A Moral Calling from the Pope to Lebanon’s Christian Leaders

And just like that, the Vatican is challenging Lebanon’s Christian leadership to do what’s best for Lebanon.

Most believe it would take a miracle, but maybe this is the beginning. After the noon prayer on Sunday, May 30, the Pope said “On July 1, I will meet in the Vatican with the main leaders of the Christian communities in Lebanon, for a day of reflection on the country’s worrying situation and to pray together for the gift of peace and stability.”

The “Christian communities” would be quite large if he includes the Orthodox and Protestant churches, other Catholics such as the Melkites, and the leader of the Maronite Catholic Church, Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, who has been actively calling for an international conference to begin the process of reconciliation and healing in Lebanon, free from external interference.

With the subsidies due to expire sometime in June, the holdup in Parliament of a World Bank assistance package, and the continued deterioration of the country’s economy, Lebanon continues to be on the brink of extensive disruption.

The lira is in free fall at an official exchange rate on the government’s platform of 12,000 to the dollar and approaching 12,800 on the informal exchange market, while imports are still priced somewhere between the government rate of 1,500 and the bank rate at 3,900 lira to the dollar.

Confused yet? Think of how hard it is for the Lebanese to cope daily with the uncertainty of access to money to pay for essential services. Even when they will regain access to their bank deposits by the end of June, as promised by the Central Bank, it will be limited at a rate that favors the banking sector.

The story about the Pope’s initiative was reported in the 961 which noted that “Earlier this week, Pope Francis sent a letter to President Michel Aoun hoping that the ‘Spirit of Wisdom’ would support Aoun in rescuing Lebanon. It is stipulated that Pope Francis would seek to unite the Christian leaders that have been politically divided and lead them towards working together to saving Lebanon as a top priority.”

Wisdom is not in short supply, only its acceptance. The path forward is clear. The IMF and the international community are waiting for a government that will serve the people and not the interests of a few. The people of Lebanon and the resident refugee population are suffering as their health and well-being become increasingly precarious.

Other calamities and disasters are pulling the world’s attention away from a country whose leaders have lost the sense of urgency and responsibility to unite even on the basic necessities of recovery and renewal.

As the Pope said on Sunday, “the meeting with Lebanon’s Christian leaders would be an opportunity to ‘pray together for the gift of peace and stability.’”

With perhaps a hint of irony, another report mentioned that “The Argentine pontiff has also picked up the metaphor from his predecessor describing Lebanon ‘as the message’ when it comes to coexistence, tolerance, and respect among people of all faiths.”

The suffering of the Lebanese, across all sects, strengthens his message and highlights the sadness of those around the world whose hearts feel Lebanon’s sorrow.

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.

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.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 05/05/21

DAILY NEWS


Port Blast Investigator Requests Satellite Images
Associated Press

President Aoun’s Response to Yesterday’s Maritime Talks
Reuters

Unclear Future for Hariri Ahead of Le Drian’s Visit
The Daily Star

OPINION & ANALYSIS


‘We Want a Nation’
Kim Ghattas
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.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 05/06/21

DAILY NEWS


French FM Le Drian Meets with President Aoun and Speaker Berri
Al Jazeera

59 Containers of Chemical Waste Shipped From Port of Beirut
The Daily Star

Lebanese Judge Orders Asset Freeze of 14 People Connected to Major Banks
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Freedom of Speech in Lebanon is Under Attack
Aya Majzoub
Human Rights Watch

Martitime Border Negotiations – Is It A Family Business?
Tracy Chamoun

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 05/04/21

DAILY NEWS


Diab Calls On Parliament to Pass Draft Law on Ration Card Funding
The Daily Star

French FM Le Drian to Arrive in Beirut Tomorrow
Naharnet

Locust Swarms Now Under Control
The 961

Lebanon and Israel Resume Maritime Border Talks
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


We Want a Nation’
Kim Ghattas
The Atlantic

As Lebanese Cry for Justice, Politics Paralyzes the System
Bassem Mroue
Associated Press

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 05/03/21

DAILY NEWS


Two Brothers Suspected in Smuggling Attempt Arrested
Al Arabiya

NGO Submits Legal Complaint Against BDL Governor
France 24

Maritime Border Talks Set to Resume Tomorrow
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Breaking the Cycle: A New American Approach to Lebanon
Nicholas Noe
European University Institute

A Failing State: What’s Next For Lebanon?
JINSA National Security Digest Podcast

Lebanon’s Disabled Community is Dying
Adam Nasser
Diplomatic Courier

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 04/28/21

DAILY NEWS


BDL Unveils New Currency Exchange Platform
L’Orient Today

Soaring Food Prices During Ramadan
Al Jazeera

Calls for the US and EU to Impose Sanctions
Voice of America

Lebanese Composer Reportedly Missing
Reuters

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Three Reasons the US Must Help Lebanon Avoid Total Collapse
Edward M. Gabriel
The Hill

Why Beirut Beckons
Michael Young
Carnegie Middle East Center

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 04/27/21

DAILY NEWS


Letter Surrounding Switzerland’s Salameh Investigation is Leaked
Financial Times

Security Forces Detain Drug Smuggler at Beirut Airport
Al Arabiya

Swarms of Locusts in Northeast Lebanon May Drift South
Reuters

Pope Francis Urges ‘Lebanon Cannot Lose Its Identity”
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Tracking Volatility – Is Lebanon’s Collapse Inevitable?
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 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 04/21/21

DAILY NEWS


Lebanese Church Patriarch Wants Direct Talks With Hezbollah On Making Country ‘Neutral’
Natasha Turak
CNBC

EU Preparing Sanctions Mechanism Against Government Formation Obstructers
Hussein Dakroub
The Daily Star

Aoun Says ‘State Must Preserve Justice For All’ After Judicial Storm
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


The Christian Priest Who Wants to Redeem Lebanon’s Sins
Amir-Hussein Radjy
Foreign Policy

The Five Wildcards of Lebanese Military Capability Development
Aram Nerguizian
Tawazun

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.