Mitch Joel WARNING... LONG RANT! It takes a lot for me to both get angry and publish about it. Canada’s…
Middle East & Arab World Lebanon August 2021-
Lebanon marks three years since catastrophic Beirut port blast
As the country mourns more than 220 blast victims, rights groups decry lack of accountability among political leaders.
(Al Jazeera) Three years on, the probe is virtually at a standstill, leaving survivors still yearning for answers.
Lebanese and international organizations, survivors and families of victims on Thursday sent an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council, saying that “on the third anniversary of the explosion, we are no closer to justice and accountability for the catastrophe”.
3 years after Beirut port blast, intrigue foils an investigation and even the death toll is disputed
(AP) — Three years after Beirut’s massive port explosion, attempts to prosecute those responsible are mired in political intrigue, the final death toll remains disputed and many Lebanese have less faith than ever in their disintegrating state institutions.
As the country marks the anniversary Friday, relatives of some of those killed are still struggling to get their loved ones recognized as blast victims, reflecting the ongoing chaos since the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion. The blast killed at least 218 people, according to an Associated Press count, wounded more than 6,000, devastated large swaths of Beirut and caused billions of dollars in damages.
Meanwhile, the blast anniversary brought renewed calls for an international investigation of those responsible, including top officials who allowed hundreds of tons of highly flammable ammonium nitrate, a material used in fertilizers, to be improperly stored for years at a warehouse in the port.
Lebanese and international organizations, survivors and families of victims sent an appeal to the U.N. Rights Council, saying that on the third anniversary of the explosion, “we are no closer to justice and accountability for the catastrophe.”
… Meanwhile, many in Lebanon have been losing faith in the domestic investigation and some have started filing cases abroad against companies suspected of bringing in the ammonium nitrate.
The chemicals had been shipped to Lebanon in 2013. Senior political and security officials knew of their presence and potential danger but did nothing.
Lebanese and non-Lebanese victims alike have seen justice delayed, with the investigation stalled since December 2021. Lebanon’s powerful and corrupt political class has repeatedly intervened in the work of the judiciary.
Lebanon’s incoming interim central bank chief urges reform
Ruling politicians failed to appoint successor to Salameh
First Vice Governor Mansouri takes role in interim capacity
(Reuters) – Lebanon’s incoming interim central bank governor Wassim Mansouri on Monday urged the government to undertake long-delayed reforms to address a deep financial crisis and said he would seek to restrict central bank lending to the heavily indebted state.
First Vice Governor Mansouri is due to take over as interim chief after ruling factions failed to appoint a successor to Riad Salameh despite the meltdown that has fuelled poverty and frozen depositors out of their savings.
The world’s worst central banker retires
He presided over economic collapse in Lebanon
(The Economist) In most countries, a 95% drop in the currency would be a firing offence for a central-bank governor. Not in Lebanon, which by late 2021 was two years into a grinding financial crisis. The lira, long pegged at 1,500 to the dollar, had plummeted to 27,500. Najib Mikati, the prime minister, was asked if it was time to replace the longtime head of the Banque du Liban (bdl). His answer was clear: “one does not change one’s officers during a war”.
The war is still raging—but even Lebanon’s politicians, it seems, have their limits. The lira now trades at 90,000 to the dollar. gdp has contracted by 40% since 2018. After three decades running the bdl, Riad Salameh at last lost his job on July 31st. No permanent replacement has been announced. But Mr Mikati nonetheless declined to extend his term.
Riad Salameh: Lebanon’s tainted central bank chief steps down
France issues arrest warrant for Lebanon’s central bank chief
Riad Salameh calls the French warrant a violation of law as he is investigated over corruption allegations at home and abroad.
French prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for Lebanon’s central bank governor, Riad Salameh, who slammed the move and promised to appeal.
The warrant followed Salameh’s failure to appear before French prosecutors on Tuesday to be questioned on corruption charges, officials said.
Lebanon’s central bank chief appears before corruption hearing
Lebanon’s currency value plunges to 100,000 against US dollar
Lebanon devalues official exchange rate by 90 percent
Lebanon wakes up in two time zones because of daylight savings spat
By Timour Azhari and Maya Gebeily
(Reuters) – Lebanon woke up in two time zones on Sunday amid an escalating dispute between political and religious authorities over a decision to delay the clock change by a month.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati decided on Thursday not to start daylight savings time over the last weekend of March – as usually happens in Lebanon, Europe and other regions – but instead to roll clocks forward an hour on April 20.
Though no reason was given for the decision, it was widely seen as a concession to Muslims, allowing those observing the holy month of Ramadan to break their daylight-hours fasts at around 6 p.m. rather than 7 p.m.
Tear gas, clashes as Lebanese outraged over economic crisis
Protesters try to break through a fence leading to the government headquarters in central Beirut.
(Al Jazeera) Police in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, have fired tear gas and clashed with people protesting against the country’s ongoing economic crisis, days after the Lebanese lira hit a record low.
The unrest on Wednesday came amid widespread anger over the harsh economic conditions preceding the deepening meltdown in the country.
Many of those who demonstrated are retired soldiers demanding a living wage and depositors struggling to access their own money after local banks imposed informal capital controls amid the crisis.
