Taking On The Beast – Combatting Corruption In Lebanon

I used to joke that the Phoenicians, who invented mercantilism in the West, would be amazed that their Lebanese descendants perfected corruption as a business practice and governing tool. Who knew that their descendants would so dramatically enshrine that principle in all aspects of everyday life in Lebanon! Despite the many temporary solutions that have been proposed in the past, today’s abuses clearly transcend a single solution, despite many admirable starting points.

National Budget

Long considered the catch-all for special projects and constituent services, the national budget has two main components for abuse: procurement and contracts as well as hiring and firing. In a recent report, L’Orient Today noted the flaws in the newly passed public procurement law, the key one being oversight of the process. The role of Parliament as the overseer of the public trust is especially questionable. By law, most government bodies, including the Central Bank, should report on a regular basis to the relevant committees in Parliament.

In an annual survey conducted by the Gherbal Initiative, less than 10% of government departments were willing to provide data on how they awarded their contracts. The Central Bank completely refused to even comply with the new law citing transparency as a breach of client confidentiality. Parliament went along with the charade and, as reported, “Among the main highlights, Gherbal Initiative notes that for the fourth consecutive year, ‘the Lebanese Parliament, the primary body responsible for the legislation and implementation of the laws and which itself adopted the law on the right of access to information and other laws concerning the fight against corruption, has not responded to our request’.”

As Mark Daou pointed out in his interview with former Amb. David Hale of the Wilson Center, there is a special committee in Parliament through which all laws get passed and unimplemented laws get sent to their burial – with the same being true of oversight reports. Parliament seldom makes demands, reviews even less frequently, and generally does not interfere in others’ piece of the national pie.

Project Watan, in fact, has made public service and contracting one of its top 8 priorities in fixing Lebanon’s government. The Project has developed public policy recommendations in more than 40 areas with the aim of making the state responsive to the people.

Every World Bank and IMF report for the past three years, some of which going back to the Taif Accord, lament the state of Lebanon’s institutions due to the manipulations of the political class. Governance and accountability are one of the pillars of the Bank’s reform agenda for Lebanon, and although the public procurement law is the only reform that has been passed and is being implemented, it will be more impactful as a case study for how the government avoids rather than implements reforms.

Hiring practices are well-known to furnish “ghost” workers who receive pay, but don’t work or who have been awarded several positions because of their loyalty as a constituent. It is estimated that more than 15,000 public sector employees have been hired under illegal classifications. With the devaluation of their salaries and benefits, these workers have little recourse to finding employment in other sectors of the economy as jobs in general have evaporated.

Rule of Law

While the lack of an independent judiciary and enforcement mechanisms are often cited as the underlying factor in reining in corrupt practices at all levels, it is even more perverse that over time many Lebanese have come to count on corruption as the way to get things done. For example, in a pre-pandemic survey, 65% of ordinary Lebanese believe that people use corruption for various reasons. Most often cited (93%) was to speed up public processes like licensing, property settlements, legal documents, etc. This was followed by securing additional income (92%), avoiding higher payments (92%), receiving proper treatment (91%), receiving preferential treatment (91%), avoiding punishment (86%), and it is the only way to get things done (77%). One can only imagine how these numbers have become worse after the economic implosions, devaluations of the lira, and drying up of health and education services.

Without an accountable and transparent judiciary, free from political pressures, and under the jurisdiction of a single, civil authority, citizens have no recourse to ensure protection for their civil and human rights. In tandem with this are police and magistrates who protect these rights as a core duty. Just as important are prison systems and public defenders who have clearly defined roles and guidelines that enhance, not undermine, justice.

The Agenda Ahead

The new parliament and the incoming government have many challenges in forming a government to respond to the IMF reform package, electing a president, carrying out municipal elections, and setting priorities and investments that respond to the needs of the people. From electricity to salaries for teachers and health workers, to transportation, garbage, and sanitary water services, the list continues. After more than 30 years of neglect and mismanagement, the future requires a whole-of-government response. The energy and inventiveness of the Lebanese people in response to the initial Beirut Port explosions show that the creativity and energy are there. It is time to invest in the people.

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.

Mourning in Lebanon

These past two weeks succinctly reflect the nature of Lebanon’s demise – a six-week old public sector strike, desperately needed grain being refused by the buyer after a five month delay, another threatening speech by Hassan Nasrallah. Another day spawns another disaster in Lebanon, or another threat of hostilities and civil disorder, or another rise in the cost of essential goods and services – if they are even available. It’s a never-ending marathon of man-made tribulations, mostly made in the case of Lebanon. On the government side, continued parliamentary impasses, an uncertain move towards a government formation, and the upcoming presidential elections all coincide with new members of parliament learning what it is like to govern in a vacuum of collaboration.

