Lebanon – A Food Desert

A food desert is commonly defined as a geographic area where residents have few to no convenient options for securing affordable and healthy foods. It is one of several terms I have learned in recent years that applies in part to Lebanon, and implies deliberate actions by one group towards another. Just as Patricia Karam notes in her recent article, “the political establishment was able to counteract all challenges to its stranglehold, entrenching itself by providing opportunities to its economic partners for kleptocratic appropriations.” This directly led to the devaluation of the currency, hyperinflation, and the resulting demise of the middle class and the loss of services and dignity for the poor and marginalized.

Recently, there were two related announcements: one from the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, who criticized the lack of progress in the country on protecting the young; and the other from UN World Food Program, which announced an increased allocation of $5.4 billion over the next three years to equally provide food aid to Lebanese and Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

At this point, Lebanon has certainly become a beggar state. Remittances from overseas remain the most important lifeline for many, if they can navigate the opaqueness of the banking system and Central Bank rules. Without an executive government and a parliament unable to elect a new president, the country is languishing. While those with means survive, more than 75% of the population remain in poverty, unable to sustain a quality of life with adequate access to food, education, medicines, and social services. State institutions, the banking sector, and public services are all in disarray. Look no further than the electricity sector which is still unable to provide more than 3-4 hours a day despite the existence of several programs that could double the available electricity.

Facing the reality that a new president must be acceptable to the major political forces and their international supporters, it would seem less and less likely that the systemic corruption can be ameliorated through a house cleaning. And what is left to protect those who are defenseless against the political elites? As the Policy Initiative argues in its latest paper, “The ills of Lebanon’s social protection system are not a result of financial or technical constraints. They are rather political. For decades, ruling elites have consciously eroded the social role of the state to prey on the population’s vulnerabilities as they arise.”

The Initiative’s analysis of the Economic Social Security Net (ESSN) program that is funded by the World Bank illustrates this observation very well. It points out that the politicians delayed the program for almost two years as they tried to re-position the program as a tool for maintaining their constituents’ patronage, circumventing the mechanisms for the transparency and clarity that were basic to the original design of this assistance. In addition, they fought the monitoring component of the program in order to avoid the detection of ineligible participants. While the assistance was finally disbursed earlier this year, a general pattern of political interference can be inferred from this case. It would be a safe assumption, then, to assert that this same kind of interference will be rampant in the ongoing negotiations over the IMF relief package and other foreign assistance programs.

As Lebanon continues its perilous journey into further economic turmoil, carrying a dysfunctional banking sector, driving out its precious human resources, and allowing the reform process to stall with a presidential vacancy, its sovereignty is in danger of being undermined by external forces such as Russia, China, and Syria – as well as the internal forces that directed by Iran. Although Lebanon’s old guard is counting on France and the US to ward off such a possibility, there are no reliable and credible Lebanese partners with whom international supporters can maintain viable and trusting relationships.

Given its political structure, the very nature of assistance to Lebanon gets called into question when well-intentioned initiatives and programs – like the ESSN cash-assistance program that is actionable and immediate – prove susceptible to corruption. When Lebanon’s friends outside the country are seemingly more concerned about Lebanon’s future than its current leadership, a deeper dilemma emerges regarding how much change it will take for Lebanon to become a viable, sovereign, and self-sufficient state. We’re still waiting for that answer.

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.

Imagining A New Lebanon

Now that the maritime deal is almost done, there seems to be an air of hope – if the three presidents can agree on a deal with Israel, there may be a future for a solid deal with the IMF, too. But if there is to be a “new” Lebanon, will reforms be enough to cultivate Lebanon’s rise from the ashes of the old, or will the seeds of democracy planted by our fore bearers fail to weed out the corruption and mismanagement? Put another way, should we wait until Lebanon self-destructs as a government before there’s a way forward? These are very tough questions, and ones which we struggle with every day at ATFL.

There are so many obstacles to a brighter future for Lebanon. Take the mood of the parliament for example. During the 2022 budget process, the parliament was hardly reform-minded. In a helpful and pointed article from the Policy Initiative titled, “The Rigged Budget,” the authors argue that nothing has changed. In fact, the entire process reflects the chronic inability of political elites to prioritize national issues over sectarian ones and to secure resources for themselves and their affiliated business cronies. They point out, “Ultimately, the budget is not an accounting tool. It is a political document that spells out government priorities and the means to finance them.” Lebanon, as a functioning state, is dying from an ill-conceived banking scheme, lack of productive investments, and humiliating degradation of Lebanon’s currency and hence the life of its people.