John Buchanan writes:
It turns out that for those of a slightly autistic bent Lebanon is a bountiful feast of numbers and calculations!
When I arrived 8 days ago the black market exchange rate, which now seems to have become the de facto commercial rate, was 87,000 Lebanese £ (LBP) to the dollar.
This morning as I entered the local grocery the rate was 111,200. As I shopped for 30 minutes the rate changed to 111,500! Over 8 days the £ has lost 28% of it’s value in dollars!
Prices are now a mix of Lebanese £ and US$. This means that the whisky at 21,499,000 has changed in price from $24.71 to 19.28$ in 8 days.
Meanwhile the local turnips cost about 20 cents per kilo and there were many other £ priced bargains.
Soon all the prices will be in $ and the arbitrage opportunity lost!
Final bill LBP 31,555,000. The grocery allows 50% to be paid by card, the rest in cash. Most restaurants and stores and virtually the entire economy is run on a cash basis now so this was a rare opportunity to access funds in a bank account.
Wheelbarrows will soon be in short supply. All bank deposits remain seized, there is no sitting president, no functional government, and no sign of any possible IMF deal.
Meanwhile the March climate is ideal and the sea temperature will soon be swimmable. Absent a war this summer the diaspora will visit en masse with their fresh dollars and the local bars and restaurants will throb away through the humid nights!
Lebanon’s central bank chief appears before corruption hearing
Riad Salameh had previously rejected the presence of European investigators at the hearing, causing it to be postponed.
Salameh, 72, is part of the Lebanese political elite widely blamed for a crushing economic crisis that began in late 2019 and that the World Bank has dubbed one of the worst in recent history.
He faces allegations of crimes including embezzlement in separate probes in Lebanon and abroad, with investigators examining the fortune he has amassed during three decades on the job.
Prosecuting a few ‘bad guys’ will not heal Lebanon’s wounds
Delivering true justice to Beirut blast victims and preventing the repeat of such a tragedy requires systemic change.
Raimy Khalife-Hamdan, Scoville Peace Fellow at Win Without War Education Fund
Meet the World’s Most Honorable Bank Robbers (video)
(NYT) A wave of armed bank robberies has been sweeping Lebanon amid its economic meltdown. But the heists have followed a highly unusual pattern: The robbers are the banks’ clients, and the money they have been demanding is the contents of their own accounts.
These thieves have been driven to such extraordinary lengths to get their savings because banks have imposed strict withdrawal limits to avoid collapse. …the film also argues that the true thieves are not citizens who are trying to get their hard-earned savings but, rather, corrupt financial and political leaders who have helped to run the economy into the ground.
Prosecutors from five European countries have been investigating Riad Salameh, the governor of Lebanon’s central bank, who has been accused of laundering public money in Europe. And last Thursday, The Associated Press reported, Lebanese prosecutors charged Mr. Salameh, his brother and an associate with embezzlement, forgery, money laundering, illicit enrichment and tax law violations.
When Robbing Your Own Bank Account Is the Only Option (October 2022)
Toward a New Doha?
Lebanon’s political forces await a regional and international consensus to help resolve the country’s political and economic stalemate.
(Carnegie MEC) Many Lebanese turned their eyes to a five-party meeting in Paris last week, wondering what would come of it. The meeting brought together representatives from France, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt, with the aim of reaching agreement on a road map for the Lebanese parties to exit from their seemingly endless political and economic crises.
When the participants issued no final statement, however, pessimism prevailed. But that attitude was not necessarily justifiable. The reality is that what is going on behind the scenes appears to be a series of negotiations over who will succeed Michel Aoun as president, which has opened up a wider discussion encompassing who will become prime minister and the financial package that may be involved to ease Lebanon’s monumental economic woes.
In other words, Lebanon is heading toward a possible resolution of its political stalemate through a regional and local package deal—not unlike the Doha Agreement of May 2008, which prevented a civil war in Lebanon and subsequently led to the election of Michel Suleiman as president and the formation of a national-unity government. A new agreement appears to be in the works, and while its provisions, or even success, remain uncertain, all the talk is of a political solution tied to conflicts in the region, with an economic dimension added on to it.
A possible reason why no communiqué was issued is that France preferred to leave the door open for further consultations with other states, notably Iran. The Qataris are in an excellent position to play mediator between Tehran and Saudi Arabia, while also having very friendly relations with the Americans and the French. The Qataris are, similarly, well connected on the local Lebanese scene and have longstanding contacts with Hezbollah.
Paris summit in effort to lift Lebanon out of political paralysis
(RFI) France on Monday hosts an international meeting as part of attempts to end the political and social deadlock in Lebanon, against a background of the worst-ever financial crisis in the Mediterranean country.
French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Lebanon to “change its leadership” following months of deadlock that have impeded reforms.
The political impasse has hampered efforts to lift the Mediterranean country out of its worst-ever financial crisis. According to the International Monetary Fund, billions of dollars in foreign aid will become available only after a stable administration has been established.
What We’re Watching: Lebanon’s lackluster port probe resumes
Will Lebanese port blast victims ever get justice?