The reality in Lebanon is that the state is in desperate need of triage, starting with the government owning up to its responsibilities to reform and recover. It has so far not come to terms with its own history over the last thirty years, out which this debilitating economic crisis has emerged, even if the outcome of the recent elections has offered hope to various opposition figures, emboldening them to make sure that presidential elections occur on time, the reform process goes ahead, and Lebanon’s road to survival becomes more than a fleeting hope.

As an article in GulfNews.com mentions, “Heaven knows, Lebanon had weathered loss in its 79-year history as an independent state, but the port explosion was of a different order, for it morphed into a collective trauma that so completely overwhelmed people’s ability to grasp, let alone cope with what had happened, and so shattered the basic fabric of society as to leave people numb. It was literally an earthshaking happening that led to a marathon of mourning.” And the trauma continues.

“What the Lebanese people are experiencing today — have, in fact, been experiencing for decades, as their polity sunk deeper and deeper into pandemonium — is no less than an emptying out at the core of their national soul, a negation of that fusion of form and content, means and meaning that a people strive for and a nation provides.”

The concept of a nation, let alone a state, seems to be lost on some leaders. While the speaker of parliament urged the holding of presidential elections, formation of a new government, and conclusion of the maritime boundary negotiations with Israel, his ally, Sayid Hassan Nasrallah, took aim in his Ashoura rally at those same boundary negotiations. Hezbollah’s Secretary General also took aim at Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Lebanon’s refugee camps as well as the ‘alternative’ to any upcoming presidential elections, calling into question any way but his way to a future for Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the public sector strike reached its sixth week as employees seek some dignity amid the plummeting of their salaries from $1300 USD a month to just under $70 USD. The middle class is not just hollowed out, it has disappeared. There is a dilemma in the resolution of this issue, however, in that the 350,000 workers who make up the public sector will face shake ups in employment if reforms to the national budget are implemented, eliminating ‘ghost’ employees and redundant labor.

While the search for a consensus presidential candidate continues among Lebanon’s political chiefs, prospects grow dim as all sides aim to get past the 3/4s requirement to win on the first ballot in parliament – after which only a majority is required on successive ballots. There is much scrambling going on, which is delaying the formation of a new government that can proceed without a new president. Instructively, Caretaker Prime Minister “Mikati’s lineup did not satisfy [current president] Aoun, who said the prime minister’s choices undermined him. Communication between the two has been fraught since then, and all attempts to revive forming a government have stalled.”

Speaking of sermons, let’s not overlook Maronite Patriarch Beshara Boutros al-Rai’s latest attempt to shake the status quo. In his weekly sermon, he wondered aloud why it’s easier to negotiate with Israel over a maritime boundary than come to an agreement on a government. Without criticizing the maritime boundary negotiations, he points to the continued divisions among the country’s leadership. “Isn’t it shameful that authorities make efforts to reach an agreement with Israel on maritime borders but refrain from forming a government? Has it become easier for them to agree with Israel than to agree on a government among the Lebanese? Isn’t the split in political power in Lebanon, and of the parties… the basis of the (country’s) political, economy, financial and social decay?” he added.

And so Lebanon continues to hobble along, temporarily supported by the economic boost of this year’s tourist season, comprised of mostly expatriate Lebanese visiting families and perhaps seeing their homeland one last time before it disintegrates. There is always hope that some intervention may yet enable Lebanon to move on, but help from external forces has never been a long-term solution, only the Lebanese can do that. Thawra revisited? May be time for a new revolution?


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.

Setting The Agenda: What’s Next In Lebanon?

Now that the elections are over, it is only natural to ask about emerging coalitions; the results are in, claims and conspiracies are being made, and Lebanon has yet to surmount this deteriorating economic crisis. Although there is little reliable demographic information available as to the gender, age, and geographic breakdowns of this year’s voter turnout, there is also very little disagreement over the fact that the hard work towards recovery must begin now. Voters seemed to have made that message clear given the results.

The only realistic claim regarding the speculation of emerging coalitions is that there will likely be shifting alliances based on issues, rather than solidified camps. So far, independents and the opposition from civil society have formed a bloc of fourteen, but where are the others? The truth is that it is still too early to tell.

For example, what will be the fate of the Lebanese Forces in the new Parliament? It seems self-evident that the Lebanese Forces should build a bloc on more than an ‘anti-Hezbollah militia’ platform. An ‘Anti-Hezbollah’s arms’ posture is too narrow a plank to sustain the myriad of pressing issues the country faces. Even within its own ranks, how will the interests of members returning from the previous government situate themselves in this new Parliament if those interests are addressed or not? Will the party use this time seeking payback or will more maneuvering be required of them to secure additional services for their constituents? There are still 60+ seats out there that represent constituencies whose major issues are hunger and corruption as well as the lack of access to bank accounts, health and social services. That’s why I believe that the “anti-” messaging will have to find room for additional positions on which to ground their platforms or Lebanon will be in gridlock.

