February 22/15

Bible Quotation For Today/The Leper's Miracle
Mark 01/35-45: "In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter."

Letter to the Romans 06/12-23.
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.
But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 21-22/15
The Earth revolves around the Sun… and absurd Fatwas too/Faisal J. Abbas/Al Arabiya/February 21/15

Lebanese Related News published on February 21-22/15
Lebanon storm dies down; roads icy
Hezbollah-Future talks to help economy: Hariri
Active citizenship: holding Lebanon together
Berri Holds Banquet in Hariri's Honor, Local Files Core of Talks
Kanaan on Geagea Meeting: This is Critical Phase in Christian-Christian Ties
Saniora Urges against Adopting New 'Confusing' Measures that Cripple Government
Lebanese Defense Minister Samir Moqbel: I Extended Khair's Term out of Keenness on Military Institution
Report: Ibrahim Satisfied with Course of Negotiations over Arsal Captives
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi Slams Nasrallah's Call to Join Fight against Terror, Seeks to Criminalize Combating Abroad
Abou Faour Terminates Hotel Dieu Hospital's Contract for Refusing Treatment to Disabled Woman

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 21-22/15
Iran airlifts thousands of Shiite fighters to Syrian port of Latakia to boost Aleppo warfront
Arab governments express concern over Iran deal, potential for Mideast nuclear arms race
Israel to US: Emerging nuclear deal allows Iran to dominate Middle East
Top US, Iranian nuke officials joining Iran talks
Iran’s atomic chief to meet U.S. energy secretary
Obama admin gives cover to Iraq Shiite militia abuses: Ex U.S. official
Lawmaker pushes Obama to aid allies in ISIS fight
Tehran keeps tighter leash on strays with GPS collars
Victims of 1983 Marine base bombing in Beirut lose suit for Iranian assets
Could ISIS' foray into North Africa draw another Western intervention in Libya?
ISIS targeted in 6 airstrikes by US-led coalition: taskforce
Blast kills 4 in Assad hometown: activists
Syria forces execute 10 children of alleged rebels: monitor
Syria forces kill 10 children of alleged rebels: activists
Yemen ex-ruler flees to Aden after house arrest
US and Britain mulling 'extra sanctions' against Russia: Kerry
Baghdad's first female mayor set to take the reins
Jihadis in Libya 'direct threat' to Europe: French PM
10 Foreign Workers Perish in Abu Dhabi Fire

Jihad Watch Site Latest Reports
US signals likely delay in troop pullout from Afghanistan.
Austin, Texas: Bomb threats against mosque turn out to have come from a Muslim.
Michigan State University: Muslim student charged with lying to feds about plans to join the Islamic State.
Houston Chronicle’s Dylan Baddour: #JeSuisCoulibaly.
Thailand: Muslims wound 13 with car bomb in crowded Buddhist neighborhood.
Somalia: Islamic jihadists attack hotel where government officials were meeting, murdering at least 10 people.
Steven Salaita Imagines a Palestinian Garden of Eden.
Libya: Islamic State jihadis murder at least 40 people, injure 70 in series of jihad suicide bombings.
Minnesota: Muslim teen indicted for attempting to join the Islamic State.
UK Muslim guilty of promoting Islamic State on Facebook.