There are screams for a national vision that restores social services, puts families first, and prioritizes economic stability and security. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), the most trusted institution in the country, is hobbled by politicians who benefit from illicit smuggling, economic deterioration, and impaired and lacking social services. But still, hopeful people yearn for a renaissance in Lebanon.

Will there be deliverance in Lebanon? Not according to the analysts. As Fadi Nicholas Nassar claims, “Deprivation is the unbearable new normal and it affects every aspect of our lives. One’s income alone does not accurately capture the access to basic rights, like adequate housing, essential utilities, healthcare, or education.”

People speak of Lebanese resilience, but the reality is trending more towards compliance – reflected in conversations about what to do with the refugees, the price of potatoes, the desire to emigrate, and so on. People are finding that humanitarian relief has become a way of life. Similarly, dependence on remittances is part of the new normal since 75% of women are economically inactive and unable to secure the basics for holding their homes together. “Women are increasingly pushed into the informal economy, in a context where violence and abuse are rising and women left structurally unprotected.”

Nassar, argues that, “Households and individuals cannot adjust to fill the state’s responsibilities—the state must prioritize the urgent building-up of essential public service infrastructure to ensure the integrity and access to education, healthcare, utilities, and other rights. A failed state earns its name.”

And yet the beat continues – not that of a parade or the celebratory calling together of people, but more the beat of the dirge that is increasingly heard in the neighborhoods where the poor go hungry, the sick go without medication, and the youth surrender their chances of acquiring life-building skills to the all-consuming entropy of modern-day Lebanon, while parents wonder what good they are if they can’t provide a better life for their children.

Yet, both local and overseas Lebanese are not prepared to fail. Armed with only a small bit of hope, businesses will restart and regenerate employment, banks will restore access to depositors, fully stocked and staffed hospitals and schools will function better than ever, lighting and heating for the upcoming winter will be resolved without over-reliance on generators, and political coalitions will form to sustain hope for the Lebanese people.

Yes, the people know what needs to be done, and it starts with the parliament making the right decisions and focusing on the right priorities – restoring jobs and government services, eliminating hunger, normalizing relations with the IMF. Yes, parliament, you know the way: arrive at a way forward that does not penalize the majority of the people, but instead offers a recipe for reconstruction and revival; elect someone as president who can work across the hole that is Lebanon’s government; and make the vision of a new Lebanon a reality.

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.

Rewinding The Shadows Of Death

This blog could have turned out very badly, possibly as a work of poetry with powerful images of shrouds and palls. But, while researching the headlines again in preparation for this article, I was reminded that we are all too cognizant of the explosions, their aftermath, and the continuing pain for the families, friends, and Lebanese worldwide. Even the Wikipedia coverage, which I recommend for anyone who wants more details, is angry.

Time argues that, ”A culture of impunity has plagued Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war—which left at least 120,000 people dead and pushed some 1 million people, more than one-third of the population at the time, to leave the country. The adoption of an amnesty law in 1991 protected those accused of war crimes and allowed them to remain key players in Lebanon’s fractured political scene. No less than 17,000 people are still missing from the war, affecting thousands of families who are still waiting for answers about their fate.”

So why are we not to be angry when 17,000 people are still missing because of the Civil War? Does the continued impunity of the political leaders surprise anyone?

The families are not passive either. They have filed three lawsuits in June at Lebanon’s Shura council to oppose the government’s April decision to demolish all of the silos, which wound up catching fire anyway and even suffered another explosion this past week.

Rather than dwelling on those facts, let’s consider the culprit here – the collusion between those political actors and the judicial system to thwart a transparent and complete investigation. What began more than a year ago under Judge Tarek Bitar has been brought to a standstill by ‘system’.  The investigation into the blast has stalled and the Lebanese people still have not received a full accounting of, nor justice for, what happened. And they are still suffering the consequences of the deadly blast.