It is far more logical to address the questions faced by the past unsuccessful governments and assess how new coalitions will orient themselves around the following issues: improvement of the electricity sector, banking reform, independence of the judiciary, anti-corruption measures, and the many other policies that must be seriously implemented and prevail in the country. Can the various opposition and independent groups generate a common platform that will draw the necessary votes for success? One would think that this should be a no-brainer, but then again, this is the Lebanese government  that we’re talking about.

For example, most politicians agree that electricity reform and restructuring is needed but fault lines emerge over contracting, oversight, reporting, rate-setting, and other trivial points of contention that would be easier to solve if the new parliament and government just follow the steps that were outlined in legislation passed in March: independent monitors, a non-confessional electricity board, an independent body for setting rates and production issues, etc. The political will to act on these issues should now be less difficult to muster.

Another immediate agenda item is the monetary and fiscal reforms required to stop the hemorrhaging of the currency, provide access to depositors’ accounts, begin banking sector restructuring, and bring stability and discipline to public spending and the foreign exchange rate. These reforms are also tied into measures that fit under the “anti-corruption” designation, which include public contracting, rules concerning privatization, recapturing illegally assigned public lands, and tracking abuses of capital controls.

You get the point – the national agenda is exceedingly long and there is no unanimity regarding priorities. I  therefore suggest select issues that coalitions can prioritize as they aggregate to elect the next speaker of the parliament. There is popular concern surrounding the electricity sector, capital controls, the protection of small depositors and access to their funds, and the commitment to a robust social safety net. These are all issues that will rally the public and can demonstrate to the people that the new Members of Parliament are concerned with getting Lebanon on the track to recovery and renewal.

After over thirty years of mismanagement, however, these steps will only just begin to make a difference. The key is building a government with the confidence and courage to enact reform and restore the public trust. So after the speaker is elected, what follows is the new government – selecting the prime minister and approving the council of ministers and their mission statement. This is all a prelude to the presidential election that will pose a dilemma if the choices of speaker and prime minister have been contentious. Lebanon is in a dilemma for the newly-elected parliament – how should it proceed in choosing the Speaker? Who will have the power to channel the process of nominating the Prime Minister, the cabinet, and eventually the President?

So Lebanon watchers should focus now on encouraging the parliament to build a reform agenda, electing a speaker committed to that platform, and advocating for similar commitments in the exercises to complement the government’s formation. Lebanon has the expertise and the will of the people on the side of reform, now is the time for the government to do what it has been elected to do: save Lebanon and serve its people well.


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.

Lebanon Needs International Support for Judicial Reform

Lebanon’s judicial system is subjected to endless assaults from government officials and political parties that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of impunity over the rule of law. Due to ill-defined exceptions in the legal code, judges are limited in their abilities to call ministers for questioning. Manipulations of this exclusion principle  is one of many examples of  corruption in the judicial process. A perfect case of the disregard for the law is when a Lebanese judge ordered Central Bank governor Riad Salameh to attend a court hearing for questions on his alleged misconduct, The subpoena was issued by Judge Ghada Aoun on February 1 and Lebanese security were not able to locate him at his home or office. Salameh denied any wrongdoing, declaring his innocence and has refused to hand himself over to the courts.

On March 18, authorities arrested his younger brother, Raja Salameh, who is accused along with Riad of embezzling public and private funds, money laundering to illegally enrich themselves at the outset of the 2019 financial crisis. Sources reported Raja is currently being detained in the Baabda area, east of Beirut. This would require Judge Aoun to transfer her investigation to Judge Nicolas Mansour who oversees the district of Mount Lebanon. But the chase for answers from Salameh is not the only problem the judicial system is facing in Lebanon.

Unfortunately, instead of defending the judiciary, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday that the course of action by some judges was increasing tensions in Lebanon. His statement, regardless of intent, undermines the legitimacy of the court’s actions and risks enabling corruption. 

Mikati did, however, conclude a meeting with Lebanon’s justice minister Henry Khoury, agreeing to request the Mount Lebanon public prosecutor to take appropriate measures on the matter. There was also talk of restoring the rights of depositors in the commercial banks which the Central Bank regulates.. 

