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CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.

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January 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Executive vacuums continued without end in sight, economic hardship deepened, and tensions over land border surfaced between Hizbollah and Israel.

Double executive (president and govt) vacuum continued. Parliamentarians failed to elect new president, prolonging vacuum in place since 1 Nov. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri 19 Jan convened 11th parliamentary session to elect president, which failed to achieve breakthrough as political factions insist on electing their preferred candidates. Meanwhile, attempts to form new govt to replace current caretaker administration practically ceased. PM Mikati 18 Jan managed to convene cabinet meeting, which was boycotted by Christian party Free Patriotic Movement that sees cabinet meetings as unconstitutional without president. Meanwhile, General Prose-cutor Ghassan Oweidat 25 Jan ordered release of suspects held in relation to Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion and sued investigative Judge Tarik Bitar after latter attempted to resume investigation, frozen for year due to pending charges against Bitar; protesters against decision clashed with security forces near central courthouse.

Economic crisis persisted, fomenting pockets of public unrest. Lebanese Lira (LBP) 25 Jan reached new record low value of 60,000 to USD$1, contributing to worsening living conditions for many households. Fuel prices continued to rise and citizens increasingly struggled to purchase imported products, such as medicine. Health Minister Firas Abiad 10 Jan announced that infant milk would no longer be subsidized, removing one of few remaining state subsidies. Deteriorating conditions led public school teachers to announce week-long strike on 9 Jan; depositors 10 Jan conducted armed hold-ups of two separate banks to demand access to savings. Dozens of protesters 25 Jan burnt tyres outside Central Bank to protest devaluing currency.

Hizbollah and Israel exchanged hostile rhetoric over land border. Hizbollah 3 Jan released video purporting to demonstrate how group’s militant wing would invade northern Israel; several days later, Hizbollah reportedly announced that it had enlisted 9,000 new recruits to bolster military reserves. Israel same week announced plans to conduct military manoeuvres in disputed Shebaa Farms area. Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 3 Jan said Israeli infringements to “status quo” at Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade could trigger regional chaos, after Israel’s new national security minister visited site (see Israel-Palestine).

December 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Efforts to elect new president faltered, security incidents proliferated amid economic deterioration, while gunfire killed UN peacekeeper in south.

Executive vacuum continued without exit in sight. Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri during month convened three parliamentary sessions on 1, 8 and 15 Dec to elect president, which failed to achieve breakthrough like previous seven sessions held Sept-Nov. Anti-Hizbollah camp largely voted for candidate Michel Moawad, while Hizbollah and its parliamentary allies returned blank votes. Rift between Christian party Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hizbollah appeared to deepen after ministers considered loyal to latter 5 Dec attended controversial cabinet meeting called by caretaker PM Mikati, while FPM rejected meeting as unconstitutional amid current dual executive vacuum. Meanwhile, attempts to replace caretaker govt with empowered cabinet practically ceased during month.

Economic hardship continued to worsen amid insecurity. Lebanese Lira (LBP) reached all-time lows in Dec, trading at around 47,000 LBP to $1 on 26 Dec; central bank 27 Dec intervened to bring rate closer to 43,000 LBP, yet similar interventions in past have proved unsustainable. Fuel prices remained high and pharmaceutical manufacturers announced looming price hikes for medicines. Localised security incidents persisted: violent clashes erupted during Dec in northern city of Tripoli, prompting local MP to call for increased presence of state security in city, while depositors continued to hold up banks demanding access to their savings trapped inside illiquid banking system.

Shooting killed UN peacekeeper in south. Unknown assailants 14 Dec allegedly fired on UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in southern village of Al-Aaqbiya, killing Irish peacekeeper, after local residents reportedly responded in hostile fashion to UNIFIL vehicle entering village; incident follows UN Security Council’s renewal of peacekeeping mandate 31 Aug that included slight revision permitting UNIFIL to operate in south without coordination with Lebanese army, which Hizbollah had criticised as affront to Lebanon’s sovereignty.

November 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Country entered presidential vacuum, which may persist indefinitely so long as political blocs fail to find compromise, while absence of new govt further impaired efforts to address economic crisis.

Country entered presidential vacuum, which could extend for months or years. Parliamentary blocs made no tangible progress on appointing replacement for outgoing President Michel Aoun, whose six-year term ended on 31 Oct. House Speaker Nabih Berri convened parliamentary voting sessions on 10, 17 and 24 Nov, but none made progress; Michel Moawad favoured by anti-Hizbollah camp in his best showing 10 Nov received 44 votes in first round, short of 86 required for outright first-round win, as pro-Hizbollah alliance continued to return blank votes and refrained from offering alternative candidate amid lack of agreement within bloc.

Presidential vacuum boded ill for forming empowered govt. Prospects of forming new govt without president’s election remained exceedingly dim, as politicians generally accept that caretaker govt exercising presidential prerogatives cannot approve new cabinet. Further weakening current caretaker administration, PM Mikati had late Oct announced that he will convene cabinet only “for urgent matters” during vacuum. Constant debates over presidential choices and constitutionality of govt activity could absorb most of political leadership’ already minimal policymaking capacity, allowing economic crisis to deepen.

State budget entered into force amid concern over worsening economic crisis. Country’s 2022 state budget 15 Nov came into effect, one of several International Monetary Fund (IMF) requirements to unlock potential financial aid package. Notably, budget ended long-defunct official exchange rate of 1,507.5 Lebanese pounds to $1 and adopted significantly higher exchange rates for customs (15,000 pounds for $1); ten-fold increase in customs fees could fuel another bout of inflation, thereby reducing purchasing power and increasing poverty amid soaring energy prices at onset of winter; measure also raised concern that projected state revenue will be less than anticipated. World Food Programme 22 Nov announced it had earmarked $5.4bn in food assistance for next three years, noting food prices are 16 times higher than Oct 2019, when Lebanon’s economic crisis became widely apparent.

October 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Govt formation remained stalled ahead of October expiry of President Aoun’s term and violent street clashes erupted amid deepening economic crisis.

Govt formation efforts made no progress. PM Mikati and President Aoun failed to reach breakthrough; new govt may remain unattainable during Aoun’s term, which ends 31 Oct. Parliament 29 Sept held first round of presidential elections, failed to elect new president; uncertainty persists that new president will be appointed before Aoun’s term ends. Parliament 26 Sept passed 2022 budget, which fell short of International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s standards for bailout package; IMF delegation 19 Sept visited capital Beirut to “accelerate” reform process, concluded progress was “very slow”.

Insecurity flared, notably in north Lebanon. Central Bank 12 Sept lifted last remaining fuel subsidies, fuelling further price hikes for gasoline and diesel. Lebanese lira weakened to all-time lows, trading at 39,000 to $1 on 19 Sept. In various regions – notably Tripoli, North and Bekaa Valley – street clashes over robberies and family issues led to deaths and injuries. Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi 13 Sept announced govt would impose “sustainable” security plan for North Lebanon; 16 Sept reiterated need for state intervention after bank depositors held up seven banks across country within three days to gain access to their own funds trapped inside illiquid banks.
Transport minister 23 Sept confirmed that days earlier boat carrying Lebanese en route to Europe sank off Syrian coast, killing over 100.

