This Week in Lebanon

NOVEMBER 14, 2020
French Envoy Warns Lebanese Officials
Doctors Are Leaving Lebanon
Return of Syrian Refugees

 

French Envoy Warns Lebanese Officials
A French envoy met with officials in Lebanon this week to warn the government over its stalling to form a Lebanese Cabinet headed by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. It’s reported that if the government is not formed by the end of November, an upcoming economic support conference will change to a humanitarian conference instead. Rather than supporting the state, the conference would provide aid to civil society organizations. (The 961)

ANALYSIS

“ATFL advocates for humanitarian and recovery relief for the Lebanese people in the short term, and in the longer term, assistance to help strengthen civil society, election reform, poverty programs, and educational institutions. This should include enabling the Lebanese Armed Forces to undertake increased FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and Army Corps of Engineers-type activities, while maintaining Lebanese sovereignty. The purported proposal by France to reprogram aid intended to support an elusive reform government in favor of direct citizen and civil society support is an important and critical need that should be supported, even if PM Hariri succeeds in this latest effort.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel

ANALYSIS

“It’s ironic that the upcoming meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon may reprogram funds contingent on government reforms to be used instead in part for humanitarian assistance. The lack of success in forming a government may end up helping the Lebanese people in the short term as they face the onset of winter facing desperate economic conditions. Failure to agree on a government may give the people a lifeline that might otherwise not materialize.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


Doctors Are Leaving Lebanon
An increasing number of doctors and surgeons are leaving Lebanon after seeing wages fall, coupled with shortages of equipment, staff and basic supplies. Lebanon is running out of hard currency to pay for these medical imports. The government owes hospitals money and their unpaid bills continue to accumulate. (Reuters)

ANALYSIS

“Professionals and technicians including doctors are leaving Lebanon, concerned that they have no future for themselves and their families. If it wasn’t for COVID, the exodus would be much greater. There is a great deal of grief among those leaving as many cannot imagine returning except to see family left behind. Without a strong middle class built on the skills, talents, and drive of these people, Lebanon will face enormous challenges if any recovery is to take place. It’s awful to note that they are ‘collateral damage’ on the road to a failed state.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


Return of Syrian Refugees
Before an international conference in Damascus this week on the return of Syrian refugees, Lebanon’s outgoing Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe appealed to the international community to help return the more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. (Naharnet) On Friday, Caretaker Minister of Social Affairs Ramzi Msharrafieh announced that Lebanon’s plan, that was presented to a Russian delegation, to repatriate Syrian refugees back home was adopted at the conference. (Naharnet)

ANALYSIS

“Once again, Syrian refugees are pawns in a larger regional travesty that would hand them over to become captives of a regime that will neither protect them nor enable their return. Conditions in Syria, even the 70% loosely controlled by the regime, are a vast humanitarian crisis. The international norm for return is voluntary, safe, and dignified – characteristics not evident under the 50 year-old Assad regime, even for its own people who are still in the country.”
-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

NOVEMBER 22, 2020
Delay in Government Formation
Independents’ Success in Student Council Elections
UN Special Coordinator’s Response to Government Delay

 

Continued Delay in Government Formation
President Michel Aoun met with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri last week to discuss Lebanon’s government formation. It was reported that the meeting ended negatively when President Aoun insisted on naming Christian ministers. A former Lebanese PM said that this delay furthers Hezbollah’s wishes to push further government consultations to early next year, after US President-Elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. (Naharnet)

ANALYSIS

“Hezbollah’s gamble to wait for a Biden administration before assenting to a new government is dangerous and will drive the Lebanese into more poverty, emigration, and joblessness. Lebanon’s economy has days, not weeks, to form an independent government in order to receive necessary international support and avoid economic collapse. A Biden administration has made it clear that any new agreement with Iran will include curbs on “terrorist proxies.” So I’m not sure why Hezbollah waits! If an independent, reform minded government is delayed, a Biden administration in its first week should signal its agreement with France to reprogram some CEDRE and international aid to direct aid to civil society to support universities, election reform, and social safety net programs.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


Independents Make an Impression in Student Council Elections
Lebanese American University’s student council seats are usually dominated by the right-wing political party Lebanese Force, but this year, independent students won all the student council seats they ran in: 14 out of 30 seats total. The American University of Beirut also saw strong results for independents at 80 out of 101 seats, and Rafik Hariri University’s independents took four out of nine seats. (Al Jazeera)

ANALYSIS

“Finding a bright spot in the Lebanese landscape is almost impossible these days but, once again, young people are leading the way. There has been a great deal of concern that the October 17 demonstrators are unable to organize, agree on a central platform, and create a coherent strategy for mobilizing the street. Well, recent university student elections were dominated by the independents. This is a small but reassuring sign that the youth still want to have a say in their future and are working on coalescing around a proactive message to challenge the old guard.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


