We present you an exclusive interview with Mr. Antonio I. Haddad, an American journalist of Lebanese origin who worked for Radio Sawa, Voice of America, Al Arabiya-Dubai Radio, Free Lebanon, and Voice of Lebanon. This rich, interactive interview has focused on the political, economic and humanitarian situation in Lebanon, and relations with the United Arab Emirates.
Brief about Mr. Antonio I. Haddad:
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad is an American journalist of Lebanese origin. He worked for many famous Arabic and International broadcasts such as Radio Sawa, Voice of America, Al Arabiya-Dubai Radio, Free Lebanon, and Voice of Lebanon.
An interview with Mr. Antonio I. Haddad
The political situation in Lebanon is still witnessing tensions that do not contribute to solving any problems, as some political forces are still working to impede any solution project because it does not meet their factional and partisan aspirations. How do you read the current Lebanese internal situation, Mr. Antonio I. Haddad?
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad said that Lebanon is currently going through a very difficult phase on more than one level: economic, political, security and social, as a result of the political and economic corruption that has ravaged its official institutions for many years. Unfortunately, the officials in Lebanon are the reason for the collapse of the country, because they did not realize that the consequences of their practices would be disastrous for the Lebanese society. Not to mention the security and political control of Hezbollah over the vital facilities of the state, and here I mean the land and sea crossings and airports in Lebanon. These two factors, namely political corruption and Hezbollah’s security corruption have brought the country to where we are now.
Regrettably, the class that brought Lebanon to this level, we see it itself today in power. Instead of being subject to trial and accountability, we see it today managing matters and lying to the Lebanese citizens and the Arab and international community, believing that it is able to get out of the crisis. Nevertheless, this class knows that there are no longer opportunities available, but it insists on saying that it has the solution so that the normal citizen will not revolt against it, who has been left with no food on his table, no money in his pocket, no job opportunity to support him and his family, and no hope for a better present and tomorrow for young men and women educated in Lebanon.
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad continued to say that Hizbullah not only took the Shiite community to its axis (Iran) but also took all the Lebanese, with the help of its Christian ally, Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Gebran Bassil who is the President’s son-in-law. Hizbullah took Christians, Sunnis, Shiites and all minorities in Lebanon to this axis by force, without taking into account the sensitivity of the Lebanese society based on intellectual and religious pluralism.
Hezbollah is aware that its game has become exposed locally and internationally, and it is currently working to appease Mr. Saad Hariri, this figure who has a relative weight in the Sunni milieu until the Lebanese and international community delude that the sectarian structure in Lebanon is complete. Consequently, Lebanon is ready to start a false reform process through which Hezbollah hopes that the international community will lift its sanctions on Lebanon, and the donor countries begin to pump money again, and both corruption and theft return back again.
On the 27th of last October, nearly twenty years had passed since the end of the civil war in Lebanon (October 27, 1990). Would Mr. Antonio I. Haddad like to address a speech on that occasion?
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad said that: the Lebanese believed that the civil war had been closed forever, but what they are facing now is fateful. I do not think that the solution is available with the survival of this corrupt political class and Hezbollah’s weapons alike.
Therefore, Mr. Antonio I. Haddad thinks that the Lebanese are facing a difficult test now if they really want to get rid of the current status quo, which is either facing corruption and illegal weapons in all available ways, whether peaceful or not, or obeying this reality for an indefinite period. Consequently, the Lebanese citizen should get used to the new image of Lebanon, which resembles Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Syria, up to the Gaza Strip.
As for the Arab and international community, there is the insistence that Hezbollah gives up its illegal weapons, and that the rifle is in the hands of the Lebanese army only. If this is achieved, the Arab and international systems will move quickly to save the Lebanese community through the infusion of funds and aid. Hence, Lebanon will be able to regain its social, economic, security and cultural wellness. Otherwise, there is no solution for Lebanon, neither now nor tomorrow!!!
During the year 2020, Lebanon witnessed many protests denouncing the deteriorating economic conditions, and these protests were witnessing some violence from time to time and raising sectarian slogans, which almost led the situation to another curve. This raises a very important question: Who is driving the situation in Lebanon to violence?
