A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For February 23-24/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 130th Day

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A Bundle Of English Reports, News and Editorials For 23-24/2020 Addressing the On Going Mass Demonstrations & Sit In-ins In Iranian Occupied Lebanon in its 130th Day
Compiled By: Elias Bejjani
February 24/2020

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 23-24/20
What is The Ash Monday/Elias Bejjani/February 24/2020
Cana Wedding Miracle/The  Forgiveness (Marfaa) Sunday/Elias Bejjani/February 23/2020
U.S. Lawmaker’s Aide Insists Fakhoury isn’t Guilty of Murder
Reports: IMF Asks Lebanon to Peg Dollar at LBP 1,750 or 2,000
Berri Tells IMF Team Lebanon Committed to Reforms
Coronavirus ‘Politicized’ in Lebanon as Some Blame Iran
Hasan: 27 Have So Far Tested Negative for Coronavirus
Geagea Urges Banning Flights from Iran, China
Health Minister to NNA: We tested 27 people and found they were free of any virus
Al-Jadaan: Saudi Arabia is in contact with other countries to coordinate any support to Lebanon on the basis of reforms
Protest march sets out in Sidon with the participation of Nabatiyeh and Kfarreman civil movements
Cabinet to convene in Baabda on Tuesday to discuss Corona virus issue
If Lebanon needs financial aid, France will be there, finance minister says
“Opportunity exists with the current government,” says Fadlallah
Public Health Information Office issues a clarification statement
Rahi supports new government
Union of Arab Journalists decides on holding its next conference in Beirut, denounces targeting of freedom of expression in Arab countries
Five Wounded in Tripoli Grenade Explosion
Lebanese woman denies she has coronavirus after Iran visit, vows ‘revenge’
Coronavirus politicized in Lebanon as some blame Iran
Lebanon should default on its debt right now, and here’s why/Nizar Hassan/The New Arab/February 23/2020

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 23-24/2020
What is The Ash Monday
Elias Bejjani/February 24/2020
مفاهيم اثنين الرماد الإيمانية

Ash Monday is the first day of Lent and It is a moveable feast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of mourning and repentance to God.
On The Ash Monday the priest ceremonially marks with wet ashes on the worshippers’ foreheads a visible cross while saying “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return (genesis03/19)”.
Worshippers are reminded of their sinfulness and mortality and thus, implicitly, of their need to repent in time.
Ash Monday (Greek: Καθαρά Δευτέρα), is also known as Clean and Pure Monday.
The common term for this day, refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods.
Our Maronite Catholic Church is notable amongst the Eastern rites employing the use of ashes on this day.
(In the Western Catholic Churches this day falls on Wednesday and accordingly it is called the “Ash Wednesday”)
Ash Monday is a Christian holy day of prayer, fasting, contemplating of transgressions and repentance.
Ash Monday is a reminder that we should begin Lent with good intentions and a desire to clean our spiritual house. It is a day of strict fasting including abstinence not only from meat but from eggs and dairy products as well.
Liturgically, Ash Monday—and thus Lent itself—begins on the preceding (Sunday) night, at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers, which culminates with the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness, at which all present will bow down before one another and ask forgiveness. In this way, the faithful begin Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love.
The entire first week of Great Lent is often referred to as “Clean Week”, and it is customary to go to Confession during this week, and to clean the house thoroughly.
The Holy Bible stresses the conduct of humility and not bragging for not only during the fasting period, but evry day and around the clock.
It is worth mentioning that Ashes were used in ancient times to express grief. When Tamar was raped by her half-brother, “she sprinkled ashes on her head, tore her robe, and with her face buried in her hands went away crying” (2 Samuel 13:19). Examples of the Ash practices among Jews are found in several other books of the Bible, including Numbers 19:9, 19:17, Jonah 3:6, Book of Esther 4:1, and Hebrews 9:13.
Jesus is quoted as speaking of the Ash practice in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13: “If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

