Voices of Healing: the Work of the Near East Foundation to Support Business Recovery

ATFL has been gradually shifting its focus from humanitarian relief centered on medical supplies to supporting organizations involved in support efforts for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). We convene regular meetings to discuss opportunities, obstacles, and experiences that enrich the group’s understanding of how to most effectively support community businesses in Beirut and beyond. Several organizations in the group are well known: Anera, the Rene Moawad Foundation, the Near East Foundation, and Mercy Corps. Others are Lebanese groups that target specific community needs in mental health, the aging, and rural communities.

This series, Voices of Healing, puts a spotlight on those organizations that want to tell their stories and demonstrate that hope is still alive among the people of Lebanon. This information was provided by Andrea Crowley of the Near East Foundation (NEF).

NEAR EAST FOUNDATION – BEIRUT RAPID LIVELIHOODS RECOVERY PROGRAM

The devastating and destructive August 4, 2020 Beirut Port Explosion took lives, destroyed businesses, and displaced thousands. Critical community needs, such as hospitals, schools, businesses and homes, faced widespread damage. Eight months on from the explosion its impacts have been lost amid the overwhelming needs surrounding the health crisis, a worsening and severe economic crisis, and a protracted refuge crisis – causing a dangerous physical, psychological, and economic strain on the people of Lebanon.

Soon after the explosion, the Near East Foundation (www.neareast.org) mobilized with local partners to launch a rapid livelihoods recovery program, building onto its ongoing program in Lebanon, to provide aid to individuals and micro/small businesses in three highly impacted and vulnerable Beirut neighborhoods: Bachoura, Bourj Hammoud, and Karantina. With support from the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, Elsa & Peter Soderberg Charitable Foundation, and private funders, the Rapid Livelihoods Recovery Project addresses the nexus of relief and recovery, supporting safe shelter rehabilitation, small business recovery, and employment.

NEF has helped 130 micro/small businesses to recover losses and resume business activities through cash assistance and guidance focused on business adaptation and recovery. This includes support for mini markets, grocery stores, a butchery, mobile phone vendors, tailors, appliance stores, a pharmacy, and salons.

The cash assistance provided is unconditional, allowing flexibility for business owners to make decisions regarding the repairs of their business, recouping assets, and meeting the needs of their families.

NEF is also supporting 130 skilled workers to recover lost materials and secure employment, linking them to repair projects of vulnerable homes and businesses in the target areas using “cash for work” to subsidize their income while providing repair services free of charge. 100% of the skilled workers supported are the sole providers for their families.

Shouwshan in her upholstery shop in Beirut. Her shop was damaged, including the front door, walls, and display stands. She received a grant from NEF to help with the needed repairs so she could safely resume business operation. Image: NEF

 

George owns a mini mart in the Bourj Hammoud neighborhood of Beirut. He used his grant to help replenish products that were lost during the explosion so he could start selling as soon as he could. Image: NEF

Due to heightened currency fluctuation in Lebanon, grant distribution was temporarily paused earlier this year. During that time, the NEF teams conducted a rapid security risk assessment to determine when it would be safe to continue financial grant support and were able to resume grant support in early April 2021. In Beirut, grants are disbursed in USD to protect against the continued devaluation of the LBP. The NEF team continues to closely monitor the currency situation and its impact on the safety of project participants and project resources.

NEF conducts mid-term and endline assessments to measure impact to ensure impactful and responsive interventions that address both immediate and longer-term needs. Data collected also helps to determine if project participants under the Beirut Rapid Livelihoods Recovery project could be eligible to receive additional support from NEF’s broader livelihoods programs in Lebanon.

Critical to NEF’s approach is ensuring that coordination, complementarity, and transparency is prioritized to avoid duplication and effective use of resources. NEF’s response is closely coordinated with relevant stakeholders, working groups, and in partnership with local community organizations and other NGOs. This includes partnership and coordination with the American Task Force on Lebanon, SHIELD (a local livelihoods NGO), ANERA, ACTED, American University of Beirut – Urban Lab, Mercy Corps, the Danish Refugee Council, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), and the Bourj Hammoud Municipality in addition to the broader Referral Information Management System (RIMS).

NEF’s experience and impact in Lebanon dates back to 1918, when NEF first launched programs there focused on improving the long-term wellbeing of vulnerable Lebanese through technical and financial assistance to improve education, income, agriculture and food security, rural development, and access to finance. In recent years, NEF’s work in Lebanon has focused on providing livelihoods support for vulnerable Lebanese and refugees in poor communities (with a focus on women and youth), helping them to access the tools and resources to engage in safe ways to earn an income, support their families, and improve their lives.

