This Week in Lebanon

February 28, 2021
US Conducts Airstrike in Syria
Patriarch Rai Calls for International Conference
Lebanese Pound Drops Further in Value

US Conducts Airstrike in Syria
On Thursday the Biden administration conducted an airstrike in eastern Syria in response to attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq and ongoing threats. The strike hit Iranian-linked facilities and officials believe the attack killed fighters associated Iran, including some from Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada. [Washington Post]

ANALYSIS

“This attack, coming on the advent of US-Iranian talks, sends an important message that we, the US will not allow Iranian-sponsored attacks on US personnel and will respond to any such threat accordingly. It was measured and indicates that the Biden administration seems prepared for a negotiation with Iran that not only deals with curbing Iranian nuclear ambitions, but will also not tolerate Iranian proxy aggression in the region anymore.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


Patriarch Rai Calls for International Conference
Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai said on Thursday that he was determined to go ahead with his call for a UN-sponsored international conference in effort to resolve Lebanon’s political and economic crisis as government formation stalls continue. Christian parties, including the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces, and the Kataeb Party have shown support for Rai’s call while Hezbollah and allies have opposed the internationalization of Lebanon’s crisis. [The Daily Star]

ANALYSIS

The attempt by the Patriarch is laudable and deserves support. Concurrently, the US and France should immediately intercede together with Lebanon’s leaders to persuade them of the need for a compromise reform government as a temporary solution through next year’s elections. The US and France acting visibly in tandem with the Rai initiative, could have an important impact on the current stalemate.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


Lebanese Pound Drops Further in Value
The Lebanese pound continued to fall against the dollar last week, trading on the black market at LL9,500 on Thursday. Government formation stalls in the midst of Lebanon’s economic crisis continue to push the Lebanese pound value down. Exchange dealers warn of the pound dropping further if no progress is made toward a new government this week. The pound has lost around 80 percent of its value over the last 16 months. [The Daily Star]

ANALYSIS

“Nothing shows the callous disregard of Lebanon’s oligarchy for the people than its willingness to allow Lebanon to fall into an abyss of their making just to prove their points and maintain their stranglehold on the government. Lebanon is on life support as it is. Will the international community stand by while the country becomes even a greater disaster or will the leadership somehow develop a conscience and put the people before their own welfare?”
-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 02/26/21

DAILY NEWS


Biden Administration Conducts Strike on Iranian-Linked Fighters in Syria
Missy Ryan, Anne Geran, and Alex Horton
Washington Post

Unfazed by Hezbollah Opposition, Rai Presses Ahead with International Conference
Hussein Dakroub
The Daily Star

Lebanon Faces Complete Blackout Amid Fuel Shortage
Naharnet

Lebanese Pound Exchange Rate Drops Again Reaching a New Low
Souad Lazkani
The 961

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The Electoral Path may Not Save Lebanon, But Its Citizens Deserve the Chance to Walk It
Christophe Abi-Nassif
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 02/25/21

DAILY NEWS


Health Minister Fuels Lebanese Anger Over Vaccine Line-Jumping
Reuters

Facebook Just Launched a $600,000 Lifeline Initiative for Lebanese Businesses
Hussein Yassine
The 961

Pound Ticks Lower as Cabinet Crisis Marks Time
The Daily Star

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The 2018 Lebanese Parliamentary Elections: What Do the Numbers Say? Mount Lebanon Electoral Districts
Policy Reports by Georgia Dagher
The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies

The 2018 Lebanese Parliamentary Elections: What Do the Numbers Say? Mount Lebanon 1 Electoral District: Keserwan and Jbeil

The 2018 Lebanese Parliamentary Elections: What Do the Numbers Say? Mount Lebanon 2 Electoral District: Metn

The 2018 Lebanese Parliamentary Elections: What Do the Numbers Say? Mount Lebanon 3 Electoral District: Baabda

The 2018 Lebanese Parliamentary Elections: What Do the Numbers Say? Mount Lebanon 4 Electoral District: Aley and Chouf