Cana Wedding Miracle/The  Forgiveness (Marfaa) Sunday
Elias Bejjani/February 23/2020
Lent period starts with the Cana Holy Wedding Miracle and ends with the Holy Easter Day.
Lent in the Maronite Church rite starts this year on the ASH Monday, February 25/2020.
The Sunday that comes before the beginning of the lent period is called the raising (أحد المرفع) or forgiveness Sunday (أحد الغفران)
Fasting is a battle of spiritual engagement through which we seek to imitate Jesus Christ who fought Satan’s temptations while fasting in the wilderness.
He triumphed over Satan, and we faithfully endeavour during the Lent period to tame and defeat our earthly instincts and make our hearts, conscience and thinking pure, immaculate and pious
The lent period is a spiritual battle that we chose to fight our own selves and all its bodily and earthly instinctual pleasures in a bid to abstain from all acts and thoughts of sin
Lent in principle is a Holy period that is ought to be utilized with God in genuine contemplation, self humility, repentance, penances, forgiveness, praying and conciliation with self and others.
Lent is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards Jesus Who is the fountain of all love, forgiveness and mercy.
Lent is a pilgrimage in which Jesus Himself accompanies us through the desert of our poverty while sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter.
We fastand trust that the Lord is our loving Shepherd.
“Psalm 23:04: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and staff comfort me.”
Lent is ought to strengthen our hope and faith in a bid to fight Satan and to keep away from his ways of sin and despair.
Praying and contemplation teaches us that Almighty God is there to guard us and to lead our steps during the entire Lenten period.
Readind the Holy Bible and praying offers us God’s Word with particular abundance and empowers our souls and minds with His Word.
Mark 13:31: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”
By meditating and internalizing the Word Of God we learn precious and irreplaceable forms of prayer.
By attentively listening to God, who continues to speak to our hearts, we nourish the itinerary of faith initiated on the day of our Baptism.
Prayers and fasting allow us to gain a new concept of time and directs our steps towards horizons of hope and joy that have no limits
When we fast and pray, we find time for God, to understand that his words will not pass away.
Through fasting and praying we can enter into that intimate communion with Jesus so that no one shall take from us the faith and hope that does not disappoint.

U.S. Lawmaker’s Aide Insists Fakhoury isn’t Guilty of Murder
Associated Press/Naharnet/February 23/2020
A Lebanese-American man in custody in Lebanon isn’t guilty of charges brought against him by the Lebanese government, according to a U.S. lawmaker’s top aide. Naz Durakoglu, senior foreign policy adviser to Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, said in a conference call with media outlets that colleagues in different U.S. government offices have found no evidence that Amer Fakhoury is guilty of the murder, prison torture and other allegations levied by his native country. Durakoglu said that in such cases there are often made-up allegations or charges, forcing defendants to try to refute lies. She said the U.S. government is instead focusing on the distinct lack of evidence.
“In this case we’re confident that he is not who they say he is,” Durakoglu said. Fakhoury is a 57-year-old restaurant owner from Dover, New Hampshire, who became a U.S. citizen last year. He is accused of working as a senior warden at Khiam Prison, which was run by an Israel-backed Lebanese militia during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon two decades ago. The prison has been described by human rights groups as a center for torture. He was detained in September after he returned to his native Lebanon from the U.S., and Lebanon’s intelligence services say he confessed during questioning to being a warden. A military investigative judge charged Fakhoury earlier this month. The accusations could carry a death sentence.
However, Fakhoury’s lawyer and family in New Hampshire say that while he was indeed a member of the Israel-backed militia and worked at the prison, he had no direct contact with inmates and was never involved in the interrogation or torture of prisoners.
Durakoglu said she could only broadly speculate on the motives of the Lebanese government but said that U.S. government officials believe Hizbullah-linked officials may be using Fakhoury as a way to “distract” the Lebanese public from ongoing political unrest.
Fakhoury is in poor health because of injuries suffered and left untreated after being beaten by Lebanese security officials, Durakoglu said. He is also undergoing cancer treatment. His proceedings have been delayed as a result and it remains unclear if he’ll be able to stand trial.
“We have a dying American citizen there,” his lawyer, Celine Atallah, said previously. “By keeping him there, it’s evident they’re trying to kill him.” Shaheen said she is drafting sanctions legislation against Lebanese officials in order to push for Fakhoury’s release. Details of the bill remain unclear.