NEF channels assistance through Siraj Centers, community-based livelihood hubs that offer technical training and essential resources – geared toward social and economic empowerment – for crises-affected people to recover their income and strengthen their local economies. NEF has Siraj Centers in Akkar, Tripoli, and Bekaa, and in 2021 opened a new location in northern Beirut. Last year, NEF expanded its business support services to include an accessible online learning platform – Siraj Digital (www.sirajdigital.com). Through Siraj Digital NEF will provide nonfinancial services tailored to business recovery and adaptation, addressing impacts of the Beirut port explosion and ongoing economic impacts of the health, financial, and refugee crises.

Since 2016, NEF has helped to launch 3,900 businesses and directly support over 18,000 people in Lebanon with support from Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and private funders. And while sustainable livelihood support is often seen as costly, a 2021 impact and learning assessment of NEF programs from 2016-2020 revealed a 2.6 return on investment, with revenue from project-supported businesses generating 28 billion LBP.

This video of two NEF-supported Lebanese entrepreneurs, Hanan and Hayat, provide an example of this work: https://vimeo.com/447133436

In early April 2021, the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Ambassador Dorothy Shea, visited one of NEF’s Siraj Centers in Akkar in recognition of NEF’s long-time partnership with the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).

US Ambassador to Lebanon, Amb. Dorothy Shea, visits a NEF Siraj Center in April 2021. Image: NEF

NEF’s Rapid Livelihoods Recovery Project and broader program in Lebanon continues to evolve to facilitate safe pathways to livelihoods recovery, resilience, and ultimately self-reliance for vulnerable and marginalized people through inclusive, tailored, and community-driven initiatives.

For more information on NEF’s work in Lebanon, please contact Andrea Crowley, Director of Partnerships & Philanthropy, at acrowley@neareast.org.

FOCUS LEBANON: LIFE is Helping the Lebanese Help Themselves

LIFE Lebanon is not your typical professional association. In addition to its highly qualified and energetic financial, banking, technology, and consulting members, it has worked tirelessly to support Lebanon’s humanitarian and reconstruction needs through its vast network of overseas Lebanese professionals. LIFE partnered with MEI and ATFL to produce critical analyses of the rationale for strong US-Lebanon relations and is instrumental in supporting the newly launched Lebanon program at MEI. In addition, its members support scholarship programs, mentoring, training, job placement, and have raised more than $9 million in humanitarian relief for Lebanon.

As overseas Lebanese, they represent the classic emigrant dream – go overseas, do well, help your country of origin. And they continually strive to do more. This blog will focus on one of LIFE’s most recent efforts to help small businesses, the heartbeat of Lebanon’s economy, to recover and thrive. There are two programs currently being implemented.

Facebook Donation to LIFE
In February 2021, LIFE received a $300,000 donation from Facebook to support vulnerable businesses in Lebanon. Using their experience and network on the ground, LIFE will allocate the donation to 100–150 small and medium enterprises (SMEs), helping them and the economy grow in these unprecedented times. 3QA, a Lebanon-based third sector quality assurance organization, will offer support during the vetting and proposal stages and will undertake monitoring and reporting on behalf of LIFE.

Working with 22 project partners, SMEs are being selected based on: impact on the community; vulnerability level; geographical spread; sector diversity; and gender balance.

Accelerate Beirut
More than 10,000 SMEs were severely damaged during the Beirut explosion and many more are still suffering from its economic impact. Accelerate Beirut is an initiative launched as a collaboration between LIFE, Alia Atieh, and a team of consultants from Bain & Company. The objective is to support Lebanese SMEs by establishing connections and enabling collaborations between local SMEs and global corporations. These collaborations take the form of financial contributions, in-kind donations, partnerships and mentorship programs, or technical assistance from large companies.

Achievements to date:
• The rehabilitation of 5 restaurants in Mar Mikhael working with Nusaned through a $50,000 donation from the Accor Hotels Group
• The Sisley-d’Ornano Foundation donated $24,000 to fashion designer Sandra Mansour
• Eres donated 500 items of clothing to Stand for Women beneficiaries
• L’Oréal Levant are working on a collaboration with Sarah’s Bag
• House of Zejd and Joyau d’Olive are two other SMEs who have received $20,000 of funding

Georgy Rahayel, Founder of Le Joyau D’olive, one of the small businesses who received funding through Accelerate Beirut.
Le Joyau D’olive is a Lebanese artisanal biodegradable vegan soap made of virgin olive and essential oils.

Georgy Rahayel, founder of Le Joyau D’Olive: “Accelerate Beirut has been an eye-opening experience as it took our thought process to a new level. It has exposed us to the right people who can help us scale our venture.

 

Sarah Beydoun, founder of Sarah’s Bag at her workshop. Through Accelerate Beirut, Sarah’s Bag worked on a collaboration with L’Oréal Levant

Sarah Beydoun, founder of Sarah’s Bag: “I really think it’s a brilliant idea and a creative solution, asking big international corporations to support local businesses each in their own field of expertise.”