Govt and Israel inched closer to maritime deal, notwithstanding risk of escalation. U.S. mediator Amos Hochstein 9 Sept met separately with President Aoun, PM Mikati and House Speaker Nabih Berri to discuss Israel’s response to proposal in which govt renounces claims to Karish gas field – some 90km off coast of Lebanon and Israel  in return for exclusive rights to unexplored Qana prospect; Hochstein said that “very good progress has been made” but noted “work to be done.” After drilling company Energean 8 Sept announced it is ready to resume work “within weeks”, Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 17 Sept reiterated previous warnings that Israel’s exploitation of Karish field before border negotiations conclude is “red line”.

September 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Govt formation remained stalled ahead of October expiry of President Aoun’s term and violent street clashes erupted amid deepening economic crisis.

Govt formation efforts made no progress. PM Mikati and President Aoun failed to reach breakthrough; new govt may remain unattainable during Aoun’s term, which ends 31 Oct. Parliament 29 Sept held first round of presidential elections, failed to elect new president; uncertainty persists that new president will be appointed before Aoun’s term ends. Parliament 26 Sept passed 2022 budget, which fell short of International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s standards for bailout package; IMF delegation 19 Sept visited capital Beirut to “accelerate” reform process, concluded progress was “very slow”.

Insecurity flared, notably in north Lebanon. Central Bank 12 Sept lifted last remaining fuel subsidies, fuelling further price hikes for gasoline and diesel. Lebanese lira weakened to all-time lows, trading at 39,000 to $1 on 19 Sept. In various regions – notably Tripoli, North and Bekaa Valley – street clashes over robberies and family issues led to deaths and injuries. Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi 13 Sept announced govt would impose “sustainable” security plan for North Lebanon; 16 Sept reiterated need for state intervention after bank depositors held up seven banks across country within three days to gain access to their own funds trapped inside illiquid banks. Transport minister 23 Sept confirmed that days earlier boat carrying Lebanese en route to Europe sank off Syrian coast, killing over 100.

Govt and Israel inched closer to maritime deal, notwithstanding risk of escalation. U.S. mediator Amos Hochstein 9 Sept met separately with President Aoun, PM Mikati and House Speaker Nabih Berri to discuss Israel’s response to proposal in which govt renounces claims to Karish gas field – some 90km off coast of Lebanon and Israel – in return for exclusive rights to unexplored Qana prospect; Hochstein said that “very good progress has been made” but noted “work to be done.” After drilling company Energean 8 Sept announced it is ready to resume work “within weeks”, Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 17 Sept reiterated previous warnings that Israel’s exploitation of Karish field before border negotiations conclude is “red line”.

August 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Govt formation efforts continued without breakthrough as economic crisis deepened, while hopes persisted of deal to resolve maritime dispute with Israel. Efforts to form govt following 15 May parliamentary elections made no progress. PM Mikati and President Aoun 17 Aug held consultative meetings after discontinuing such discussions after Mikati 29 June proposed cabinet lineup, citing lack of progress; progress has reportedly been hampered by disagreement on allocation of various ministries to different sectarian communities. As obstacles continue to beset legislated reforms required to unlock International Monetary Fund (IMF) financial bailout package, economic crisis continued to deepen. After intermittent bread shortages triggered fights at bakeries nationwide in mid-to-late July, civil servants during month conducted open-ended strikes for weeks, protesting their heavily devalued wages, which has brought most state institutions to standstill. In mid-month, pressure on Lebanese lira increased once more, with currency weakening from 31,000 to one U.S.-dollar on 10 Aug to 34,000 on 20 Aug. European vessel 6 Aug rescued over 75 Lebanese citizens near Turkish coast from sinking boat, on which they had been trying to reach Europe. Amid rising tensions between Israel and Hizbollah over maritime dispute, hopes continued during month of resolution after U.S. mediator Amos Hochstein late July met with Aoun, Mikati, and House Speaker Nabih Berri, as well as Israeli leaders. Govt reportedly offered to back down from its expanded claim (known as “line 29”), thus renouncing any claim to Karish gas field, in return for solution that adopts “line 23” (which places demarcation line further north) but awards Lebanon additional 80km² that includes Qana prospect – gas deposit of unproven worth; Israel reportedly expressed willingness to accommodate proposal, subject to receiving compensation for ceding 80km² pocket. Despite reported progress, Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 19 Aug publicly accused Hochstein of wasting time, warning that “escalation will be inevitable” if negotiations do not conclude promptly and allow Lebanon to begin exploring its offshore natural gas reserves.

July 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Tensions rose between Hizbollah and Israel over maritime border dispute, while PM Mikati and President Aoun haggled over cabinet formation. Following arrival early June of floating production, storage and offloading facility operated by London-based company Energean in preparation to extract gas from Karish offshore natural gas field some 90km off Lebanon’s and Israel’s coast, Shiite armed group Hizbollah 2 July launched three unarmed drones toward Karish; Israeli army intercepted all three drones. Israeli Army 6 July claimed to have shot down another Hizbollah drone en route to Israel’s maritime areas. Israeli Defence Minister Gantz 7 July said Hizbollah’s threats were putting Lebanon at risk. Israel 11 July submitted official complaint to UN Security Council about Hizbollah’s drone launches, blaming Hizbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah for continuing to threaten and provoke Israel. Nasrallah 13 July vowed that Hizbollah would prevent gas exploitation by Israel even “beyond Karish” if Lebanon is prevented from exploiting its own maritime resources; Nasrallah described war with Israel over maritime boundaries as more “respectable option” than submitting to U.S., which it accuses of threatening international companies with sanctions to deter them from exploring for gas in Lebanese waters. Washington’s envoy Amos Hochstein 31 July visited Beirut to push for diplomatic solution between govt and Israel. Following President Aoun’s decision last month (with parliamentary support) to charge caretaker PM Najib Mikati to form next govt, Mikati and Aoun remained in discussions about potential cabinet formation, reportedly disagreeing over allocation of various ministries to different sectarian communities; observers during month raised prospect of no new govt being formed before presidential elections that are to be held within final two months of Aoun’s term, which ends on 31 Oct. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri 29 July said “miracle” was required for govt to be formed soon and next day asserted: “I will not call for a presidential election session until after the reform laws required by the [International Monetary Fund] have been adopted”.

