Lebanon – A Food Desert

A food desert is commonly defined as a geographic area where residents have few to no convenient options for securing affordable and healthy foods. It is one of several terms I have learned in recent years that applies in part to Lebanon, and implies deliberate actions by one group towards another. Just as Patricia Karam notes in her recent article, “the political establishment was able to counteract all challenges to its stranglehold, entrenching itself by providing opportunities to its economic partners for kleptocratic appropriations.” This directly led to the devaluation of the currency, hyperinflation, and the resulting demise of the middle class and the loss of services and dignity for the poor and marginalized.

Recently, there were two related announcements: one from the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, who criticized the lack of progress in the country on protecting the young; and the other from UN World Food Program, which announced an increased allocation of $5.4 billion over the next three years to equally provide food aid to Lebanese and Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

At this point, Lebanon has certainly become a beggar state. Remittances from overseas remain the most important lifeline for many, if they can navigate the opaqueness of the banking system and Central Bank rules. Without an executive government and a parliament unable to elect a new president, the country is languishing. While those with means survive, more than 75% of the population remain in poverty, unable to sustain a quality of life with adequate access to food, education, medicines, and social services. State institutions, the banking sector, and public services are all in disarray. Look no further than the electricity sector which is still unable to provide more than 3-4 hours a day despite the existence of several programs that could double the available electricity.

Facing the reality that a new president must be acceptable to the major political forces and their international supporters, it would seem less and less likely that the systemic corruption can be ameliorated through a house cleaning. And what is left to protect those who are defenseless against the political elites? As the Policy Initiative argues in its latest paper, “The ills of Lebanon’s social protection system are not a result of financial or technical constraints. They are rather political. For decades, ruling elites have consciously eroded the social role of the state to prey on the population’s vulnerabilities as they arise.”

The Initiative’s analysis of the Economic Social Security Net (ESSN) program that is funded by the World Bank illustrates this observation very well. It points out that the politicians delayed the program for almost two years as they tried to re-position the program as a tool for maintaining their constituents’ patronage, circumventing the mechanisms for the transparency and clarity that were basic to the original design of this assistance. In addition, they fought the monitoring component of the program in order to avoid the detection of ineligible participants. While the assistance was finally disbursed earlier this year, a general pattern of political interference can be inferred from this case. It would be a safe assumption, then, to assert that this same kind of interference will be rampant in the ongoing negotiations over the IMF relief package and other foreign assistance programs.

As Lebanon continues its perilous journey into further economic turmoil, carrying a dysfunctional banking sector, driving out its precious human resources, and allowing the reform process to stall with a presidential vacancy, its sovereignty is in danger of being undermined by external forces such as Russia, China, and Syria – as well as the internal forces that directed by Iran. Although Lebanon’s old guard is counting on France and the US to ward off such a possibility, there are no reliable and credible Lebanese partners with whom international supporters can maintain viable and trusting relationships.

Given its political structure, the very nature of assistance to Lebanon gets called into question when well-intentioned initiatives and programs – like the ESSN cash-assistance program that is actionable and immediate – prove susceptible to corruption. When Lebanon’s friends outside the country are seemingly more concerned about Lebanon’s future than its current leadership, a deeper dilemma emerges regarding how much change it will take for Lebanon to become a viable, sovereign, and self-sufficient state. We’re still waiting for that answer.

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 11/19/2022



 

November 19, 2022

Lebanon Needs Efficient Authorities to Implement Necessary Reforms
The Residents Who Said No to the ‘Generator Mafia’
EDL to Issue New Tariffs in February 2023

Lebanon Needs Efficient Authorities to Implement Necessary Reforms
Lebanese economic experts strongly believe the IMF deal is the only way to rescue Lebanon’s economy. If Lebanon meets all of the conditions outlined in the staff level agreement the government reached with the IMF negotiating team last April, they will receive $3 billion in assistance. However, the actions lawmakers have taken since then, namely passing a budget and banking secrecy law, have both fallen short of satisfying the IMF requirements. Nasser Saidi argues that the government should move its public sector assets into a national wealth fund. [Xinhuanet]

RESPONSE

Without a new process that engages all vested interests (including IMF representatives, parliamentary blocs, and an executive team from government) the IMF deal is in grave danger of failing. The caretaker government can no longer expect to force an IMF deal on the parliamentarians. The process of moving ahead on reaching an IMF agreement will require strong communication, outreach with the Lebanese people, a trusted facilitator, and possibly international experts to answer questions. A trusted facilitator can help decision makers develop a credible roadmap that achieves buy-in from all stakeholders. And let us not kid ourselves, without an IMF deal it is likely that Lebanon will not be able to quickly pull itself from the abyss. An IMF deal will also speed up investor confidence and attract international and multilateral support for future development, economically, financially, and socially.  

