Lebanon Daily News Brief 01/26/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon Must Enact Drastic Reforms to Survive, Economists Say
Dale Gavlak
Voice of America

President Aoun Welcomes US Ambassador: We Are Keen on Continuing Friendly, Cooperative Relations with US
National News Agency

Hariri Voices ‘Solidarity’ with Saudi Arabia
Naharnet

Elias Rahbani, Lebanese Composer Who Sought New Sounds, Dies at 92
The New York Times

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Plight of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Must Not be Ignored
Refik Hodzic
Al Jazeera

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 01/28/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanese Judge Charges Central Bank Governor Over FX Misuse
Youssef Diab
Bloomberg

Amnesty International Reprimands France Over Weapons Used Against Peaceful Protesters in Lebanon
France 24

Funeral Held for Demonstrator Killed in Tripoli Protests
Timour Azhari
AL Jazeera

‘The country is falling apart’: Lebanon’s hospitals overwhelmed by Covid surge
Chloe Cornish
Financial Times

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon 2021 – Déjà Vu
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 01/27/21

DAILY NEWS


Dozens Injured in Anti-Lockdown Protests in Lebanon’s Tripoli
Al Jazeera

Amid Crisis, Hezbollah ‘Bank’ a Lifeline for Some Lebanese
Bassem Mroue
Associated Press

Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon to Receive Free COVID Vaccine
Middle East Monitor

France Still Concerned About Government Formation in Lebanon
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon 2021 – Déjà Vu
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 2021 – Déjà vu

So far, Lebanon 2021 has been an extension of 2020 – a flailing and failing economy and financial system, political leaders unconcerned with the need to provide critical and workable solutions, and a population falling desperately into despair and disgust with the leadership.

Events this weekend are emblematic of the ruinous state of affairs. Demonstrations protesting the absolute decline in living conditions erupted in Sidon, Tyre, and Beirut – from the north to the south of the country, making clear that the Lebanese people cannot endure the disastrous state of the economy, hunger, and tension for much longer. What was once a country with a large and dynamic middle class is losing many of its professionals and skilled workforce to emigration, intent on finding opportunities abroad. Efforts by civil society organizations and NGOs to provide some degree of hope and recovery are stymied by the lack of funds, the explosion in the rate of poverty, and the abysmal state of public services that have not recovered from the overlapping disasters of the economy and financial system, the pandemic, and the Beirut blast.

The latest round of demonstrations was set off by the government’s decision to extend a national lockdown to try and control the escalating COVID infections and deaths. Tickets have been issued for curfew violations and fistfights are reported between people and the security police trying to do their jobs. At the same time, the sick are being turned away at hospitals and public health facilities as the demand for beds, ventilators, medications, and staff has overwhelmed facilities and health personnel, some 40% of whom are unable to continue working fulltime. Lebanon is not providing needed financial assistance to people and small businesses to help them cope with the lockdown.

The lack of a credible and transparent investigation into the Beirut port blast and the request by Swiss authorities to question the Governor of the Central Bank regarding large fund transfers into personal accounts are further eroding what little trust there might be in the authorities, especially for the families of the deceased and the large number of Lebanese demanding a fiscal accounting of funds believed to be illegally transferred outside of the country.

A Voice of America report on Lebanon quoted numerous sources about the dire conditions in the country. None were optimistic that conditions would improve in the near future. Nasser Saidi, former minister of economy and trade pointed out that Lebanon has the third-highest debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio in the world and is in need of extensive economic restructuring, a condition emphasized by international donors and the French proposal currently on the table. In the past two years, real GDP has declined some 30% and the economy is both in depression and suffering hyperinflation.

Sounding a theme heard throughout Lebanon, “Saidi says billions of dollars of Lebanon’s stolen assets need to be recovered. Sanctions, such as those under the Magnitsky Act, can help, particularly if the US and European Union coordinate their efforts to get Lebanon back on track. Saidi says Lebanon’s corrupt politicians and business elite ‘need to be held accountable for what they’ve done’ to bring the country into such a dire situation.”

Saidi called out the political leadership, saying, “They’ve effectively destroyed Lebanon. They’re now holding Lebanon hostage.” Lydia Assouad of the Paris School of Economics agreed with that assessment noting, “Lebanon’s political and business elites have divided the country’s public and private sectors between themselves, creating a system in which they can extract rent on virtually any economic activity…the richest 10% owns nearly 70% of total wealth, while the middle class and poor have little chance of upward mobility.”