June 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

President Aoun invited PM Mikati to form next govt, while tensions rose with Israel over disputed maritime border. President Aoun 23 June tasked incumbent PM Najib Mikati to form new govt after Mikati secured support of 54 out of 128 members of parliament – lowest level of support for any PM-designate since end of civil war in 1990; Mikati will likely face challenges to form govt that can rely on sufficiently strong parliamentary support to move forward with substantial reform, while most observers expect that no new govt can be formed before compromise is found over successor of Aoun, whose term expires on 31 Oct. Meanwhile, floating production storage and offloading facility operated by energy company Energean 5 June arrived at position near maritime border between Israel and Lebanon to prepare commercial extraction scheduled for Sept 2022 of gas from Karish gas field, which company acquired in 2016 with authorisation of Israeli govt; field is located some 90km off both countries’ coastline and has been area of dispute between govts. In response, Hizbollah Sec Gen Hassan Nasrallah 9 June called upon all Lebanese political forces to unite in defence of country’s maritime resources, warned Energean against extraction activities and threatened group may take matter into its own hands. At invitation of govt, U.S. mediator Amos Hochstein 13 June arrived in capital Beirut seeking compromise to dispute following previous failed attempts this year; uncertainty persists around whether govt will adhere to official 2010 position of maritime border known as “line 23” or adopt expanded claim presented in 2020 known as “line 29” that claims part of Karish field. 13 MPs elected last month on platforms of opposition to established parties 16 June voiced support for “line 29”; despite heated public debate and many casting support of “line 29” as patriotic duty, Aoun resisted signing decree to officially modify govt’s 2010 position. Govt, UN and over 100 humanitarian partners 20 June announced $3.2bn appeal for 2022 Lebanon Crisis Response Plan aimed at providing support for 1.5mn Lebanese, 1.5mn displaced Syrians and more than 209,000 Palestinian refugees.

May 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Parliamentary elections resulted in no clear winner as reformists expanded presence and Hizbollah and its allies lost majority, while currency crisis continued to jeopardise critical imports. New political groups hailing from civil society and 2019 protest movement made significant inroads in parliamentary elections held 15 May, totalling 13 seats (up from one seat previously); Hizbollah and its allies lost parliamentary majority despite retaining all 27 seats reserved for Shiite MPs; Lebanese Forces party became single largest in parliament, stripping title from main Christian rival, Free Patriotic Movement. Election day saw several violent incidents. Notably, supporters of Lebanese Forces and Hizbollah-Amal movement allegedly clashed in Kfarhouna, south Lebanon. Early signs of political jostling that could complicate govt-formation efforts emerged, raising risk of violence between opposing camps. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea 15 May suggested his party would not accept re-appointment of Amal Movement head Nabih Berri as parliamentary speaker, view echoed by other key figures opposed to Hizbollah and allies; in response, head of Hizbollah’s parliamentary group Mohammad Raad evoked spectre of “civil war” if opposing political forces fail to approve consensus govt. Striking more conciliatory tone, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah 18 May called on rival blocs to compromise. In first session since vote, parliament 31 May re-elected Berri as speaker. Meanwhile, extended queues 18 May emerged at gas stations due to fuel shortages allegedly caused by delayed payments in foreign currency to importers. Govt 18 May temporarily shut down Deir Ammar power plant, key facility for state-provided electricity, due to lack of available fuel oil. Industry leaders 18 May warned country faces another bread crisis, as flour mills and bakeries suffer from shortages of imported wheat due to lack of foreign exchange; World Bank 6 May approved emergency loan of $150mn to finance immediate wheat imports. Central Bank 18 May extended decree authorising Sayrafa (“Exchange”) Platform, through which Central Bank sells U.S. dollars some 10-15% below market rate to counter Lebanese lira’s depreciation, until end of July 2022; currency’s value sharply fell following polls, from around 27,000 to 31,000 on 19 May, and to all-time low of 35,600 by 26 May.

April 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Grain shortage triggered bread crisis, govt struck preliminary deal with International Monetary Fund (IMF), and ambassadors of Gulf countries returned after Oct 2021 diplomatic spat. Amid rising global commodity prices, country mid-month experienced dramatic grain shortage triggered by Central Bank refusal to continue previous policy of providing importers with U.S. dollars at highly subsidised exchange rate; Central Bank reportedly requested govt to sign formal loan agreement that would guarantee repayment of any amount disbursed for this purpose. Govt 12 April decided grain subsidies for importers would be covered by funds govt obtained by selling so-called “Special Drawing Rights”, which it received from IMF in Sept 2021. Lebanese lira continued to decline in value, trading at around 25,000 to U.S. dollar by mid-month; reports mid-month indicated long queues to get bread across country as many bakeries were forced to shut down. Govt and IMF 7 April signed “Staff Level Agreement” for institution to provide $3bn over period of four years; deal comes with stringent conditions and seen as trial that could lead to release of additional funding, particularly some $11bn pledged at 2018 donor conference; observers during month expressed concern about deal being used by govt as electoral ploy ahead of polls in May. Following diplomatic dispute that surfaced in Oct 2021 after then-Information Minister Georges Kordahi made critical comments about Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen’s war – leading some Gulf countries to suspend diplomatic ties – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and internationally recognised govt of Yemen 7 April returned ambassadors to capital Beirut. Boat licensed for 12 passengers carrying at least 60 irregular migrants that was headed to Italy 23 April capsized off coast near Tripoli city after attempted interception by Lebanese Navy; total number of dead unknown while 45 were rescued; passengers accused Navy of ramming vessel, while Navy blamed person steering vessel. Israeli tanks 25 April fired into southern Lebanon in response to rocket fired into northern Israel same day.

March 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

War in Ukraine exacerbated economic crisis, while candidates registered for May election. Lebanese lira mid-March again dropped some 20% in value, likely driven by spiking oil prices generated by war in Ukraine, as Lebanon imports all of its energy needs and remains exposed to market volatility; devaluation came despite ongoing Central Bank scheme to support exchange rate of Lebanese lira by providing banks with U.S. dollars at price significantly below market rate, which is rapidly depleting foreign exchange reserves. Rising food prices also increased pressure on govt’s room to address economic crisis, and put further strain on fragile social cohesion. As country imports more than 80% of its grain from Ukraine, skyrocketing prices during month fuelled concerns that govt may struggle to continue subsidies for grain, which are critical to prevent public unrest; bread has become increasingly central for food security of rising number of Lebanese impoverished by enduring economic crisis. Judge Ghada Aoun 21 March charged Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh with illegal enrichment and money laundering, after ordering arrest of his brother and freezing assets of several banks; banking association same day announced two-day bank closure to protest decisions. EU 28 March announced assets totalling some $130mn belonging to Salameh were seized in France, Germany and Luxembourg. International Monetary Fund 2 March reportedly warned Lebanese leaders that demanded reforms necessary to unlock financial support would have to be real and “not only on paper”; Deputy PM Saadeh Shami 9 March warned that hole in financial system, currently estimated at $69bn, will continue to grow. Meanwhile, preparations continued for elections scheduled for 15 May; 1,043 candidates, including 155 women, registered candidacies by 15 March deadline. Hizbollah Sec Gen Hassan Nasrallah in televised speech 18 March categorically denied Ukrainian Ministry of Defence’s assertions, made previous day, that Hizbollah fighters were supporting Russian military operations in Ukraine, saying: “These are lies that have no basis in truth.” Judge 24 March announced he had charged Lebanese Forces party leader Samir Geagea in relation to deadly clashes in capital Beirut in Oct 2021.

