Middle East & Arab World Lebanon 2020

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The seven years of neglect, and 13 minutes of chaos, that destroyed Beirut
The Independent Special report: Speaking to Lebanese port officials, government sources, firefighters and eyewitnesses, and reviewing a dozen documents, Bel Trew, Oliver Carroll, Samira el-Azar and Richard Hall trace the paper trail of negligence and incompetence that led up to the devastating explosion (August 11)

Lebanon, Israel begin indirect talks over maritime border
Beirut hopes that oil and gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help it overcome the crisis and pay back its massive debt that stands at 170 per cent of the GDP, making it one of the highest in the world.
The U.S. has been mediating the issue for about a decade, but only earlier this month a breakthrough was reached on an agreement on a framework for U.S.-mediated talks.
The development comes against the backdrop of Lebanon’s spiraling economic crisis, the worst in its modern history, and following a wave of U.S. sanctions that recently included two influential former cabinet ministers allied with the militant Hezbollah group.
Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometres of the Mediterranean Sea as being within their own exclusive economic zones.

27 September
How Hezbollah destroyed everything that made Lebanon great
By Baria Alamuddin, award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate [and mother of Amal Clooney]
(Arab news) Hezbollah has thwarted every attempt to form a competent, technocratic administration to steer Lebanon out of this catastrophe; demanding, like gangsters, that it must possess the Finance Ministry, Health, Transport, and everything else it can get its hands on.
We have warned and feared for years that Hassan Nasrallah, Nabih Berri, Michel Aoun and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would burn Lebanon to the ground to protect their interests — and here they are today, gleefully pouring petrol over the flames.
With the departures of Adib and his predecessor Hassan Diab, and yet another caretaker administration, Hezbollah fulfils its desire to remain in control while simply buying time. It insists early elections are unnecessary, but after willfully sabotaging one government after another, is there any alternative?

26 September
Lebanon’s prime minister-designate quits in blow to French initiative
(Reuters) – Lebanon’s prime minister-designate quit on Saturday after trying for almost a month to line up a non-partisan cabinet, dealing a blow to a French plan aimed at rallying sectarian leaders to tackle the worst crisis since the nation’s 1975-1990 civil war.
A source close to Macron said the situation that led to Adib’s resignation amounted to “collective betrayal” by political parties but said France, the former colonial power, would not abandon Lebanon.
Under the French roadmap, the new government would take steps to tackle corruption and implement reforms needed to trigger billions of dollars of international aid to fix an economy that has been crushed by a mountain of debt.

25 September
‘Money is worth nothing now’: how Lebanon is finding a future in farming
With food in short supply and prices rocketing, a wave of new farmers are growing produce on roofs, balconies and beyond
(The Guardian) Part of the ancient Fertile Crescent, Lebanon is a place abundant with crops, from figs and cherries to wheat.
But food is no longer taken for granted in the country.
Long before the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating explosion in Beirut on 4 August, Lebanon was already deep in economic crisis. Its currency has now lost more than 60% in value and purchasing power has dwindled. Food prices increased as much as 367% in the past year, and the UN recently said that more than half of Lebanon’s population is now trapped in poverty, double last year’s rate of 28%.

15 September
Bringing back Beirut
Residents are weary of a corrupt political system that sent their country into an economic tailspin and left a stockpile of explosive chemicals at their port for years. Some are determined to rebuild their beloved city. But not all
By Margaret Evans
(CBC) An advertising firm has put up billboards on a strip of highway overlooking the vast explosion site quoting a well-known line by the Lebanese poet Nadia Tueni: “[Beirut] has died a thousand times and been reborn a thousand times.”
It’s a familiar refrain in a city that has prided itself on coming back from terrible calamities time and again — from Lebanon’s long civil war, to conflict with Israel, to the aftershocks of the bloodbath next door in Syria.
The billboards are clearly intended as a message of support, and it is echoed in the graffiti and posters people have been daubing across fences and facades, promising resurrection.
But the August explosion is challenging the mantra like never before as people tire of betting on a country where so much of its hurt is self-inflicted.
Many here say the explosion — and the profound neglect and dysfunction it exposes among the political elites — has drawn a line.
For some, that means stand your ground and fight. But for so many others, it means flight.

11 September
Marwan Abboud: Beirut Must Be Saved
Barely a month after the massive port explosion on August 4, Beirut residents have had to relive that tragedy following the onset of raging fires in the same area. But much more is at stake for the city: its identity as a haven for intercultural exchange, artistic creativity, and scientific research.
(Project Syndicate) As the governor of Beirut, I am appealing to the international community to help us preserve our spirit of liberty, diversity, and intercultural exchange. Lebanon is now in the midst of a deepening economic and social crisis that demands immediate attention. Most urgently, the Lebanese health system needs direct support. As if the pandemic were not bad enough, the port explosion damaged or forced the closure of many health institutions, including the Saint George Hospital and the Rosary Sisters Hospital.Moreover, Lebanon needs international assistance to revive its productive economic sectors. A meaningful contribution from global institutions could make a significant difference in putting the economy on the path to recovery. But there is also an urgent need for global advisory assistance to help Lebanon’s threadbare state agencies modernize their operations and implement growth enhancing reforms.Similarly, Lebanon needs international financial assistance to support its education system. Without stronger public and private schools and universities, the country cannot continue playing its pioneering cultural role in the Levant. Already, Beirut’s mounting crises are bringing about a change in its identity, as young people pursue their ambitions elsewhere. To prevent a catastrophic brain drain, we must create more opportunities for study and personal development to keep our young people here.