(GZERO media) The long-stalled investigation into the July 2020 Beirut port blast that killed at least 218 people got very messy this week. After a 13-month hiatus, the investigation resumed with Judge Tarek Bitar charging three high-ranking officials – including former PM Hassan Diab – with homicide with probable intent. (The charges related to the unsafe storage at a port warehouse of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate that ultimately exploded, decimating large parts of the city.) But then, the chief prosecutor (yes, the prosecutor!) announced on Wednesday that he was charging the judge for reopening the case. It’s unclear what the exact charges against him are, but Bitar, the second judge to oversee this investigation, has been subject to intimidation for pursuing the case. Meanwhile, the prosecutor also ordered 17 suspects in pre-trial custody to be released. Indeed, this is the latest sign that a culture of impunity plagues Lebanon. Meanwhile, as the elite continue to line their pockets, Lebanon’s economic situation remains catastrophic. Just this week, the US said it was rerouting aid funds to help cash-strapped Lebanon pay security personnel’s wages over fears that the security situation could spiral.
Former Lebanon PM Diab charged in Beirut blast investigation
Lebanon’s public prosecutor and head of its domestic intelligence agency also are charged in connection with the 2020 explosion, which killed at least 218 people.
The judge investigating the 2020 Beirut port explosion has charged Lebanon’s then-prime minister, Hassan Diab, and two other former ministers with homicide with probable intent, according to a court summons seen by the Reuters news agency.
Lebanon blast relatives questioned by police after protest
Family members of the victims of the 2020 Beirut port explosion were called in for questioning after they were accused of rioting at protests last week.
Lebanon’s neglected dams are powering a secret community of crypto miners
By Jacob Russell and Adam Hasan
Amid a crumbling economy, power cuts, and police raids, an underground community mines on.
Lebanon’s ‘Wonder Woman’ in hiding after bank heist
Sali Hafiz has been lauded as a hero in Lebanon after she entered a bank with a replica gun and demanded money from her own account to help treat her sister.
Sali, 28, and her sister took a branch of Lebanon’s Blom bank by storm on September 14, armed with what she later said was a replica gun, demanding to take $20,000 in cash out of their own accounts.
Sali said that she did it to pay for her sister’s medical expenses and immediately became a symbol of the suffering and desperation many Lebanese are living under amid the country’s deep financial crisis.
Since 2019, banks have imposed severe restrictions on foreign currency withdrawals, forcing most withdrawals to be taken out in local currency, and at a rate much lower than market value. Effectively this means that, if people want to access their foreign currency accounts, they will lose a considerable amount of money every time they withdraw.
While she was not the first person to forcefully seize their money from the banks this year, Sali’s success opened up the floodgates, with at least five other depositors carrying out similar actions on September 16.
With authorities scrambling to react, and officials urging people to not copy the heists, the banks then announced that they would close for three days this week, with a plan to reportedly open on Thursday.
Beirut’s Collapsing Grain Silos Are a Symbol of Lebanon’s Dysfunction
Exactly two years after a deadly blast, the capital was again enveloped in dust.
(Foreign Affairs) In Lebanon, political accountability has been one of the main demands of the ongoing anti-government protests. The demonstrations began in late 2019 as a response to the country’s economic crisis that has left more than 80 percent of the population affected by poverty as of 2021. But the corruption that has long been endemic to Lebanese society, along with the sectarian political system, has provided a serious barrier to change and accountability.
Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial funds payout
Armed man took six people hostage at Lebanese bank
Gunman demanded access to funds in frozen bank account
Siege ended after partial access to account
(The World) A man with a shotgun has been holding about a dozen employees hostage at a bank in Lebanon. He’s demanding that his own frozen savings be released. It’s the latest effect of the country’s dire economic crisis, which is now in its third year. Lebanon’s banks have placed strict limits on withdrawals of foreign currency assets, preventing millions of people from accessing their own savings. His brother, who came to the scene, said that he was a decent person just trying to withdraw his money to pay for his father’s medical expenses. Other people who gathered outside the bank expressed their support for the man, identified as Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein. One of them said, “We are depositors and we want our money. We are with him, we’re even ready to help him.”
Two years after Beirut blast, lawsuits raise hopes for justice
Legal cases abroad are giving survivors hope for justice amid a stalled Lebanese investigation, but they say an independent UN probe remains essential.
The World: Thursday will mark two years since the deadly blast at Beirut’s port — considered the world’s biggest nonnuclear explosion — and there hasn’t been anyone held accountable in the country’s probe into the negligent storage of dangerous chemicals. Over the weekend, grain storage silos at the port, which were damaged during the explosion that killed 200 people, partially collapsed after being consumed by fire for weeks. Many in Lebanon blame government corruption and mismanagement for the tragedy, but the political elite’s stronghold on power is believed to be an impediment for justice. Some of those charged in the investigation were reelected to Parliament earlier this year.
World Bank accuses Lebanese politicians of cruelty over deposit promises
(Reuters) – The World Bank accused Lebanese politicians of being cruel by asserting that deposits in the country’s collapsed banking sector are sacred, saying such slogans “flagrantly contradict the reality” in a report on Wednesday.
Lebanon is in the third year of a financial meltdown that has left eight in ten people poor and which the World Bank says is deliberate and may be one of the three worst in modern times.
‘Maritime border deal with Lebanon requires national referendum’
Israel and Lebanon have been indirectly negotiating their maritime border since late 2020, with US mediation.