-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel 

The Residents Who Said No to the ‘Generator Mafia’
In many neighborhoods, there is only one supplier of electrical generators, which people rely on in a country facing an electricity crisis. A resident of one neighborhood remarked, “The neighborhood is no longer attractive because the subscription to the generator costs as much as the rent.” People are also often not charged according to a meter, but rather by an arbitrary price they work out with the providers. [L’Orient Today]

RESPONSE

Lebanon can make critical improvements to its electricity supply with two quick changes: allowing decentralized production of electricity through renewable energy sources, and launching a public awareness campaign that promotes citizen participation in the provision of electricity, including rate setting, transmission, incorporating all community suppliers, and collection of bills. Get the generator owners to come up with a plan to put themselves out of business. If they start now, they can be heroes, otherwise, they will reinforce the image that their only interest was enrichment at the cost of others.

-ATFL Vice President Jean AbiNader

EDL to Issue New Tariffs in February 2023
This past Monday, Electricité du Liban issued the first change in tariff prices since 1994. The new bill will reportedly be calculated in dollars and collected in lira. The plan is supposed to result in 8 to 10 hours of electricity per day to the Lebanese, who currently enjoy about two hours of state-provided electricity per day. [L’Orient Today]

RESPONSE

No wonder there is little faith that the government can reform, beginning with the much targeted electricity sector. It’s not enough to issue tariffs. A public information campaign that ties the tariff increases into additional hours of electricity is needed, not continued raises by a government that has not delivered on any of its promises to increase energy supply. With new tariffs that are supposed to sustain the sector, the government will take a major step forward in attracting investors to a sector too long neglected and mismanaged. 

-ATFL Vice President 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.

 

How Does the Captagon Act Help Lebanon?

The House of Representatives recently passed the Captagon Act, legislation “requir[ing] a strategy by the United States Government to disrupt and dismantle the Captagon trade and narcotics networks of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.”

Introduced by Rep. French Hill (R-AR) with 17 bipartisan sponsors, the act calls for an interagency strategy to destroy the regime-backed network. It will need Senate approval to become law.

Background

Captagon is a stimulant popular both in the Levant and in the Gulf. Its effects take about an hour to kick in and it gives one a sense of alertness or euphoria. For this reason, it is routinely used by combatants in the region’s conflicts, partygoers in the wealthy Gulf States, or those struggling to make a living such as one man who remarked:

“I can work for two or three days non-stop, which has doubled my earnings and is helping me pay off my debts.”

The Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR) notes that captagon production shifted to Syria around the early 2000’s because Europe began to step up its own drug enforcement efforts.

The network is growing and professionalizing, now expanding its operations to more dangerous drugs such as crystal meth. In 2020, the value of the trade in the region was estimated at $3.46 billion in 2020.

Sources identify Maher Al-Assad, the president’s brother who controls Syria’s 4th Division, as the prime trader of the drug.

How does this connect to Lebanon?

COAR notes that in the mid 2000’s Lebanon’s weak central state and inability to enforce anti-trafficking efforts opened the door for the industry to develop within its borders. Reports suggest that Iran even provided actors within Lebanon with drug equipment following the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war. In 2007, Lebanon was the first country in the region to have a captagon lab identified and reported to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Caroline Rose with the New Lines Institute has done extensive research on this and notes that the Assad regime relies on fellow armed groups such as Hezbollah for technical and logistical support. The labs in Syria are often in Hezbollah-controlled territory in communities along the Lebanese border, outside Damascus, and around the port city of Latakia.

Lebanon’s porous border with Syria is a key transit route for traffickers of the drug.

Furthermore, Lebanese border towns are struggling under the influence of the trade.In addition to corruption within the judiciary, there are credible reports of kidnapping and torture for local residents who stand up against the trade.