February 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Govt held talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF), political infighting continued among political elite, and tensions surfaced between Hizbollah and Israel. Govt and Central Bank representatives 11 Feb concluded talks with IMF, which said “progress was made in agreeing on these necessary reform areas” but “more work is needed to translate them into concrete policies”, likely indicating that there is long way to go before deal is concluded; meanwhile, Central Bank continued attempts to stabilise exchange rate of Lebanese lira by injecting hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars into exchange market, further depleting country’s reserves. On political front, judge considered close to President Aoun 15 Feb requested Central Bank Governor Riyadh Salameh be brought in for questioning in investigation over alleged fraud; in sign of divisions among branches of security sector, Internal Security Forces (thought to be loyal to former PM Saad Hariri) reportedly prevented State Security (headed by Aoun’s ally) officers from entering residency where Salameh was present, raising spectre of clashes between branches owing to tensions between political leaders. After Kuwaiti FM Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah late Jan transmitted list of 12 demands from Gulf countries to restore relations between govt and Gulf, which inter alia reportedly called for Hizbollah’s disarmament, Hizbollah 15 Feb hosted public event of main Bahraini Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq in capital Beirut, likely intended to signal defiance. On regional front, Hizbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah 16 Feb claimed group was producing drones domestically and would soon have capacity to turn rockets into precision-guided missiles. Israel 17 Feb reportedly downed Hizbollah drone violating its airspace. Hizbollah 18 Feb flew drone into Israeli airspace to undertake significant reconnaissance mission before drone returned; Israel confirmed foreign aircraft entered airspace and next day conducted overflights and staged mock raids above Beirut. U.S. senior official 8 Feb began new talks on demarcation of maritime border between Lebanon and Israel; FM Abdallah Bouhabib 18 Feb expressed positive position on new proposals.

January 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Currency continued to depreciate, prompting central bank to announce new scheme, while Hizbollah and Amal ended months-long boycott of cabinet. Lebanese lira continued to depreciate, with exchange rate reaching near 34,000 to U.S. dollar on 11 Jan, a record low. Central bank same day announced it would provide banks with unlimited amounts of U.S. dollars at rate about 30 per cent lower; in response, market rate rapidly fell. By 20 Jan, U.S. dollar traded around 23,000 in informal market, reversing losses that lira had suffered since early Dec. Deputy PM Saadeh al-Shami 24 Jan announced round of talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF) aimed at establishing strategy to address “deep economic challenges”. Efforts continued to put in place schemes whereby country would be supplied with Egyptian natural gas and Jordanian electricity via Syria, thereby improving dismal performance of public electricity grid, which currently supplies less than three hours daily. Energy ministers of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria 26 Jan signed agreement to deliver electricity to Lebanon via Syria; Lebanon now seeks to secure World Bank loan to finance deal. On political front, Shiite groups Hizbollah and Amal 15 Jan announced end to boycott of cabinet sessions in place since 12 Oct 2021 in attempt to force replacement of Judge Tarik Bitar who heads investigation into Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion, citing need to pass 2022 budget and push forward with economic reform and IMF talks. Diplomatic spat with Gulf countries failed to find resolution. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hiz-bollah, early Jan accused Riyadh of spreading extremist ideology and holding Lebanese citizens in Gulf “hostage”; PM Mikati immediately issued statement saying that Nasrallah’s comments did not represent the views of govt or Lebanese people. Hezbollah 12 Jan hosted conference for Saudi opposition figures in capital Beirut. Kuwaiti FM 27 Jan visited Beirut, reportedly conveying 12 conditions, assumed to be formulated by Saudi Arabia, for restoring relations between Lebanon and Gulf countries; conditions reportedly included end to Hizbollah’s regional posture and ban on political activities deemed hostile to Gulf countries in Lebanon.

December 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Amid ongoing political paralysis, Central Bank took measure prompting currency devaluation, and France sought to mediate Beirut’s diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia. Cabinet meetings still on hold with little apparent prospect of resolution. Attempts to reach political deal ended in acrimony: PM Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri met 20 Dec, but did not succeed in resolving disputed issues – including Hizbollah and its allies demanding removal of Judge Tarik Bitar from investigation into Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion, Free Patriotic Movement party asking modifications to mode of expatriate voting, and issue of reshuffling senior security positions. On economic front, currency fell to record low. Following 3 Dec resignation of Information Minister George Kordahi, whose comments on Saudi-led war in Yemen had caused frictions with Gulf countries, Lebanese lira improved by nearly 10% within less than 24 hours, reaching 22,000 to U.S. dollar. However, in unexpected move Central Bank 9 Dec raised amount of lira that depositors can receive for U.S. dollars from 3,900 to 8,000, triggering fears of inflation that sent lira to record lows at 29,000 to U.S. dollar on 14 Dec; currency stabilised at 27,000 after Central Bank same day announced injection of additional dollars into market. Shooting 12 Dec erupted at funeral procession in Palestinian camp Burj al-Shemali in Tyre city killing three Hamas members; Hamas blamed factions affiliated with Palestinian Authority (PA) while PA rejected allegations. During visit to Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, French President Macron 3-4 Dec sought to restore relations between Riyadh and Beirut; Macron’s attempt to arrange meeting reportedly failed but PM Mikati and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 4 Dec held telephone call during which they struck agreement on unspecified mechanism for humanitarian cooperation. After Shiite Bahraini opposition group Al-Wefaq 11 Dec held press conference in capital Beirut criticising Bahrain’s human rights record, Minister of Interior Bassam Al-Mawlawi 15 Dec ordered deportation of non-Lebanese members of Al-Wefaq in likely attempt to curry favour with Gulf Cooperation Council. UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres 19-21 Dec visited Lebanon on “mission of solidarity”, met religious, civil society and political leaders.

November 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Standoff over investigation into Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion continued, while economic decline triggered protests across country. Shiite groups Hizbollah and Amal maintained demand to remove investigative judge Tarik Bitar. Cabinet meetings remained suspended since 12 Oct due to political divisions; attempt by Maronite patriarch to mediate compromise solution to standoff failed to achieve breakthrough and judiciary faced increasing paralysis while facing political pressure amid flurry of procedural objections and counter-suits by some of politicians Bitar seeks to question. Work on measures to alleviate worst symptoms of economic crisis, in particular to increase electricity supplies and release rationing card to support poorest citizens hit by removal of subsidies, continued throughout month but without significant breakthroughs. Govt also continued consultations with International Monetary Fund on financial assistance. Protesters 26 Nov broke into ministry of social affairs building in capital Beirut citing further economic decline and continuing currency collapse. Protesters 29 Nov constructed roadblocks in central Beirut, northern city Tripoli and southern city Sidon, calling on govt to act to address collapsing currency. UNICEF 23 Nov reported “dramatic deterioration of living conditions” as over 50% of families had at least one child who skipped meal by Oct 2021. After diplomatic spat late Oct erupted with Gulf states after footage emerged of Information Minister George Kordahi criticising Saudi-led war in Yemen, relations with Gulf continued to face strains and deepened govt paralysis. Affair worsened 2 Nov when leaked statements of FM Abdallah Bouhabib (appointee of President Aoun) revealed minister criticising Saudi positions. After Riyadh declared ban on all commercial transactions with Lebanon, govt faced prospect of obliterating export earnings from Saudi Arabia, which already fell from $250mn in 2020 to $100mn this year, thus increasing economic and financial hardship at home; Aoun 29 Nov expressed desire for reconciliation with Riyadh.

