HomePoliticsBriefingProgress, but not enough

Progress, but not enough

The IMF visit to Lebanon, fighting in Ain el-Hilweh, Hezbollah’s airport, progress in electing a president, a year since the Iran protests, repatriating ISIS families and the US cuts aid to Egypt. Your weekly update from Lebanon.

French special envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) listens to Lebanon's Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri during a meeting in Beirut on September 12, 2023. Photo: Anwar Amro, AFP

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) once again visited Lebanon, and once again, they left without any form of a deal in their hands.

Their parting words in the first part of their statement about the slight progress that Lebanon has made in managing the crisis and working to pull the country out of collapse were largely dulled by what followed. 

Lebanon is still facing “enormous economic challenges,” they said, making it clear that Lebanon is not nearly out of the woods.

The IMF did applaud the interim governor of the Central Bank (BDL), Wassim Mansouri, for the efforts that he has made since taking over the position at the end of July. Specifically, the IMF noted Mansouri’s refusal to continue financing the government using BDL funds, as well as the plans to put an end to the Sayrafa platform which, while helping to stabilize the exchange rate, has also depleted BDL’s foreign currency reserves. Sayrafa is set to be replaced by a new platform that will have, at least initially, limited access to ensure that dollars being traded on the system are coming from “legitimate sources.”

Still, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

The banking crisis continues, with depositors locked out of their savings, and poverty is only worsening.

In the end, the IMF said that there still needs to be significant policy decisions by Parliament and the government if there is to be any hope of Lebanon finding a way out of this crisis. 

These decisions, however, are nowhere to be seen.

Lebanon has not undertaken the urgently needed reforms, and this will weigh on the economy for years to come,” the IMF stated.

In short, Lebanon has made some progress when it comes to the crisis, but it is far from what needs to be done.

In Lebanon

Silence: After another week of fighting in the Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon, calm appears to have returned to the area – albeit a tenuous calm.

After several failed attempts at a ceasefire, this new one seems to be holding, but there is a strong possibility that it, like all of the others preceding it, could fold.

Palestinian and Lebanese officials have given the Islamist militants involved in the fighting until the end of the month to turn over the killers of a Fatah general. Failure to do so could lead to renewed violence.

18 people have been killed in this recent round of fighting with another 140 injured.

Hezbollah International Airport: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant released images that showed an airport near Birkat Jabbour in South Lebanon that was constructed in secret by Hezbollah and Iran.

Most analysts have said that the airport appears to be mainly for drone usage, but even this could serve as a significant escalation with Israel as the drones could be used in a war between Hezbollah and its southern neighbor.

The airport also served as yet another example of how Hezbollah is able to work unimpeded by the Lebanese state and without its permission.

Since the revelation of the airport, Israel has largely remained silent and has so far not taken any action.

Following the money: The US has imposed sanctions on individuals and entities allegedly involved in Hezbollah’s financing operations in South America.

Amer Mohamed Akil Reda is the most prominent on the list given his alleged role in Hezbollah’s foreign operations group and previous international operations.

The US and other Western countries have consistently sanctioned Hezbollah over the decades in the hopes of disrupting its financial capabilities, but this has largely fallen flat and serves more to name names than have any significant impact.

Baby steps: Lebanon is still a long way off from finally electing a new president 322 days after Michel Aoun left office. But, after French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian’s recent visit, there seems to be some progress.

Le Drian was in Lebanon last week for the third time in the hopes that the various political blocs might be more open to his ideas and that the country could come closer to ending the political crisis.

While there are no names officially on the table, Nabih Berri, the long-serving speaker of parliament, is reportedly open to holding an open-ended session where there would be consecutive votes until a president is elected. He has not scheduled a date for this session.

Qatar is set to send its own delegation to Lebanon soon, where it is expected they will lobby for the candidacy of army commander Joseph Aoun, who could prove to be the name needed to break this deadlock should a deal be able to be reached.

Going home: After eight months of remaining in Parliament, “change” MP Najat Aoun Saliba announced on September 18 that she was ending her sit-in.

Her fellow “change” MP Melhem Khalaf is going to remain in Parliament until there are successive sessions to elect a president.

Saliba, in a statement, said that Parliament has “abandoned its constitutional duty, surrendering to the will of the vacuum” and that she is choosing to pursue her own national interests – specifically when it comes to the environment.

During the months-long sit-in, they made little to no ground in pushing Parliament to elect a president.

The square: A 38-year-old man was arrested by security forces in Lebanon after he shot in the air in a square in the coastal city of Jounieh.

After his arrest, security forces found a Kalashnikov rifle, a large quantity of ammunition, and 16 grenades.

The man had planted a Lebanese Forces party flag and was broadcasting songs on a speaker. After shooting in the air, he threatened to shoot himself if the media did not attend a press convergence that he was looking to hold in which he was supposedly going to discuss the hardships of the economic situation in the country.