 

House of Zejd builds on two centuries of family heritage of pressing locally sourced olives from the northern hilly Beino landscape. This is another SME who received funding and support through Accelerate Beirut

Youssef Fares, General Manager, House of Zejd: “Thank you Accelerate Beirut for this great initiative bringing Lebanese products and know-how to the forefront and for the valuable contribution to our brand visibility in target export markets.”

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.

Status Update on the Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Two recent stories reminded us that the status of the Syrian refugees in the Levant has gone largely underreported in media perspectives on challenges for the Biden Administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Dispersed primarily in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, with another 6 million internally displaced in Syria, tens of thousands have emigrated out of the region, and the future of those left behind has become a chess piece in international politics.

This was made quite clear in the story about the meeting between Syrian Foreign Minister Faysal Mikdad and Lebanese Minister of Tourism and Social Affairs Ramzi Moucharafieh to discuss the refugees. In addition to pledging to work for the quick return of the refugees to Syria, both ministers called on international organizations not to create obstacles for the return of Syrians home. This was a not-so-veiled reference to existing standards that conditions of safety and dignity must be in place before any repatriation process. These pre-conditions for return have been stymied by Russia which uses its votes in the UN Security Council to dismiss efforts to provide humanitarian relief and assist the refugee resettlement process.

The hypocrisy of the Assad regime in this regard is evident in its efforts to replace refugees by transplanting communities, transferring housing vacated by the refugees to its supporters, and passing laws that create obstacles to the return of vacated property, dismissing obligations to serve in the military, and similar hurdles. Meanwhile, Mikdad insisted that Syria welcomes the return of all displaced Syrians to their homeland. The government, he said, will take all measures necessary to guarantee their safe return and provide them with good living conditions. None of this has been validated by the more than 10,000 refugees from Lebanon who have returned over the past two years.

The validation of the desperate lives of the Syrian refugees has been recorded a recently released study by Save the Children called “Anywhere but Syria.” The study was conducted in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and the Netherlands, and the statistics from Lebanon are quite startling. According to the United Nations, the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon living below the poverty line increased from 55 percent in 2019 to 89 percent in 2020. In a commentary on the report, Relief Web International noted that “The protracted hosting of large refugee populations has placed additional strains on a middle-income country like Lebanon with ongoing political turmoil, unstable economic situation, and a fragmented, highly privatized, and under-resourced health care system.”

“The compilers of the report spoke to 1,900 displaced Syrian children in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, the Netherlands, and opposition-held areas of Syria. 86% of them said that they would not return to Syria and cannot imagine a future there, while a third said that they would rather live in another country. Only 29% of the children in Lebanon, 3% in Turkey, and 9% in Jordan and the Netherlands said that they would return to Syria.” Among the key reasons cited is the desire for education, freedom of expression, and having a say in their lives. “Lebanon, especially, was said to be one of the most difficult of the host countries, as it is gripped by an economic crisis and political instability.”

Other results are that some 79% of children said that after two years, they expect to find themselves somewhere other than Syria. Just 42% of internally displaced Syrian children said that they thought they would be able to realize their wish, significantly less than those in any other country.

If their dreams are realized, Assad will have achieved his goal of remaking Syria into a safe haven for himself, his community, and his allies, not to mention the Russians and Iranians.

Dr. Nana Ndeda, who is the policy advocacy and communications director for Save the Children’s Lebanon office told Arab News: “Lebanon presents a distinct context for Syrian refugees. We are now in a state of affairs where we are extremely worried about the plight of refugees in the midst of an entire population that is going down a steep decline in access to basic services or increased fragility.”

She mentioned that due to the severe economic crisis, there are increased incidents of violence and shortages of food, medicine, and other basics. “This makes the condition for refugees even worse. In the last couple of weeks, the situation has deteriorated rapidly, with increasing levels of poverty.” Ndeda added: “Refugees in Lebanon are now twice as poor as they were a year ago. The coronavirus disease pandemic has not made it any easier. There has been more than a year’s disruption in education services, which is leading to an increase of protection challenges, such as child marriage, other abuse, and increasing child labor.”

After 10 years of conflict in Syria, it is sobering to consider the prospects for the lost generation of youth and their families who have been living in camps outside and inside Syria. Deprived of their homes, communities, and essential services, the refugees can only dream of their futures, one without violence, in their own homes, investing in building new lives.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.

Lebanon Faces External and Internal Threats to its Sovereignty and Independence

Recent events pose fresh challenges to the country’s integrity as a state. The assassination of Lukman Slim, the resulting fallout, and statements by senior Israeli officials threatening massive retaliation if Hezbollah attacks Israel, make it clear that Lebanon’s stability remains questionable at best under continuous pressure from domestic and regional actors.

