A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For January 21-22/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 97th Day Compiled By: Elias Bejjani January 22/2020
Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on January 21-22/2020 A New Hezbollah Government Per Excellence In Occupied Lebanon/Elias Bejjani/January 22/2020 Lebanon unveils new government headed by Hassan Diab Diab: New cabinet embodies aspirations of protesters Lebanon forms a new government amid financial crisis and mass protests New government in crisis-hit Lebanon ends 3-month vacuum New Lebanese Government Formed after 3 Months of Political Vacuum Hassan Diab: Govt. Will Seek to Meet Protesters Demands, Recover Stolen Funds Hassan Diab’s new government could further polarize Lebanese politics Lebanese Officials Agree on 20-Minister Government Lebanon needs foreign support, decision on Eurobond: New finance minister Lebanon Protesters Rally, Block Roads in Rejection of New Govt. US Seeks to Corner Hezbollah in Latin America International Reactions Condemn Brutal Use of Force Against Protesters Lebanon parliament delays 2020 budget session: Lebanese media American journalist freed in Lebanon, activists remain concerned ISG Says Alarmed by ‘Growing Violence’ in Lebanon Demos Strong Lebanon Bloc Urges Quick Electricity and Economy Reform Amnesty: Excessive Force against Lebanon Protests Must Stop Press Freedom Organizations Condemn Attacks on Journalists in Lebanon Many Lebanese Say Bassil Has No Business Being at Davos Franjieh: Bassil’s Greediness Obstructing Govt. Formation, Our Participation Undecided Yet Situation in Lebanon ‘Discouraging,’ U.S. Report Shows Lebanon’s moment of truth has arrived/Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib/Arab News/January 21/2020 American journalist freed in Lebanon, activists remain concerned/Abby Sewell/Al Arabiya English/January 21/2020 Lebanon will slide into violence unless the elite chooses political reform/Ryan Bohl//Al Arabiya English/January 21/2020 A Superman Is Needed for Lebanese Diplomacy/Sam Menassa/Asharq Al Awsat/January 21/2020 Road Map to an Orderly Restructuring of Lebanon’s Public Sector Debt/A Citizens’ Initiative For Lebanon (CIL)
Details Of The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorial published on January 21-22/2020 A New Hezbollah Government Per Excellence In Occupied Lebanon Elias Bejjani/January 22/2020 In reality and actuality it is worth mentioning that all The governments in Lebanon since 2005, and all those that took place during the entire savage-Stalinist Syrian occupation era were mere puppets, clowns, and masks no more no less. Sadly the new so called falsely Lebanese government that was imposed by force today by the occupier Hezbollah has nothing that is Lebanese and practically it is not going to be different by any means. It remains that Lebanon’s main problem and devastating cancer is the Hezbollah-Iranian occupation, and accordingly no solutions are possible in any field or sector as long as this occupier remains in control and have the upper hand in all domains and all levels. In conclusion Lebanon is an Iranian occupied country, while all its officials and politicians from top to bottom are castrated in all domains of sovereignty, independence, decision making process, dignity, self respect, faith, and freedom. All these clowns have no say in any matter and did actually sell themselves and the country with much less than thirty coins. They are officials and politicians who shamelessly obey Hezbollah’s Faramens (orders and decrees) and happily serve its Iranian schemes of occupation, oppression, iranization and expansionism Meanwhile the Hariri last government was a Hezbollah facade too and Hariri himself was a number one advocate for the Hezbollah occupation regionally and globally. It remains that this third government during Michael Aoun’s presidency is a Hezbollah one per excellence while Aoun himself as a president was made by Hezbollah. Unfortunately, Aoun and since year 2006 has been openly and boldly serving Hezbollah’s Iranian hegemony and Occupation on the account of every thing that is Lebanon and Lebanese.
Lebanon unveils new government headed by Hassan Diab Al Arabiya English/Tuesday, 21 January 2020 Crisis-hit Lebanon’s nearly three-month wait for a new government ended on Tuesday when a line-up led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab was announced at the presidential palace. A government official read out the 20 names in a brief address after President Michel Aoun signed off on the names, agreed on after more than a month of tense negotiations. The new prime minister Diab vowed that his newly-unveiled government would strive to meet the demands of a three-month-old protest movement demanding radical change. “This is a government that represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilized nationwide for more than three months,” he said, moments after the line-up was read out at the presidential palace. He said his government “will strive to meet their demands for an independent judiciary, for the recovery of embezzled funds, for the fight against illegal gains.” New cabinet Prime Minister: Hassan Diab Deputy PM and Defense: Zeina Akar Interior: Mohamed Fahmi Justice: Marie-Claude Najm Finance: Ghazi Wazni Foreign Affairs: Nassif Hitti Environment and Administrative Development: Damianos Kattar Telecommunications: Talal Hawat Economy Minister: Raoul Nehme Industry Minister: Imad Hoballah Public Works: Michel Najjar Labor Minister: Lamia Yammine Energy Minister: Raymond Ghajar Social Affairs and Tourism Minister: Ramzi Mousharrafiyeh Youth and Sports Minister: Varte Ohanian Education Minister: Tarek Majzoub Health Minister: Hamad Hassan Agriculture and Culture Minister: Abbas Mortada Displaced: Ghada Shreim Information Minister: Manal Abdel Samad
Diab: New cabinet embodies aspirations of protesters NNA/January 21/2020 Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, on Tuesday confirmed that the new cabinet embodied the aspirations of protesters all across the nation. “We will endeavor to translate the people’s demands. The new government comprises of qualified professionals and has a balanced representation of women. It is a government of specialists who only work for the sake of the country; a government that is not affected by politics and its struggles. It is a government of young men and women who are looking for a promising future in their homeland,” Diab said as describing the new government. “It is a government in which women have a balanced representation and occupy the position of vice-president for the first time in Lebanon,” Diab added. In response to a question, the Prime Minister said that the new cabinet had capabilities and competencies that it planned to invest to rescue the country. “You know the reality of Lebanon, and I assure you that every minister in this government is a technocrat and functions away from political parties. As for consultations, it is very normal to hold them with politicians,” he added in response to another question. As for a new election law, Diab stressed, “We will study the electoral law, and after the cabinet’s approval, it will be forwarded to the house of parliament for legislation, after which we will hold elections.”In response to another question about the demands of protesters, Diab said, “we will strive to do everything required to meet all the protesters’ demands; the government will start working as of the first day.”With regard to addressing the crucial monetary and financial situation, he explained that a committee of ministers has been tasked to deal with the financial and monetary situation. “For my part, I deal with the administrative policy that benefits the Lebanese best; however, political disputes have no place in my dictionary,” Diab added.
Lebanon forms a new government amid financial crisis and mass protests Agencies/Arab News/January 21/2020 BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new government was announed on Tuesday after the powerful Shi’ite Hezbollah group and its allies clinched an agreement on a cabinet that must tackle a deep economic crisis. Two senior political sources told Reuters the cabinet would be made up of 20 ministers with economist Ghazi Wazni as finance minister. In a Twitter post earlier on Tuesday, caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil of the Hezbollah-allied Amal Movement said a new government was “hours away”. Heavily indebted Lebanon has been without effective government since Saad al-Hariri resigned as premier in October due to protests against state corruption and waste – the root causes of the country’s worst financial and economic crisis since its 1975-90 civil war. The issue has become more pressing since hundreds of people were injured in clashes between protesters and security forces at the weekend. Ordinary Lebanese have been hit hard by banks’ restrictions on access to cash, a slump in the Lebanese pound, job losses and inflation. Two senior political sources earlier told Reuters all issues that had delayed a government deal had been resolved. The heavily armed Hezbollah and its political allies had been unable to agree the make-up of the cabinet since designating former education minister Hassan Diab as premier more than a month ago. Diab was headed to the presidential palace on Tuesday and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was set to follow, political sources and local media said. The government is expected to be comprised of specialists rather than politicians – a demand of protesters – but political parties have sought to put forward the names of the specialists themselves in order to maintain cabinet influence.