Reports: IMF Asks Lebanon to Peg Dollar at LBP 1,750 or 2,000
Naharnet/February 23/2020
An International Monetary Fund delegation wraps up Sunday a three-day visit to Lebanon during which it met with senior political and financial officials. “The delegation stressed that the starting point for the solutions should be reforms, topped by the electricity file,” media reports said.
“The delegation also asked Lebanese officials to unify the dollar exchange rate and end the discrepancy between the official rate and the rate at money exchange shops,” the reports added. “There is an inclination to agree on a rate ranging between LBP 1,750 and 2,000, seeing as that would relieve the people, specifically depositors,” the reports said.

Berri Tells IMF Team Lebanon Committed to Reforms
Naharnet/February 23/2020
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Sunday told an International Monetary Fund delegation that Lebanon is “keen on being committed to the required drastic reforms on all levels to guarantee the success of the reform process and regain confidence in Lebanon.”The National News Agency said the meeting involved “a lengthy and detailed discussion of the financial and economic situations” as Berri described the talks as “good.”The meeting was also attended by Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni and Berri’s adviser Ali Hamdan.

Coronavirus ‘Politicized’ in Lebanon as Some Blame Iran
Associated Press/Naharnet/February 23/2020
Some in Lebanon are casting blame on Iran, the supporter of the country’s powerful Hizbullah group, after the country’s first case of the new virus was discovered on a flight from the Iranian city of Qom this week. Many Lebanese who support the Hizbullah-led coalition have remained silent on the issue of the virus, while some supporters of rival groups supported by the west blame Iran for the introduction of the virus into the country. The first case of the new coronavirus was reported in Lebanon when a 45-year-old woman tested positive after flying from Qom on Thursday. The woman is in good health at Beirut’s state-run hospital, according to Health Minister Hamad Hasan. The minister announced Saturday that all people traveling from Iran to Lebanon will now be tested for the new virus before boarding flights to Lebanon. Hasan held a news conference Saturday at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, which has been equipped to deal with cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by virus. Hasan said 11 people returning from Iran who were suspected of carrying the virus tested negative. He said two of the cases were people who came aboard the Iranian jet that arrived Thursday from Qom.”As if what Iran is sending to Lebanon and the Lebanese is not enough so it sent us coronavirus,” said an editorial on the local MTV station. The station is a harsh critic of Iran and Hizbullah and the comment was an apparent reference to the weapons Tehran sends to the group. The TV station also apparently referred to this week’s visit to Lebanon by Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani who said Tehran is ready to help Lebanon as it experiences its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. “Thank you Iran for allowing a jet carrying people infected with coronavirus to enter our airspace. Is this the way countries cooperate and is this the help that your promised Lebanon,” the editorial said. The daily An-Nahar newspaper had a front-page photo of three people wearing masks outside the Rafik Hariri Teaching Hospital and a headline that reads: “Coronavirus panic in Lebanon and a scandal of Iranian flights.” An-Nahar is also a harsh critic of Hizbullah and its Iranian backers. Information Minister Manal Abdul Samad said political divisions should not be allowed to be used in this case.

