout at the polls in past elections.
In the last parliamentary elections, held in 2009, just over half of the three million registered voters placed their ballots, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
While the new electoral law has raised hopes that this time voters will be able to break the grip on seats held by the county’s traditional clans and parties, many were certain that it will all stay the same.
Lebanon’s new electoral system merges proportional representation with quotas for each religious group to maintain the country’s sectarian balance among the seats in parliament.
Under this arrangement, the majority system has been replaced and the threshold needed to win an election lowered — a plan that should benefit independents and reformers, easing the grip on the power of the country’s main clans.
Voters will cast ballots both for their favored list of candidates and a preferred candidate on that list
Long-lasting Parliament Bids Farewell: Many Failures, Modest Achievements
Beirut- Youssef Diab/Asharq Ak Awsat/May 06/18/The mandate of the current Lebanese parliament will end on June 20, following nine years of many failures and few achievements.
Despite the widespread criticism of this council, which has extended its own tenure twice, a parliamentary source said that the parliament “realized good and acceptable achievements, despite the political and security conditions that prevailed over the course of events in Lebanon.”In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, the source said that Parliament has completed some positive steps since October 30, 2016, when General Michel Aoun was elected President of the Republic after a two and a half years of a presidential vacuum. Among those steps, the source recounted, was the approval of a new electoral law according to the proportional system for the first time. The source did not overlook the importance of “the adoption of the general budget law for 2017 and 2018, in addition to the enactment of laws pertaining to the extraction of oil and gas, and others related to the disbursement of loans and grants provided by Arab and international funds for infrastructure projects in Lebanon.”
It admitted, however, that Parliament’s achievements “were not up to the expectations of the Lebanese people, but this was due to the political circumstances that hampered Parliament’s work for several months and prevented it from holding legislative sessions.”The parliament stopped holding legislative sessions in April 2014, with the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, until the formation of the government of Prime Minister Tamam Salam in late February 2015.
Parliamentary work was also hampered when the deputies were unable to hold a plenary session due to the lack of constitutional quorum to elect a new president. Christian forces refused to proceed with the legislative work in the absence of the President of the Republic. What the parliamentary source described as “achievements”, Legal and Constitutional Expert and former MP Salah Honein saw as a “failure by all standards.”
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Honein said that the process of electing the president “did not follow the constitutional terms, but came as a result of a political settlement that was a stab at the heart of democratic parliamentary work.”
The new members of the parliament are expected to assume their duties immediately after the end of the mandate of the current parliament. The first session will be presided by the eldest member, who is likely to be Speaker Nabih Berri, 83, unless Mikhael Daher, 91, wins in the elections, which is a low probability. Parliament is likely to re-elect Berri for the sixth consecutive time in a row. He will be the first speaker in Lebanon’s history to spend three decades at the head of the legislative institution.

Lebanon: Fierce Electoral Battle to Weigh Strength of Sunni, Christian Leaders
Beirut- Nazeer Rida/Asharq Ak Awsat/May 06/18/Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, the first since 2009, will determine the strength of the Sunni and Christian leaders, as the fiercest battles will take place in the North, mainly in the districts of Tripoli and Bsharri-Batroun-Zgharta-Koura, home to three potential presidential candidates. Unlike the Shiite and Druze communities, which maintain their leaderships since 1992, intense electoral battles are taking place in northern Lebanon, aimed at consecrating Sunni and Christian leaders. In the Sunni arena, the Future Movement is seeking to establish its leadership, or at least consolidate its presence in the North. In Tripoli, Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati is heading a list against the Future, while another battle is fought against the two sides by Former Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi. Elections in the North are the fiercest for Sunni candidates, given that the Future Movement is expected to have an easy battle in Beirut, where it will retain a large share of parliamentary seats. As for the Christian scene, the strongest electoral battles are taking place in the third district of the North, which includes Bsharri, Batroun, Koura and Zgharta. Three potential presidential candidates are battling in this district, namely Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who is from Batroun, MP Sleiman Franjieh of Zgharta and Lebanese Forces Party leader Samir Geagea of Bsharri. These districts also have the largest proportion of Christian voters, meaning that the results will be determined by the Christian vote. In Mount Lebanon, the fourth district, formed of Aley and Chouf, will see a strong competition between the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and another list backed by the Lebanese Forces (LF), the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP). Unlike the Sunni and Christian electoral arenas, elections among the Druze are expected to be relaxed, given the absence of a serious and influential Druze rivalry with the PSP, headed by MP Walid Jumblatt. As for Shiites, the southern districts will not witness fierce battles, due to the lack of an influential Shiite bloc in the face of Amal Movement and Hezbollah; knowing that in southern Lebanon, five lists are competing in the third district and two lists are competing in the second district (Zahrani and Tyr). However, the opponents of the Shiite duo are engaging in a heated battle in the Bekaa, to win at least one of the six parliamentary seats previously occupied by Hezbollah and Amal in Baalbek-Hermel. Candidate Yehia Shams is allied with the Lebanese Forces and the Future Movement against the Shiite duo.
Polling begins in Lebanon’s first parliamentary election in 9 years
Al Arabiya with Agencies/Sunday, 6 May 2018/Polling began in Lebanon's parliamentary election on Sunday morning. It’s the first time the Lebanese are voting for a parliament in nine years. It is also the first time elections are being held since neighboring Syria’s war began in 2011. The vote has been postponed a number of times over security concerns it would ignite tensions among Lebanon’s sects, already heightened by that war. Lawmakers have haggled over election reform for years, finally passing a new law last summer to replace one in place since 1960. The law allows expats to vote for the first time. Of 900,000 voters abroad, only 83,000 registered and just over half of them voted last week. For the first time, women made up nearly 10 percent of the candidates, up from a meager 1.7 percent in 2009. Only four women made it to Lebanon’s 128-seat parliament in the last election, a dismal figure compared to other countries in the region. Also, a record number of civil society activists and independents are running, hoping to at least open a crack in Lebanon’s system.
Complicated law
The new election law is so complex that many have quipped they would rather stay at home because they can’t figure out how their vote will be computed. The law implements a proportional system that awards seats by the share of vote received, instead of the former winner-takes-all system in each district. It reduces the number of electoral constituencies from 23 to 15, and allows voters to choose both an electoral list and a preferred candidate from that list. In theory, it should allow candidates beyond traditional power players to win a seat in parliament. But it also preserves the sectarian divvying-up of seats in different districts; Muslims and Christians each get around half, and smaller communities the remainder.
Fresh faces
Many will undoubtedly find fresh faces on their ballots as independent groups attempt to challenge the country’s political elites and establishments. Among those new names voters in eastern Beirut will read on Sunday will be Ibrahim Mneimneh's, who is the founder of the Kelna Beirut, an off-shoot of the Lebanese grassroots campaign “Beirut Madinati” established in 2016 and contested the municipality elections then. Back then, his group were part of many independent groups that rose up Lebanon’s 2015 garbage crisis but have split from the others leaving Mneimneh's list to contest against seven other lists in Beirut’s second district. “We [Kelna Beiru] see the upcoming parliamentary elections as a station to engage with the people and show them our policies. We are encouraging voters to go to the polls as we see this election more like a referendum battle. A political line is needed that is in opposition to the establishment and out list represents the second voice needed in Beirut; a dissenting voice that believes in the application of the constitution and any vote for Kelna Beirut is a vote toward this approach,” Mneimneh told Al Arabiya. As the leader of his list, Mneimneh will go head-to-head with eight other lists including one lead by current Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and his Future for Beirut list of candidates.(With AP)
Hezbollah sips at the heart of the Lebanese state
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/May 06/18
What will the situation of the Lebanese state be if Hezbollah manages to cobble a majority in parliamentary elections?
On May 12, US President Donald Trump will announce his new strategy on Iran by deciding on the flawed Iranian nuclear deal. In brief, Trump has repeatedly warned about “amending” the agreement or scrapping it altogether. The amendment addresses two major threats which former President Barack Obama neglected, which are related to Iran’s ballistic missiles’ capabilities and the prevention of Iran’s bad behavior in the region, i.e. in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and even Morocco — where Iran’s “blessings” have reached through its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah! There is in fact a new version of the US draft law on combating the financing of Hezbollah. The US Congress passed this draft law last year but the Senate hasn’t voted on it yet and it hasn’t reached the American president’s office. Combating Hezbollah’s financial activity is part of the US legal and oversight framework, as is the case with other countries, and not just with Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates as the “resistance” mouthpieces try to make everyone think. Lebanon’s politicians may have succeeded in “postponing” the Hezbollah problem but this does not mean they have ended it. Trump’s anticipated stance on the Iranian issue will serve as a decisive moment and Iran’s leaders know this well. In an analysis on Iran’s response to Trump’s anticipated storm, journalist Amir Taheri quoted Hossein Mousavi whom he described as a leader of political lobbying groups in support of the Islamic Republic in the US as saying: “In the case of the conflict with the US, Iran will do anything, anything at all, to have the upper hand.”Commenting on the phrase “anything” which this Iranian activist said, Taheri wrote: “Tehran can order the Lebanese party Hezbollah to kidnap more hostages in other parts of the Middle East, like they did in the 1980s and 1990s.”
The story is true. Lebanon’s politicians may have succeeded in “postponing” the problem but this does not mean ending it. Hezbollah is a genuine “part” of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and the latter is the first target in the American-Arab-Islamic confrontation. At the same time, Hezbollah is present at the heart of the Lebanese system, in the core of the army, security, political and parliamentary institutions so how will Lebanon, the state, be safe from the blows that will hit the body of the terrorist Khomeini?

Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 06-07/18
Lebanon's Unique Democracy: 7 Things to Know About Today's Elections
The Associated Press May 06, 2018
A complex new election law, sectarianism, Palestinian refugees, and the 'selfie prime minister': Your guide to Lebanon's first general election in 9 years
It's Lebanon's unique form of democracy.
Almost everyone in the country complains about it. The same political dynasties dominating year after year, and politicians work for their sect, or their own families. No one has repaired an electricity system that's been decrepit for decades or organized the proper collection of garbage because of business feuds. It's also a tough system to change. Each community fears losing power or patronage. After the 1975-1990 civil war, the balance between Shi'ites, Sunnis and Christians — the main sects among 18 official ones — preserves a stability that always seems on the verge of collapse, but, for the past decade at least, has not.
Here are seven things to know about the system to help understand Sunday's parliamentary elections.
It's the first time the Lebanese are voting for a parliament in nine years and the first election held since the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011. The vote has been postponed a number of times over concerns it would ignite tensions among Lebanon's sects, already heightened by that war. Lawmakers have haggled over election reform for years, finally passing a new law last summer to replace one in place since 1960. The law allows expats to vote for the first time. Of 900,000 voters abroad, only 83,000 registered and just over half of them voted last week. There are a total of 3.6 million registered voters. For the first time, women make up nearly 10 percent of the candidates, up from a meager 1.7 percent in 2009. Only four women made it to Lebanon's 128-seat parliament in the last election, a dismal figure compared to other countries in the region. Also, a record number of civil society activists and independents are running, hoping to at least open a crack in Lebanon's system.
Complicated law
The new election law is so complex that some say they would rather stay at home because they can't figure out how their vote will be computed. The law implements a proportional system that awards seats by the share of vote received, instead of the former winner-takes-all system in each district. It reduces the number of electoral constituencies from 23 to 15, and allows voters to choose both an electoral list and a preferred candidate from that list.In theory, it should allow candidates beyond traditional power players to win seats. But it also preserves the sectarian divvying-up of seats in different districts; Muslims and Christians each get around half, and smaller communities the remainder.
The elephant in the room
Lebanon's strongest political party is the only one with an active militia: Hezbollah.
The Iranian-backed Shiite faction has thousands of fighters in Syria supporting President Bashar Assad, an intervention that is deeply divisive in Lebanon. Sunnis largely sympathize with the rebels trying to bring Assad down and resent Hezbollah's political domination and its armed wing, which is more powerful than the national military.
But that issue has been too sensitive to feature in the current election. Instead, many have focused on calls for the return of more than a million Syrian refugees, saying they threaten the sectarian balance and burden local infrastructure.
Father and sons
Even though the civil war ended 28 years ago, politics are still dominated by former warlords and family dynasties, who have always been able to settle elections before voters get to the polls. Some are virtually untouchable. The 80-year-old parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, a Shiite who has held the post for more than 25 years, is running virtually uncontested. Others are now passing their seats on to their children. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, 68, has stepped aside for his son, Taymour. The seat of Suleiman Frangieh, a 52-year-old Maronite Christian leader who is seen as a potential presidential candidate, is going to his son Tony. Michelle Tueni, daughter of lawmaker and journalist Gibran Tueni, who was assassinated in a 2005 car bomb, is also running. One Lebanese website listed second generation politicians running to replace their fathers, then posted pictures of their toddler children, captioned: "Your parliament members for 2025."
Symbolic votes
For the disenfranchised and the forgotten, election season is a chance to get noticed.
Palestinian parliamentary candidate Manal Kortam, who has nominated herself for a seat that does not exist in next month's elections to raise awareness about the situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, poses for a picture in front of a graffiti of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the entrance of the Mar Elias Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut on April 26, 2018. 
Manal Kortam is running, but only symbolically — she has no right to run or vote because she's Palestinian. Actually, her mother is Lebanese, but under Lebanese law women cannot pass down citizenship.
There are about 174,000 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, many of them descendants of those who fled to the country after the creation of Israel in 1948. They have no citizenship and few rights, are highly restricted in where they can work, and are often seen as a disruption to the delicate sectarian balance.
Kortam took to social media with her #WeExist campaign, touring refugee camps and speaking on TV "so they get ready to deal with us after the elections," as she put it on her Twitter account.
The selfie prime minister
Prime Minister Saad Hariri has plastered pictures of himself — and his assassinated father whose political mantle he inherited — all over Beirut, including at its landmark seaside Ferris wheel.
He's now being referred to as "the selfie prime minister," and he even created a selfie app. Some of his supporters have painted sheep and camels blue, the campaign color of his Future Movement, and paraded them along streets before slaughtering them, sparking outrage from rights activists. It's a sign that his movement, a bastion of Sunnis, is struggling. The new election law opens up room for other Sunnis to garner votes, and Hariri has faced criticism over his close ties with Shiite Hezbollah, on whose support he relies for his post.
After the euphoria, jokes
As it became clear the new election law would likely do little to change the system, many responded with grim humor.
A group of clowns known as "Clown Me In" has been mocking campaign slogans.
"It is time!" one Christian party's campaign posters proclaimed. "It is time for popcorn," countered a red-nosed clown in an online meme.
A Twitter account listed 12 octogenarian candidates and pronounced them The List of "We Belong to God and to Him we all return" — a local saying for the deceased.
Two artists, Michelle and Noel Keserwany, struck a chord with a music video urging young people to make new choices and break the cycle. Its refrain: "Here we go again, here we go again."

Aoun Casts Vote, Urges Lebanese to Practice 'National Right Out of Conviction'
Naharnet/May 06/18/President Michel Aoun cast his vote on Sunday in the country’s parliamentary elections and voiced calls on all Lebanese citizens to practice their “national, democratic right out of conviction.”“Today the Lebanese are practicing one of the important national political operations where they get to choose MPs who will represent them for the next four years. They must not relinquish their duty to hold lawmakers accountable for their performance,” Aoun told reporters after casting his ballot at a polling station in Haret Hreik. The President encouraged Lebanese to act out of conviction without “outside influences.” “It is a sacred right of yours that you should not abandon,” he added. Aoun later arrived at the Interior Ministry to oversee the electoral process nationwide. He held a security meeting in the presence of Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq and General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim. “I congratulate you on your efforts and organization of the electoral operation," he said, praising "the cooperation between the various state ministries, administrations and related authorities."

LADE Says Mashnouq ‘Violates Election Silence’
Naharnet/May 06/18/Interior Minister and Beirut parliamentary candidate Nouhad al-Mashnouq made a statement at the polling station after casting his vote on Sunday, which the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) said “violates the election silence.”Mashnouq cast his vote at the Riad al-Solh school after which he told reporters, gathered inside the polling station, live on air that “the electoral process confirms Lebanon’s democracy.”The Minister also said that he gave his “preferential vote” to Prime Minister Saad Hariri. On Thursday, head of the Electoral Supervisory Committee, Judge Nadim Abdul Malak reminded parliamentary hopefuls to observe the period of pre-election silence in accordance with the law. Campaign silence, which started at midnight on Friday, bans active campaigning by the candidates. The silence is generally legally enforced. Mashnouq is running on Hariri’s electoral list in Beirut second electoral district. Polling got under way Sunday across Lebanon, where voters will be electing their parliament for the first time in nine years. Polling stations opened at 7:00 am across the country, which has an electorate of around 3.7 million, and were due to close 12 hours later. Results from all 15 districts are expected on Monday.

Minor Clashes, Violations Mar Electoral Process
Naharnet/May 06/18/Minor clashes and violations marred the electoral process on Sunday, as Lebanon voted in its first parliamentary elections in nine years. In south Lebanon's third district, a stronghold of Hizbullah and AMAL Movement, a woman candidate from the newly-formed Sabaa Party -- part of the Kollona Watani civil society coalition -- was “assaulted, beaten up and threatened with a sharp object,” Sabaa said. MTV meanwhile said a clash erupted in a polling station in Zgharta's Miryata in the presence of Minister Pierre Raffoul of the Free Patriotic Movement. Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) said Raffoul's bodyguards “assaulted and insulted Jessie Douaihi, the daughter of the candidate Michel Doueihi, inside a polling station in Miryata.”In the Jbeil district, “a minor dispute erupted in Ehmej between supporters of the candidates Ziad Hawat and Simon Abi Ramia but was quickly contained,” Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said. The army meanwhile contained a brawl that erupted in Baalbek against the backdrop of a party flag brought inside one of the polling stations, the radio station said. In Zahle, security forces contained a dispute that erupted between al-Mustaqbal Movement and Lebanese Forces supporters, the radio station added. Meanwhile in Beirut, security forces contained a clash that erupted at a polling station in the Omar Farroukh high school in Tariq al-Jedideh. The Aley town of Btater had in the morning witnessed a clash outside a polling station between supporters of the Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Democratic Party. In Beirut's first electoral district – Ashrafieh, Rmeil, Saifi and Medawar – the Kollona Watani coalition said its representatives were expelled from polling stations under the excuse that their permits had been issued under the name of the list and not its individual candidates. The coalition urged authorities to intervene quickly to resolve the issue. Amid a heated battle in Zahle, several clashes erupted between supporters of the Lebanese Forces and MP Nicolas Fattoush.“One of Fattoush's electoral offices was attacked after he was accused of bribing voters,” media reports said. In Bsharri, the FPM filed an urgent complaint with the Interior Ministry against acting Bsharri District Officer Ruba Shafshaq, accusing her of “strong bias in favor of the LF” and depriving the FPM's representatives of permits to enter polling stations. And in Beirut's second electoral district, representatives of certain parties were caught taking pictures during the voting process.

