This Week in Lebanon

May 23, 2021
US Congress Members Urge Support for Lebanon
International Support Group for Lebanon Meeting in Beirut
Syrian Voters Attacked on Their Way to Beirut

US Congress Members Urge Support for Lebanon
Members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary of State Blinken this week urging the United States to respond to Lebanon’s deteriorating situation. They recommended coordinated aid to the country, support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, and for an independent investigation into last summer’s explosion at the Port of Beirut. [Al-Monitor]

ANALYSIS

“Chairman Meeks and the congressional co-signers reaffirm Lebanon’s importance on the agenda of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They understand the multi-dimensional aspects of a strong US policy: firm international diplomacy advocating a government capable of addressing the needs of the Lebanese citizens, international aid for those who suffer from the effects of incompetent governance, and steadfast support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, which is dedicated to the protecting the rights of its citizens. This letter and a companion letter sent by the House US-Lebanon Friendship Caucus keep the Lebanon issue front and center with the Biden administration and offer a roadmap for stabilizing its US interests in the eastern Mediterranean and for curbing the influence of Iran.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


International Support Group for Lebanon Meeting in Beirut
The International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) met in Beirut on Wednesday to assess Lebanon’s situation. The group took note of further economic and social decline in the country and called on political leaders to form a government. ISG also called for elections to occur on time and for impacts from any subsidy changes on economic and social well-being to be mitigated. [Naharnet]

ANALYSIS

“Once again the ISG has spoken out in support of the people of Lebanon, calling on the political leadership to undertake the reforms critical to the country’s survival, holding the elections on time, and maintaining humanitarian support for the populace. Is there any responsible world leader or organization that is not calling on the leadership to reform or step aside? It is exhausting to hear time and time again the need for transformation only to watch the oligarchy continue to ignore reality.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


Syrian Voters Attacked on Their Way to Beirut
On Thursday Lebanese mobs attacked Syrian refugees and expatriates on their way to cast their vote at for the Syrian presidential election at the Syrian embassy in Beirut. The groups attacked were said to be organized to vote for President Bashar Assad and were identified by those chanting slogans in support of Assad and carrying banners with the president’s picture. [Arab News]

ANALYSIS

“The pent-up frustration of the Lebanese is being directed toward Syrians in Lebanon who are voting in the Syrian presidential elections at their embassy in Beirut. This has drawn the ire of opposition leaders and common people who can’t rectify why someone claiming refugee status would vote for Assad whose policies created the exodus from Syria in the first place. While the US and other countries are calling the election a sham, it is puzzling to understand the disconnect between those living on relief provided by the international community, and some who are supporting the regime that made them refugees 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.

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.

This week in Lebanon

April 15, 2021
Undersecretary David Hale Visits Lebanon
BDL Urges Lebanon’s Government to Curb Subsidies
Foreign Firms Interested in Beirut Port Reconstruction

Undersecretary David Hale Visits Lebanon
This week, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale visited Lebanon. He called on Lebanese political leaders to show flexibility and form a government capable of implementing reform. He warned that politicians who block reforms could face punitive actions from the United States. He further added that the US is ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel. [Associated Press]

ANALYSIS

“The reason for Undersecretary David Hale’s visit, supported by the new Biden Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, was two-fold: to encourage the leadership of Lebanon to form a government willing to enact necessary reforms that respond to the needs of the Lebanese people; and to encourage a restart of the maritime border negotiations. I’m sure his refrain to the Lebanese politicians was, “Help me, so I can help you.” I’m not sure however what their answer was. The US is ready to help but it needs a partner willing to address the needs of its citizens and work for regional stability. We hope Undersecretary Hale found a partner finally ready to move forward.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


BDL Urges Lebanon’s Government to Curb Subsidies
This week the Banque Du Liban urged Lebanon’s caretaker government to cut subsidies in order to protect foreign currency reserves. The bank announced it had been forced to sell dollars to prevent inflation over recent months. [Reuters]

ANALYSIS

“It’s not enough that the Lebanese people are down; they are being kicked to the curb by the leadership. Not content with disabling the banking system through a Ponzi-like scheme they profited from, the Central Bank wants to end subsidies – the only protection against hunger and humiliation left for the Lebanese. It’s long past time to reform the system, target its impact to those who are needy, and ensure transparency and effectiveness. But why wait until the last moment when this has been obvious since October 17, 2019? The Central Bank is no savior of the people, far from it.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