It has been almost two years since the devastating explosion in Beirut’s port that had taken the lives of more than 200 people and 6,500 wounded. Billions of dollars’ in property damage was also inflicted on the society. This exacerbated the existing economic declines, and depositors faced even more severe monetary erosion  as a result of the widening  financial meltdown, making it nearly impossible to rebuild some semblance of normalcy. People wanted to know why this could happen and what is being done to unearth the answers.

The Lebanese courts are fighting to give the people the truth on who is responsible for storing 2,750 tons of Ammonium Nitrate (AN), the cause of the blast. Judge Tarek Bitar, a dedicated legal servant, is giving the Lebanese hope in the domestic judiciary as Aya Majzoub, a Human Rights Watch researcher,  told Al Jazeera. Indeed, his willingness to call on witnesses from the elite such as former Ministers Hasan Khalil, Ghazi Zeiter, and Nohad al-Mashnouk has rattled the fragile cages of the once perceived immunity these influential political figures possess. He is setting a precedent that a majority of Lebanese are not used to seeing, that of politicians being treated as if they are under the law and not above it.

Both are senior members of the Shia political party called Amal, an ally of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, party which is designated by the United States government as a terrorist organization. When they refused to follow the summons for questioning on the charges of criminal negligence, the rest of Lebanon had to pay a price.

In October of 2021, both Amal and Hezbollah organized rallies in anger to protest Bitar’s continued appointment as head of the Beirut blast investigation. Thousands of their supporters marched on the Palace of Justice in Tayouneh,  a Christian neighborhood in Beirut. Reports consumed the airwaves saying supporters of Lebanon’s Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) party fired upon the Hezbollah-Amal demonstrators with sniper rifles. It triggered a firefight with heavy weapons leaving 7 lives lost and a nation once again in dread and mourning. People were outraged and in a state of fear. Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah blamed the deaths on Samir Geagea, the leader of the LF. Geagea denied giving orders to fire on the demonstrators and blamed Hezbollah’s incitement against Judge Bitar. Geagea was summoned by instructions of army intelligence to make a statement based on information provided by LF members who were arrested following the killings. He responded in a television interview that he would happily give a statement to the military court if they “listen to Nasrallah” first.. 

One should remind him this is not how the law works. Understandably, many Lebanese are frustrated with Hezbollah and its allies’ ability to ignore the authority of Lebanon’s legal and political institutions.

The probe into the blast has rekindled memories of Lebanon’s vicious 15-year civil war (1975-1990).  Nevertheless, it was not just the blast that killed these Lebanese, but the cowardice of some politicians who refused to hold themselves accountable before the law and courts. 

Mr. Nasrallah made allegations against the judge saying he was “playing politics” and that he was using “the blood of the victims to serve political interests.” There were reports from local Arabic news that Bitar received threats from Hezbollah’s Liaison and Coordination unit, Wafiq Safa. Through intermediaries, Safa made a stark warning to Bitar and made it clear his organization was displeased with how he was carrying out the case. 

The message to Judge Bitar was straightforward, “We have had enough of you. We will go to the end of the legal path, and if that does not work, we will remove you by force.”  Bitar confirmed these threats in a letter to Lebanon’s public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidate. So far, his work has not been deterred. This, however, may not last. 

The United States is a traditional ally of Lebanon and should continue to more forcefully prioritize independence of the judiciary as a key anti-corruption reform upon which additional aid can be unlocked. Recently the Biden Administration and Congress increased aid to Lebanon’s ailing economy and security forces to help their families survive the pandemic. All of this is welcome and can help bring more stability to Lebanon in preparation for the May election. However,  future aid should be predicated on guaranteeing the safety and freedom of judges to conduct their work without intimidation. Lebanon’s failing democracy can be rescued, not simply by the power of voters, but by the confidence of its judiciary’s independence. 


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. Image by Katy Kildee https://www.katykildee.com

Lebanon’s Elections: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

If you’re worried about Lebanon’s commitment to a democratic character more insulated from its oligarchs, look to the results of the candidate registrations for the Parliamentary elections on May 15. According to Arab News, “The final number of candidates who will run for the May 15 Lebanese parliamentary elections is 1,043. The final total includes 155 women, 15% of the registered candidates.” It remarked, “This is the highest number of candidates in Lebanese political history, with the number of candidates for one seat exceeding expectations in some electoral districts.”

And if you crave even more details about who’s in and who’s out, check the comprehensive list published by L’Orient le Jour here. The proliferation of candidates, however, is only one aspect within a larger story of this historically significant moment for Lebanon. The real story lies in the background leading up to the May 15th elections. You can count on the traditional elites, especially those who are now in the majority with Hezbollah, to hand out more cookies to their constituents or provoke sectarian feelings through the kind of fake news that has now become a ubiquitous and all-too-familiar scourge of elections across the globe. The offensive is already underway, as we continue to watch incumbents slowing down any momentum for reforms coming from the Parliament. This includes dragging out the process of appointments to the Electoral Board, the Electricity Regulatory Commission, and the Public Procurement oversight monitor in addition to delaying any actions that may bring more independence to the judiciary.

