Lebanon Daily News Brief 05/26/21

DAILY NEWS


Deputy UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Briefing
Yesterday Najat Rochdi, Deputy UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, briefed the UN Security Council’s Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security on Lebanon’s state of crisis and the effect it is having on women. She urged that in order for recovery efforts in Lebanon to be sustainable, they must be inclusive of women. Rochdi further recognized the prominent role of women both in protests and political movements, and local peacebuilding and mediation efforts. [Naharnet]

S&P Global Report Says Bail-In for Depositors Likely
In a new report S&P Global said there is likely to be a “bail-in” for Lebanese bank depositors in order for the banking sector to absorb the costs of financial restructuring. This might look like paying depositors below-market exchange rates or converting their deposits into equity, the report said. [Al Arabiya] On Monday central bank governor Riad Salameh said depositors’ money was safe and announced a plan that would release $50,000 per deposited in June. [Reuters]

Nasrallah Comments on Aggression in Jerusalem
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah gave a televised speech yesterday, his first since a ceasefire was called between Israel and Hamas last week. He commented on hostilities in Jerusalem and said that any aggression on Jerusalem’s holy sites would mean regional war. [Reuters]

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Bring the Planners Back! Displacement-Triggered Patterns of Urbanization and City Responses
Mona Fawaz, Mona Harb, Carla Al-Hage
The Lebanese Center for Policy 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.

No Government, No Reforms, No Recovery for Lebanon

As Jihad Azour, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department told Reuters last week, “The change of direction [in Lebanon] cannot be done on a piecemeal basis. It requires a comprehensive approach.” He added that, “Reforms should focus on the financial sector, public finance, governance, corruption, and loss-making utilities that have contributed to a surge in debt.” His point was recently reinforced by the Lebanese International Finance Executives (LIFE) in a joint paper with MEI and ATFL to the Biden Administration, that a forensic audit of the Central Bank, obstructed by various Lebanese power centers, is required before IMF negotiations can begin.

This sequence is critical because it short-circuits ploys by the political elite to make minimal efforts at reform, say at the electricity company, betting that international assistance will begin. Lebanon lost that option some time ago when the oligarchy passed face-saving legislation or made commitments that were never implemented. Lacking credibility, the government cannot now go back to its smoke and mirrors policy-making and assume international acquiesce. The Middle East is full of hardship cases – the Syrian people next door and Yemen can also legitimately call for support, but the answer is the same: put in a reform government that has the power to implement changes; revise how the government operates, transparently and away from expanding national debt; and make rigorous efforts to support an expanded social safety net that targets poor families and the failing economy.

Not one policy maker or international NGO has said that the international community wants Lebanon to fail. Rather, as has been stated time and again, Lebanon must begin the process of recovery by making the necessary reforms. Ironically, the fault is not the caretaker government which has several well-qualified ministers. It is the same cadre of power brokers that is either actively stripping Lebanon of its dignity or acquiescing to arrangements that favor the few over the people. Parliament’s handicaps are obvious.

An eloquent voice who knows the political oligarchy in Lebanon well is Tracy Chamoun (yes that Chamoun family) who resigned as Lebanon’s ambassador to Jordan to protest the government’s failure to deal with the consequences of the August 4th Beirut Port explosions. In her latest blog, she notes that “Lebanon needs other rich nations to step in with aid and loans. We cannot do this on our own anymore. For this to happen, certain politically ambitious people must move out of the way to enable the formation of a respectable government. This will give Lebanon back its international credibility, and allow the country to re-enter into negotiations with the IMF and The World Bank, and to secure lasting solutions.”

But the international community and the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) including the World Bank Group will not be satisfied with fresh faces if they do not carry out the forensic audit of the Central Bank to determine the actual status of government debt and the banking sector. Think of it this way – if you want a mortgage on your home, the bank starts by determining what you can afford to pay, not what you claim you can handle, or your good intentions, or your pretty eyes. Believe me, I have tried it…doesn’t work.

The truth is that the banks in Lebanon hold Lebanese bank bonds that they received from the Central Bank in exchange for their foreign currency. This means that the Central Bank owes Lebanese banks hundreds of millions of dollars that it cannot repay because it has been funding government deficits. So the banks will not give up what they have on hand to their depositors and risk insolvency. Vicious circle.

Chamoun goes on to say, “The bottom line is that, this obstinate and power hoarding leadership will not provide a solution for the salvation of this nation while they still have this remaining $15 Billion [mandatory reserve] to spend. They will not agree to a new Government and they will very comfortably burn through the remaining reserves to stay in power and all the while they will let the Lebanese people be damned.”