Herein lies the nub of the crisis: a judicial system that cannot function independently and is hamstrung by politicians who control appointments to the courts and the freedom to investigate. Gallup carried out an extensive poll to gauge attitudes toward the government. “Only 16% of Lebanese expressed confidence in their judicial system in 2021. This percentage is an all-time low in Lebanon and was among the lowest in the world in 112 countries where Gallup asked this question last year. [emphasis added]

“When asked if Bitar’s investigation into the 2020 port explosion was being conducted fairly or with bias against certain groups, more Lebanese say the investigation is a fair one (35% versus 23%). Given the political sensitivity of the topic, however, more than four in 10 Lebanese (42%) did not express an opinion. When one looks only at Lebanese who expressed an opinion, 61% say the investigation is fair.”

“Still, by a margin of more than 2 to 1, Lebanese adults say that Bitar should be allowed to continue his investigation. When one looks only at Lebanese who give an opinion, two in three (67%) say that the investigation should continue.”

“There is widespread support for the continuation of the port investigation among most major Lebanese confessional groups, including 84% of Christians who express an opinion and a similar rate among Sunnis (88%). Only within Lebanon’s Shia community — which largely gives its support to Hezbollah and allied political groups — does significant opposition to the Beirut port investigation exist. Slightly fewer than one in four Lebanese Shia who express an opinion believe that the investigation should continue.”

So will the real Lebanese, please stand up – those who care for transparency, fairness, justice, and dignity? As the article continues, “The continuation of the Bitar investigation represents a rare democratic challenge from within the Lebanese government to the country’s powerful political establishment, most of whom have strong reasons not to have their own culpability examined in the port explosion case.”

The Gallup analysis goes on to say, “As a fragile state, Lebanon and its national institutions continue to require international support, if only to ensure that the country’s ills do not spread beyond its borders. An independent judiciary in Lebanon capable of addressing rampant corruption and pushing back against nondemocratic tendencies represents one of the surest ways to strengthen the government’s sovereignty and the nation’s wellbeing.”

This is our position and our campaign: giving voice to the voiceless, letting an independent judiciary do its work to protect the sovereignty and well-being of the Lebanese. Let those who would rather dissolve the State go elsewhere where they will seek the end of their rainbow. For us, the survival of the State begins with acknowledging the responsibility to protect the people and not take actions that disrupt or discourage a full partnership between the government and its citizens. The US should continue to help Lebanon move forward. It is time for justice. It is time to resolve the port explosion investigation.

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.

A Love Story – Lebanon’s Revival

When I was in Lebanon recently, after the formal delegation ended, I stayed on to visit family and to continue to observe change makers who innovate, nurture, and sustain Lebanon’s finest resources – its natural environment and its people. It’s no coincidence that the majority of those I met with were women – long saluted and yet seldom acknowledged as full partners in Lebanon’s rich history.

As a delegation, the ATFL had the privilege of visiting Beit el Baraka in Beirut, https:\\beitelbaraka.org, which supports 65 charity organizations across the country; and in Tripoli we stopped at Sanabel An Nour, http://www.sanabelnour.org/, a women-directed and -staffed organization providing a wide range of services to the vulnerable and marginalized. In addition, we met with representatives of Rotary International who are involved in critical grassroots projects as well.

When I began my private visits, I was hosted by Dr. Corrine Abi Nader, who will soon launch a pediatric care center at Hôtel Dieu de France, one of the hospitals damaged during the Beirut Port explosion.  I also met with environmentalists and activists – all of whom work locally to change the sense of dignity and hope for their beneficiaries. All of their stories will be the focus of my next series that looks at the spirit of Lebanon and the people who keep it alive.

For now, I want to introduce you to the Maronite Sisters who live and work at the Saint Joseph Monastery and Tomb of Saint Rafqa in the Batroun District, north of Beirut. Saint Rafqa (1832-1914) is the second saint in Lebanon’s modern history.

I had never been to their facilities before and thank cousin Simon for his persistence in arranging my visit.

I was surprised to see fully modern structures providing space for a monastery, a home for the elderly, and lots of tilled grounds. We were greeted by the Mother Superior, Sister Raghida Antoun, who has an MBA in Administration from the College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee (Springfield), MA and is simultaneously a formidable and lovely person. In January of 2021, she was elected Superior of Saint Joseph Monastery. Her intention was, and still is, to leverage her skills and combine her global educational experience in order to achieve the objectives of her Order.