Foreign Firms Interested in Beirt Port Reconstruction
Several foreign firms are interested in rebuilding the Beirut Port left devastated by the August 4th explosion. German, French, Chinese and Russian firms have expressed interest. [Naharnet] This week Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri spoke with President Vladimir Putin on the phone regarding a number of joint cooperation issues including economic and trade relations. [Naharnet]

ANALYSIS

“With the Europeans insisting on transparency and reforms before committing to a plan, Saad Hariri is in Russia whipping up interest in the project. To ensure an honest project that benefits the Lebanese people and doesn’t disfigure the blast area, reforms to bidding and contracting regulations, judicial oversight, government concessions, and many more issues must be settled and enacted into enforceable laws. Clean up the debris, make the area safe and secure, and have a plan that respects the environment, the residents, and the needs of the country – not the few who want to feed at the trough.”
-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.

This Week in Lebanon

April 11, 2021
One-Third of Lebanese May Lose Social Security Services
Hezbollah Provides Aid to 50,000 Families
UNHCR Report on Human Rights Violations in Syria

One-Third of Lebanese May Lose Social Security Services
This week Director-General of the National Security Fund (NSSF) of Lebanon Mohamad Karaki warned that the fund my be forced to halt social security services to a third of the Lebanese population. He iterated that unlike all other ministries and administrations, the NSSF has not been receiving due payments and over the years funds owed to the NSSF have reached approximately 4,500 Lebanese pounds. [The 961]

ANALYSIS

“Director General Karaki of the NSSF stressed that they “would not be able to continue covering people’s healthcare fees if the state did not urgently provide the Fund with payments, including settling what remains unpaid of the 2020 budget.” The solvency of the national social security fund as well as other parts of the social safety net should not be left until the finances of the country are on the right footing. It is time for the US, France and other in the international community and make it clear to Lebanon’s leadership that their time is over and a new government capable of addressing the needs of the Lebanese must be put in place. In the meantime, the World Bank’s poverty program should be adopted by the caretaker government and increased by donors to respond to the already impending crisis, made even more acute by the potential the default of a social security system.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


Hezbollah Provides Aid to 50,000 Families
This week Shiite party deputy Hassan Fadlallah said that Hezbollah is providing direct aid to 50,000 underprivileged families in Lebanon in the form of direct assistance, food, health, and/or education. The group is hoping to increase that number to 100,000 families during Ramadan. [L’Oreint-Le Jour]

ANALYSIS

“This article notes that Hezbollah will be providing direct aid to 50,000 Shia families, with plans to double that number during Ramadan which starts this week. Hezbollah is also increasing support to agricultural projects through micro-credits. While the government stumbles and staggers trying to reconstitute itself, Hezbollah keeps its eyes on the prize…ensuring the support of its constituents. Is there a lesson here for the other sects?”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


UNHCR Report on Human Rights Violations in Syria
The UN Human Rights Council released a report from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic on humanitarian law violations and abuses in Syria including crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and other international crimes. [UN Human Rights Council]

ANALYSIS

“Let us not forget that Lebanon’s fate is gravely affected by what is going on next door in Syria. Updated data indicates that with more than half the Syrian population displaced, 2.5 million children out of school, a third of schools closed, around 9.3 million Syrians food insecure, and 60% living in extreme poverty, there is little hope that it will recover in the next decade. The border with Lebanon will remain insecure, a haven for smugglers, with a million refugees unable or unwilling to return under the current regime. The hopelessness is manipulated by politicians on both sides. Thankfully, the US remains the single largest humanitarian donor of Syria crisis response aid, providing nearly $13 billion since 2011.”
-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.

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.

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.