The international and domestic response to the Slim’s slaying has once again galvanized civil society and many governments and organizations to call on the Aoun government for a full and transparent investigation, something the country has not even been able to do for Beirut Port explosions six months ago. At a memorial service for Slim, the crowd was interdenominational, featuring religious and political leaders from many sects, although major government figures were absent. A Shia cleric who showed up was vigorously criticized and made an apology for coming to pray for the deceased!

There are concerns that the murder of Slim is a warning to critics of Hezbollah and its partners in the government to have a change of heart or become invisible. Many of these critics oppose a new bill in Parliament that would further limit all forms of expression, forcing the once vibrant Lebanese media further underground. With economic and political conditions worsening daily, added constraints on freedoms of expression and association will only serve to further erode Lebanese society.

Even humanitarian support is not free from political manipulations. The recent $246 million loan from the World Bank has to be approved by Parliament before it can reach needy Lebanese families, both in the form of cash cards for basic necessities, and payments to enable students to remain in secondary school. Funds are also included for building a new social security registration system to help speed and process social safety net payments. The government of Lebanon insisted initially that the funds be distributed in Lebanese currency at a conversion rate of 3900 lira. After some negotiations, a rate around 6400 lira to the dollar was agreed, allowing a margin of 20+% to the banks for processing the payments through their ATMs. More subsidies for a broken banking system!

The international community is well aware of the issues of working with the government and is looking for ways to provide humanitarian relief directly to Lebanese families and organizations. A number of solutions have been proposed, including an independent international agency that could vet partners in Lebanon and provide the oversight needed for an efficient and effective delivery of services throughout the country. This same challenge exists in administering vaccines. Several NGOs and private sector parties want to independently secure vaccines to distribute, but Western manufacturers are still dealing government to government and have not yet come up with a system that provides vaccines to the private sector while keeping prices reasonable. Having multiple sources of vaccines to inoculate the largest number of people is the only way forward if Lebanon is to reopen before the end of the summer.

Israel threatens
Continuing its campaign of intimidation towards Lebanon to diminish popular support for Hezbollah, senior Israeli defense and military officials again made clear the Israeli policy of making all of Lebanon pay dearly for Hezbollah’s transgressions against Israel. While “disproportionate response” is a consistent claim against Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians and towards Lebanon in the past, the all-encompassing threat has become more severe with Israel’s growing concern over Hezbollah’s manufacture and placement of precision-guided missiles throughout southern Lebanon.

As the IDF monitors and attacks arms depots and Iranian facilities in Syria, they intrude into Lebanese airspace daily, increasing the likelihood of “unintended consequences.” This tinderbox will be a challenge to the Biden Administration which, while generally providing Israel with carte blanche to defend itself, seeks to avoid being dragged into yet another military episode in the region.

The Lebanese Armed Forces are caught in a bind between responding to territorial violations and safeguarding the people in the South and throughout the country. UNIFIL reports the territorial violations on a continuing basis but no one on the UN Security Council is prepared to take on Israel’s right to defend itself if attacked, even when it allows its military to take forward-leaning opportunities that undermine Lebanese sovereignty.

The Disaster in Lebanon and Challenge for the Biden Administration

Political History 1989-2019

The disastrous state of affairs in Lebanon is mainly a result of failed governance for the past several decades. The 1989 Taif Agreement that defined peace after Lebanon’s civil war created a balancing act among various warlords and political figures who divvied up the government by sectarian affiliation. Since then, government institutions have been weakened, public employment has become a function of constituent services, contracts and social services have been doled out without any transparent process and necessary reforms have been ignored.

Humanitarian consequences of this mismanagement are widespread. Social services are lacking. Public schools, health and social services, a pension system and labor laws are inadequate; and there is little protection for civil and human rights and environmental protection. In addition, there are more than 1 million Palestinian, Syrian and other refugees in the country, exerting extreme pressure on the country’s socioeconomic requirements and infrastructure.

Infrastructure investment has been ignored, and 80% of hospitals and 70% of schools are run by the private sector. The economy has been running disproportionately on remittances from Lebanese emigres and tourism. The banking system, which was highly praised until a year ago, attracted hard currency and euro-bonds by offering high interest rates in order to feed a deficit-spending government, only to default when the government failed to honor the bonds due.

In October 2019, the government blundered by imposing a tax on the popular, free telecom app, WhatsApp, to pay for increasing public deficits of its own making. The people had enough; they were outraged. They lost what remaining faith they had in the government, and on October 17 demonstrations erupted across the country, across all sects, generations and political persuasions.