First-Time Voters Eager to Weigh in on Lebanese Election
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 06/18/Hanin Terjman was among the first outside her Beirut polling station Sunday: like many young Lebanese, she is voting for the first time and wants to see new faces in parliament. Clicking away on her smart phone, the chic 21-year-old student waited nervously for the school-turned-polling station in the Ras al-Nabah district to open for Lebanon's first parliamentary elections in nine years. She was surrounded by delegates from the country's elite parties, who sported hats with pictures of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and T-shirts in support of the rival powerful Shiite AMAL Movement. But Terjman wants to throw her support behind a list of outsiders including engineers and activists. "We're in a country whose rulers are putting pressure on us over who we are going to vote for. We should vote for new people who are going to change," she said.
Terjman, who became of age to vote just one month ago, is among 800,000 registered voters -- more than a fifth of the electorate -- who were too young to cast a ballot in previous polls. "It's nice to feel like I belong to my country," she said, donning a pink top, white headscarf, and thick black eyeliner. Terjman, who studies education at the Lebanese University, said she will vote for the civil society list Kelna Beirut, despite being told by friends that veteran politicians would not be easily unseated. "I want to tell people to go vote for the person they think is appropriate and will improve their country, not people you 'belong' to, because that won't get you anywhere." As she spoke, half a dozen supporters of Hariri's al-Mustaqbal Movement rushed to the school gate, waving ID cards and asking the soldier positioned there when they could be let in. Beirut is split into two voting districts, with 19 seats up for grabs for candidates from Christian and Muslim sects. Many powerful politicians, including Hariri, are running in Beirut, where massive posters of the rival candidates are omnipresent.
First timers
Lebanon elected 128 members to parliament in 2009, but a planned 2013 vote was delayed because of discontent with the majoritarian electoral law and concerns about a spillover from the war in neighboring Syria. Ali al-Ahmad, 21, came to the Ras al-Nabah station with a friend just moments after polls opened. "It's the first time for me, and we're excited. A lot of people told me not to vote," said Ahmad, who wore a black tee-shirt. He said he would support candidates from the Shiite movement Hizbullah, which is backing the Damascus regime in the Syria war, and which many analysts say would likely hold on to its seats. "Just as we were on the front lines and barricades, we'll be behind the ballot boxes, we want a strong country with a strong economy," said Ahmad. Supporters of candidates running in Sunday's race were distributing boxed breakfasts at decked-out stands near polling stations. Many young voters came holding their elderly relatives, guiding them into the polling stations and trying to explain the new, more proportional electoral system to them.
Siwar Ibrahim came alone.
He is registered to vote in the Tariq al-Jedideh district, a built-up and conservative neighborhood where Hariri's party has strong support. "It's my first time and I hope I don't get disappointed. I turned 21 on January 1," said Ibrahim, a curly-haired visual artist, as he stood in line to head into the booth. He said he turned down cash payments from traditional parties, instead opting for Kelna Beirut. Ibrahim, who dreams of legislation that would back gender minorities, health care and human rights, said coming into the packed polling station felt threatening."I had to dress the opposite of what I usually look like in order to come here to vote safely. I had to take my earrings out, I had to look like what a man is supposed to look like," he told AFP. "I'm here, at least I tried. I don't want to spend four years at home regretting that I didn't vote.""It's ok to be scared, that's the challenge. Be scared, and vote."

Vote Unlikely to Change Lebanon Balance of Power
Associated Press/Naharnet/May 06/18/Tens of thousands of Lebanese began casting their ballots Sunday in the first parliamentary elections in nine years, with people lining up early in the morning to take part in a vote that is being fiercely contested between rival groups backed by regional powers.
The voting is unlikely to change the existing balance of power among the major groups in Lebanon, but many hope new contenders from civil society groups can challenge the decades-old sectarian political system. Electoral campaigns have been tense as each group has mobilized its supporters, with fist fights and shootings occurring in several areas in recent weeks. The main race is between a Western and Saudi-backed coalition headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Iranian-backed Hizbullah group, part of a region-wide struggle for power between Riyadh and Tehran. "This shows Lebanon's democracy and the importance of democracy. This is a democratic wedding, and as we said from the start, congratulations to whoever wins tonight," said Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouq who is running on Hariri's list, after casting his ballot in Beirut. "When we see what is happening in countries around us and Lebanon is holding democratic elections, this shows that Lebanon is fine," Hariri said after waiting in line around 20 minutes to cast his ballot. "Order is nice," he quipped. The vote is the first since Syria's war broke out in 2011, sending a flood of around million refugees to neighboring Lebanon and adding to the country's economic woes. Hizbullah has sent thousands of fighters to back President Bashar Assad's forces, a move that has been criticized by many Lebanese, mainly Sunni Muslims and Christians, who see the group as dragging the country into regional conflicts. Leading Hizbullah legislator Ali Ammar defended his group's involvement in Syria, saying it protected Lebanon from the "evil powers" of the Islamic State group and al-Qaida. In Hizbullah strongholds in southern Beirut, there was a steady flow of voters Sunday. Outside polling stations, Hizbullah supporters displayed a replica of the voting ballot on a big board and explained to voters which among the color-coded lists is theirs, and how they can vote for it. They wore yellow shirts with the slogan "We protect and build" written on them. "We love the resistance," said Amira Sidani, an 85-year-old woman, after casting her ballot. This year's vote is according to a new election law that is based on proportional representation. Voters will choose one list of allied candidates, as well as a preferred candidate from among them. In the past, the winning list took all the seats in the electoral district. At midday, after casting his ballot in southern Beirut, President Michel Aoun described the process as "successful." Wary of voters' apathy toward a vote unlikely to change much, he urged people to turn out in large numbers. Mohammed Ali, 30, riding his scooter to the beach, said he's not voting because there are no choices. He says his family members will vote for whoever pays them, but he's not interested in the money. The legislature's term was supposed to expire in 2013, but lawmakers have approved several extensions since then, citing security concerns linked to the spillover from Syria's war. Lebanese who support opposing sides in the war have clashed on a number of occasions, and jihadist extremists have carried out several bombings.
There are about 3.6 million eligible voters, and early results are expected after polling stations close at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT). Some 586 candidates, including 86 women, are running for the 128-seat parliament, which is equally divided between Muslims and Christians. Hizbullah and its allies are likely to add more seats, while Hariri is likely to lose several. Some of his Sunni supporters see him as being too soft on Hizbullah, and the billionaire businessman has also faced criticism after laying off scores of employees from his companies in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Still, Hariri will most likely be named to form a national unity Cabinet after the vote. The rival sides are expected to recreate the unity government that currently exists, which includes Hizbullah. The vote comes a week after Lebanese living oversees voted in 39 countries around the world. It was the first time Lebanon's large expatriate community was allowed to take part in the vote. That, along with the new electoral law, has injected some unpredictability to the process.

A Look at the Key Players In the Lebanese Elections
Associated Press/Naharnet/May 06/18
Lebanon is holding its first parliament elections in nine years, with more than 500 candidates vying for 128 seats. According to Lebanon's sectarian-based power sharing system, the legislature is equally divided between Muslims and Christians. Established political parties and politicians are expected to get the lion's share of seats, but a record number of women, civil society candidates and independents are running, hoping to bring new faces and a degree of change to the corruption-plagued and debt-ridden country.
Here's a look at the main political parties and key players:
Al-Mustaqbal MOVEMENT
Al-Mustaqbal Movement of Prime Minister Saad Hariri was founded in the mid-1990s by his father, the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in a massive bombing in 2005. Hariri, a Sunni politician who also holds Saudi citizenship, currently heads the largest bloc in parliament. He is a critic of the Iranian-backed Hizbullah group, which is nevertheless part of his unity government. Hariri's Mustaqbal Movement is expected to lose some of its seats during Sunday's s elections due to a new electoral law that is likely to fragment the Sunni vote. Some of Hariri's supporters have also shifted their allegiance after the billionaire businessman, who also holds Saudi citizenship, laid off scores of employees in his development company because of Saudi spending cuts.
The group founded by President Michel Aoun — a former anti-Syrian Christian opposition leader — has been a close ally of Hizbullah since the two political factions signed a memorandum of understanding in February 2006. FPM has the second largest bloc in parliament and has candidates running in different regions. The mostly Maronite Christian party enjoys wide support among many Shiites in Lebanon, who are likely to back the group in areas where they have presence. The FPM is now headed by Aoun's son-in-law, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, who is running for a seat.
The Shiite Muslim Hizbullah group, backed by Iran and Syria, was founded in 1982 as a resistance movement to Israeli occupation of parts of Lebanon, and has since grown into Lebanon's most potent military and political force. The group runs an extensive network of charities, schools and clinics and enjoys strong support among Shiite Muslims and some Christians for its record of fighting Israel. Its decision to send its fighters to Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad's forces, however, is highly controversial, and may bring a degree of backlash from within the Shiite community. However, it is still expected come out as a winner in these elections, along with its allies. Hizbullah is expected to keep its 12 seats in parliament.
The Shiite political group was founded in the 1970s by Imam Moussa al-Sadr, who went missing in Libya in 1978. The group is a close ally of Hizbullah and is headed by Lebanon's powerful parliament speaker, Nabih Berri. The 80-year-old Berri has held the post for more than 25 years and runs virtually uncontested. Berri is an ally of the Syrian government and is running in a coalition with Hizbullah and other Syrian-backed parties.
The main political party of Lebanon's Druze community, which makes up about 5 percent of the total population of Lebanon. The group is headed by leading Druze politician Walid Jumblat, who is stepping aside in Sunday's election and is backing his eldest son, Taymour, for the seat. The group has several candidates running in coalition with Hariri's Mustaqbal Movement, the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces and others.
The right-wing Christian party is the main Christian rival of President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement and has been one of the harshest critics of Hizbullah. Led by Christian Samir Geagea, who spent years in jail after the 1975-1990 civil war ended, the group is expected to win more than the eight seats it currently holds.
A record number of civil society activists, women and independents are running in these elections, hoping to ride a wave of popular discontent over Lebanon's myriad troubles, including endemic power cuts, a waste management crisis and soaring debt blamed on corrupt politicians. They face the almost impossible task of competing with sectarian warlords, established parties and wealthy politicians, but hope to at least make a dent in the system.