Nor are these isolated voices. In his Sunday sermon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai denounced those who were blocking the reform process, painting a grim picture of how Lebanon was struggling during the pandemic and a financial crisis. “The economy is fading away, agricultural production is destroyed, people are standing at the doors of banks hopelessly begging for their money, the major military, financial, and judicial state institutions are hit in their prestige, morale, and officials due to programmed campaigns and malicious rumors.”

Pointing out the fragility of the state, Al-Rai noted that smuggling was rampant as there was no control of the borders: “sovereignty was incomplete, independence was suspended, corruption was rampant, and unemployment and poverty affected more than half of the population.” He added. “The capital is afflicted, the port is destroyed, the wealth of oil and gas is seized, and the country [has] entered the orbit of final collapse.”

Without a political breakthrough in forming a government of experts to implement reforms, or if, more perilously, there is a breakdown in civil order, Lebanon will become a tragic example of how a corrupt elite can destroy a country to protect their narrow interests rather than serve the national good.

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 01/25/21

DAILY NEWS


Syrian Refugees in Lebanon are Under Pressure as Never Before. But They Say Syria is Still Too Unsafe to Return
Miriam Berger and Nader Durgham
Washington Post

Swiss Envoy, Lebanese FM Holds Talks Amid Central Bank Probe
Associated Press

Hariri’s Stance on New Government Unchanged
Naharnet

British Lawmakers Seek Investigation into UK-Registered Firm Possibly Linked to Beirut Blast
Tom Bergin
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


ATFL Series: Voices Of Healing – Ajialouna Organization
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.

ATFL Series: Voices of Healing – Ajialouna Organization

Ajialouna delivering a donation of masks to Bhannes Medical Center in Dahr El Souane, Mount Lebanon

This is the first of an ATFL series highlighting Lebanese and US organizations carrying out important humanitarian efforts in Lebanon and resource mobilization in the US. The first organization we’ll be featuring is Ajialouna. It is a women-led nonprofit organization engaged in charitable, cultural, social, healthcare, and educational programs. Founded in Beirut in March 1995, Ajialouna’s mandate is to serve the local Lebanese community as a whole. For over 25 years, Ajialouna has been committed to supporting less privileged individuals, believing that all people deserve to have equal access to good health, social security and educational opportunities, improve their standard of living, and increase their awareness to strive towards education, health, and financial stability.

Since its establishment, Ajialouna has grown to focus its efforts through its programs primarily across the areas of health, health awareness, education, social aid, and women’s empowerment.

According to Ajialouna staff member Maya Makkawi, the organization has grown its programs on humanitarian health and social welfare needs to respond to the pandemic and the toll of the Beirut Port blast. Ajialouna, like many other organizations we will feature, recognizes that the public and private health systems are unable to cope with the stress of the increased rates of infections. These have been growing recently due to the lifting of precautions during the holidays. In the first week of January alone, Lebanon recorded a significant 57% increase in the number of cases compared to the prior week. New cases exceed 5,000 every day with deaths approaching 2,000, a 44.4% increase during that same period (January 4-10).

Ajialouna’s organizational structure consists of a Board of Trustees made up of 10 members and an administrative body of 92 female volunteers. These volunteers have expertise in various fields including engineering, medicine, pharmacy, education, administration, and others. Ajialouna also has 35 employees, mostly female breadwinners of their households.

They are driven by a desire to provide services to a larger area in Lebanon by introducing new centers and programs. It efforts rely on the perseverance and the exceptional spirit of solidarity and teamwork of its members, staff, and female volunteers. They are dedicated to promoting and improving access to education and work opportunities to the growing number of Lebanon’s underprivileged.

In the past 16 years, the volunteers have worked hard to establish and sustain 16 programs. These programs fall under one of five departments: Health, Health Awareness, Social, Women’s Empowerment, Education, as well as Fundraising. Programs are funded by grants provided by generous individuals, companies, and sponsors as well as through Ajialouna’s fundraising activities.

Ajialouna’s recent fundraising appeal lists specific medical equipment, medications, vitamin supplements, and other supplies needed to ensure a proper standard of healthcare continuity of treatment for patients.