The association that the international community is making between Lebanon and captagon trafficking is also hurting Lebanon’s economy. In April, Saudi Arabia placed a ban on all agricultural imports from Lebanon after authorities seized over 7.8 million captagon pills at the port of Jeddah. Preceding the ban, Former Lebanese Agriculture Minister Abbas Mortada remarked that Lebanon’s fruit and vegetable trade with Saudi Arabia was worth around $24 million per year.

Takeaways

Lebanon’s key vulnerability in this situation is its border with Syria. Recent efforts to establish a shared maritime boundary between the two countries are encouraging.  However, more must be done to secure Lebanon’s land border with Syria as well. The LAF has called for an additional border unit and less political interference to be able to secure more of Lebanon’s borders. Increased support to the LAF is a crucial element to combating regional drug trafficking.

Competent customs authorities are also vital as the smugglers know how to exploit weaknesses in Lebanon’s legitimate crossing points. One Lebanese official remarked to AFP that “At (Lebanon’s) Tripoli port, for example, the scanner always needs repairing on the wrong day, or is inadvertently switched off.”

Furthermore, law and order in Lebanon are at stake here. Lebanon should not allow these drug traffickers to exploit Lebanese communities any longer. These individuals are criminals and should be prosecuted and imprisoned.

Hopefully the Captagon Act will become law. When it does, Lebanon will be at the centerpiece of US strategy to counter the trade, and the Lebanese people would greatly stand to benefit.

 

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 11/11/2022



 

November 11, 2022

Lebanon-Bound Fuel Trucks Destroyed in Air Strike Over Syria 
Taif Agreement is Best Solution to Lebanon Crisis, Saudi Arabia Stands by Us: Mikati
Lebanon’s Health Sector Worsens

Lebanon-Bound Fuel Trucks Destroyed in Air Strike Over Syria 
According to the Reuters, “At least two fuel trucks were destroyed in an air strike by an unidentified drone on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq late on Tuesday, Iraqi security and border officials told Reuters . . . Iran’s state-run Press TV channel confirmed the attack and accused the United States of carrying it out, saying ‘a convoy of 22 tankers carrying fuel to Lebanon crossing from Iraq to Syria was attacked by U.S. drones’ at the Syrian town of Albukamal.” [Reuters]

RESPONSE

This action underscores the need to quickly approve the Levantine Energy Deal, championed by the US, rather than some dubious offer from Iran. The Levantine deal will provide up to 8 hours of additional electricity for the citizens of Lebanon, and Lebanon’s Minister of Energy has stated that the deal is preferable to the transfer of fuel from Iran. But he and the Prime Minister must deliver to the World Bank an internationally acceptable electricity reform program that provides assurances to the World Bank concerning the sustainability of the project and begin the process of implementing an Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) to regulate the conduct of electricity power and reliability. The Lebanese government has taken nearly a year to deliver the necessary guarantees to the World Bank which will in turn provide the funding for the project. How much longer will the Lebanese people have to wait in darkness for their leaders to step up? 

-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel 

Lebanon’s Civil Servants Are Leaving in Droves. They Won’t be Replaced Soon.
Richard Salame spoke with one civil servant who said, “In my office, we’ve reduced our schedule to one day per week”  because she and her colleagues feel transportation to the office is unaffordable. The source continued, “Even the employees who make it to the office don’t stay until the end of the shift because they have to pick up their kids from school—they can’t afford to pay for school transportation to take the kids home.” [L’Orient Today]

RESPONSE
While one can feel angst for the civil servants who are leaving Lebanon, it has a dual impact on the country: on the positive side, it reduces public expenditures on salaries, and on the negative side, it deprives the state of the very people they need to populate the agencies to ensure their operations. Of course, everyone has a story of ghost jobs and phantom employees who owe their jobs to their political overlords. But the fact remains that literally the best and brightest are leaving because they can find employment elsewhere, compromising Lebanon’s future prospects for a rapid rebirth once the politicians decide to act on behalf of the national interest.

