The wheels have fallen off Lebanon

The value of the Lebanese currency is approaching zero. The cost of living is soaring, as are homicide and burglary rates. The private sector has had to step in to secure enough vaccines to immunize the adult population, while the government projects bankruptcy by the end of spring. The storyline in Lebanon has not improved since the Beirut blast on August 4, and the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, has now taken up the crusade of saving the country after having successfully blocked the IMF recovery plan, the adoption of any reform legislation, rejiggering the World Bank loan of $246 million to favor the banks and the government, and stifling efforts to form a new government of experts with executive powers.

Where has Berri been since August 4? Obviously he is one of the government leaders who was absent from touring the blast site and talking with the victims. He and his party, Amal, in line with its partners Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement of President Aoun, have done little to make it possible for Lebanon to survive as an independent and functioning country. Only the need for an expensive band-aid that serves his constituencies brought him to marginally respond to the multiple crises facing the country.

In a much reported speech carried by the international media, he opened the Parliamentary session on March 29 saying, “The whole country is in danger, the whole country is the Titanic. It’s time we all woke up because in the end, if the ship sinks, there’ll be no one left.” These comments could have been made at any time since the end of 2020 but for some reason, there was no call for urgency from Parliament’s leader until now, and only because of the need to provide an advance of $200 million to the electricity company to pay for fuel for the next 2 ½ months. And of course the first power plant to shut down was the one that served the southern regions of Lebanon, prime Shiite territory.

As another indication of the lack of concern by the political bosses, the Parliament also passed a law to recover stolen public funds, a prime demand of protestors. Yet, even Jamil al-Sayyed, a Hezbollah-affiliated member of Parliament remarked, “Effectively, all these texts cannot be implemented. What’s happening is a charade… We’re lying to you.”

No wonder the international community, led by the French, continues to condemn the lack of action by Lebanon’s leaders. The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, made personal phone calls to President Aoun, Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri, and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, “urging them for an immediate halt to what he called ‘deliberate obstruction’ that is driving the country towards collapse.” His description echoes the World Bank charge that Lebanon’s deterioration is a “deliberate depression” because the remedies are known but not enacted due to the obstructions of the leadership.

He added “The deliberate obstruction of any prospect of an exit from the crisis … by demands that are unreasonable and out-of-date must immediately halt,” a statement from his office reported. “The time has come to strengthen pressure “to end the blockage,” a point also made by the recent ATFL-MEI policy brief to the Biden administration. In it, the organizations called for a senior-level diplomatic demarche from the US, France, and key powers, to give the government an ultimatum for adopting a government with power to make critical reforms. Otherwise, an international effort would be launched to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance directly to the Lebanese people, without involving the government.

The US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, weighed in with the US government’s concern, in a meeting with President Aoun on March 25, saying later, “Now that we are almost eight months without a fully-empowered government, isn’t now the time to let go of those demands? To begin compromising?” She added, “Right now, there is a need for courageous leaders, who are ready to put aside their partisan differences and work together to rescue the country from the multiple crises and self-inflected wounds it is facing.”

Whether or not this international pressure will make a difference is hard to tell. When Berri acknowledges the gravity of the catastrophe but doesn’t propose reform solutions, it just adds to the wreckage. If, on the other hand, he wants to leave Lebanon with a valued legacy, he can assert his leadership and move Lebanon away from the abyss and forward towards recovery.

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 03/30/21

DAILY NEWS


France Heightens Pressure on Lebanon to Form Government
Associated Press

Ambassador Dorothy Shea Inaugurates Munitions Storage Facilities at Hamat Air Base
US Embassy Beirut

Lebanon: Tripoli Detainees Allege Torture, Forced Disappearance
Human Rights Watch

Aoun to UNHCR Representative: Refugees Drove Lebanon to Exhaustion
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Weapons or Food? Lebanon’s Armed Forces Risk Going Hungry
Nicholas Blanford
Atlantic Council

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 03/24/21

DAILY NEWS


Saudi Envoy Urges Lebanon Politicians to Form New Government Quickly
Reuters

Lebanon’s Economy Ministry Just Raised the Price of Bread for the Fourth Time
Souad Lazkani
The 961

Salameh Facing ‘Difficulties’ to Reduce Dollar Rates
Naharnet

Lebanon’s COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Boosted by Private Sector Initiatives
The Daily Star

OPINION & ANALYSIS


No One Left in Lebanon But the Wicked and the Weary
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 03/23/21

DAILY NEWS


Cabinet Talks in Lebanon Break Down, Heralding More Collapse
Zeina Karam
Associated Press

Arab League Urges Lebanese Politicians to End Political Deadlock, Offers Help
Reuters

Schenker: Aoun, Bassil Want Veto Power to Ensure Bassil’s Accession to the Presidency
Naharnet

Lebanon’s Financial Collapse Hits Where It Hurts: The Grocery Store
Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad
New York Times

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri Have Failed to Agree Over a New Government in Lebanon
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.

No One Left in Lebanon but the Wicked and the Weary

It is no surprise to those who read my blogs to note that from time to time I make references to my family, especially the wisdom of my parents. These days, thinking of Lebanon, two expressions from my mother seem appropriate: “There is no rest for the wicked,” and, “There is no rest for the weary.” Today, in my mind, they both apply to Lebanon, but at opposite ends of society.

The expressions have similar origins. According to one source, “No rest for the wicked begins as no peace for the wicked in a 1425 rendering of the Old Testament’s Book of Isaiah 48:2: ‘The Lord God said, peace is not to wicked men.’ The sentiment is echoed in Isaiah 57:20, which in the King James Version reads: ‘But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest.’” No rest for the weary is rooted in a proverb that implies resignation and perseverance, accepting to continue to slog along despite being downtrodden. And so we have the status of Lebanon reduced to two simple expressions…thanks Libby.