This Week in Lebanon

February 5, 2021
Assassination of Activist Luqman Slim
International Crisis Group Recommendations for Biden Administration
UN ESCWA Private Sector Report

Assassination of Activist Luqman Slim
Luqman Slim, a prominent journalist, activist, and known critic against Hezbollah, was found dead on Thursday after being shot multiple times. After a period of no political assassinations, Lebanese fear they may be on the rise again. [NYTimes] The United States and the international community are calling for his killers to be brought to justice. [US State Dept]

ANALYSIS

“The third assassination in recent weeks indicates that partisan forces in Lebanon are once again warring against the media, academics, intellectuals, and other opposition figures. In the mid-2000s, this was the favored form of sending messages to intimidate independent and investigative voices. The arrest of a journalist investigating the Beirut Port explosion by the military does not bode well. It’s time for the military to do what it should and stay out of politics, protect people exercising their civil rights, not use military courts for civilian trials, and focus on doing duty to rebuild and protect the country.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


International Crisis Group Tips for Biden Administration
Last week the International Crisis Group (ICG) released “Nineteen Conflict Prevention Tips for the Biden Administration.” Under a section titled “Lebanon: Help Avert State Failure”, the report refers to a “policy tug of war” over Hezbollah between France and the United States in regards to the party’s roll in Lebanon’s government. ICG suggests that the US join French efforts to corral politicians, including Hezbollah, into a new government that will enact essential reforms. The group further calls on the US to continue support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, as well as guide humanitarian support to vulnerable communities. [International Crisis Group]

ANALYSIS

“The report is right in one regard. US policy should not emphasize who is in a new Lebanese government, but rather what a new Lebanese government can show in the way of reforms and tangible steps. This does not mean however that sanctions on Hezbollah should for some reason be lifted or US pressure should not be strengthened to diminish Hezbollah’s influence. The US, multilateral agencies, and international partners have offered more than $15B in incentives to encourage such reform. The report fails to insist that there should be no IMF and other aid given to corrupt sectarian leaders without tangible reforms. And it fails to underscore the need for an immediate US effort to engage civil society, educational institutions, and new leaders, and to provide significant funding to strengthen their efforts. We agree with ICG’s recommendation that social safety net programs for the most vulnerable, including refugees, must be funded. The people and civil society must come first, while sectarian leaders fumble in their efforts to form a reformist government.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


UN ESCWA Releases Private Sector Report
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia released a report this week on the state of Lebanon’s private sector. The report reveals that around half of private sector sales stopped between 2019 and 2020. Further, 23 percent of full-time employees in key sectors have been laid off. The economy is expected to further contract in 2021. [UN ESCWA]

ANALYSIS

“This is a must read article to understand, by even official statistics, how deeply distressed the private sector is in Lebanon as a result of the three death blows of the economy, pandemic, and Port explosions. The poor and lower class are suffering the most as construction, services, and manufacturing are hardest hit, and micro and small enterprises are shuttering, many to never reopen. Restarting the private sector without further distorting the public sector must be a priority for economic reform.”
-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.

This Week in Lebanon

JANUARY 31, 2021
Protests in Tripoli
Lebanese Turn to Hezbollah for Financial Assistance
Syria Faces Humanitarian Aid Crisis

Protests in Tripoli
This week Tripoli saw a surge of protests after Lebanon’s government imposed a 24-hour curfew to help slow the spread of COVID-19. On Wednesday, a funeral was held for a man that died by security forces’ live fire used to disperse demonstrators. The next day, protestors set Tripoli’s municipal government building on fire in response to police brutality. Caretaker Prime Minister Diab responded by saying they will work quickly to restore the municipality building and arrest those responsible. [Reuters] Today protestors from all over Lebanon joined the rally in Tripoli’s al-Nour Square in solidarity. [Naharnet]

ANALYSIS

“Tripoli, despite once being the industrial heartbeat of Lebanon, is in a dismal state. Despite the presence of wealthy residents and many civil society organizations, it has been unable to rekindle the economic renaissance so desperately needed to restore dignity and self-sufficiency to its people. While the burning of the municipal building is a tragedy, in the US we know all too well the consequences of not addressing the needs of the people beyond humanitarian assistance. If Tripoli can rebuild, Lebanon can do the same…one municipality succeeding will spark others.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


Lebanese Turn to Hezbollah for Financial Assistance
In the middle of Lebanon’s economic crisis, some citizens are turning towards Hezbollah’s financial arm, al-Qard al-Hasan Association, for help. Accounts at the association do not earn interest, but users say when they want to withdraw money, they can. This is a big deal when Lebanon’s commercial banks have made it difficult if not impossible at times for citizens to withdraw from their accounts. The association also offers interest-free loans up to $5,000 in dollars. It has been active for more than three decades and is considered Lebanon’s largest non-banking financial institution that gives microloans. [Associated Press]