Can the Lebanese people hold on until the new elections in Spring 2022? Will the opposition develop alternative voices who can appeal to voters to change their habit of voting along confessional lines? Or will Lebanon collapse under the burden of inaction imposed by its leaders? Even Hezbollah is calling for a new government, whatever that means to them…while they open supermarkets and issue cash cards to their constituents to have access to essential products brought in from Iran (wonder if they paid custom duties?) and Syria. Hezbollah understands constituent services and how to count votes.

Seems the majority of the Lebanese people are still waiting for their leaders to restrain their greedy interests and reclaim credibility by letting a new empowered coalition take over in Lebanon to move it to recovery. There is no time to wait any longer. The forensic audit is on the table, ready to go. Time to start to free Lebanon from its historic burden of power sharing that only takes power from the 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.

The wheels have fallen off Lebanon

The value of the Lebanese currency is approaching zero. The cost of living is soaring, as are homicide and burglary rates. The private sector has had to step in to secure enough vaccines to immunize the adult population, while the government projects bankruptcy by the end of spring. The storyline in Lebanon has not improved since the Beirut blast on August 4, and the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, has now taken up the crusade of saving the country after having successfully blocked the IMF recovery plan, the adoption of any reform legislation, rejiggering the World Bank loan of $246 million to favor the banks and the government, and stifling efforts to form a new government of experts with executive powers.

Where has Berri been since August 4? Obviously he is one of the government leaders who was absent from touring the blast site and talking with the victims. He and his party, Amal, in line with its partners Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement of President Aoun, have done little to make it possible for Lebanon to survive as an independent and functioning country. Only the need for an expensive band-aid that serves his constituencies brought him to marginally respond to the multiple crises facing the country.

In a much reported speech carried by the international media, he opened the Parliamentary session on March 29 saying, “The whole country is in danger, the whole country is the Titanic. It’s time we all woke up because in the end, if the ship sinks, there’ll be no one left.” These comments could have been made at any time since the end of 2020 but for some reason, there was no call for urgency from Parliament’s leader until now, and only because of the need to provide an advance of $200 million to the electricity company to pay for fuel for the next 2 ½ months. And of course the first power plant to shut down was the one that served the southern regions of Lebanon, prime Shiite territory.

As another indication of the lack of concern by the political bosses, the Parliament also passed a law to recover stolen public funds, a prime demand of protestors. Yet, even Jamil al-Sayyed, a Hezbollah-affiliated member of Parliament remarked, “Effectively, all these texts cannot be implemented. What’s happening is a charade… We’re lying to you.”

No wonder the international community, led by the French, continues to condemn the lack of action by Lebanon’s leaders. The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, made personal phone calls to President Aoun, Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri, and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, “urging them for an immediate halt to what he called ‘deliberate obstruction’ that is driving the country towards collapse.” His description echoes the World Bank charge that Lebanon’s deterioration is a “deliberate depression” because the remedies are known but not enacted due to the obstructions of the leadership.

He added “The deliberate obstruction of any prospect of an exit from the crisis … by demands that are unreasonable and out-of-date must immediately halt,” a statement from his office reported. “The time has come to strengthen pressure “to end the blockage,” a point also made by the recent ATFL-MEI policy brief to the Biden administration. In it, the organizations called for a senior-level diplomatic demarche from the US, France, and key powers, to give the government an ultimatum for adopting a government with power to make critical reforms. Otherwise, an international effort would be launched to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance directly to the Lebanese people, without involving the government.

The US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, weighed in with the US government’s concern, in a meeting with President Aoun on March 25, saying later, “Now that we are almost eight months without a fully-empowered government, isn’t now the time to let go of those demands? To begin compromising?” She added, “Right now, there is a need for courageous leaders, who are ready to put aside their partisan differences and work together to rescue the country from the multiple crises and self-inflected wounds it is facing.”

Whether or not this international pressure will make a difference is hard to tell. When Berri acknowledges the gravity of the catastrophe but doesn’t propose reform solutions, it just adds to the wreckage. If, on the other hand, he wants to leave Lebanon with a valued legacy, he can assert his leadership and move Lebanon away from the abyss and forward towards recovery.

