Lebanon News Brief 9/15/2021
145 Human Rights Organizations and Individuals Call for International Investigation Into Beirut Blast
In a joint letter, 145 Lebanese and international rights groups, survivors, and families of Beirut blast victims called on the UN Human Rights Council to establish an international, independent, and impartial investigation into the the August 4 Beirut explosion. The letter explains that the domestic investigation initiated by the Lebanese government has faced repeated obstructions and has failed to meet benchmarks based on international standards. The letter adds, “an international investigation would not impede, but rather assist the domestic process.” [Human Rights Watch]
Egyptian Minister Says Gas Will Reach Lebanon in Three Months
Egypt’s Oil Minister Tarek El Molla told Bloomberg yesterday that natural gas from the country will be delivered to Lebanon through Jordan and Syria within three months. Jordan and Syria will need to assess and update their infrastructures in order to transfer the requested 60 million cubic feet per day of natural gas. Lebanon also needs to submit a funding request to the World Bank for the project. [Bloomberg]
Ministers Class Over Electricity File
Yesterday the new ministry committee tasked with drafting the government’s policy statement met for the second time. Infighting over the electricity file reportedly broke out between ministers of the Free Patriotic Movement and Amal. Sources say that Amal ministers insisted on limiting the naming to the Deir Amar and al-Zahrani plants, “signaling that Salaata should be dropped from the government’s program.” [Naharnet] Today the committee is expected to finish up the new policy statement focused on economic and social issues. [Naharnet]
OPINION & ANALYSIS
Middle East Institute
Damned if you do and damned if you don’t: A new government in Beirut
Abi-Nassif writes, “Looking ahead, Mikati’s cabinet faces immediate challenges and priorities, many of which he articulated himself: containing the impact of COVID-19, undertaking reforms (without specifying their scope), reconstructing the Beirut port (without addressing the ongoing investigation into the blast), and organizing elections in the spring. However, the main and purposefully underdiscussed bottleneck — the one with the most lasting repercussions on Lebanon’s society and economy for generations to come — continues to be the recognition and distribution of the tens of billions of dollars in systemic losses. This remains both the precursor to and the centerpiece of any all-encapsulating plan to put an end to the collapse, including any potential negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. While international partners have understandably welcomed the formation of a government, doubling down on the fair and comprehensive resolution of Lebanon’s commercial and central banking crises is more critical than ever.”
Can the New Cabinet Lift Lebanon Out of Its Crisis?
Asmar writes, “At last Lebanon can breathe or its people should be able to breath soon or soon enough. Really, this is the bottom line, from now on it should be an upward curve but there is optimism with lots of caution…In the present cabinet military men, medical doctors, judges, a member of the State Shura Council, a journalist, a pharmacist, dentist and an engineer – all from top universities including MIT from the United States. It’s a sort of hodge-podge of professional background with people chosen as experts in their fields. One criticism however, is that they are drawn from different political parties and movements like Hizbollah, Amal, Free Patriotic Movement, Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Democratic Party. But no matter for this is Lebanon. At least the major hurdles to tackle the crisis will start to be moved although cynics are still unhappy but in Lebanon it is you got what you got and try and live with it. The situation has never been as bad as it is today and if tinkering would do the trick then why not. At least the meltdown can be reverted.”
Lebanon Finally Has a Government, But Gebran Bassil Remains In Its Way
Young writes, “It took over a year for Lebanon’s political class to form a government, but many Lebanese are not sure whether to celebrate, even if most will admit that a continuation of the political vacuum was no longer tenable. But under the best of circumstances, Najib Mikati’s government will face multiple difficulties…Politically, Mr Mikati will have to deal with the political ambitions of Gebran Bassil…While Mr Mikati was unwilling to form a government that would have given the President and his son in law effective veto power, he accepted a compromise on two Christian ministers named outside of Mr Aoun’s and Mr Bassil’s quota. The ministers were chosen in agreement by Mr Aoun and Mr Mikati. This may create problems. While the two ministers are on good terms with both the President and Prime Minister, if they were to side with Mr Aoun in the future, that could give him and Mr Bassil the leverage they need to advance Mr Bassil’s interests, thereby undermining all Cabinet cohesion to Mr Mikati’s disadvantage.”
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.