The Faith of the Leper
By: Elias Bejjani*
February 22/15
Christ, the Son of God, is always ready and willing to help the sinners who seek forgiveness and repentance. When we are remorseful and ask Him for exoneration, He never gives up on us no matter what we did or said. As a loving Father, He always comes to our rescue when we get ourselves into trouble. He grants us all kinds of graces to safeguard us from falling into the treacherous traps of Satan's sinful temptations.
Jesus the only Son Of God willingly endured all kinds of humiliation, pain, torture and accepted death on the cross for our sake and salvation. Through His crucifixion He absolved us from the original sin that our first parents Adam and Eve committed. He showed us the righteous ways through which we can return with Him on the Day Of Judgment to His Father's Heavenly kingdom.
Jesus made his call to the needy, persecuted, sick and sinners loud and clear: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) The outcast leper believed in Jesus' call and came to Him asking for cleansing. Jesus took his hand, touched him with love, and responded to his request.
The leper knew deep in his heart that Jesus could cure him from his devastating and shameful leprosy if He is willing to do so. Against all odds he took the hard and right decision to seek out at once Jesus' mercy.
With solid faith, courage and perseverance the leper approached Jesus and begging him, kneeling down to him, and says to him, "If you want to, you can make me clean." When he had said this, immediately the leprosy departed from him and he was made clean. Jesus extended His hand and touched him with great passion and strictly warned him, "See you say nothing to anybody, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them." But the leper went out, began to proclaim it much, and spread about the matter so that Jesus could no more openly enter into a city, but was outside in desert places: and they came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1/40-45)
We sinners, all of us, ought to learn from the leper's great example of faith. Like him we need to endeavour for sincere repentance with heartfelt prayer, begging Almighty God for absolution from all our sins. Honest pursuit of salvation and repentance requires a great deal of humility, honesty, love, transparency and perseverance. Like the leper we must trust in God's mercy and unwaveringly go after it.
The faithful leper sensed deep inside his conscience that Jesus could cleanse him, but was not sure if he is worth Jesus' attention and mercy.
His faith and great trust in God made him break all the laws that prohibited a leper from getting close to or touching anybody. He tossed himself at Jesus' feet scared and trembling. With great love, confidence, meekness and passion he spoke to Jesus saying “If you will, you can make me clean.” He did not mean if you are in a good mood at present. He meant, rather, if it is not out of line with the purpose of God, and if it is not violating some cosmic program God is working out then you can make me clean.
Lepers in the old days were outcasts forced to live in isolation far away from the public. They were not allowed to continue living in their own communities or families. They were looked upon as dead people and forbidden from even entering the synagogues to worship. They were harshly persecuted, deprived of all their basic rights and dealt with as sinners. But in God's eyes these sick lepers were His children whom He dearly loves and cares for. “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you". Matthew(5/11-12)
The leper trusted in God's parenthood and did not have any doubts about Jesus' divinity and power to cleanse and cure him. Without any hesitation, and with a pure heart, he put himself with full submission into Jesus' hands and will knowing that God our Father cannot but have mercy on His children. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God". (Matthew5/8)
We need to take the leper as a role model in our lives. His strong and steadfast faith cured him and put him back into society. We are to know God can do whatever He wants and to trust Him. If He is willing, He will. We just have to trust in the goodness and mercy of God and keep on praying and asking, and He surely will respond in His own way even though many times our limited minds can not grasp His help.
Praying on regular basis as Jesus instructed us to is an extremely comforting ritual: "Therefore I tell you, all things whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received them, and you shall have them. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father, who is in heaven, may also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your transgressions" (Mark 11/24-26)
The leper's faith teaches us that God always listens and always responds to our requests when we approach Him with pure hearts, trust, confidence and humbleness. Almighty God is a loving father who loves us all , we His children and all what we have to do to get His attention is to make our requests through praying. "Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened". (Matthew 7/8 -9)

Iran airlifts thousands of Shiite fighters to Syrian port of Latakia to boost Aleppo warfront
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 21, 2015
debkafile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources have discovered a large-scale Iranian airlift is in progress for bringing thousands of Shiite fighters to the Syrian Mediterranean port of Latakia to reinforce the Syrian army forces falling back from the key city of Aleppo. Some of the flights are taking off from Baghdad airport. The Syrian rebels in heavy fighting Thursday and Friday, Feb. 19-20 repulsed a Hizballah-backed Syrian army offensive to recapture the town and took scores of Hizballah fighters prisoner.The incoming reinforcements are being transferred directly to the Aleppo battle-front in an effort to stabilize it and reverse the Syrian army’s retreat. The incoming reinforcements are made up of Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani Shiite militiamen.The fact that Tehran was able to raise this force in less than 24 hours from the Syrian army’s defeat in Aleppo demonstrates Iran’s total military and strategic commitment to swift action for averting a Syrian-Hizballah retreat from a key front of the four-year old civil war. The Iranian planes are taking two routes to Syria, starting out either in Baghdad or Tehran. In Baghdad, they touch down in the military section of the international airport and collect the Iraqi Shiite militiamen destined for the Syrian battlefield. This step necessitated the consent of the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The Iranian operation therefore exposes two exceedingly disturbing developments which are causing Israel’s army chiefs to burn the midnight oil: The fall of the Abadi government under Tehran’s sway is one; and Iraq’s direct involvement for the first time in the military actions of the Syrian civil war. debkafile’s military experts extrapolate from Tehran’s immediate readiness to transfer thousands of foreign troops into Syria to save Assad’s army from retreat, that the same response is to be expected from a possible setback of the same alliance in South Syria - especially when Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers are leading a Syrian-Hizballah-Shiite drive to capture the Golan town of Quneitra across from Israel’s lines. Our sources add that President Barack Obama was in a position, had he wished, to intervene with Baghdad and hold back the Iranian troop airlift to Syria. This has not happened. The administration’s inaction places it squarely behind Iran’s military steps in the Middle East and its direct intervention in key trouble spots. 

Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi Slams Nasrallah's Call to Join Fight against Terror, Seeks to Criminalize Combating Abroad
Naharnet /21/02/15
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi stated that defense strategies all over the world include articles on criminalizing fighting outside of home soil, adding that he is seeking to devise an article on this matter for Lebanon's strategy, reported Kuwait's al-Rai newspaper.
He told the daily in an interview set be published on Sunday: “I insist on criminalizing any fighting of Lebanese, whether they be Hizbullah or anyone else, on foreign soil.”
“Foreigners fighting on Lebanese soil should also be criminalized,” he added.
The article on combating terrorism was recently introduced to the ongoing dialogue between the Mustaqbal Movement and Hizbullah.
“The combating of Lebanese on foreign soil is among the reasons of internal instability in Lebanon and it has contributed to the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State groups' infiltration in the country,” Rifi said.
Commenting on Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's call for other sides to join the fighting in Syria and Iraq, the minister noted: “Who said that we can participate in saving an oppressive and totalitarian ruler as Bashar Assad or become part of the Persian project that cannot be victorious?”
“Nasrallah does not know how to read the course of history if he is under the illusion that he will emerge victorious,” he added.
“I believe that Hizbullah is headed towards suicide,” he continued.
“I have repeatedly said that the Iranian agenda will not last for long. The greatest evidence of this is the fact that it has not been able to maintain its control over regions where it wields influence,” he explained.
“Iran's agenda can create instability, but it is incapable of achieving any decisive victory,” Rifi stated.
“The more it expands its fronts, the faster it will bring about its suicide,” he remarked.
“The Iranians have not achieved a decisive victory on any front so they should halt their delusions and myths,” he said.
On Nasrallah's proposal that the Lebanese and Syrian governments and armies should coordinate their efforts against extremist threats, Rifi wondered: “Should we coordinate with Assad's army? As a minister, I cannot agree to such a suggestion.”
“Is Bashar Assad's criminality less severe than that of al-Nusra Front and the IS?” he asked.
“Isn't the killing of children with barrel bombs a crime against humanity? We will not allow coordination with the Assad regime or its army,” he declared.
Nasrallah had declared during a speech on Monday: “I tell those who are asking us to withdraw from Syria, 'Let us go together to Syria and Iraq and to any place that contains a threat to the future of our nation, because that is the right way to defend Lebanon'.”
On February 14, head of the Musatqbal Movement MP Saad Hariri questioned the purpose of Lebanese fighting abroad, asking: “Where is Lebanon's interest in sending Lebanese youths to fight in Syria and Iraq and to interfere in Bahrain's affairs.”

Hezbollah-Future talks to help economy: Hariri
The Daily Star/Feb. 21, 2015 /BEIRUT: Future Movement chief Saad Hariri said Saturday that he expects his party’s dialogue with Hezbollah to bring more stability and economic prosperity to Lebanon. Hariri, who is also a former premier, made the comments after meeting with representatives of the Economic Committees, a group of bankers and businesspeople. “Our dialogue with Hezbollah is to ensure the minimum factors for security and political stability, in order to revitalize the economy and ameliorate the people’s living conditions,” Hariri said after the meeting, according to a statement from his media office. Officials from Hezbollah and the Future Movement have held six rounds of dialogue talks since December. Both parties have repeatedly said that the talks, mediated by Speaker Nabih Berri, aimed to ease sectarian tensions.Earlier this month, an agreement reached during the talks led to the removal of political and religious signage from Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon. Joint statements issued by the parties after the closed-door talks have never made mention of economic matters being discussed at the meetings.Hariri arrived in Lebanon one week ago to lead a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of his father's assassination.

