This Week In Lebanon

This Week in Lebanon | 06/05/2023

June 05, 2023

House Foreign Affairs Chairman and Ranking Member Express Grave Concern Over Crisis in Lebanon

U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Ranking Member Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken "underscoring the urgent need for action to address Lebanon’s growing political and economic crisis, including through the use of targeted sanctions to make clear to Lebanon’s political class the status quo is not acceptable." The Congressmen’s letter came one day before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) hearing on the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget request for the Middle East and North Africa, in which Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf was called as a witness. When asked by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) on the utility of sanctions as a measure of the Biden Administration to address the unacceptable status quo in Lebanon, Assistant Secretary Leaf responded in the affirmative, saying “We are working collaboratively with several regional partners, European partners, to push the Lebanese parliament to do its job. The elected representatives of the Lebanese people have failed to do their jobs; the Speaker of the Parliament has failed to hold a session since January to allow members to put candidates forward for the presidency to vote on them up or down and to get to a choice, to get to elect a president who will then appoint.” 


It is obvious that Washington policymakers are disappointed and frustrated by the lack of movement by the Lebanese parliament to elect a president. Two bipartisan letters, co-authored by the respective Chairmen and Ranking Members of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee - alongside the tough questions posed by Senator Shaheen address to Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf in a recent Senate hearing - reveals that US policymakers are fed up. And rightly so, phrasing their words as demands for action from Lebanon’s political class to elect a consensus presidential candidate who is clean, capable and reform-minded. As previously reported, these lawmakers are also calling on the US’ European allies, in particular the French, to join in unison with the Americans in their call for action. The attention Lebanon continues to receive from policymakers across the US government, as well as from others in the international community, is remarkable, but unfortunately the political ruling class has so far failed to make the most of this attention – and it has been at the expense of their own people. 

— Amb. Ed Gabriel, ATFL President & CEO

BDL Riad Salemeh Appears in for Questioning After
Second Interpol Red Notice Issued Against Him

After French and German authorities issued an arrest warrant in May against Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor, in the context of five foreign investigations into an array of financial crimes against him, Interpol red notices were issued against him last week. These require that persons accused of crimes be provisionally-detained, pending possible extradition or legal prosecution. Salameh is accused of embezzling more than $330 million in public funds and suspected of having laundered funds in Europe with the help of his brother who was himself charged with illicit enrichment and released on bail pending trial. Though Riad Salameh was prevented from leaving the country, he remains in his post at the Central Bank of Lebanon, and has adamantly denied any wrongdoing. Though calls for his resignation are redoubling, Salameh enjoys the support and protection of the political class that is widely blamed for Lebanon’s economic crisis. Lebanon does not extradite nationals, but if Lebanese authorities decide the accusations against him are substantiated, he could be tried in Lebanon.


The news was widely welcomed in Lebanon and viewed by citizens as a first step towards accountability. However, Salameh is unlikely to be extradited given the political cover he enjoys. Some of this support seems to be nonetheless fraying as top officials, including the Deputy Prime Minister, Saade Chami, join calls for his resignation. A Lebanese judge who had questioned Salameh about the accusations against him, subsequently banned him from traveling – potentially shielding him in the process from having to undergo legal proceedings abroad. 

— Patricia Karam, Senior Advisor at ATFL

Potential Presidential Candidate Visits Lebanon

In an attempt to resolve the eight-month long presidential vacuum that has beleaguered the country, the largest Christian blocs in parliament—including the Free Patriotic Movement and Lebanese Forces, previously at opposing ends of the political spectrum--, together with some independents and reform-minded individuals and groups, have indicated support for the candidacy of Jihad Azour, IMF Director for the Middle East and Central Asia, as compromise presidential candidate. Hezbollah and its allies, the dominant coalition in parliament, have backed Suleiman Frangieh, leader of the Marada Movement who is also close to the Syrian regime. Eleven sessions in parliament to date have failed to elect a president because of a lack of quorum. Lebanese media immediately reported that Azour may be able, this time, to garner a majority of votes, and Azour has reiterated that he was seeking not to be a “confrontational candidate” but one who is able to implement a rescue plan for Lebanon with everyone on board.


Despite some initial hesitation, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) endorsement of Azour as president and alternative candidate to Frangieh is significant and could help garner the necessary 65 votes in parliament. Hezbollah has continued to oppose Azour’s candidacy declaring he is a confrontational and not a compromise candidate. This new alignment of forces is a rare instance of defiance by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) which is closely affiliated with Hezbollah, and signals a deepening of the rift between them that is already in the making over FPM leader, Gibran Bassil’s, persistent presidential ambitions.

— Patricia Karam, Senior Advisor at ATFL
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