New government in crisis-hit Lebanon ends 3-month vacuum Annahar/January 21/2020 BEIRUT: After three months of political turmoil, a government was finally formed Tuesday with Lebanon teetering on the brink of an economic collapse. Hassan Diab, a 60-year-old professor at the American University of Beirut, now heads a Cabinet of 20 members, mostly specialists backed by political parties. The move, which comes three months after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, is unlikely to satisfy protesters. They have been calling for sweeping reforms and a government made up of independent technocrats that could deal with the country’s crippling economic and financial crisis, the worst this tiny Mediterranean country has faced in decades. The country has been without a government since Hariri resigned on Oct. 29, two weeks into the unprecedented nationwide protest movement. The new government is mostly comprised of March 8 affiliates and their after the now-defunct March 14 camp announced its non-participation months ago. Hezbollah, Amal Movement, Free Patriotic Movement, and Marada are all represented in the government, which is bound to bring the ire of demonstrators. Shortly before the Cabinet was announced, thousands of people poured into the street closing major roads in the capital Beirut and other parts of the country in rejection of the new government. Their anger was directed at political groups, saying they had named the new ministers. “It’s time to get to work,” Diab said in a speech addressing the country following the announcement. He saluted the protesters in the street and vowed to “work to fulfill your demands,” claiming that he was the first government in the history of Lebanon to be made up entirely of technocrats. He insisted the 20 ministers were specialists who had no political loyalties and were not partisan. Diab appealed to citizens to help the government implement a “rescue program” and said this Cabinet has the “capability and qualifications, will and commitment” to carry it through. Among the ministers named were five women, including the minister of defense and deputy prime minister. For three months, the leaderless protests have been calling for a government made up of specialists that can work on dealing with the economic crisis. The protests have recently turned violent, with around 500 people injured in violent confrontations between protesters and security forces over the weekend. Although the government announced Tuesday is technically made up of specialists, the ministers were named by political parties in a process involving horse-trading and bickering with little regard for the demands of protesters for a transparent process and neutral, independent candidates. The heads of the main ministries include career diplomat Naseef Hitti for the Foreign Ministry. Economist Ghazi Wazni was named finance minister and former army Gen. Mohammed Fahmi was named minister of the interior. Zeina Akar was named minister of defense and deputy prime minister. Demienos Kattar, an independent nominated by Diab, will take on the role of Environment Minister and Administrative Development. Tarek Majzoub, also nominated by Diab, was named Education Minister. What started out as a peaceful gathering in front of the main entrance to Parliament in downtown Beirut turned violent night fell, with demonstrators able to breach a security wall set up by security forces. Riot police then responded with tear gas, momentarily pushing protesters back. Moments later, a Molotov cocktail hit police stationed behind the security perimeter, with flames nearly engulfing one member.
New Lebanese Government Formed after 3 Months of Political Vacuum Naharnet/January 21/2020 Lebanon got a 20-minister government led by former minister Hassan Diab on Tuesday, after 33 days of arduous negotiations. The Cabinet’s line-up was announced following a meeting between Diab, President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri at the Baabda Palace. The Cabinet’s secretary-general said the new government will hold its first session at 11:00 am Wednesday. Earlier in the day, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party officially announced that it would not take part in the government. The Marada Movement was meanwhile allotted two portfolios – public works and labor.
Hassan Diab: Govt. Will Seek to Meet Protesters Demands, Recover Stolen Funds Naharnet/January 21/2020 More than a month after he was designated and nearly three after his predecessor Saad Hariri resigned under pressure from the street, Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet of 20 ministers was announced on Tuesday. The academic and former education minister, who was little-known in Lebanon until last month, insisted in his first comments as premier that his cabinet was a technocratic one that would strive to meet protesters’ demands. “This is a government that represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilized nationwide for more than three months,” he said. He said his government “will strive to meet their demands for an independent judiciary, for the recovery of embezzled funds, for the fight against illegal gains.”Diab added that the government will fight unemployment and devise a new electoral law, describing every minister in his cabinet as a “technocratic” minister. The new cabinet is made up of little-known figures, many of them academics and former advisers, but protesters were quick to argue that the absence of the biggest names in Lebanon’s widely reviled hereditary political elite was but a smokescreen. Groups of demonstrators had gathered in the streets of Beirut before the cabinet was even unveiled, blocking off a main street in the centre of the capital where violent scuffles with the police left dozens wounded over the weekend. ‘Not serious’ “We want a new Lebanon, a Lebanon with no corruption,” Charbel Kahi, a 37-year-old farmer, told AFP as fellow protesters beat drums behind him. “They are not taking the Lebanese people seriously with this government,” he said. Hilal Khashan, a professor at the American University of Beirut, argued that the idea of a genuinely technocratic government in Lebanon was “wishful thinking.””Behind every candidate, there is a political party backing their nomination,” he said. Paula Yacoubian, a former journalist and independent MP, scorned the new line-up as “patches on old clothes.”She posted a picture of a beat-up car with flaking paint the caption: “There’s a disagreement over who will be driving (and) who will have a seat by the window.””Hassan Diab did not keep his promise of forming a government of independent” experts, she said. Diab, a 61-year-old engineering professor at the American University of Beirut and self-professed technocrat, had been stuck between a political rock and an economic hard place. Every day that passed without a cabinet had fueled the anger of protesters and tested the patience of foreign donors warning that the quasi-bankrupt state could ill afford further delays. Mission impossible? Donors and citizens are pinning their hopes on a new government to spearhead reforms, unlock billions in international aid and help stabilize a plummeting currency. But analysts argue that there is little Hassan Diab’s new government can do. “The task that awaits any cabinet during this serious period is Herculean,” said Karim Mufti, a political scientist. “In view of the multidimensional nature of the crisis, it seems difficult to envisage short-term solutions to the country’s financial, economic and social problems.”A grinding dollar liquidity crisis and informal caps on withdrawals of the greenback have compounded the crisis, leaving Lebanon on the brink of default. The outgoing government included all of Lebanon’s political factions, but Hariri’s al-Mustaqbal Movement and some of his allies have opted to stay out of the new cabinet. This leaves the small country of six million led by a government dominated by the sanctions-hit Hizbullah and its allies. Observers have warned that such a lopsided government could struggle to foster enough goodwill at home and abroad to implement much-needed reforms.
Hassan Diab’s new government could further polarize Lebanese politics Al Arabiya English/Wednesday, 22 January 2020 Lebanon formed a new government on Tuesday under Prime Minister Hassan Diab backed by the Iranian-allied Hezbollah and allies including President Michel Aoun. The heavily indebted country has been without effective government since Saad Hariri resigned as premier in October, prompted by protests against a political elite seen as having caused the crisis through state corruption. Hariri and his Future Movement have stayed out of the government, along with the staunchly anti-Hezbollah Christian Lebanese Forces party and the Progressive Socialist Party of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. Weeks of wrangling over portfolios among Hezbollah’s allies held up an agreement until Tuesday, when the heavily armed group delivered an ultimatum to its allies to make a deal or suffer the consequences, sources familiar with the talks said. The cabinet is made up of 20 specialist ministers backed by parties. Economist Ghazi Wazni was nominated finance minister with the backing of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Nassif Hitti, a former ambassador to the Arab League, was named foreign minister with the backing of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. Diab described his government as a technocratic “rescue team” that would work to achieve the goals of protesters who first took to the streets on Oct. 17. His first trip abroad would be to the Arab region, particularly the Gulf. But analysts said Hezbollah’s role in the government’s formation meant it might have difficulty convincing other states to provide urgently needed financial support. Reactions Protests swept across Lebanon against the new government with demonstrators gathering in front of one of the entrances leading to the parliament in the center of the capital. “It will certainly not be easy for a government of this type to convince the outside world to help Lebanon.” Nabil Boumonsef, deputy editor-in-chief of the An-Nahar newspaper, said in comments on the new government. Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said the new government of “one colour” could further polarise Lebanese politics. Hariri’s absence meant that old Sunni-Shiite tensions might be reactivated. In some parts of Beirut, protesters greeted the new government by burning tires. Lebanese activist Sara Assaf tweeted saying “For nearly 100 days, we asked for a technocrat independent Govt, aiming to fight corruption and restore national & international trust. We got the exact opposite, a govt fully controlled by Nasrallah & Bassil! Expect more protests, road blocks and violence!”Lebanese singer Elissa tweeted one word in Arabic describing the new government as “a joke.”One of the government’s first tasks will be to decide its approach to looming sovereign bond repayments, including a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March. Lebanon’s union of exchange dealers said on Tuesday it had decided to set the exchange rate at a maximum of 2,000 pounds to the US dollar in agreement with the central bank governor. The pound has been officially pegged at 1,507.50 to the dollar for more than two decades. Diab expressed hope that the currency would strengthen. (With Reuters) Lebanese Officials Agree on 20-Minister Government Beirut – Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 21 January, 2020 A Lebanese government lineup could be announced soon in Beirut after the latest round of talks agreed on a 20-minister cabinet, thereby pleasing all parties that had objected against the small size of their representation. The deal was reached on Monday evening during a meeting between Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab, head of the Marada Movement Suleiman Franjieh, Amal’s representative in the caretaker government, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, and the political adviser to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Hussein al-Khalil. Since his nomination a month ago, Diab has been struggling to form an 18-member cabinet of experts. However, informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the four men agreed Monday that two ministers should be added to the 18-member government, reserving the two additional seats to the Marada and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP). The sources added that the SSNP would be represented by a Druze minister, a step that should please the Druze sect, which has been requesting two ministers in the new lineup. “This agreement should pave the way for the near announcement of a cabinet, if no unexpected developments appear at the last minute,” the source said. Lebanon’s political impasse has deepened in the past few weeks as Diab failed to form a new government due to disagreements between political leaders over the size of their representation. Presidential sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Diab did not object to a proposal to form a 20-member cabinet. “The designate-PM only asked for some time to study the new suggestion,” the source said, predicting that the government should be announced in the coming few hours. Lebanon’s top security officials vowed Monday to crack down on vandalism after a week of rioting in Beirut that left hundreds of people injured and damaged public and private property — violence that comes against the backdrop of a deepening political deadlock. The announcement followed a meeting that included President Michel Aoun, as well as the interior and defense ministers, at the presidential palace. The officials called for more coordination among the Lebanese security agencies to better deal with the unrest. Lebanon has been roiled by three months of largely peaceful anti-government protests that over the past week turned into acts of vandalism in parts of Beirut. Protesters first took to the streets in mid-October in a mass uprising against the country’s ruling elite, which they blame for decades of corruption and mismanagement that have brought Lebanon to the brink of economic collapse. The country has since sunk deeper into a political crisis. The outgoing premier, Saad Hariri tweeted Monday that Lebanon needs a new government as soon as possible to help stop the economic and security deterioration “that are increasing by the day.” He added that a caretaker government is not the solution and there should be new leadership that takes over full responsibility.