10 September
Huge fire at Beirut port brought under control
No injuries reported from the second blaze this week at the site of explosion that killed nearly 200 people last month.
A towering inferno at Beirut’s port caused widespread panic in the Lebanese capital, just two days after another fire was put out at the site of an enormous explosion that killed nearly 200 people last month.
The Lebanese army said on Thursday the latest blaze erupted at a warehouse storing oils and tyres in the port’s Duty Free area.

9 September
US sanctions Lebanese allies of Hezbollah for first time
Two former ministers dismiss US accusations of corruption and providing material support to Hezbollah.

8 September
Return to Lebanon: Destruction, despair and dignity
Reflections on covering Emmanuel Macron’s visits to Beirut, where the professional and personal collide.
By Rym Momtaz
The real Lebanon lives in the quiet dignity with which a large silent majority has done its best, against all odds, to maintain its middle-class life, to provide a proper education for its children, to continue transmitting the values of moderation and diversity that have set the country apart in its neighborhood, resisting the easy slide toward violence and extremism.It is that Lebanon that is on the brink of extinction today. Its survival will be decided over the next three months, before Macron returns to verify whether the political establishment has kept its promises.
(Politico Eu) …the trauma of this explosion is deep and long-lasting. And I am not alone. Many, if not most, Lebanese are feeling it more acutely than the trauma of previous wars. For this time, it wasn’t a foreign enemy that had killed, maimed, dispossessed. It was the Lebanese government and political establishment.
It is as if the rot, corruption, neglect and dysfunction of the last three decades had gotten bottled up at the port and finally exploded. The port that was the foundation of Beirut’s rise as a city was now the graveyard of so many of its people’s dreams.
For many, the last month has been a sleepless haze of recovering from the explosion and deciding whether to remain in Lebanon and continue fighting and suffering through the daily struggles and small indignities the Lebanese have learned to live with: constant power and water cuts, hourslong waits at the bank to get drip-fed access to their hard-earned money, hyperinflation and having to ration buying staples like meat and, for the less fortunate, even bread.
Others are grappling with whether to emigrate, leaving behind elderly parents, friendships thicker than blood, familiar streets, the moist air heavy with sea salt that wrapped our summers of love and fun, the roaring thunderstorms of Lebanon’s winters, the smell of the pine trees and the taste of your grandmother’s food.
… Accompanying Macron to Lebanon, on both his trips since the blast, I felt a double burden. Interviewing the French president at any time would come with great professional responsibility. But interviewing Macron on his way to Lebanon for his second visit, when he was supposed to clinch an agreement, the responsibility I felt was immeasurable.

2 September
Exclusive: French reform proposal for Lebanon delves into details
France proposed a detailed draft list of sweeping reforms it is pressuring Lebanon to implement by year’s end.
(Al Jazeera) French President Emmanuel Macron, in a visit to Lebanon, has offered to help provide the crisis-hit nation with vital aid if its politicians make good on long-overdue reforms.
Speaking at the palatial French ambassador’s residence in Beirut from where Greater Lebanon was proclaimed by colonial France 100 years ago, Macron said he would rally international aid at an October donor conference aimed at rebuilding the capital after a devastating explosion last month and halting the country’s economic demise.
But “we will not give Lebanon a carte-blanche, or a blank check,” he added, noting that everything was conditional on whether the country’s fractious leaders could unite around change.

30 August

Joumane Chahine appears in an opening segment of the video.
Beirut asks the question: is it really worth rebuilding?
(The Times) The massive blast that ripped the heart out of Lebanon’s capital this month may be the last straw for many businessmen worn down by decades of corruption and political infighting. Richard Spencer reports.

Mustapha Adib on course to be designated Lebanon PM
Mustapha Adib, a little known academic and diplomat, is expected to become the troubled country’s next prime minister
Ambassador to Germany set to be named crisis-hit Lebanon’s prime minister-designate at Monday’s nomination process.

More than half of Lebanon could face food shortages: UN
(Al Jazeera) Lebanon was already in economic collapse even before the August 4 blast at that killed 188 people.
Lebanon relies on imports for 85 percent of its food needs and the annihilation of the silos at the Beirut port could worsen an already alarming situation, aid agencies and experts have said.
The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) said increased transaction costs of food imports could lead to a further rise in prices.

Global aid for Lebanon depends on ‘very serious’ reforms: Canadian FM
(Arab News) Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne has called on Lebanese authorities to heed the will of their people. He also reiterated that international aid to help the country recover from its financial crisis is dependent on the implementation of “very serious” economic and political reforms.
Speaking exclusively to Arab News on Thursday after arriving in Beirut to assess the situation following the devastating explosion in the city’s port on Aug. 4, he said: “Impunity must end. Young people, women and victims have spoken, and we must listen to them. In a tragedy of unprecedented magnitude, we must ask the right questions and develop inclusive answers to match, for a prosperous Lebanon.”
He said Canada supports the Lebanese people, and stressed the importance of reforms to the efforts to ensure a lasting recovery.