The Sisters both interact with visitors to the shrine and minister to the local people of the area, working with the youth, those who are preparing for marriage, married couples, or those who are still discerning their way in life. I was immediately taken in hand by Sister Raghida for a tour of the facilities and grounds.

We started with a breakfast comprised of food totally sourced on their land, and some stimulating conversation. We were joined by the multitasking Sister Lea Lahoud, who is currently the Monastery’s accountant. She is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, with a Master’s in Patient Counseling.

After the catastrophic explosion of the Port, Sister Lea was frequently seen in Beirut, where she not only assisted the many volunteers with the clean-up but also sought out those who had no one to look after them. All of her efforts were done with the “widow’s mite.” As a multi-talented graphic artist, illustrator, and author, she gave me two illustrated softbacks for children – one called Got Celiac? Me Too and another, her memoir, called The Sister and the Bee.” It’s not hard to see why I so admire both Sisters so much.

The facilities for the elderly occupy a large portion of the activities at Saint Joseph Monastery, with its state-of-the-art nursing home for up to 100 residents, fully serviced by the nuns at a cost significantly less  than other private facilities. The economic situation, the financial instability in the country, the devaluation of the Lebanese currency, the scarcity of job opportunities, and the massive proportion of people living below the poverty line all generate a daily line of folks seeking help and sustenance at the Monastery’s door.

Saint Joseph Monastery, however, is also not immune to the economic crisis and yet, still strives to offer in-kind assistance with basic food, clothing, dairy products for children; tuition assistance to deserved and needy students; and financial assistance for medications, especially for chronic illnesses.

Sister Raghida and her team continue to extend a helping hand to their less fortunate. One of her objectives is to continue to create job opportunities in the Monastery’s dairy farm and agricultural fields so people can become self-sufficient and partners in the charitable work of the Monastery,  reflecting the Gospel admonition that “whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters, you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40), as well as the quote that stuck with me from Sister Raghida, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”


Saint Joseph Monastery – Tomb of Saint Rafqa established a nonprofit organization (501/C/3) in the United States to support its humanitarian and educational ministries as well as its elderly care facility and sustain the mission, objectives, and vision of the Monastery in Lebanon. And so you can partake of their excellent work and be awarded in a monthly prayer service for all its benefactors and their families, both living and deceased.

To support the essential work of the nuns, the options are:

PayPal:                    strafqamonastery@gmail.com

Venmo:                  St. Joseph Monastery St Rafqa@strafqa Zelle:                                  strafqamonastery@gmail.com

Bank transfer: Log into your bank’s website and choose “bill pay” services and add “Saint Joseph Monastery-Tomb of Saint Rafqa” as a “payee” using the following address: 14252 Culver Drive A818 Irvine, CA 92604


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 Continues to Leak Talent and Hope

A recent Gallup World Poll indicates that more than six in 10 (63%) Lebanese say they want to leave Lebanon permanently. This coincides with the findings of a Zogby Research Services poll sponsored by ATFL which recorded the same percentage. It is no surprise, then, that the two highest concerns driving these numbers are the economy and corruption, as people noted that they no longer have enough money for food, transportation, energy, education, or healthcare. 

According to Information International, based in Beirut and cited in a story covered by Al-Monitor, 17,720 emigrated in 2020. After the first 10 months of 2021, “we recorded an increase of about 65,000 people.” Based on official data, Shams al-Din, a researcher at Information International, “expected this number to double in 2022, especially since there has been a 150% increase in passport renewal requests as the Lebanese wish to flee Lebanon before more crises hit.”

The demand for passport services has been so great that Lebanese General Security has had to issue new guidelines on renewals, unable to keep up with the demand. This has prompted some to board various types of sea vessels and head to Cyprus and Greece while others try to steal into Jordan, Israel, and Turkey via Syria. 

Recent figures from Gallup World Poll data in Lebanon “represent one of the deepest and most sudden declines in any country’s economic and humanitarian fortunes since data collection began in 2005.” The economic backstory is compelling enough with social and psychological costs driving the disappearing middle class to shrink even more. 

In the past, especially after the civil war in Lebanon, there have been noticeable rises in emigration, which were not all bad as they both accelerated the brain drain and simultaneously built a pool of expatriates which provide some $7 billion in annual remittances generally directed to families left behind. In those days as in the previous decades, “Western European countries, the United States, Australia and Gulf states have been Lebanese’s top migration destinations in the past.” Of course emigration waves varied, depending on the security, political, and economic situation in Lebanon as well as the countries that received them. 