Israeli law requires the government to hold a national referendum on any agreement reached with Lebanon over the maritime border, the Kohelet Policy Forum think tank wrote, as the US-mediated talks between Jerusalem and Beirut appear to be coming to a close.
Archbishop carrying bags with $460,000 from Israel sparks sectarian brawl in Lebanon
Moussa el-Hajj, a senior member of Maronite Church, stopped at border with money and medicines stuffed in 20 suitcases; Hezbollah accuses him of normalization with Jewish state
The situation has ramped up discord between two powerful political camps: Lebanon’s Shiite Muslim Hezbollah terror group and the Maronite Church.
The clergyman was briefly detained last month by Lebanese border agents who confiscated 20 suitcases stuffed with cash and medicine, arguing he violated Lebanon’s strict laws against normalization with Israel.
Part of damaged Beirut port silos collapses after weeks-long fire
(Al Jazeera) The collapse has revived trauma and anger just ahead of the two-year anniversary of the port explosion.
In July, a fire broke out in the northern block of the silos due to the fermenting grains.Firefighters and Lebanese Army soldiers were unable to put it out and it smouldered for weeks.
Ukraine urges Lebanon to block ship with grain from leaving
(AP) — Ukraine’s ambassador to Lebanon on Wednesday insisted a Syrian ship docked at a Lebanese port is carrying stolen Ukrainian grain and urged Lebanon to block the vessel from leaving.
The claim comes just days before the tiny cash-strapped country receives Ukraine’s first grain shipment since Russia’s invasion began over five months ago.
The Syrian-flagged Laodicea has been anchored at the port of Tripoli since it arrived last Thursday, carrying 10,000 tons of wheat flour and barley. Ukraine says the grain was stolen by Russia.
The ongoing fuss over the Laodicea comes as the first grain ship carrying 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn aboard the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni entered Turkey’s Bosporus Strait en route to the Tripoli port in Lebanon. It’s the first grain ship heading from the war-torn country since Russia’s invasion in late February.
A Lebanese official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the ship is expected to take about four days to arrive in Lebanon from Istanbul after it was searched.
System Holds but Foundations Weaken in Post-Elections Lebanon
(Emirates Policy Center (EPC)) Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati was designated premier again on Thursday (June 23, 2022), with the backing of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, and a few independent Sunni members of parliament. Other independents, the Lebanese Forces, and Jumblatt’s Parliamentary Bloc, among others, refused to back him, giving him a weak premiership with many challenges ahead. Last month, Nabih Berri was delivered a similar message when he was re-elected as the Speaker of the House, but with only 65 votes in the 128-member parliament – the lowest number he has ever received.
These setbacks to the two high-ranking officials are due to a significant shake-up in the new setup, where Hezbollah and its allies have lost the majority, and 13 new MPs – representing the 2019 protests – have made it to the parliament. The traditional anti-Hezbollah parties, such as the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, have won more seats. On the other hand, Gebran Bassil’s Free Patriotic Movement and the pro-Assad camp have also lost seats.
The next step for Mikati is to form a new cabinet that stays in power until the end of October, when President Michel Aoun’s six-year term expires. He faces two more challenges – the presidential elections and the deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In April, the previous government reached a draft funding deal with the IMF, and a final agreement depends on the implementation of a list of long-delayed reforms.
(ABC) Lebanon’s caretaker energy minister has extended the licensing deadline for oil and gas exploration in the country’s territorial waters to December. The move will give more companies the chance to bid, and comes after a request for an extension by the Lebanese Petroleum Administration. Lebanon has been in a dispute with Israel over its maritime borders, which escalated recently after a vessel operated by London-based Energean arrived off the Mediterranean coast earlier this month to develop a gas field.
Explainer: Israel-Lebanon sea boundary row obstructs energy development
(Reuters) – A dispute between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime boundary has obstructed energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and risks exacerbating tensions between two foes.
After months of deadlock in U.S.-mediated talks, Beirut on Sunday warned against any activity in the disputed area, responding to the arrival of a vessel to develop a field for Israel
Lebanon warns against any Israeli ‘aggression’ in disputed waters
Lebanon’s hospitals are running out of medicine and staff in ongoing economic crisis
(NPR) Lebanon is in the grips of a devastating economic crisis. For years, the government and banking sector mismanaged and squandered the country’s cash reserves until the financial system finally collapsed in 2019. That has triggered severe shortages of everything from food to fuel to medicines and has sent health care costs soaring, making it perilously difficult for people to get treated even for serious illnesses.
Lebanon’s economic turmoil has also prompted an exodus of doctors and nurses who are departing the country for more stable work abroad, leaving the country’s hospitals desperately understaffed and patients dangerously underserved.
Lebanon election results raise spectre of new power struggle
(BBC) …passionate, desperate Lebanese crowds have finally had their chance to judge their politicians officially, at the ballot box. These elections were never going to produce significant political change. But what message did they send?
The powerful, Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement, the main group of Lebanon’s Shia Muslims, lost its majority in parliament.
That’s a big moment and it’s significant. But when you crunch the numbers, you see that the party itself kept the same number of seats – 13. It was candidates in the overall cross-sectarian alliance, which they’re a part of, that saw losses.