October 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Investigation into Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion sparked divisions within govt and deadly sectarian clashes in capital Beirut. Investigative Judge Tareq Bitar 12 Oct issued arrest warrant for former Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil, close aide to head of Shiite party Amal and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, for failing to appear for questioning over Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion; Hizbollah Sec Gen Hassan Nasrallah previous day accused Bitar of “biased” and “politicised” investigation and demanded judge be replaced; Lebanese courts repeatedly turned down legal challenges by Khalil and other politicians against Bitar. Political row over investigation into port explosion forestalled cabinet meetings and govt work from 13 Oct, as Shiite ministers reportedly threatened walk-out if Bitar not removed. Dispute also triggered lethal fighting in capital Beirut. Hizbollah and Amal 14 Oct mobilised protest in front of Palace of Justice, located in Christian neighbourhood adjacent to Shia-populated areas; gunfire and three-hour-long street battle ensued, killing seven Shiite Muslims, in troubling reminder of sectarian clashes during civil war (1975-1990). Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah 18 Oct accused Christian party Lebanese Forces of staging ambush, while Lebanese Forces blamed violent protesters; Nasrallah called for official investigation and warned: “We won’t leave the blood of our martyrs on the ground”. Meanwhile, power supplies across country marginally improved by mid-month as Central Bank further depleted currency reserves, while roll out of rationing card faced bureaucratic complications. Following collapse of talks in June 2020, govt 19 Oct resumed negotiations with International Monetary Fund on financial assistance. U.S. 14 Oct voiced support for plan to deliver gas and electricity to Lebanon via Syria and also pledged additional $67 mn for Lebanese Armed Forces. Parliament 19 Oct voted to bring elections, initially scheduled for 8 May 2022, forward to 27 March. Diplomatic spat late month erupted with Gulf states after footage emerged of Information Minister George Kordahi criticising Saudi-led war in Yemen; in move that could damage govt credibility and compound domestic crises, Riyadh, Kuwait, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates expelled Lebanese ambassador and recalled their ambassadors from Beirut, while Riyadh banned all Lebanese imports.

September 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Parliament approved formation of new govt led by Najib Mikati, ending 13-month period with caretaker authorities. Lebanese leaders 10 Sept agreed on formation of new govt under leadership of PM-designate and billionaire Najib Mikati; appointment ended extended stalemate that had left country without empowered govt since resignation of PM Hassan Diab on 10 Aug 2020 in wake of catastrophic Beirut port explosion. Parliament 20 Sept passed vote of confidence in new govt, with support of 85 out of 117 sitting members of parliament. Following dramatic deterioration in fuel crisis last month, long queues at gas stations and shortages of goods continued throughout month. Hizbollah during month realised its previous commitment to import fuel directly from Iran, in direct violation of U.S. sanctions; first deliveries of fuel reached country 16 Sept, after transiting Syria and crossing border without official knowledge or involvement of Lebanese authorities. Hizbollah-linked and U.S.-sanctioned Amana company distributed diesel fuel for electricity generation to public sector institutions and bakeries across country for free, while charging consumers about 25% below govt-mandated price ceiling. State electricity company 23 Sept said country risked total blackout by end of month as its fuel reserves dwindle. Some 300 protesters in capital Beirut 29 Sept protested govt’s decision two days earlier to suspend enquiry into port explosion. In highest-level contact in decade, govt delegation 3 Sept met Syrian officials in Syrian capital Damascus to discuss importing natural gas for power generation from Egypt through Jordanian and Syrian pipeline network. Israel’s 18 Sept decision to award offshore drilling contract to U.S. corporation Halliburton prompted PM Mikati and FM Abdallah Bou Habib to reiterate Lebanon’s claims over disputed maritime border with Israel; President Michel Aoun so far has refrained from signing amendment that would expand country’s claims to Exclusive Economic Zone by 1430 sq km, potentially affecting Israeli-claimed Karish gas field.

August 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Central Bank’s cut of subsidies dramatically worsened fuel crisis and sparked unrest; Hizbollah and Israel exchanged fire. On economic front, worsening fuel crisis led to drastic shortages. Central Bank governor Riyadh Salameh 11 Aug halted provision of heavily subsidised exchange rates to energy importers, citing foreign currency reserves reaching lowest legal limit; decision would have forced importers to impose five-fold increase on prices for gasoline, but ministry of energy refrained from adjusting tariffs, leading to severe supply and distribution disruption. Resulting shortages caused generator operators to cut further service hours, hospitals to issue warnings about inability to care for intensive-care patients and kilometres-long queues at gas stations, where gunfire caused several casualties during month. Notably, security forces 14 Aug raided fuel storage to prevent hoarding or smuggling of fuel to Syria, causing gas explosion that killed more than 30 civilians and soldiers and injured dozens more. In response, President Aoun, govt and Central Bank 21 Aug agreed to extend fuel subsidies until end Sept at lower level, limiting price increases. Reports late month indicated violent incidents related to shortages of gas and other goods continued, including in Maghdouche and Anqoun southern towns. Meanwhile, PM-designate Najib Mikati 5 Aug reported gradual progress toward formation of new cabinet and called meeting same day with Aoun “positive step forward”; Mikati and Aoun during month engaged in frequent direct negotiations on govt composition. By end of month, however, no breakthrough had been reached. Unclaimed rockets fired from southern Lebanon 4 Aug struck Israeli border town Kiryat Shimona; Israeli air force next day retaliated with air strikes in first such attacks inside Lebanon since 2013/2014. In response, Hizbollah 6 Aug launched 19 rockets at uninhabited areas of disputed Shebaa farms area, triggering Israeli mortar response. In incident underscoring lingering sectarian tensions, brother of teenager killed in Sept 2020 clashes near capital Beirut between Hizbollah and Sunni Arabs 31 July shot dead alleged Hizbollah-linked perpetrator in southern town of Jiyeh; relatives of teenager 1 Aug ambushed attendees at alleged perpetrator’s funeral, clashes left another five dead before army deployed to end confrontation.