27 August
Lebanon risks disappearing without new government, reforms
(Reuters) France’s foreign minister said on Thursday that Lebanon risked disappearing due to the inaction of its political elite who needed to quickly implement a new government to implement crucial reforms for the country.
“The international community will not sign a blank cheque if the they (Lebanese authorities) don’t put in place the reforms. They must do it quickly… because the risk today is the disappearance of Lebanon,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio.
Grassroots groups hold Beirut together, yet big NGOs suck up the cash
Hayat Mirshad
Local charities work constantly to support Lebanese society. It’s time they had a fair share of foreign aid
(The Guardian) In Lebanon, the critical contributions of local groups to humanitarian action were clear well before Beirut’s port burst into flames. Grassroots organisations have played a vital role in our country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including sharing health information with LGBTQ+ people, refugees, migrant workers, and other marginalised populations. When we recorded a rise in cases of domestic violence during the lockdown, feminist groups stepped in to provide protection and psychosocial services for survivors.
Lebanon continues to crumble as Hezbollah holds it in its iron fist
(Arab News) When Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah appeared on television after the terrible explosion in Beirut this month, he smiled throughout most of his speech. He smiled because he knew that despite the outcry and all the visits by foreign dignitaries, the indignation and accusations would be short lived.
He also knew that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s investigation into the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafi Hariri in 2005 would not result in any direct accusations against his group, and that in any case no verdict would be reached without his approval. He knows this because his regime holds Lebanon in its iron fist as the nation crumbles.
Beyond its military arsenal, he knows his group has something that those who oppose him always lack: Discipline, unity and consistency. His ally, President Michel Aoun, ensures that his organization has the same characteristics. Their unity remains as solid as a rock, whereas the traditional, self-proclaimed, political opposition, composed of the remnants of the March 14 Alliance, unites and splits according to tactical interests and so are now in complete disarray.
Son of assassinated Lebanese prime minister steps into spotlight after 15-year absence
By Mark Mackinnon
In the wake of the Aug. 4 explosion that destroyed the port of Beirut, the eldest son of former prime minister Rafik Hariri decided he could no longer stay on the sidelines. He opened Twitter and Instagram accounts, and began criticizing the corruption that many Lebanese believe led to the port disaster.
Two weeks later, when an international court in The Hague convicted a Hezbollah member of the 2005 car bombing that killed his father and 22 others, Bahaa Hariri went on television to call for a “complete divorce” between Lebanon and the Iranian-backed militia that has taken a stranglehold on his country’s politics.
Now, the man who chose to continue with his business career 15 years ago – even though mourners were chanting his name at his father’s funeral – is shoulders-deep in the quagmire that is Lebanese politics. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, he said that he was working with the country’s top Christian cleric, Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, as well as Lebanese civil society leaders, to try to find a prime minister and cabinet that can tackle the twin challenges of ending corruption and disarming Hezbollah.

26 August
Minister Champagne concludes visit to Switzerland and Italy on his way to Lebanon
“The human toll of the tragedy in Beirut demands a robust international response, and Canada has stepped up. Through our assistance and the generosity of individual Canadians directly supporting first responders on the ground through personal donations, as well as the Government of Canada’s matching fund, we are ensuring humanitarian aid goes to those most affected by the explosion. My visit to Beirut will be an opportunity to see the impact of this work up close, highlight Canada’s ongoing support for the Lebanese people and advocate for much-needed political and economic reforms in Lebanon.”
Israel launches air attacks at Hezbollah posts on Lebanon border
Incident comes four days after Hezbollah announced it had brought down an Israeli drone flying over the Blue Line.
(Al Jazeera) Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war, and United Nations force UNIFIL is tasked with monitoring the ceasefire.
Hours earlier, Lebanon had rejected an Israeli call to reform a UN peacekeeping force patrolling the border ahead of a UN Security Council vote to renew its mandate.

After port blast, rudderless Lebanon drifts towards the rocks
(Reuters) – Three weeks after the catastrophic explosion at Beirut port, Lebanon is drifting towards even more trouble as its politicians … have been locked in fruitless talks to agree on a new prime minister who might be able to restart International Monetary Fund talks and enact reforms.
Even before the Aug. 4 port explosion, caused by unsafely stored chemicals, the financial collapse had devastated lives across Lebanon, fuelling hyperinflation and poverty and demolishing the value of savings in a now zombie banking system.
The central bank has warned it can only subsidise imports of basic goods for three more months, an official source said, raising concern that prices of fuel, wheat and medicine will spiral later this year.
… The financial collapse is the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
Donor states want to see reforms to curb waste and corruption that are the root causes of the collapse. But three cabinets have failed to make progress on reform since donors pledged more than $11 billion to Lebanon in 2018.