UN Special Coordinator on Government Delay
UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis participated in an interview with France 24 during which he bemoaned the delay in Lebanon’s government formation. He stressed that he wants to see a government formed in days, not weeks and that the lack of accountability in the government only furthers the public’s mistrust. (France 24)

ANALYSIS

“It seems that progress is imperceptible in forming a new government. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, emphasizing the severity of the situation, wants to see results in days not weeks. Data tells the story as poverty and unemployment increase; the coronavirus is rising to dangerous levels; the value of the lira is headed toward 8,500 to the dollar; and some 2,000 medical personnel have left the country. Kubis warned that if the political vacuum continues, Lebanon could face a ‘humanitarian catastrophe and even a collapse.’ Not much to add…the signs are clear.”
-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

NOVEMBER 7, 2020
Lebanon’s Medicine Shortage
Basic Good Subsidies to Cease
Beirut Port Silos to be Demolished

 

Lebanon’s Medicine Shortage
In the midst of a severe economic crisis, Lebanon is facing a medicine shortage. A warning from the central bank regarding shortages of hard currency for essential imports like medicine has triggered panic buying while both patients and wholesalers stockpile medicines. The health ministry recently requested pharmacists to limit sales to keep important medicines on the shelves. (Financial Times)

ANALYSIS

“The outpouring of compassion and support for the Lebanese people following the disastrous August 4th explosion has been remarkable. The Lebanese American community and several US NGOs have donated more than $30M in medicine and medical supplies so far, with more on the way. This is now proving to be a long term need that must continue in the months ahead. It is important for the government to stand aside while we carry on this people-to-people exchange through trusted NGOs in the US and Lebanon. Roadblocks and threats of taxation by the Lebanese government are disheartening. Again, the Lebanese Armed Forces have stepped in to ensure that the people of Lebanon receive the badly needed supplies donated by US communities.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


Subsidies on Basic Commodities to Cease After 2020
Lebanon’s central bank lift subsidies on basic commodities by the end of this year. Lebanese are concerned about prices of goods like fuel, medicine and flour as an increasing percentage of the population faces poverty. Economists say that Lebanon needs between $600 and $800 million per month to import these goods. Central bank governor Riad Salameh has announced that the bank will not be able to continue subsidies for these basic commodities beyond the end of 2020. (Al-Monitor)

ANALYSIS

“With inflation soaring to more than 120%, goods rising to 370%, the poor accounting for more than 55% of the population, and extreme poverty tripling in the past year to 23%, Lebanon is in deep crisis. Subsidies on wheat, fuel, and medicine were across the board and not apportioned according to need. Now the country’s foreign reserves are at a disastrous point and subsidies will end this year. Lebanon’s economy is a shadow of its former self and there is still no leadership to enact needed reforms.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


Beirut Port Silos to be Demolished
Caretaker Economy Minister Raoul Nehme announced that the Port of Beirut silos will be demolished following the damage incurred by the August 4th explosion. The silos are at high risk of collapse and because of their endangerment to pubic safety they will be torn down. After the ruined grains are removed, the silo structures will be demolished by the Lebanese Army in coordination with engineers in Lebanon and abroad. (The 961)

ANALYSIS

“Without the solid structures that made up the port silos, the devastation of August 4 would have been far greater. Now what’s left must be torn down due to structural damage. Will the leadership manage to let this go forward without arguing about how to divvy up the contracts while Beirut burns? It is a dilemma for the incoming Prime Minister how to assemble a government committed to Lebanon’s future and able to be effective in implementing reforms.”
-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

NOVEMBER 1, 2020
Aoun Meets with Russian Delegation
Beirut Port Reports of Corruption and Negligence
One Year After the Lebanese Protests

 

Aoun Meets with Russian Delegation
On Wednesday, President Michel Aoun met with Alexander Lavrentieve, Russia’s special envoy to Syria. They discussed Russian initiatives to return Syrian refugees back to Syria as well as the international conference to be held in Syria for the repatriation of the displaced. The Russian delegation met with other senior Lebanese officials as well to discuss the conference and bilateral relations between Russia and Lebanon. (Naharnet)

ANALYSIS

“I’m not sure what the Russians can do to help with refugee repatriation beyond lip service. International law is clear, refugee repatriation can occur when it’s voluntary, safe and dignified. The US should lead the international community by assisting UNHCR to better understand refugee family needs and wishes and look for ways to ease the numbers and burden in Lebanon. Can the US, working with the UNHCR, advance proposals that defend the rights of refugees while creatively addressing the pressure on Lebanon?”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