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad said that: after banks quarantined citizens’ money and inflation in the national currency against the dollar occurred, which led to an unprecedented rise in prices, as well as the explosion of the Beirut port which had disastrous effects on people, the inability to provide medical materials needed to treat patients, the closure of many private institutions and companies, the loss of thousands of job opportunities and the outbreak of the Coronavirus, all of these factors help chaos and lead to violence, theft and murder due to need and hunger, and this is normal. But until now, Hezbollah is still running the game of security and politics together in Lebanon, because it is the strongest on the ground, due to its possession of weapons that are as powerful as the Lebanese army. Hezbollah is also running the security game because of its influence within the military and security institutions and all parts of the state. Hezbollah has employed its people everywhere and is able to know all the matters going on in any military or security barracks.
Despite all this, Hezbollah is greatly concerned about the poor social situation it has caused to the Lebanese people due to its protection of corruption and its adherence to illegal weapons that have brought Lebanon nothing but destruction and Arab and international sanctions. This concern stems from his environment first, which suffers much more than others and tries to put pressure on Hezbollah, believing that his Secretary Hassan Nasrallah is able to pull it out of this crisis, but in reality, he is powerless and unable to make any significant breakthrough. Accordingly, we see Hezbollah working on arranging the maritime borders with Israel in the disputed areas so that it can obtain funds after investing the gas field in the sea.
Hence, violence and civil war is an issue at any moment, because the restrictions on citizens have become great. Therefore, I think that chaos is near, and it is difficult to define its features in Lebanon. It might not look like a traditional civil war, but it would be a mess.
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad stressed that: this time the Lebanese people will not let the corrupt and the bearers of illegal weapons go unpunished, because frankly, they have already brought them to a dead end. Therefore, the results will be similar to the tragic situation that prevails in Lebanon. As I mentioned earlier, there is no escape from the overwhelming and shapeless chaos, and this is all due to the failure of the corrupt authority to step down from power and Hezbollah’s failure to hand over its weapons to the Lebanese legitimacy.
During this period, there was news entitled that “the electricity sector in Lebanon is at stake” because equipment, spare parts and maintenance are imported in dollars, and that contractors, suppliers and service providers do not receive their dues!! How might this affect the production, transportation and distribution sectors, or the Lebanese economy in general?
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad said that: the economy, as you know, is the heart that pumps blood in the veins of the entire body, and the body here is the state, and a country like the United Arab pays great attention to the economy because it is the main factor inside and outside. In general, the economy is an interconnected chain, and when this chain loses a corner, the entire economic system collapses. All vital sectors in Lebanon are witnessing a rapid collapse, but the electricity sector is collapsing faster than others due to the amount of corruption accumulated over the years. Unfortunately, behind the collapse of the electricity sector in Lebanon there is only one party, which is the Free Patriotic Movement, whose ministers and advisors have been handling the electricity issue for years, which led to where we are now.
The deficit path in the “Electricity of Lebanon” shows that the value of the deficit is increasing. But what is surprising is the volume of the escalation, as the deficit within the Electricity institution is expected to reach $40 billion in 2020, while the deficit was $13 billion in 2010. And to recall, the institution’s deficit was only $1.2 billion in 1990 after the end of the civil war.
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad mentioned that the electricity crisis has pushed the country to the brink of financial devastation as well as the support provided to “Electricity of Lebanon” has also increased the public debt burden.
Turning to another angle, in those days, we heard about the start of rounds of negotiations on demarcating the borders between Lebanon and Israel, what are the implications of such negotiations at that time? What is the purpose behind it according to your vision?
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad said that: the timing of starting negotiations with Israel is in the hands of Hezbollah, which gave the green light to start negotiations. It also determined the identity of the officers to sit at the table to negotiate with the Israelis, and it can even be said that the Lebanese delegation wears a military uniform, but with an Iranian spirit embodied by Hezbollah. This means that Hezbollah represents Iran at the negotiating table with Israel. As for the civilians represented in the delegation, it is nothing but a charade, whose godfather Michel Aoun and director Hassan Nasrallah, to give the delegation a false patriotic look. So, if we look more closely at the delegation, we will find that there is no Sunni weight in the delegation.
In any case, Israel has no problem in negotiating as long as this matter solves the problem of the maritime borders with Lebanon. Consequently, it begins the process of drilling for gas after it is administratively ready to market it outside its territory.