23 August
Canada’s Champagne to tour Beirut aid efforts on first overseas trip since COVID-19
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne is heading to Lebanon this week to get a firsthand look at the devastation caused by the deadly explosions in Beirut and urge the country’s government to start getting real in the fight against corruption.
Canada has so far committed $30 million to help pay for emergency food, water, shelter and medical assistance in the immediate aftermath, and Champagne said he plans to meet with aid workers to see the progress and hear about their needs.
“I’m going there by choice to support all our efforts, to support the people on the ground,” Champagne told The Canadian Press in an interview on Sunday, adding: “We have about 25 (diplomatic) staff there and some 20 of them lost their homes in the blast.”
Corruption Threatens Beirut Revival
(VOA) The U.N. Development Program warns widespread systematic corruption and lack of accountability in Lebanon will impede Beirut’s efforts to recover from the August 4 blast that has devastated the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people.
A special report by the UNDP describes how deeply the rot has penetrated Lebanese society. At the Port of Beirut alone, the report finds lack of accountability has resulted in a financial deficit of nearly $800 million a year. It says the overall estimate of the annual cost of corruption is expected to be well over $1 billion.

21 August
Questions Swirl around the Cargo that Destroyed Beirut
The explosion in Lebanon leads back to an abandoned ship in Beirut that had arrived in the city carrying 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. Reporting by DER SPIEGEL and OCCRP has determined that the ship’s owner has connections to Hezbollah’s bank.
In September 2013, eight Ukrainians and a Russian departed Georgia on a beat-up freighter, apparently heading for Mozambique. Their ship was already in bad shape before it even left the Black Sea port of Batumi. Called the Rhosus, the vessel was leaking, its alarm system was faulty and so was its rescue equipment.
… Thus far, the story has been that the ship belonged to a Russian man named Igor Grechushkin. The cargo was reportedly destined for a company called Fábrica de Explosivos de Moçambique, or FEM for short, a Mozambican explosives manufacturer.
But joint reporting conducted by DER SPIEGEL and the journalism network called the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) … has found that it was not Russian national Grechushkin who owned the Rhosus, but rather the Cypriot businessman Charalambos Manoli, who maintained a relationship with the bank used by Hezbollah in Lebanon. And a considerable amount of the ammonium nitrate stored in the port of Beirut appears to have gone missing before the explosion in August.

18 August
Rafik Hariri tribunal: Guilty verdict over assassination of Lebanon ex-PM
(BBC) A UN-backed court has found a member of the militant group Hezbollah guilty of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.
Judges at the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon said Salim Ayyash had a central role in the bomb attack in Beirut in 2005 that killed Hariri.
They acquitted three other defendants, who like Ayyash were tried in absentia.
Hezbollah denied any involvement, and the judges said no evidence implicated the Shia militant group’s leaders.

17 August
Habib Battah: There is still much to be learned about the Beirut explosion
To prevent a tragic repeat, we should not be satisfied with simple, convenient, yet incomplete explanations.
It is impossible to know if this latest Beirut explosion will be any different than thousands of other bombings and attacks this country has witnessed that remain shrouded in mystery and allow each party to come up with their own convenient and politically profitable explanation. While it is easy to fall down the conspiracy rabbit hole, or claim it was just an “accident” caused by governmental dysfunction and incompetence, we should not be satisfied with simple and opportune explanations. There are so many points in the six year timeline of this impending tragedy where someone, somewhere could have done something. What we need to figure out now is what prevented so many from acting, if we truly want to avoid potential future disasters.

16 August
Lebanon launches Beirut investigation as it awaits verdict over former PM killing
As quest for answers over massive port blast begins, a tribunal is expected announce findings on death of Rafik Hariri
(The Guardian) A military judge in Beirut will, on 17 August, start examining a report into the cataclysmic explosion that levelled parts of the city 12 days ago, and determine who might face charges. A day later, five thousand miles away in The Hague, an international tribunal is due to hand down a verdict into a blast that took place 15 years earlier, killing the country’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri and unleashing a generation of havoc, from which it is yet to recover.
The tales behind the two explosions are the most important events in the modern history of Lebanon. The 2005 assassination of a leader credited by many with leading a broken nation from the rubble of war had remained a searing wound, while the annihilation of much of Beirut on 4 August has left gaping new scars on the country’s psyche.
Both are converging into moments of reckoning that will define whether a functioning state can ever emerge.
The call for accountability has been a familiar refrain through months of demonstrations that have targeted the Lebanese political class as the country’s economy disintegrated. The onset earlier this year of the coronavirus, and it’s raging resurgence now, as well as the impact of one of the world’s biggest industrial accidents, have amplified demands. But with diggers still churning through the explosion site, there is little evidence so far that how politics is done in Lebanon is likely to be overhauled.

14 August
A Portrait of Beirut After the Explosion
(Spiegel) Following the devastating explosion in the port, anger with the political elite is growing in Beirut. People there are trying to pick up the pieces, but many of them have nothing left to lose.