-ATFL Vice President Jean AbiNader

Taif Agreement is Best Solution to Lebanon Crisis, Saudi Arabia Stands by Us: Mikati
Saudi Ambassador Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari and Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati both stressed the importance of the Taif Agreement to addressing Lebanon’s challenges in governance. Mikati expressed that this conference signifies Saudi Arabia’s continued engagement in Lebanon and the large number of participants, including political leaders such as Walid Jumblatt, Suleiman Franjieh, and many Free Patriotic Movement MPs, signify the wide support for the Taif Agreement. [Arab News]

RESPONSE

It’s a bit of a puzzle why some political parties are now speaking out against the Taif Accords. Since the agreement was only partially implemented and then weakened, how can you challenge something that has not been activated? A bicameral legislature, independent judiciary, non-sectarian lower house of parliament, and decentralization are some of the major reforms called for in the agreement. Who can argue against something that strengthens Lebanon’s sovereignty? Must be that clause about disarming militias. As a leading politician noted, it’s time to get on with electing a president and completing a government so that the country has a future for making reforms and getting on with re-building the state.

-ATFL Vice President Jean AbiNader

 

Lebanon Daily News Brief 11/11/2022



 

DAILY NEWS

Lebanese Parliament Fails to Elect President Once Again
According to the National, Lebanon’s parliament failed to elect a president on Thursday when it convened for a fifth electoral session to elect a new head of state. It was the first session since the end of previous president Michel Aoun’s term.” [
The National]

PM Mikati: IMF Deal Still Reachable without President or Fully Formed Government
According to Reuters, “Lebanon could still finalise a deal with the International Monetary Fund for a $3 billion bailout despite having no president and no fully-empowered government, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Thursday.” [
Reuters]

Stray Bullet Strikes MEA Plane on Approach into Beirut Airport
According to AP News, “A stray bullet hit a Middle East Airlines jet while landing in Beirut on Thursday, causing some material damage. No one among the passengers or crew was hurt, the head of the Lebanese airline company said.” [
AP News]

USAID Announces $50 million Supporting Matriculation to AUB, LAU, NDU
According to Naharnet, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Samantha Power announced Thursday that USAID will provide $50 million for Lebanese and refugee students to attend the American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanese American University (LAU), and Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU).” [Naharnet]

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Innocent Victims Of Beirut’s Politics
Jean AbiNaderAbiNader writes, “Lebanon’s fragility is underscored by its gravely weakened education and health sectors; the miserable condition and cost of public transportation; its devalued economy; and the ongoing threats to its security and stability. Anyone who says that these are temporary conditions has not been in the streets of Lebanon lately. Consider the cholera-infested areas of the north, Lebanese dumpster diving in Beirut, or the littered streets and beaches. While there is some agreement that a consensus president is needed, the lack of agreement on implementing the IMF reform package is less reassuring . . . The hollowing out of state institutions and protections of civil and human rights will delay the reconstructing of a credible, professional public sector. The first needed remediation is a package of social support services that are inclusive, equitable, and transparent. As of now, the social contract between the state and its employees is frazzled, fraught with omissions, exclusions, and nepotism, and subject to the whims of political leaders ensuring their survival by pandering to their constituents.”

Read More Here

Brookings
Hezbollah’s Dilemmas
Daniel L. BymanByman writes, “The Lebanese Hezbollah is no longer the same organization that in 2006 battled the Israeli army to a standstill: the group today is more global, but has a weaker domestic position than in the past. For the last decade, Hezbollah has focused its formidable energies on helping its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, win the country’s civil war. As that conflict winds down with Assad secure in power, Hezbollah is pulled in many competing directions. Lebanon itself is in crisis, with Hezbollah’s own legitimacy declining. Iran is pushing Hezbollah to be even more expansive, continuing to help fight Israel and to bolster militant groups in Iraq, Yemen, and other countries. Hezbollah retains its enmity towards Israel and remains a dangerous threat, but the group appears careful to avoid activities that might escalate into all-out war. The United States can put more financial pressure on Hezbollah and otherwise attempt to weaken the group, but the group’s fate will ultimately depend on Lebanese and regional dynamics, with the group exercising considerable influence in Lebanon and the region, though not necessarily seeking greater conflict with Israel or the United States. Until the Lebanese themselves put their own house in order by reducing corruption, engaging in economic reform, and improving transparency, there will be limits on how much the United States can, or should, engage with Lebanon.”

Read More Here

L’Orient Today
Why is the Mediterranean Basin Warming Twice as Quickly as the Global Average?
Lyanna AlameddineAlameddine writes, “Snowfall in the middle of the desert, sandstorms, extreme heat, prolonged drought, uncontrolled rainfall: severe weather is increasingly affecting the Middle East. As the COP27 climate conference continues in Sharm el-Sheikh, we shed light on climate issues facing the region.”