The people were upset as they experienced an increasingly poorer quality of life, especially after the Lebanese lira rapidly declined in value due to the lack of stable reserves to support the currency. In 2019, Lebanon had the third-highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world, and its bonds are now “junk” on the international markets. It imports 80% of what it consumes. The country is broke, with little support from expatriates and allies and a ruling class that shows no willingness to reform.

In 2018, the international donor community, in an effort called the CEDRE program, agreed to support Lebanon once it undertook systematic reforms. These have been neither instituted nor implemented, leaving $11 billion in international aid on the table. Subsidies on food, fuel and medicine are set to stop in December due to a lack of government reserves. Inflation is well over 200% for food items, over-the-counter medicines are almost non-existent due to hoarding and the middle class is rapidly disappearing. Banking-sector capital controls make it almost impossible for depositors to have access to their funds, and the failing exchange rate means that people who withdraw their lira face an immediate decline in purchasing power.

The demonstrations were remarkable in their intensity and breadth; and it was only a matter of time before their concerns had to be addressed. The first casualty was the then- (and now again) Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned, along with several of his ministers and Members of Parliament.

And If That Isn’t Enough

Lebanon took another blow when the pandemic hit and its hospitals did not have medical supplies readily available to address the COVID-19 crisis. Then, on August 4, at the Port of Beirut, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever resulted in almost 200 deaths; close to 6,000 injured; 300,000 people displaced; billions of dollars of damage to structures, small businesses and residences; and devastation to the port and adjacent storage and logistics areas.

For the first time since the Spanish flu in the early 20th century, people are going hungry. Lebanese who can emigrate do. Even international aid flows are obstructed as a result of historic and systemic corruption by customs officials.

Since the fall of the Hariri government in 2019, two appointed prime ministers have failed to name new governments, stymied by sectarian political leaders. Now Prime Minister Hariri is back, promising to bring the necessary reforms through a government of experts willing to implement the so-called French Plan that ties relief to economic reforms. His chances of success will become clear in the coming weeks. Hezbollah, conducting Iran-directed interventions in Syria, Yemen and beyond, does not appear interested in strengthening the state of Lebanon if it does not serve Iran’s interests and has shown no intention of stepping aside for a technically competent government.

U.S. Interests in Lebanon

America has significant strategic interests in supporting a strong and prosperous Lebanon and cannot afford to have Lebanon become a failed state. These interests include:

  • Countering the influence of Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, as well as Russian and Chinese regional encroachment

  • Maintaining security across the Lebanese-Israeli border to avoid another war

  • Maintaining successful counterterrorism and military cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)

  • Sustaining a country hosting more than 1 million registered Syrian and Palestinian refugees, which is the highest number of refugees per capita in the world

  • Preventing a failed state in the region, which would generate new flows of refugees (Syrians and Lebanese) and new havens for ISIS and al-Qaeda, while further empowering Hezbollah

  • Preserving Lebanon’s unique example as an inclusive society of diverse peoples and cultures

A Roadmap for the Biden Administration

The situation in Lebanon requires a comprehensive and deft U.S. policy. First and foremost, it must be a Lebanon policy, rather than the result of an Israel or Iran policy with side implications that can adversely affect Lebanon.

One criticism of the Trump administration is that it often rejected policies of past administrations. Whether it was Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran or the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration unwisely rejected some Obama-era policies outright, rather than building upon them. Likewise, there are Trump administration policies that are working or could be improved. This applies to U.S. policies toward Lebanon.

Importantly, the U.S. must take up the leadership mantle again and not cede its role in Lebanon or the Middle East to countries that would rather undermine the U.S. Rather, it must lead a coalition of like-minded countries in a common policy towards Lebanon and the wider Middle East region.

The Biden administration should implement four baskets of policies:

  • Tough diplomacy, conditioning assistance based on specific implementation of reforms

  • A commitment to the people of Lebanon to support their short- and longer-term needs with regard to humanitarian, social, political and economic needs, and their civil and human rights

  • Support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, which guards Lebanon’s security

  • Addressing regional issues that affect Lebanon: instability in Syria, Israeli security, Russian interference and the destabilizing influence of Iran in Lebanon

Tough Diplomacy that Supports Serious Reforms

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), France and the CEDRE conference have proposed reforms that, if enacted, could provide more than $20 billion to save the Lebanese government from default. Such assistance is dependent on a reformist, independent government established with the support of Lebanon’s citizens and other stakeholders.

In particular, the proposed reforms address capital controls on the currency, a forensic audit of the Central Bank, restructuring the banking sector, budget deficit reduction, tax and civil service reforms, laws addressing transparent privatization policies, electricity reform and a social safety net for a country with a poverty rate exceeding 50% and likely to rise.