Hariri Says No Fear over Security after Elections
Naharnet/May 06/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri voted Sunday at the Shakib Arslan School in Verdun, Beirut, and reassured that he does not fear a security deterioration after the parliamentary elections. While waiting for his turn, Hariri said in response to a question: “Order is nice.” He added that he is committed to the principle of electoral silence. Hariri however responded to questions from reporters after leaving the polling station. “I performed my electoral duty and cast my vote like any Lebanese. I think that if we look at what is happening around us and how Lebanon is holding democratic elections, we see that the country is fine,” he said. “Every Lebanese citizen must vote to perform their national duty and vote for whomever they want. I would like to thank all those responsible for the electoral process, from the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs to the Internal Security Forces, the Lebanese Army, the delegates, the observers, the judges and all institutions,” the premier and the leader of al-Mustaqbal Movement added. “They are doing a great job for the country, I reiterate that this process is democratic and for the benefit of the country. The Prime Minister and competent ministries are following up on the process. I reiterate that this is a democratic process for the interest of the Lebanese citizen, and good luck to everyone,” Hariri went on to say. Asked how the rival parties will hold national dialogue or form a national unity cabinet after they “traded treason accusations,” Hariri said: “We are in a democratic country and everyone has the right to say what they want and hopefully the electoral process will happen smoothly.” Told that the Grand Mufti has openly declared his support for him in a possible “violation of political neutrality of this religious institution,” the premier said: “Every human being is free to say what he wants. Today I am here to vote like everyone else. I do not want to talk about these matters. I urge all Lebanese in Beirut and all regions to vote.” Asked if he promises a new electoral law that “truly represents all Lebanese” after the elections, Hariri said: “I think that this government exerted a great effort, and today we have elections after nine years of absence. This in itself is useful, and the Lebanese citizens will be represented hopefully.” In response to another question, Hariri reassured that “there is no fear” over the country's security after the elections. According to his office, Hariri was “keen to shake hands with a number of people with special needs and elderly people who came to cast their ballots.” “Upon his departure, citizens gathered in front of the polling station to greet him and take pictures,” the office added.

Key Political Players Wrangle in Heated Chouf-Aley Vote
Naharnet/May 06/18/The Chouf-Aley electoral district, the heartland of MP Walid Jumblat's Druze community, was on Sunday witnessing a heated electoral battle in a region characterized by the presence of several major political parties. Taimur Jumblat, the head of the Reconciliation List, cast his vote at the Kamal Jumblat School in Mukhtara. He declined to speak to reporters after voting out of respect for the electoral silence rule. The Reconciliation List is a coalition led by the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces and al-Mustaqbal Movement. Voting at the same polling station, MP Nehme Tohme expected the list to win nine out of 13 possible seats.The list is comprised of the candidates Taimur Jumblat, George Adwan, Naji al-Bustani, Ghattas Khoury, Nehme Tohme, Marwan Hamadeh, Mohammed al-Hajjar, Bilal Abdullah, Akram Shehayyeb, Henri Helou, Anis Nassar and Raji al-Saad. After casting his vote in the same district, ex-minister Wiam Wahhab, who is leading a rival list, said his coalition is “seeking to win two seats.” “Mount Lebanon should be safeguarded through a policy of openness, not isolation, and this electoral law does not eliminate anyone,” Lebanese Democratic Party leader MP Talal Arslan for his part said. He is allied with the Free Patriotic Movement and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. In response to a question, Arslan stressed that “no one can shut down al-Mukhtara Palace,” in reference to MP Walid Jumblat's leadership of the Druze community. Five lists are competing in Chouf-Aley, including two formed by civil society activists. MP Walid Jumblat has hit out at the FPM and accused it of being involved in an attempt to “besiege” him.

Top Parties Seek to Protect Monopoly as Lebanon Votes
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 06/18/Lebanese voters went to the polls to elect their parliament for the first time in nine years Sunday, with ruling parties expected to preserve a fragile power-sharing arrangement despite regional tensions. The Iran-backed Hizbullah movement and its allies could stand to reinforce their clout on the political game in Lebanon, a small country clamped between war-torn Syria and Israel. The campaign passed without major incidents but security forces were out en masse across a country still sporadically rocked by attacks and with a history of political assassinations. Queues of voters started forming outside some polling stations in Lebanon's main cities even before they opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT). "It's the first time I vote," 60-year-old Therese told AFP outside a voting centre in central Beirut. "I've come to support civil society because there's nobody else I like in this country, but I doubt they will win," she said.
In the southern city of Tyre, 28-year-old Jalal Naanou was also up early to support an unprecedented effort by civil society candidates to bring new faces to parliament. "We came to vote and work for change, to see new lawmakers in parliament, because without it our situation will stay the same or get worse," he said. Turnout will be crucial to a new civil society movement's chances of clinching a handful of seats but analysts predict the traditional sectarian-based parties will maintain their hegemony. "Will Hizbullah be the biggest winner? At the very least, it won't be a loser," said Imad Salamey, a political science professor at Beirut's Lebanese American University. Candidates mostly avoided the polarising issue of disarming Hizbullah, the only faction not to have laid down its weapons after the 1975-1990 civil war. The Shiite movement may only gain a handful of seats but it will benefit from the predicted absence of a united bloc against it, Salamey said, and could play the role of kingmaker in parliament. The triumvirate heading the state is unlikely to change, with parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, the octogenarian leader of the rival yet often allied Shiite party Amal, almost certain to keep the post he has held since 1992.
- Civil society list -President Michel Aoun's position is not up for renewal but his Christian party is a key player in the vote, for which a reformed, more proportional electoral law is in force. The new lawmakers will play a vital role in appointing the next prime minister, with many expecting incumbent Saad Hariri to serve another term. Hariri has historically been supported by Sunni regional kingpin Saudi Arabia while Hizbullah is backed by Shiite Iran, but both seem ready to continue sharing power.
The diagram of alliances across Lebanon's gerrymandered constituency map is an almost comical spaghetti jumble of local deals between parties working together in one district and competing in the next. That has fuelled already deep disillusionment in a country where the same dynasties have held political power for decades and are widely seen as self-serving and corrupt. The force that embodies change is an alliance called "Kulluna Watani" which federates civil society groups, including a movement born of 2015 protests over a waste management crisis. The most optimistic forecasts see them winning five seats, out of parliament's 128, but its leaders privately say even just one would be an achievement. Among the list's candidates with the best chances is Paula Yacoubian, a prominent TV journalist who is one of a record 86 women to run. "We have a very corrupt cast and there is a movement of brave people trying to tell them: 'We are not happy'," she told AFP. The complex new voting law passed in 2017 has allowed smaller parties to run but the challenge of rousing lethargic voters is huge. The country has gone through institutional crises that left it without a president for two years and without a budget for 12 -- but many Lebanese argue they could hardly tell the difference. There were few signs during the campaign that voters would mobilise much more than usual, with one pollster predicting a one point rise from the 2009 turnout rate of 55 percent. Polling stations are expected to close at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) and results for all 15 districts could be announced as early as Monday.
Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 06-07/18
Rouhani says plans in place for any Trump decision on Iran nuclear deal
Al Arabiya with Agencies/Sunday, 6 May 2018/President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday Iran had prepared plans to respond to any decision by US President Donald Trump to end the nuclear agreement with Tehran and that the US would regret such a decision. "We have plans to resist any decision by Trump on the nuclear accord," Rouhani said in a speech carried live by state television. "If America leaves the nuclear accord, this will entail historic remorse for it."The statement comes just days before Trump will have to make a dramatic decision on the fate of the nuclear deal with Iran. Trump is "committed" to regime change in Iran, Trump's lawyer and confidant Rudy Giuliani said on Saturday. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, said at an event hosted by an Iranian opposition group in Washington that regime change in Iran is "the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East," according to a Haaretz report.
Giuliani believes Trump will withdraw the United States from the 2015 deal with Iran. "With Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his right side, and National Security Adviser John Bolton on his left side, what do you think is going to happen to that agreement?" Giuliani asked. (With Reuters)
Iran nuke deal on table as Boris Johnson heads to Washington
AFP, London/Sunday, 6 May 2018/British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will on Sunday begin a two-day visit to Washington, with the Iran nuclear deal, Syria and North Korea on top of the agenda, the Foreign Office said. Johnson will meet US Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Congressional foreign policy leaders. "On so many of the world's foreign policy challenges the UK and US are in lockstep," said Johnson, highlighting the joint responses to Russian provocations, North Korea and Syria. "The UK, US, and European partners are also united in our effort to tackle the kind of Iranian behaviour that makes the Middle East region less secure -- its cyber activities, its support for groups like Hezbollah, and its dangerous missile programme," he added. Britain remains committed the nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers in 2015, but US President Donald Trump has threatened to abandon the agreement when it comes up for renewal on May 12, calling it "insane". Britain, France and Germany -- the three European countries that signed the deal -- have repeatedly tried to persuade Trump not to abandon it.

