This Week In Lebanon: 2/5/2021

Friday, February 5, 2021

February 5, 2021
Assassination of Activist Luqman Slim
International Crisis Group Recommendations for Biden Administration
UN ESCWA Private Sector Report

Assassination of Activist Luqman Slim
Luqman Slim, a prominent journalist, activist, and known critic against Hezbollah, was found dead on Thursday after being shot multiple times. After a period of no political assassinations, Lebanese fear they may be on the rise again. [NYTimes] The United States and the international community are calling for his killers to be brought to justice. [US State Dept]


“The third assassination in recent weeks indicates that partisan forces in Lebanon are once again warring against the media, academics, intellectuals, and other opposition figures. In the mid-2000s, this was the favored form of sending messages to intimidate independent and investigative voices. The arrest of a journalist investigating the Beirut Port explosion by the military does not bode well. It’s time for the military to do what it should and stay out of politics, protect people exercising their civil rights, not use military courts for civilian trials, and focus on doing duty to rebuild and protect the country.”
-ATFL Policy Director Jean AbiNader

International Crisis Group Tips for Biden Administration
Last week the International Crisis Group (ICG) released “Nineteen Conflict Prevention Tips for the Biden Administration.” Under a section titled “Lebanon: Help Avert State Failure”, the report refers to a “policy tug of war” over Hezbollah between France and the United States in regards to the party’s roll in Lebanon’s government. ICG suggests that the US join French efforts to corral politicians, including Hezbollah, into a new government that will enact essential reforms. The group further calls on the US to continue support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, as well as guide humanitarian support to vulnerable communities. [International Crisis Group]


“The report is right in one regard. US policy should not emphasize who is in a new Lebanese government, but rather what a new Lebanese government can show in the way of reforms and tangible steps. This does not mean however that sanctions on Hezbollah should for some reason be lifted or US pressure should not be strengthened to diminish Hezbollah’s influence. The US, multilateral agencies, and international partners have offered more than $15B in incentives to encourage such reform. The report fails to insist that there should be no IMF and other aid given to corrupt sectarian leaders without tangible reforms. And it fails to underscore the need for an immediate US effort to engage civil society, educational institutions, and new leaders, and to provide significant funding to strengthen their efforts. We agree with ICG’s recommendation that social safety net programs for the most vulnerable, including refugees, must be funded. The people and civil society must come first, while sectarian leaders fumble in their efforts to form a reformist government.”
-ATFL President Edward M. Gabriel

UN ESCWA Releases Private Sector Report
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia released a report this week on the state of Lebanon’s private sector. The report reveals that around half of private sector sales stopped between 2019 and 2020. Further, 23 percent of full-time employees in key sectors have been laid off. The economy is expected to further contract in 2021. [UN ESCWA]


“This is a must read article to understand, by even official statistics, how deeply distressed the private sector is in Lebanon as a result of the three death blows of the economy, pandemic, and Port explosions. The poor and lower class are suffering the most as construction, services, and manufacturing are hardest hit, and micro and small enterprises are shuttering, many to never reopen. Restarting the private sector without further distorting the public sector must be a priority for economic reform.”
-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.