Read More Here

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.

 

 

Innocent Victims of Beirut’s Politics

Lebanon’s fragility is underscored by its gravely weakened education and health sectors; the miserable condition and cost of public transportation; its devalued economy; and the ongoing threats to its security and stability. Anyone who says that these are temporary conditions has not been in the streets of Lebanon lately. Consider the cholera-infested areas of the north, Lebanese dumpster diving in Beirut, or the littered streets and beaches. While there is some agreement that a consensus president is needed, the lack of agreement on implementing the IMF reform package is less reassuring.

As I wrote last week, “It’s clear that international assistance from donors such as the EU and the US are the only remedies for keeping health-care facilities operating. The costs of most procedures, scarce and insufficient medicines, and the migration of health professionals spell doom to Lebanon medical infrastructure. Even though 80% of facilities are private, the challenges to both the private and public sectors in health services are enormous. For a patient to complain that being in a hospital is like a death sentence due to inadequate facilities, personnel, and medications exposes the depths of despair of Lebanon’s once stellar health sector.”

Unfortunately, the education sector is similarly troubled. With teachers emigrating and the remaining paid infrequently – many of whom left without the means to meet their transportation costs and switched to contract employees in order to avoid social security, medical insurance, and other benefits – the sector has been severely degraded. This is true across the 325,000 public sector employees (2021), including among the security forces.

The hollowing out of state institutions and protections of civil and human rights will delay the reconstructing of a credible, professional public sector. The first needed remediation is a package of social support services that are inclusive, equitable, and transparent. As of now, the social contract between the state and its employees is frazzled, fraught with omissions, exclusions, and nepotism, and subject to the whims of political leaders ensuring their survival by pandering to their constituents.

According to a recent report from The Policy Initiative, “Elites used state resources and private capital to establish clientelist social protection networks. The country’s sectarian political parties [after Taif] became the main providers of benefits, creating multiple, competing, social contracts and political arrangements.”

So, not only do politicians need political will to rebuild the state,   state institutions require a backbone of qualified, well-compensated public servants that are committed to the country by carrying out their work efficiently and transparently. It is the substitution of these sectarian networks that has undone the country and poses the greatest threat to its recovery.

But the issue is much deeper than the decline of the social cohesion of the country. According to the 2021 World Bank Governance Indicators as reported by Byblos Bank, Lebanon is ranked at 9% in Political Stability, while Qatar is tops at 83%. Lebanon scores ahead of Palestine, Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. The reality speaks for itself. Lebanon has diminished its once highly regarded civil society to the status of pariah or broken state.

So build, back, better Lebanon without the carnage of the past 30+ years since Taif. And give your children, women, and youth a reason to invest in their futures inside the country.

 

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 11/09/2022



 

DAILY NEWS

LAF Trains Against Bank Heists
According to Al-Monitor, “The Lebanese army held a training exercise Tuesday that was seemingly in response to the string of bank heists in the country. The army training simulated a ‘security incident’ at a bank. The purpose was to ‘detain the perpetrators.’ US and British trainers assisted with the exercise, the army said in a tweet.” [
Al-Monitor]

USAID Administrator Power Announces $72 Million in Humanitarian Aid to Lebanon
According to Reuters,The United States pledged $72 million in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon on Wednesday aimed at helping to feed hundreds of thousands of Lebanese struggling to put food on the table, the director of USAID Samantha Power said during a visit to Lebanon. Power said the aid would allow 660,000 new beneficiaries to be added to the list of people receiving support from the United States Agency for International Development.” [
Reuters]

Lebanon-Bound Fuel Trucks Destroyed in Air Strike Over Syria 
According to the Reuters, “At least two fuel trucks were destroyed in an air strike by an unidentified drone on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq late on Tuesday, Iraqi security and border officials told Reuters . . . ran’s state-run Press TV channel confirmed the attack and accused the United States of carrying it out, saying ‘a convoy of 22 tankers carrying fuel to Lebanon crossing from Iraq to Syria was attacked by U.S. drones’ at the Syrian town of Albukamal.” [
Reuters]