July 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Parliament appointed businessman Najib Mikati as PM-designate after Saad Hariri’s resignation, unrest erupted amid plunging currency value and rising prices, and EU established sanctions framework. Govt formation efforts faced major setback as PM-designate Saad Hariri 14 July visited President Aoun to submit new cabinet line-up, requesting response within 24 hours; Aoun reportedly rejected proposed cabinet despite appeals from French and U.S. ambassadors. Hariri next day relinquished mandate to form new govt that he received in Oct 2020, citing irreconcilable differences with Aoun. Parliament 26 July appointed Tripoli-based businessman Najib Mikati as new PM-designate; while expected to form reform-oriented govt, Mikati thus far lacks support of Christian parties. Mikati 28 July said Aoun had approved most of his nominees for new govt. Economic hardship and insecurity persisted. Following Hariri’s resignation, Lebanese pound 16 July fell to record lows, reaching nearly 24,000 to U.S. dollar before stabilising at 22,000. Ministry of health same day ended subsidies for broad range of medications, leading to fivefold price increase, after delayed subsidy payments already caused medication shortages in pharmacies. Drop in currency value and medicine price hikes 16 July triggered protests in northern city Tripoli, leading to clashes with army that left 30 civilians and ten soldiers injured. Army chief Joseph Aoun next day warned against further deterioration of security and vowed to maintain stability, stating “everybody knows that the army is the last institution that is still effective”. Gas shortages 19 July worsened as consumers sought to stockpile for Eid al-Adha holidays, while electricity provisions reached record low of 2-3 hours daily. Meanwhile, EU 30 July adopted legal framework providing options to sanction persons and entities “responsible for undermining democracy or the rule of law in Lebanon”, urged leadership to “steer the country towards a sustainable recovery”; French MFA same day announced French-hosted international donor conference to aid country on one-year anniversary of Beirut port explosion on 4 August. Two rockets were launched 19 July from Lebanon toward Israel without causing damage; in response, Israel next day shelled launching areas and blamed Palestinian groups for attack.

June 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Political infighting continued to stall govt formation while Lebanese pound fell to record low amid worsening economic crisis. Amid ongoing stalemate over govt formation, President Aoun 2 June released statement criticising PM-designate Saad Hariri’s “continuous evading of responsibilities” that “constitutes a persistent violation of the constitution and national accord”; Hariri same day hit back stating presidency is held “hostage to the personal ambitions” of Jibran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law and leader of Christian group Free Patriotic Movement. Economic crisis and living conditions continued to deteriorate. Protesters 2 June blocked main roads in capital Beirut to protest economic situation after court previous day suspended Central Bank decree that allowed withdrawal at better rate than fixed exchange rate; suspension reversed next day. Lebanese pound 13 June hit low of 15,300 to dollar on black market, marking lowest rate since March. Workers 17 June held general strike to protest economic situation and political stalemate, accompanied by roadblocks in Beirut and other cities; Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar same day stated petrol subsidy is poised to end. Ministry of economy and trade 18 June raised price of subsidised bread for fifth time in one year. Lebanese pound 26 June dropped further to 18,000 to dollar, prompting new roadblocks and minor riots in Tripoli and Sidon cities as well as other locations. Energy ministry 29 June raised fuel prices. Meanwhile, international stakeholders maintained pressure. France 17 June convened virtual donor conference over concerns about pressure of economic crisis on Lebanese Armed Forces, with French defence ministry calling for “increased commitment and coordination from everyone”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 19 June berated govt stalemate as putting country on edge of “financial collapse”, warning EU response could include targeted sanctions; Borrell next day pinned “strong mistrust” as root of crisis.

May 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Political deadlock over govt formation continued amid ongoing economic and social strife; protesters rallied and groups fired rockets at border with Israel in support of Palestinians. French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian 6 May visited Lebanon in another attempt to break stalemate between PM-designate Saad Hariri and President Aoun in forming new govt; Le Drian next day announced sanctions on politicians blocking process. In letter to parliament speaker, Aoun 18 May blamed Hariri for delay and demanded plenary debate, widely seen as call on parliament to rescind Hariri’s PM nomination despite no constitutional provision providing for PM destitution. Hariri 22 May said he would “not form a government as the team of the president wants it, or any other political faction”. Former PMs Fouad Siniora, Najib Mikati and Tammam Salam, widely seen as influential political voices in Sunni community, 19 May condemned Aoun’s initiative as “attack on coexistence”. Economic and social hardship continued. Caretaker PM Hassan Diab 3 May said proposed ration card program aimed at replacing costly subsidies scheme and offering safety net to most vulnerable citizens faced political pushback. Petrol stations 10 May began closing amid continued fuel shortages and rationing, causing hours-long queues by 11 May; dispute over fuel allocation 17 May left one dead in north. World Bank 31 May warned that country’s economic and financial crises could amount to one of “most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century”. In response to deadly fighting between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian armed factions (see Israel-Palestine), pro-Palestinian protesters 14 May attempted to cross border near Israeli town of Metula, prompting Israeli fire that killed one Hizbollah and injured two protesters; protests 17 May continued at border. Suspected Palestinian groups 18 May fired six rockets from south toward Israel that fell short of crossing border. Altercations broke out in-lead up to 26 May Syrian presidential elections (see Syria); notably, activists of Christian Lebanese Forces party attacked Syrian voters in and around capital Beirut, claiming voting indicated support for Assad regime.

April 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Govt warned of further funding cuts as fighting over dwindling subsidised goods in northern city Tripoli turned deadly; France considered new approach to break deadlock over govt formation. Economic situation remained critical. Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni 2 April said funding for basic imports would run out by end of May, indicating rationing and overhaul of blanket subsidy scheme costing $500 mn per month. In northern city Tripoli, fighting over dwindling subsidised goods, which has become commonplace, 14 April killed one and injured two in further sign of deteriorating economic situation and rising social tensions. Hizbollah 16 April moved to create own subsidy system, issuing ration cards for food and importing medicine and fuel of primarily Iranian and Syrian origin. Political stalemate over govt formation continued. Over 100 high-profile economists and political scientists 3 April co-signed op-ed urging French President Macron to freeze assets of Lebanese politicians held in France. In sign of possible new Paris approach to break stalemate, which may include punitive measures, French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian 6 April signalled travel bans and asset freezes on Lebanese politicians under consideration to foster agreement on govt formation. PM-designate Saad Hariri 14 April visited Russian capital Moscow to request support in overcoming economic crisis and political deadlock; Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 16 April affirmed support for Hariri’s efforts to form cabinet. Meanwhile, amid dispute with Israel over maritime border demarcation, Public Works Minister Michel Najjar 12 April signed decree to formally extend Lebanon’s maritime claims to include roughly half of Karish gas field claimed by Israel; President Aoun next day declined to grant presidential approval, citing need for cabinet sign-off and warning that decree would lead to collapse of negotiations with Israel. 