Kanaan on Geagea Meeting: This is Critical Phase in Christian-Christian Ties
Naharnet/Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan described his meeting with Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea as “friendly and frank” in dealing with issues of contention between the two rival sides, reported al-Joumhouria newspaper on Saturday.
He told the daily: “Contacts are ongoing and constant between the two sides and this is a critical phase in the talks.”“The issue has drawn local and foreign attention, especially on the Christian scene,” he remarked in light of his meeting with Geagea on Friday at his Maarab residence. The Free Patriotic Movement and LF talks have drawn attention “due to the positive breakthrough they may create in Christian-Christian ties,” added Kanaan. Asked by the daily about a potential meeting between FPM chief MP Michel Aoun and Geagea, he replied: “The first phase of the negotiations is being complete and it should be crowned with a meeting between the two officials.” Kanaan met with Geagea as part of preparations for the document of principles between the FPM and LF.
The two-hour talks were aimed at “reducing obstacles” hindering the document. The dispute between Aoun and Geagea is among the main causes of the ongoing failure to stage the presidential elections. Lebanon has been without a president since May when the term of Michel Suleiman ended.

Lebanese Defense Minister Samir Moqbel: I Extended Khair's Term out of Keenness on Military Institution
Naharnet/Defense Minister Samir Moqbel justified on Saturday his decision to extend the term of Higher Defense Council chief Mohammed Khair, saying he did it out of the interest of the military institution, reported the daily An Nahar. He told the daily: “I took the decision out of my personal convictions and keenness to safeguard the functioning of the military institution at this critical time.” “Extending his term is within my jurisdiction and rules of procedure,” he stressed.
He explained that the military council is comprised on six members, three of whom have retired, while the rest are the army commander, chief of staff, and Khair. “Khair is expected to retire on February 22, which will leave the council down to two members, rendering it incapable of taking any decisions and I will therefore be unable to provide the needs of the army,” Moqbel stated. “Such a vacuum cannot take place given the war against terrorism and the need to ensure the security of the people,” stressed the minister. He remarked however that extending Khair's term will not necessary entail the extension of Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji's tenure, which ends in September.
“New factors may come into play until that date. God willing we will be able to elect a new president and form a new cabinet, which will be followed with the appointment of a new army chief,” Moqbel added.
“Why should we get ahead ourselves seven months in advance?” he wondered. Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun criticized on Tuesday Moqbel's decision to extend Khair's term, saying that he had “exceeded his powers.” He also demanded that confidence be withdrawn from the minister. Moqbel defended his decision, emphasizing that he has “exclusive jurisdiction” to extend the service of army officers.
“The issue of Khair is 100% clear and I have the jurisdiction to sign or refrain from signing” decrees extending the service of officers “according to the Legislative Decree 102 and the powers exclusively vested in me by the defense law,” he said.

Victims of 1983 Marine base bombing in Beirut lose suit for Iranian assets
By REUTERS/02/21/2015
US District judge ruled against plaintiffs due to a lack of jurisdiction over funds abroad
Relatives of US soldiers killed and wounded in a 1983 Beirut bombing have been barred by a US judge from seeking $1.6 billion in assets belonging to Iran's central bank and held by a unit of German exchange operator Deutsche Boerse. US District Judge Katherine Forrest in New York said in a decision released on Friday that they could not pursue assets owned by Iran's Bank Markazi and held in Luxembourg because she does not have jurisdiction over the funds. Clearstream Banking SA, the clearing unit for Deutsche Boerse AG, had argued for the case to be thrown out because US courts have no jurisdiction over funds held in Luxembourg with no direct link to the United States. Lawyers for the plaintiffs countered that Clearstream operates an office in New York and that the Iranian funds are denominated in dollars, with proceeds from the assets previously arriving in a Clearstream account at JPMorgan Chase & Co in New York. Victims of the bombing won a $2.65 billion default judgment against Iran in 2007 and have since pursued Iranian assets held in various accounts to collect on the judgment. The lawsuit accuses Iran of helping to plan the attack and is one of several brought by hundreds of relatives of soldiers who were at the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, when it was bombed. One of the plaintiffs, Lynn Smith Derbysire, whose brother died in the bombing, said they would appeal. "Despite this heart wrenching disappointment, the families are committed to pursuing justice," she said in a statement. In a similar case in 2013, Clearstream Banking SA agreed to transfer to the victims $1.8 billion in funds owned by Bank Markazi, that were held in an account at Citigroup Inc in the United States. Judge Forrest said Clearstream's settlement in the 2013 case released it from claims in the current action. She ruled that Banca UBAE, which holds the Luxembourg account with Clearstream, is also protected due to a similar prior settlement. And she found that JPMorgan no longer had any assets tied to Bank Markazi to turn over. The case is Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-9195.