9 – 12 August
WHO seeking $76 million for Lebanon after Beirut blast, concerned about coronavirus
(Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday it had appealed for $76 million in aid for Lebanon after last week’s massive explosion in Beirut destroyed or damaged hospitals, clinics and medical supplies. The blast put three hospitals out of operation and has left three others working at partial capacity, reducing the number of beds in public and private hospitals by 500-600, WHO officials told an online press conference.
Offshore companies linked to Lebanon c.bank governor have assets worth nearly $100 mln – report
Salameh, previously seen as a guarantor of financial stability in the country, has become a focus of anger for street protesters since Lebanon’s financial system collapsed earlier this year under the weight of one of the world’s biggest public debt burdens.
The OCCRP report also comes after central bank accounts seen by Reuters last month revealed that Lebanon’s central bank governor inflated the institution’s assets by over $6 billion in 2018, showing the extent of financial engineering used to help prop up the Lebanese economy.
David Kilgour and Susan Korah: Lebanon needs international help now
(The Suburban) Canada’s Minister of International Development Karina Gould announced that the Canadian government is contributing up to $5 million CAD in humanitarian aid by way of trusted organizations, including $1.5 million to the Lebanese Red Cross. The lack of trust implied in the Lebanese government is shared by other international leaders.
Immediate humanitarian help is indeed the most needed, and it must circumvent government channels notorious for diverting taxpayer funds.
Indeed, the future of Lebanon is at stake, and Canada and the international community must take every possible step to ensure that it doesn’t become a failed state.
Canada can endorse Macron’s call for transparency and an independent investigation into the cause of the explosion.
Furthermore, Canada can actively support US Judge Mark Wolf’s proposal to set up an International Anti-Corruption Court, similar to the International Criminal Court. It would act as an incentive for domestic governments to establish adequate anti-corruption processes while ensuring that corrupt leaders are held accountable where effective domestic processes don’t yet exist.
Canada can also investigate if the ill-gotten gains of Lebanon’s kleptocrats have been stashed away in Canadian banks, and can leverage our Magnitsky legislation to freeze assets. Lebanon’s ship of state needs a complete overhaul, and the international community must help it achieve that goal.

Shlomo Ben-Ami: Lebanon’s Agony
The silver lining of the warehouse explosion that destroyed much of Beirut may be that the blast averts – or at least forestalls – a conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. But the root-and-branch reform of Lebanon’s political system and regional alliances that the country needs to weather its crises remains unlikely.
(Project Syndicate) For a country that was already roiled by political and economic crisis, the challenges ahead just became more profound. The only chance of overcoming them lies in root-and-branch reform of Lebanon’s and regional alliances.
According to Beirut’s governor, total economic losses from the blast may reach $10-15 billion. Yet the Lebanese state is already on the brink of bankruptcy. And, with an incompetent kleptocratic regime running the country, no international lender, including the International Monetary Fund, is willing to offer it loans.
… The sad truth is that overcoming Lebanon’s powerful vested interests – including both its domestic ruling class and the external powers, such as Iran and Syria, that wield considerable domestic influence – will be next to impossible. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah puppet, would not even agree to the call for an international inquiry into the port blast, claiming that this could “dilute the truth.” Lebanon’s polity reflects the country’s permanent sectarian strife. All that stands between relative calm and violent chaos is a fragile power-sharing system encompassing competing ethnic and religious groups, including Maronite Christians, Druze, and Sunni and Shia Muslims.
Lebanon’s sectarian politics have enabled foreign powers to gain a strong foothold in the country, turning it into an integral part of the Iran-led Axis of Resistance against Israel and America’s regional designs. Iran’s lavish support for Hezbollah has enabled the Shia political party and militia to become what is probably the world’s most powerful non-state actor, with military capabilities that dwarf those of Lebanon’s army. It is telling that, when Macron visited Beirut after the port explosion, crowds chanted, “free us from Hezbollah.”
Lebanon’s vibrant and well-developed civil society has forced change before. After [former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri’s assassination, the Cedar Revolution – a series of demonstrations under the motto of “freedom, sovereignty, and independence” – forced the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. But Lebanese civil society faces far stiffer opposition today than anything the embattled Syrians could mount in 2005. Over the last 15 years, Iran has spent lavishly to turn Lebanon into its strategic playground. As a result, Hezbollah is more powerful, and Lebanon more subservient to external powers – including Iran, Syria, and Russia – than ever. These powers will not sit back and allow a reform of the political system that has made Lebanon such a crucial link in their regional strategy, even at the price of turning the country into another Libya. Far from a new Cedar Revolution, efforts to push reform could lead to a conflict much like the civil war of 1975-90, in which foreign powers and rival local militias join forces and tear Lebanon apart.