Lebanon needs foreign support, decision on Eurobond: New finance minister Reuters, Beirut/Wednesday, 22 January 2020 Lebanon’s new government needs foreign support to help it rescue the country from an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, the finance minister said on Wednesday hours after he was named. The government must make a decision on a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March, Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni also told local broadcaster al-Jadeed. He said the Cabinet has to restore confidence because the country was in a state of collapse. Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed that his newly-unveiled government would strive to meet the demands of a three-month-old protest movement demanding radical change. One of the government’s first tasks will be to decide its approach to looming sovereign bond repayments, including a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March. Lebanon’s union of exchange dealers said on Tuesday it had decided to set the exchange rate at a maximum of 2,000 pounds to the US dollar in agreement with the central bank governor. The pound has been officially pegged at 1,507.50 to the dollar for more than two decades. Diab expressed hope that the currency would strengthen.
Lebanon Protesters Rally, Block Roads in Rejection of New Govt. Naharnet/January 21/2020 Lebanon’s anti-government protesters started rallying and blocking key roads across the country shortly before a new government was due to be formed. The protesters were gathering near parliament in downtown Beirut and outside the residence of MP Faisal Karami in Tripoli. Also in Tripoli, protesters smashed the façade of Cedrus Bank and its ATM as they blocked the Riad al-Solh avenue and the el-Mina intersection with trash bins. Other protesters meanwhile blocked the key Naameh highway that links Beirut to the South, the al-Beddawi highway in the North, the Corniche al-Mazraa road in the capital and roads in the Bekaa province. The protesters took to the streets after media reports said the new government would be formed on Tuesday night. Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab and Speaker Nabih Berri later met with President Michel Aoun ahead of the announcement of the new government’s line-up. Lebanon is facing its worst economic crisis since its civil war, an unprecedented protest movement and mounting international pressure for reform. The country has been waiting for a new government since former prime minister Saad Hariri resigned on October 29, two weeks into a protest movement demanding the removal of a political class deemed incompetent and corrupt. After weeks of political wrangling over who would head the next government, political parties on December 19 designated Hassan Diab, an engineering professor and self-professed technocrat. Diab had pledged to form a government that includes independent experts and representatives of the popular movement — a key demand of protesters who have lost faith in the established elite. However, the ruling political parties and Diab have named all the new ministers.
US Seeks to Corner Hezbollah in Latin America Washington – Muath al-Amri/Asharq Al Awsat/January 21/2020 The United States provided information to Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay and Peru about “support and financing networks” affiliated with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, as part of its efforts to restrict the party’s activity in Latin America and to exert maximum pressure on Iran and its proxies. Diplomatic sources in Washington told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested a number of persons, who are involved with dealing with Hezbollah or suspected of planning to expand their activities inside the United States. These moves came in parallel with the holding of the Third Regional Conference Against Terrorism in Bogota, Colombia, during which the US is seeking to unify the stance of 20 Latin American countries against the party. US State Secretary Mike Pompeo, who is attending the conference, called on “all nations” on Saturday to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist group. “We call on all nations to designate Hezbollah as the terrorist organization it is,” Pompeo wrote on his Twitter account. The diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Honduras and Guatemala have indicated their intention to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization, following a similar move by Argentina and Paraguay. According to the US State Department, Pompeo met in Colombia on Monday with President Ivan Duque, stressing “the importance of uniting efforts in “fighting all forms of terrorism and “targeting the financial activity of Iranian proxy groups.” US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that during the conference, Pompeo talked about the activities of pro-Iranian terrorist organizations in Latin countries, following the campaign of arrests carried out by Paraguay, Brazil and Peru against Hezbollah’s agents over the past few years, on charges of terrorism, money laundering and others. According to Ortagus, countries of Latin America have taken practical steps in combating terrorism and drying up its sources, hailing regulations adopted by Argentina and Paraguay to impose sanctions on Hezbollah and other terrorist groups during the past year.
International Reactions Condemn Brutal Use of Force Against Protesters Beirut- khalil Fleihan/Asharq Al Awsat/January 21/2020 A wave of international condemnation emerged following reports of excessive force used by Lebanese security forces against protesters in Beirut. Hundreds of casualties were reported in the past two days as police and security members used rubber bullets to target protesters from a close distance, in contravention of international regulations, which stipulate that those should be launched at a minimum distance of 40 meters. According to diplomatic reports that included identical information received in Beirut from New York, Washington, Paris, and Geneva, “the competent Lebanese authorities must pay attention to these actions that violate human rights.” Reports noted that the authorities had so far dealt with “acceptable measures to provide protection to the crowds, but they used excessive force when demonstrators blocked roads or attacked security forces.” A minister in the caretaker government underlined the need to inform the delegates of the member-states of the International Group to Support Lebanon of the outcome of the security meeting held at the Baabda Palace on Monday, in the presence of President Michel Aoun. The minister said that the United Nations and the League of Arab States should also be aware of the country’s efforts to maintain security and political stability, “because these countries and organizations are closely watching protests in Beirut and the rest of the region.” “The ambassadors of foreign and Arab countries in Lebanon should be invited to the Ministry of the Interior or to the Directorate of Internal Security Forces in order to hear an explanation of the reasons for taking new measures to deal with protest groups,” the minister noted, adding that a large number of rioters must be arrested to prevent harming peaceful demonstrators.
Lebanon parliament delays 2020 budget session: Lebanese media Reuters, Beirut/Tuesday, 21 January 2020 Lebanon’s parliament has delayed a session to discuss the 2020 budget to January 27-28 after being set for January 22-23, Lebanese media reported on Tuesday. Lebanon is hoping to reduce its budget deficit and push through economic reforms amid a deep financial crisis. It has been without a government since Saad Hariri resigned as premier on October 29 in the face of mass protests.
