This Week in Lebanon

May 23, 2021
US Congress Members Urge Support for Lebanon
International Support Group for Lebanon Meeting in Beirut
Syrian Voters Attacked on Their Way to Beirut

US Congress Members Urge Support for Lebanon
Members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary of State Blinken this week urging the United States to respond to Lebanon’s deteriorating situation. They recommended coordinated aid to the country, support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, and for an independent investigation into last summer’s explosion at the Port of Beirut. [Al-Monitor]

ANALYSIS

“Chairman Meeks and the congressional co-signers reaffirm Lebanon’s importance on the agenda of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They understand the multi-dimensional aspects of a strong US policy: firm international diplomacy advocating a government capable of addressing the needs of the Lebanese citizens, international aid for those who suffer from the effects of incompetent governance, and steadfast support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, which is dedicated to the protecting the rights of its citizens. This letter and a companion letter sent by the House US-Lebanon Friendship Caucus keep the Lebanon issue front and center with the Biden administration and offer a roadmap for stabilizing its US interests in the eastern Mediterranean and for curbing the influence of Iran.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


International Support Group for Lebanon Meeting in Beirut
The International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) met in Beirut on Wednesday to assess Lebanon’s situation. The group took note of further economic and social decline in the country and called on political leaders to form a government. ISG also called for elections to occur on time and for impacts from any subsidy changes on economic and social well-being to be mitigated. [Naharnet]

ANALYSIS

“Once again the ISG has spoken out in support of the people of Lebanon, calling on the political leadership to undertake the reforms critical to the country’s survival, holding the elections on time, and maintaining humanitarian support for the populace. Is there any responsible world leader or organization that is not calling on the leadership to reform or step aside? It is exhausting to hear time and time again the need for transformation only to watch the oligarchy continue to ignore reality.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


Syrian Voters Attacked on Their Way to Beirut
On Thursday Lebanese mobs attacked Syrian refugees and expatriates on their way to cast their vote at for the Syrian presidential election at the Syrian embassy in Beirut. The groups attacked were said to be organized to vote for President Bashar Assad and were identified by those chanting slogans in support of Assad and carrying banners with the president’s picture. [Arab News]

ANALYSIS

“The pent-up frustration of the Lebanese is being directed toward Syrians in Lebanon who are voting in the Syrian presidential elections at their embassy in Beirut. This has drawn the ire of opposition leaders and common people who can’t rectify why someone claiming refugee status would vote for Assad whose policies created the exodus from Syria in the first place. While the US and other countries are calling the election a sham, it is puzzling to understand the disconnect between those living on relief provided by the international community, and some who are supporting the regime that made them refugees in the first place.”
-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 05/12/21

DAILY NEWS


EU is Preparing Sanctions on Lebanese Leaders
The EU is preparing sanctions against Lebanese political leaders who are seen as blocking government formation. This would be the first round of sanctions the EU has placed on Lebanon. EU officials are currently working on the criteria for who will be designated. Many Lebanese leaders have homes and bank accounts in the EU. [Reuters]

Seven Lebanese Sanctioned by the United States
Yesterday the US imposed sanctions on seven Lebanese who are linked to Hezbollah. The US Treasury Department called six of the seven Hezbollah’s “shadow bankers” who have transferred about $500 million for the group over the past decade.The seventh person sanctioned is Ibrahim Daher, who is a chief financial executive for Hezbollah. [Associated Press]

Solidarity March Through Beirut for Sheikh Jarrah Residents
On Tuesday Lebanese and Palestinians marched through Beirut in a demonstration showing solidarity with Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah. The protesters started at the Mar Elias refugee camp and marched on to Chatila refugee camp. Activists hope that in addition to showing solidarity with Palestinians in East Jerusalem, their efforts will also raise awareness for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. [Middle East Eye]

Conversation with Henri Chaoul
Former government advisor Henri Chaoul spoke with CNBC about the Lebanese government’s mismanagement. Chaoul advised the government last year during its talks with the IMF. [CNBC]