Hezbollah’s biggest coalition ally – the Free Patriotic Movement – didn’t record as many wins as in 2018. In fact, the Free Patriotic Movement’s rivals, the Lebanese Forces, pulled ahead to become the biggest Christian group in parliament. It’s a blow for the party of the president, Michael Aoun, just months before his successor in the job will be chosen.
This time, there’s a new group at the table – the independents. These are the individuals and parties who are anti-establishment, and they’ve surged to 13 seats. Many of these political newcomers found their voices during that 2019 revolution, or “thawra” as it’s known in Arabic. Many started out protesting outside Beirut’s parliamentary buildings, and now they’ll be working inside them.
Now the results have been counted and confirmed, what comes next? Most likely, a long period of protracted negotiations to try to build a government. For those weeks, even months, Lebanon will carry on struggling to pull itself out of its deep financial crisis.
But when the politicians aren’t sitting in cabinet or passing laws, there’s almost no chance of change.
Lebanon’s elections will only re-legitimise the failed system
It is unlikely that Sunday’s parliamentary election will bring any structural change
Joe Macaron, PhD candidate at the University of Bath.
Lebanon has changed significantly since the last general election in 2018. Indeed, after the emergence of the October 17 protest movement, an economic and financial collapse, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Beirut port explosion, and disruptions to energy and food security caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the country is now facing a brand new set of crippling challenges.
Today, the people of Lebanon are yearning for sweeping reforms that can get the country out of its chronic state of crisis. But rather than delivering this much-needed structural shift, the upcoming election will likely resuscitate a dysfunctional governance system.
Lebanon vote seen as last chance in crisis-plagued nation
(AP) — In households across Lebanon, it’s likely that one or more family members are planning to emigrate — if they can get a passport. Demand is high but the bankrupt government has not paid the company contracted to issue or renew the documents.
Lebanese spend their days at the banks, waiting to see what meager amounts they will be allowed to withdraw for the month. They install batteries and solar panels at great cost so their family can survive the humid summer months without electricity from the grid.
They hunt for medicine and fuel, and worry about securing the next meal for their kids.
It’s an economic meltdown and Sunday’s parliament elections are seen as a last chance to reverse course and punish the current crop of politicians who have driven the Mediterranean nation into the ground.
Instead, a widespread sense of apathy and pessimism prevails, with most observers agreeing the vote is unlikely to make much difference.
Lebanon vote holds little hope for change despite disasters
With Lebanon in free-fall for more than two years, it should be a make-or-break vote for the country’s ruling class. Their decades-long grip on power has driven one of the Middle East’s most spirited countries to ruin.
(AP) — The May 15 elections for parliament are the first since Lebanon’s economic meltdown began in late 2019. The government’s factions have done virtually nothing to address the collapse, leaving Lebanese to fend for themselves as they plunge into poverty, without electricity, medicine, garbage collection or any other semblance of normal life.
These are also the first elections since the August 4, 2020, catastrophic explosion at Beirut port that killed more than 215 people and wrecked large parts of the city. The destruction sparked widespread outrage at the traditional parties’ endemic corruption and mismanagement.
A new generation of political opposition activists, like Zaatari, emerged after mass waves of protests that began in October 2019, a historic moment when Lebanese temporarily dropped their confessional identities and chanted shoulder-to-shoulder for the toppling of the ruling elite.
The activists are trying to build off that political engagement and awareness in Lebanon to enact change.
Yet instead of uniting, self-declared opposition groups are divided along ideological lines on virtually every issue, including over how to revive the economy.
As a result, there are an average of at least three different opposition lists in each of the 15 electoral districts, a 20% increase from the 2018 elections. A total of 103 lists with 1,044 candidates are vying for the 128-seat legislature, which is equally divided between Christians and Muslims.
Hezbollah’s criticism of Saudi not in Lebanon’s interest – PM
(Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati Monday said criticism of Saudi Arabia by the leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group did not serve the national interest or represent the country’s official stance.
Saudi Arabia and a number of other Gulf Arab states withdrew ambassadors and expelled Lebanese envoys in October and November over what the kingdom later said was arch-foe Hezbollah’s dominance of the Lebanese state.
Lebanese officials including President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, and Mikati have called for dialogue with Saudi Arabia to resolve the diplomatic crisis, which has piled onto an economic meltdown now in its third year.
Saudi Arabia has called on Lebanon to end “terrorist Hebzollah’s” influence over the state. Mikati’s government contains several ministers backed by Hezbollah and its ally the Amal movement.
Mikati formed a government in September with the aim of negotiating an International Monetary Fund (IMF) support programme and kickstarting economic recovery.
But he has been unable to convene Cabinet since Oct. 12 amid demands by Hezbollah and Amal to limit the probe into the deadly August 2020 Beirut blast.
France to work with Saudi Arabia to resolve Lebanon crisis
Emmanuel Macron says France and Saudi Arabia are committed to resolve diplomatic row between Riyadh and Beirut.
The kingdom and other Gulf states withdrew their ambassadors from Beirut last month, angered by a government minister who criticised the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The minister resigned on Friday.
Macron, who was in Saudi Arabia for talks with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, told reporters that Riyadh had committed to re-engage financially in the short term.