Analysis: Diab was meant to fail. He did it well
Timour Azhari
The political establishment that appointed Hassan Diab as Lebanon’s PM only stood to benefit from his failure.
(Al Jazeera) Diab was picked by Hezbollah and its allies – the Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement – amid an unprecedented protest movement railing against a ruling elite whose corruption and negligence led the country into deep economic and social crises.
…regardless of whether they were in or out, establishment politicians took to criticising Diab’s government and blaming it for the ills of 30 years of failed rule following the country’s 1975-90 civil war.
“Despite their internal differences, what these political actors will always agree on is to salvage the sectarian political system – this is what allows them to stay in power, to make money,” Salloukh said.
Lebanon president accepts gov’t resignation after Beirut blast
Michel Aoun asks PM Diab’s gov’t to stay in caretaker capacity as fury over explosion that devastated Beirut grows.
(Al Jazeera) Lebanon’s government has stepped down as Prime Minister Hassan Diab blamed endemic corruption for a devastating explosion last week that tore through the capital.
The developments follow a weekend of angry, violent anti-establishment protests in which 728 people were wounded and one police officer killed amid a heavy crackdown by security forces.
Through analysis of videos and images of the security response by the army and men in plain-clothes on the day, and examination of medical documents and interviews with doctors who treated the wounded, Al Jazeera established that security forces violated international standards on the use of force.
Since October, there have been mass demonstrations demanding the departure of the entire sectarian-based leadership over entrenched corruption, incompetence and mismanagement.
But the ruling oligarchy has held onto power for so long – since the end of the civil war in 1990 – that it is difficult to find a credible political figure not tainted by connections to them.
Lebanese government quits following Beirut port explosion
(The Guardian)  However, the move is unlikely to immediately lead to a clean sweep of the government, with current ministers – including those who have resigned – set to assume a caretaker role and form the backbone of a new administration.
Instead a push is under way for more than a third of sitting MPs to quit parliament, which would force new parliamentary elections and could lead to an injection of new members less tainted by corruption and nepotism.

Lebanon aid summit raises $300m to be given ‘directly’ to people
Funds pledged at virtual conference to go towards aiding recovery in healthcare, food security, education and housing.
by Timour Azhari
(Al Jazeera) A host of nations have pledged nearly $300m in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon at a conference aimed at rallying international support for the crisis-hit country days after a debilitating explosion in the capital, Beirut. In a joint statement after Sunday’s virtual event, the donor countries said the financial aid will be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population” and offered support for an “impartial, credible and independent inquiry” into Tuesday’s disaster that killed more than 150 people and wounded some 6,000. The office of French President Emmanuel Macron, who led the conference, said the meeting raised pledges worth almost 253 million euros ($298m). In his opening remarks, Macron said the funds would primarily support healthcare, food security, education and housing. “The Lebanese authorities must now implement political and economic reforms demanded by the Lebanese people and which alone will enable the international community to act effectively alongside Lebanon for reconstruction,” Macron said.

8 August
What does France owe Lebanon, and can it deliver?
Robert Zaretsky teaches at the University of Houston. His latest book is “Catherine & Diderot: The Empress, the Philosopher, and the Fate of the Enlightenment.”
(NYT Opinion) During his visit to Gemmayzeh, Macron declared an end to business as usual in Lebanon. By this, Macron meant the reign of the political religious clans that had come to power in 1990, ending Lebanon’s horrifying civil war and beginning the crippling corruption that has since plagued the country.
… But how? While Macron’s declaration sounded decisive, the devil remains in the details. Any new diplomatic effort led by France, Le Monde warned, risks repeating older efforts by running into the “same inertias as those which led to the current impasse.” It is not reassuring, in this regard, that during his meeting with leaders of the country’s political factions, including Hezbollah, Macron called for a “government of national unity.” This is the same formula, after all, that for decades has effectively led to a government of national disunion. The basis for peace in 1990 — the sharing of power among Maronite and Eastern Orthodox Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims — has since metamorphosed into the dividing of riches among these same communities.


An aerial view shows the massive damage done to Beirut port’s grain silos (centre) and the area around it on Aug. 5, 2020.
-/AFP/Getty Images

Rawi Hage: In Beirut, a nightmare comes to life
Rawi Hage is the author of De Niro’s Game, Cockroach, Carnival and Beirut Hellfire Society.
For 30 years, Lebanon’s kleptocratic leaders have deprived its population of electricity, water and even a minimal social welfare net. With a sense of complete arrogance and entitlement, these sectarian oligarchical politicians – a small collection of incompetents; corrupt, failed bureaucrats; and agents for one external force or another – are still manoeuvring to hold on to the power against the millions that demand their resignations in daily
protests
(Globe & Mail) For 30 years, these old oligarchs, under cover of sectarianism, have managed to suppress and pillage what once was a valued model of permissibility and multiplicity in the region. Moreover, now the dire consequence of these years of negligence, corruption and petty bickering is a blast on the scale of a nuclear explosion that has devastated my birthplace, Beirut.

Explosion in Beirut: What we know so far about Lebanon’s disaster and the rising death toll
How neglected cargo became a ‘ticking time bomb’ in Beirut

Regardless of the intended use of these explosives, whether the thousands of kilos of ammonium nitrate was intended as a potential weapon in a complex geopolitical configuration, or stored against repeated warnings and advice as a consequence of the failed governance of a failed state, the result is one of criminality, devastation and a deep psychological, cultural and physical wound.

Joe Schwarcz PhD: A Shocking Catastrophe in Beirut
Ammonium nitrate is a double-edged sword. As a fertilizer, it can save lives. As an explosive it can end them.
(McGill OSS) Ammonium nitrate is rich in nitrogen and can yield bumper crops or green up a lawn. But it can also explode and cause terrible bloodshed. An explosion can best be described as a “sudden going away of things from the place where they have been.” The cause of such swift departures is a shock wave formed by the very rapidly expanding gases that characterize an explosion. In the case of ammonium nitrate, the gases are water vapour, oxygen, nitrogen and oxides of nitrogen. Don’t get the impression though that ammonium nitrate explodes easily. It doesn’t. Various conditions have to be met for an ammonium nitrate explosion to occur.