Trump 'Committed' to Iran Regime Change, Giuliani Says Days Before Nuclear Deadline
Amir Tibon (Washington)/Haaretz/May 06/2018/President's lawyer and confidant calls regime change 'only way to achieve Mideast peace and 'more important than an Israeli-Palestinian deal'
Rohani warns of 'historic' mistake
WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump is "committed" to regime change in Iran, Trump's lawyer and confidant Rudy Giuliani said on Saturday. The unusual statement comes just days before Trump will have to make a dramatic decision on the fate of the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, said at an event hosted by an Iranian opposition group in Washington that regime change in Iran is "the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East
The president is "as committed to regime change as we are," Giuliani said in his address. Giuliani predicted that Trump will withdraw the United States from the 2015 deal with Iran. "With Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his right side, and National Security Adviser John Bolton on his left side, what do you think is going to happen to that agreement?" Giuliani asked with a grin. Giuliani said that regime change in Tehran was "more important than an Israeli-Palestinian deal" and could contribute to reaching such a deal in the future. Meanwhile, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani warned on Sunday Iran had prepared plans to respond to any to end the nuclear agreement, adding that the U.S. would regret such a decision.
"We have plans to resist any decision by Trump on the nuclear accord," Rouhani said in a speech carried live by state television. "If America leaves the nuclear accord, this will entail historic remorse for it."
While he does not hold an official position within the Trump administration, Giuliani is considered a close adviser to the president, and was recently added to his legal team dealing with the investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election, as well as with the scandal surrounding Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
The group that hosted Giuliani has been accused by critics of being a "front organization" for Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that was designated in the past as a terrorist organization by the United States.
John Bolton, Trump's new national security adviser is considered to have his own ties to the MEK. A recent article in Foreign Policy included a quote by a congressional aide who said that “Bolton is positively predisposed to the MEK," and that with his appointment, "they will have some access to this White House at the least.”Trump must decide by May 12 whether to recertify Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal or to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions. He has stated in recent weeks that the deal is a "disaster" and that it never should have been signed. European leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have lobbied him not to withdraw from the agreement.
Meanwhile, former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry has reportedly met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif twice over the past two months in an effort to save the deal.
Netanyahu: Iran Must Be Stopped, Even if It Means Conflict – and Better Sooner Than Later
Noa Landau/Haaretz/May 06, 2018/'Nations that were unwilling to act in time against murderous aggression later paid a much heavier price,' prime minister says
Israel would be better off confronting Iran sooner rather than later if necessary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, adding that Israel, however, does not seek escalation. "Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps has been in recent months providing Syria with advanced weapons to attack us, both on the battlefield and on the home front, including attack drones, surface-to-surface missiles, and Iranian anti-aircraft systems that will threaten air force jets," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. "We are determined to stop Iran's aggression in its early stages, even if it this involves a conflict," he continued. "Better now than later. Nations that were unprepared to take timely action against murderous aggression paid much heavier prices afterwards. We do not want escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario."The prime minister also said that his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin slated for Wednesday was "particularly important in light of Iran's efforts to entrench itself in Syria." On Monday, Netanyahu gave a dramatic press conference in which he unveiled a trove of documents and files that he said proved that Iran, a strategic ally of Russia, lied about its nuclear program before signing the deal meant to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The meeting between Putin and Netanyahu is set to occur days before U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce whether he will recertify the Iran nuclear deal. He has declared that he will withdraw unless there are changes, such as limitations on Iran's ballistic missile program. Earlier this week, U.S. officials told NBC News that a strike on a Syrian military base near Hama was carried out by Israeli F-15 fighter jets after Iran had transferred a shipment of anti-aircraft missiles there. The three officials claimed that Israel seems to be preparing for open warfare with Iran and is seeking U.S. support.

Morocco Counterterrorism Director: Special Laws to Face ISIS Returnees
Rabat- Asharq Al Awsat/Sunday, 6 May, 2018/“The return of Moroccans who fought with ISIS presents a real threat to the country,” said Morocco's Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (BCIJ) Director Abdelhak Khiame. Khiame is a specialist in counterterrorism efforts. Returning ISIS fighters prompted Moroccan authorities to draw up a plan and adopt special laws and countermeasures. In an interview with French news agency AFP, Khiame says that 200 Moroccan ISIS fighters have been arrested. He added that Moroccan authorities established a framework in 2015 for measures concerning returning fighters which permits police to apprehend returnees, hold them for investigation, and place them in custody. Returning ISIS fighters typically receive sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years in prison. Khiame said that the number of Moroccans who fought alongside radical ranks in Iraq and Syria was estimated at be over 1,600 in 2015. “Some have committed bombing suicide or were shot by coalition forces and others have fled to other countries.”Moroccan fighters in foreign countries are “regularly involved in attacks in Europe,” including in France, Brussels, Belgium, Spain, said the BCIJ head.
Khiame also stressed that the alarming security situation in the Sahel remains one of the government’s main concerns, as it has become a “fertile ground” for terrorism and a safe zone for certain terror cells, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ISIS that face security crackdowns from law enforcement in Middle Eastern conflict areas. With widespread extremism and Islamophobia across the world, several countries continue to link terrorism to Islam and specific nationalities. Refuting claims stigmatizing a certain religion or background, Khiame asserts that terrorism has no nationality.
The Moroccan official added that Morocco has effectively implemented its legislation against terrorist groups, especially following the Casablanca and Marrakech terrorist attacks in 2003 and 2011. Recalling his staff’s achievements, Khiame said that Morocco frequently announces the dismantling of “terror cells.” He added that the country also recently released data on the terrorist groups dismantled from 2015 to 2017. During the interview, Khiame also discussed the role of international cooperation in the fight against terrorism. “Thanks to our services, attacks have been foiled in France, Belgium, Germany, England, Denmark, Italy, and Spain.”

Two Palestinians killed in latest Gaza cross border violence
Al Arabiya with AFP/Sunday, 6 May 2018/Israeli Defence Forces said and the the Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed two Palestinians were killed on Sunday, while allegedly attempting to cross into Israel from the Gaza Strip. The casualties are the latest incident in the escalating cross-border violence. The Israeli military stated that its forces “fired towards the suspects who attempted to infiltrate into Israel from the southern Gaza Strip and to damage security infrastructure."
Border Protests
Forty-three Palestinians have been shot and killed so far by Israeli forces since March 30, when Gazans began weekly protests dubbed “The Great March of Return” along the border with Israel. Facing international censure over its use of live fire in the protests, Israel says it is protecting its border and takes such action only when protesters, some hurling fire-bombs and trying to plant explosives, come too close. The protests have seen thousands gather to demand access to their families’ lost homes or lands, now in Israel. Israel says Hamas is using the protests as cover to try to carry out attacks. Hamas denies the accusation.

Iraqi air force strike targets ISIS commanders’ position inside Syria
Reuters, BaghdadSunday, 6 May 2018/The Iraqi air force carried out a new strike on an ISIS position inside Syria, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office said in a statement on Sunday. The strike targeted a position used by the commanders of the group, south of the town of Deshaisha, the statement said. The Iraqi air force has already carried out several air strikes against the group in Syria since last year, with the approval of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and the US-led coalition fighting ISIS.

East Euphrates: Fighting Among Washington Allies
London- Ibrahim Humaidi/Asharq Al Awsat/May 06/18/A clash that occurred in Deir Ezzor in the past two days held several indicators on possible ethnic, tribal and political complications in the coming period among Washington allies in the east of Euphrates, especially with the US administration discussing procedures to fill the gap after withdrawing its forces once ISIS is eradicated. The fighting between the Syrian Democratic Forces, composed mainly of People's Protection Units, and the Syrian Elite Forces, affiliated with Syria's Tomorrow Movement, was brought to an end by Brett H. McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS. In details, an armed unit from SDF advanced towards Abu Hamam two days ago and asked Abu Emad, the leader of the elite forces that contributed to the battles against ISIS and the liberation of Raqqa, to hand over weapons During the verbal altercation between the fighters and Abu Imad, the wife of the latter intervened and "insulted the members of the visiting group, which led to an exchange of fire and the wounding of two Kurdish men and the wife of Abu Imad."The Arab Council in Euphrates and Al-Jazeera issued a statement on Friday saying that the Syrian Democratic Forces conducted a violent attack that was defied by Syrian Elite Forces on the 4th of May. The statement held the SDF responsible for this dangerous act that waves with a possible Kurdish-Arab riot. The Arab Council in Euphrates and Al-Jazeera is a political bloc composed of the three eastern provinces in Deir Ezzor, Raqqa and Hasakah. The council includes a majority of sheikhs and tribes of the region as well as prominent figures from cities and municipalities. A member of the council stated that the main reason behind the dispute was the Kurdish units that control the decision-making and reject the presence of any Arab faction in the region because that would threaten them. In contrast, a Kurdish leader said that the SDF is composed of Arab fighters, denying the Kurdish quest to dominate and suggest an agenda of federalism.

MWL Chief to Asharq Al-Awsat: Iran Defames Islam
Washington- Mouaz Al Omari/Asharq Al-Awsat/Sunday, 06 May/18/ Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL) Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa said that Iran is defaming Islam with its "desperate" practices, especially with its crimes in the Middle East that have destabilized security in several Arab and Islamic states. The world is witnessing Nazi-styled force (Iran) seeking hegemony, Issa told Asharq Al-Awsat on the sidelines of a press conference in Washington, DC. Issa cited Iranian political ambitions and historic tendencies for hegemony, saying that they will not likely change so long the cleric-led regime keeps going against moral values and principles.He added that, just like the Nazi regime, Tehran is driven by a personal agenda solely and acts irrespective of logic, truth or justice. Iranian sectarianism has galvanized regional strife, inspired several crimes that have destabilized security in a number of Arab countries, said Issa. Issa explained that Tehran’s sectarian slogans have fed into Islamophobia and prejudice before those who aren’t familiar with true Islam. Added to that, Iran’s actions fueled sectarian strife in the Arab region. “We can take the scale of crimes committed by Iran in Yemen as an example. Backing Houthi, it (Iran) has supported a coup against legitimate forces alongside vandalism in Yemen, attempting to carve up a demographic change in Yemen,” Issa said. More on Iran’s criminal history, Issa condemned Tehran’s prevention of humanitarian assistance reaching Yemenis, and its continued support of barbaric genocide carried out against the people in Syria. The MWL Chief said that Sunnis have no clash with Shiites, but ardently believe in diversity being one of the Almighty’s wills. He reiterated that religious conviction greatly promotes values of coexistence, love and harmonious living.
Issa went on to absolve Shiites from the Iranian-inflicted sectarianism in the region, saying that reasonable Shiite leaders go against Iran’s sectarian project, slamming it as offensive to Shiites everywhere. “The Shiite sect is innocent of it (Iran’s doing),” Issa said in his reference to what some Shiite clerics and leaders ruled. Speaking about the Arab quartet dispute with Qatar, Issa said that the MWL hasn't intervened in Qatar’s crisis because the solution is clear and the topic is simple and focused on Qatar’s commitment to its previous pledges. “We are against the so-called political Islam, that aims at deploying Islam to achieve political goals. It also seeks to undermine the concept of national states in the Islamic world,” he stated. Issa emphasized the statements made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the necessity of returning to the true image of Islam, adding that bin Salman had established the two biggest global platforms to combat extremist ideologies: Etidal Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology and Feker. The MWL has achieved several initiatives and programs in combating extremist ideologies through the participation of its scholars in clarifying what true Islam is, explained Issa.