Vaccination Campaign Against Cholera Launched in Lebanon
According to Al-Monitor, “Lebanon began its campaign to roll out cholera vaccinations last weekend in the country’s northern governorate of Akkar, the epicenter of the outbreak . . . Four-thousand prison inmates and officials have already been vaccinated from a stock of over 13,000 vaccinations donated by France last week. Another 600,000 doses from UNHCR and the World Health Organization are expected to arrive in Lebanon on Wednesday, to be distributed to Lebanese and Syrians in areas with the highest infection rates.” [
Al-Monitor]

OPINION & ANALYSIS

L’Orient Today
Is Life in Lebanon Still Cheaper Than Before the Crisis for Those Who Have ‘Fresh Dollars’?
Philippe Hage Boutros and Fouad Gemayel

Hage Boutros and Gemayel write, “Earlier this year, a survey published by the German organization the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung suggested that only 13.6 percent of Lebanese have access to fresh dollars, half of them through their salaries, paid either partially or fully in foreign currency. This portion of the population is considered privileged given that its purchasing power is preserved or has even increased since the onset of the financial crisis in Lebanon in 2019. This was particularly true in 2020 when consumer prices were slow to keep pace with the depreciation of the Lebanese lira. The picture, however, is more nuanced today. Dollar earners are still privileged, but their purchasing power is increasingly inching toward where it was pre-crisis. Two years ago, they could afford some luxuries they could not have before. Today, however, they find themselves once again conscious of the prices of some goods. In order to offer a clearer image of the current situation, L’Orient-Le Jouranalyzed the figures published by the Central Administration of Statistics (CAS) considering the lira-dollar exchange rate on the parallel market to obtain a price trend in real value. At first glance, it appears that in September 2020, the purchasing power of a dollar earner in Lebanon on a stable monthly income had increased 2.2 times compared to September 2019. In September 2022, this same income was worth only 1.6 times what it was three years ago. On closer inspection, the conclusions are more nuanced.”

Read More Here

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 11/08/2022



 

DAILY NEWS

Egypt to Send 17 Tons’ Worth of Cholera Vaccines
According to the National, “Egypt will send 17 tonnes of medicine and vaccines to help tackle Lebanon’s deadly cholera outbreak. The aid will arrive by military plane in Beirut on Wednesday morning, the Egyptian embassy in Lebanon said. The mission said Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati requested help with the outbreak — its first in three decades — from Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi at the recent Arab League summit in Algeria.” [
The National]

USAID Administrator Power in Lebanon for Three-Day Visit
According to Al Arabiya English with reporting from Joseph Haboush, “USAID director Samantha Power arrived in Beirut on Tuesday for a three-day visit aimed at providing support to the Lebanese people, more than half of whom are in need of some form of food aid.” [
Al Arabiya English]

Interior Minister Affirms National Security Amid Presidential Vacuum
According to the Arab News, “Following a meeting with the Central Internal Security Council, caretaker minister Bassam Mawlawi said security is something all Lebanese require and ‘it is the duty of security bodies to maintain it using all available means’.” [
Arab News]

PM Mikati States Lebanon’s Vulnerability to Climate Change at COP27
According to L’Orient Today, “Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Tuesday that Lebanon is vulnerable to climate change effects that could trigger a crash in Lebanon’s gross domestic product, exacerbating its current crises. Speaking at COP27, the UN conference being held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the premier pledged Lebanon’s commitment to prioritizing adaptation measures, the state-run National News Agency reported.” [
L’Orient Today]

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Arab News
Lebanese Forum Delegates Unite on Implementing All Terms of Taif Agreement
Najia Houssari

Houssari writes, “The terms of a 1989 deal negotiated in Saudi Arabia to end Lebanon’s civil war and return political normalcy to the country must be implemented in full, a former minister has claimed. Rashid Derbas’ comments echoed those of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri who said on Monday that the Taif Agreement acted as a constitution providing equality among the Lebanese people.
Their remarks followed a recent forum, organized by the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Al-Bukhari and held at the UNESCO Palace in Beirut, commemorating the 33rd anniversary of the accord. Speakers at the gathering unanimously pointed out the need to apply provisions of the agreement still to be enacted and they reiterated their objections to amending them.”