6 August
Captain astonished that his ship delivered Beirut explosive
(SF Chronicle) When Boris Prokoshev, a sea captain spending his retirement years in a southern Russia village, woke up and found an email saying a ship he once commanded had carried the ammonium nitrate that devastatingly exploded in Beirut, he was astonished. The 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that blew up in Beirut’s port on Tuesday wasn’t supposed to be in Lebanon at all. It was bound from the Black Sea for Mozambique, but made an unscheduled detour to Beirut and never left there.

5 August
Beirut has suffered a catastrophe that will live long in the memory – and the repeated betrayal of its citizens is a travesty
Lebanon’s people face a terrible mix of long-term economic ruin, a pandemic and now a devastating explosion. All presided over by a ‘government’ unworthy of the name, says Robert Fisk

Robin Wright: After Twin Explosions, an “Apocalypse” in Lebanon
(New Yorker) Lebanon now faces existential challenges. The blasts destroyed office buildings and apartment blocks across the capital as well as its largest port, which is critical to the trade and imports on which Lebanon is dependent. One governor estimated that more than a quarter million were left homeless, compounding the challenges of absorbing hundreds of thousands of Syrian war refugees in a country of fewer than seven million. A row of towering wheat silos, which play a central role in the country’s importing and storing of food, were among the facilities destroyed at the port. “No words can describe the horror that has hit Beirut last night, turning it into a disaster-stricken city,” President Michel Aoun said at an emergency Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, as smoke still rose from the port.
Anger in Beirut after missed warnings over ‘floating bomb’
Released paper trail reveals ignored warnings over stash that has killed at least 135 people
(The Guardian) Anger and dismay has been building in Beirut as officials admitted that a massive port explosion that killed at least 135 people, injured thousands and left many more homeless was foreseeable and had been the subject of repeated warnings.
With Lebanon’s capital still smouldering, an emerging paper trail linked the blast to a mammoth stash of ammonium nitrate that was once described as a “floating bomb” and housed at the port since 2014. As recently as six months ago, officials inspecting the consignment warned that if it was not moved it would “blow up all of Beirut”.
The revelation that government negligence may have played a role in the worst explosion in Beirut’s history fuelled new anger towards Lebanon’s political class among a population already seething at an ongoing financial crisis that has sunk half the country into poverty. Demonstrators in downtown Beirut attacked the convoy of former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri and brawled with his bodyguards in the most overt display of wider anger that is building against Lebanese politicians in the wake of the disaster.
The death toll climbed to more than 135 people according to the Lebanese Red Cross with another 4,000 wounded. Up to 300,000 people had suffered damage to their homes, leaving some uninhabitable, Beirut’s governor, Marwan Abboud, said. Dozens of people are still missing, feared buried under rubble.
A Russian ship’s cargo of dangerous ammonium nitrate was stranded in Beirut port for years
(CNN) As Lebanon’s investigation into the devastating blast in Beirut continues, officials have pointed to a possible cause: A massive shipment of agricultural fertilizer that authorities say was stored in the port of Beirut without safety precautions for years — despite warnings by local officials.
Documents newly reviewed by CNN reveal that a shipment of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate arrived in Beirut on a Russian-owned vessel in 2013. The ship, named the MV Rhosus, was destined for Mozambique — but stopped in Beirut due to financial difficulties that also created unrest with the ship’s Russian and Ukrainian crew.
Once it arrived, the ship never left Beirut’s port, according Lebanon’s Director of Customs, Badri Daher, despite repeated warnings by him and others that the cargo was the equivalent of “a floating bomb.”
Why Did Lebanon Let a Bomb-in-Waiting Sit in a Warehouse for 6 Years?
Yesterday’s explosion, which destroyed Beirut’s port, much of the city and countless lives, was the result of business as usual.
By Faysal Itani
(NYT) By all appearances the port disaster did not involve the usual suspects — Hezbollah, Israel, jihadist terrorism or the government of neighboring Syria. The truth seems to be both duller and more disturbing: Decades of rot at every level of Lebanon’s institutions destroyed Beirut’s port, much of the city, and far too many lives. It is precisely the banality behind the explosion that captures the particular punishment and humiliation heaped on Lebanon.