Could ISIS' foray into North Africa draw another Western intervention in Libya?
By ARIEL BEN SOLOMON/J.Post/02/21/2015
The expansion of the Libyan conflict from an intra-state conflict to one involving other states has increasingly gathered momentum since late 2014, Prof. Yehudit Ronen of the political science department at Bar-Ilan University told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
These threats could aggressively deepen the insecurity and violent chaos, and further erode Libya’s territorial integrity.
“The Western intervention in the country seemed to many in Libya and the West at the time of Gaddafi’s downfall in August 2011 as a glorious victory, paving the way for a better future dominated by a democratic government, more individual rights, and enhanced relations with the West and Libya’s surrounding geostrategic environment,” Ronen explained.
However, the opposite occurred and “the country is on the verge of total collapse,” she said.
A mixture of armed militias, with the Islamist groups at the head, have undermined internal security. One of the main centers of the fighting is in the oil-rich eastern region of Cyrenaica, which has exhibited a growing desire for greater autonomy.
This area is known for the presence of powerful jihadist groups including the al-Qaida-linked Ansar al-Shari’a, said Ronen. For example, in Derna, a port city in Cyrenaica, hundreds of mujahideen with combat experience from wars ranging from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria are active, she said. This is also a stronghold of Islamic State, which set up base there in fall 2014.
About a week ago, Islamic State allied itself with supporters of the former Gaddafi regime, including various tribes, gaining strength also in the area around Sirte in the center of the country, continued Ronen.
“Various voices in Libya and its Arab and African surroundings have raised a growing call for another round of Western military intervention,” Ronen said.
Elijah J. Magnier, the chief international correspondent for the Kuwaiti Al-Rai newspaper, told the Post that Egypt is the only country that can send troops to Libya, and predicted that the most the West would do is carry out air strikes.
“Libya will definitely get much more violent than it is today,” he said.
Relating to another newly explosive conflict, in Yemen, Magnier says that “the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] will not react to Yemen by sending troops or financing [Sunni groups] AQAP [al-Qaida in the Islamic Peninisula] or Islamic State” to counter the Shi’ite Houthis that now control Yemen.
“This is due to the lesson learned in Iraq and Syria,” he said.
While the international community and Arab states oppose the Houthi coup, the Shi’ite group has been given a free hand, which has allowed Iran to impose its will on the country, as it already did in Iraq.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former terrorism finance analyst at the US Department of the Treasury, told the Post that “the chaos in both Yemen and Libya have the potential to worsen significantly.
“One only needs to look at Syria for a glimpse at how bad things can get,” he said.
“One thing to watch for is the impact of the interventions by Jordan and Egypt,” he noted.
“Both can easily be drawn into fights they were not prepared for. The US is not the only army susceptible to mission creep in the Middle East.”