As stated in the Al-Monitor article, “In the last couple of years, Lebanese youth have started exploring new countries, such as Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and most recently Serbia.” Although the numbers are still in the tens of thousands, they represent a shift that may create other new nodes of the Lebanese diaspora. Currently, most go into businesses such as tourism and the restaurant sector, or are professionals working in medical or educational centers. 

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.”

So what does this portend for Lebanon in 2050? The answers begin with the spring municipal and parliamentary elections. As of now, with 85% saying that they are finding it difficult or very difficult to get by, it is a fair question to ask if voters will seek remedies in their traditional leaders or opt for new faces. Of that 85%, 62% say getting by is “very difficult,” nearly double the figure (32%) in 2019.

Gallup results go on to point out that “Nearly three in four people (74%) now say they experienced stress “a lot of the day.” At least half of people in Lebanon also say they experienced a lot of sadness (56%) and anger (49%) as well. All three are new highs in Gallup’s 16-year trend in the country.”

Whether or not this depressing profile improves may well be impacted by how the election results create opportunities for positive and sustainable change. Lebanon can head in a new direction based on reforms that cleanse the economy of its most egregious corruption and on the restoration of its productive elements. Lebanon can also become another stunning case study of how political leaders dodge responsibility, allowing their country to fail on their watch. It is time for the Lebanese to keep watch over their own heritage and future, and not that of their leaders.


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. 

Economic Bits of Interest

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. Focused on a higher level of detail concerning the Lebanese banking and financial sectors, the report is meant to be read by watchers of Lebanon seeking clarity on what’s going on; it is not meant to gloss over the challenges.

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.

This may not sound that worrisome given the state of the global economy, but when you note that its ranking puts Lebanon ahead of Zambia, Uganda, and the Gambia, and behind Laos, Nepal, and Guyana, then you can imagine how investment dollars flow away from Lebanon without hesitation. Within the Arab world, Lebanon only placed ahead of Algeria, Sudan, Mauritania, and Yemen. This ranking speaks for itself.

The Index is made up of 96 variables ranked in five categories, and Lebanon did not do well in any of them. In fact, in the category measuring how well the government supports business,Lebanon only placed ahead of these same four countries in the Arab world. It was the highest ranking it received among Arab countries, which equated to 71st globally: ahead of Guinea, Bangladesh, and Lesotho, and behind Sierra Leone, Belize, and Uganda.

The bottom line is that the reforms being called for by international donors are not extreme, as Lebanon is competing globally for investment dollars which respond positively to a supportive business environment, sound judicial and legal structures, and national capacity for innovation and development.

This challenging assessment and current economic malaise were also mentioned by the Consultative Group (CG) made up of the EU, UN, the Lebanese government, and civil society organizations to support the implementation of the Reform, Recovery, and Reconstruction Framework (3RF). Grounded in the initiative of French President Macron, it called on the government to adopt the reforms outlined in an IMF framework and to maximize the benefits of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) received from the IMF in September.

Among specific sectors receiving attention were housing recovery, post-Port explosion reconstruction, the need for a transparent national budget, strengthening the social safety net, strategies for the recovery of micro and small business enterprises, enactment of laws that support business competition and debt issues, drafting of laws related to enabling the new public procurement law, and other initiatives aimed at supporting rebuilding and recovery following the Beirut Port explosion. The CG, using World Bank figures, puts the physical costs at some $4.6 billion.

On a more positive note, the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) reached an agreement with the military and security services to grant a one year grace period to all members of the security services on their housing loan payments. This covers servicemembers in the LAF, ISF, and General Security and State Security personnel, totalling almost $1.2 billion in mortgages.

A second licensing round for offshore oil and gas explorationhas been opened with a closing date of June 15, 2022. The deadline has been extended three times since January 2020 as investors are looking for Lebanon and Israel to settle their maritime boundary before venturing into the bidding.

Finally, the UN issued a report that only 29% of the funds needed by the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan have been received through September 2021. Although $1.2 billion has been received, the appeal goal was for $2.75 billion in assistanceto vulnerable Syrian refugee and Lebanese communities. Part of the shortfall is being made up by $351.8 million carried over from 2020. One must wonder why such a sizeable sum was not expended as designed. The plan is a joint initiative between the Lebanese government and international and national partners to address challenges related to the large presence of Syrian refugees. The top three categories of disbursements wereeducation (17.3%), food security (16%), and healthcare (14%).