ANALYSIS

“Operating as a state within a state, it appears that Hezbollah is the only institution prepared to survive a total collapse of Lebanon’s government and its economy. One of their institutions, al-Qard al-Hasan Association, the financial arm of Hezbollah is just one way Hezbollah avoids the wrecking ball of Lebanon’s economic collapse and is able to ensure the dollar deposits of its members. It seems Hezbollah has the least to lose during this disastrous time for Lebanon. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s sectarian leaders continue to care more about their own positions of power than establishing an economic safety net for all its citizens.”
ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


Syria Faces Humanitarian Aid Crisis
At a United Nations Security Council briefing on January 20, Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya confirmed that he intends to veto any extension of cross-border aid access into Syria. In the same meeting UN aid chief Mark Lowcock declared that efforts to negotiate a cross-line aid mechanism from Damascus to Syria’s northwest had failed. The absence of these aid mechanisms could leave over 4.5 million civilians in Syria without assistance. [Middle East Institute]

ANALYSIS

“The cynicism of the interests of external powers is front and center in Russia’s actions at the UN Security Council to close off the last of the relief corridors for aid to the Syrian people. It is abetting its ally Assad by denying people in opposition-controlled area access to lifelines for food and medical support to force them to give up their struggle. But closing this last of the four corridors only alienates further the thousands of people who are simply trying to subsist in the anarchy that is today’s Syria.”
-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.

This Week in Lebanon

JANUARY 22, 2021
US President Joseph R. Biden’s Inauguration
Confirmation Hearing for the Biden’s US Secretary of State Nominee
World Bank Approves COVID-19 Vaccine Financing

Biden Inauguration and Confirmation Hearing for New Secretary of State
On Wednesday, President Joseph R. Biden took the oath of office in front of the US Capitol. The full text of his inaugural address can be viewed here. On his first day he signed over a dozen executive actions including one that ended the 2017 travel ban that restricted travel and immigration to the US from mainly Muslim-majority countries. [CBS]

Biden’s pick for Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified this week at his confirmation hearing in front of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He outlined a vision for revitalizing the United States’ foreign service and diplomatic corps. Blinken previously served as Deputy Secretary of State for the Obama administration from 2015 to 2017. [Politico]

ANALYSIS

“America this week celebrated the inauguration of a new President, and in what appears to be a fundamental shift in the way foreign policy will be conducted, President Biden’s nominee to become Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, impressed Senators at his confirmation hearing with humility and confidence in his new role. During a four and half hour hearing, committee members explored the universe of issues around the world. Although Lebanon was never questioned during the hearing, given our past experience working with Secretary-Designate Blinken we are confident in his interest and skill regarding Lebanon.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel

ANALYSIS

“What can Arab regimes and regional players take away from President Biden’s inaugural address and the testimony of Secretary of State-designate Tony Blinken? First of all, they will not rush to change Trump’s policies without recognizing how some elements support the Administration’s goals while others will have to be reshaped or eliminated. Secondly, there will be a values-based core that will help define policies and alliances. Finally, while humility and confidence may be a defining goal in dealing with friends and foes alike, both Blinken and Biden expressed “We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.” A tall order and one long overdue. We wish them well.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader

World Bank Approves COVID-19 Vaccine Financing for Lebanon
Yesterday the World Bank approved the re-allocation of $34 million under the Lebanon Health Resilience Project towards the first COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Lebanon. The vaccines are expected to arrive early next month and the financing will cover vaccines for over 2 million individuals. [World Bank]

ANALYSIS

“Mobilizing to procure the COVID-19 vaccines with international assistance demonstrates that Lebanon’s government does have the capacity to act in concert with multilateral agencies when there is political will to take actions. The amount of vaccines being procured with the assistance of the World Bank will cover only half of the Lebanese populations, and the country on track to at least identify additional sources through the WHO and others. If the vaccines are distributed and inoculations made in a transparent and impartial effort, then Lebanon will have overcome at least one of its many challenges.”
-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.

This Week in Lebanon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.