Active citizenship: holding Lebanon together
Mazin Sidahmed| The Daily Star/Feb. 21, 2015
BEIRUT: Every healthy society is built on strong individuals that hold their leaders accountable and work for the greater good. In Lebanon, where the government is crippled by deadlocks and vacuums, the need for these people – known as active citizens – is great.
Becoming an active citizen in Lebanon poses problems, however, due to the weakness of the state, and sectarian and political influence, experts say, though there are some people online that manage to operate outside these constraints.
To truly fulfill the role of an active citizen, a concerned person must meet a certain criteria.
“[Active citizenship] goes beyond the idea that citizenship is simply the legal bond of a citizen to a country that entails rights and obligations,” Fateh Azzam, the director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship, told The Daily Star. “Active citizenship [is] the idea that if you are a citizen in your country, you’re part of your society you have to actively participate in all aspects of the conduct of life in that society.”
An active citizen’s role in the country goes beyond simply paying taxes on time but actually holding the government accountable for how that money is spent, Azzam explained. This involves having an opinion – and expressing that opinion – on politics and policies.
The topic of active citizenship was the focus of a three-day conference organized by the Asfari Institute at the American University of Beirut which started Friday. The conference brought together a range of academics and activists that work on issues related to active citizenship to discuss the issues it faces across the region.
Rania Masri, associate director of the Asfari Institute, said that active citizens are required in Lebanon due to the absence of a strong state.
“Since 2005 we have not had a legal budget and we have not had any budget for the past eight years, so how can we claim that we have a state?” Masri said. “When we have a state that has decided not to have a census since [its] creation ... then how can it be a state?”
Announcing a public spending budget is a necessary precursor to having a strong and healthy state, so that citizens can know where their taxes are being spent and hold their government accountable accordingly, she explained.
The lack of strong government institutions has opened the door for civil society groups, such as NGOs and charities, to provide services that the government is failing to, in fields such as health care and education.
Joining a civil society group is one method for someone to practice active citizenship, as they are working toward helping their respective communities. Masri warned, however, that in Lebanon these civil society groups may be counterproductive when they are simply replacing the government and not holding it accountable.
“If I’m active in active citizenry and I take ... work on behalf of the government by providing schools for my community, by providing health care for my community, that’s a short-term relief that I need to recognize [is the government’s] duty, not mine,” she explained.
Trade unions are another form of active citizenship that is vibrant in Lebanon, and Azzam highlighted the Teachers’ Union as a great example of healthy active citizenship.
However, unions in Lebanon can often become corrupted as they are influenced by political parties that have their own agendas.
“Lebanese unions are struggling for independence,” Azzam said. “Active citizenship in broader terms in Lebanon is problematic because everything gets funneled through the sectarian system.”
The idea of being an active citizen is rooted in thinking of one’s broader community. But, Azzam said, problems arise if one identifies their community along sectarian lines, as that further weakens the broader community. However, there is a growing online sphere that is breaking this mold.
Habib Battah, founder and editor-in-chief of Beirut Report an investigative journalist, has been following grassroots organizations that utilize social media to spread their message and inspire active citizenry.
“What I’ve been covering over the last couple years is a kind of digital citizenship that we’re seeing in Lebanon,” Battah said. “In the absence of, basically, functioning government ... activists and general netizens [Internet users] are making their voices heard through these media platforms, and there’s really interesting effects.”
Battah explained that advocacy groups such as Save Beirut Heritage, Protect Lebanon Heritage, and Daliyeh have been able to use social media to spread their message. Sometimes this is done by presenting their message using interesting images that go viral or by simply opening the floor for discussion. They have already experienced success, Battah added.
For instance, a coalition of these organizations was able to halt the construction of the controversial $75 million Boutros Highway that threatened to demolish one of Beirut’s last green spaces.
The project has been halted for over a year and a half now due to pressure from activists.
Furthermore, these activists have been able to change the conversation in the media.
“They’ve been popularizing these issues, these local issues, that aren’t really getting a lot of attention in the mainstream media,” Battah said. “The media is often infatuated with geopolitical, transnational issues and ... so little attention is given to the local crumbling institutions here in Lebanon.”
Battah believes that having focused advocacy groups operating within an online space may even be stronger than the more traditional form of street protest in attempts to push for reform within Lebanon.
“What goes online stays online,” Battah explained.
“It also continues to build upon itself. The more it’s reshared, the more it reappears on your timeline, it kind of continues to have ... an extended life.
“By having these issue-specific groups, they will continue to publish things on that topic and continue to follow and monitor. This is the kind of digital accountability that we’re seeing today.”