To subscribe to this weekly summary, contact nghobril@byblosbank.com.lb .


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 11/23/2021


UNICEF Warns Children’s Futures at Stake in Lebanon
UNICEF released a report today that warns that Lebanon’s economic crisis has left some children hungry and without medical care. Some have been forced to drop out of school to help their families. UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon Yukie Mokuo says, “Unless we act now, every child’s future in Lebanon is at stake.” She added, “The government needs to take swift action to safeguard children’s future.” [AP]

Lebanon’s Leaders Meet on Beirut Port Investigation
Lebanon’s top leaders met yesterday to find a solution to issues surrounding the Beirut Port blast investigation and Judge Tarek Bitar. President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Miqati, and Speaker Nabih Berri agreed that the solution should be found through the judiciary and that if the judiciary falls to resolve it, a solution can be found through parliament. [Naharnet]

Russia Sends Beirut Port Blast Images
Following a request earlier this year for satellite images of Beirut’s port before and after the August 4 explosion, Russia has sent the images to Lebanon’s government. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the update after talks with a Lebanese official in Moscow. [Reuters] When asked about the meeting in Moscow, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price reemphasized engagement with France, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries. [US State Department]


Is Hezbollah Overplaying its Hand Inside Lebanon?
Stephanie T. Williams

Williams writes, “As Lebanon prepares for much-needed national elections next year, one can hope that independent candidates representing the cross-sectarian movement that emerged in October 2019 could help change the balance in the parliament. Hezbollah will continue to enjoy substantial support amongst its Shiite base, given the organization’s historical role as protectors of this once-marginalized community, but as their co-religionists recently demonstrated in the Iraqi elections, there are increasing complaints of an overreliance on Iran at the expense of the community’s Arab roots.”

Read more here

Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington
Why the Gulf States Turned on Lebanon
Hussein Ibish

Ibish writes, “The de facto abandonment of Lebanon by most of the Gulf states has been developing for at least a decade. These countries have long been uneasy with the decisive political power in Lebanon of the pro-Iranian Shia group Hezbollah. Those concerns have been steadily mounting along with the rise of Iran’s regional influence and reach following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the successful intervention by Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran in the Syrian civil war beginning in 2015 in support of the Damascus regime. Since the main part of the Syrian conflict has ended with the fall of Aleppo to pro-regime forces, Hezbollah has come to occupy a regional role far beyond its function as a Lebanese political party and militia. It effectively serves as the vanguard of Iran’s extensive network of allied militia groups in Arab countries such as Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and beyond with a presence and effective role far beyond Lebanon’s borders.”

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 11/17/2021


UNICEF Delivers 97 Tons of Lifesaving Medical Supplies
Through funding from the US government, UNICEF has delivered 97 tons of lifesaving medical supplies to Lebanon’s Ministry of Public Health. [US Embassy Beirut] The delivery arrives as medicine prices in Lebanon skyrocket again following a lift on most drug subsidies. [The National]

Riad Salameh Pushes Back on Investigations
Today central bank governor Riad Salameh disputed investigations into his money dealings led by Switzerland, France, and now Luxembourg. He said in a statement that during his tenure he asked for an audit of his transactions and investments and the results show that “not a single penny of public money” was used. [AP]

Iraq Approves 500,000 Tons of Gas Oil to Lebanon
Yesterday Iraq approved an agreement to send Lebanon 500,000 tons of gas oil. The export follows a July deal between the two countries where Lebanon would pay in goods and services for 1 million tons of fuel oil a year. [Reuters]

Protests for Family Members Arrested Following Beirut Port Blast
Following last year’s explosion at Beirut Port, Lebanese authorities arrested the port manager and more than 20 port and customs officials. Today families of those arrested protested outside of Beirut’s Justice Palace with demands to release their loved ones. Those arrested have remained imprisoned meanwhile nobody has yet been convicted for the blast. [Al Monitor]


Poverty as Politics: Lebanon Runs on Empty
Jean AbiNader

AbiNader writes, “Despite the repeated warnings and admonitions to Lebanese leaders, they seem immovable in terms of moving ahead with painful yet necessary reforms. PM Najib Mikati’s agenda for pushing the political process forward to launch even simple reforms is in peril as the opponents of change are deliberately obstructing the few steps he is proposing. The indication from the World Bank is that Lebanon may need 12 to 19 years to recover to its pre-crisis per-capita GDP, and that is only one indicator of quality of life. It is indeed the darkest of times for Lebanon and its people.”