Hasan: 27 Have So Far Tested Negative for Coronavirus
Naharnet/February 23/2020
Health Minister Hamad Hasan announced Sunday that 27 people in Lebanon have tested negative for the novel coronavirus, three days after he announced the country’s first case of the disease. “The health ministry is continuing its efforts to quickly identify any case showing the symptoms of coronavirus among the ranks of citizens coming from abroad,” Hasan told the National News Agency. He added that at the request of the examining team, an equipped Lebanese Red Cross ambulance has transferred the citizen A.B. from the city of Baalbek to the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut to conduct lab tests as a precautionary measure. “He was among the passengers of the plane in which Lebanon’s first coronavirus infection was detected,” the minister said. Hasan had confirmed Lebanon’s first case of the novel coronavirus on Friday, adding that two other suspected cases were being investigated. The COVID-19 virus was found in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had traveled from Qom in Iran, he said. The COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Iran on Wednesday. Thousands of Lebanese travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities.

Geagea Urges Banning Flights from Iran, China

Naharnet/February 23/2020
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Sunday called for banning flights from and to Iran and China as a precaution against the spread of the novel coronavirus. “In light of Lebanon’s modest capabilities, it is better to take extreme and not minimal measures from the very beginning,” Geagea tweeted. “Therefore, it is better, as a first step, to ban travel from and to countries witnessing major outbreaks of the disease, without taking into account any other considerations or any sentiments, especially as to China and Iran,” the LF leader added. The first case of the novel coronavirus in Lebanon was confirmed on Friday and two other suspected cases are being investigated. The COVID-19 virus was found in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had traveled from Qom in Iran. Health Minister Hamad Hasan said that all the people who were on the same flight from Iran have been contacted by the health authorities. He said that anyone returning from Iran would be asked to observe a two-week home quarantine. The COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Iran on Wednesday. Iran confirmed eight deaths from the virus on Sunday, the highest toll of any country outside China. The number of infections has meanwhile surged to 43. Thousands of Lebanese travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities.

Health Minister to NNA: We tested 27 people and found they were free of any virus
NNA/February 23/2020
Minister of Public Health, Hamad al-Hassan, confirmed to the National News Agency’s correspondent in Baalbek on Sunday, that to-date, tests have been conducted over 27 persons suspected of having the Coronavirus, and the results have shown that they are free of any infection. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health is continuing its efforts to ensure the early detection of any symptoms of the Coronavirus, among citizens coming from abroad. Upon detection by the examining committee, a Lebanese Red Cross equipped vehicle transported one of the citizens in the city of Baalbek to the Rafic Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, to perform the necessary laboratory tests to ensure that the patient is free of corona infection within the precautionary procedures adopted. The citizen was among the passengers on board the plane in which the first case of corona infection was detected in Lebanon.

Al-Jadaan: Saudi Arabia is in contact with other countries to coordinate any support to Lebanon on the basis of reforms
NNA/February 23/2020
Reuters quoted Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan as saying today, at the conclusion of a meeting of finance officials from the Group of Twenty, that Saudi Arabia is in contact with other countries to coordinate any support to Lebanon on the basis of economic reforms.
He added: “The Kingdom has always been, and still remains, supportive to Lebanon and the Lebanese people.”

Protest march sets out in Sidon with the participation of Nabatiyeh and Kfarreman civil movements
NNA/February 23/2020
The civil movement in the city of Sidon organized a demonstration March this evening, as part of a series of protest actions “in opposition to the high cost of living and the economic policy that rendered citizens deprived of their decent livelihood,” NNA correspondent in Sidon reported.
The evening rally began with activists gathering at the Eliya Square intersection, raising national flags and chanting slogans denouncing sectarian, partisan and financial policies. Then, protesters set out in a march, joined by a group of Nabatiyeh and Kfarreman civil activists, where they roamed the streets of the city, chanting slogans against poverty and hunger, and calling for change and the return of looted funds. They also called on citizens to “leave their homes and participate in the march by rejecting the current status quo and working to achieve a better future for all.”
Protesters then returned to Elia Square, amidst the presence of Lebanese army units.

