Rear View – Lebanon in review (13 December 2020)
7 Dec: Lifting Subsidies on Essential Goods
The removal of subsidies in Lebanon without guarantees to protect the vulnerable would amount to a social catastrophe, two U.N. agencies warned. In a meeting set for mid-December between the finance, economy, industry, agriculture and energy ministries, insiders reveal that rival political factions are pressing in favor of rationalization, as a first step to completely lifting subsidies on goods.
With Lebanon deep in financial crisis, the Central Bank has been subsidising basic goods by providing hard currency to importers at the old exchange rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar even as the currency fell by 80% from the peg. Central Bank governor Riad Salameh said last week the subsidies could be kept for only two more months, urging the Government to come up with a plan.
Tensions rose in meetings between the various parliamentary committees and the Central Bank last week around the subject of subsidies and the caretaker government has yet to take any action to ensure food and healthy security.
8 Dec: AUB Fees to Result in Dropouts
The American University of Beirut’s decision to “dollarize” its tuition fees could result in large numbers of students dropping out of courses or forced to take loans to complete their education. AUB President, Fadlo Khouri, said the university would accept payments in Euros, US Dollars or Lebanese Pounds at the bank rate of 3,900 LL for every USD, which is an increase of 250% compared with fees last year.
10 Dec: LAU Students Protest Tuition Increases
Lebanese American University students held protests in Beirut and Jbeil under the slogan “our education is not a commodity that inflates with currency,” to denounce massive tuition fees hikes that mirror those at the AUB. Like the AUB, the LAU announced an increase in tuition based on the exchange rate of $1=LBP3,900, devaluing the Lebanese Lira by 2.5 times and thus increasing fees on an impoverished people by 250%.
10 Dec: Judge Charges former PM and Officials for Beirut Blast
Judge Fadi Sawan who is leading Lebanon’s investigation into the catastrophic Beirut blast has charged the prime minister and three former ministers with criminal negligence causing hundreds of deaths resulting from the August 4 Port blast. Caretaker premier Hassan Diab will be questioned next week at the prime ministerial Grand Serail residence by judge Sawan along with former ministers of public works and transportation, Ghazi Zaiter and Yussef Fenianos, and ex-finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil.
“It’s a positive development of course because before [the judge] was saying there was ministerial immunity,” said Nizar Saghieh, director of The Legal Agenda, an advocacy organisation. Following pressure from street protesters and legal campaigners, “now he’s realised he can do it [indict ministers]”. Between 30 and 35 people had now been charged, said Mr Saghieh.
The allegation did not include other officials who were aware of the presence of ammonium nitrate at the port, such as the President of the Republic and heads of security apparatuses.
11 Dec: Life Imprisonment for Salim Ayyash
On Friday, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon sentenced Hezbollah member Salim Ayyash to five concurrent life sentences for the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005.
Ayyash was tried in absentia as Hezbollah refused to hand him over after he was convicted during the session of August 18, 2020. The court acquitted three other defendants.
11 Dec: Lebanon Sinking like the Titanic
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Lebanon’s political and economic collapse was like the sinking of the Titanic, only without the music. “The Lebanese are in complete denial as they sink, and there isn’t even the music.”
Le Drian’s remarks set a pessimistic tone a little over a week before President Emmanuel Macron makes his third visit to Beirut since the massive port blast destroyed swathes of the city and killed 200 people in August, Reuters reported.
Macron is losing patience with Lebanon’s rival politicians who are mired in turf battles and are standing in the way of sweeping reforms that donors say are imperative for badly needed financial aid to be released.
It is believed the Titanic’s orchestra kept playing for as long as it could as the liner went down in the Atlantic Ocean in 1912, trying to help keep passengers calm amid impending doom. All the musicians perished.
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