The kingdom and other Gulf states withdrew their ambassadors from Beirut last month, angered by a government minister who criticised the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The minister resigned on Friday.
Macron, who was in Saudi Arabia for talks with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, told reporters that Riyadh had committed to re-engage financially in the short term.
Lebanon’s central bank vows to cooperate with audit as pound dips
Lebanon is in the throes of the deepest economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
The audit is seen as a key condition for an International Monetary fund support programme and other foreign aid to stem Lebanon’s deepest economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, formed in September after a year of tortuous negotiations among Lebanon’s many various political parties, has struggled to carry out its business.
It has not met for more than 40 days, hampered by a push by the Iranian-backed armed Hezbollah movement and its allies to remove the judge probing the calamitous Beirut port blast in August 2020 that brought down the previous government.
[Governor Riad] Salameh told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that the government had not yet agreed about the financial figures it would present to the IMF, a basic requirement to begin negotiations.
Dyer: Political class stubbornly refuses help as Lebanon founders
Five years ago, Lebanon still looked like a middle-class country with many poor people. Now it looks like a very poor country with a few rich people. The proportion of people living below the official poverty line has gone from 30 per cent two years ago to 80 per cent now.
Even the civil war of 1975-90 did less damage to the economy, despite destroying several hundred thousand lives and much of the nation’s infrastructure. “Even during the civil war, there was money and nobody starved,” as a Beirut bus driver put it.
The current disaster’s roots are in that war. It drove the Lebanese back into the relative safety of their own sectarian communities, Christian, Sunni Muslim, and Shia Muslim, and warlords arose to protect those communities.
By war’s end, they were the new political and financial elite, with well-paid militias to enforce their will on their communities. They became a corrupt, nepotistic club whose members co-operate to appropriate the Lebanese state’s wealth, however much they may hate each other.
That system worked smoothly into the 2000s, but it was visibly coming apart by the 2010s. There simply wasn’t enough money to share among the elites (politely termed the “political class”). Lebanon produces almost nothing, not even enough food for its people, and its imports are paid for with remittances, foreign aid and loans.
With not enough money coming in to sustain their immense patronage networks, the elites started taxing the poorer population more heavily, and in 2019, something snapped. Suddenly Beirut’s streets were full of protesters demanding fundamental change.
Lebanon is a former French colony, so French President Emmanuel Macron flew in and offered the Lebanese government $11 billion in return for structural reforms to root out government corruption. But the elites who benefit from that system are the government, in practice, so they said no.
Lisa Van Dusen: Lebanon’s Chaos: Not Quite Déjà Vu
(Policy Magazine) The life of Lebanon over the past four decades can be broadly catalogued in major explosions: The October, 1983, suicide bombings of the US and French peacekeeper barracks in Beirut that killed 307 people and led to the withdrawal of the multinational force; the 2,000-lb bomb that killed reformist Prime Minister Rafic Hariri on February 14, 2005 and left a 30-foot crater in the Corniche; and the August 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion of 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that killed 218, injured 7,000, left an estimated 300,000 people homeless and caused $15 billion USD in property damage.
Last year’s port explosion wasn’t the most morbidly ironic of the three — that prize goes to Hariri’s assassination for the date chosen by the perpetrators, which made it Lebanon’s Valentine’s Day Massacre. After 11 years of investigation into that assassination, the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon rendered its verdict that there was no evidence either Hezbollah leadership or the Syrian government — both long assumed to be suspects one and two — were involved in the murder. That verdict, delayed by the port explosion from August 7 to August 18, 2020, was followed last December by the sentencing in absentia of Hezbollah militant Salim Ayyash — whereabouts unknown — to five consecutive life terms for Hariri’s assassination.
Lebanon is now reliving the protracted national drama of the Hariri bombing and the corruption-besieged investigation into it, only with a much bigger crater, a much longer casualty list and the knowledge that this time, the catalyzing tragedy was generated not (that we know of at this writing) by tactical depravity but by its frequent sidekick, stupidity.
Deadly Clashes in Beirut Escalate Fears Over Lebanon’s Dysfunction
The fighting further traumatized the small Mediterranean country, a patchwork of sects that has tumbled into an abyss of devastating political and economic crises.
(NYT) Grave fuel shortages in recent months have left all but the wealthiest Lebanese struggling with prolonged power blackouts and long lines at gas stations. The country’s once vaunted banking, medical and education sectors have all suffered profound losses, as professionals have fled to seek livelihoods abroad.
Lebanese army arrests nine people after Beirut violence
President Michel Aoun vows to bring perpetrators to justice, as six killed by gunfire and more than 30 others wounded.
(Al Jazeera) Soldiers were deployed on the streets to contain the violence as an undeclared truce brought calm to the Lebanese capital, after nearly five hours of heavy gunfire.
Clashes had erupted as a rally organised by the Hezbollah and Amal movements to demand the dismissal of the lead investigator into last year’s port explosion turned violent.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Beirut Palace of Justice, calling for the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar, accusing him of political bias.
Tension over Beirut blast probe tips Lebanon into new crisis
(Reuters) – Growing tension over a judicial probe into last year’s Beirut port blast threatens to push Lebanon into yet another political crisis, testing Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s new government as it struggles to dig the country out of economic collapse.