The Biden administration should encourage the government and its stakeholders to articulate a comprehensive and shared vision for moving Lebanon forward, and it should work with the IMF and its allies on a restructuring plan that enables Lebanon to achieve credible and lasting reforms, thus enhancing prospective foreign and domestic investments. One proposal under consideration to stabilize the lira is the establishment of an independent currency board.

The U.S. and its partners should utilize existing international mechanisms to help Lebanon identify, impound and repatriate stolen or corruptly accumulated funds, and it should lead an orchestrated international meeting of friends and partners to show support for financial restructuring based on Lebanon’s resolve to undertake specific reforms.

For its part, Lebanon needs to make a serious effort to facilitate a discussion among all stakeholders, including civil society, unions, banks, businesses and the professional class, as well as political leaders, to draft a comprehensive plan for the country. Parliament must signal its commitment to fast-track legislation to support necessary reforms.

The Biden administration should also closely examine the effectiveness of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration under the Magnitsky Act and anti-terrorism laws. The threat of sanctions seemed to have distanced some parties from their alliance with Hezbollah. It is believed that sanctions on Hezbollah and its sectarian allies in government have pushed them to allow the negotiations to proceed on the Israeli-Lebanon maritime border. Sanctions have also raised the hope of the Lebanese people that they are not alone in their fight against corrupt officials.

It should be cautioned however that while sanctions may be useful in curbing the illegal actions of Hezbollah and their political influence, sanctions should focus on human rights abusers, corrupt individuals, and terrorist activity, rather than a particular group of people, political party, religion, or based on political motives. It is important for the US to avoid the impression of pursuing a political objective.

Contrary to some commentaries, the Biden administration should express a firm commitment to prosecute individuals who break international laws pertaining to corruption, terrorism or human rights.

A Commitment to the Citizens of Lebanon

While the carrot-and-stick approach of tough U.S. diplomatic actions has been called an effective tool of the Trump administration and its allies, it is incomplete. If the Lebanese people are asked to suffer through tough diplomatic actions, there should be a commensurate commitment to help them through this difficult period. The Trump administration was influenced by anti-Hezbollah hawks in Congress and administration officials who believed that support to Lebanon would end up in the hands of Hezbollah. The facts do not support this concern.

There is an immediate need for humanitarian assistance. The Trump administration has provided $18 million in “previously” committed aid to Lebanon, and it promised another $30 million in food aid through the World Food Program.

Lebanese Americans have contributed more to Lebanon than the U.S. government has, with free shipments of medicine, medical supplies and reconstruction materials now exceeding $30 million through trusted Lebanese and U.S. NGOs. The U.S. is missing an opportunity by not more visibly participating in helping the Lebanese people during this tragic time.

Unfortunately, the need will continue for the foreseeable future, and it must be a funding priority of the Biden administration to support food security measures and vital medicines, medical supplies and recovery help following the August 4th explosion.

In the longer term, the future of Lebanon and its bilateral relationship rests on the U.S.’s ability to engage the citizens of Lebanon. Lebanese are Western-focused, with a strong desire for individual liberty, the rule of law and freedom of expression.

President-elect Joe Biden has made it a priority to lead internationally by emphasizing human rights. The Biden administration should support tomorrow’s leaders and civil society programs, including efforts that strengthen civil society, elections, political party development, human and civil rights, judicial reform, small business development and capacity building for communities and organizations.

U.S.-style institutions of higher education, including the American University of Beirut and Lebanese American University, should be strengthened. Scholarships should incentivize recent graduates to remain in Lebanon to rebuild their country.

Considering Lebanon’s extremely high poverty rate, the U.S. should lead and catalyze international efforts to fund comprehensive and effective social safety nets for all Lebanese people and continue to lead in supporting Syrian refugees until they can return in a voluntary, safe and dignified manner.

If the stalemate continues in the formation of an independent reform government, the international community should consider adopting the French proposal that entails shifting international support from government reforms to immediate humanitarian efforts and medium-term support to the people of Lebanon and their civil society institutions.

Support the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)

The LAF is one of the best-trained fighting forces in the Middle East, having defeated pockets of ISIS and al-Qaeda, maintained peace on its southern border and protected the freedom of Lebanese citizens to publicly express their concerns.

As a means of strengthening Lebanon’s sovereign responsibilities, appropriations for the LAF should be commensurate with the need to provide, maintain and sustain equipment and training to carry out its mandate and extend its maritime operations.

The U.S. should recognize that the LAF has become more than a military force, extending its responsibilities to include FEMA- and Army Corps-style duties following the August explosion and successfully protecting Lebanese citizens’ right to protest. The U.S. should offer technical assistance and training in these fields.

Regional Concerns

There are three specific regional issues that the Biden administration should lead in conjunction with its allies.

