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.

 

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

 

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.

 

 

This Week in Lebanon 11/01/2022



 

November 1, 2022

ATFL and Congressional Staff Conclude Delegation Visit to Lebanon
Biden’s National Security Strategy: America’s Search For Order In The Middle East 
Defeating the Deadlock

ATFL and Congressional Staff Conclude Delegation Visit to Lebanon

ATFL has just wrapped up a bipartisan Congressional staff delegation visit to Lebanon. In four days, we met with leaders in the education, policy, humanitarian and religious communities as well as with Members of Parliament, political party leaders, the cabinet, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), and local UN leadership. We had the opportunity to meet with US Ambassador Dorothy Shea and congratulate the US for its successful leadership in the maritime accord between Lebanon and Israel as well as discuss other priorities for Lebanon, including the Levantine Energy Deal. The success of the maritime deal has helped Lebanon catch the attention of its international friends. Now is the time to take advantage of this opportunity and keep the momentum going, day by day, for the next few months. Lebanon’s leaders can begin by electing a new president and then finalizing an IMF deal. They can then follow through with forming a new government and completing the Egyptian gas deal. Imagine how Lebanon could be viewed after five months of good news.   

-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel 

Biden’s National Security Strategy: America’s Search For Order In The Middle East
James Ryan writes that “President Joe Biden’s National Security Strategy (NSS) addresses two trends in America’s Middle East policy that have been apparent over his tenure: military de-escalation and regional integration.” [Eurasia Review]

RESPONSE

In order to understand the implications of the ‘National Security Strategy (NSS) for Lebanon, one must begin with the overarching concerns of the US which remain in the president’s words, “Security, Stability, and Prosperity.” These ideal goals cover many objectives, not the least of which is to promote an environment in which countries are counted on as friends and allies to the degree they seek the same goals. Lebanon, under its current caretaker government, can either challenge or complement these goals: by electing a president committed to reforms, by passing and implementing the IMF conditions, and by investing in the people of Lebanon. This is the only long-term guarantee that the Lebanese will build a new social contract that serves to preserve and inspire the best in its people.

-ATFL Vice President Jean AbiNader

Defeating the Deadlock
Michael Young argues, “the dynamics indicate that only a figure who is above the fray, who has the means to push back against both Geagea and Bassil, who enjoys international respect, and who may not inconvenience Hezbollah for having spent years coordinating with the party, will emerge as the favorite. At present, [Joseph] Aoun alone appears to combine all these characteristics.” [Carnegie]

RESPONSE

It is a paradox of Lebanese politics that while many are hoping for a new president who is strong, decisive, and able to stand for the many, the Lebanese will likely get a convener, a person who can stand up with and not against the power brokers/traditional politicians. As long as the status quo persists, the country will find leadership that is constrained and throttled by a system that elevates compromise over action no matter how laudable or practical the solution proposed, the electricity sector being a prime example of gridlock and malfeasance. Maybe the first action of the new president should be the full implementation of the Taif Accord – while not perfect, it stands as a hallmark of what must be done to restore Lebanon.

-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.

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This Week in Lebanon 10/22/2022



 

October 22, 2022

Sending Gas to Lebanon Via Syria Unlikely to Violate Sanctions, Senior US Official Says 
Looped in ‘Line by Line’, Hezbollah Shows Pragmatic Side in Lebanon-Israel Deal
Biden Just Pulled off a Big Diplomatic Victory-and Almost No One Noticed

Sending Gas to Lebanon Via Syria Unlikely to Violate Sanctions, Senior US Official Says 
During a webinar hosted by the American Task Force on Lebanon and the Middle East Institute, US Special Coordinator for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein stated that the US is continuing to pursue the Levantine Energy Deal, which will see Egyptian gas and Jordan electricity transmitted to Lebanon via Syria. “The US has always been committed to getting that deal through,” Hochstein said. “We are going to work with the World Bank and Treasury Department to make sure that it first doesn’t affect any sanctions, which I think we are okay on, but we will have to have a determination formally.” [Middle East Eye]

RESPONSE

Special Presidential Coordinator Amos Hochstein clarified that the ball is in Lebanon’s court on two remaining issues in order to satisfy the World Bank requirements to get gas and electricity flowing: raising an electric tariff to a realistic rate which is now nearly complete according to US and Lebanese officials; and, beginning the process of establishing a electricity regulatory authority with professional appointees. This would increase electricity provided to Lebanese citizens from two hours per day to more than eight. This also provides critical temporary relief to Lebanese citizens until a more permanent electricity solution is introduced. This could be a quick and easy fix if the government can move on this issue in the coming weeks. 