American journalist freed in Lebanon, activists remain concerned Abby Sewell, Al Arabiya English/Tuesday, 21 January 2020 An American journalist who was detained by Lebanese security forces on suspicion of working for an Israeli newspaper was released Tuesday. But press freedom and human rights activists as well as Lebanese and foreign journalists working in Beirut have continued to express concern about the violence directed against journalists by security forces in recent days. The Samir Kassir Foundation, a Lebanon-based press freedom group, said in a statement Monday that it had confirmed more than 20 attacks and other violations against media workers in Lebanon since January 14, and at least 75 since the beginning of the mass protests on October 17, 2019. Most attacks came from security forces, but also from “anti-revolution protesters and also from protesters themselves,” the foundation’s Executive Director Ayman Mhanna told Al Arabiya English. The arrest of freelance journalist Nicholas Frakes on Sunday night came amid a confrontational turn in Lebanon’s mass protests over the past week, with hundreds of people injured in clashes between protesters and security forces. Frakes put out a statement following his release and said he was looking forward to getting back to work. “I’m glad that I have been released from custody and am extremely grateful for the love and support that I have received from my amazing colleagues here in Lebanon and throughout the region. I’m now looking forward to seeing my girlfriend again and getting back to reporting the news,” he said. In a statement on Frakes’ arrest, Lebanese State Security said that they saw on social media that someone was shooting live video in downtown Beirut for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Officers went to the location from which the video appeared to have been shot, and upon finding the American journalist there, detained him for questioning. Lebanon and Israel are officially at war, and Lebanon bars foreigners who have visited Israel from entering the country. Haaretz said in a statement on its website that the video feed came from the Reuters wire service, and that “no journalist was reporting for the newspaper on the protests from Beirut, and it has no connection to the US citizen being held.” “The fact that (Frakes) was cleared today means that somebody made a mistake by arresting him on these charges, and we will be looking at whether or not those who made this mistake will be held accountable,” Mhanna said, though he does not yet have all the details of Frakes’ case. Meanwhile, Lebanese journalists and advocates have launched campaigns condemning violence by security forces, particularly the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets at close range, which Human Rights Watch said had caused some “serious injuries,” including at least one case in which a protester was allegedly blinded. Journalists have posted photographs of themselves with one eye covered on social media. A group of press freedom organizations released a statement Monday condemning the “worrying wave of attacks against journalists and photographers covering protests in Beirut,” particularly on the night of January 15, when riot police forcibly dispersed protesters assembled in front of police barracks where demonstrators arrested the night before were being detained. “Several journalists and photographers who were covering the stand-off were beaten, had their media equipment broken, and some were detained,” the group wrote. Dozens of Lebanese journalists staged a protest in front of the Ministry of Interior headquarters in Beirut last Thursday over the use of force, prompting Interior Minister Raya El Hassan to come down in person to respond. While maintaining that she had not directed security forces to use violence against journalist, Hassan defended the officers, saying they were “very tired.” “They’re not sleeping, they’re being cursed, they’re having stones thrown at them,” she said. Despite the uptick in violence, Mhanna said the three months of protests have brought some positive developments for media workers, including a marked decrease in the number of cases of journalists being detained, investigated, or censored by authorities over reports or social media statements on political and economic issues. “Since October 17, of course, there is a higher number of physical assaults, but also there is a much wider space for freedom of expression, including press freedom,” Mhanna said.
ISG Says Alarmed by ‘Growing Violence’ in Lebanon Demos Naharnet/January 21/2020 Six weeks after the enlarged meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon in Paris on December 11, the ISG met Tuesday in Beirut at the ambassadorial level. The ISG “notes with deep concern the ongoing absence of a functioning government that is needed to manage a set of deepening crises, to address demands of the Lebanese people. The ISG is alarmed by the situation which is increasingly marked by growing violence,” it said in a statement. “The longer the absence of an effective and credible government capable to meet the aspirations expressed by all the Lebanese that will have the capacity and credibility to deliver the necessary substantive policy package of economic reforms, and that will be committed to disassociate the country from regional tensions and crisis, the more hardships the population will suffer, the more security risks and instability the country will face,” ISG warned. The International Support Group has brought together the United Nations and the governments of China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, together with the European Union and the Arab League. It was launched in September 2013 by the U.N. Secretary-General with former President Michel Suleiman to help mobilize support and assistance for Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty and state institutions and to specifically encourage assistance for the Lebanese Army, Syrian refugees in Lebanon, host communities, government programs and public services impacted by the Syrian crisis.
Strong Lebanon Bloc Urges Quick Electricity and Economy Reform Naharnet/January 21/2020 The Strong Lebanon bloc announced Tuesday that the new government will be formed “despite all the difficulties we are hearing about.” “Blocking its formation chokes the Lebanese and the country,” MP Ibrahim Kanaan said after the bloc’s weekly meeting. “The bloc is offering all facilitations and cooperation is needed from all blocs and parties, because we are in an extraordinary situation and we must rescue the country instead of fighting over power,” Kanaan added. He said that the new government must immediately seek “direct and quick reforms in the electricity file and in the economic, banking and social files.”“The time is for salvation, not political conflicts and debates,” Kanaan added. “That’s why we stress that we are exerting every effort needed from us,” he went on to say.
Amnesty: Excessive Force against Lebanon Protests Must Stop Naharnet/January 21/2020 Amnesty International decried on Tuesday the use of force against protesters following rare violence over the weekend that left hundreds wounded. In a statement, Amnesty said: We call on Lebanon to stop using excessive force against protesters. Over 400 people were injured as security forces cracked down on protests in Lebanon. Although mostly peaceful protesters, anti-riot police used: water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. Injuries included suffocation, broken limbs and severe wounds. In October 2019 mass protests swept through Lebanon after the government announced new tax measures. Since then, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have assembled in cities across the country accusing the political leadership of corruption and calling for economic and social reforms. Although authorities were restrained at first, they responded with increasing violence. Amnesty International said it has documented a human rights violations including: use of excessive force, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment.
Press Freedom Organizations Condemn Attacks on Journalists in Lebanon Naharnet/January 21/2020 Since January 14, 2020, Lebanon witnessed “a worrying wave of attacks against journalists and photographers covering protests in Beirut,” leading international and Lebanese press freedom groups said on Tuesday. “The violence reached its peak in front of a police barracks in the Mar Elias neighborhood on the night of January 15, 2020, when security officers and the riot police used excessive force to disperse protesters. Several journalists and photographers who were covering the stand-off were beaten, had their media equipment broken, and some were detained,” the groups said in a statement distributed by the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom. SKeyes identified more than 20 violations against media professionals since January 14, which raises the total number of violations to 75 since the beginning of the popular uprising on October 17, 2019. The signatory press freedom and media development organizations “strongly condemn these blatant attacks on freedom of information and violations of basic journalists’ rights. The organizations are gravely concerned that most of these violations were perpetrated by security forces whose primary duty is to protect citizens and provide journalists with the safest possible environment to fulfill their mission,” the groups added. Following the clashes, caretaker Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan spoke to the press and denied having issued orders to security forces to use force against peaceful protesters and journalists, saying she did not know who gave the instructions. “This denial reinforces our concern related to the absence of accountability in a country where impunity for perpetrators of all types of crimes against journalists has been the norm, including when journalists were assassinated,” the press groups said in their statement. The signatory organizations also called on Lebanese authorities to conduct a swift and transparent investigation into “the parties that were responsible for the violent repression against journalists, followed by fair and independent judiciary action against perpetrators.” The signatory groups are CFI – French Media Development Agency, Committee to Protect Journalists, Free Press Unlimited, International Media Support, Media in Cooperation and Transition International, and SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom.
Many Lebanese Say Bassil Has No Business Being at Davos Associated Press/Naharnet/January 21/2020 Caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil is attending the elite annual World Economic Forum in the Swiss village Davos. In Lebanon, however, where mass protests have forced the government to resign, a campaign is afoot to have him uninvited. Many Lebanese took to social media to tell the forum they think Bassil has no business being there. More than 18,000 participated in a Twitter poll, in which over 75% said he doesn’t represent them. Online petitions against his participation collected nearly 50,000 signatures. “The Lebanese people cannot and will not accept a failed, corrupt and especially an ousted minister to still represent their voice on the world stage,” one petition read. Another said Bassil bragged last year at Davos that he can teach others how to run a country without a budget while Lebanon grappled with its worst economic crisis. The petition writers appealed to the forum to “rethink Mr. Bassil’s invite and listen to the people of Lebanon.” The pressure comes as public anger in Lebanon against the entire political class is mounting. Nationwide, protests erupted in October accusing Lebanon’s long-serving ruling elite of squandering the country’s resources. They also have chased politicians out of restaurants with chants. In recent days, protests have become more violent as frustration grows over failure to form a new government three months after the previous one resigned. As the head of the largest Christian party, the Free Patriotic Movement, Bassil is one of Lebanon’s most prolific political figures, holding various ministerial positions for more than a decade. Many attribute a rise in anti-refugee sentiments to rhetoric and policies supported by Bassil. As the son-in-law of the country’s president, he was believed to harbor presidential aspirations, acquiring opponents along the way. When protests broke out, Bassil bore the brunt of the criticism. The World Economic Forum said Bassil is still caretaker foreign minister and a member of Parliament, adding they are closely following developments in Lebanon. “He will take part in a public dialogue on the situation in the country and the region,” said Oliver Cann, head of Strategic Communications at the World Economic Forum. Bassil is scheduled to speak on a panel Thursday titled the “Return of the Arab Unrest” alongside Rached Ghannounchi, a Tunisian politician. In that country, the transition to democracy has been hailed as a success after an earlier wave of protests in the region. Hadley Gamble, the CNBC journalist who will moderate the discussion, said many Lebanese have reached her on social media to express their objection to Bassil’s participation. She told CNBC she plans to hold him “very much to account for what is happening” in Lebanon. Bassil’s aide, May Khreish, dismissed the criticism as part of a campaign to undermine Bassil, saying it is up to him whether he participates. Khreish said Gamble’s comments were part of a “Zionist” foreign plot against Bassil and that “everyone inside Lebanon who takes part in this campaign against Bassil’s participation is directly or indirectly participating in this Zionist campaign.” She spoke to Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed TV using a common accusation by Lebanese officials to discredit opponents. Sabine Choucair is a performer who works as a clown and was invited to represent Lebanon at Davos in 2017. She was chosen as a cultural leader alongside Matt Damon and others for her humanitarian work with refugees. She said she is “furious and sad” her country is represented by an official who stands for everything its people are protesting against. “Why would us people on the streets want to be represented by a racist, corrupt and resigned politician who not only hasn’t accomplished anything but who was also part of driving the country and its people into the ground,” Choucair said. Others questioned how the cash-strapped government can afford such an expensive forum. “The country is bankrupt,” said Rula El Halabi, who started the Twitter poll. Ramez Dagher, who writes in the political blog Moulahazat, said Bassil discussing popular rallies amounts to a “conflict of interest.” “For Lebanese politicians, representing the Lebanese in events like Davos gives them a sense of legitimacy that they are lacking locally,” Dagher said.