Cabinet to convene in Baabda on Tuesday to discuss Corona virus issue

NNA/February 23/2020
The Council of Ministers will hold a meeting at Baabda Presidential Palace upcoming Tuesday at 1:00 p.m., to discuss the preventive measures and steps adopted against the Coronavirus.

If Lebanon needs financial aid, France will be there, finance minister says
NNA/Reuters/February 23/2020
France is ready to support Lebanon financially – bilaterally or multilaterally – its finance minister said Sunday, warning against mixing economic recovery in the small Mediterranean state with U.S.-led efforts to counter Iran in the region. “France always stands ready to help Lebanon. It has always been the case in the past and it will be the case in the future…” Bruno Le Maire told Reuters at the end of a meeting of finance officials from the Group of 20 (G20) major economies. “We know that there are ties between the two issues but we don’t want to mix the issue of economic recovery in Lebanon, which is today the clear emergency, and the question of Iran,” he added. As Lebanon’s economic crisis deepens, Western and Sunni-led Gulf Arab states that helped in the past have made clear that any support hinges on Beirut implementing long-delayed reforms to address root causes such as state corruption and bad governance. Le Maire said decisions by Lebanon’s government were urgently needed to improve the situation on the ground.

“Opportunity exists with the current government,” says Fadlallah
NNA/February 23/2020
“Lebanon was struck by a virus thirty years ago, one of theft, corruption, lack of responsibility and chaos. There is an opportunity with the current government, because its success or failure will be reflected on everyone, and failure will add to the crisis…There are political forces, figures, and parties working, betting, and trying to thwart the government’s work, to prove that it has been unable to do anything…The Lebanese want a solution to their held deposits in banks, the high prices and scarce job opportunities in the country,” said Member of the “Loyalty to the Resistance” Parliamentary Bloc, MP Hassan Fadlallah, on Sunday. Speaking to a popular crowd during a political gathering organized by Hezbollah in the region of Iqlim el-Tuffah earlier today, Fadlallah noted that “the government’s success is a success for the country as a whole, but there are obstacles that stand in the way of solutions. The government, which is responsible for public funds, is forbidden from knowing the Central Bank’s exact holdings…whereas in no country in the world has an official authority withheld information from the President of the Republic, the Government, and the Parliament Council, and this requires the government to take measures to solve this problem.” “Until this moment, we have not received the correct data about the money transfers abroad; and the judiciary can, through its authority guaranteed by the Constitution and the law, to make an accurate tracking of all transfers made by presidents, ministers, parliament members, heads of security apparatuses, and senior current and former employees and contractors in the state…It can contact external countries, inquiring about these names and the money in their possession abroad, and conduct an investigation to reach the end,” Fadlallah went on. “Otherwise, who would take such measures if the judiciary does not move?” he questioned. In a word on the arising Coronavirus issue, the MP deemed that “everyone is required to cooperate with the official authorities concerned, and deal with the matter as in all countries that have institutions and governments.”
“In the Corona file, moral and human standards must be the starting point for all speech, but unfortunately in the past two days we have heard political and media words that are outside all human and moral standards, and this condemns those with sick minds whose hearts have been inflicted with an ethical corona,” Fadlallah added regretfully.

Public Health Information Office issues a clarification statement
NNA/February 23/2020
The Public Health Ministry Information Office clarified, in an issued statement today, that “Rafic Hariri Governmental Hospital in Beirut will issue a daily bulletin at 5 pm, announcing the latest developments related the Coronavirus issue.” The statement expressed its hope that “citizens and the media will be wary of fake news and refer to the daily bulletin issued by Rafic Hariri Hospital.”

Rahi supports new government
NNA/February 23/2020
Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Beshara Boutros Rahi, presided over Sunday Mass service for the launch of the Caritas fasting period. The Patriarch called on all Lebanese officials to support the government, for the sake of people’s interests. “Growing poverty, and the stifling economic and financial crisis, requires all of us to stand in the service of love, so that no one dies on the road, or from hunger, or lacks the ability to buy medication,” Rahi said told believers during the Mass service.