For nearly four years, Lebanon has been in the midst of one of the worst economic crises that the world has seen in over a century, with a majority of the country being thrust into poverty.

Education at risk: Human Rights Watch, in a new report, has called attention to the students whose education are at risk in the upcoming school year, as it is unclear if there will be sufficient funding to ensure that schools can stay open.

So far the government has approved $50 million for the Education Ministry out of the $150 million that was initially requested. The funds have so far not been transferred. According to the ministry, this funding would keep schools open for around half of the school year.

Funding from international donors could help fill the gap, but how much funding there will be from international patrons is unclear, as there is still the issue of funding teachers’ salaries and education for Syrian refugee children.

Due to the crisis, many children are one to two years behind in their education.

In the region

Floods in Libya: Flooding in eastern Libya caused by Storm Daniel has left the area devastated, and thousands of people uncertain about their futures.

The hardest hit has been the city of Derna where a dam broke that essentially caused the area to disappear underwater.

Over 11,000 people have been reported dead so far with an estimated 10,000 still missing.

Search and rescue efforts are still underway.

One year later: On September 16, 2022, Jina “Mahsa” Amini died in the custody of Iran’s morality police.

Now, a year later, the sentiments from the months-long popular uprising remain even after the government was able to suppress the protests.

Even as the government seeks to enforce stricter hijab laws, many women continue to defy them by refusing to wear the headscarf.

While the Islamic government might remain in power in Iran, the country has been forever changed by this uprising.

Making a deal: Iran and the US released five prisoners from their respective countries as part of a negotiated prisoner swap between the two countries.

As part of the agreement, the US is also unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian money that has been trapped in South Korea. The money has since been transferred to banks in Qatar, where Iran can only use the money to buy non-sanctioned goods such as food and medicine. The US is continually monitoring the money.

The swap comes at a time when the Biden administration is looking to restart a nuclear agreement with Iran to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon after former President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Talks to establish a new agreement are reportedly making headway with the possibility of an informal deal being on the horizon.

Getting bigger: The protest in Sweida reached new heights, with thousands of people joining the nearly month-long demonstration on Friday, September 15.

These were the largest protests since people took to the streets in late August amid the worsening economic situation in the country.

What started out as simple protests about living conditions in the country quickly morphed into larger anti-government demonstrations that are calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave power.

US congressman French Hill (R-Ark.) also spoke with the Druze leader Sheikh Hikmat al-Hijri over the phone to inquire about the situation in Sweida. This has been used by supporters of Assad and the government as evidence of a conspiracy that the US is behind the protests.

Preserving heritage: UNESCO voted to label the prehistoric site of Tal al-Sultan in Jericho as a world heritage site, much to the dismay of Israel.

The decision by UNESCO came after Palestine submitted the site for protection.

The site is located in the West Bank city of Jericho which is under the governance of the Palestinian Authority, despite being in Israeli-occupied territory.

Israel condemned the decision as “another sign of the Palestinians’ cynical use of UNESCO” and their “politicization of the organization.”

Cutting aid: The US decided to withhold $85 million in aid destined for Egypt over its human rights abuses and is, instead, sending the money to Taiwan and Lebanon.

The move is largely symbolic at best, as Egypt is still slated to receive the majority of the total $320 million.

The US has made some attempts to hold Egypt accountable for its human rights abuses but has continued to come short.

Since 1978, the US has provided Egypt with around $80 billion in aid.

A new alliance: The US has signed an agreement with the Gulf Arab nation of Bahrain that will see defense and technology cooperation expanded upon.

While a significant step, the agreement falls short of a mutual defense agreement – though it could be a potential model for future agreements in the Gulf.

Under the agreement, in the event of an attack or an escalation, the US would work with Bahrain to evaluate strategy without necessarily requiring the US to get involved.

Going home: In a rare move, the US is looking to repatriate a family of 10 US citizens currently being held in Syria for their involvement with ISIS.

This would be the largest single group repatriated by the US.

The US has previously returned 40 of its citizens since 2016.

Thousands of former ISIS members and their families remain in detention led by US-backed Kurdish forces as most countries continue to refuse to repatriate their citizens with some, such as the United Kingdom, going as far as revoking their citizenships.

What we’re reading

Money: Lebanon is looking to make some history by passing both its 2023 and 2024 budgets before the end of the year. However, Maan Barazy noted that there are many things to be concerned about in the latter. Barazy also took a look at the proposed IMEC economic corridor and how it could potentially help facilitate peace in the region.

The revolution lives: For nearly a month, the Syrian city of Sweida has been calling for the downfall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad amid worsening economic conditions in the country. I wrote about the protests and what to expect from them.


Podcasts: Sarde after dinner is back after a break! Médéa Azouri and Mouin Jaber spoke with Hasan al-Hashim, host of Ghomoud, to discuss UFOs, conspiracy theories, and how Islam and science tie together.

Until next week, follow NOW Lebanon on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And stay safe!