Franjieh: Bassil’s Greediness Obstructing Govt. Formation, Our Participation Undecided Yet Naharnet/January 21/2020 Marada Movement chief Sleiman Franjieh on Tuesday said his participation in the government is not decided yet, and accused Free Patriotic Movement chief of obstructing a much-delayed cabinet formation because of his “greediness” and intentions to get one-third veto power. “Marada Movement has not decided yet on leaving or joining the government, but I will not impede the formation,” said Franjieh in a press conference.FPM and caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran “Bassil’s greed is what is obstructing the formation. We refuse to participate in a government where one party can obstruct future government decisions,” he noted. “When a political group insists on obtaining one third of cabinet seats, it draws suspicions over obstruction schemes in the future,” he explained. On ministerial portfolios initially demanded by Marada, Franjieh said his movement wanted the “public works and culture portfolios, but that was surprisingly rejected later. Therefore we asked to stay out of the cabinet, but mind you we will give it our confidence vote.” “We would like to stand by the President (Michel Aoun who is also Bassil’s father-in-law) because he needs allies, but Marada wants to participate in the government with dignity,” added Franjieh. On the nationwide protests against the olitical class and economic policies since ongoing October 17, he said: “Lebanese people protested in the streets out of rightful anger and pain at the performance of politicians. Although people accuse the entire political class of corruption but allow me to say that not all are corrupt. On the popular demand to form a government of technocrats, he said: “I do not support that because it is unrealistic. However, the revolution did achieve genuine goals and has awakened the ruling class and struck its conscience,” he concluded.
Situation in Lebanon ‘Discouraging,’ U.S. Report Shows Naharnet/January 21/2020 A U.S. report on the situation in crisis-hit Lebanon reportedly describes the situation as “discouraging” and blames the political authority for economic deterioration after “ignoring” for years all advice delivered by the World Bank, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Tuesday. A senior Lebanese official who spoke on condition of anonymity about Washington’s report told the daily that “the economic and financial situation in Lebanon is close to becoming an incurable and hopeless disease.”He said Lebanon has a very long path to recovering its economic vitality, and the situation will worsen with time, unless it urgently acts to avoid the threat it is facing. The international financial institutions are still urging the Lebanese to implement a program of qualitative and urgent reforms. Moreover, Lebanese figures from Washington quoted American officials as saying that “the US administration is closely watching Lebanon developments emphasizing the need that Lebanese authorities take an initiative to guarantee the safety of demonstrators.”US officials reportedly avoid expressing a direct position with Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab, but they “will judge the Lebanese government when it is formed and begins work,” they said. Previously, the American administration has conveyed to officials in Lebanon its call to form a government that meets the people’s demands, and is committed to advancing reforms and fighting corruption, according to the sources. They said any direct and immediate American aid to Lebanon is “closely related to what the new government will do because a credible government that is capable of real reforms will restore the confidence of Lebanese and investors and reopens the door to international aid. “There is an international understanding on this issue,” they concluded.
Lebanon’s moment of truth has arrived Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib/Arab News/January 21/2020 Lebanese President Michel Aoun gave ordersto the army and internal security forces to restore order in downtown Beirut at the weekend. This resulted in bloody clashes between protesters and the security forces, with 377 reported injured on Saturdaynight. The minister of interior condemned the violence while accusingprotestersof attacking the security forces. However, the scenes we have seen in downtown Beirut during the “week of rage,” as it has been called by the protesters, have one clear explanation: The people no longer want the current political configuration, which is based on a sectarian sharing of power. They are aware that the existing political structure is beyond redemption and that the new government will not be able to conduct any reforms. They know that the new government will be manned by puppets of the old guard. In fact, the political elite is still bluntly discussing who should get what. The so-called “technocrats” they are planning to put in power are their own people, so the new government, which is reportedly about to be announced, will not be a break from the old regime. There are chants of “people want to topple the regime.”The streets are boiling. The people have lost all trust in the current political elite. However, according to the constitution, any government needs to have the “confidence” of Parliament, which is an outcome of the current political system. Basically, the Lebanese people are trapped with the existing configuration, as those in power will not give their backing to a government that will conduct real reforms, in which they will be swept away. While the Lebanese are proud to be a democratic country in a sea of dictatorships, today the democracy — or, more precisely, the current democratic structure — is trapping Lebanon in deadlock. The democratic structure is empowering the corrupt political elite that the people are demanding be removed. Since the beginning of the crisis, the powerful have not shown any responsible behavior. On the contrary, they have shown nothing but arrogance and selfishness. They have transferred their money abroad while decent Lebanese people are struggling to withdraw their hard-earned savings from banks. Regular people have to spend hours in front of the teller to be able to withdraw $300a week, while the politicians’ billionshave flown out of country. Meanwhile, Lebanon is being plunged into darkness. In some areas, citizens get only two hours of electricity every six hours. The government is not supplying the country with electricity. Letters of credit have been opened to import fuel. According to activists in Lebanon, the government has imported 378 percent of the country’s yearly total consumption of fuel, yet citizens suffer from a shortage of electricity because the fuel is being smuggled to Syria. How could the average citizen ever trust such a political configuration? A group of thieves, who even in the dark moments the country is going through, do not forsake any opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of the average Lebanese. It is time for this to end. The country cannot go on like this. The banks are running out of hard currency and there is a chance they will close. According to Dr. Nasser Yassin, the interim director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, the country needs between $20 and $25 billion to stand on its feet again. But the international community has been very clear that no aid can be given to Lebanon unless serious reforms are carried out. However, no reforms can be conducted with a political configuration that strives for corruption. Hence, we are deadlocked. The current configuration needs to go by any means. Here the international community should take a step forward to break the deadlock by putting pressure on them to leave. Unless they do, the country risks being plunged into total chaos, which will definitely not be to the benefit of the international community. Chaos will benefit radicals and shady people. It also risks driving the country into a new civil war. Those in power are hiding behind the thin veil of democracy and the constitution, while they have done everything they can to violate both.While everyone is in a wait-and-see mode, it is now time to take action and exert pressure. The political configuration will not go by themselves; they need to be forced to go. They have used the internal security forces to brutallycrack down on the protests. They will continue to do so unless someone stops them.The current political structure has lost legitimacy. Those in power are hiding behind the thin veil of democracy and the constitution, while they have done everything they can to violate both. They need to leave now. The country needs a transitional government that will impose reforms, regain the trust of the people and the international community, and prepare Lebanon for a true non-sectarian democracy. Lebanon is facing its moment of truth and the international community needs to help, otherwise the country is going to suffer. Enough of the wait-and-see approach — now is the time for the international community to take action. *Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She holds a PhD in politics from the University of Exeter and is an affiliated scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.