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 02/24/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon’s Cash for Power Generation May Run Out at the End of March, Says Minister
Reuters

Politicians in Lebanon Jump the Vaccine Line, Touching Off a Scandal
The New York Times

Climate Change and Corruption Endanger an Ancient Valley in Lebanon
Nabih Bulos, Marcus Yam
LA Times

Bukhair, Shea Discuss Lebanon File
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon’s Diversity and Freedom of Speech is Withering Away
Rami Rayess
Al Arabiya

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 02/23/21

DAILY NEWS


Six Months After Massive Beirut Explosion, Official Investigation Has Been Upended
Washington Post

World Bank Threatens to Stop Funding Lebanon’s COVID-19 Vaccines After Reported Violations
Reuters

Hariri Hasn’t Agreed to 22-Minister Government
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Being Lost and Not Found in Beirut
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 02/22/23

DAILY NEWS


Bassil Blasts Hariri, Calls For Raising Cabinet Members
The Daily Star

Oil Spill Off Israel Reaches South Lebanese Beaches
Reuters

LF to Hand UN Petition Demanding International Probe in Port Blast
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Being Lost and Not Found in Beirut
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.

Being Lost and Not Found in Beirut

I am constantly amazed at the hubris of the political elite in Lebanon who display little compassion for those suffering from the triple tragedies of a failed economy, pandemic, and the Beirut blast aftermath. Are these representatives of the people, or rather political parties tied to sects tied to warlords, even in touch with popular sentiment?

Let’s calculate their concern for the people. Have they visited the overcrowded hospitals where overflow patients – in winter – are being treated in parking lots and in tents? Have they stopped by bakeries to see the lines of people waiting for handouts or discounted day-old loaves when they can find them? Have they visited the refugee camps to witness the freezing and soggy grounds where children and families have to endure desperate conditions fearing for their lives from horrors of starvation and the cold? Yet they attend their churches and their mosques and ignore the teachings of compassion, community, and kindness that are found throughout their holy texts.

It’s at times like these that I don’t regret burying my father in the US rather than in his family plot in our village. He would not recognize the betrayal of the country by its leadership. The government of Lebanon has turned its back on the pain of the people, arguing over vaccine allotments and payments, bickering over the distribution of humanitarian assistance, making a mockery of any attempts to implement reform legislation, and showing the world that Lebanon, as Rami Khouri writes, “has become just another pauperized and increasingly militarized Arab country whose citizens rebel against state authorities.”

What has happened to Lebanon is an indication of what happens when political compromise debilitates the very strengths that could have led to recovery. Tunisia, on the other hand, which many call the first real Arab democracy, still can’t claim to be a “functioning democracy.” Despite its challenges, it has avoided military rule, has strong personalities vying peacefully for power, and still seeks a modus vivendi for adopting reforms while retaining an elite that does not have democracy foremost in their thoughts… But at least many of the leaders are still trying.

Lebanon’s military, the LAF, is wrestling with its own challenges – politically, and from Hezbollah and terrorist groups, – doesn’t even entertain the notion of getting into politics. Some are calling for a shadow government to help define and organize the resistance; others emigrate rather than face continued erosion of their livelihoods; while still others pray, the historic Lebanese response to calamities, trusting in God for relief, ‘Allah Kareem.’

The latest hurt is the news that the Ministry of Finance will be taxing humanitarian assistance received by people. They probably consider it a luxury tax! Could be that it’s a ruse to enact progressive taxation on the rich, but I don’t think so. Shades of the WhatsApp levy that led to the 2019 demonstrations.

And the drama continues. The latest $246 million loan from the World Bank, was originally $600 million when negotiations took place between 2011 and 2020, is hung up in Parliament. According to the Arab News, “The World Bank had comments related to monitoring due to mismanagement, noting that Lebanon does not have clear surveys that show the poverty rate.” MPs have lodged multiple concerns about the loan which it has to approve. Fair enough. But what are they concerned about? Several MPs also raised this concern that there was no clarity around who would receive it and how.