Iran

While it is commendable that the Biden administration will reengage Iran on the JCPOA and reestablish its traditional role as balancer in the region, it should take advantage of any negotiation to ensure that it goes beyond denuclearization and includes curbs on missile technology and terrorist proxies and Iran’s hegemonic ambitions.

Israel

The new administration should prioritize the maritime border negotiations between Israel and Lebanon. Such confidence-building measures could lead to further steps, such as negotiations on the Israel-Lebanon land border, including Shebaa Farms, which would remove Hezbollah’s biggest justification for its armed conflict with Israel.

Syria

Getting Syria right after failed attempts under the past two administrations is important to stabilize the region. The U.S. must reassert its leadership on the Syrian issue and maintain support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, with the objective of driving parties to the bargaining table for resolution, addressing a disaster that has resulted in more than 5.6 million refugees and 6.1 million displaced people.

Renewing the Relationship

The measures outlined in this article will not put additional demands on the existing U.S.-Lebanon appropriations, but rather, propose to rearrange policy priorities. The U.S. and Lebanon should renew their partnership during this challenging time in ways that strengthen the security, stability and prosperity of both nations. The U.S. should work to enhance its relationship with Lebanon by showing the leadership to undertake these recommended actions in concert with the Lebanese people and the reform-minded institutions of the Lebanese state.

 

Crosspost from American Ambassadors Live:

Institutional Efforts Continue Support for the Lebanese People

The focus on the desperate situation facing the Lebanese sometimes does not give enough attention to efforts to make a positive difference by the international community and Lebanese abroad, among others. Two events this past month are of interest both for addressing immediate needs and for sowing the seeds for longer-term recovery.

The World Bank approved a loan of some $246 million over three years from previously allocated funds to a program supporting some 147,000 extreme poor and vulnerable Lebanese families (786,000 people) as the government faces the necessity of eliminating subsidies for essential goods. Funds will be provided to the government both for distribution in the form of cash cards, thus supporting local businesses, and to enhance the country’s woefully inadequate social safety net.

As a multilateral organization, The World Bank is required to work with the local government and within mutually agreed guidelines for distribution. With extensive experience in cash card transfer programs worldwide, the Bank is able to assist the government to adopt best practices in ensuring that those in need receive the funding. This will counter one of the major drawbacks to existing subsidies in Lebanon which benefit all consumers regardless of need, meaning high-income families receive the same level of benefit as those with less ability to pay for food, medicines, fuel, and lodging.

According to Haneen Sayed, World Bank Lead Operations Officer and Task Team Leader, “To ensure sustainability, the [program] will support the development of a comprehensive social safety net delivery system that can respond to future shocks.” She explained that the goal is to enable the Lebanese government to upgrade the current National Poverty Targeting Program (NPTP) with a digital National Social Registry for prompt and efficient identification of households qualified to receive social assistance based on an assessment of their needs and living conditions. In the immediate aftermath of the port explosion, the LAF was tasked with food distribution to needy families using the NPTP which was helpful but not comprehensive in reaching target households.

An important component of the program includes efforts to keep children from families in extreme poverty from “dropping out of school through top-up cash transfers that cover the costs of general and vocational education,” covering an estimated 87,000 children ages 13-18. Another element will provide funding to the Ministry of Social Affairs and its Social Development Centers to increase access to quality social services for poor and vulnerable households from different population cohorts including refugees.

Looking to help the manufacturing sector to increase employment and exports, the government has teamed with expatriate Lebanese to establish the Cedar Oxygen Fund to support the recovery of the industrial sector of Lebanon and small and medium enterprises that are part of supply chains. By providing financial vehicles for trade financing and equipment procurement, the fund will make up the shortfall that has disabled Lebanon’s private sector. It also aims to boost exports so that employment is protected and expanded.

The fund will provide manufacturers in the country with access to short-term trade and supply chain finance products, such as import, export and receivables finance, which will be available to both exporters and importers. Deals will be originated by a select number of domestic partner banks, together with the Association of Lebanese Industrialists (ALI).

The fund is especially critical given the state of the banking sector in Lebanon which has neither the liquidity nor the capital to support development projects. Companies are unable to secure loans or even access their own deposits under the current informal capital controls. With the currency’s steep declines, an off-shore dollar-based credit facility will make a difference to the medium and large scale entities that qualify for loans.

The fund has been set up in Luxembourg with the central bank of Lebanon providing $175 million as an anchor investor. Its founders hope to reach a fund size of $750 million with investments from development finance institutions and support from the Lebanese expatriate community. In a recent Lebanese Institute of Financial Executives (LIFE) webinar “Coming to the Aid of the Lebanese Industrial Sector,” Dr. Fady Gemayel, President ALI, stressed the multiplier effect of supporting manufacturing in terms of direct employment, supply chains, and local communities, as well as the foreign currency generating role of exports.