American journalist freed in Lebanon, activists remain concerned Abby Sewell/Al Arabiya English/January 21/2020 An American journalist who was detained by Lebanese security forces on suspicion of working for an Israeli newspaper was released Tuesday. But press freedom and human rights activists as well as Lebanese and foreign journalists working in Beirut have continued to express concern about the violence directed against journalists by security forces in recent days. The Samir Kassir Foundation, a Lebanon-based press freedom group, said in a statement Monday that it had confirmed more than 20 attacks and other violations against media workers in Lebanon since January 14, and at least 75 since the beginning of the mass protests on October 17, 2019. Most attacks came from security forces, but also from “anti-revolution protesters and also from protesters themselves,” the foundation’s Executive Director Ayman Mhanna told Al Arabiya English. The arrest of freelance journalist Nicholas Frakes on Sunday night came amid a confrontational turn in Lebanon’s mass protests over the past week, with hundreds of people injured in clashes between protesters and security forces. Frakes put out a statement following his release and said he was looking forward to getting back to work. “I’m glad that I have been released from custody and am extremely grateful for the love and support that I have received from my amazing colleagues here in Lebanon and throughout the region. I’m now looking forward to seeing my girlfriend again and getting back to reporting the news,” he said. In a statement on Frakes’ arrest, Lebanese State Security said that they saw on social media that someone was shooting live video in downtown Beirut for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Officers went to the location from which the video appeared to have been shot, and upon finding the American journalist there, detained him for questioning. Lebanon and Israel are officially at war, and Lebanon bars foreigners who have visited Israel from entering the country. Haaretz said in a statement on its website that the video feed came from the Reuters wire service, and that “no journalist was reporting for the newspaper on the protests from Beirut, and it has no connection to the US citizen being held.”“The fact that (Frakes) was cleared today means that somebody made a mistake by arresting him on these charges, and we will be looking at whether or not those who made this mistake will be held accountable,” Mhanna said, though he does not yet have all the details of Frakes’ case.Meanwhile, Lebanese journalists and advocates have launched campaigns condemning violence by security forces, particularly the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets at close range, which Human Rights Watch said had caused some “serious injuries,” including at least one case in which a protester was allegedly blinded. Journalists have posted photographs of themselves with one eye covered on social media. A group of press freedom organizations released a statement Monday condemning the “worrying wave of attacks against journalists and photographers covering protests in Beirut,” particularly on the night of January 15, when riot police forcibly dispersed protesters assembled in front of police barracks where demonstrators arrested the night before were being detained. “Several journalists and photographers who were covering the stand-off were beaten, had their media equipment broken, and some were detained,” the group wrote. Dozens of Lebanese journalists staged a protest in front of the Ministry of Interior headquarters in Beirut last Thursday over the use of force, prompting Interior Minister Raya El Hassan to come down in person to respond. While maintaining that she had not directed security forces to use violence against journalist, Hassan defended the officers, saying they were “very tired.”“They’re not sleeping, they’re being cursed, they’re having stones thrown at them,” she said. Despite the uptick in violence, Mhanna said the three months of protests have brought some positive developments for media workers, including a marked decrease in the number of cases of journalists being detained, investigated, or censored by authorities over reports or social media statements on political and economic issues. “Since October 17, of course, there is a higher number of physical assaults, but also there is a much wider space for freedom of expression, including press freedom,” Mhanna said.
Lebanon will slide into violence unless the elite chooses political reform Ryan Bohl//Al Arabiya English/January 21/2020 Lebanon risks sliding into prolonged chaos and violent conflict unless the political elite manages to update the post-civil war political system based on sectarian power-sharing. At the end of the civil war in 1989, the surviving warlords and political parties met in Taif, Saudi Arabia, to sign the Taif Accords, which put an end to the civil war, but did not create mechanisms for good governance, accountability, or checks and balances. Such considerations seemed almost quaint in the aftermath of the brutal civil war. Now, decades of mismanagement enabled by the sectarian system have produced an economic and fiscal crisis, one for which the Taif Accords have no solution. Taif was designed to keep Lebanon’s elites from battling one another, but beyond ensuring physical security, it did little for ordinary Lebanese. Today’s non-sectarian protest movement is demanding the state do what Taif failed to: commit itself to improved governance. To signal their demands, they are escalating the protests in ways that threaten Lebanon’s security. Such tactics are an expression of widespread frustration and a cogent desire to force the Lebanese government, and in particular the government of nominated Prime Minister Hassan Diab, to show real progress in the post-Taif update that the country desperately needs. Obstacles ahead Yet good governance is a huge ask in Lebanon. The country’s parties and militias are addicted to state spending to maintain political coherence and reward loyalists – one big reason why they haven’t managed to unlock the $11 billion of international aid pledged at the 2018 CEDRE conference that promised aid on the condition of systematic changes in state spending. Beirut has dithered for nearly two years in enacting those changes. Hezbollah, the country’s best-armed faction, is also a major obstacle. The group watches its foes in the March 14 alliance with worries they might try to pare back Hezbollah’s gains in the May 2018 election. Back then, Hezbollah managed to gain hold of the lucrative Health Ministry. Reforms are unlikely to leave that ministry untouched, which for Hezbollah is a threat. With Iran under sanctions and Hezbollah having to pay for the dead and wounded from its intervention in Syria, the group needs alternative sources of income to keep its partisans loyal. In a sign of their dire financial need, the group has turned to asking for handouts from Shia Lebanese and have even received aid from Yemen’s Houthis. To prevent that erosion in their spending power, they will do what they can to ensure that austerity falls on anyone but themselves. Beyond the big parties, there is a nascent concern that the non-sectarian nature of the protests could eventually build to viable political opposition from within the established sects. Lebanon has no shortage of political parties, even within the sects. This is one reason why the country has yet to consider an election as a solution to current political paralysis: with a new protest movement on the ground, no faction can be sure they will do as well in a fresh election as they historically have. That’s a notable threat to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, which did poorly in the 2018 elections, but all the factions will have to contend with a grassroots challenge that could chip away at their dominance of the political system. Compromise or be compromised With the country’s first international bonds due for repayment in March, Lebanon will enter a new period of acute economic stress, and even imports of food and medicine will come under threat. That will further inflame the public against the government, and different aspects of the protest movement will consider further, increasingly violent escalations to punish the state for its inability to govern. That will push Lebanon’s political parties into a more difficult position. They could put together a viable government and embark on austerity to start to right the economic ship. But without accompanying political reform, few Lebanese would buy into the necessary pain of austerity, especially because without political reform it’s probable that the top echelons of Lebanon’s society will remain untouched. Lebanon’s state and security forces would also take increasingly stern measures to prevent an escalation of the protest movement. But that is dangerous for the country’s security outlook. Many protestors have ties to the armed factions of the sectarian system. Violence against them could spiral into a cycle of violence that deeply undermines the security situation. A final option is that Lebanon’s factions begin the long-needed update to the country’s political system. Rule by sect is an outmoded form of governance, but little pressure has existed within the country to challenge it. As the Lebanese increasingly see themselves in nationalist, rather than sectarian, terms, the sectarian system is uniquely weakened. An early election is the first step toward updating the sectarian contract, allowing new blood into politics, followed by a government with a mandate to examine not just how to stabilize the economy but also ensure politics does not undermine such stability in the future. Political reform is the least bad option for Lebanon. That does not make it easy or without pain. For Lebanon’s leadership, they’ll need to decide in the coming months if they want to control events or let events control them. *Ryan Bohl (@Ryan_Bohl) is a Middle East and North Africa analyst at Stratfor.