-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel 

Looped in ‘Line by Line’, Hezbollah Shows Pragmatic Side in Lebanon-Israel Deal
Analysts have observed that after a decade of regional activity, including sending arms and soldiers to aid the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah is pivoting its focus back to Lebanon. Others have noted the group also ascended to the deal because it was pragmatically good for the Lebanese people, which some identify as a notable example of the group choosing pragmatism over ideology. [Reuters]

RESPONSE
The details provide an interesting look at Hezbollah as being able to recognize benefits to the Lebanese people who would suffer from their expected ideological opposition to such a deal. Does this portend more pragmatism, let’s say, in choosing the next president of Lebanon, or accepting the IMF conditions, or any of the other issues that make up Lebanon’s national agenda? Only time will tell if Lebanon is on the cusp of a breakthrough in decision-making that puts the people first. 

-ATFL Vice President Jean AbiNader

Biden Just Pulled off a Big Diplomatic Victory-and Almost No One Noticed
Max Boot, with the Washington Post, emphasizes how truly historic this accomplishment is for the Biden Administration. He states that while the deal may not be as attention grabbing as the Abraham Accords, it is in many ways a more surprising accomplishment. Reason being, unlike the case with Lebanon, none of the participating Arab states in the Abraham Accords were in a technical state of war with Israel and none of them shared a border with it. [Washington Post]

RESPONSE

Those dismissive of US diplomatic foreign policy have to give credit where credit is due. Other administrations have tried to resolve the boundary conflict and failed, but Biden’s team pulled it off. Importantly, this agreement also reclaims some credibility for US leadership in supporting regional security and stability given its broad consequences. Now, let’s see if Israel can stop its alleged incursions into Lebanese territorial waters and airspace that provide unneeded provocations to their opponents. And let’s see if the LAF and UNIFIL will have greater freedom to pursue their mandate in the south.

-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.

 

 

This Week In Lebanon 10/07/2022



 

October 7, 2022

Lebanon Says Maritime Deal ‘Make or Break’ After Israel Snubs Request for Changes
Local Entrepreneurship Ecosystems and the Survival of Rural Economies
Sectarianism Driving Lebanon Toward Economic Collapse

Lebanon Says Maritime Deal ‘Make or Break’ After Israel Snubs Request for Changes
Israel has rejected Lebanon’s draft revisions to the maritime deal. A US Embassy representative in Jerusalem said the parties were “at a critical stage in the negotiations and the gaps have narrowed.” Media sources suggest the final area of disagreement is over a line of demarcation buoys Israel has placed along the coast. Elias Bou Saab, Lebanon’s top negotiator, said the deal “is 90% done but the remaining 10% could make it or break it.” [Reuters]

RESPONSE

Although many Lebanese officials are optimistic of concluding a deal, the longer it takes the more opportunity there is to derail a final agreement. A number of Israeli political and security leaders have spoken out in support of the deal, while others are stoking the flames of fear with their eyes set on their country’s upcoming elections. A deal will enhance stability and security on Lebanon’s southern border. The Lebanese should make sure not to give the Israelis an excuse to walk away from a deal that appears to be in Lebanon’s interest. 

-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel 

Local Entrepreneurship Ecosystems and the Survival of Rural Economies
Linna Maddah, with the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, argues that local cultural transformation is necessary to create the conditions for local entrepreneurship to thrive. [LCPS]

RESPONSE
Lebanon’s last two Caretaker Ministers of Economy and Trade have taken their title and responsibilities seriously by advocating for relief for the poverty stricken masses as well as the liberation of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that can drive an economic recovery for Lebanon. Now, despite good intentions from international donors and the work of local NGOs, these entrepreneurs and their enterprises are suffering from neglect and misguided government policies. Through decentralization and robust support for SMEs, Lebanon can put money back into the economy, contribute to the well-being of the country, and learn the lesson of investing in people. As the study points out, “Only with well-fashioned, bottom-up development strategies that support local entrepreneurs—their ecosystem, institutions, and culture—will these areas be able to generate the economic activity required for recovery and sustainable development.”