Union of Arab Journalists decides on holding its next conference in Beirut, denounces targeting of freedom of expression in Arab countries
NNA /February 23/2020
The Egyptian capital, Cairo, hosted this weekend the meetings of the General Secretariat and the Permanent Office of the General Union of Arab Journalists, at the Union’s headquarters, headed by Muayyad Al-Lami and attended by members of the General Secretariat and the Union’s Permanent Office, and the President of the International Federation of Journalists Younis Mjahid and its Financial Secretary Jim Bou Malha, with organizational, professional and political issues featuring high on their work agenda. The attendees agreed, in view of the current circumstances that the Arab nation is going through, especially with regard to the Palestinian issue, to give the name “Palestine” to the meetings of this session. Conferees also unanimously agreed to hold their next meeting in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, during the first week of April 2020, and approved the membership of the Djiboutian Journalists Syndicate and welcomed the return of the Jordanian Journalists Syndicate to the Union. In their final statement, the conferees denounced the attempt to undermine the freedom of expression in Arab countries. “The difficult circumstances experienced by the Arab nation, which are characterized by the growth of various manifestations of chaos, dispersion, wars and the deepening of Arab-Arab conflicts, and the continued decline in indicators of freedom of the press and expression and other manifestations of human rights, require intensifying forms of professional struggle to face these challenges,” the statement said.
“The Union expresses its readiness to cooperate with all Arab professional and human rights organizations that believe in the principles of defending human rights, democracy and sovereign freedoms, and advocating the interests of the Arab nation and the struggle to achieve the values of social justice, equality, democracy and human rights,” the statement emphasized. Conferees, thus, demanded the “Arab governments to deal with the profession of journalism in light of the recent developments,” highlighting the need to “revise legislations that deprive liberties and to pass legislations that give the Arab media practice a broader range and broader horizons of freedom.”

Five Wounded in Tripoli Grenade Explosion
Naharnet/February 23/2020
A man hurled a hand grenade Sunday at his brothers inside an apartment in the northern city of Tripoli. The National News Agency said the man, M. Shahoud, and four of his brothers were wounded in the explosion.
The apartment is located in a building on the city’s al-Thaqafeh Street. The Lebanese Red Cross evacuated the wounded to hospitals in the city.

Lebanese woman denies she has coronavirus after Iran visit, vows ‘revenge’
Ismaeel Naar, Al Arabiya English/February 23/2020
A Lebanese woman suspected of bringing coronavirus to Lebanon from the Iranian city of Qom said she is only suffering from a cold and criticized the Beirut government for lying about her case, according to several Lebanese media outlets who quoted her from audio recordings.
The woman identified by Lebanese media as 45-year-old Taghrid Ali Sakr arrived from Qom last week and was declared Lebanon’s first case of coronavirus by the Lebanese Health Ministry on Friday. In the audio recodings, she denies she the deadly virus and criticizes the government for allegedly lying about her. “You all know Lebanon, the lies in Lebanon, and agents in it. My brother will come to Lebanon and take revenge on my behalf from the General Security,” she is heard saying in one of the recordings. Sakr’s statements were criticized by some social media users, who asked why she was criticizing the health minister, who was nominated by the political party of Iran-backed Hezbollah. Sakr later backtracked on her comments, saying she did not mean to “insult her homeland” and explaining that she had just returned from Qom after spending the past six months in the Iranian city currently hit by the coronavirus epidemic. Lebanese Health Minister Hamad al-Hassan released a statement on Saturday after visiting the Nabih Berri Governmental Hospital in Nabatiyeh saying that there was “no need to panic.” The minister said the government has found no other cases of coronavirus after testing in several hospitals.