A Crushing Defeat for Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan
Amman- Asharq Al Awsat/Sunday, 6 May, 2018/For the first time in 26 years, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan suffered an overwhelming defeat in the elections of a president and members of the board of directors of the Jordanian Engineers Association, which is one of the largest professional syndicates in terms of number, presence and influence in Jordan. The association was one of the largest strongholds of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and for many years was under the group's control. In the elections on Friday, engineer Ahmad Samara al-Zubi won the presidency of the association defeating engineer Abdullah Obeidat. Engineer Fawzi Masaad won the position of the vice president, as the members who won were: Bashar Tarawnah, Sari Zaaiter, Ahmad Siyam, Raed Sharaji, Abdulbaset Saleh, Malek Amayrah, Samir Sheikh and Mohammad Mahamid.

Iraq Warns Against Disabling Electronic Polling on Election Day

Baghdad- Hamza Mustafa/Asharq Al Awsat/May 06/18/Iraq’s parliamentary Security and Defense Committee announced on Saturday that influential parties plan to disrupt electronic ballot processing ahead of the May 12 vote, with the aim of imposing manual counting methods. The accusations claimed that the parties are seeking to falsify the results, which would only be possible if the electronic system is replaced with manual counting. “Information gathered by the committee through my tours in some areas and governorates, especially in hot spots, confirms that there are under the table arrangements between ballot station managers and authoritarian parties, which rely on fraud,” parliament's Security and Defense Committee head Hakim al-Zamili told Asharq Al-Awsat. Agreements struck between ballot monitors and parties seeking a stay in power cover rigging or damaging voting machines in the last hours of elections. Zamili explained that “these parties are addicted to forging results since past periods, and they have stayed in power through influence and money.”More so, the committee issued a statement confirming that “intelligence information revealed attempts of some influential political parties to disrupt electronic voting devices in order to resort to manual counting to falsify the results.”“We sent a letter to the electoral commission stipulating that any station which does not use electronic voting will be discounted from elections, and any station experiencing device malfunctions must not resort to counting votes manually,” Zamili said on countermeasures carried out by the committee. In turn, Dr. Qahtan al- Jubouri, former Tourism Minister and official spokesman of the Sadrist-backed alliance ‘Sa’iroun’, told Asharq Al-Awsat that it is not unlikely for such foul play to take place. Jubouri said many reasons support the possibility of it happening, most notably that there are political parties that strongly hyped the return to manual counting, arguing that voting machines were “rigged.”“We announced our position from the start that we are adopting the electronic counting because it leaves no room for doubt,” he added.

Tunisia Votes in First Free Municipal Elections
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 06/18/Tunisia's first free municipal elections got under way Sunday as voters expressed frustration at the slow pace of change since the 2011 revolution in the cradle of the Arab Spring. The election has been touted as another milestone on the road to democracy in the North African country, which has been praised for its transition from decades of dictatorship. But Tunisia has struggled with persistent political, security and economic problems as well as corruption since the revolution, and observers expected a low turnout for Sunday's poll. Around 15 people trickled into a polling station in central Tunis to cast their ballots after voting officially began at 8:00 am (0700 GMT). Ridha Kouki, 58, acknowledged that voting is "a right and a duty" but said Tunisians "have little hope" of any change. Chokri Halaoui, 45, said he wanted to send a "message to politicians to tell them 'we have voted now show us what you can do'."Tunisians have already voted in parliamentary and presidential elections since the 2011 fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but municipal polls had been delayed four times due to logistic, administrative and political deadlocks. President Beji Caid Essebsi has called for a "massive turnout"."For the first time (since the revolution) the Tunisian people are called to participate in municipal elections, something that seems simple but it is very important," he said on Friday.- 'Cart without wheels' -Tunisia is grappling with economic challenges including an inflation rate which stands at around eight percent and an unemployment rate of more than 15 percent. The country was hit by a wave of protest at the start of the year over a new austerity budget introduced by the government. "These municipal elections won't change anything for us. We will always be on the same cart without wheels or a horse," 34-year-old housewife Hilma told AFP ahead of the vote. More than 57,000 candidates, half of them women and young people, are running for office in Tunisia's 350 municipalities. Around 60,000 police and military personnel have been mobilised for the polls, while Tunisia remains under a state of emergency, imposed in 2015 after a string of deadly jihadist attacks. Across the country voting will run until 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) in more than 11,000 polling stations. But in Kasserine in central Tunisia, a hot bed of protests during the revolt that toppled Ben Ali, polling stations will open later and close earlier for "security reasons", organisers said. The municipal elections, enshrined in the new constitution and one of the demands of the revolution, mark the first tangible step of decentralisation since the end of Ben Ali's rule. Voters will elect municipal counsellors who in turn will elect mayors by mid-June. Experts predict Tunisia's two political heavyweights -- the Islamist Ennahda movement and the secular Nidaa Tounes party -- will come out on top in nearly every district. But there remains some hopes that the polls, the first in four years, will see a new generation elected into office. The municipal polls will be followed by legislative and presidential votes in 2019.

Saudi Detains 'Thousands' for Months without Trial, Says HRW
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 06/18/Saudi Arabia has detained thousands of people for up to a decade without trial, Human Rights Watch said Sunday, slamming the country's powerful crown prince for the "arbitrary detentions". Official data from the interior ministry, analysed by HRW, showed that authorities had detained 2,305 people for more than six months -- some for over a decade -- without referring them to court. The ultraconservative kingdom, an absolute monarchy, has introduced a string of reform in past months, spearheaded by the country's unchallenged Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, dubbed "MBS", who was appointed heir to the throne in June 2017. Yet arbitrary detention appears to have "increased dramatically in recent years", according to HRW. The group urged authorities to "stop holding people arbitrarily". "If Saudi authorities can hold a detainee for months on end with no charges, it's clear that the Saudi criminal justice system remains broken and unjust, and it only seems to be getting worse," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for the New York-based rights group. "It seems that MBS's Vision 2030 plan better describes the length of detentions without charge than an aspirational time horizon for reforms."Mohammed bin Salman is the architect of his country's "Vision 2030" plan, a sweeping reform project aimed at weaning Saudi Arabia off of its dependence on oil and modernising one of the most restrictive countries in the world. The project includes plans to privatise part of oil giant Aramco and boost the role of women in the workforce. Women will be permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia from June. The kingdom has one of the highest execution rates in the world.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 06-07/18
Saudi Arabia’s Quality of Life Program Vs Skeptics
Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al Awsat/May 06/18
Saudi Arabia’s Quality of Life program alongside its 234-page executive summary, announced by the Economic and Development Board last week, was a down-to-the-letter exceptionally gratifying read.
Why?! In short, because the program goes beyond a vision and into noting down operational details with clear-cut numbers, specific timelines and initiatives set for fulfilling the ultimate goal of making Saudi Arabia the best place to live in for citizens and residents alike.
The program relies on two axes: the first being the development of the individual's lifestyle and the second being the enhancement of overall quality of life in the kingdom.
Upgrading the local environment so that it offers a new array of options that get citizens and residents involved in cultural, recreational and sporting activities is a part of the program’s plan for developing an individual’s lifestyle in the Kingdom.
On the second hand, widening the scope of activities inside the kingdom, diversifying the economy, and planning for at least three Saudi cities to rank top worldwide, will advance the Kingdom’s agenda on improving the overall quality of life in the kingdom.
Quality of Life 2020 aims to include at least three Saudi cities in the list of the top 100 cities in the world to live in by 2030.
The program isn’t only focused on long-term goals but has set immediate goals to work.
Year 2022 is the deadline for promoting social sports activities, achieving excellence in several regional and global sports, and developing and diversifying recreational opportunities, meeting the needs of the population.
These goals are set to indirectly improve services provided in Saudi cities such as utilities, public transport, and urban landscape, as well as push the establishing of special areas and rehabilitating economic zones.
More so, the initiative is that it is only one of twelve other key programs identified by the Economic and Development Council as strategically vital for Saudi Arabia to achieve the goals of Kingdom Vision 2030.
Implementing programs in Saudi Arabia is being backed with effective cooperation between state ministries and institutions—nationwide, initiatives cannot be achieved if state bodies operate on an isolated-island principal.
In order to achieve satisfactory results on improving main aspects of life, such as infrastructure, transport, housing, urban design, environment, health care, economic and educational opportunities, security and the social environment, progress must be tightly tied to strict performance indicators.
It goes without saying that improving quality of life in Saudi cities will reflect positively on the welfare of citizens and residents, as well as visitors and tourists.
Developing strong infrastructure in Saudi cities, providing comprehensive services, enhancing social interaction, and offering both quality and diverse lifestyle choices are factors that motivate people and enhance social livelihood.
It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia is stepping into an astounding future.
However, some skeptics choose to focus on the obstacles. Pessimists at every corner watch out closely for the smallest misfortunes to put to question the validity of change. They remain hesitant to believe that positive change is actually happening in Saudi Arabia.
It is true that the same people were blaming Saudi Arabia for its steadfastness and lack of flexibility in change, have now become full-time skeptics. They themselves never believed that Saudi Arabia would have a vision and a future project of such astronomical scale.
Nevertheless, doubters aren’t to be blamed-- it is not easy for them to imagine that a new Saudi Arabia is launched and won't slow down until it achieves listed aspirations. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and skeptics will day by day be dismissed with ground-hard facts.

