Lebanon Daily News Brief 7/31/2021
Wildfires in Lebanon Continue for the Third Day in a Row
The wildfire that started on Wednesday in northern Lebanon continues to burn for the third day in a row. Lebanon’s military and firefighters are working to contain the fire but they report there are some areas they can’t reach. [France 24] The fire has spread across Lebanon’s border with Syria and unofficial estimates say 500 acres of pine forests in the region have been destroyed so far. Firefighters and air force helicopters have been working to put out the fire and Syrian helicopters have since joined in the efforts. Lebanon’s government is calling for urgent assistance from Cyprus. [AP]
New US House Resolution Introduced to Support Lebanon
On Wednesday US Representatives Darin LaHood (IL-18) and Darrell Issa (CA-50) introduced H. Res. 569, “Expressing continued solidarity with the Lebanese people after the devastating explosions at the Port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, and the continued efforts to form a secure, independent, and democratic Lebanon.” [Congress.gov] The resolution emphasizes the need for humanitarian assistance for the Lebanese people, supports the role of the Lebanese Armed Forces, and US goals to combat government corruption and pressure Lebanon’s government to make structural reforms upon the formation of a new cabinet. [LaHood]
Aoun Says He Will Give a Statement on Blast Investigation If Needed
Today President Michel Aoun told state prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat that he is ready to give a statement about the August 4 Beirut Port explosion if it’s needed. He said that “no one is above the law” and that justice can only be achieved through Lebanon’s specialized judicial branches. [Reuters] Yesterday Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said parliament was ready to lift the immunity given to officials surrounding the blast investigation. He did not give a timeline on when immunity would be lifted or how. [Asharq Al-Awsat]
Commander Gen. Aoun Addresses the Lebanese Army
Today as Lebanon nears the 76th anniversary of Army Day, Commander General Joseph Aoun encouraged the Lebanese Armed Forces and said do not allow anyone to “question your faith in your country and your institution.” He warned of upcoming challenges and to be ready to face them with “wisdom, patience, and deliberation.” [Naharnet]
OPINION & ANALYSIS
Economic Crisis Devastated Lebanon. Decentralized Finance Could Be the Answer
Dante writes: “As the birth of the lollar has shown, economic and institutional collapse has forced the people of Lebanon to fend for themselves, seeking out any solutions available to help overcome their harsh reality…The need for new solutions has even contributed to a “Bitcoin boom” in Lebanon, with Coindesk claiming that the Lebanese people could be moving as much as $1–$5 million in Bitcoin a month. However, accurate estimates are difficult to find. Bitcoin transactions can be slow and expensive, significantly limiting its adoption. But the underlying blockchain technology makes possible various innovations in Decentralized Finance (DeFi) that could help people in Lebanon and around the world access traditional finance and provide viable alternatives in the face of severe corruption and dire economic crisis…The crisis in Lebanon is a bleak reminder of the cost of corruption and institutional failure. As technology evolves, though, more and more alternatives will become available, helping individuals to overcome these challenges and preserve the value of their assets.”
Beirut Port Blast: Why a Domestic Investigation Won’t Bring Justice
King writes: “When assessing the domestic investigation’s validity, the question to ask is not really if Bitar is a fair judge, but whether or not he is able to conduct a fair investigation within the constraints of the judicial system and pressure from Lebanon’s political elite. In the short-term, Lebanon needs an international investigation to take over the Beirut Port blast case…Victims [of the blast] and families of victims deserve justice and the culprits of these crimes that cost Lebanese lives and billions of dollars need to be held accountable. If an international investigation is refused, then immunities given to Lebanese authorities must be lifted to give Bitar a chance at conducting a full domestic investigation, though, as noted, political interference will likely infect the process. In the long-term, Lebanon’s judiciary needs systemic reform to ensure its independence. Taking Lebanon’s judiciary out of the hands of Lebanon’s executive branch is a necessary step to diminish the impact of sectarian power plays that have corrupted and diminished its credibility.”
ATFL Statement on H. Res. 569 Observing the August 4 Beirut Port Explosions
The American Task Force on Lebanon commends the US-Lebanon Friendship Caucus and its chairs, Representatives Darin LaHood of Illinois, Charlie Crist of Florida, Darrell Issa of California and Debbie Dingell of Michigan and their fellow members for introducing on Wednesday, July 28, H.Res. 569, “Expressing continued solidarity with the Lebanese people after the devastating explosions at the Port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, and the continued efforts to form a stable, independent, and democratic Lebanon.”
ATFL is pleased by the bipartisan support for the Resolution and will continue to work diligently with Democratic and Republican members to build additional support for it. As ATFL President Ambassador Ed Gabriel remarked, “This resolution sends a very strong message to the Lebanese people that their survival and that of Lebanon are in the interests of the United States. As importantly, it sends a clear message to Lebanon’s government that members of Congress are concerned with its inability to conduct a transparent and credible investigation of the explosions and ‘calls on the Government of Lebanon to conduct a credible, impartial, and transparent investigation into the cause of, and responsibility for, the August 4 explosions, and include impartial international experts as part of the investigation team.’”
ATFL will hold a virtual webinar on Thursday, August 5 from 11:30am to 1:00pm ET to mark the one-year anniversary of the August 4 Beirut Port explosions. The presentations will focus on four themes:
The threat of the rapidly declining socio-economic conditions on Lebanese society including the brain drain and social services;
Assessing the role of the international community in bringing pressure to bear on economic and political reforms;
The status of US-Lebanon relations and challenges to building relations with a potential new government;
And lessons from post-conflict stabilization strategies in developing survival options for Lebanon as a sovereign state.
US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea and President of the Lebanese American University are among our guest speakers. Others to be determined include EU and UN officials and other Lebanon experts and advocates.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.