More than a year since the explosion ripped through Beirut, killing more than 200 people, Judge Tarek Bitar’s efforts to hold senior officials to account for suspected negligence are facing mounting political pushback, much of it driven by the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
The government does not have the authority to remove Bitar but could revoke a previous decision that transferred the probe to the judicial council, said Nizar Saghieh, head of the Legal Agenda, a research and advocacy organisation. This would be a major assault on “the separation of powers”.
Potential foreign aid donors have called for a transparent investigation into the blast, caused by a huge quantity of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate.
The U.S. State Department on Tuesday accused Hezbollah of threatening Lebanon’s judiciary. Hezbollah lawmaker Hassan Fadllalah said those remarks violated Lebanese sovereignty and showed “the level of intervention to control the Beirut port blast investigation”.
‘Unprecedented’ hunger in Lebanon as fuel crisis hikes food costs
Families skip meals and forgo staples as Lebanon’s paralysing fuel crisis causes food prices to skyrocket.
(Al Jazeera) The Lebanese government has gradually been lifting fuel subsidies since June and has increased petrol prices four times in under a month in a bid to deal with crippling shortages. At the same time, it has struggled to unroll a cashcard programme to replace the subsidies.
Meanwhile, Lebanon has been increasingly hit by extended blackouts as state-provided electricity dwindled to almost nothing, while diesel fuel prices for private generators have skyrocketed, too – if fuel can even be found in the first place.
Lebanon’s economy ministry announced earlier this week that they had raised the price of bread for a sixth time this year – partly due to the weakening local currency, but also due to the petrol and fuel crisis as transportation costs have soared.
Lebanon and IMF to restart technical talks on rescue funds
(Al Jazeera) Prime Minister Mikati intends to resume negotiations on a bailout package after discussions fell apart a year ago.
Lebanon PM Mikati among officials named in Pandora Papers
(Al Jazeera) Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh are among several Lebanese political and financial officials named in the Pandora Papers with wealth hidden in offshore tax havens, at a time when millions of Lebanese people cannot access their savings in the banks.
The Papers show that Mikati, the recently reappointed billionaire prime minister of Lebanon, owns a Panama-based offshore company he used to buy property in Monaco worth $10m.
His son Maher owns at least two companies in the British Virgin Islands, which he used to buy an office in central London for the Mikati family’s international investment company, the M1 Group, the investigation revealed.
Maher told Al Jazeera that “using offshore entities could be considered as forms of tax evasion for US and EU nationals but this is not the case for Lebanese nationals”.
Lebanon’s president displayed a typical lack of self-awareness.
By Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and columnist at Foreign Policy
Of all the Middle Eastern leaders I wanted to hear from at this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting, it wasn’t Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or even Saudi Arabia’s King Salman—it was Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
What does a leader of a country that has collapsed say to the world body?
Like many speeches during UNGA, Aoun’s did not break new ground. Most of the 17 minutes and 31 seconds of his prerecorded remarks were devoted to repeating the message that he and other Lebanese politicians have been repeating over the last year: Europe, the United States, wealthy Arab states, international financial institutions, and virtually everyone else must act to rescue Lebanon. …
About four minutes into his speech, Aoun denounced a “decades-long rentier-style financial and economic policy, coupled with corruption and waste and driven by financial mismanagement and lack of accountability,” that had “led Lebanon into an unprecedented financial and monetary crisis.”
For the last half-decade, Aoun has been president of Lebanon. When he was sworn in in 2016, he promised political and economic reform. Before he became head of state, Aoun was one of Lebanon’s political heavyweights through his Free Patriotic Movement.
Analysis: Who pays? Lebanon faces tough question in IMF bailout bid
By Tom Perry and Maha El Dahan
Analysts sceptical PM Mikati can do much before election
Goldman Sachs sees “a critical obstacle” to recovery
Source sees momentum for IMF deal, room for compromise
‘We are desperate for dollars,’ senior politician says
(Reuters) – In its bid for IMF support, Lebanon must address a question it has evaded since the economy imploded two years ago: how should it distribute the huge losses caused by its financial collapse?
Till now, the answer has been brutally simple: ordinary Lebanese have paid the price as they watched savings evaporate, the currency crumble and basic goods disappear from the shelves.
Lebanon has sunk deeper into trouble with no plan and no government until its fractious sectarian politicians ended a year of bickering and agreed a new cabinet this month.
The new prime minister, billionaire tycoon Najib Mikati, and his government need to acknowledge the scale of losses and work out how to share them out to deliver on a promise to secure International Monetary Fund assistance with economic reforms.
The financial system collapsed in 2019 because of decades of corruption and waste in the state and the unsustainable way it was financed. The trigger was slowing inflows of hard currency into the banking system, which lent heavily to the government.
Mikati may have a better shot in IMF talks than his predecessor partly because there is now broader political recognition – including, it seems, within Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah – that an IMF deal is the inescapable path to aid.
Lebanon gets IMF funding injection. How much will it help?
Lebanon was due to receive a fresh injection of IMF funding on Wednesday, but the new government has not yet said how they will use the money.
(Al Jazeera) Lebanon’s newly-formed government is expected to receive a desperately needed funding injection on Thursday, with a fresh $1.135bn allocation of the International Monetary Fund’s reserve asset known as Special Drawing Rights. But the windfall, though welcome, is a mere fraction of what the country needs to put its economy on some semblance of firmer footing.