-ATFL Vice President Jean AbiNader

Sectarianism Driving Lebanon Toward Economic Collapse
Julian McBride traces the various sectarian, political, and economic challenges facing Lebanon from the country’s independence up until the present day. [Eurasia Review]

RESPONSE

Although a bit too loose with the facts, the article is right on target with how the existing system of governance by a few has damaged Lebanon for forty years, extending from the Civil War through the Syrian occupation, to the current state of dystopia. It is obvious that the failure of Lebanon is the failure of the few who govern for their own goals rather than the national interest. It is also clear that it is the failure of the many who continue to return these same political elites to office. Lebanon needs leadership that breaks with the past practices and focuses on empowering and liberating the people to live up to their potential. 

-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.

 

 

This Week in Lebanon 09/30/2022



 

September 30, 2022

IMF Staff Concludes Visit to Lebanon
Parliament Approves 2022 Budget 3 Months Before the Year Ends
European Ambassadors to Lebanese Politicians: The Time to Act is Now

IMF Staff Concludes Visit to Lebanon
After meeting with Lebanese leaders from September 19 to 21, the IMF issued a statement where it notes, “Despite the urgency for action to address Lebanon’s deep economic and social crisis, progress in implementing the reforms agreed under the April SLA remains very slow.” [IMF]

RESPONSE

“Very slow” says it all. The IMF is awaiting action by Lebanon on crucial steps including: complete agreement on a realistic 2022 budget; the adoption of capital controls; public sector reforms; a new banking secrecy law; and a banking sector rehabilitation strategy. The IMF staff concludes that until the prior actions agreed to are implemented, the IMF board will not take action on an IMF reform package. Given the government’s non-responsiveness, one has to wonder whether or not Lebanese policy makers understand the serious economic and social failure Lebanon faces in the short term . Time is running out for Lebanon to save itself.

-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel 

Parliament Approves 2022 Budget 3 Months Before the Year Ends
Lebanon’s parliament has just passed the country’s first budget since 2020. It importantly does not address the country’s high deficit and adoption of a credible budget is a requirement for IMF assistance. The exchange rate used in the budget also differed from that defined by the IMF. The budget sees the salaries of public employees increased by three times their previous value. [L’Orient Today] [Ibid]

RESPONSE
There is nothing straightforward in how Lebanon’s parliament is responding to the requirements of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure funding that will help it move on the road to survival and even recovery. Gamesmanship and false flags are all part of the minuet that passes for debate and constructive compromise. Even when recommendations are sound and contribute to a common goal, there is no interest among some parliamentarians of ceding any ground to others. Lebanon is not an object for manipulation. Lives are at stake. Maybe those parliamentarians who are chronic fault-finders should mobilize to promote rather than serve as a blocking force. 

-ATFL Vice President Jean AbiNader

The Time to Act is Now
The European Union and its Member States, as well as Norway and Switzerland published an op-ed in L’Orient Today where they assert, “All relevant Lebanese decision makers can and must do more now to rebuild the economic, monetary and fiscal space in Lebanon, as a first step to bringing its economy back on a path of recovery.” [L’Orient Today]

RESPONSE

These European Ambassadors are clearly adamant in their statement pleading with the Lebanese government, including parliament, to show strength and commitment in serving the people. They focused on building trust by modernizing government and providing services as a first step in a process requiring courage and transparency. They also called for full implementation of the IMF reforms. The Europeans are ready to assist, but after so much humanitarian assistance from the international community, it’s Lebanon’s turn to show initiative and determination. Step up, Lebanon. This is no justification in becoming an orphan state.

-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.

 

 

This Week In Lebanon 09/26/2022



 

 

Iranian Embassy Announces Fuel Shipments to Lebanon, Set to Arrive in Next Few Weeks
Can Lebanon’s ‘Change” Coalition Fix a Broken System? 
Can Arab States Bounce Back from COVID and Climate Crises?