27 July
Lebanon’s Dysfunctional Political Economy
Ishac Diwan
Using the prospect of a flood of refugees as a bargaining chip in international negotiations, the government is happy to subsist on foreign-exchange reserves while waiting to collect geopolitical rents. Yet there is reason to hope that this strategy, which has already impoverished half the population, will fail.
(Project Syndicate) Lebanon’s economy has collapsed. There is little confusion about why or what is needed to save it. The question is why nothing has been done.For the last two decades, Lebanon had been living off capital inflows, averaging 20% of GDP per year. Thanks to high interest rates, deposits – largely denominated in US dollars – grew to about 400% of Lebanon’s GDP, with much of the money being lent to the state to finance large fiscal deficits. Last July, the current-account deficit was over 25% of GDP, and public debt exceeded 150% of GDP. Government securities and deposits at the central bank accounted for 14% and 55% of bank assets, respectively, for a total sovereign exposure of nearly 70% of assets. Meanwhile, GDP growth has been close to zero since 2011.The house of cards collapsed late last year, when large withdrawals led to a run on deposits, followed by a sudden stop to capital inflows. By the beginning of this year, Lebanon was : both the state and the banks were bankrupt, lacking liquidity and unable to borrow, and the country suffered from a yawning external deficit.
… Progress has been made toward shrinking the external deficit, but not in a way that should be welcomed. Imports have collapsed by nearly half since 2018, owing to the currency crisis. This, together with a lack of access to credit and the COVID-19 shock, has caused many firms to shut down. Meanwhile, GDP has declined by double digits, unemployment has soared above 30%, and the poverty rate has skyrocketed to 50%, decimating the middle class. A human-capital exodus has begun.

6 July
Lebanon’s Economic Collapse Is Gathering Pace
(Bloomberg) — Lebanon’s economic crisis is fast slipping out of control, driven by a currency collapse that’s decimating businesses and plunging families into destitution.
While politicians and bankers trade blame on the airwaves, the country’s pound has lost nearly 60% of its value on the black market in the past month, threatening to suck the economy into a hyper-inflation spiral. Food prices are rising so fast that the army took meat off its menus last week. The state-controlled price of a bag of flat-bread was raised by a third.
Blackouts are spreading as fuel runs out. Facing ruinous losses, well-known retailers are closing until the currency stabilizes, adding to worsening unemployment that’s expected to tip half the population into poverty this year. A spate of suicides over the past week has been linked to the dire economic situation. One man shot himself on a busy Beirut street, leaving a suicide note referencing a famous song about poverty written during the 1975-1990 civil war. A country at the crossroads of the Middle East’s flashpoints appears to be coming apart.
The collapse has been gathering pace since protests erupted in October against decades of corruption and mismanagement by political elites who bled state coffers dry. Lebanon defaulted on its foreign debt for the first time in March.
It asked the International Monetary Fund to help overhaul its finances and restore confidence but talks have stumbled as politicians and bankers bicker over the scale of losses and who should pay. Two finance ministry negotiators resigned over the splits amid IMF calls for the Lebanese to come together and act fast.
The official peg of 1,507.5 to the dollar remains in place, but is effectively only used for imports of wheat, fuel and medicine. Basic foods are subsidized through an exchange rate of 3,900. Those with dollar deposits can’t transfer their money abroad and can only withdraw limited amounts in pounds at a rate of 3,850, forcing savers to pocket the losses.
The minimum wage is 675,000 pounds — worth $450 at the official rate but about $70 at the black market rate that’s increasingly used to price consumer goods including clothes, toiletries and cleaning products.

12 June
The other Hariri: Saad’s brother Bahaa makes play for Lebanese prominence
(Middle East Eye) Sidelined and relatively silent for 15 years, Bahaa Hariri is using Lebanon’s protest movement to make political inroads and is allying with his brother’s rivals
As the older brother to Saad Hariri, former prime minister and head of the predominantly Sunni Future Movement, Bahaa has kept out of politics almost entirely since the assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri, in 2005.
Since February, however, the construction business magnate has hinted at an interest in returning to politics through the support of a youth forum led by a former member of his family’s party.
His return to visibility raises questions about his relationship with Saad, the younger Hariri’s place as Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni politician, and where the loyalties of Saudi Arabia and the UAE lie.

17 February
Snubbed by Gulf, Lebanon’s PM Diab hosts Iranian official
(Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is getting the cold shoulder from Gulf Arab states, on Monday met Iran’s parliament speaker, the first senior foreign official to visit since Diab’s government took office.
Gulf states had long channeled funds to Beirut but have grown alarmed by the rising clout of Iran’s ally Hezbollah. Lebanon’s rich Gulf neighbors now appear loathe to help it out of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis. Foreign donors have said they will only help after Lebanon enacts reforms.
However, analysts say Hezbollah’s role in forming the government, which took office last month, could impede securing Western and Gulf aid.

11 February
Lebanon gov’t wins Parliament’s confidence vote despite protests
Parliament backs cabinet and financial plans of PM Hassan Diab in vote held despite attempts by protesters to block it.
(Al Jazeera) Speaking before the vote, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said his government’s priority was preserving foreign currency needed for imports and that all options for dealing with Eurobonds maturing this year were being studied.
Diab, a little-known academic and former education minister, was tasked with forming a government in December after Hariri was forced to resign.
Lebanese security forces, protesters clash ahead of vote
(Reuters) – MPs are set to vote on the government’s policy statement which says “painful steps” are needed to address a financial crisis that has weakened the currency and pushed banks to severely curb access to deposits.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has said Lebanon should seek IMF technical help and take a decision on whether to pay maturing foreign debt next month based on IMF advice, an-Nahar newspaper and a government source said on Tuesday.
Lebanon could not, however, surrender itself to the IMF because the nation could not bear its conditions, he said.

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