Rounding Up The News From Lebanon – From The Good To The Continued Drama
Lebanon and Israel announced their acceptance of the meticulous drafted maritime boundary negotiations thanks to the Lebanese team headed by Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab and the diligent mediation work of US Special Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein. After a final week of headlines like “After collapse of Lebanon maritime deal, Israel fears Hezbollah attack,” followed by another round of the two-way finger-pointing that passes for negotiations in the region, a breakthrough finally emerged over the weekend.
Both Lebanon and Israel took a long look at what’s best for regional prosperity and stability, stopped the saber-rattling and instead settled on a deal that benefits both countries. There are still parties in Israel that oppose the deal based on domestic politics while the parties in Lebanon decided that progress on this front had too many benefits to ignore. So a deal was made.
This agreement can make or enhance prospects to stability and prosperity in the region. Despite what the nay-sayers claim, Lebanon will benefit by settling the maritime boundary, allowing for international investment and steps towards peace. Israel, which is already benefiting from its own gas discoveries, can find another partner in building important gas-exporting facilities that will crisscross the region and breathe new life into its economy.
ABL Blames Economic Crisis on the State and Central Bank, Calls for ‘Frank Dialogue’ Between Depositors and Banks in a bold move, according to Naharnet, “The Association of Banks in Lebanon on Tuesday [October 4], blamed the state and the central bank for the country’s ‘extended systemic crisis,’ while calling on depositors to engage with it in dialogue, after five banks were stormed in less than 48 hours in a new wave of bank heists. Criticizing the state for ‘passing budgets, spending and wasting funds, and declaring a default,’ ABL said that the central bank is also responsible after it implemented the policies of the successive governments.”
Much like their counterparts elsewhere during the ‘07-‘08 international banking crisis, it’s easier to blame the other guy while they make loads of money and protect their major stakeholders. To remind, the ’07-‘08 crisis emerged from a banking scandal in which subpar housing loans were bundled and sold to banks. In both cases, the banks blame the government for making money too accessible and easy to manipulate. The reality is that, according to one school of thought, the banks should have not gone along with the “financial engineering” of the Central Bank and called for a national budget that didn’t rely on moving funds from the private sector to cover government deficits.
It is now a shame that the ABL claims innocence when the banks were just following directions for the Central Bank, which tried to keep the government afloat with its scheme to attract deposits by paying excessive interest that was passed on to the banks’ larger customers. Now the scheme has collapsed and the ABL doesn’t want to face up to its responsibilities for the economic calamity in the country. Oh, and there is still no capital controls law so the depositors are still stuck holding an empty bag, without their money. Resorting to holdups, real or staged, these new protests by depositors are just the beginning.
Public schools enter new school year in shambles as reported by the Ministry of Education, which reported that, “there were only 336,301 students in public education out of a total of 1,072,925 students in 2021-2022 (without including the afternoon curriculum reserved for Syrian students).” This means that the number of students declined compared to the 2020-2021 academic year during which there were 384,741 – slightly lower than in 2019-2020 when there were 342,303 students. We have written before about the toll that this is taking on the quality of education.
What was once a crown jewel of the country, the educational system has declined in quantity and quality over the past 10 years. The number of teachers are declining. In 2020-21, there were 39,516 working in K-12 education which included 18,465 civil servants and 21,051 working on contract basis. In the 2021-2022 academic year, there are only 37,139 (17,203 civil servants and 19,936 working on a contract basis). It’s important to understand that this is one of the ‘pork barrels’ for Lebanese politicians who promote the use of contract teachers to avoid the standards and benefits required for regular teachers and it gives them wide latitude to dole out teaching positions to their constituents.
And so, Lebanon is still deciding if it has a future. The maritime boundary deal, if it holds through the Israeli elections, is a significant step forward to realizing that the government can take steps that are beneficial to the nation, not just the autocrats. Starting with a credible budget, banking restructuring plan, and educational sector revitalization would be a sold step in the right direction.
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.