Coronavirus politicized in Lebanon as some blame Iran
Associated Press/February 23/2020
The TV station also apparently referred to this week’s visit to Lebanon by Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani who said Tehran is ready to help Lebanon as it experiences its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.
BEIRUT: Some in Lebanon are casting blame on Iran, the supporter of the country’s powerful Hezbollah group, after the country’s first case of the new virus was discovered on a flight from the Iranian city of Qom this week.
The existence in Lebanon of the new virus that first emerged in China has been politicized by some in Lebanon’s deeply divided population.
Many Lebanese who support an Iran-backed coalition led by Hezbollah have remained silent on the issue of the virus, while some supporters of rival groups supported by the west blame Iran for the introduction of the virus into the country.
The first case of the new coronavirus was reported in Lebanon when a 45-year-old woman tested positive after flying from Qom on Thursday. The woman is in good health at a Beirut hospital, according to Health Minister Hamad Hassan. The minister announced Saturday that all people traveling from Iran to Lebanon will now be tested for the new virus before boarding flights to Lebanon. Hassan held a news conference Saturday at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, which has been equipped to deal with cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by virus.
Hassan said 11 people returning from Iran who were suspected of carrying the virus tested negative. He said two of the cases were people who came aboard the Iranian jet that arrived Thursday from Qom.
“As if what Iran is sending to Lebanon and the Lebanese is not enough so it sent us coronavirus,” said an editorial on the local MTV station. The station is a harsh critic of Iran and Hezbollah and the comment was an apparent reference to the weapons Tehran sends to the group.
The TV station also apparently referred to this week’s visit to Lebanon by Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani who said Tehran is ready to help Lebanon as it experiences its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. “Thank you Iran for allowing a jet carrying people infected with coronavirus to enter our airspace. Is this the way countries cooperate and is this the help that your promised Lebanon,” the editorial said. Information Minister Manal Abdul-Samad said political divisions should not be allowed to be used in this case.