Hopefully, these private sector and multilateral and international support efforts will enable Lebanon to achieve some level of stability as political forces continue to dither over the composition of the country’s government.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 01/04/21

DAILY NEWS


Biden Just Appointed Lebanese Doctor for Vaccine Coordination
Hussein Yassine
The 961

Lebanon Bridles at Iranian Air Chief’s Remarks on Missiles and Sovereignty
Najia Houssari
Arab News

Lebanon Health Workers Warn of COVID ‘Catastrophe’ as Cases Surge
Al Jazeera

Lebanon Set for Three-Week Total Lockdown
The Daily Star

Blasts Rock Fuel Depot on Lebanese-Syrian Border
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon’s Challenge in 2021 – To Be or Not To Be
Jean AbiNader

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 12/31/20

DAILY NEWS


Fuel or Flour? Lebanon to Ration $2bn in Subsidies, PM Says
Al Jazeera

Lebanon, UK Sign Post-Brexit Trade MoUs
Naharnet

Lebanese PM Slams ‘Diabolical’ Move to Charge Him Over Blast
Zeina Karam
Associated Press

2020 Has Been Particularly Hard for Lebanon. Here’s What Happened
CNN

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon’s Challenge in 2021 – To Be or Not To Be
Jean AbiNader

Lebanon was on life support. Now it’s in free fall.
Kareem Chehayeb
Washington Post

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

DECEMBER 20, 2020
Ashraf Rifi Says Iran Sent the Ammonium Nitrate
Aoun Pushes for Unified Standards
New Aid Distribution Model to Lebanon

 

Ashraf Rifi Says Iran Sent the Ammonium Nitrate
Major General Ashraf Rifi said in his testimony before Judge Fadi Sawwan that Iran had sent the ammonium nitrate shipment that caused the Beirut port explosions in August. He said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sent the shipment to Hezbollah originally. Rifi’s statement comes in response to the lawsuit filed against him by the Gathering of Hezbollah’s Lawyers. He claimed that quantities of the ammonium nitrate shipment has also been used by the Syrian regime. (Naharnet)

ANALYSIS

“If true, Iran used Lebanon as a transshipment point for Hezbollah to distribute ammonium nitrate to terrorist operations in ‘Cyprus, Kuwait, Germany, and other Arab and foreign countries.’ This process led the largest non-nuclear explosion in the world, potentially caused by Hezbollah and Iranian negligence and desire to spread terrorism. The results: over 200 Lebanese dead, more than 6,000 injured, and upwards of 300,000 people left homeless. Lebanon and the international community must get to the bottom of this catastrophe and punish those responsible.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


Aoun Pushes for Unified Standards
This week President Michel Aoun again called for the adoption of “unified standards” concerning the new government formation. He said the difficulties faced in forming a new government can be resolved by adopting unified standards, adding that they would enable the new government to confront major challenges facing the country and ensure cooperation between the executive and legislative authorities. (Naharnet)

ANALYSIS

“What does ‘unified standards’ mean? It means nothing new – continuing to apportion ministries according to sectarian sensibilities rather than what’s best for Lebanon. This kind of coded language doesn’t fool the Lebanese who understand that Aoun insists on his blocking third of the ministers, since two-thirds are required for adoption of any policy. The marriage of convenience among Amal, Hezbollah, and the Free Patriotic Movement, therefore guarantees stalemate and Lebanon’s continued deterioration.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


New Aid Distribution Model to Lebanon
At an international aid conference this month the World Bank, United Nations, and European Union introduced a new model for distributing aid to Lebanon that would disburse funds directly to nongovernmental groups and businesses. Called the Reform, Recovery, and Reconstruction Framework, the new model pools funds into a mechanism that empowers civil society organizations and the private sector. (Human Rights Watch)

ANALYSIS

“The Recovery, Reform, and Reconstruction Framework emerged from the latest French efforts to craft an international response to Lebanon’s multiple catastrophes. It is based on a novel notion in Lebanese political culture…putting the people at the center of discussions to define and develop solutions for the country’s recovery. This may be a challenge to implement but it clearly signals the intention for moving from autocracy to democracy in how critical decisions are made and carried out.”
-ATFL Policy Director 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 12/17/20

DAILY NEWS


Aoun Says ‘Unified Standards’ Can Resolve Government Formation Crisis
Naharnet

Parliament to Discuss 68 Draft Bills, Capital Control Missing
The Daily Star

Beirut Explosion: The Architect Rebuilding Families’ Homes for Free
BBC

Meet the Lebanese Woman Striving to Eradicate Sectarian Barriers in Lebanon
Reem Ezzedine
The 961

French President Macron to Cancel Lebanon Visit
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The Importance of Marginalized Communities in Lebanon
Natasha Hall
Center for Strategic & International Studies

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.