Lebanon Daily News Brief 04/30/21

DAILY NEWS


France Imposes Sanctions on Lebanese Political Leaders
France has begun imposing sanctions on Lebanese politicians for their role in obstructing government formation and/or their involvement in corruption. The list of names has not been released publicly yet, but French diplomats say people on it are being made aware. [Al Jazeera] French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will travel to Beirut next week for a two-day visit. [Naharnet]

Christian Parties Call for Parliament’s Resignation
Several Christian parties are calling for the resignation of Parliament. Leaders of the Independence Movement, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb Party, and the National Liberation Party have reiterated the need for Lebanon’s sovereignty to be upheld, and accused the Hezbollah-run Parliament of dominating Lebanon. [Arab News]

BDL Gives 95 Percent Of Required Material to Alvarez
Today is Banque du Liban’s deadline to handover data and information requested by Alvarez & Marsal to conduct a forensic audit. A source close to the government said that BDL has given 95 percent of the information required. The remaining 5 percent is said to hold information on Lebanese commercial bank accounts. [The Daily Star]

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The Future of the Bekaa Valley, Up and Coming CBD Capital
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.

The Future of the Bekaa Valley, Up and Coming CBD Capital

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/90/Beqaa_valley_12.jpg

A recent special by VICE News highlighted the potential future of cannabis production in Lebanon. Anyone who visited the Bekaa Valley before the Civil War quickly discovered that hashish, an Arabic word, was liberally handed out to sample as you walked in the area. It was 1972 with my brother Roger and we couldn’t turn a corner without someone saying, “You Amreekee? Want some really good bad stuff? Try, free, come back when you are ready to buy, cheap…”

Since then, these mom and pop (and uncles and cousins) shops have morphed into around a dozen family-based mafias who harvest and export the hash throughout the region and beyond. If you use the metric of illegal drugs confiscated by governments around the world, “Morocco remains the country most reported by governments as the source of seized ‘cannabis resin’ (hashish), followed by Afghanistan and, more distantly, by Lebanon, India, and Pakistan.” So as the world’s third largest producer, Lebanon is slowly shifting its business model to one based on production for CBD medicinal-quality products. From drops and gummies to pills and sachets to ease pain, relieve stress, and promote a general sense of well-being – all this without even having to smoke something and worry about that distinctive odor.

This past year, Parliament finally passed legislation legalizing cannabis for medical purposes, which means most anything except resin and grass for smoking. The industry is projected to grow with “the global market for cannabidiol (CBD), valued at $9.3 billion in 2020 and forecasted to reach $23.6 billion in revenue by 2025. With an expected compound annual growth rate of 22.2% from 2019 to 2025, the future is looking incredibly promising for businesses tapping into CBD’s explosive popularity.”

It is this angle that is at the center of the VICE report. VICE follows a Lebanese-American entrepreneur to a meeting with one of the main family producers in the Bekaa to make the business case for shifting from exporting the base commodity of grass to refined oil that has a much higher, more lucrative, and legal future. Along the way, near the Syrian border, they also encounter smugglers, check points (both legal and local), and indicators of the vast wealth disparity between these rural areas and their overlords.

The story is engaging from a number of perspectives. First of all, the family spokesperson is young, firmly against the government interference in their business, and quite articulate about how their operations benefit the local people. Contrary to the usual image of the Bekaa, he repeats the claim that nothing of value can grow in the area except hashish, or as Ben Hubbard in the New York Times reported, “In a Lebanese farming village of rocky soil and stone villas, cannabis grows everywhere.” But the industry has fallen on bad times as part of the overall decline of Lebanon’s economy. “The costs of imported fuel and fertilizer needed to grow the crop have soared, while the Lebanese pounds that growers earn by selling their hash are worth less and less,” according to Hubbard.

To the locals, the passage of the recent law means government overreach into their lives and livelihood to enrich corrupt officials and their cronies rather than benefit the people. They claim that the government has done nothing in concrete terms to provide legal farming options despite government reports to the contrary. When the government has stepped in, the result has usually been the destruction of crops to extort money from the farmers, reported Hubbard. And it is to the cartels that the farmers turn to for relief.

As a recent Brookings article reported, “Lebanon legalized the cultivation of medical cannabis production (though not any form of consumption) in the spring of 2020. Legalization proposals languished for years, caught up in tensions between the two main Shia forces, Hezbollah and Amal, over the design of any legal regulation and, especially, the control of production.” On a national level, more than 40 warrants have been issued for leaders of the families, despite the promise of an amnesty some 20 years ago. It is this lack of a carrot and stick approach that most upsets the young producer who cannot even consider switching to legal hashish pursuits with a warrant hanging over him.

So the future remains unclear. With cannabis a main source of revenue for Hezbollah and Amal, and the continuing efforts to turn this into an industry that can contribute directly to Lebanon’s economy, the resolution will be another test of the country’s capacity to seize opportunities for growth that genuinely make a difference is the lives of the people in the poor part of the Bekaa.

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 04/29/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon-Israel Maritime Border Talks Expected to Resume
Reuters

Prime Minister-Designate Hariri Returns to Beirut
The Daily Star

New COVID-19 Lockdown Imposed This Weekend
The 961

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The Unfolding Struggle for Political Survival in Lebanon
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 04/28/21

DAILY NEWS


BDL Unveils New Currency Exchange Platform
L’Orient Today

Soaring Food Prices During Ramadan
Al Jazeera

Calls for the US and EU to Impose Sanctions
Voice of America

Lebanese Composer Reportedly Missing
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Three Reasons the US Must Help Lebanon Avoid Total Collapse
Edward M. Gabriel
The Hill

Why Beirut Beckons
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.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 04/27/21

DAILY NEWS


Letter Surrounding Switzerland’s Salameh Investigation is Leaked
Financial Times

Security Forces Detain Drug Smuggler at Beirut Airport
Al Arabiya

Swarms of Locusts in Northeast Lebanon May Drift South
Reuters

Pope Francis Urges ‘Lebanon Cannot Lose Its Identity”
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Tracking Volatility – Is Lebanon’s Collapse Inevitable?
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 04/26/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon Tasks Interior Minister to Coordinate with Saudi Arabia on Drug Smuggling
Reuters

Maronite Patriarch Al Rai Meets with President Aoun
In addition to discussing Saudi Arabia’s newly imposed ban, Patriarch Al Rai met with President Aoun to also emphasize the necessity of forming a government, noting the growing hunger and poverty in Lebanon. [The Daily Star] The patriarch added, “there is no important justification for the failure to form a government amid the current situation.” [Naharnet]

Lebanese Army Halts Attempt to Smuggle Syrians to Cyprus
Associated Press

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Alternative Labor Unions in Lebanon: Comparative Reflections and Lessons
Nadim El-Kak
The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies

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.

Tracking Volatility – Is Lebanon’s Collapse Inevitable?

Well, I suppose it depends on who you listen to. From the State Department, the word is that it’s getting worse. From a panel at Haigazian University the same day, there was optimism that the phoenix will rise, resilience will win out, reforms will come incrementally but in time to save the country. From here in Washington, DC, looking at the region and the priorities of the Biden administration it is a challenge to make predictions. The leading decision-makers know Lebanon and have compassion for the Lebanese people and Syrian refugees, but there is no sympathy for the leadership who are content to watch the country collapse. It’s hard to understand the gap between what ought to be done to move in the right direction, and the virtual nothing that is being done besides a bit of angst about subsidies. But since it doesn’t affect the officials, they can continue to hold off the World Bank and the international community.

The latest dose of bad news is that the State Department on April 21 issued a Level 4 travel advisory for Lebanon – DO NOT TRAVEL. The statement said, “Do not travel to Lebanon due to COVID-19. Reconsider travel to Lebanon due to crime, terrorism, armed conflict, civil unrest, kidnapping and Embassy Beirut’s limited capacity to provide support to US citizens. Some areas have increased risk.” It went on to detail specific restrictions and possible risks to US travelers, emphasizing that the US Embassy may not be able to provide any assistance. Considering that it’s very difficult to even get an appointment to visit the Embassy, that’s an understatement.

Of course the border areas are mentioned as areas to avoid, and the streets, and driving, and visiting, and… You can’t blame the US Government. It’s their job to give us their best advice, even if it’s not what we want to hear. I remember the last travel ban on Lebanon. It was a major campaign issue for ATFL in its formative years and a great achievement when it was lifted by then Secretary of State Madeline Albright. This time around, not even loquacious Lebanese Americans can gloss over what’s going on in Lebanon, and it hurts us deeply.

On April 13, the US Intelligence Community released its Annual Threat Assessment, which gives us some insights into how the Administration identifies conditions around the globe that threaten US interests and stability in general. According to a regional summary in Al-Monitor, “In addition to vaccinating their populations, the immediate priorities for post-COVID economies should be expanding social and public health infrastructure to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and future crisis, and doing so while pursuing reforms which create jobs, reduce poverty, attract foreign investment and reduce government debt.”

Once again, the deficiencies apply to Lebanon, without even pointing the finger: adequate vaccination programs, expanding infrastructure to serve the needs of the people, and undertaking reforms to fix their economies. As the Al-Monitor article when on, “More broadly, the Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community notes that throughout the region “domestic volatility will persist as popular discontent and socioeconomic grievances continue to rise … and its leaders struggle to meet public expectations for political and economic reform. … As a result, some states are likely to experience destabilizing conditions that may push them close to collapse.”

So where is the hope? Always in the people, in civil society, in NGOs, among the young and old who refuse to accept that their country is being snatched from them and auctioned off to non-Lebanese interests and their corrupt local partners. It’s what we must believe if we are to continue, each in our own way, to work for Lebanon’s recovery. It will take time. But in this 100th anniversary year of Lebanon’s emergence as a country, we can remind US decision-makers that Lebanon is worth the investment. And, our support for those who will bring change is the key to the country’s survival and resurrection.

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

April 25, 2021
Maronite Patriarch Calls for International Conference
New Plan to Rebuild the Port of Beirut
UK Signs MOU with Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces

Maronite Patriarch Calls for International Conference
In an interview with CNBC, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi emphasized his call for an international conference in addition to asking the Security Council for resolutions on arms and militias in Lebanon. The request for a UN-sponsered conference is actively denounced by Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah. The patriarch further requested a meeting with Hezbollah to discuss Lebanon’s neutrality. [CNBC]

ANALYSIS

“In recent meetings with political leaders in Lebanon, the Maronite Catholic Patriarch stated that “The issue of Lebanon’s sovereignty over its full territory, put forward at the UN in previous resolutions, should be addressed on a multilateral level.” He called for an international conference and challenged Hezbollah to embrace the concept of neutrality, a worthwhile idea which echoes the dissociation policy of former PM Najib Mikati. An international conference, while a solid idea, should be preceded by the US, France, and other countries, including Russia, the Gulf, and Iran, working in collaboration to formulate a workable plan that has multi-stakeholder buy-in. An international conference would then have a better chance of producing a successful outcome.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


New Plan to Rebuild the Port of Beirut
On Tuesday Lebanese contractors proposed a plan to redevelop the Port of Beirut in a project titled, “Amatouri – Helou for the Reconstruction of the Port of Beirut.” It is meant to be a three-year plan that would not cost the state any expense, but be funded by the Port’s income. [The 961]

ANALYSIS

“Love it. A home-grown solution to rebuild Beirut Port. If this can be done in a transparent and open process, it can set the standard for how the government does business and how public-private partnerships can lead to the revitalization of the capital. There is plenty of talent in Lebanon, with the right environmental and human-centered development values to make this work. Hope a strategy to make this a reality as a reform-based business showcase happens.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


UK Signs MOU with Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces
On Thursday the British Embassy in Lebanon announced the signing of an MOU with Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) which confirmed the UK’s support for the forces including continued cooperation through the British Policing Support Program worth 18.5 million euros. [Naharnet]

ANALYSIS

“Although the UK has cut its overall assistance to Lebanon, the government will maintain its special relationship with the ISF and its training efforts to build ‘a modern, transparent and accountable police force.’ Given the increasing pressure on human rights and disproportionate responses to protestors by some security services this is welcome news. Lebanon can ill-afford to punish those who demonstrate for reforms while coddling those who have created this mess in the first place.”
-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 04/23/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanese Agriculture Ministry Teams On Alert As Locust Swarms Approach
Hussein Yassine
The 961

Judge Ghada Aoun Appears Before Head of Judicial Inspection Authority
Naharnet

Consumer Prices Up 155 Percent in February 2021
The Daily Star

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon Could Use a Currency Board
Jacques de Larosiere and Steve H. Hanke
Wall Street Journal

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 04/22/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanese President Urges Calm After Judicial Dispute
Reuters

Pope Meets With Lebanon’s PM-Designate, Urges End of Crises
Nicole Winfield
Associated Press

Lebanon Crisis: Boutique Hotels Pivot in the Age of ‘Lollars’
Anchal Vora
Al Jazeera

UK Says Eager on ISF ‘Resilience,’ Signs MOU With Directorate
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon Could Use a Currency Board
Jacques de Larosiere and Steve H. Hanke
Wall Street Journal

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.