Lebanon’s politicians speak volumes of their intentions, yet all they have to show for it is their mastery of procrastination, denial, thuggery, abstentions, and other tactics from their corruption toolkit, ensuring that any threats to their priorities are mitigated. As Ibrahim Johari has documented, there are significant obstacles imposed on new entrants to politics as well as to voters, themselves. The Arab News article observes that less than half of all registered candidates survive to get on a ballot, being unable to find a list that will include them. Although in some districts the election regulations do allow for both individual and list-based voting, independent candidates without more unified backing ultimately face an arduous challenge.

In order to register, candidates must submit a $1500 deposit, an obstacle for many especially amid the recent Central Bank circulars continuing restrictions on depositors’ access to capital. Moreover, if they do not appear on the ballot, candidates forfeit the deposit, an especially heavy loss in this current economic climate. In addition, candidates must show evidence of a new account with $5000 deposited, another hurdle for new entrants or anyone without major political backing. Both mega-centers and electronic voting cards have been postponed until the 2028 election cycle as the current government claims that there was not enough time to implement either. Some analysts claim, however, that the IMPACT and other social services databases provide more than enough capacity for the government to introduce digital innovations supporting both initiatives.

With the registrations now complete, emerging questions are increasingly concerned with the possibility of the election‘s postponement should Hezbollah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement come to the conclusion that their alliance will lose its majority position in Parliament after May 15th.

Tony Francis, a political analyst noted that, “The determination of the parties in power to nominate the same people who were MPs while some of them are accused in the Beirut port blast case and some accused of financial irregularities, is disrespectful to people.” More than disrespectful, one World Bank executive told ATFL that it is beyond cynical to think that the ruling elites and their friends have no intention of exposing themselves to potential losses in the election. They are, therefore, deliberately stalling IMF negotiations until the formation of a new government, thus solidifying their position as the dominant ruling force.

Interestingly, an article in L’Orient Le Jour noted that the Saudis were potentially interested in reviving the Sunni presence in the elections in order to prevent Hezbollah from gaining seats at the expense of the Sunni community. Rather than endorsing candidates, however, the Kingdom is hoping that the Lebanese Sunni community will decide on an effective approach to the elections on its own. The Saudis have discussed this issue several times apparently, with the French, and, according to the article, have already committed to joint humanitarian projects for Lebanon with them.

In light of this development, the French-Saudi influence may prove its impact on the election results. As time passes, though, the Syrians and Turks, among others, will increase their activities in Lebanon so as not to lose their stake in the country’s affairs. So while this seems like a typical Lebanese election with entrants and prospective opponents facing off with the corrupt classes depriving the country of its stability, there may still be some surprising outcomes. That, however, must be decided by the Lebanese people and the Lebanese people, alone, through free, fair, and on-time elections.


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.

Lebanon, the IMF, and the Parliamentary Elections – What’s the Story?

A war of words is being waged against the prospects and need for an IMF rescue package as some sources claim it will force drastic measures in the name of reforms that would undermine the long-term stability of the economy. This is not a new claim, especially coming from those who have the most to lose in any alteration of the status quo and restructuring of the banking sector, transparency in public procurement, and stabilization of the currency. The lower and middle classes have already suffered the most from the devalued currency, hyperinflation, and inability to procure essential health products or pay for basic services such as education and power. The arrow of paying the price is gradually turning towards those who use Lebanon as a base and have suffered little dislocation from the economic withering of the State.

The reaction of the Association of Lebanese Banks to the proposed financial plan is just one indicator out of several revealing how those with deeply vested interests envision the pain should be spread. Of course, the plan has many flaws, especially because of its uneven distribution of losses and its reliance on a timeline that does not deliver relief to the majority of bank depositors. Where are the alternative scenarios, though, that are able to meet the three objectives of stabilizing the currency, restraining national spending, and increasing state revenues? Yes, the devil is in the details but without these steps, Lebanon remains a pariah in the investment community.

According to the Economic Research Unit of the Byblos Bank, the IMF said, after its last two weeks of consultations in Lebanon, that, “the unprecedented and complex nature of the Lebanese crisis requires a comprehensive economic and financial reform program to stabilize the economy, to address deep-seated challenges, and to lay the ground work for sustainable and strong growth.” While the negotiating teams were in agreement on the areas in which to target reform, additional meetings are needed to produce a detailed program. In other words, the government needs to do its homework, pass a national budget, and build a national consensus to support a multi-year austerity program.