Lebanon: New government, different faces, same old problems
(Middle East Eye) The reconstitution of political power and an independent electoral body are prerequisites for any substantive recovery in Lebanon. Until then, the country will lurch from crisis to crisis.
In Lebanon, an exasperated population cheers the formation of a new government after almost a year of tribulations and an unprecedented economic and social crisis.
By now, though, seasoned Lebanese politicians are experts in generating an exciting “shock factor” and the illusion of impending change by introducing a few ministers from outside the usual pool of names. These people generally have impressive professional qualifications, but lack the political clout to spark meaningful reforms or take the necessary bold actions. The 2021 Najib Mikati government is no exception.
Nobody’s running Lebanon, central bank boss says
(Reuters) – Lebanon’s central bank governor said nobody was running the country, hitting back after government criticism of his decision to halt fuel subsidies that have drained currency reserves.
In an interview broadcast on Saturday, Riad Salameh said the government could resolve the problem quickly by passing necessary legislation.
The worsening fuel crisis is part of Lebanon’s wider financial meltdown. Hospitals, bakeries and many businesses are scaling back operations or shutting down as fuel runs dry. Life grinds to a halt in Lebanon’s blackouts
Hezbollah launches rocket fire in response to Israeli air raids
Hezbollah claims responsibility for rocket fire a day after Israeli air raids amid an escalation of cross-border hostilities.
The blast that ripped through Beirut was a year ago.
But for many, the disaster continues.
‘No sense of safety’: how the Beirut blast created a mental health crisis
A year on from the devastating explosion, people are struggling to sleep and PTSD is widespread – amid economic chaos
With the country in meltdown, failed by the political class, its people are in the grip of a mental health crisis without adequate resources to deal with it. Lifeline, Lebanon’s emotional support and suicide prevention helpline, says the number of calls it’s receiving each month has almost doubled since May 2021 to 1,050. Widespread power cuts caused by fuel shortages are also now lasting up to 22 hours a day. Without electricity at night to power air conditioning, many people are struggling to get enough sleep during the hot and humid Lebanese summer.
What We Lost That Day
Personal reflections from victims of the Aug. 4, 2020, explosion at the Beirut port.
The explosion shattered houses, buildings, cars, trees, but also our mental health, our sense of security, our sense of the possible and impossible.
(NYT) On Aug. 4, 2020, at 6:08 p.m., at the end of a searing summer day, the earth shook, the buildings swayed and the sky roared.
Windows turned into daggers and furniture into shrapnel. The air itself became a battering ram. It felt as if the very world — our cafes, offices, homes and hospitals, our places of leisure and work and shelter — was rising up against us and trying to bury us alive.
In Lebanese Arabic, there is a saying: “The world stood up and sat back down.” It’s meant to describe chaos — a world turned upside down. This is what happened on that day almost one year ago, when Beirut was devastated by an explosion at a port warehouse. Everything slid out of place, and we’ve been unable to return anything to where it belongs.
How can we be expected to rearrange our lives around this still-smoking crater? How do we even begin to make an account of what we’ve lost?
A year after the blast, Lebanon fights for its future (podcast)
(Al Jazeera) What is left in Lebanon, after 12 months of almost indescribable crisis, is the fight to hold someone – anyone – accountable. There has been a yearlong fight to do just that, but with the economic freefall only getting worse, the paralysis seems to be deepening. Lebanon is no stranger to proxy conflicts, and now the investigation into the blast has become a surrogate fight for the future of Lebanon itself.
Here is why the EU should sanction Lebanon’s bankers
Sami Halabi, Director of Policy at the Beirut-based think tank Triangle
The banking sector is responsible for the current crisis in Lebanon. Sanctioning its leaders can help effect a solution.
As the painful anniversary was drawing nearer, the European Union announced a framework that “provides for the possibility of imposing sanctions against persons and entities who are responsible for undermining democracy or the rule of law in Lebanon”. The long-anticipated move is effectively a warning shot aimed at pressuring Lebanon’s intransigent elites into undertaking reforms.
A year after massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon’s crisis deepens
Opinion by Mohamad Bazzi, journalism professor, non-resident fellow at Democracy for the Arab World, and incoming director of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University
Lebanon’s political paralysis, financial crisis and stalled investigation might seem like separate problems, but they’re all the result of three decades of systemic negligence and lack of accountability, since the end of a 15-year civil war in 1990.
(CNN) With the country’s sectarian leaders and parties refusing to accept a government led by independent technocrats, Lebanon needs more structural change that would ultimately dismantle its religion-based “confessional” system. This could start with the parliamentary elections, which in the past have been gerrymandered in favor of the sectarian parties. That’s why it’s essential for the new government to adopt a fair election law — and for Lebanese to vote in record numbers.
There is some hope for reform: on July 18, a coalition of opposition and civil society groups won a landslide victory in elections for leaders of one of Lebanon’s largest unions, which represents 60,000 engineers and architects. The independents defeated candidates supported by some of Lebanon’s largest sectarian parties. It’s a small step, and it might not reflect the more complex legislative elections next year, but union elections in the Arab world are sometimes an early indicator of change.
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 2020)