By John Glover
In a world marred by political turbulence and deep divisions, there emerge individuals who shine as beacons of hope, wholeheartedly devoting their lives to the advancement of their communities and nations. Among these inspiring figures is Omar Harfouch, a Lebanese luminary whose relentless endeavours have propelled him into the forefront of the fight against corruption, the defence of democratic principles, the championing of women’s and minority rights, and the visionary pursuit of a brighter future for Lebanon.
Harfouch’s unwavering commitment to justice and equality in Lebanon transcends conventional boundaries. His resolute stance against enduring societal challenges is nothing short of extraordinary. Notably, he has vocally opposed a Lebanese law that prohibits citizens from engaging with Israelis, Jews, or even those perceived to be Jewish—a testament to his unyielding dedication in combatting antisemitism and nurturing an inclusive, harmonious society.
In March 2023, he attended a conference organized by IMPAC in the European Parliament, where speakers from various countries, including Israel, gathered to discuss European Union funding for organizations linked to or engaged in terrorism. It was a bold move, for the simple act of sharing the same room with Israelis, despite having no direct contact with them, made him a target. Lebanese authorities accused him of collaborating with an enemy state and issued an arrest warrant to appear before a military court, subjecting him to potential treason charges. A military court not only denies the accused legal representation but also has the authority to impose the death penalty for the offense of treason.
This shocking situation, rightly condemned for its contravention of democratic values and equitable justice, caught the attention of international bodies. Concerns were raised in the European Parliament and the French Senate, and the issue found its way to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva. Global scrutiny of this discriminatory Lebanese law and calls for the immediate withdrawal of the arrest warrant against Omar Harfouch may have contributed to a landmark decision by Judge Sania al-Sabaa.
The judge ruled that “the judiciary has no jurisdiction to continue the investigation in the Harfouch case,” citing a violation of the law in the indictment issued against him. As a result, the Prosecutor General of North Lebanon accepted the request from Harfouch’s lawyers to withdraw the arrest warrant. While this marks significant progress, the final ratification is still pending, and Harfouch’s battle is not over.
Harfouch’s fight extends beyond clearing his own name. He stands against the prejudice embedded in discriminatory laws, firmly believing they have no place in a society striving for unity and harmony. He calls out the hypocrisy of Lebanese leaders who engage in discussions with the Israeli government over natural gas agreements while publicly maintaining a stance of non-recognition. Harfouch’s fearless advocacy challenges Lebanon to reassess its approach to international relations, urging for a more honest and transparent dialogue on complex regional issues.
Since corruption poses a severe threat by stifling economic growth and eroding public trust in institutions, Harfouch has made it his mission to combat corruption at all levels of Lebanese society. His unwavering campaigns have exposed corruption scandals, bringing about change and pushing the nation closer to a transparent and accountable government. Notably, he played a significant role in revealing how billions of dollars were embezzled by state figures, including the governor of the Lebanese central bank, Riad Salamé. This revelation led to an international arrest warrant against Salamé for embezzlement and money laundering in Europe.
The stark contrast between this arrest warrant and the one issued against Harfouch is glaring. One is based on a crime against the people of Lebanon, directly contributing to 82% of the population living in poverty, while the other is a result of political and ideological bias, reflecting antisemitism and prejudice.
In Omar Harfouch’s eyes, this triumph stands as a collective achievement, not an individual one—a win for every Lebanese citizen and a step towards a brighter Lebanon. His vision is clear: a Lebanon where the rule of law reigns supreme, institutions genuinely serve the people, and opportunities are within everyone’s reach. His aspiration extends to a political landscape redefined, one that champions policies putting citizens’ well-being at the forefront and nurturing unity among the diverse communities that call Lebanon home. It’s a vision that beckons for widespread support from all quarters, for it is in unity that Lebanon’s strength and resilience will truly shine.
As Harfouch has said, “The cost of corruption in Lebanon isn’t just measured in dollars; it’s the stolen hopes and dashed aspirations of our people”.