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad stresses that Hezbollah and Iran are aware of the importance of the negotiation file with Israel and the extent of its impact on the international community. Through starting to negotiate with Israel, they aim to grab the world’s attention first and then get Lebanon the money second. I also believe that the negotiation is not limited to its seaport only and that the two parties are ready to delve more into additional details that may lead to a comprehensive agreement later. But I repeat that Iran is present in these negotiations, but it is negotiating with a Lebanese military and civilian uniform, unfortunately.
In a related context, the UAE, in its written statement of the open debate held by the UN Security Council, last week on October 2020, on “the situation in the Middle East,” stressed the importance for the Security Council to seize the opportunity provided by the “Abrahamic Accord” to break the deadlock in the peace process in the Middle East. From your point of view, to what extent might Lebanon benefit from the peace opportunities provided by the UAE in the Middle East?
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad said that: as we are used to from our beloved UAE that it makes decisions which seek to achieve not only the interest of its people but also the interests of the entire Arab nation and the human being wherever he is. The “Abrahamic Accord” between the UAE and Israel, which was announced in the White House, was the result of tireless work between the representatives of the two countries. There is no doubt that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was strongly present during this accord.
The “Abrahamic Accord” restored the spirit of the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis, thanks to the UAE, which carried the Palestinian issue in its mind and heart during the secret meetings that were taking place with the Israeli side prior to the signing of the accord. The proof of this is what happened recently when Israel urged the UAE to establish an embassy in Tel Aviv and not in Jerusalem. Israel has called on the UAE to open up an Emirati embassy in Tel Aviv, because it knows that the UAE will not agree to do that in Jerusalem, whose file has not been resolved between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and this confirms the UAE’s interest in the Palestinian file.
Regarding the effect of the Abrahamic Accord on other files, Mr. Antonio I. Haddad mentioned that the accord angered Iran, so to speak, and this action was translated on the ground by giving Iran the green light to negotiate with Israel. The UAE, with its usual skill, has not only moved the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but also the negotiation process between Lebanon and Israel. This reflects the humanity of this ancient country that believes in dialogue and negotiation to reach solutions between the conflicting parties. The UAE is a country of dialogue and convergence of religions, and it is not surprising to see it plays a role of this size.
In the end, everyone in the world followed and was severely affected by the explosions of Beirut last August, and the UAE was one of the first countries to send aid and relief materials to the friendly Lebanese people. What do you think of the Emirati position on the Beirut crisis? What is your opinion of the UAE’s humanitarian stances, in general, and during the Covid-19 crisis, in particular, whether with brotherly Lebanon or elsewhere?
Mr. Antonio I. Haddad said that the explosion occurred in Beirut port is a national, social and economic catastrophe, and it is a direct targeting of the morale of all citizens in Lebanon in addition to the severe damage caused by the explosion. The afflicted here in Lebanon, as the disaster is great, and the responsible, as usual, is in hiding from view because the corrupt system protects itself and does not care about the citizen who has lost everything, so who had not lost a loved one had lost a home or a shop, and whoever had not lost both of them had lost a sense of hope, it is a total collapse. Unfortunately, until today, we have not determined whether the explosion was caused by the negligence of officials, by leaving the extremely dangerous “ammonium nitrate” materials stored in the port for years, or by a thunderbolt explosion or a Hezbollah missile inside the warehouse no.9 that extended to the ammonium nitrate materials, which led to this disaster.
In any case, without the help of the Gulf, Arab and foreign states to the Lebanese people, the disaster would have been much stronger. Here I would like to thank the United Arab Emirates, which carried the pain and suffering of the Lebanese in its heart and translated it on the ground by sending tons of humanitarian aid directly to the Lebanese people. I am sure that the Lebanese have been and will remain loyal in their love for the Emirates for what it has provided for them over the years.
In the conclusion of his speech, Mr. Antonio I. Haddad confirms that the contributions of the Emirates are numerous and in every direction, their humanitarian touches were evident not only in Lebanon but also much further afield. She is the one whose planes have not calmed down in transporting humanitarian supplies to Arab countries and others that are suffering from the Corona pandemic, this virus that did not leave a country even the Emirates, but she believes that extending a helping hand will alleviate the suffering of Arab and other peoples and will return in goodness and loyalty to its people and their wise leadership.