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Legal Limbo: Who is a Refugee in Lebanon?
Dima Mahdi
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.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 05/10/21

DAILY NEWS


Central Bank Looks Into Mechanism for Dollar Withdrawals
After a civil society group submitted a legal complaint against banks who have frozen Lebanese depositors out of their accounts and blocked withdrawals, the Banque Du Liban announced yesterday that it will be looking into a mechanism that would allow Lebanese to have access to their funds. Many depositors have been locked out of their accounts since 2019. [Reuters]

Turkish Company Warns It Will Cut Power to Ships in Lebanon
After Lebanese Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim ordered two Turkish power ships to be detained last week, the Turkish company Karpowership is urging the Lebanese government to engage in talks. Karpowership served a final notice that it will suspend services while Lebanon struggles to pay over $100 million owed to the company. [Bloomberg] The judge ordered to detain the ships on suspicion of corruption in dealings of the ships production. [The 961]

Friends of President Aoun and PM-Designate Hariri Seek to Revive Talks
After French Foreign Minister Le Drian’s visit to Beirut last week, local mediators and common friends of President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri are reportedly conducting behind-the-scene efforts to resume talks between the two government leaders to find a solution to Lebanon’s cabinet formation. Lebanon is now rounding its ninth month without a government. [Naharnet]

Developing Cross-Border Cartels in Syria and Lebanon
Concern is growing over Syrian and Lebanese developing drug networks. Saudi Arabia recently imposed a produce ban after it seized millions of Captagon pills being smuggled into the country from Lebanon. Over the last two years, at least 15 other shipments of Captagon have been intercepted in the Middle East and Europe. Some officials report that these shipments originate from Syria and Lebanon cross-border cartels, made up of networks of crime families, militia leaders and political figures. [The Guardian]

Hezbollah Leader’s Support for Recent Iran Talks
Hassan Nasrallah’s latest televised speech revealed the Hezbollah leader’s support for Iran talks with the United States and Saudi Arabia. This support comes after mediated talks between Tehran and Riyadh in Baghdad and between Tehran and Washington in Vienna. [Associated Press]

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The Value of a ‘Seat at the Table’: How Elites Interfere in Lebanon’s Infrastructure Procurement
The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies
Mounir Mahmalat

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 04/26/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon Tasks Interior Minister to Coordinate with Saudi Arabia on Drug Smuggling
Reuters

Maronite Patriarch Al Rai Meets with President Aoun
In addition to discussing Saudi Arabia’s newly imposed ban, Patriarch Al Rai met with President Aoun to also emphasize the necessity of forming a government, noting the growing hunger and poverty in Lebanon. [The Daily Star] The patriarch added, “there is no important justification for the failure to form a government amid the current situation.” [Naharnet]

Lebanese Army Halts Attempt to Smuggle Syrians to Cyprus
Associated Press

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Alternative Labor Unions in Lebanon: Comparative Reflections and Lessons
Nadim El-Kak
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.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 04/19/21

DAILY NEWS


EU Meeting in Brussels to Address Lebanon File
Naharnet

With Food and Fuel, Hezbollah Braces for the Worst in Lebanon Collapse
Reuters
Lalia Bassam, Ellen Francis

Delights of Ramadan Disappear for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Sarah El Deeb and Mariam Fam
Associated Press

Saudi and Iran Held Talks Aimed at Easing Tensions, Say Sources
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Supporting Syrian Refugees Amidst Lebanon’s Crises
Will Todman
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.