The IMF identified five main areas of achievable, short-and medium-term measures that would provide a framework for future reforms. According to Byblos Bank, this includes “reforming state-owned enterprises starting with the energy sector and improve delivery services without additional public financing [subsidies]; enhancing transparency and accountability by strengthening the governance, anti-corruption, and the anti-money laundering, and combating financing of terrorism frameworks; reforming public finances to ensure debt sustainability and to provide space for social spending and reconstruction; restructure the financial sector to restore confidence and support the recovery; as well as establishing a credible monetary and exchange rate system.”

The IMF had other recommendations regarding the sequence of reforms suggesting that the government move immediately on energy sector and public procurement laws and take steps to build credibility with the Lebanese people as well as international donors. The approval of a proactive 2022 national budget will send a strong signal that the government intends to move in the right direction as the bottom line remains the same: it’s up to the Lebanese Parliament and political leadership to take the necessary first steps on the pathway of reform.


Election Fever

There is no lack of candidates counting on support from the Sunni community, despite the urgings of former Prime Minister and Future Movement leader Saad Al Hariri to boycott the polls. Former prime ministers aside, a number of voices are already presenting themselves as the ideal fillers of this emerging political vacuum. Bahaa Al Hariri, Saad’s brother, has indicated that his party, Sawa Li Lubnan will field around 30 candidates in May without confirming if he will run himself.

There is no certainty that the coalition of the Free Patriotic Movement, Amal, Hezbollah, and Marada will maintain their Parliamentary majority as fissures are beginning to appear. In fact, opponents only need to win a minimum of 15 seats to deny the coalition the seats needed to capture the Parliamentary votes to name the President or to make changes to the constitution. That is one of the reasons observers fear a resurgence of intercommunal violence in which people would turn to their traditional sect leaders for protection rather than take the risk of voting for the opposition.

Despite the fact that the 2018 elections cost the Lebanese government some $54 million, Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that $18m has been allocated for the 2022 elections. Embassies have been instructed to find local funding to support overseas voting for the Lebanese registered to vote in local centers. This measure is in addition to the solicitation of funds from various countries as well as the UN to support the facilitation of elections in Lebanon which includes everything from ballot processing to funding ISF-run security at polling stations, and travel allowances for election officials. It was with some surprise that Prime Minister Mikati acceded to President Aoun’s request that the Minister of the Interior prepare an analysis of the possibility of mega-centers to be incorporated the upcoming elections.

The drama of reform and the elections continues to build, as do the indicators of the postponement of either process. Lebanon continues to inch along on the backs of remittances and family transfers. Foreign officials come and go, giving the government the same message, but hope has to emerge locally, as the vacuum is continues to be deafening.


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. The above image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. 

Lebanon Daily News Brief 12/14/2021


French Court Orders Lebanese Saradar Bank to Pay $2.8 Million to French-Based Client
“The Nov. 19 ruling, not yet published but seen by Reuters, orders Lebanon’s Saradar Bank to pay the Syrian claimant all the funds she had deposited in two accounts at the bank in 2014.” The court order pertaining to deposits worth $2.8 million is the first-known international ruling against informal capital controls undertaken by Lebanese banks since 2019. [Reuters]

TotalEnergies Agrees to Preliminary Study for Zahrani Power Plant
According to the Lebanese Energy Ministry, French energy group, TotalEnergies, has agreed to conduct a technical and financial preliminary study, a major initial step to building a floating regasification unit in Lebanon’s Zahrani power plant. The Ministry added that the plant’s annual gas capacity of 650 million cubic meters will rise to 1.4 billion cubic meters should the new unit be built. [Reuters]

President Aoun Calls for Cabinet Session, ‘Even if It Gets Boycotted’
“The (government’s) paralysis cannot persist,” President Aoun said, adding that, “there are matters that need to be addressed.” The President also said, “the elections will take place,” claiming that, “there will be an agreement on holding the elections in May.” [Naharnet]


Lebanon Continues To Leak Talent And Hope
Jean AbiNader

AbiNader writes, “What is different about the latest waves of emigration are the low levels of those wanting to leave who say they are not interested in returning. It will be illuminating to break down this data by sectarian affiliation as the number of Sunni wanting to leave is increasing which may ultimately change their demographic in Lebanon. According to the Gallup World Poll cited earlier, ‘The desire to leave Lebanon cuts across major Lebanese communities. Notably, more Muslims than Christians in Lebanon tell Gallup they would like to leave the country (67% vs. 57%). The exodus of Middle Eastern Christians from the historical cradle of Christianity has accelerated in recent decades because of conflict and instability in countries that held significant Christian populations in the not-distant past.”