Read more here

The Lebanese Center for Policy
Tackling Lebanon’s Electricity Crisis: Lessons from Yemen
Neil McCulloh

McCulloh writes, “Lebanon’s electricity system is in a deep crisis. Power from Electricite du Liban (EDL)—the insolvent state-run utility—is now available for barely two hours a day, as the population has to rely on increasingly expensive diesel generators for power. In light of this crisis, it is useful to learn lessons from other countries that have faced similar circumstances. One such country is Yemen. Lebanon’s situation is, fortunately, not yet as dire as that facing the people of Yemen, where war has been raging since 2015. But the very different responses to the collapse of Yemen’s electricity system from the two authorities fighting for control over the country reveal some important and relevant lessons for Lebanon. This brief outlines the Yemeni experience following the collapse of its electricity sector and derives lessons to be learnt for Lebanon. It discusses the approaches taken by the authorities controlling different parts of the country to address a near breakdown in service, notably the Houthi administration in the North, who fully liberalized the market, and the Internationally Recognized Government (IRG) in the South, who maintained a state monopoly on energy production and a highly subsidized tariff.”

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.

Poverty as Politics: Lebanon Runs on Empty

On November 9, ATFL hosted a webinar to release the results of the 2021 Zogby Research Services (ZRS) poll, “Lebanese Reflect on Their Crisis, Their Institutions, and Their Future.” It was sponsored by ATFL in collaboration with the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies at NC State University, and directed by Zogby Research Services, which has been polling in Lebanon since 2001. ATFL wanted a better understanding of how the Lebanese people felt in the run-up to the Parliamentary elections on March 27, 2022, and the potential implications of those perceptions on US policy in Lebanon and the region.

Coincidentally, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Oliver de Schutter was concluding a 12-day trip to the country to research the extent of poverty in Lebanon and the government’s response. His report to the UN Human Rights Council will be next June, and, at a press conference on the eve of his departure on November 12, he provided his preliminary assessment.

Olivier “condemned the country’s political establishment and said he did not believe the government was dealing with the issue seriously. “The Government’s inaction in the face of this unprecedented crisis has inflicted great misery on the population, especially on children, women, stateless and undocumented individuals, and people with disabilities who were already marginalized. I was shocked by the disconnect between the political establishment and the reality of those in poverty on the ground.”

His statement echoed the results of the ZRS poll which found that 88% felt they were worse off now that five years ago, which is double the rate (44%) of response in 2019. More specifically, the overwhelming majority of the population reported being severely impacted by shortages in fuel (97%), electricity (89%), and drinking water (74%). More than one-third of respondents reported going without food on some occasions.

A third source affirming the dire situation of the Lebanese was in a Featured Analysis by the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS), Raising the Alarm: Pervasive Poverty and Vulnerability in Lebanon,” which was produced to coincide with de Schutter’s visit. It looked at indicators of poverty and the government’s response, and emphasized the linkage between the current crisis and increasing fragility of the Lebanon state, a concern also expressed by de Schutter. It noted, “The very foundations needed to maintain a functioning modern state, all fundamentally dependent on trust and credibility, are deteriorating to near breaking point.”

In making its case, the Analysis pointed out that the ILO has estimated that income vulnerability increased to 75% from 51% since 2019, while extreme income vulnerability more than doubled to 32% during that period. “As a result, the burden of the crisis has been highly imbalanced, falling the hardest on those who were already poor or suffering from previous lifecycle vulnerabilities. With a deeply flawed social protection system, healthcare, education, electricity, clean water, adequate housing, transportation, and decent jobs have become only accessible to the few.”

Similar statistics were noted from a recent assessment by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), in that the poverty rate doubled from 42% in 2019 to 82% of the total population in 2021, including refugees, with nearly 4 million people living in poverty in many categories. This number is the equivalent of some 1 million households, including 77%, or approximately 745,000, of Lebanese households.