If you are interested in learning more about the Ajialouna Organization and its programs, check out their Website, Facebook, and the link to their current fundraising initiative.

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.

This Week in Lebanon

JANUARY 15, 2021
Parliament Approves Draft Law for Vaccines
World Bank Approves a $246 Million Loan to Lebanon
Expat Business Leaders Sign MOU to Help Lebanese Industrialists

Parliament Approves Draft Law for Vaccines After Delay
After delay, Lebanon’s parliament approved a draft law today that will allow imports of coronavirus vaccines, importantly the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. A new record of case numbers were recorded this week as more hospitals report that they are at full capacity, some unable to find beds for even for critical patients. The first deliveries of vaccines should start arriving in February. [Associated Press]

ANALYSIS
“The Lebanese Diaspora around the world and international aid agencies have made it clear they are ready to fund vaccines for the people of Lebanon. Money is not the problem in this case. The real problem started when the Lebanese government failed to reserve vaccines months ago from reputable companies and thereby lost out on early delivery commitments. The most recent offer by Pfizer was delayed until today when an emergency law was passed in Parliament to open up the country to vaccines. Meanwhile, people are dying, ventilators are in short supply, and there are no beds left for the sick.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel

World Bank Approves a $246 Million Loan to Lebanon
On Tuesday, the World Bank approved a $246 million loan for Lebanon that will be provided to Lebanese authorities and distributed to the Lebanese people through the Emergency Crisis and COVID-19 Response Social Safety Net Project (ESSN). ESSN is a social safety net organized to help over 780,000 vulnerable Lebanese families. Households will receive a monthly transfer of LBP 100,000 per household member and a flat amount of LBP 200,000 per household through a pre-paid card. [The 961]

ANALYSIS
“This loan is badly needed and is a test of the government’s transparency in delivering assistance to Lebanese families in need. Since the World Bank must work directly with governments, it is essential that the it monitors how the Lebanese authorities distribute the cash cards to avoid supporting one group over another. Cash transfers work best when targeted to those in need, not the general population. This will help ensure that low-income families have a real chance of surviving the winter.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader

Expat Business Leaders Sign MOU with the Association of Lebanese Industrialists
This week an economic recovery platform for Lebanon called Cedar Oxygen signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Association of Lebanese Industrialists that will offer financing and financial services to Lebanese industrialists. The MOU includes matching industrialists financing solutions, sharing market intelligence and data, mutual communications and marketing support and overall navigation of economic, social and governance challenges. [The 961]

ANALYSIS
“The Cedar Oxygen fund is directed at supporting the recovery of the industrial and manufacturing sectors of Lebanon an well as small and medium enterprises that are part of supply chains. By providing financial vehicles for trade financing and equipment procurement, the fund will make up the shortfall that has disabled Lebanon’s private sector, and also hopes to boost exports so that employment is protected and expanded. It is a worthy partnership that the overseas Lebanese should support.”
-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 01/20/21

DAILY NEWS


Alvarez & Marsal Expected to Resume Forensic Audit of Lebanon’s Central Bank
Rim Zrein
The 961

Taxi Drivers Clash with Army at Beirut Airport
The Daily Star

Fahmi Says to Advise Lockdown Extension
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Institutional Efforts Continue Support for the Lebanese People
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 01/19/21

DAILY NEWS


Swiss Open Money-Laundering Probe of Lebanon’s Central Bank
Timour Azhari
Al Jazeera

Diab Meets Top Leaders as Part of Initiative to Break Cabinet Deadlock
Hussein Dakroub
The Daily Star

Lebanon Reports New Record High Virus Death Toll
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Institutional Efforts Continue Support for the Lebanese People
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 01/18/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon Signs With Pfizer for 2.1 Million Vaccine Doses
Sarah El Deeb
Associated Press

UK Donates 100 Armored Vehicles to Lebanese Army
Naharnet

Government Formation Awaits Aoun’s Position on ‘Reconciliation Meet’ with Hariri
Hussein Dakroub
The Daily Star

Lebanon’s COVID-19 Spike Overwhelms Battered Hospitals and Exhausted Doctors
Maha El Dahan and Ellen Francis
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon’s Political Economy: From Predatory to Self-Devouring
Lydia Assouad
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.