This Week in Lebanon

April 11, 2021
One-Third of Lebanese May Lose Social Security Services
Hezbollah Provides Aid to 50,000 Families
UNHCR Report on Human Rights Violations in Syria

One-Third of Lebanese May Lose Social Security Services
This week Director-General of the National Security Fund (NSSF) of Lebanon Mohamad Karaki warned that the fund my be forced to halt social security services to a third of the Lebanese population. He iterated that unlike all other ministries and administrations, the NSSF has not been receiving due payments and over the years funds owed to the NSSF have reached approximately 4,500 Lebanese pounds. [The 961]

ANALYSIS

“Director General Karaki of the NSSF stressed that they “would not be able to continue covering people’s healthcare fees if the state did not urgently provide the Fund with payments, including settling what remains unpaid of the 2020 budget.” The solvency of the national social security fund as well as other parts of the social safety net should not be left until the finances of the country are on the right footing. It is time for the US, France and other in the international community and make it clear to Lebanon’s leadership that their time is over and a new government capable of addressing the needs of the Lebanese must be put in place. In the meantime, the World Bank’s poverty program should be adopted by the caretaker government and increased by donors to respond to the already impending crisis, made even more acute by the potential the default of a social security system.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel


Hezbollah Provides Aid to 50,000 Families
This week Shiite party deputy Hassan Fadlallah said that Hezbollah is providing direct aid to 50,000 underprivileged families in Lebanon in the form of direct assistance, food, health, and/or education. The group is hoping to increase that number to 100,000 families during Ramadan. [L’Oreint-Le Jour]

ANALYSIS

“This article notes that Hezbollah will be providing direct aid to 50,000 Shia families, with plans to double that number during Ramadan which starts this week. Hezbollah is also increasing support to agricultural projects through micro-credits. While the government stumbles and staggers trying to reconstitute itself, Hezbollah keeps its eyes on the prize…ensuring the support of its constituents. Is there a lesson here for the other sects?”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader


UNHCR Report on Human Rights Violations in Syria
The UN Human Rights Council released a report from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic on humanitarian law violations and abuses in Syria including crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and other international crimes. [UN Human Rights Council]

ANALYSIS

“Let us not forget that Lebanon’s fate is gravely affected by what is going on next door in Syria. Updated data indicates that with more than half the Syrian population displaced, 2.5 million children out of school, a third of schools closed, around 9.3 million Syrians food insecure, and 60% living in extreme poverty, there is little hope that it will recover in the next decade. The border with Lebanon will remain insecure, a haven for smugglers, with a million refugees unable or unwilling to return under the current regime. The hopelessness is manipulated by politicians on both sides. Thankfully, the US remains the single largest humanitarian donor of Syria crisis response aid, providing nearly $13 billion since 2011.”
-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 03/29/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanon Could Sink Like the Titanic, Warns Parliament Speaker
Al Jazeera

Lebanon’s Zahrani Power Plant Shuts Down After Gas Oil Runs Out
Reuters

Amid Myriad Crises, Lebanon Now Confronts an Ecological Disaster on its Shores
Ruth Sherlock
NPR

Lebanon Orders Probe Into Torture of Detained Syrians
Ruth Sherlock
Arab News

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Weapons or Food? Lebanon’s Armed Forces Risk Going Hungry
Nicholas Blanford
Atlantic Council

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 03/30/21

DAILY NEWS


France Heightens Pressure on Lebanon to Form Government
Associated Press

Ambassador Dorothy Shea Inaugurates Munitions Storage Facilities at Hamat Air Base
US Embassy Beirut

Lebanon: Tripoli Detainees Allege Torture, Forced Disappearance
Human Rights Watch

Aoun to UNHCR Representative: Refugees Drove Lebanon to Exhaustion
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Weapons or Food? Lebanon’s Armed Forces Risk Going Hungry
Nicholas Blanford
Atlantic Council

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 03/12/21

DAILY NEWS


Blinken Pledges Continued US Support for Lebanese Army, Universities, Refugee Camps
Joseph Haboush
Al Arabiya

Hariri Receives US Ambassador
Naharnet

Lebanon’s Politicians Show No Sign of Saving Their Country, France Says
Reuters

Lebanon Wants to Start Drilling for Oil to Pressure Israel
Hussein Yassine
The 961

For Syrians, a Decade of Displacement With No End in Sight
Fay Abuelgasim
Associated Press

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Lebanon: A State in Collapse?
Al Jazeera

After the Blast
Rania Abouzeid
The Atlantic

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.

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.