Several categories of the population were particularly affected, including 55% working in the informal economy who have little to no rights and benefits, and women, the majority of whom are unemployed with 75% economic inactive. Propping up the economic are inbound remittances estimated at close to $7 billion in 2020, with another $1.7 billion from international donors and organizations.

The authors went on to say that “The continued failure by the Government of Lebanon to take corrective measures to stabilize Lebanon’s rapidly deteriorating depression and restore confidence in the state by implementing reforms that safeguard against the underlying drivers of the country’s crisis, such as corruption, mismanagement, and the insolvency of public institutions are undermining public confidence in the core pillars of the state, its economy, and the country’s social contract.”

It continues with this critique by indicating, as both domestic and international analysts have concluded, that “The only way to resuscitate Lebanon’s economy is through the implementation of immediate and credible institutional reform, and embarking on a path towards people-centered recovery. It is only by upending the very deliberate nature of Lebanon’s depression—the persistent failure of the country’s leadership to take decisive action to avoid the worst of the country’s crisis, protect the most vulnerable, and lead the country towards recovery—that Lebanon can be saved from descending further towards a complex emergency.”

Despite the repeated warnings and admonitions to Lebanese leaders, they seem immovable in terms of moving ahead with painful yet necessary reforms. PM Najib Mikati’s agenda for pushing the political process forward to launch even simple reforms is in peril as the opponents of change are deliberately obstructing the few steps he is proposing. The indication from the World Bank is that Lebanon may need 12 to 19 years to recover to its pre-crisis per-capita GDP, and that is only one indicator of quality of life. It is indeed the darkest of times for Lebanon and its people.

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 11/2/2021


US Senators Urge Sanctions Framework for Lebanon
US Senators in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urged the Biden administration to further develop a sanctions framework on Lebanon. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Risch (R-ID) wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that the United States should be clear that it supports the Lebanese people by “ensuring that Lebanese leaders work on behalf of all Lebanese and that they will face accountability if they do not.” The letter supported sanctions placed on two Lebanese businessmen and an MP last week, but called for more. [Al Arabiya]

Macron Urges Gulf Countries to Recommit to Lebanon
After Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait pulled their ambassadors from Beirut, French President Emmanuel Macron has called on the Gulf countries to “recommit to Lebanon” in aim of pressing the country forward toward reforms. Macron reiterated his support for Prime Minister Najib Miqati and said he hopes Cabinet sessions will resume soon despite Lebanon’s diplomatic crisis with the Gulf. [Naharnet]

US Ambassador Overseas Medication Donations
US Ambassador Dorothy Shea oversaw a donation to the Hôpital Psychiatrique de la Croix made possible by Direct Relief International, People to People Aid, and the American Task Force on Lebanon. The donation included medications that were part of a $1 million shipment of psychotropic medications sent from the United States. [US Embassy Beirut]


Associated Press
Why Saudi Arabia is Upset, Lashing Out at Lebanon
Sarah El Deeb

El Deeb writes, “The Saudi measures are a huge blow to Mikati’s new government. The import ban means the loss of millions of dollars in desperately needed foreign currency. Any further escalation could undermine jobs of more than 350,000 Lebanese in Gulf Arab states who send home millions in remittances. Mikati and other officials have appealed to Kordahi to resign from the Cabinet, but it’s uncertain that would resolve the rift. Hezbollah has stood firmly behind the minister, saying his resignation won’t resolve what they called “extortion” to force Lebanon to change its foreign policy. It all portends more internal divisions in a government already paralyzed over the investigation into last year’s massive Beirut port explosion that killed more than 200 people.”

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L’Orient Today
Protecting Justice From Political Interference
Aya Majzoub

Majzoub writes, “We have found no evidence to suggest that Bitar is politicizing the Beirut blast probe. Yet, Hezbollah and the rest of the political establishment have upped the ante by demanding nothing less than Bitar’s removal from the case in a bid to undermine the investigation. The question is why. Yes, the investigation has implicated some Hezbollah members and their allies, as well as individuals from many of the major political parties in the country. But the course of this investigation also has implications for the future of justice in the country – which is why it must continue. Public, fair trials of those responsible for the Beirut blast could shatter the reigning culture of impunity in Lebanon. Fundamentally, the success or failure of the investigation will make clear if Lebanon is a country with rule of law, including against senior political and security officials who belong to powerful and previously untouchable political parties.”

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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.