Read More Here

The Policy Initiative
Disaster Governance and Aid Effectiveness: the Case of Lebanon’s 3RF
Sophie Bloemeke and Mona Harb

Bloemeke and Harb write, “Two years after the Beirut Port blast destroyed one-third of Lebanon’s capital and killed more than 220 people, two of the main champions and designers of the aid architecture that now governs the recovery process left their positions in Lebanon to lead reform programs abroad. They leave behind a structure known to a few as the “3RF” – the Reform, Recovery, and Reconstruction Framework – albeit one that is largely invisible to the majority of Lebanon’s population. The 3RF is a platform established by the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank in 2020 as an institutional response to the Beirut Port explosion, which aims to provide “a framework of key actions to support the recovery and reconstruction of Beirut,” relying on “inclusive institutional arrangements” that bring together the government, international partners, the private sector, and civil society organizations (CSOs). Based on a mixed-methods study using primary data from 24 interviews, participant observation, and desk research, we conducted a study on how the 3RF has performed to date. We examined the 3RF’s effectiveness in terms of initiating reforms, institutional strengthening, and adaptability to the political context, focusing on the inclusion of CSOs, particularly at the Consultative Group level (which grouped selected CSOs) and at the sector coordination level (through working groups). The study makes two arguments. First, although it includes adaptive and effective institutional arrangements that may enable reforms, the 3RF is furthering civil society fragmentation. Second, international organizations’ incoherence and competition is consolidating the political status quo. In this article, we examine and describe three interconnected sets of structural constraints that limit the performance of the 3RF: (1) donors’ competing agendas and the platform’s institutional incoherence, (2) political stalemate and the Lebanese Government’s lack of political will, and (3) the insufficient involvement of CSOs in decision-making processes. Before expounding on these constraints, we offer an overview of the 3RF.”

Read More Here

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 11/07/2022



 

November 7, 2022

Russia to Donate Wheat, Fuel to Lebanon
President Aoun’s Farewell Address
Lebanon’s Health Sector Worsens

Russia to Donate Wheat, Fuel to Lebanon
According to Naharnet, “Russian President Vladimir Putin has officially authorized a wheat and fuel grant to crisis-hit Lebanon, media reports said. The grant consists of 25,000 tons of wheat and ten tons of fuel oil. Caretaker Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamieh was informed of the approval overnight and the delivery date will be revealed within the next two days, the reports added.” [Naharnet]

RESPONSE

Considering the more than $700M in aid given by the US last year, it is good to see Russia step up during this time of need for the Lebanese people with wheat and fuel support. This offer is made while the US is making another important effort in support of the Lebanese people by facilitating a project to bring Egyptian gas through Jordan and Syria, and electricity from Jordan that will provide another 8 hours of electricity to the people of Lebanon. Issuing a sustainable tariff for electricity meets one of the two requirements necessary to starting World Bank funding for these projects.  The other is a requirement to begin the process of forming an independent electricity agency to regulate electricity price and reliability standards. Once the Lebanese government fulfills this requirement and the US Treasury Department signs off, power can flow, and hopefully within the coming weeks.

-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel 

Outgoing President Aoun Attacks Head of Higher Judicial Council in Politicized Speech
According to L’Orient Today, “[In his farewell speech as the outgoing President of the Lebanese Republic, Former] President Michel Aoun focused a large part of his speech on Sunday on the head of the Higher Judicial Council Souheil Abboud, on whom he unleashed a direct attack.” [L’Orient Today]

RESPONSE
Former President Michel Aoun did not speak to rally the Lebanese around the need to elect a President and move the country forward towards recovery, nor did he speak sincerely about the need to shore up Lebanon’s failing institutions. No, rather than appear statesman-like, he resorted to the old trope of blaming others for the gridlock that now appears to be the outcome of the stalemate between him and the caretaker Prime Minister. Lebanon’s politicians have neither the vision nor the stamina to move ahead with the business of governing and rebuilding their country.

-ATFL Vice President Jean AbiNader

Lebanon’s Health Sector Debilitated Amid Worsening Economic Crisis
According to Al Monitor, “Lebanon’s health-care sector is fighting for survival amid an economic collapse, with the lives of patients at risk as critical care facilities have been falling apart and for the majority of the population affording essential medicine has become a luxury.” [Al-Monitor]

RESPONSE

It’s clear that international assistance from donors such as the EU and the US are the only remedies for keeping health-care facilities operating. The costs of most procedures, scarce and insufficient medicines, and the migration of health professionals spells doom for Lebanon’s medical infrastructure. Even though 80% of facilities are private, the challenges to both the private and public sectors in health services are enormous. For a patient to complain that being in a hospital is like a death sentence due to inadequate facilities, personnel, and medications exposes the depths of despair of Lebanon’s once stellar health sector.

