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Rear View – Lebanon in review (26 September 2021)

Rear View – Lebanon in review (26 September 2021)

18 September: Authorities seize ammonium nitrate stockpile

Twenty tonnes of ammonium nitrate, the same substance that caused the Beirut Port explosion last year, has been seized from a fertiliser warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, the National News Agency (NNA) reported.

The warehouse is considered a base for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.

Security forces were called on to conduct a sweep of the Bekaa Valley, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said. “We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe”, the NNA quoted him as saying.

The ammonium nitrate was intended for agricultural use, according to the company that owns it. The name of the company has not been released pending investigations.

20 September: New government confirmed by confidence vote

Lebanon’s new Cabinet has been confirmed by a successful confidence vote in Parliament. The session was delayed for 40 minutes by a power outage and broken generator, underscoring the urgent national crisis the government must now focus on fixing.

Prior to this week’s vote of confidence, Prime Minister Mikati revealed that his government has begun dialogue with the IMF on a bailout package meant to salvage the nation from its worst economic meltdown.

Mikati stated the other priorities of the new Cabinet, including “timely and transparent” elections in May 2022, the reformation of the baking sector and restructuring the public debt which Lebanon defaulted on last year.

He also vowed to strengthen international relations, close illegal crossings, reduce tax evasion, amend the Public Accounting Act and complete the 2022 general budget.

 

Addressing the national crisis, Mikati promised to increase access to electricity and natural gas supplies, as well as modernising the electricity sector, and to restore the purchasing power of the Lebanese Lira and expand insurance coverage.

Mikati’s government also mentioned its “keenness to complete all investigations to determine the causes of the [2020 Beirut Port] explosion, uncover the full truth and punish all perpetrators.”

It is yet to be seen whether this government will be the first in modern Lebanese politics to make good on its promises.

21 September: Israel, US announce oil drilling plans in disputed waters

Israel has granted US oil-giant Halliburton a contract to explore offshore oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean. Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib has sought clarification from international authorities to ensure these activities will not occur in any maritime areas Lebanon and Israel are currently disputing ownership over.

Lebanon and Israel are in dispute over the delineation of their territorial waters in the Mediterranean. The two countries have been holding on-off U.S. mediated talks since October to try to resolve the issue themselves.

Access to the disputed areas will allow Lebanon to use valuable gas reserves to help ease their ever-worsening fuel crisis.

In a statement by his office, PM Mikati pledged to work towards a resolution of the Israeli-Lebanese maritime dispute so that Lebanon can explore its territorial waters for oil and resurrect its floundering economy

22  September: Lebanese inflation reaches highest level globally: Bloomberg

Global financial analysis company Bloomberg has recorded Lebanon’s inflation rate as the highest of all countries it tracks, surpassing Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Hyperinflation is just one symptom of the nation’s financial catastrophe.

Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics reported that consumer prices rose by 137.8% from August 2020, compared to 123.4% in July. Consumer prices rose 10.25% from a month before and food prices rose 20.82%. The currency – the Lebanese Lira – has lost nearly 90% of its value and plunged three quarters of Lebanese people into poverty.

Recently, the government has started reducing subsidies, with the Central Bank repeatedly warning that cash supplies are too low for the government to continue funding subsidies for much longer.

23 September: 2022 Elections to proceed with significant changes

The Lebanese parliamentary committee for elections has disallowed Lebanese living abroad from participating in the 2022 elections, sources familiar with the electoral legislative process have confirmed to Lebanese newspaper Al-Joumhouria.

Apparently, logistical and financial issues are the reason for the diaspora’s exclusion. For the same reason, the six representative seats granted in 2018 to represent the diaspora have been repealed.

The date of the elections has also been changed from May 8th (the day before Ramadan) to March 27th, to comply with the 2017 electoral law.

A legislative parliamentary session is set to take place in the next few weeks to introduce the necessary amendments to the electoral law, especially regarding the exclusion of Lebanese abroad, according to the newspaper.

Lebanese diaspora voted in their country’s elections from abroad for the first time in 2018. They were supposed to have six MPs representing them in the upcoming elections according to the Lebanese electoral law.

This is one of several discriminative ways the current laws use to prevent change in elections.

24  September: Lebanon at risk of blackout by September-end

Critically low fuel oil reserves put Lebanon at risk of a total blackout by the end of September, EDL, Lebanon’s state-run energy provider, says. Fuel supplies secured in a deal with Iraq have generated less than 500 megawatts of electricity.

EDL stated that its reserves of both grade A and B fuel oil had reached a critical point and that some electricity plants had already shut down. There is a high probability of a total and complete blackout by the end of September if the current trend continues. There have already been seven total blackouts across the country.

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