The Earth revolves around the Sun… and absurd Fatwas too!
Faisal J. Abbas/Al Arabiya
Saturday, 21 February 2015
Whether or not you believe the Earth orbits the Sun, it almost seemed like the planet stood still a few days ago when this website broke the story in English about the cleric who infamously doubted the long-held astronomical belief. Indeed, global news outlets - all the way from Japan to the United States - quoted the story and embedded the video we subtitled showing Saudi Sheikh Bandar al-Khaibari using a plastic water cup as a prop and explaining that a plane leaving an airport in the UAE would never be able to reach China, because – if the Earth was truly rotating all the time – then China’s geographical location would keep changing as well. “When people in positions of power or authority make such statements, then in my opinion, they should most definitely be held accountable for them”
Now, let us get one thing straight; there are highly-questionable beliefs all over the world and each person is entitled to his/her own view. In fact, a recent ABC News report reveals that a quarter of Americans are actually convinced that it is the Sun that revolves around the Earth, not the other way around! However, when people in positions of power or authority make such statements, then in my opinion, they should most definitely be held accountable for them; particularly in this cleric’s case, where he was commenting on astronomy, an area we can fairly assume he has little knowledge in whatsoever.
A bigger story eclipsed!
It is a pity that the above-mentioned Earth rotation story has eclipsed a much more important story relating to a much more important Saudi cleric. Very few media outlets paid attention to a statement by Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abulaziz al-Sheikh. According to Saudi daily, al-Watan, he advised the Kingdom’s religious clerics to stay away from “murky” politics and focus on Islamic preaching. “Clerics should go back to their role of focusing purely on religious/spiritual matters, which resembles the way they used to be before new agendas, ideas and political aspirations sought to take advantage of them”Such a remark, coming from the most supreme religious figure in Saudi Arabia (the Grand Mufti is also the head of the Kingdom’s Council of Senior Scholars), should be applauded and taken seriously given all the damage political Islam has caused both the region and the religion itself. I believe clerics should go back to their role of focusing purely on religious/spiritual matters, which resembles the way they used to be before new agendas, ideas and political aspirations sought to take advantage of them. The result of the intermarriage of the purist Salafist ideology with the more modern political/militant ideologies was the birth of the likes of al-Qaeda and ISIS. Of course, one wishes that the Grand Mufti added to his guidelines that it would also be preferable if clerics didn’t venture into giving their profound views on scientific matters, such as astronomy or biology (e.g. the cleric who infamously declared that driving harms women’s ovaries two years ago.) Without forgetting that absurd edicts are not exclusive to the Muslim faith, one could also suggest that some sort of new regulation or peer-review mechanism should be introduced at the likes of al-Azhar and the Council of Senior Scholars to prevent un-carefully thought-through Fatwas from emerging, and to guide scholars on how to preach more carefully.

Top US, Iranian nuke officials joining Iran talks
Associated Press/Ynetnews
Published: 02.21.15/Israel News
Iranian Atomic Energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz meet for the first time Saturday, joining ongoing nuclear negotiations and sparking belief that technical disputes could be resolved.
Iran's and America's top nuclear officials joined seven-nation talks Saturday in a move that may help resolve technical disputes standing it the way of a deal meant to curb Tehran's atomic activities in exchange for sanctions relief for the Islamic Republic.
Technical experts for Iran and the six nations it is negotiating with have been meeting alongside senior political officials. But Saturday was the first time that Iranian Atomic Energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz also joined in.
Western officials say the US decided to send Moniz only after Iran announced that Salehi will be coming. Still, their presence could improve chances of a deal by fast-tracking complex technical details of constraints on Iran's nuclear programs that are acceptable to Tehran.
They were expected to discuss the number of centrifuges Iran can operate to enrich uranium; how much enriched material it can stockpile; what research and development it may pursue related to enrichment, and the future of a planned heavy water reactor that could produce substantial amounts of plutonium -- like enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear arms.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also at the talks, with US Secretary of State John Kerry scheduled to join Sunday and Monday. For months, the negotiations have been primarily between Washington and Tehran. But in London, Kerry insisted "there is absolutely no divergence" between the US and the five other powers - Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - over what Iran needed to agree to, "to prove that its nuclear program is going to be peaceful in the future."
World powers and Iran have set an end of March deadline for a framework agreement, with four further months for the technical work to be ironed out. The talks have missed two previous deadlines, and President Barack Obama has said a further extension would make little sense without a basis for continuing discussions. If the talks fail, Obama may be unable to continue holding off Congress from passing new sanctions against Iran. That, in turn, could scuttle any further diplomatic solution to US-led attempts to increase the time Tehran would need to be able to make nuclear arms. Iran denies any interest in such weapons. Skepticism about the negotiations are already strong among congressional hardliners, Washington's closest Arab allies and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to strongly criticize them during his address to the US Congress early next month.