Iranian Embassy Announces Fuel Shipments to Lebanon, Set to Arrive in Next Few Weeks
As reported by the Hezbollah-affiliated media station, Al-Manar TV, the Embassy of Iran in Lebanon announced Iran’s readiness to send ships loaded with fuel to Lebanon ‘within one or two weeks’, to which a Lebanese energy ministry spokesperson responded, “any gift from anywhere is welcome”. [Reuters]

RESPONSE

This raises the question on why it has taken so long for the US to make good on its offer to clear the way for the Levantine energy deal that would double the amount of additional electricity for Lebanese households. This deal has been in the works for months. Who’s holding it up now, the US or Lebanon? There should be no excuse by either party if they care about easing the suffering of the Lebanese people. It takes quite an effort to make Iran appear as a benevolent regional actor and friend to the Lebanese people and somehow policy makers in Washington and Beirut are miraculously managing to do just that.

-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel 

Can Lebanon’s ‘Change” Coalition Fix a Broken System? 
Adnan Nasser writes, “In a press conference held in Beirut’s historic Sodeco neighborhood on September 3, the members of parliament (MPs) who make up the ‘Change’ bloc in Lebanon’s parliament announced their agenda to elect a new head of state. They agreed that any individual running for president must meet a list of standards in order to earn their vote of confidence. The thirteen lawmakers, who were elected on the values of Lebanon’s 2019 revolution, said ‘popular pressure methods’ will be applied if a new president is not elected before October 20.” [The National Interest]

RESPONSE
It’s not a sure thing that Lebanon can elect a compliant president on time who embodies the compromises that leave the country in the same shape and still under the discretion of the traditional parties. The country needs a significant change from the past if it is to survive. It is a bigger challenge than the ‘Change’ coalition or any other group can manage absent an unwavering commitment by members of Parliament to prioritize the people’s needs. So far, Parliament is acting as if everything will work out and that they can continue enjoying a status quo that has drained the state for the many and enriched the few. The Lebanese people deserve something better, beginning with transparency and openness from their representatives on the road to the presidency.

-ATFL Vice President Jean AbiNader

Can Arab States Bounce Back from COVID and Climate Crises?
Mona Yacoubian, Senior Advisor, Executive Office and Middle East and North Africa Center at the US Institute for Peace, analyzes a recent UNDP report on development in the Middle East and North Africa. In particular, the report focuses on the effects of the pandemic and climate change. Yacoubian writes, “While the U.S. national security apparatus has already expanded its strategic bandwidth to include the destabilizing impacts of pandemics and climate change, lead implementing agencies such as USAID should continue to deepen engagement on these challenges.” [USIP]

RESPONSE

Yacoubian’s analysis of the 2022 UN Arab Human Development Report leaves little to no surprises for those who follow Lebanon. It’s clear that Lebanon was in a mess before the pandemic. The recent forest fires highlighted the government’s inability once again to manage blazes. It also failed to do so in 2019 which helped to stir up public resentment that boiled over into the October 2019 demonstrations. Lebanon has the highest cost of living in the region, along with greatly weakened health and education sectors. In fact, the damage to students at all levels will take decades to repair, IF, the government is able to adopt the IMF reform package and once again have a functioning state. Without significant proactive measures, Lebanon will continue moving from paralysis to failure. .

-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.

 

 

This Week In Lebanon 09/16/2022



 

 

IMF Team to Visit Lebanon Next Week
Accused of Being ‘On Embassies’ Payroll,’ Port Blast Victims’ Families Demand Apology
Efforts to Find a Consensus Candidate Kick Off

IMF Team to Visit Lebanon Next Week
According to Reuters, “The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that a staff mission will visit Lebanon next week to discuss ways to “speed up” implementation of agreed reforms required for an IMF loan program amid deteriorating living conditions in the country.” [Reuters]

RESPONSE

The IMF team is returning to Lebanon at a critical time. The next meeting of the IMF board is in October and if the items agreed to be completed in the IMF-Lebanon staff level agreement are not passed by parliament, then there is little hope that the board will agree to a reform package. The parliament has been very slow to address the necessary conditions outlined in the staff level agreement. When parliament did take action on the lifting of banking secrecy, they watered down the legislation and asked for the IMF to be more flexible. The IMF response has been that credibility comes before flexibility, which first requires the government to fulfill its commitments in the staff level agreement. The parliament has one last chance in the next two weeks to show the visiting IMF team it is serious and credible by implementing reforms outlined in the agreement. The clock is ticking.