March 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Currency slide triggered fresh wave of protests, while government formation remained stalled despite international pressure. Lebanese pound 2 March fell to low of 10,000 to $1, triggering five consecutive days of protest in response to prolonged govt inaction over economic crisis; 50 demonstrators 7 March burned tyres and protested in front of banking association in capital Beirut demanding access to deposits, while protesters in northern city Tripoli blocked roads and staged sit-in. Market dealers 16 March said Lebanese pound was trading at 15,000 to dollar, representing loss of 90% value since late 2019 financial crisis began; downturn same day triggered further protests and roadblocks in Beirut. Armed forces Commander-in-Chief Joseph Aoun 8 March affirmed people’s right to peaceful protest in meeting with military commanders, warning govt that army should not be relied upon to repress popular discontent. Meanwhile, govt formation efforts faced continued deadlock. PM-designate Saad al-Hariri 17 March met President Aoun to discuss cabinet; Hariri same day agreed to additional meeting to discuss his proposed cabinet candidates, indicating Aoun should call early presidential elections if candidates are not approved. Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah next day pledged support to new cabinet if announced, but cautioned against reliance on technocrats and specialist appointees. Hariri 22 March publicly rebuked Aoun over latter’s demands for veto powers in govt and continued rejection of proposed cabinet line-up. French diplomat 17 March reportedly indicated France and international partners were set to increase political pressure on Lebanon’s leadership in coming months; UN special coordinator for Lebanon next day urged Lebanese authorities to facilitate cabinet formation during address to UN Security Council. NGO Amnesty International 23 March published report documenting alleged abuses committed by Lebanese military intelligence against Syrian detainees, including fair trial violations and torture; prosecutor general 29 March ordered probe. NGO Human Rights Watch 30 March said security forces “forcibly disappeared and allegedly tortured” detained protesters in Tripoli.

February 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Lebanon Govt formation efforts remained stalled while gunmen killed prominent activist and Hizbollah critic, raising fears of wave of political assassinations. Govt formation remained at standstill amid gulf between PM-designate Hariri and President Aoun on cabinet proposed by Hariri in Dec; leaked list of candidates 17 Feb showed individuals with no political background and some listed without having been consulted. During 9 Feb visit to capital Beirut, Qatari FM Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani raised “comprehensive economic program to support Lebanon” once govt formation completed. Amid French-led efforts to establish new govt, Hariri and French President Macron 10 Feb met to discuss situation. Unidentified assailants 3 Feb allegedly abducted Shiite political activist and Hizbollah critic Lokman Slim near Srifa, southern Lebanon; Slim next day found dead from gunshot wounds near Sidon. Following death, activists and supporters of Slim warned of return to 2004-2013 era of political assassinations while many blamed Hizbollah, which 4 Feb condemned killing; Aoun same day called for investigation. Meanwhile, Lebanese army by 4 Feb arrested 30 demonstrators in Tripoli city on riot charges for alleged role in Jan unrest. Court of cassation 18 Feb dismissed Judge Fadi Sawan in charge of investigation into deadly Beirut port blast last Aug; families of victims 18-19 Feb protested decision outside Palace of Justice. Govt 14 Feb began rolling out COVID-19 vaccinations; concerns over fairness of distribution 23 Feb surfaced amid reports of lawmakers receiving preferential access to vaccinations, prompting World Bank to warn it would suspend COVID-19 support if violation of terms of agreement confirmed. UN Security Council 20 Feb extended funding for special tribunal investigating 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former PM Rafik Hariri. Hizbollah 1 Feb claimed it downed Israeli drone, ten days after Israel claimed it shot down drone that allegedly entered its airspace from Lebanon.

January 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Amid worsening economic crisis and COVID-19 lockdown, deadly protests erupted; meanwhile, govt formation remained stalled. Govt 14 Jan imposed 11-day lockdown; 21 Jan extended it by two weeks. Taxi drivers 20 Jan clashed with security forces in capital Beirut in protest against lockdown measures; clashes reportedly left some protesters injured. In northern city Tripoli, protests against lockdown and lack of govt support 25-28 Jan turned violent; protesters 28 Jan set municipality building on fire whilesecurity forces responded with live bullets amid clashes that left one protester dead and more than 400 people injured, including 40 soldiers and police. Meanwhile, relations between PM-designate Hariri – whom lawmakers nominated in Oct 2020 to form new govt – and President Aoun reached new low after leaked video 12 Jan showed Aoun accusing Hariri of lying about their exchanges over govt formation process. Gebran Bassil – leader of largest Christian political party Free Patriotic Movement – 10 Jan ruled out joining new govt, citing Hariri’s insistence on appointing all ministers. In response to deepening economic crisis, World Bank 12 Jan approved credit of $246mn to support 147,000 vulnerable families that will enable cash assistance of 100,000 Lebanese lira per person per month – equivalent to $12 on black market. NGO Human Rights Watch 13 Jan lamented “sharp decline in human rights” due to “failure to address the massive political and economic crises”. Swiss authorities 19 Jan said they had requested legal assistance from Lebanon’s judiciary with investigation into money laundering and possible embezzlement tied to Central Bank; Central Bank’s governor Riad Salameh same day denied allegations, 21 Jan answered questions from Lebanon’s public prosecutor; in separate case, judge 28 Jan charged Salameh with dereliction of duty and breach of trust over alleged mishandling of foreign currency scheme. Internationally, caretaker FM Charbel Wehbe 12 Jan filed complaint to UN Security Council about Israel’s violations of Lebanese airspace. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Air Force Commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh 2 Jan claimed Lebanon owed its missile capabilities to Iran, describing it as “front line of confrontation”; Aoun next day said “the Lebanese have no partner in preserving [their] independence”.

December 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Political deadlock over govt formation persisted while senior officials were charged with negligence for deadly August Beirut blast, prompting pushback from political elite. After Central Bank governor Riad Salameh 1 Dec said subsidies for basic commodities could only continue for two more months, protesters 7 Dec took to streets across country, including in capital Beirut; UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and International Labour Organization 7 Dec warned removal of subsidies would inflict “social catastrophe”; Diab 29 Dec said rationing foreign reserves could stretch subsidies for another six months. French President Macron and UN Sec-Gen António Guterres in virtual aid conference 2 Dec announced creation of fund handled by World Bank, UN and EU, while reiterating aid was contingent upon formation of new govt and political reforms. PM-designate Hariri – whom lawmakers nominated in Oct to form new govt – 9 Dec presented President Aoun with line-up of new govt but deadlock persisted; Aoun and Hariri 14 Dec blamed each other for delay in govt formation. Meanwhile, Fadi Sawwan – judge responsible for investigating 4 Aug deadly Beirut port explosion – 10 Dec charged caretaker PM Diab and three former ministers for negligence; move sparked criticism among political elite as Diab 10 Dec questioned legitimacy of charges and 14 Dec refused questioning, while caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi 14 Dec said he would not enforce arrest warrants for officials, and two of accused ex-ministers asked Court of Cassation to replace judge. Sawwan 17 Dec suspended investigation for ten days to respond to legal challenges to his authority. After various private universities announced tuition hikes, clashes 19 Dec broke out between police and student protesters. In north, group of Lebanese nationals 26 Dec set fire to refugee settlement, destroying camp and injuring at least four; army 27 Dec announced arrest of two Lebanese and six Syrian nationals allegedly involved in altercation that led to incident. Following postponement of maritime border talks with Israel scheduled for early Dec, Aoun 2 Dec reiterated difficulties in negotiations could be overcome, while U.S. Sec State Pompeo 22 Dec said Israel and Lebanon remained “far apart”.