Mike Pompeo and US diplomacy victories without bullets
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/May 06/18
“We are experiencing tough times, we have to face the challenges courageously and strongly… we need powerful diplomatic efforts in the Middle East to control Iran’s destabilizing actions in Syria, Yemen and the region”. This was a part of new US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech to his staff, who amount to more than 70,000. The US has a huge capability to weaken and possibly eliminate any regime it opposes, without shooting a single bullet, Pompeo said. Which almost happened to the Iranian regime when Washington imposed further sanctions in 2006 after a Security Council resolution in response to the regime’s insistence on pursuing its nuclear project. Sanctions included banning the export of many goods, including refined oil products to Iran, preventing banking transactions, suspending financial transactions between Iran and most of the world’s banks, and pursued international oil companies to prevent them from production in Iran. Washington prohibited insurance for the Iranian oil tankers and built an electronic wall that blocked all dealings including registering websites and internet services. Without dollars, information, banks and insurance the Iranian regime was stuck; it could not trade, import nor fulfill the needs of its people. The events required complicated diplomatic work, political patience, and well-informed intelligence agencies to make sure that the decisions were being implemented; this is what Washington succeeded in during this period. Due to these immense pressures, the Iranian regime resorted to communicate in private with, after three years of Obama’s administration asking to negotiate.
These communications coincided with the Green Revolution in Tehran, which strongly impacted the regime. Then a long set of talks started between the two sides. Iran then had to be more submissive after the revolution in Syria, its strategic ally in the region. In exchange for Iran to suspend its nuclear project for military purposes, the US administration agreed along with its European allies to make a secret deal to lift economic sanctions on Iran while refraining from toppling the Syrian regime. The Iranians, who are skilled in bargaining, had realized that President Obama is ready to give them more in return for the agreement. Thus they took double what they wished for, including large amounts of financial payments which suspended all the hostile campaigns against them and overlooked their military expansion in the region. Even with Washington’s serious mistakes, the diplomatic work it led for years had resulted in an important agreement that forced Khamenei’s regime to yield without shooting a single bullet.
Power of diplomacy
Even with Washington’s serious mistakes, the diplomatic work it led for years had resulted in an important agreement that forced Khamenei’s regime to yield without shooting a single bullet. This is the power of US diplomatic tools as described by Pompeo in his speech a few days ago. It seems it is doing the same thing with the North Korean regime. What’s worrying is that the same mistakes made in dealing with Iran might be repeated with North Korea, since the circumstances are identical. The current administration needs an urgent preliminary assessment of the situation before November, when the midterm elections will take place. The president’s party should win one of the two chambers, or else he will lose a lot of his authority and be victim to his Democrat opponents. However, using diplomacy only to force the regime in Tehran to respect UN principles by suspending its activities and interventions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen would succeed but will not achieve quick results. The advantage of diplomacy is that there is no blood nor bullets, but it is very slow and its results would be too late for heated issues, such as wars. The fear is that the North Korean regime would use Washington’s pressing desire, to have a historic nuclear agreement to exert more pressure. I do not rule out that the North Korean leader would try to rescue Khamenei, his ally, by convincing the Americans that if they retreated in any of their commitments to the Iranian deal it would affect their credibility in their negotiations with him. My fears might not be real, but we know the relationship between the two extreme regimes.

No excuse for our ignorance in an information age
Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/May 06/18
I understand that people could be deceived at times when information takes decades to be revealed to the public. I understand that people could be driven towards the unknown due to rare sources of information, slow communications and the absence of truth due to a massive amount of falsehood, ambiguity and the absence of information that would take decades to be revealed and published – and which even when published by western media, it needs another decade to reach people in the Arab world.
However, the present is quite different. Digital technology is now available to children who can access information even before their elders and is on hand to both the rich and poor alike. For example, you can read the Washington Post in Bahrain even before it has been published in print yet in the US. Even when you are thousands of miles away, online tools enable you to receive breaking news from, for instance, The Guardian. You’d learn the news even before millions of British people know about it, because you may have been online in Bahrain and notified about it on your Twitter account, while many in Britain were asleep at night.
Information warfare
There is no excuse for our ignorance now as information is easily and quickly available. Meanwhile, we should not ignore or pretend that we are not aware of what is being planned for us due to lack of information, and justify our mistakes at being deceived.
Today, competition between conflicting parties in our world makes information warfare one of its tools. Information reaches more quickly and accurately than one might expect. We now have the proof and evidence that Iran and Qatar were involved in funding armed Arab militias belonging to both sects. The evidence is available for all those who defend these two regimes, thus there is no excuse for their defense. All you need to do is to use your mobile phones and search on Google or on Twitter to find the evidence. You can search for the keywords Iran and al-Qaeda, Qatar and Qassem Soleimani and you will find plenty of news.
Iran, Qatar support both Shiite and Sunni terror
Thus given all these easy methods to attain knowledge, I wish that those who see Iran as a Shiite supporter or see Qatar as a Sunni supporter answer the following questions: Why does Iran harbor al-Qaeda commanders? And why does Qatar pay billions of dollars to Shiite militias headed by Qassem Soleimani?”
These facts cannot be denied, they are out there. They are both assisting each other. Each party claims that it is supporting a sect to protect it from the other. Is not the Iranian-Qatari rapprochement enough? Does this not sound the alarm to awaken the asleep? After all this available information for everyone to access, is it logical that any Arab Shiite would still believe that the Iranian regime is good when he knows that it harbors and helps commanders of al-Qaeda, which bombed Shiite mosques and killed Shiite people? Is it logical that any Sunni still believes that Qatar is protecting the Sunni people and is its chief defender, while it provides Shiite terrorist militias with money that was used to kill Iraqi Sunnis and displace Sunnis of Syria from their cities? Doesn’t this huge torrent of available evidence about the Iranian-Qatari linkage open people’s eyes? Is not Qatar the one that is funding militias which kills Shiite in Iraq? Is not Iran is the one that is funding the Shiite militias that is killing the Sunnis in Iraq? How would one “honorable” party that’s fighting another “honorable” party meet while they are both funding fighting militias? Did not you realize after all this information which spread quickly over the last year that these states are not about supporting the Sunni or the Shiite, but rather about nurturing terrorist militias without distinction? If the available information reaches us and we do not analyze and understand it, then ignorance lies with our analyses and understanding, not in the paucity of information, and this is a disaster!

When will Iraq become another Armenia?
Adnan Hussein/Al Arabiya/May 06/18
Another country has presented itself as a model and example of the patriotism of its political elite, whether it’s the ruling party or the opposition, and how it puts the interest of the country and its people before partisan and personal interests.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan, also the chairman of the ruling Republican Party in Armenia and a former president, opted to be wise and rational and submitted his resignation upon the people’s will who have been protesting for ten days demanding he steps down because he failed. People have also called for appointing Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinian as his successor. For those who do not know, Armenia is a stone’s throw away from Iraq as all that separates between the two countries is Turkey from one side and Iran from another.
Sargsyan did not only hand governance over without any resistance but he also addressed people and said: “I address you one last time to say that Nikol Pashinian was right. I was wrong.”
Before that, Sargsyan had tried to maneuver to stay in power but when he realized that this may lead the country to general unrest and perhaps cause a military coup, he put the interests and the future of the country and its people first and decided to submit to the demands of the Velvet Revolution that swept through the country. This revolution has erupted due to the deterioration of the situation in the country during Sargsyan’s term as administrative and financial corruption has spread, the rate of inflation, unemployment and poverty as well as prices have increased and the situation of general services has worsened, like what Iraq has been suffering from for over 10 years. Such a move by a man in power, like the Armenian prime minister, can only be described as patriotic, wise and responsible. This of course is the complete opposite of the behavior of the influential political category in Iraq as once its members attain power, they fight tooth and nail to keep it and state that they will not give it up. Not to mention that before they attain power, they seek it by all means possible, even if via despicable methods, like what’s happening in the current election campaign which they spent tens of millions of dollars on that were looted from public money and from the share of poor people who are deprived of a decent livelihood and from proper and basic healthcare, environmental, educational and municipal services.
Can we one day be like Armenia?