-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel 

Accused of Being ‘On Embassies’ Payroll,’ Port Blast Victims’ Families Demand Apology
On Thursday, Caretaker Justice Minister Henri Khoury accused relatives of victims of the August 4th explosion of being “on embassies’ payroll.” The relatives issued a statement condemning the Caretaker Minister’s remarks “”when each of us has lost a martyr far more precious and superior than your counterfeited ministerial position.” [L’Orient Today]

RESPONSE
The politicians have notched a win, promoting the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar from his position leading the inquiry into the Beirut Port blast. Whether or not his successor will fare any better is questionable. In the meantime, ministers should refrain from provocative statements that sully the reputation of the judicial system, which has lost much of its sheen as an independent actor. The incoming president will have their hands full gaining agreement on key judicial appointments going forward.

-ATFL Vice President Jean AbiNader

Efforts to Find a Consensus Candidate Kick Off
On Monday, the 13 Forces of Change Members of Parliament began meeting with other political leaders to identify a consensus candidate for the presidency. At the same time, a high-level meeting was held in Paris between Saudi Arabia and France to discuss their joint fund to assist the Lebanese people and the country’s upcoming presidential vacancy. [L’Orient Today]

RESPONSE

Talks to identify consensus candidates for the presidency have moved into high gear. Nowhere is this more evident than the efforts by the Forces of Change members in Parliament and the reform MPs meeting their counterparts to identify potential nominees. While several names occur with some frequency, there are no assurances that a deal will be struck before the October 31st deadline. All the sectarian parties, including the March 8 core of Amal and Hezbollah, are engaged in the current bargaining, which include filling the positions of the Commander of the Army, the head of the Central Bank, and other key positions in the cabinet. It is strenuous enough to keep track of who are the early favorites let alone start placing odds.  

-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.

 

 

This Week In Lebanon: 09/10/2022



 

September 10, 2022

In Lebanon, the Next Six Months Will Shape the Next Six Years
Money Transfer Firms Replace Banks in Crisis-Hit Lebanon
Lebanese Anxious Over Possibility of War as Tension Flares Between Hezbollah and Israel

EXCERPT

“The next few months will be seminal for this small but critical country’s future. It is up to the Lebanese people and their representatives to make the right choices in the selection of the next president and other leaders who will fill important positions and implement urgently needed policies in the months and years ahead. The U.S. and international community have shown an interest in continuing to give Lebanon the attention and support it deserves, to help ensure that the country indeed turns a corner toward revival and does not slip into full state failure and decades of chaos and ungovernability. But that will all significantly depend on a government and parliament taking brave steps toward IMF reforms, a maritime border agreement and electing a new President on time that  represents the needs of the Lebanese people.

-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel and Middle East Institute President Paul Salem

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Money Transfer Firms Replace Banks in Crisis-Hit Lebanon
One Lebanese man said that those relying on traditional banks to receive their money “will die 100 times before cashing it.” Money Transfer Agencies are now the go-to for currency exchange, credit card, tax payment services, and even the establishment of wedding registries. Many companies are now compensating their employees through money transfer firms rather than banks. [Arab News]

RESPONSE

A continuing sign of consumer desperation is the level of cash transfers being handled by wire transfer agencies providing services too costly through the banking system. The Central Bank issues circulars limiting the scope money transfer agencies, but entrepreneurial companies are developing work-arounds that preserve their flexibility at fees much less than banks charge without the limitations imposed by the banking sector. Once again, the people must find workable solutions for daily survival. Only reforms in the banking sector and currency stabilization can give people the trust to bank again.

-ATFL Vice President Jean AbiNader

Lebanese Anxious Over Possibility of War as Tension Flares Between Hezbollah and Israel
This past week, Israel conducted military maneuvers on the Israel-Lebanon border and US Envoy Amos Hochstein met with Lebanese leaders to discuss the latest developments on the maritime border. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently warned that “if the [Israeli] extraction of oil and gas starts in September before Lebanon gets its rights, we are going to a fight and have set a goal and we will act accordingly.” [L’Orient Today]

RESPONSE

The liabilities of an open media are clearly on display in the abundance of conspiracies surrounding the maritime boundary negotiations. On the Lebanese/Arab side speeches by Hezbollah’s Secretary General inflame common citizens as well as those willing to join a flotilla claiming to protect “Lebanon’s oil.” Similar stories are awash on social media in Israel about the threats that are being made against property and life in northern Israel The bottom line is that this is a real chance for some confidence-building between the two countries that may have a more salient long term impact than actual energy revenues.  

-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.