Lebanon should default on its debt right now, and here’s why
Nizar Hassan/The New Arab/February 23/2020
The big policy question haunting Lebanon’s decision makers today is whether or not the country should pay international and local investors whose Eurobonds mature next month, as the country faces dramatic economic, financial and fiscal crises.
Experts and politicians are divided, with some advocating full payment, others arguing that only the debt held by foreign actors should be paid, and perhaps the biggest group of all arguing for an immediate default and a restructuring of debt.
The argument for the payment of the Eurobonds in full, including those held by Lebanese commercial banks, is very hard to defend. Indeed, very few voices seem to be pushing for such a decision, except the bankers themselves, the experts on their payroll, and their official lobby, the Association of Banks in Lebanon.
In the end, why would Lebanon pay back the local banks’ debt in US dollars when the country is facing a crisis of dollar shortage, and is clearly heading to a restructuring and cancelling of a major chunk of its internal debt?
On the other hand, there is a more serious argument against defaulting on the foreign Eurobond payment championed by the former banker and economic policy commentator, Dan Azzi.
He explained his point of view on my podcast two weeks ago, and on this week’s episode we hosted Joane Chakar, an economist supporting the opposite view – an immediate default. Although Azzi made his case perhaps better than anyone else could, it is clear to me that both from a fiscal and political perspective, defaulting is the right demand.
The case against defaulting has two main arguments, and they are connected. The first is a question: why should Lebanon default on its foreign debt when the amounts to be paid are minimal compared to the size of the internal debt?
In other words, the argument goes like this: Lebanon can deal with its internally-held debt through a haircut and money-printing (as Azzi suggests), without the need to default on foreign debt and suffering its consequences. This is definitely the strongest argument for payment in my opinion, but it is in fact dependent on the second argument, which is that defaulting on foreign debt today makes it more difficult to borrow in the international markets in the near future, for infrastructure projects and other needs.
If Lebanon can default today but borrow again in the future, both of these arguments fall apart. The experiences of other countries with similar situations indicate that this is indeed the realistic outcome to predict.
There is no eternal blacklisting that takes place when a sovereign default occurs. Global capital does not hold grudges against states. Capital is interested in constant accumulation and the mitigation of risks, not in revenge.
When default occurs, creditors will not stop lending to Lebanon forever; they will just demand higher interest rates and better guarantees when they do. So what is the real advantage of maintaining our record of paying foreign debt, if the interests on internal and external is already too high to pay back, and confidence in the Lebanese economy cannot be lower?
Let us stop the vicious cycle of borrowing and paying back, and only borrow in the future to invest in projects that ensure the structural economic transformation that all economists agree should happen.
If the concern of tapping international markets in the future is put on the side, there is little need to worry about defaulting today.
But even if we took the argument that the foreign debt is too small to default on as a standalone case, there is a serious question on whether Lebanon can in fact pay these amounts, as its central bank suffers from a deterioration in its foreign exchange reserve that makes it unable to control a depreciating national currency.
Estimations of how many dollars Lebanon needs for the import of basic necessities (fuel, medicine, wheat, raw materials) vary, but it is clear that the reserves would be wiped out if we used them for the next two years while paying back debt in dollars.
The most important point here is that this debate is not possible as long as Lebanon’s central bank does not publish the required data for us to know which reserves are in fact usable, and how much they amount to.
As long as we do not have the numbers, we cannot claim that any amount in dollars is too small to worry about. And in such a situation, the priority should be funding people’s necessities rather than the profits of international money giants.
Moreover, there is no question among experts and stakeholders that Lebanon does indeed need to restructure its public debt. Paying back the debt without the cancellation and rescheduling of major portions has become impossible.
So the first argument against defaulting that questions the reasons for it can be answered with a question as well: Why accept the debt payment when we will default and restructure soon anyway? And how can we make sure we are not taking money away from more important needs, if we do not know how much money we have?
Here comes a third argument related to the fact that Lebanon does not have a solid debt restructuring plan on which to base its negotiations with international investors. This is true, and it is the reason why the country requested assistance from the International Monetary Fund, whose team just arrived in the country to help figure out a plan.
The country might not have enough time left before Eurobonds’ maturity, but there is enough time to announce the default and finalise the plan for both internal and external debt as the negotiations begin.
Beyond the technicalities of policy, there is a strong political argument for anti-establishment and opposition movements in Lebanon to demand immediate restructuring and stand against the payment of Eurobonds.
To begin with a strategic concern, it is very difficult in political mobilisation to distinguish between the debt held by local and international companies, and to call for the payment of foreign, but not local debt.
It might also be counterproductive, especially given the nationalism that it might trigger with the support of the banks. It is much safer to stand under a clear banner that says “no to the payment of Eurobonds, yes to immediate debt restructuring.”
A banner reading “we demand the payment of foreign-held Eurobonds but not those owned by the local banks” is definitely less able to convey the message and create a popular coalition supporting the drastic debt restructuring that we urgently and desperately need. And carrying such a hybrid and less clear demand offers the government the room it needs to pay back all due Eurobonds, channeling hundreds of millions into the pockets of crony local bankers.
Opposing the Eurobond payments also goes well with another very important demand, which is full transparency by the central bank. As long as the authorities refuse to be transparent about our financial situation, we cannot by principle give them a green light to send any dollars to bond holders.
In other words, the two demands work together, and the demand for defaulting exerts pressure on the authorities to reveal the numbers or face even lower public confidence. There is nothing that Lebanon needs more desperately than dollars and confidence. As such, the government paying dollars to lenders without improving confidence cannot be justified.
We should demand an immediate debt restructuring without further hesitation, or else we are granting the short term profits of investors and banks a higher spot on the list of priorities, than the livelihoods of millions in Lebanon. Like most policy decisions, this one comes back to our moral compass, and it is about time we put people over profit.
*Nizar Hassan is a Lebanese organiser, researcher and podcaster based in Beirut. He is a co-founder of the progressive political movement LiHaqqi, he researches workers rights and social movements, and co-hosts The Lebanese Politics Podcast.