A Superman Is Needed for Lebanese Diplomacy Sam Menassa/Asharq Al Awsat/January 21/2020 It is expected that a new Lebanese government would be announced soon, after more than two months of arduous efforts. All hopes have been put on it to save the country from the exceptional circumstances it is going through. Lebanon is facing an existential threat that includes several governance, economic, financial and monetary crises. They are compounded by internal tensions between different political actors and a deadlocked regional situation with many implications on the Lebanese interior. In addition, only a thin line separates the popular movement from absolute chaos. What we know about the supposed government confirms, without a doubt, that it will be a cabinet of masks both comically and tragically acting as proxies for the same politicians, proving that the authority continues to employ the same traditional power-sharing system to outsmart the local and international community, a trick that has become obvious to everyone except for the magician, who still believes in his superpower to manipulate and undermine people. If this government were to be born, it would have one political color that is too bright to hide from anyone. It would be a government that unambiguously speaks the language of the Iran-Syria axis. How could such a government be considered independent, which is what the popular movement is demanding, let alone be a salvation government, when it wears the clothes of the party that raises a banner of open war against both the Arab and western worlds? How could it succeed after Hezbollah’s Secretary-General announced that its next battle, and his axis’ next battle, is eliminating American presence from the region? How could it manage in light of the negative implications of Hezbollah being the political decision-maker in relations with Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia? In reality, if we set aside Lebanon’s internal problems, however grave, we would see that what the country is facing regionally and internationally, and what the new government would have to address in this regard is even graver. Regionally, the first test for the government would be to manage Lebanese-Syrian relations while Syria is still embroiled in its destructive war. How would they deal with the Syrian regime having lost its status being caught between the Russian anvil and Iranian hammer and having lost its internal legitimacy? How would they deal with the Syrian regime with our reservations towards its legitimacy to begin with, after all of its brutal practices against its people, as well as its international legitimacy among Arab countries and the international community? What is the policy that the government would adopt towards Syria, given Hezbollah’s military presence there? Even if the latter leaves, its solidarity with this oppressive regime would not be forgotten by the Syrian people for a very long time. How would it deal with the problem of Hezbollah having opened the border between the two countries with all of the security, political and economic implications of that? What will its position be on the Syrian refugee crisis with the regime still insisting on not allowing their return except under its own terms, which would force Lebanon to confront an international community that insists on their voluntary and safe return? All of these questions can be summarized in one: Would the new government normalize relations with the Syrian regime? The most likely answer is that it will. Parties who oppose Assad’s regime and who had been part of the previous government did not stop Hezbollah and its allies from normalizing relations with the regime and did not prevent its foreign minister from going against the Arab consensus that Syria should be expelled from the Arab League. What then will stop them today when the government and its sponsors’ agendas go beyond national borders and interests? The second test is how the new government would address relations with Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia. There is no need to affirm the importance of these relations, whether in regards to the large number of Lebanese workers in the Gulf or to the aid and solidarity these countries have provided to Lebanon during all its crises. There is also no need to remind ourselves that tensions in Gulf-Lebanese relations are due to Hezbollah and Lebanon’s official agreement with its positions. We cannot, in this context, but explain Lebanon’s unfriendly attitude towards Gulf countries in the context of the Iranian-Saudi conflict and Hezbollah’s success in dragging the country into the mullah system’s orbit. What will change with the new government? The third test would be on relations with Iraq and the position on the developments there after it turned into an open battleground between Iran and the US after the eruption of the popular uprising against Tehran’s meddling in the country. Taking over Iraq is a strategic achievement for the Iranian expansionist policy in the region, whether to threaten the stability of Gulf countries or it being considered a main supply line for its forces in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Also, taking over Iraq provides means to bypass US sanctions. What terrifies Iran the most at the moment is the popular movement in Iraq that rejects its control through its political class and armed militias. What concerns us in Lebanon is Hezbollah’s involvement once again in the oppression of an Arab people, with party official Mohammad Kawtharani’s name being tied to Tehran and its militias’ efforts in suppressing the Iraqi uprising. Is Hezbollah’s popular base ready to pay a new price? What would the new government’s position on that be? And what nonsense would it use to justify it on top of the “self-dissociation” nonsense? Internationally, the new government would expect a significant rise in tensions with the US and western countries in parallel with the rise in tensions between the US and Iran. How would it deal with Hassan Nasrallah’s announcement of war on the US presence in the region? How would it address Britain’s classification of Hezbollah and all of its wings as a terrorist organization and the German parliament’s proposal to sanction all their activities in their country? How would it deal with Britain, France and Germany almost falling in line with the American position, by triggering a dispute a mechanism under the nuclear deal with Iran? Many other issues remain, such as Hezbollah’s weapons, the decision to go to war or peace, and Lebanon’s rights in the dispute over oil and gas in the area. All of the questions that we have posed fall under the framework of foreign policy, but answering them is essential to addressing internal problems, starting with the economic and financial crises. Lebanon cannot solve these crises while being hostile towards all regional and international parties able to help it. In light of Hezbollah’s control over both the internal and foreign decision-making, would the new Lebanese diplomacy have enough courage to remove Lebanon from the politics of axes and formulate diplomacy that brings it back to its positive historical neutrality away from the “self-dissociation” farce? Would it cease its provocative stances and return to its traditional balanced approach? Would its president be able to protect Lebanon from international isolation after Qassem Soleimani’s killing and the escalation of the international crisis with Iran? Would it return to the approach of diplomatic of greats, such as Khayreddin al-Ahdab, Saleem Takla, Hamid Frangieh, Youssef Salem, Philippe Takla, Khalil Abu Hamad, Fuad Butrus, Fouad Ammoun and Ghassan Tueni? May God help whoever takes over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the government, for they will need to be more like Superman than human. Road Map to an Orderly Restructuring of Lebanon’s Public Sector Debt A Citizens’ Initiative For Lebanon (CIL) Carnegie MEC/January 21/2020 FIRAS ABI NASSIF, HENRI CHAOUL, ISHAC DIWAN, SAEB EL ZEIN, NABIL FAHED, PHILIPPE JABRE, SAMI NADER, MAY NASRALLAH, PAUL RAPHAEL, JEAN RIACHI, NASSER SAIDI, KAMAL SHEHADI, MAHA YAHYA Summary: We believe Lebanon’s public debt is unsustainable. We strongly recommend that the Lebanese government commences with a comprehensive restructuring effort to bring down the debt burden to a level the country can afford. Related Media and Tools We believe Lebanon’s public debt sector is unsustainable. In line with our recently released Ten Point Plan to Avoid a Lost Decade, we strongly recommend that the Lebanese government commences with a comprehensive restructuring effort — one that brings down the debt burden to a level the country can afford. Using scarce international reserves to make future Eurobond payments will be a mistake. Equally, the bond-by-bond rescheduling approach being discussed postpones the inevitable and is costly and inefficient. Sovereign debt restructurings are not un-precedented and best practices do exist. But for the effort to be successful, it should be part of a broader stabilization and reform package. HOW LARGE IS LEBANON’S DEBT? Repeated government deficits have led to an extraordinary accumulation of public sector indebtedness. From $25 billion in 2000, gross debt had mushroomed to $90 billion by the end of 2019—the equivalent of 150 percent of GDP. Lebanon today is the third most indebted emerging economy worldwide. However, this is not the whole story. This debt is likely to continue rising as a result of two additional factors: The larger the FX depreciation, the higher the debt/GDP ratio. On the positive side, a large portion of the debt is in Lebanese Lira (LBP). A Foreign Exchange (FX) depreciation will therefore reduce the “real” value of debt. As an indication, if the FX settles at LBP2260/$ (i.e., a 50 percent depreciation), gross debt, when measured in USD, will drop from $90 billion to $71 billion. However, and by the same token, an FX depreciation will reduce the country’s USD-measured GDP. Again, for illustrative purposes, a 50 percent FX depreciation, when combined with a 20 percent inflation and an 8 percent recession, will reduce GDP from $60 billion in 2019 to $44 billion in 2020.1 Consequently, despite the FX-led dilution of LBP debt, debt to GDP will actually rise from 150 percent in 2019 to 161 percent of GDP in 2020. Deepening recession and public sector deficits will need to be funded through increased debt. First, the 2020 (and beyond) recession will result in a public sector deficit that will have to be funded through debt. Second, the official (IMF, World Bank, Cedre, etc.) funding support that the country needs will be debt creating. Finally, important quasi fiscal “holes” including, most prominently, BDL’s necessary recapitalization as well as the arrears recently accumulated by the fiscal authorities, will have to be recognized and will inevitably lead to significantly higher debt. IS LEBANON’S DEBT SUSTAINABLE? No. The easiest way to see this is by examining what it would take to service the existing stock of debt. Given the $71 billion debt figure cited above (which is the debt calculated after the FX depreciation dilutes the LBP debt but before any new debt is accumulated as described above), a conservatively assumed 7 percent interest rate would lead to $5 billion (annually) in interest payments. Moreover, if one assumes a seven-year maturity on the debt, there will be an additional $5 billion in annual principal repayments. Combined, this $10 billion represents almost a quarter of 2020’s GDP. Seen in even starker terms, this amount is actually larger than the projected government revenues for 2020. Lebanon’s debt service burden is not a new phenomenon: it has been large and growing for years now. The government has sustained it thus far by borrowing the debt service and adding the amount to existing debt. However, a future repeat of this approach is extremely unlikely. First, the amount of new debt required to service the existing debt ($10 billion annually) is, in the foreseeable