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Lebanon in March 2023

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Lebanon in March 2023

1 March 2023

  1. Lebanon Top Prosecutor Tells Judge Investigating Banks to Pause Probe (Al Arabiya English).  Lebanon’s top prosecutor on Tuesday told a judge investigating the financial transactions of commercial banks to temporarily halt her work, a week after the country’s caretaker prime minister also moved to block her investigations. Lebanese judge Ghada Aoun has been investigating the banking sector since it collapsed in 2019 following decades of corrupt government, profligate spending and financial mismanagement. On Tuesday, top prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat sent her a letter, seen by Reuters, requesting she “stop her investigative and probing procedures temporarily, until decisions are taken on the issues raised.”
  2. Swiss Authorities Investigate Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor (Sky News Arabia). Switzerland’s financial regulator audited 12 banks and started proceedings against two of them related to corruption allegations against Central Bank of Lebanon Governor Riad Salameh. Lebanese authorities accused Salameh, his brother, and his assistant of money laundering, embezzlement, and illegal enrichment after an 18-month investigation into whether they illegally obtained over $300 million from the Central Bank between 2002 and 2015.
  3. Lebanon’s Financial System is Over, Says Economy Minister (The National News). The Lebanese Economy Minister on Tuesday admitted his department can do little to stop the country’s steep financial decline, as he discussed the decision to make supermarkets display the rate-to-the-dollar at which goods are priced. “There’s no other country in the world that imports more than 90 per cent of its goods. Even our domestic products are made using primary components that are imported…everything is priced on the dollar. “The financial regime is over. It’s done,” he said. “Now we leave the currency to its fate.”

7 March 2023

1. Hezbollah Endorses Franjieh as Presidential Candidate (Independent Arabia). On Monday, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced the party’s support for former minister Suleiman Franjieh as their presidential candidate in Lebanon, following a vacancy in the position for over four months. Franjieh became the second candidate for the presidency after Representative Michel Moawad, and Hezbollah considers him to be the “natural candidate” who meets their specifications. Nasrallah also stated that he discussed the issue with the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil, and added that Franjieh might be the best option since Bassil is not running for president.

8 March 2023

1. TotalEnergies Will Begin Drilling in Lebanon in Late September (Naharnet). French oil giant TotalEnergies will begin drilling for potential gas reserves in Lebanon’s offshore Block 9 in late September, a company official said. “The results of the drilling operations will be announced at the end of this year,” said Romain de la Martinière, the General Manager of Exploration and Production at TotalEnergies, following a meeting in Beirut with caretaker Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamieh.

2. Lebanon Regains the Right to Vote in the United Nations (Al Sharq Al Awsat). The Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Tuesday that Lebanon, which is going through a stifling financial crisis, has regained the right to vote in the United Nations after paying dues for the years 2022 and 2023, after losing voting rights for the second time in three years. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, published a message on January 17 announcing that Lebanon had lost the right to vote in the United Nations General Assembly, as well as the Dominicans, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, South Sudan and Venezuela. Guterres said Lebanon needed to pay about $1.8 million to restore the right to vote.

10 March 2023

1. Lebanese Banks Will Go on Strike on March 14th (LBCI TV). The Association of Banks in Lebanon has announced a return to strike action starting on the morning of Tuesday, March 14, 2023. The association is calling for swift legal measures to be taken to address the issue of contradictory standards in some rulings, which drain the remaining funds of all depositors, rather than just some of them at the expense of others. The association is also urging the government to address the crisis in a rational, fair, and final manner, emphasizing that the Lebanese state bears the primary responsibility in this field.

13 March 2023

1. Hizballah Hails Restoration of Iranian-Saudi Relations (Beirut Observer). The Deputy Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sheikh Naim Qassem, tweeted, “The return of Iranian-Saudi relations is a significant turning point for the region’s stability, security, and progress.”

14 March 2023

 1. Lebanese Pound Continues its Collapse Against the Dollar (Sawt Beirut International). The dollar’s exchange rate in the parallel market remained at a record high, ranging from 95,500 to 96,000 Lebanese pounds per dollar on Monday. In an interview with the “Voice of Beirut International” website, financial and economic affairs researcher and writer Basil Al-Khatib stated that the current situation was predictable given the absence of any political or monetary measures, decision, or statement, as well as a lack of political progress. 

15 March 2023

1. Because of Presidential Vacuum, France Considers Sanctioning Lebanon (Sawt Beirut International). On Tuesday, the French Foreign Ministry announced that it is currently in talks with its allies to assess the potential imposition of sanctions against those obstructing efforts to overcome the constitutional impasse in Lebanon. Since the end of the term of former President Michel Aoun in October 2022, Lebanon has been without a president, further hindering the ability of institutions to function effectively in a country already suffering from one of the world’s worst economic crises in recent years.