Armenian Genocide: Turkey Cracks Down
Uzay Bulut/Gatestone Institute/May 06/18
The Christian genocide in Ottoman Turkey lasted for 10 years -- from 1913 to 1923 -- and targeted Armenian, Greek, Assyrian and other Christians. It resulted in the annihilation of around three million people. Sadly, Turkish aggression against the remaining Armenians continues.
According to Turkish myth, it was actually the "treacherous" Armenians who persecuted Turks; and the Turks were acting in self-defense to rid themselves of murderous Armenians. A widespread Turkish claim is, "They deserved it."
The lies and state propaganda, which hold the victims responsible for their own annihilation, are what enable the ongoing Turkish persecution of the country's remaining Armenians, including the conversion of their churches into mosques and the digging up of Armenian graves and churches by treasure-hunters who search for gold.
The annual Armenian Genocide commemorative event that the Istanbul branch of Turkey's Human Rights Association (IHD) and the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM) planned to hold on April 24 -- which they have been holding every year since 2005 -- was blocked by police, who seized the placards and banners about the genocide and carried out criminal record checks on participants. Three human rights activists were detained and then released.
In an exclusive interview with Gatestone, Ayşe Günaysu, an activist with the IHD's Commission Against Racism and Discrimination, said that "on their way to police station, the detainees were made to listen to racist songs containing hostile words concerning Armenians."
The annual event commemorates the April 24, 1915 round-up, imprisonment and eventual slaughter of more than 200 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Istanbul by Ottoman authorities -- and the unfolding of the Armenian Genocide. The victims were brought to a prison, now a building that houses the Museum of Turkish Islamic Art (Türk İslam Eserleri Müzesi). The Armenians were then taken to the Haydarpaşa railway station, where they were transported to Anatolia for their ultimate extermination. According to Günaysu:
"During our commemorations, we showed the crime scenes. We exposed the museum of Turkish Islamic Art and the Haydarpaşa railway station as crime venues. We read out loud and then recorded the names of more than 2,000 Armenian cities, towns and villages destroyed during the genocide. We wrote down their names and exhibited them on show boards. So, we not only commemorated the deaths, but also tried to share the truth about the genocide with the people of Turkey."
Since 2010, the IHD has gathered at Haydarpaşa railway station for the commemoration. This year, there were plans to hold the event at the Sultanahmet square. Günaysu said:
"We do not ask for the permission of the office of the governor of Istanbul to commemorate the genocide. We only call them on the phone and inform them of the hour and venue of the event. Our banners read 'Genocide! Recognize! Beg Forgiveness! Compensate!' in English and Turkish. The police told us we could hold the event on condition that we do not use the word 'genocide.' But we said we would not engage in self-censorship and gathered at the square of Sultanahmet to commemorate the genocide victims. We had also prepared a genocide commemoration press release, but we could not read it out or distribute it to the press due to police intervention. The police also seized our banners and the photos of the Armenian intellectuals arrested on April 24, 1915."
The IHD press release, which the police prevented from being distributed, read, in part:
"At the root of all evils in this country lies the genocide committed against the Christian peoples of Asia Minor and Northern Mesopotamia, against Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks.
"Now, we once more bow with respect before the memory of the Armenian, Assyrian/Syriac and Greek victims of the genocide. And we, the descendants of the genocide perpetrators, repeat our feeling of shame for not being able to prevent the continuation of the genocide through its denial and successive waves of destruction through generations."
Sadly, Turkish aggression against the remaining Armenians continues. On December 28, 2012, an 85-year-old Armenian woman named Maritsa Küçük was beaten and stabbed to death in her home in the neighborhood of Samatya, one of the largest Armenian communities in Istanbul.
Günaysu said that "during the police intervention and detentions at the genocide commemoration in Sultanahmet,
Küçük's daughter, Baydzar Midilli, screamed: 'My mother is a genocide victim, yet you still say there is no genocide?!' As members of the police department started walking towards her, apparently to detain her for protesting, Eren Keskin, a human rights lawyer, stopped them and told them that Midilli's mother was murdered for being an Armenian. A police chief then prevented the officers from arresting her."
On April 24, 2011 -- the 96th anniversary of the genocide -- Sevag Balıkçı, an Armenian doing his compulsory military service in the Turkish army, was shot to death by a Turkish nationalist. His killer has yet to be brought to justice. During last month's commemoration, seven years after his murder, Balıkçı's family and friends stood by his graveside in Istanbul to pay tribute to him. According to Günaysu, police officers told those gathered at the grave that they were not allowed in their speeches to mention the word "genocide":
"There were a lot of armed police officers at the cemetery. While people were praying, the police were about to intervene. Two activists asked the police to respect those praying and mourning. Fortunately, the police listened, and moved a slight distance away from the congregation."
The Christian genocide in Ottoman Turkey lasted for 10 years -- from 1913 to 1923 -- and targeted Armenian, Greek, Assyrian and other Christians. It resulted in the annihilation of around three million people. Although a century has passed since then, it is still a bleeding wound for the victims and their descendants. The online newspaper Artı Gerçek recently reported that the bones of victims are still visible in a lake in in eastern Turkey.
Armenian civilians, escorted by Ottoman soldiers, marched through Harput to a prison in nearby Mezireh (present-day Elazig), April 1915. (Image source: American Red Cross/Wikimedia Commons)
Locals named the lake "Gvalé Arminu" (the "Armenian lake") after the massacre of more than 1,000 men, women and children that took place there 103 years ago. According to the report, only two children, hidden by villagers, survived. Even the bones that are revealed when the lake dries up in the summer have not led to an investigation by Turkish government, which continues to deny the genocide and attempts aggressively to silence those who try to speak out about it.
On April 24, the government-funded Anadolu Agency (AA) ran a story headlined: "The source of Income of Armenian Lobbies: the Genocide Industry," alleging that the Armenian diaspora and the republic of Armenia make false claims about "the Armenian genocide lie" for financial gain.
On the same day, the AA ran a separate story: "Turks recall escaping from Armenian oppression." According to Turkish myth, it was actually the "treacherous" Armenians who persecuted Turks; and the Turks were acting in self-defense to rid themselves of murderous Armenians. A widespread Turkish claim is, "They deserved it".
The lies and state propaganda, which hold the victims responsible for their own annihilation, are what enable the ongoing Turkish persecution of the country's remaining Armenians, including the conversion of their churches into mosques and the digging up of Armenian graves and churches by treasure-hunters who search for gold.
The Turkish government must stop.
**Uzay Bulut is a journalist from Turkey and a fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. She is presently based in Washington D.C.
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Protesting Iranians disregard regime’s clampdown
Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/May 06, 2018
The Iranian regime last week doubled down on its intolerance of demonstrations on the streets; but nevertheless Tehran and other Iranian cities were the scenes of protests and anti-regime activities. In the capital, many workers had planned to hold a rally in front of the Majlis (parliament), but they were denied permission. However, a large number of the workers still made it to the Majlis and others came out to support them.
This highlights the fact that many Iranians have become so disaffected and frustrated with the authorities that they are willing to risk their lives by taking to the streets and protesting. People of all ages and social classes appear to have overcome their fears regarding the regime’s warnings.
In these situations, the regime has demonstrated repeatedly that it responds through a technique that it has been utilizing since its establishment in 1979. Deploying brute force against protesters has become the clerical rule’s modus operandi. The security and suppressive forces dispersed the demonstrators and a number of them were arrested. In addition, the regime unleashed its paramilitary and Basij forces and many protesters clashed with plain clothes Basij agents.
Protests were not limited to Iran’s capital, as there were also gatherings and clashes in several other cities, including Isfahan and Saqqez in Iranian Kurdistan. In the latter’s Chami Vali Khan Square, one protester was injured after being attacked by the regime’s forces.
One of the major grievances of the protesters is associated with economic difficulties. Neither the moderates nor the hard-liners appear to be willing to address their citizens’ underlying problems and satisfy their demands. Since January’s widespread and nationwide demonstrations, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Iran’s cities, the Iranian leaders have not taken any concrete steps to tackle the issue.
Instead, the leadership has been playing the blame game or resorting to empty rhetoric. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani continues to boast that his government has reduced inflation and is helping the economy, but the reality — such as the recent currency crisis and people’s living standards — tells a different story. Some Iranians even believe that Rouhani has been more detrimental to their economic situation than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who offered social subsidies.
Iran's rulers must satisfy citizens' economic needs or risk an uprising and the possible fall of their regime.
Arezoo, an Iranian mother of two, told me during a phone interview: “My husband is a full-time teacher. At night he also works as a taxi driver. I have a master’s degree and cannot find a job. I have been sewing clothes all day and sell them. We work seven days a week and our incomes put together ($390) are not enough to pay the rent for a one bedroom apartment in a lower class neighborhood of Isfahan ($550). My children have been sick for a long time, I have dental pain, but we cannot afford to go to a doctor. On TV, we hear Rouhani keep saying the economy is improving. But he is completely disingenuous.”
Many skilled and educated Iranians cannot find a job, and the unemployment rate and inflation remain high. Food, housing and healthcare have become extremely expensive for ordinary Iranians. This was reflected in chants such as “astronomical wages (for senior officials), public misery” at the latest protests. Placards carried by the workers read: “Our dinner table is still empty.” One of the workers carried a large placard that read: “Hey, you, billionaire minister, I haven’t been able to buy meat for the past 40 months.”
In spite of his promises to promote economic equality and improve people’s living standards, Rouhani’s moderate establishment has mostly acquiesced to the hard-liners’ power, particularly Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the senior generals of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. According to official figures, Tehran’s military budget saw an unprecedented increase of 145 percent during the first four years of Rouhani being in office.
It is worth noting that the protesters also had political demands, particularly after the arrest of several of demonstrators. Many Iranians were chanting: “Arrested workers should be freed,” “Bread, housing, freedom, are our inalienable rights,” and “Worker, teacher, student, solidarity, solidarity.”
The National Council of Resistance of Iran and the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which boast a large network inside the country, were active through their networks in the run-up to the protests.
The Iranian regime should comprehend the hard truth that cracking down on the protesters will not eliminate the underlying causes of its citizens’ grievances. The Islamic Republic needs to take tangible steps in order to adequately satisfy the economic needs and address the political grievances of its people.
Otherwise, the frustrations and disaffectedness of the population could significantly endanger the hold on power of the ruling clerics. After all, Iran’s history in the last century reveals that its society is not unfamiliar or fearful of an uprising and changing a political establishment when the leadership ignores people’s socio-political and economic needs.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh