Lebanon Daily News 11/30/20

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon to Ease Virus Curbs From Monday
Arab News

Lebanon’s Parliament Backs Audit of All State Bodies
Timour Azhari
Al Jazeera

Israel-Lebanon Maritime Border Talks Postponed, Both Sides Say
Tom Perry and Dan Williams
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The Disaster in Lebanon and Challenge for the Biden Administration
Ambassador (ret.) Ed Gabriel
American Ambassadors Live

EVENTS


Middle East Institute
MEI Defense Leadership Series: Episode 9 with Deputy Commander of Operation Inherent Resolve Maj. Gen. Kevin Copsey
November 30, 2020 at 10:30 a.m. ET

MEI Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense and Security Program Bilal Y. Saab will speak to the UK’s Major General Kevin Copsey, the Deputy Commander of Strategy for the Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve (CJT-OIR). This conversation will focus on the role CJT-OIR has played in countering ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the future of this strategic effort.

Register

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 11/25/20

DAILY NEWS


US Charities Raise Millions in Wake of Beirut Port Blast
Mike Householder
Associated Press

Why Refugees Won’t Return to Syria
Akhin Ahmed
Al-Monitor

FPM, LF Slam Proposed Electoral Law as Bid to ‘Change Political System’
Amir-Hussein Radjy
Naharnet

 

OPINION & ANALYSIS


What’s in a Flag?
Olivia Shabb
Carnegie Middle East Center

 

EVENTS


Towards Sustainable Development: Options for Lebanon Beyond the Financial Crisis
Lebanese Center for Policy Studies
November 26, 2020 at 11:30 a.m. ET

There have been serious calls for urgent actions aiming to promote a healthy financial system, to change the long-lasting harmful practices, drain resources, adopt fair taxation rules, prevent shifting of profits out of the countries, restore confidence and raise the voices of citizens that have been left behind. In this regard, it has been resolved that a new economic model is needed to ensure sustainable development given the collapse of the system, rising inequality, overstretched health system, and unaffordable private education. The plan of action should recognize that eradicating poverty and inequality in all their forms and dimensions is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. It seeks to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. This webinar will strive to identify challenges and needs to reach the appropriate goals and targets (SDG) as well as to determine the key tools in this respect notably for a fragile country like Lebanon starting from the identification of structural strengths to cultivate and weaknesses to combat to make development more sustainable.

Register

MEI Defense Leadership Series: Episode 9 with Deputy Commander of Operation Inherent Resolve Maj. Gen. Kevin Copsey
Middle East Institute
November 30, 2020 at 10:30 a.m. ET

MEI Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense and Security Program Bilal Y. Saab will speak to the UK’s Major General Kevin Copsey, the Deputy Commander of Strategy for the Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve (CJT-OIR). This conversation will focus on the role CJT-OIR has played in countering ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the future of this strategic effort.

Register

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 11/24/20

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon’s Aoun Says Forensic Audit Needed for IMF Bailout Talks
Dana Khraiche
Bloomberg

Protesters Mark Lebanon’s Independence Day with Brooms and Basil
Najia Houssari
Arab News

In Lebanon, Army Courts Target Anti-Government Protesters
Amir-Hussein Radjy
Associated Press

Climate Change Closes in on Lebanon’s Iconic Cedar Trees
Ruth Sherlock
NPR

 

OPINION & ANALYSIS


What’s in a Flag?
Olivia Shabb
Carnegie Middle East Center

 

EVENTS


Lebanese Center for Policy Studies
Towards Sustainable Development: Options for Lebanon Beyond the Financial Crisis
November 26, 2020 at 11:30 a.m. ET

There have been serious calls for urgent actions aiming to promote a healthy financial system, to change the long-lasting harmful practices, drain resources, adopt fair taxation rules, prevent shifting of profits out of the countries, restore confidence and raise the voices of citizens that have been left behind. In this regard, it has been resolved that a new economic model is needed to ensure sustainable development given the collapse of the system, rising inequality, overstretched health system, and unaffordable private education. The plan of action should recognize that eradicating poverty and inequality in all their forms and dimensions is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. It seeks to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. This webinar will strive to identify challenges and needs to reach the appropriate goals and targets (SDG) as well as to determine the key tools in this respect notably for a fragile country like Lebanon starting from the identification of structural strengths to cultivate and weaknesses to combat to make development more sustainable.