-ATFL Vice President 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 11/14/2022



 

DAILY NEWS

Caretaker Prime Minister Meets with IMF, Regional Leaders
According to Naharnet, “Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati held meetings Monday in Sharm el-Sheikh with International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid and Pakistani PM Shehbaz Sharif.” [
Naharnet]

Mass Return of Refugees from Lebanon to Syria
According to AP News, “Scores of Syrian refugees headed home Saturday from eastern Lebanon in the second convoy in less than two weeks as Beirut attempts to organize a mass refugee return to the war-torn country. Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said the ‘voluntary return’ Saturday included 330 Syrians who left from the eastern Bekaa Valley to Syria’s western Qalamoun region.” [
AP News]

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Hosts Forum on Taif Agreement
According to the National, “Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari organised a forum at the Unesco Palace in Beirut on the 33rd anniversary of the conclusion of the Taif Agreement, which ended 15 years of civil war in Lebanon, under Arab and international sponsorship . . . ‘We desperately need to embody the formula of co-existence that was addressed by the Taif Agreement, especially with regard to the preservation of Lebanon’s identity and Arab belonging,’ Mr Bukhari said. The forum on Saturday was attended by 1,000 political, business and academic figures.” [
The National]

‘Surprise’ Candidate May Emerge in Upcoming Presidential Election Session
According to Naharnet, “As several Free Patriotic Movement lawmakers announced that their parliamentary bloc will not cast blank votes in Thursday’s presidential election session, an independent MP told ad-Diyar newspaper that a ‘surprise’ candidate will be voted for in the session. Sources close to Hezbollah meanwhile told Asharq al-Awsat daily that they rule out any breakthrough in the presidential file before the end of the year, seeing as ‘things are linked to domestic and foreign circumstances’.” [
Naharnet]

OPINION & ANALYSIS

The Policy Initiative
Distorted Social Contract: The Dangerous Trajectory of Social Protection Systems in Lebanon
Sami Zoughaib

Zoughaib writes, “As Lebanon’s financial and economic crises deepen, the severe shortcomings in the country’s formal social protection system have left the population increasingly abandoned and vulnerable. Capitalizing on this grim reality, the political elites have doubled down on their regime of social privileges, aiding the select at the disadvantage of the rest. They activated informal patronage networks for their loyalists and privileged select civil servants, particularly the military. The large majority of the country that is disenfranchised, those without political significance, are left to suffer. Left behind, more and more people have sought to flee Lebanon through people-smuggling sea routes, a tragic option that has left hundreds dead so far. The failure of authorities to respond seriously to the social disaster cannot be justified with the excuses of financial constraints or technical ineptitude. The central bank generously spent from its reserves an amount equivalent to the current size of the economy (~$20 billion) on regressive subsidies, quixotic attempts to prop up the exchange rate, and transfers of capital abroad. The National Social Protection Strategy, a document that details how the country can move beyond the current system of social privileges and onto one of social protection rights, was further delayed by the Mikati government.”

Read More Here

AP News
Eastern Mediterranean: A Natural Gas Hub Worth Exploring – Analysis
Dr Md. Muddassir Quamar

Dr. Quamar writes, “The international energy market has witnessed serious upheavals since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Europe, which significantly depended on Russia for its energy security, has been struggling to find alternative sources. The sanctions on Russia’s oil industry by the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) has led to serious churn in the global energy supplies, already seething with shortages due to sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, the civil war in Libya, and the debilitating impact of Covid-19 on demands. This has led to rise in global energy prices, making the post-pandemic economic recovery even more daunting, including in the US and European countries. The OPEC+ decision on production cuts taken on 5 October 2022, therefore, provoked sharp reaction from President Joe Biden who blamed Saudi Arabia, warning it of “consequences” for siding with Russia. The Kingdom, on the other hand, responded by underlining its longstanding commitments to stability of the global energy market and denied political manoeuvring. While the geopolitical tensions over the global energy production and supplies are unlikely to reduce anytime soon, the existing situation has underlined the need for finding alternative sources of energy. The quest for alternatives has also been accelerated by the growing international concern over global warming and environmental degradation. The focus is on finding alternatives both in terms of clean and renewable sources and newer producers and suppliers.”

Read More Here

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.

 

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