Tuesday 11 August 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 11/8/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

What now for Lebanon?

First came the resignation of several cabinet members. Then, yesterday evening, Lebanon’s prime minister Hassan Diab went on television to announce that he was stepping down. His decision was, perhaps, inevitable as anger grows and demonstrations in Beirut continue following last Tuesday’s port blast, which has left more than 200 dead and thousands more homeless and injured. But Diab, who only took over the premiership in January, did not go quietly. In his broadcast he hit out at the deep-rooted corruption in the country, which he said overwhelmed the state. It was, he added, time to align himself with the people and deliver a swift investigation into wrongdoing.

And now? Corruption in Lebanon is deeply ingrained. It was telling how, in the wake of the blast, ordinary citizens implored aid agencies and international donors not to send any relief funds to their leaders. But the desire to deliver the transparency that even Diab says is needed is now facing the complexity of Lebanese politics, where jobs are handed out through a system of patronage designed to reflect religious divides. This might have held the nation together since its civil war but it no longer works.

Lebanon has to unleash its potential. It needs to allow a new political class to emerge that wants to do more than protect its vested interests. But for this to happen there has to be a light hand from outside players. Iran, which backs Hezbollah, will be unhappy with the blame game and, while Emmanuel Macron’s visit in the wake of the explosion pleased many, he also needs to show caution. This has to be a time for the Lebanese to find a new solution to the poverty, backhanders and religious barriers. It is a dangerous moment but one tinged with hope.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / Belarus

Worthy opponent

Alexander Lukashenko (pictured) is facing one of the biggest threats to his leadership in more than a decade. The Belarussian opposition refuses to accept the result of this weekend’s presidential elections, which handed the longtime ruler a suspiciously convincing win, with some 80 per cent of the vote. Rigged elections have long been common in Belarus but the rise of a more viable opposition, coupled with frustrations over an economic downturn and poor handling of the pandemic, has pushed people onto the streets in protest. With the international community largely powerless, the key question – according to John Everard, the UK’s former ambassador to Belarus – is whether police will accept an offer of immunity from opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya if they defy orders to crack down on the demonstrations. “These are early days but I think if we start to see police disobey unpalatable orders, then Lukashenko is really in trouble,” Everard told Monocle 24’s The Briefing.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Hong Kong

High hopes

Hong Kong’s political situation remains a concern and its borders are still closed to foreign travellers. But at least one businessman is betting on a recovery in international air traffic. According to media reports, mainland property tycoon Bill Waong Cho-Bau is planning to launch a new passenger airline in Hong Kong. If regulators give the go ahead, Greater Bay Airlines would become the administrative region’s fifth operator.

The carrier would be one of only two to operate outside the control of Cathay Pacific, which is now part-owned by the Hong Kong government following a bailout in June. The news comes at a time when the central government is pushing for closer co-operation between Hong Kong International Airport and airports in three cities in the Pearl River Delta; it hopes to assign a distinctive role to each by 2025. Though welcoming foreign travellers remains some way off, Hong Kong’s status as an international aviation hub could well be enhanced over the coming years.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / Brazil

Aerial threat

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is pushing for changes to several listed federal buildings in the capital Brasília – changes that are likely to draw the ire of the international architecture community. Citing the possibility of hostile acts from autonomous aircraft, his government has submitted plans to the country’s heritage council to have anti-drone antennas installed on Alvorada Palace (pictured), the official residence, and Planalto Palace, the president’s office, as well as the vice-president’s palace. Although the desire for such protection is understandable, the interventions – which could be more than 20 metres tall – would surely detract from the majesty of the Oscar Niemeyer-designed low-rise structures. They could also diminish the president’s authority, since the appearance of government buildings plays a part in communicating that the leader has the country under control; an unsightly wire rig on top of Bolsonaro’s house might suggest otherwise.

Image: Getty Images

Design / Tokyo

Platform for heritage

Tokyo’s Harajuku Station was all change in March when a new terminal building opened. The previous structure (pictured), which is the city’s oldest wooden station building, was set to be demolished later this month but it now looks as though it will enjoy a reincarnation of sorts. Railway operator JR East, which owns the terminal, cited fire-safety concerns when it announced last November that the building would be demolished. But that spurred residents to mount a campaign to ensure that its quaint, European-style architecture would be preserved. And their efforts might have prompted a rethink: details have emerged that the commercial structure due to be erected on the site will mimic the old station’s façade, even making use of many of the materials used for the former edifice. It’s a positive story in a city that too often promotes shiny new architecture over its design heritage – and a good indicator that one railway company’s attitude towards preservation is on the right track.

M24 / The Stack

‘Huck’, ‘Little White Lies’, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and ‘Here’

We meet Vince Medeiros, publisher of Huck and Little White Lies. Plus: we speak to the director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs about its latest exhibition that chronicles the history of Harper’s Bazaar, and hear about Here, a new architecture title from New Zealand.

Film / The Netherlands

Blossoming business

The Netherlands is a world leader in the horticulture industry and shows no sign of wilting. We visit a delicately orchestrated flower auction, a grower and a florist to unpack the challenges of this fragrant business.


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