The story goes on, “The World Bank cash assistance is aimed at setting up a stronger social safety net for 800,000 of Lebanon’s most vulnerable citizens amid an economic and health crisis that has left up to half the country’s population facing growing deprivation.” To help with identifying qualified recipients, the funds would also upgrade and modernize the social safety net database to give a more accurate listing of those vulnerable families, now estimated at some 841,000 facing food shortages with 1.7 million Lebanese living in poverty and close to 25% in extreme poverty; and the debates continue.

As the MPs argued over the exchange rate for the loan dollars to the local currency, the lira fell even further, reportedly to over 9500 to the dollar at one point. It is ironic that this is a project that all politicians can take credit for, but the Lebanese zero-sum game of winner take all continues. There should only be one winner now, the people in need.

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

February 20, 2021
US Representatives Call for Biden to Use the Magnitsky Act
$100 Million a Month in Transfers to Lebaneses
Aid to Port Blast Victims Said to Be Taxed

US Representatives Call for Use of Magnitsky Act Over Luqman Slim’s Assassination
US House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Michael McCaul and Chairman Gregory Meeks sent a letter to President Biden advocating for the the use of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act against those responsible for Luqman Slim’s assassination. The Magnitisky Act would allow the president to investigate and impose sanctions for human rights violations like the murder of Luqman Slim. [Middle East Eye]

ANALYSIS

“Targeted sanctions that address corruption, human rights abuses, and terrorism, as proposed by the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, should continue to be imposed by the US. Specifically targeted sanctions on individuals have proven effective without hurting the country at large. The US should be careful however not to impose sanctions as an end-all policy and avoid targeting one specific political party, group, or religion.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


$100 Million a Month Transferred to Lebanese From Expats
Western Union’s Online Money Transfer Chairman Toufic Mouawad has noted the concern and support from Lebanon’s expatriates for their families and loved ones in Lebanon. A total of $100 million is transferred through the service each month to help Lebanese cover basic daily needs and an average $600 per transfer is sent from abroad. The country is running low on fresh US dollars and these transfers have served as a lifeline for Lebanese. [The 961]

ANALYSIS

“Online Money Transfer (OMT), owned by Western Union, has made it possible for financial support to reach 150,000 Lebanese families a month thanks to friends and family members overseas. This precious support of some $100 million a month makes it possible for people to survive despite hyperinflation, scarce supplies, and higher consumer prices. This lifeline is another vital channel by which the Lebanese community abroad, estimated at some 12 million people, can offer hope to their families and Lebanon.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


Aid to Port Blast Victims Said to Be Taxed
Caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni announced that the Lebanese government will be filing a taxable income on aid given to Beirut blast victims. The aid they received should be registered as “exceptional revenues” Wazni announced following the 2021 public budget. The decision is found under number 47/1 in the budget, which the Lebanese Association for Taxpayers’ Rights is protesting. [The 961]

ANALYSIS

“I’m hoping this is fake news, but one never knows in Lebanon how much more oppression can be piled on the people by the leadership. Certainly a “care-taker” and not a “care-giver” government, these officials show little effort to hide their contempt for those they assume don’t have power. A depositor withdrawing the small sums they are limited to by the banks are forced to use a greatly depreciated exchange rate, a hidden tax that benefits the banks and the Central Bank. To tax those already struggling to make ends meet is reprehensible and morally bankrupt.”
-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 02/18/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon MPs Bicker Over World Bank Loan for the Poor
Najia Houssari
Arab News

Lebanese Court Removes Judge from Beirut Port Blast Probe
Reuters

Lebanon Will Hold Parliamentary By-Elections by the End of March
Souad Lazkani
The 961

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Testing Lebanon’s Banking Sector – Is It Resilient?
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 02/17/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon Begins Vaccinations with Sceptics a Major Hurdle
David Enders
Al Jazeera

Saudi Ambassador Affirms Support for ‘Lebanese People, Institutions’
Naharnet

Lebanon Hezbollah Chief Warns Israel After ‘Combat Days’ Drill
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The Tripoli Protests Are Lebanon’s Canary in the Coal Mine
Hassan Mneimneh
The Washington 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.