Some may take umbrage at referring to Lebanon’s leaders as the wicked, but how else to explain their lack of remorse when it comes to rescuing the “weary,” the Lebanese whose desperation is due largely to the politicians’ mismanagement and venality? Karim Emile Bitar, head of the Institute of Political Science at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, has remarked, “Lebanon’s political class continues its long habit of bickering and fighting for resources, but – with hyper-inflation and rampant poverty – it’s like they’re squabbling over a field of ruins, where there isn’t much left to divvy up or to steal.”

The recent threats by major EU powers to sanction Lebanon’s leaders indicate the frustration of the international community with business as usual by the ruling elites. “Lebanon’s political class – which is totally incompetent when it comes to governing but very effective at staying in power – was playing a game in which it pretended to listen to Macron while in the glare of the world’s attention after the Beirut blast, without actually doing anything to follow through,” Bitar said. The oligarchs are even second-guessing the Biden administration, hoping that détente with Iran will give them a lifeline to continue their avarice and gradually cede even more power to Hezbollah.

Left in limbo are the investigations into the blast at the Beirut Port, the assassination of Lukman Slim, and violations of human rights by some security forces. With the economy in freefall, the “weary” find themselves without funds to purchase essential supplies while the cost of living is up over 146%. The Parliament has not acted on bills submitted that would incrementally move towards reforms, causing the caretaker Prime Minister Diab to attempt to leave his position. Bitar said, “It’s a surreal situation. Diab’s government has admitted that it’s totally impotent – with an energy minister who announces that the electricity will be cut in a fortnight, an interior minister who says security forces are no longer able to ensure people’s safety, and a prime minister who has handed in his resignation and doesn’t want to be doing the job.”

In the street the people are seething, fighting the government and demanding change; and fighting among themselves for scarce commodities. As CNN reported, “The loss of subsidies could be the watershed moment that threatens to tip Lebanon over to Venezuela-like scenarios, exacerbating the existing food, fuel, and medical shortages.” It continued, “Families living on a minimum wage — now less than $50 a month — will be unable to afford basic food staples as inflation skyrockets. Already strained security forces, which must contend with the frustrations of its newly pauperized rank and file, will have to deal with growing crime rates and the possibility of long-simmering political tensions coming to a head.” There is talk that civil conflict in inevitable without a breakthrough to reset the economy.

The tension is spiraling upwards as Hezbollah and the Maronite Catholic Church squared off about the need to move ahead by enlisting the international community’s support. Sayed Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, walked back his support for a government of specialists to implement reforms, claiming that relying on the IMF restructuring was an American-Israeli plot. No one escaped his ire. He called out the Patriarch, the head of the Maronite Church; PM designate Saad Hariri who is unable to form a new government as the power brokers want to retain their prerogatives; the governor of the Central Bank; and the caretaker prime minister whom he urged to be ready for Plan B – to retake the reins of government with no assurances that the results would now be different; saving some vitriol for people demonstrating against the government for relief.

The famed resilience of the Lebanese is fading rapidly as the street is becoming more militant. There are only two classes left, the wicked and the weary. Tempers are rising; security less sure; and no one stepping forward with solutions acceptable to politicians who resent a diminishing of their powers. With Lebanon quickly approaching the abyss, fear is growing that the country will not survive as an independent, secure, and stable democracy. My parents would not be amused.

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 03/19/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon Hezbollah Chief Will Support New Cabinet if Announced Monday
Reuters

BDL Allows Banks to Conduct Exchange Transactions to Control Currency Depreciation
Naharnet

The Lebanese Lira is Gaining Value Against the Dollar Ahead of Aoun-Hariri Meeting
Souad Lazkani
The 961

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon’s Socioeconomic Implosion
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 03/18/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon’s Aoun Tells PM-Designate Hariri to Form Government or Go
Al Jazeera

Hariri to Aoun: Allow for Early Presidential Vote if You Can’t Sign Government Decrees
Naharnet

Fuel Rations Hit Lebanon Amid Mounting Anger Over the Political Stand-Off
Al Arabiya

Brawls in Shops as Lebanon’s Financial Meltdown Hits Supply of Food
Maha El Dahan, Ellen Francis
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon Needs An Aid Paradigm Shift
Sahar Atrache
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 03/17/21

DAILY NEWS


‘We Are Hungry’: Lebanese Protest Worsening Economic Crisis
Zeina Karam
Associated Press

Lebanon PM Diab Says Most Subsidies Covered Until June
Reuters

Gulf to Impose Rare Sanctions on Lebanese Politicians
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon Needs An Aid Paradigm Shift
Sahar Atrache
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 03/16/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon to Reduce Subsidies as Cash Runs Out, Finance Chief Says
Dana Khraiche
Bloomberg

Hezbollah Goes to Moscow
Geopolitical Futures

United States Central Command Commander Visits Lebanon
US Embassy in Lebanon

Lebanese Camp Holds ‘No Future’ for Widows and Orphans of Syria’s War
France 24

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon Held Hostage as it Hurtles Towards Collapse
FT Editorial Board
Financial Times

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 03/15/21

DAILY NEWS

Lebanon’s Currency Plummets to an All-Time Low of 12,400 Pounds to US Dollar
Rawad Taha
Al Arabiya

Protests Around Lebanon as Local Currency Continues to Slide
Associated Press

Lebanon Approves $246 Million Safety Net, But Seeks Oversight Cuts
Timour Azhari
Reuters

Berri Mulls Mediating Government Solution as Ibrahim Suspends His Drive
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon Held Hostage as it Hurtles Towards Collapse
FT Editorial Board
Financial Times

Lebanon: A State in Collapse?
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.