Register

Middle East Institute
MEI Defense Leadership Series: Episode 9 with Deputy Commander of Operation Inherent Resolve Maj. Gen. Kevin Copsey
November 30, 2020 at 10:30 a.m. ET

MEI Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense and Security Program Bilal Y. Saab will speak to the UK’s Major General Kevin Copsey, the Deputy Commander of Strategy for the Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve (CJT-OIR). This conversation will focus on the role CJT-OIR has played in countering ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the future of this strategic effort.

Register

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.

This Week in Lebanon

NOVEMBER 14, 2020
French Envoy Warns Lebanese Officials
Doctors Are Leaving Lebanon
Return of Syrian Refugees

 

French Envoy Warns Lebanese Officials
A French envoy met with officials in Lebanon this week to warn the government over its stalling to form a Lebanese Cabinet headed by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. It’s reported that if the government is not formed by the end of November, an upcoming economic support conference will change to a humanitarian conference instead. Rather than supporting the state, the conference would provide aid to civil society organizations. (The 961)

ANALYSIS

“ATFL advocates for humanitarian and recovery relief for the Lebanese people in the short term, and in the longer term, assistance to help strengthen civil society, election reform, poverty programs, and educational institutions. This should include enabling the Lebanese Armed Forces to undertake increased FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and Army Corps of Engineers-type activities, while maintaining Lebanese sovereignty. The purported proposal by France to reprogram aid intended to support an elusive reform government in favor of direct citizen and civil society support is an important and critical need that should be supported, even if PM Hariri succeeds in this latest effort.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel

ANALYSIS

“It’s ironic that the upcoming meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon may reprogram funds contingent on government reforms to be used instead in part for humanitarian assistance. The lack of success in forming a government may end up helping the Lebanese people in the short term as they face the onset of winter facing desperate economic conditions. Failure to agree on a government may give the people a lifeline that might otherwise not materialize.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


Doctors Are Leaving Lebanon
An increasing number of doctors and surgeons are leaving Lebanon after seeing wages fall, coupled with shortages of equipment, staff and basic supplies. Lebanon is running out of hard currency to pay for these medical imports. The government owes hospitals money and their unpaid bills continue to accumulate. (Reuters)

ANALYSIS

“Professionals and technicians including doctors are leaving Lebanon, concerned that they have no future for themselves and their families. If it wasn’t for COVID, the exodus would be much greater. There is a great deal of grief among those leaving as many cannot imagine returning except to see family left behind. Without a strong middle class built on the skills, talents, and drive of these people, Lebanon will face enormous challenges if any recovery is to take place. It’s awful to note that they are ‘collateral damage’ on the road to a failed state.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


Return of Syrian Refugees
Before an international conference in Damascus this week on the return of Syrian refugees, Lebanon’s outgoing Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe appealed to the international community to help return the more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. (Naharnet) On Friday, Caretaker Minister of Social Affairs Ramzi Msharrafieh announced that Lebanon’s plan, that was presented to a Russian delegation, to repatriate Syrian refugees back home was adopted at the conference. (Naharnet)

ANALYSIS

“Once again, Syrian refugees are pawns in a larger regional travesty that would hand them over to become captives of a regime that will neither protect them nor enable their return. Conditions in Syria, even the 70% loosely controlled by the regime, are a vast humanitarian crisis. The international norm for return is voluntary, safe, and dignified – characteristics not evident under the 50 year-old Assad regime, even for its own people who are still in the country.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.

This Week in Lebanon

NOVEMBER 22, 2020
Delay in Government Formation
Independents’ Success in Student Council Elections
UN Special Coordinator’s Response to Government Delay

 

Continued Delay in Government Formation
President Michel Aoun met with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri last week to discuss Lebanon’s government formation. It was reported that the meeting ended negatively when President Aoun insisted on naming Christian ministers. A former Lebanese PM said that this delay furthers Hezbollah’s wishes to push further government consultations to early next year, after US President-Elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. (Naharnet)

ANALYSIS

“Hezbollah’s gamble to wait for a Biden administration before assenting to a new government is dangerous and will drive the Lebanese into more poverty, emigration, and joblessness. Lebanon’s economy has days, not weeks, to form an independent government in order to receive necessary international support and avoid economic collapse. A Biden administration has made it clear that any new agreement with Iran will include curbs on “terrorist proxies.” So I’m not sure why Hezbollah waits! If an independent, reform minded government is delayed, a Biden administration in its first week should signal its agreement with France to reprogram some CEDRE and international aid to direct aid to civil society to support universities, election reform, and social safety net programs.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


Independents Make an Impression in Student Council Elections
Lebanese American University’s student council seats are usually dominated by the right-wing political party Lebanese Force, but this year, independent students won all the student council seats they ran in: 14 out of 30 seats total. The American University of Beirut also saw strong results for independents at 80 out of 101 seats, and Rafik Hariri University’s independents took four out of nine seats. (Al Jazeera)

ANALYSIS

“Finding a bright spot in the Lebanese landscape is almost impossible these days but, once again, young people are leading the way. There has been a great deal of concern that the October 17 demonstrators are unable to organize, agree on a central platform, and create a coherent strategy for mobilizing the street. Well, recent university student elections were dominated by the independents. This is a small but reassuring sign that the youth still want to have a say in their future and are working on coalescing around a proactive message to challenge the old guard.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


UN Special Coordinator on Government Delay
UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis participated in an interview with France 24 during which he bemoaned the delay in Lebanon’s government formation. He stressed that he wants to see a government formed in days, not weeks and that the lack of accountability in the government only furthers the public’s mistrust. (France 24)

ANALYSIS

“It seems that progress is imperceptible in forming a new government. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, emphasizing the severity of the situation, wants to see results in days not weeks. Data tells the story as poverty and unemployment increase; the coronavirus is rising to dangerous levels; the value of the lira is headed toward 8,500 to the dollar; and some 2,000 medical personnel have left the country. Kubis warned that if the political vacuum continues, Lebanon could face a ‘humanitarian catastrophe and even a collapse.’ Not much to add…the signs are clear.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 11/20/20

DAILY NEWS


Alvarez & Marsal Terminates Contract to Conduct BDL Forensic Auditing
The Daily Star

Lebanon Hires Firm to Clear Dangerous Material From Shattered Beirut Port
Reuters

Israel Accuses Lebanon of Changing Stance on Maritime Border
Naharnet

 

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The Same Old Song in Lebanon – Who’s Left to Trust?
Jean AbiNader

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 11/19/20

DAILY NEWS


Activists Protest Against Total Closure in Lebanon
Najia Houssari
Arab News

Promises to Facilitate Government Formation Fade
Naharnet

After Student Election Wins, Lebanese Prepare for Bigger Battles
Timour Azhari
Al Jazeera

Rising From Destruction
UNICEF

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Gender Inequality in Economic Crisis
Sami Zoughaib and Dr. Nisreen Salti
Lebanese Center for Policy Studies Podcast

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.

The Same Old Song in Lebanon – Who’s Left to Trust?

It is dispiriting to have to write AGAIN that while the people of Lebanon increasingly suffer from multiple crises, or as US Ambassador Dorothy Shea said, “They are now beyond that, they are catastrophes,” the powers-that-be continue to drive the country into failure. The most recent indication of their disregard for the welfare of the people is the handling of the investigation at the Port of Beirut.

The FBI has already submitted an inconclusive report, and details are not yet public from the French investigation. But as was noted previously, both investigations were stymied by the government which limited their scope and depth by excluding senior officials and putting the focus on the blast itself and not the security or political conditions that allowed the situation to occur in the first place. Concerns about corruption, unanswered questions about the owners of the shipment, the details of the origination and destination of the ammonium nitrate, and whether or not the entire contents were at the Port or if some had been siphoned off over time, are left unanswered.