future, almost certainly impossible to raise in capital markets. Second, even if “borrowable”, this will add to an already extraordinarily high level of debt. 2 WHAT’S THE “RIGHT” LEVEL OF DEBT FOR A COUNTRY LIKE LEBANON? The academic literature on debt “tolerance” indicates that emerging economies cannot sustain high indebtedness and that, when they do accumulate it, defaults often ensue.3 The literature’s conclusion is that, to avoid defaults, an emerging country should hold a relatively “low” debt load. So, what defines “low”? “Investment grade” countries, that is countries seen as having strong and healthy economies, offer a good benchmark. Historically, those countries have defaulted only 3% of the time. On average, those countries’ debt load amounted to 60 percent of GDP. To expand the universe a bit wider, countries that are rated three notches below “investment grade” and have defaulted 10 percent of the time, have held a debt load of 80 percent of GDP. Consequently, we believe the above range (60-to-80 percent of GDP) is a maximum medium target for Lebanon’s sovereign debt. We would be even more aggressive. Lebanon’s institutional and political fragilities severely challenge the public sector’s ability to generate the budget surpluses needed to service debt over time. As such, we would argue that the lower part of that range is even more advisable. Given that Lebanon’s debt today is (at least) 160 percent of GDP, achieving the medium-term target of 60 percent of GDP will require a dramatic debt restructuring effort. DOES A RESTRUCTURING NECESSARILY MEAN A “HAIR CUT”? Not really. Even though the previous section defined sustainable debt in “percent of GDP” terms, the reality is not all debt is created equal. An extreme example illustrates the point: a 100-year bond with zero coupon entails a dramatically smaller debt burden than, say, a 10-year bond with a seven percent coupon. A more sophisticated way of thinking of the debt load then is to think of it in terms of net present value (NPV). In effect, this means thinking of debt along three different axes: i) the debt’s notional amount; ii) the debt’s interest rate; and iii) the debt’s maturity. HOW SHOULD THE RESTRUCTURING EFFORT LOOK LIKE? Following international sovereign restructuring experiences, we would recommend a “menu approach”. Some investors will prefer a principal reduction so long as the interest and maturities remain unchanged. Others will prefer to keep the principal unchanged but could accept lower interest rates and/or extended maturities. The governing principal should be that all creditors are asked to give the same NPV concession. Once the negotiations with creditors are completed, the Lebanese government would announce an “exchange offer“ where it retires the existing debt and issues a new set of securities. Some of the new bonds will have lower principal (“discount bonds”) while others will have similar principal (to the existing bonds) but lower interest and longer maturities (“par bonds”). There is also an argument for including “sweeteners” into the exchange (including “warrants” that only pay if the Lebanon grows in the future). International experience suggests that creditors value these warrants thus improving chances of a successful operation. IS A SOVEREIGN DEBT RESTRUCTURING A “BIG DEAL”? Yes it is. However, sovereign restructurings are not rare either. Since 1980, there has been 111 cases of sovereign debt restructurings—roughly three a year. This does not mean that debt restructuring is cost-less or “normal”. There is ample empirical evidence that a stigma, measured by the country’s market risk premium, persists. Nonetheless, restructurings have occurred across the globe and they do not spell Lebanon’s ability to finance itself in international markets in the future. ARE DEBT RESTRUCTURINGS DISRUPTIVE? They don’t have to be. If handled properly, they can be cooperative and relatively smooth. Best practices do exist. First, retain good legal and financial counsel is crucial as the negotiations will be complicated. Second, it is best not to wait too close to the next maturity before announcing the intention to restructure. The more advance notice creditors are given, the better. Third, Communication matters. In announcing the intention to restructure, the sovereign should make it clear that this is not meant as a “hard default”. By the same token, strong-armed/cram-down tactics should be avoided if the objective is to reach an orderly and cooperative workout. Finally, fairness and contextualizing the restructuring as part of a broader macro package are crucial requirements for an orderly effort. WILL CREDITORS BE OPEN TO A RESTRUCTURING EFFORT? Creditors are more likely to be open to restructuring efforts if they are part of a comprehensive macro package that includes official foreign support. It is worth keeping in mind that Lebanese debt is currently trading at a large discount and investors have already priced in a restructuring. They will therefore be open to offering concessions so long as the value of the new bonds is at or above the market value of the bonds they currently own. In other words, the bar for a deal is not too high and the timing is ripe for entering restructuring discussions with creditors. We also believe that a credible and well-designed debt workout can actually be advantageous to creditors. If the restructuring is undertaken as part of a strong reform package, a Lebanon without a debt overhang will emerge as much more “creditworthy”. This will translate into a lower “risk premium” which, in turn, could take the value of the new (i.e., post NPV-hit) debt above current valuations. This is not a theoretical possibility: most successful sovereign restructurings have resulted in a country’s bonds, even after a large NPV hit, trading well above the pre-restructured bond levels. For this to be the case, though, the importance of a proactive, orderly, equitable and well-run restructuring process cannot be overstated. SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT BE SELECTIVE IN WHAT DEBT IT RESTRUCTURES AND WHAT DEBT IT SPARES? At the broadest level, comprehensiveness and equality of treatment should be the guiding principle. The size of the debt itself, as well as the challenging fiscal/growth backdrop over the next few years, mean that the restructuring effort should touch all public sector debt and not just the Eurobonds. That said, the arguments for selectivity are complicated and not straightforward. First, short-dated LBP debt will be hit hard by the FX depreciation so is probably best spared. Second, while debt issued under Lebanese law (treasury bonds and BDL claims) is legally and politically easier to restructure, it’s also debt the government will have easiest access to in the future. As such, there is an argument to treat it preferentially. Third, penalizing non-resident creditors is appealing politically and even morally (since most foreign creditors are institutional investors who weren’t coerced to own the bonds and knew the risk they assumed). However, foreign creditors won’t be as cooperative as locals during negotiations and may complicate the process including through lawsuits. In that regard, actions that complicate the Republic’s future return to the capital markets should be avoided if possible. The bottom line is that there is no straightforward answer to the question of selectivity. The broad principal is that successful restructurings are ones where investors perceive the effort as “fair” and reasonable. IS RESTRUCTURING SUFFICIENT TO REDUCE THE DEBT BURDEN? No. The stock of debt is too large to be brought down solely through a debt restructuring. There are other ways to reduce the burden. As we argued in our 10-point plan, there is scope for the judicial usage of state assets including privatizations and securitizing future cash flows. Moreover, and as part of any future (large) depositors’ bail in, there is room for swapping some deposits into concessional debt. Finally, the public sector should also assume some of the future burden by running primary surpluses that can be used to gradually lower debt over time. IS DEBT REDUCTION ALONE THE ANSWER TO LEBANON’S PROBLEMS? Absolutely not. It is but one part of the solution. The main argument of our 10-point plan was that a comprehensive stabilization and reform program is a must. Debt restructuring has to be part of a larger macro package—one that deals with the banking sector, with BDL’s balance sheet, and with private debt. More importantly, a successful debt workout is one that, in parallel, convinces creditors that the “flow” issues that created the problem in the first place have been dealt with. This, in practice, means addressing Lebanon’s endemic fiscal issues, its large external imbalances, as well as the other parts of the macro policy toolbox such as FX and monetary policy. Creditors will give the sovereign significantly better terms if they perceive the macro framework as credible and sustainable. There are plenty of examples where restructuring proposals that were advantageous to creditors ex ante were rejected because the creditors didn’t think the sovereign can follow through with its macro promises. WILL LEGAL COMPLICATIONS RENDER RESTRUCTURINGS IMPOSSIBLE? We don’t believe so. But they are not straightforward. As noted above, retaining good legal counsel will be crucial to the effort. A broad point is that a cooperative approach will increase the chances of achieving the thresholds needed for a smooth and orderly restructuring. Lebanese Eurobonds are issued under New York Law and have broadly standard terms including cross default clauses and a 7 days grace period for principal repayments and 30 days for coupon payments. A quarter of the principal holders are needed for acceleration of the Eurobond’s repayment. The area that may well complicate the restructuring effort relates to the collective action clauses required for modifying the terms of the Eurobond. The contracts foresee creditors’ meetings that can modify bond terms so long as 75 percent of bond-holders consent. This includes changing amounts payable, reducing/cancelling principal, and modifying currency of payment. Any such resolution passed in this manner would be binding on all holders regardless of whether they voted in favor or not. However, there is no collective action clause across series. As a result, outstanding Eurobonds would have to be restructured series by series. Ownership structure of each Eurobond could thus be an important factor when negotiating with creditors. Our recommendation is that the Government approaches all bondholders across the different series with a single restructuring proposal but we wouldn’t rule out the eventual possibility of differential treatment based on ownership structure. SUMMARY In summary, we call on the Lebanese Government to immediately initiate a plan to proactively address the unsustainable debt burden. An organized, fair and credible debt effort that is part and parcel of a broader reform and stabilization program is imperative for Lebanon’s eventual recovery and its longer-term economic stability and growth. SIGNATORIES IN THEIR PERSONAL CAPACITIES Firas Abi Nassif, Henri Chaoul, Ishac Diwan, Saeb el Zein, Nabil Fahed, Philippe Jabre, Sami Nader, May Nasrallah, Paul Raphael, Jean Riachi, Nasser Saidi, Kamal Shehadi, Maha Yahya. NOTES 1 To be clear, this is not an accounting observation. It’s an illustration of how artificially inflated the economy was by the overvalued currency. 2 In theory, the debt stock could “organically” be reduced if a) the government runs a surplus and uses it to repay the debt; b) growth picks up sharply; and/or c) interest rates fall. Given the magnitude of debt stock, what is required on all three fronts to engineer a sustained debt reduction is simply too unrealistic to even ponder. 3 The classic paper on the topic can be found here: https://www.nber.org/papers/w9908.pdf https://carnegie-mec.org/2020/01/21/road-map-to-orderly-restructuring-of-lebanese-public-sector-debt-pub-80847