Read More Here

Will Lebanon’s Economic Crunch Stir Demographic Change?
Hanan Hamdan

Hamdan writes, “The emigration of Lebanese, especially Christians, raises concerns in Lebanon in terms of the demographic change that it may lead to, in light of the economic crisis that the Lebanese have been experiencing for nearly two years.”

Read More Here

L’Orient Today
Macron, MBS, Hezbollah: Behind the Scenes of a Play in Three Acts
Mounir Rabih

Rabih writes, “For MBS, however, Lebanon is under Hezbollah’s thumb, which poses a threat to the security of Arab countries and plays a role in captagon trafficking to the Gulf. Yet, Macron was able to push him to make a concession: A phone call to Mikati from the French president’s personal phone. Macron reportedly exchanged a few words with the Lebanese premier before passing the phone to MBS. The rest of the story has two contradictory versions.”

Read More Here

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.

This Week In Lebanon: 12/11/2021

December 11, 2021
Beirut Blast Investigation Cleared to Resume
Christmas Only For The Rich In Lebanon As Prices Increased Ridiculously
Lebanon’s Elderly Population Devastated by Crash

Beirut Blast Investigation Cleared to Resume
A string of lawsuits filed against Judge Tarek Bitar by those who Bitar had summoned for questioning had suspended the Beirut Port blast investigation for more than a month. A judicial source says the last of the suits have been rejected and Bitar is cleared to resume the investigation. Nizar Saghieh from Legal Agenda warns that the resumption of Bitar’s investigation could only be temporary if more legal complaints are filed. [Al Arabiya]


“The struggle to keep Judge Bitar in charge of this case is a watershed issue which will determine whether Hezbollah or the government will have the final say in making decisions on how the law is enforced or ignored. PM Mikati and his government are challenged to find a way to proceed which allows Judge Bitar to remain on the job while at the same time ensuring that the Ministers and government officials subpoenaed to testify in the port blast investigation are properly deposed under the rule of law in Lebanon. The Lebanese people are watching this issue closely as it will determine the strength of the current government to push back on Hezbollah.”

-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel

Christmas Only For The Rich In Lebanon As Prices Increased Ridiculously

The current economic crisis is preventing many people in Lebanon from celebrating Christmas as they usually would. As the Lebanese lira continues to lose value, many Lebanese are unable to purchase the essentials of everyday life. The cost of Christmas decorations is well beyond what an average family can now afford. [The 961]


“Last week, I bought my Christmas tree. Like many Americans, I purchased it at an inflated price due to transport issues. However, I count myself grateful that I could afford a tree. Thousands of families in Lebanon are unable to purchase everyday essentials let alone holiday gifts and decorations. It is hard to comprehend how Beirut, with all of its festive lights and decorations mostly in the dark and the rest of the country can try to make merry when so many are struggling to even keep on lights or feed the most vulnerable. So please reach out and support CARITAS, or CNEWA, the IRC, or Spirit of America and help Lebanese families share our blessings for at least a few days.”

-ATFL Vice President for Policy Jean AbiNader

Lebanon’s Elderly Population Devastated by Crash

The International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that Lebanon is one of only sixteen countries in the world that does not offer social security. 11% of Lebanon’s population is over 65, making it home to the largest populations of senior citizens in the Middle East. The ILO also estimates that a shocking 80% of Lebanese over 65 do not have health care coverage. The elderly population has been particularly hard-hit in the current economic crisis. [Al Monitor]


“Is it criminal negligence or politics as usual that Lebanon is one of 16 countries in the world that don’t offer social security? It has the oldest population in the region, and they don’t have the options of their children to take work or emigrate. Lebanon is aging rapidly but there is still little consideration by the government to provide a basic package of social services for those who have spent their lives supporting governments that did not give back by ensuring minimal dignity in old age. This is wrong, just wrong. Time to mobilize the elderly to vote!”

-ATFL Vice President for Policy 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.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 12/8/2021


Human Rights Groups Call for American Journalist’s Release
On November 16, American journalist Nada Homsi was arrested after General Security officers raided her home without a judicial order. [Al Jazeera] Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are calling on Lebanon’s General Security to immediately release Homsi and to “promptly, thoroughly, independently, transparently, and effectively investigate the due process violations she faced since her arrest, and bring to justice anyone suspected to be responsible.” [HRW]

Energy Minister Fayyad Invited to France to Discuss Gas Exploration
Following a meeting with President Michel Aoun on Wednesday, Energy Minister Walid Fayyad in a press conference shared his intention to discuss gas exploration in an upcoming visit with French multinational oil and gas companies like Total as well as others others. “Concerning the import of gas and electricity from Jordan through Syria,” Fayyad said that, “the contract is ready and will be signed in the coming days.” [Naharnet]