Of course, there has been no formal follow up of the various theories as to what the combustible material was doing there in the first place: if it was feedstock for bomb-making, if there was complicity or at least willful ignorance on the part of officials from the security agencies and LAF that have facilities at the Port, if it was ignited by some external foreign or domestic party, or any of the many conspiracies that linger around the disaster story.

Two stories this week bring up the latest missteps in ongoing investigations. The first concerns the classified report from Lebanon’s elite Information Branch intelligence agency, which is a branch of the Internal Security Forces (ISF). It found many state officials and security agencies responsible for the August 4th explosion that killed almost 200 people, injured more than 6,500, left more than 300,000 homeless, and caused damages reported to exceed $8 million to repair. The 350-page report was prepared by the Information Branch, military police, and investigators from the judiciary.

The report allegedly blames the Beirut Port Authority and Customs for leaving the ammonium nitrate in unsafe conditions for almost seven years. Badri Daher and Shafik Merhi, current and former heads of customs, are particularly named since they could have acted on their own to remove the chemical, a charge they are contesting. Others under scrutiny are the Cases Authority which represents the government, the directorate of land and maritime transport at the Ministry of Public Works which oversees the port, and Army Intelligence and the State Security agency, both of which have offices at the port.

While some 25 low- and mid-level administrative and security officials have been detained in connection with the explosion, current and former ministers and security chiefs were questioned as “witnesses” rather than as suspects. This was the decision of the lead investigator Judge Fadi Sawan despite the claim that many top officials – including ministers of finance, public works, and justice and Lebanon’s president and prime minister – knew of the presence of the volatile materials.

This was the same procedure followed in the Information Branch report which did not hold any current or former ministers responsible. The judge claims that they are out of his reach due to the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by top officials. Despite the deaths and damage, those who have been detained are charged with willful neglect, punishable by a maximum five-year prison sentence. To add to the confusing nature of the investigation, Judge Sawan took issue with the conclusions in the Information Branch report that assigned responsibilities for the explosion, which he considered his prerogative as lead investigator. The expectation is that the French report will also be limited to lower level officials.

It was noted by the media that Sawan was the third choice for lead investigator into the explosion. “The council of judges that picked him was majority-appointed by Lebanon’s executive branch. They rejected the justice minister’s initial proposal to have a judge known for his independence lead the investigation.”

Meanwhile, many survivors of the explosion and the families of victims have called for some form of an international investigation into the explosion, as have groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Legal Action Worldwide (LAW), and the Beirut Bar Association. They said an international probe is the only way to ensure accountability, given the politically exposed nature of Lebanon’s courts.

Not to be settled anytime soon

The investigation into the Central Bank is also running into obstacles, according to a Naharnet.com article. Prosecutor Ghada Aoun took the Special Investigation Commission at the Central Bank of Lebanon to task for impeding her investigation. “The Special Investigation Commission is being exploited. It has not responded to my request a year ago for a statement of account,” said Aoun in telephone remarks. She asked the SIC for a statement of account disclosing the banking secrecy of fuel importing companies and a number of persons involved in the case of the fuel import fraud. “The Commission is the most important body to detect corruption and theft of public funds but it fails to attend to its responsibilities,” she said, accusing it of “procrastination on this issue.” So, sadly, there is nothing new in Lebanon as winter approaches and poverty and despair are on the increase.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 11/18/20

DAILY NEWS


Trump Congratulates Aoun Ahead of Independence Day
The Daily Star

Judge Aoun Says SIC ‘Fails to Attend to Responsibilities
Naharnet

Army Helicopters Warn Lebanese to Stay Home
Najia Houssari
Arab News

Meet the Lebanese Chairman Behind the Vaccine Company with 94% Effectiveness
Rim Zrein
The 961

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanese Maritime Security: Navigating Rough Seas with Good Policy
Joseph Sarkis
Middle East Institute

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans

Lebanon Daily News Brief 11/17/20

DAILY NEWS


Intelligence Probe Into Beirut Explosion Lays Out Liabilities
Timour Azhari
Al Jazeera

France Pursues Efforts to Help Lebanon
Naharnet

Fahmi Says Lockdown Could Ease From Friday
The Daily Star

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Coming Up for Air
Michael Young
Carnegie Middle East Center

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.