Beirut Port Reports of Corruption and Negligence
The Beirut port, which handles an estimated $15 billion of trade per year, was full of corruption and negligence according to the accounts of nine people involved in its shipping and administration. The accounts were supported by import documents that a source showed to Reuters. One senior minister said, “The level of corruption in all layers of the state is beyond imagination. How much more corruption, like the port, is hidden beneath the cloaks of politicians?” He told Reuters that he received threats warning him “not to dig into corruption.” (Reuters)

ANALYSIS

“It’s no wonder the investigation of the Beirut Port blasts is going nowhere. According to witnesses, it is a microcosm of the system’s corruption and indifference to the interests of the Lebanese people. All of the political chiefs are culpable as their appointees evaded responsibility for the dysfunctional management and lucrative divvying up of revenues without similar concern for port security and transparency. How can the Lebanese believe that these same leaders are going to ever allow vitally needed reforms?”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


One Year After the Lebanese Protests
Saad Hariri is working to put together his fourth government after Lebanon’s parliament voted him into the role of Prime Minister. The effort comes one year after Hariri resigned during government protests last October, and after the resignations of Prime Ministers Hassan Diab and Mustapha Adib. The Lebanese government is under pressure to make reforms in order to unlock IMF aid. (CounterPunch)

ANALYSIS

“The return of Saad Hariri may be either a brilliant stroke to have someone who understands the system in place or more of the same old warlord-dominated shell of a country. One year later, Lebanon aches under a crushing economic collapse, eroding security, continued failure of government-provided services, and ultimatums from key actors to maintain the status quo. The ingredients for success are clear; the will to make the reforms is absent. Where will Lebanon be a year from now?”
-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

OCTOBER 25, 2020
Saad Hariri Renamed Lebanon’s Prime Minister
Human Rights Group Says Lebanon’s Blast Probe Not Credible
US House Representatives Urge Humanitarian Aid

 

Saad Hariri Renamed Lebanon’s Prime Minister
One year after Saad Hariri resigned from his role as Prime Minister, he has been reinstated as PM once again with a slim majority of votes from parliament. Political groups that voted in favor of Hariri’s return include his own Future Movement, the Shia Amal Movement, the Druze Progressive Socialist Party and the Syrian Socialist Nationalist party. The Free Patriotic Movement and Lebanese Forces abstained and Hezbollah did not vote for Hariri either. Tasked with forming his fourth government, Hariri promised to form a government of non-partisan experts and to reconstruct Beirut’s damage left from the August 4 explosion. (Al Jazeera)

ANALYSIS

“The hope now is that the incoming PM Saad Hariri can form an independent, reform minded government. The IMF and international donors are clear: an independently empowered government must quickly put forward and begin implementing a “comprehensive” plan of reforms, including financial, economic, political, and social programs, and Lebanon’s parliament must be willing to fast track legislation to support such a plan. Nothing short of this will succeed. Once again, it’s in the hands of the country’s rulers to do what they have failed to do for the past year. UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis said Thursday, shortly after ex-PM Saad Hariri was named to form a new government, ‘Do not count on miracles, foreign elections or external donors – the rescue must start in Lebanon, by Lebanon.'”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


Human Rights Group Says Lebanon’s Blast Probe Not Credible
This week Human Rights Watch reported that the Lebanon-led investigation into the Beirut blasts in August has been distorted by political meddling and a lack of judicial independence. The group has called for the United Nations to lead an inquiry into the cause of the explosion. HRW called on international supporters, led by France, to press the Lebanese authorities to accept an independent inquiry. (Associated Press)

ANALYSIS

“It is not enough that the blast occurred but the subsequent investigations have been hamstrung by the oligarchy’s unwillingness to accept responsibility further than acknowledging that it happened on their watch. How long with the Lebanese people remain at the mercy of leaders who avoid leadership and how will they once again trust their justice system when it is manipulated with ease? Time for a transparent international investigation to restore some integrity to the discovery process.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


US House Representatives Urge Humanitarian Aid
US House Representatives are urging the Trump administration to ensure continued assistance to the Lebanese people following the Beirut explosion. Representatives Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) and Elaine Luria (D-VA) led a bipartisan letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for more oversight and action to help Lebanon and ensure that the funds aren’t being misused by Hezbollah. The letter says that Hezbollah exploited $18 million in humanitarian aid sent after the blast. (The Hill)

ANALYSIS

“The bipartisan letter continues a theme of previous appeals from Congress to the Administration: support the Lebanese people and avoid any diversion of this aid to Hezbollah-linked entities. This challenges donors since Hezbollah is entwined with many organizations and agencies. Yet hesitating to provide badly needed humanitarian assistance damages the credibility of the international community. Fortunately, there are many credible international and local NGOs on the ground that can direct resources where the needs are greatest, among the Lebanese and the refugees in the country.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader

Click here for ATFL approved NGOs to donate to.


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.