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 01/26/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon Must Enact Drastic Reforms to Survive, Economists Say
Dale Gavlak
Voice of America

President Aoun Welcomes US Ambassador: We Are Keen on Continuing Friendly, Cooperative Relations with US
National News Agency

Hariri Voices ‘Solidarity’ with Saudi Arabia
Naharnet

Elias Rahbani, Lebanese Composer Who Sought New Sounds, Dies at 92
The New York Times

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Plight of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Must Not be Ignored
Refik Hodzic
Al Jazeera

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 12/10/20

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon PM, Former Ministers Charged Over Beirut Blast
Timour Azhari
Al Jazeera

Critiques Emerge Over President’s ‘Parallel’ Government Format
Naharnet

US Ambassador Visits Tripoli’s Chamber of Commerce, Confirms Support After Reforms
LBCI

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The Trump Administration’s Potential Last-Minute Middle East Policy Moves
Randa Slim
Middle East Institute

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 12/9/20

DAILY NEWS


Lebanese Government to Keep Bread Subsidy, Pledges to Come Up with Plan
Reuters

Hariri Striving to Form New Government Ahead of Macron’s Beirut Visit
Hussein Dakroub
The Daily Star

French Development Agency ‘Halts’ Lebanon Program Funding
Naharnet

Hassan to LBCI: Lift of Subsidies Will Not Affect All Medicines
LBCI

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon’s Human Tragedy is a Leadership Travesty
Jean AbiNader

EVENTS


Lebanon’s Maritime Border Dispute with Israel
Lebanese American University
December 9, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. ET

The Lebanese American University is hosting a webinar conversation with Ambassador Frederic C. Hof and LAU NY’s Nadim Shehadi. Ambassador Hof is the Director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. He currently teaches at Bard College and serves as Bard’s Diplomat-in-Residence. As US Special Envoy to Lebanon and Israel, he led US mediation efforts to find a solution to the Lebanon-Israel maritime border from 2010-2012, proposing what is now known as the “Hof Line.”

Register

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 12/2/20

DAILY NEWS


France Looks to Rally Aid for Lebanon, But no Bailout
Zeina Karam
Associated Press

Lebanon Central Bank Can Keep Subsidies for Only Two More Months – Governor
Reuters

US State Department Just Approved the Sale of 300 Military Humvees to Lebanon
Souad Lazkani
The 961

Aoun Expresses Hope for Sea Border Talks with Israel
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Power of the Purse
Ghida Tayara
Carnegie Middle East Center

Increase Pressure on Corrupt Lebanese Politicians
Aya Majzoub and Benedicte Jeannerod
Human Rights Watch

The Disaster in Lebanon and Challenge for the Biden Administration
Ambassador (ret.) Ed Gabriel
American Ambassadors Live

EVENTS


Lebanon’s Maritime Border Dispute with Israel
Lebanese American University
December 9, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. ET

The Lebanese American University is hosting a webinar conversation with Ambassador Frederic C. Hof and LAU NY’s Nadim Shehadi. Ambassador Hof is the Director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. He currently teaches at Bard College and serves as Bard’s Diplomat-in-Residence. As US Special Envoy to Lebanon and Israel, he led US mediation efforts to find a solution to the Lebanon-Israel maritime border from 2010-2012, proposing what is now known as the “Hof Line.”

Register

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 11/19/20

DAILY NEWS


Activists Protest Against Total Closure in Lebanon
Najia Houssari
Arab News

Promises to Facilitate Government Formation Fade
Naharnet

After Student Election Wins, Lebanese Prepare for Bigger Battles
Timour Azhari
Al Jazeera

Rising From Destruction
UNICEF

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Gender Inequality in Economic Crisis
Sami Zoughaib and Dr. Nisreen Salti
Lebanese Center for Policy Studies Podcast

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 11/11/20

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon, Israel in Third Round of Sea Border Talks
Arab News

Frantic Search After Medicines Vanish from Lebanon Shelves
Sarah El Deeb
Associated Press

Lebanon Appeals to International Community to Help Return Refugees
Naharnet

Lebanon Will Give Monthly Cash to Families Until the End of 2020
Hussein Yassine
The 961

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Will a Biden Administration “Build Back Better” in the Middle East?
Sarah El-Shaarawi interviews Rami Khouri
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP)

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 10/29/20

DAILY NEWS


In Beirut Port, All of Lebanon’s Ills Are Laid Bare
Samia Nakhoul, Ellen Francis, Michael Georgy
Reuters

Draft Proposal of a 20-Minister Cabinet Emerges
Naharnet

Rights Groups Slam Lebanon’s Block of New Worker Contract
Arab News

Lebanon, Israel in New Day of Maritime Border Talks
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The Return of Hariri – Tragedy, Farce, or the Only Hope?
Benjamin MacShane
The Globalist

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.