In-Depth: Economic Crisis Hits Elderly Lebanese Population Hard
According to the International Labor Organization, cited by Al-Monitor, Lebanon has per capita the highest number of elders in the region but is among the sixteen countries in the world that does not offer social security. This has severely challenged Lebanon’s +65 population, 80% of whom have no health care coverage. “Few Lebanese get a retirement pension when they are forced to stop working at 65. Those in the public sector get a small income and they have medical coverage,” said Maya Ibrahimchah, the founder of NGO Beit El Baraka.” [Al-Monitor]


Economic Bits of Interest
Jean AbiNader

AbiNader writes, “I am an avid reader of ‘Lebanon This Week,’ a weekly, English-language report published by the Byblos Bank Economic Research and Analysis Department headed by our colleague Nassib Ghobril…There are several items of interest from the November 27, 2021 edition that are worth sharing and analyzing, given what it tells us about the state of ‘resilience’ in the Lebanese economy and whether or not that descriptor is even appropriate. The first note comes from the Milken Institute’s Global Opportunities Index (GOI) which identified the investment climate in 143 countries to help foreign investors decide on where to place their money. In 2021, Lebanon has slid down 19 places, from 87th to 106th worldwide, as well as down two places among Arab countries, now in 10th place…”

Read more here

Diwan, Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center
A Jihadi Resurrection?
Mohanad Hage Ali

Hage Ali writes, “An Islamic State resurgence in Lebanon would also be convenient for the Lebanese political class, in three ways. First, any violence would justify postponing the parliamentary elections next year and decrease international pressure to organize them on time. This would help Hezbollah and its allies maintain their current majority in parliament for longer than the four-year term. Second, the political class would expect more regional and international aid to combat the Islamic State, without having to introduce reforms and meet the conditions of international donors. And third, an Islamic State revival and any ensuing violence would help realign the population behind the country’s sectarian leaderships and sectarian politics in general. This would further undermine any impulse for change in the country.”

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The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Lebanon Stands at a Crossroad Between a Painful Revival and a Complete Submission to Iran
Hanin Ghaddar

Ghaddar writes, “Lebanon is paralyzed in the midst of these challenges facing Hezbollah, which will not allow any reforms, elections, or financial restructuring until the Iran-backed organization resolves its own challenges and finds a way to protect its power and maintain the status quo. This means that focusing on reforms at this point without tackling the political factors hindering it is a waste of time.”

Read More Here

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.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 12/6/2021


Macron Announces Initiative to Resolve Diplomatic Row Between Lebanon and the Gulf
Last Friday, Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi turned in his resignation. There was a push to confirm Kordahi’s resignation before French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Riyadh that weekend. [NY Times] On Saturday Macron announced a Saudi-French initiative to resolve the diplomatic crisis between Lebanon and Gulf states. In an “important step” towards a resolution, Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke with Prime Minister Najib Miqati in a joint phone call with future plans to talk with President Michel Aoun.. [Reuters] Both Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri said they are satisfied with the movement toward better relations and Miqati has called on all parties in Lebanon to mind the sensitivity of the situation. The talks so far have linked “economic aid to Lebanon with the implementation of required reforms.” [Arab News]

Reported Progress Toward Resumption of Cabinet Meetings
Cabinet sessions remain delayed but there are reports that progress is being made toward their resumption. Amal and Hezbollah sources said that there will not be a solution to the government crisis until there is an agreement to restore the role of the Higher Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers. This means referring former prime ministers and ministers to the Higher Council for those who are summoned in the Beirut Port explosion case. [Naharnet] The Free Patriotic Movement and other parties have rejected political interference in Lebanon’s judiciary, but FPM is reported to be showing some flexibility on this matter. [Naharnet]

US Embassy Launches “Digital Mothers” Program
Over the weekend the US Embassy in Lebanon launched the “Digital Mothers” training program in Tripoli. The program will train 68 mothers of school children on technology and English and teach “skills that will help them, their children, and their communities.” The Digital Mothers program will offer 200 hours of digital literacy and English language lessons over the next year to help mothers assist their children’s learning. [US Embassy]


Foreign Affairs
America is Not Withdrawing from the Middle East
Dalia Dassa Kaye

Kaye writes, “In this moment of strategic flux, the United States has an opportunity to do things differently—to develop and implement a strategy for development and equity. Instead of outsize military investments, it could invest in solutions to the socioeconomic and governance challenges preventing a better life for the region’s citizens. The United States, along with its wealthy allies, could help partners that want to transform the region from a set of problems to a set of possibilities. Either way, the United States and the Middle East are not going to part ways—but Washington should seize the chance to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Read more here

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.