Israel to US: Emerging nuclear deal allows Iran to dominate Middle East
By JPOST.COM STAFF/02/21/2015
Israel’s disagreements with the Obama administration over the parameters of an emerging agreement between the West and Iran have been known for years, but are only beginning to manifest in a public way as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress is just weeks away, Strategic Affairs and Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told The Washington Post over the weekend. Steinitz articulated his government’s position that the agreement being discussed does not adequately safeguard against an Iranian “breakout” to the bomb should the Tehran regime decide to sprint toward building an atomic weapon. “From the very beginning, we made it clear we had reservations about the goal of the negotiations,” Steinitz told the newspaper’s chief foreign affairs analyst, David Ignatius. “We thought the goal should be to get rid of the Iranian nuclear threat, not verify or inspect it.”The deal being discussed would leave Iran with the capability to develop an atomic device within a year while also enabling it to continue enriching uranium at high quantities, a prospect that Israel opposes.
Steinitz said that while he understood Washington’s desire to reach an agreement that would keep Iran’s nuclear program on stand-by for at least a decade – enough time for a new leadership to emerge – this approach presented serious challenges.
“You’re saying, okay, in 10 or 12 years Iran might be a different country,” Steinitz said. “[This is] dangerous” since it fails to take into account the fact that the regime is “thinking like an old-fashioned superpower.”
“To believe that in the next decade there will be a democratic change in leadership and that Iran won’t threaten the US or Israel anymore, I think this is too speculative,” the minister told The Washington Post.
Steinitz said that Israel initially believed that the Iranians would only be permitted to enrich a symbolic amount of uranium, but when the Netanyahu administration got word that the agreement being discussed would leave Iran in possession of thousands of centrifuges, it decided to escalate its rhetoric against the negotiations. With the West bogged down with other crises, the Iranians could take advantage and “sneak out” of the agreement by quickly developing a bomb, Steinitz said. With the verification mechanisms stipulated by the agreement, it would already be too late for the Americans to catch Iran in the act. “Iran is part of the problem and not part of the solution,” Steinitz said, before adding, “unless you think Iran dominating the Middle East is the solution.”

Arab governments express concern over Iran deal, potential for Mideast nuclear arms race
By JPOST.COM STAFF/02/21/2015
Arab governments, not only Israel, are expressing concern over the development of a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
Talks with Iran over its nuclear program have instilled fear within some major Sunni states, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates that a nuclear arms race will break out in the region, and brought about speculation regarding the possible extension of a US nuclear umbrella to its non-nuclear-armed Middle East allies. According to the Wall Street Journal, concerned Arab states said that a nuclear deal allowing Iran to keep its nuclear-producing technologies would likely drive nations in the region to develop nuclear capabilities in order to match those of Iran's. An Arab official, according to the WSJ, said that the collapse of negotiations with Iran is preferable to a bad nuclear deal - a comment similar to those previously iterated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
US and Arab diplomats say that, although Arab nations have avoided matching statements made by Israel, they share many of the same fears regarding a nuclear deal with Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported. The WSJ said that although the US initially wished to eliminate all of Iran's nuclear infrastructure with the onslaught of negotiations 18 months ago, they now say any final deal would leave the country with some capabilities intact, allowing Iran to maintain thousands of centrifuge machines used to produce nuclear fuel.
Should a nuclear deal be reached, Washington may need to provide security guarantees to appease its concerned Arab allies, the WSJ reported some US officials saying. This could include placing the Arab allies under the United States' nuclear umbrella.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to travel to Geneva on Sunday for talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in an effort to push negotiations forward. For the first time, according to the WSJ, Kerry will be accompanied by Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, who is expected to advise on technical issues.