2. Lebanon’s Banks Resume Strike, and Lira Falls to 100,000 to the Dollar (Al Sharq News). On Tuesday, commercial banks in Lebanon resumed their open strike as the country’s economic crisis deepens, with the value of the Lebanese currency plummeting to an unprecedented level. As a result, the lira exchange rate reached 100,000 against one dollar on the black market, further exacerbating the financial turmoil that has plagued the country for years.

16 March 2023

1. Lebanese Judiciary Requests Arrest of Central Bank Governor (Al Nahar). The Lebanese Ministry of Justice has intervened in the case of the prosecution against Salameh, his brother Raja, and his assistant Marianne Howayek, issuing warrants for their arrest and the seizure of their property…Salameh also failed to appear before a Lebanese government council investigating European charges against him.

20 March 2023

1. France Supports Franjieh for Lebanese President (Al Sharq Al Awsat). Nizar Al-Alula, a Saudi Royal Court advisor, visited Paris to meet with his counterpart, Patrick Durel, Middle East advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron…Paris suggested that resolving the crisis could be achieved by accepting the nomination of Suleiman Frangieh for the presidency, while appointing Nawaf Salam as the Prime Minister.

22 March 2023

 1. Lebanon’s Banks Will End Their Strike on Wednesday (Al Nahar). The Association of Banks in Lebanon announced on Tuesday that it will suspend its strike beginning Wednesday. Banks will resume their operations as usual…Banks have been witnessing intermittent strikes for more than a month in response to what they describe as judicial decisions draining their remaining reserves of foreign currencies, amid a financial crisis that the authorities left to fester for years.

23 March 2023

1. Lebanese Army Retiree Protest Turns into Riot in Beirut (Al Hadath). As the economic crisis worsens and living conditions deteriorate following the 2019 crisis, coupled with chaos in the dollar exchange rate, the “retired military movement” staged a large-scale demonstration on Wednesday at Riad Al-Solh Square in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, amid heightened security measures. Retired soldiers and several protesters attempted to storm the Government House, prompting riot police to deploy tear gas. This action resulted in cases of suffocation and multiple injuries.

24 March 2023

1. IMF Warns Lebanon is in Perilous Situation, and Everyone Must Share the Losses (Al Nahar). The IMF’s mission head, Ernesto Rigo, urged the Lebanese government to cease borrowing from the central bank and to accelerate the implementation of the fund’s requirements to receive a $3 billion rescue package. Rigo expressed disappointment with the lack of progress in implementing the required reforms and stated that progress is “plodding.” He emphasized that Lebanon is in a precarious position, using unusually candid language during a press conference held in Beirut.

2. Nasrallah Says Saudi-Iranian Agreement Does Not Include Lebanon (Al Khaleej Online). On Wednesday, Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Lebanese Hezbollah, refuted news websites’ reports that the Saudi Arabia and Iran agreement included a clause regarding Lebanon. In a televised speech, Nasrallah stated that such claims are “incorrect news and have no basis in truth.”

27 March 2023

  1. Daylight Savings Dispute Leaves Lebanon with Two Time Zones (Nahar Net). The Lebanese government’s last-minute decision to delay the start of daylight savings time by a month until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan resulted in mass confusion Sunday. With some institutions implementing the change while others refused, many Lebanese have found themselves in the position of juggling work and school schedules in different time zones — in the same tiny country.

28 March 2023

  1. Lebanon Will Reinstate Daylight Savings Time as of Midnight Wednesday (Nahar Net). Lebanon’s caretaker Cabinet on Monday reversed a controversial decision to postpone the country’s observation of daylight savings time by one month, caretaker PM Najib Mikati said. In a televised address, Mikati announced that daylight savings time will now begin at the midnight of Wednesday/Thursday, explaining that the 48 hours will be needed to “address some technical issues created by the previous memo…The problem is not summer time or winter time…The problem is the presidential vacuum,” Mikati said, blaming “religious and political leaders” [for the impasse over the country’s vacant presidency].

 

31 March 2023

1. Qatari Delegation to Meet Hezbollah in Bid for Presidential ‘Normalization’ (Nahar Net). A Qatari delegation will visit Beirut next week to meet with Speaker Nabih Berri, caretaker PM Najib Mikati and Hezbollah officials. In addition, the delegation will meet with “Hezbollah’s leadership” to bid for “presidential normalization” with the party to meet the Arab and international aspirations regarding the needed salvation roadmap for Lebanon.

2. The series of Protests Continues, And There Are Threats of Escalation (Al Hadath). The United States Deputy Secretary of State, Ms. Barbra Leaf, said the Lebanese leaders lack the urgent necessity to bring their country out of the harsh political and economic situation. She added that Lebanon’s only option for economic recovery is to contract with the IMF. She noted that the recent Saudi-Iranian reconciliations might benefit the entire region. Meanwhile, protests in the country continued on a massive scale because of the currency’s exponential depreciation.  

 

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