November 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Formation of new cabinet remained stalled while Central Bank audit delays further hampered progress toward necessary reforms. PM-designate Hariri – whom lawmakers nominated last month to form new govt – struggled throughout month to overcome disputes over allocation of executive portfolios: major Christian parties sought to nominate Christian ministers while Hariri 13 Nov called Hizbollah “a big obstacle” to creating govt of “independent experts” as group remained opposed to his leadership. Citing banking secrecy laws, Central Bank governor Riyad Salameh 2 Nov refused to submit documents to U.S.-based company Alvarez & Marsal conducting Central Bank audit, although audit is necessary prerequisite for bailout talks to resume with International Monetary Fund (IMF). Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni 5 Nov extended deadline for document submission by three months; Alvarez & Marsal 20 Nov, however, terminated its contract citing lack of transparency. Parliament 27 Nov renewed commitment to undertake forensic audit of Central Bank. Further complicating process, U.S. 6 Nov sanctioned Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil – President Aoun’s son-in-law and heir-apparent – for corruption under Global Magnitsky Act in highest-profile round of designations to date; Bassil 17 Nov vowed to quit politics if found guilty of corruption. With international assistance dependent on elusive institutional reform, French Middle East envoy Patrick Durel 13 Nov met with Aoun to urge speedy govt formation to release financial support from IMF; France 28 Nov scheduled new international donor conference for early Dec. Meanwhile, unidentified assailants 13 Nov infiltrated Byblos mosque, injuring local sheikh; some 100 people next day protested downtown in capital Tripoli to denounce attack. At least 270 Syrian families 27 Nov left Bsharri town amid reprisal attacks following murder allegedly committed by Syrian. Internationally, Israeli military 10 Nov claimed downing of Hizbollah drone allegedly violating Israeli airspace; Lebanese and Israeli delegations next day held third round of UN-mediated maritime border delineation talks in southern town of Naqoura. 

October 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Former PM Saad Hariri returned to power as new PM while govt began negotiations with Israel on disputed maritime border. Following PM-designate Adib’s resignation last month, former PM Saad Hariri – who stepped down following mass demonstrations last year – 8 Oct declared himself “the natural candidate” to form unity govt; despite opposition from major Christian parties, Hariri 22 Oct earned mandate to form new govt after receiving narrow parliamentary support in consultations held with President Michel Aoun, vowing to lead non-aligned technocratic cabinet and implement French-led reform initiative. In first non-security related talks in three decades, Lebanon and Israel began negotiations to delineate maritime border: Lebanese and Israeli delegations 2 Oct confirmed agreement on terms of negotiations; U.S.-mediated discussions 14 and 28 Oct took place at UN base in southern Naqoura town; Hizbollah 8 Oct declared negotiations over border did not amount to “reconciliation” or “normalisation” with Israel. Amid fraying security situation, rival clans in eastern Beqaa valley early Oct threatened confrontation with heavy machine guns and medium-range missiles; Lebanese Armed Forces 8 Oct deployed to Baalbek to prevent further escalation, arresting over dozen; clashes resumed late Oct. Meanwhile, local police reports publicised late Oct indicated boom in petty crime, robbery and murder in Lebanon in last year. Protesters outside French embassy in Beirut 30 Oct clashed with police, leaving three injured. U.S. Treasury 23 Oct imposed sanctions on senior Hizbollah members Nabil Qaouk and Hassan al-Baghdadi of party’s central council. Daily COVID-19 cases tripled since early Sept while foreign exchange reserves dwindled, threatening stocks of medical supplies.
 

September 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

New PM-designate resigned after failing to form govt amid deepening political polarisation, increased U.S. pressure on Hizbollah and clashes in capital Beirut. Following govt’s resignation last month, French President Emmanuel Macron 1 Sept arrived in Beirut to pressure political elite to kickstart reforms to counter deteriorating economic crisis and secure commitment from new PM-designate Adib – former ambassador to Germany appointed PM-designate 31 Aug – to form govt within 15 days. However, by mid-Sept deadline Adib failed to form new govt due to dispute over allocation of finance portfolio and U.S.-France disagreement over role of Hizbollah. Adib 26 Sept resigned citing govt formation gridlock; Macron next day said there would be “serious consequences” for politicians who failed to uphold deal. Meanwhile, U.S. increased financial pressure on companies and individuals linked to Hizbollah: U.S. Treasury 9 Sept sanctioned Hizbollah allies, former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and Youssef Finianos of the Christian Marada Movement; 17 Sept sanctioned two Lebanese companies and one individual for allegedly funneling funds to Hizbollah. President Macron expressed concern over sanctions, warning that confrontation with Hizbollah could further hamper reform efforts. In sign of worsening security across country, violence between rival political groups broke out in Beirut: in Tariq al-Jdide neighbourhood, clashes involving rifles and rocket-propelled grenades 7 Sept erupted between Sunni groups affiliated with former PM Saad Hariri and followers of his brother Bahaa, killing one and injuring two; in eastern suburb, clashes 14 Sept broke out between Christian party Free Patriotic Movement and Lebanese Forces. Four Lebanese soldiers 14 Sept killed in operation to apprehend alleged jihadist militant suspected of planning late Aug attack in Kaftoun village that killed three people; shootout between army and jihadist militants 27 Sept killed three near Miniyeh. Daily COVID-19 cases 14 Sept surged past 1,000 for the first time since outbreak. Accidental explosion at suspected Hizbollah arms depot 22 Sept rocked southern town of Ain Qana, reportedly causing four casualties. 

August 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Massive explosion in capital Beirut fuelled violent anti-govt protests and prompted PM Diab’s govt to resign. In port of Beirut, large stockpile of highly explosive ammonium nitrate – stored, despite repeated warnings, near densely populated area without adequate safety measures – 4 Aug reportedly caught fire and triggered massive explosion that killed at least 190, injured some 7,000 and displaced up to 300,000. Catastrophe and govt negligence sparked popular anger against political elite: thousands 8-9 Aug took to streets of Beirut demanding justice; clashes broke out with security forces killing one police officer and reportedly injuring over 700 civilians and 70 security personnel. PM Diab 10 Aug announced resignation of his govt and blamed disaster in Beirut on corruption of political elite whom he accused of thwarting his reform efforts. Parliament 31 Aug voted diplomat Mustapha Adib as new PM and President Aoun tasked him with forming govt. French President Macron 6 Aug travelled to Beirut and vowed to provide Lebanese people with support but warned that “if reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will continue to sink”. During emergency donor conference spearheaded by France, international donors 9 Aug pledged some $250mn in humanitarian relief; International Monetary Fund (IMF) director Kristalina Georgieva 9 Aug said IMF was ready to “redouble” efforts to help Lebanon. In north, unidentified gunmen night of 21-22 Aug killed three in Kaftoun village; security forces 23-24 Aug arrested several suspects and attempted to arrest another one who reportedly blew himself up. Shiite religious banners 27 Aug triggered clashes between Shiites and Sunnis killing two in Khaldeh. Special Tribunal for Lebanon 18 Aug convicted in absentia one Hizbollah member and acquitted three others for involvement in assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri in 2005, confirming that no evidence was found implicating Hizbollah’s leadership or the Syrian regime. In south, Hizbollah 22 Aug claimed downing Israeli drone near Aita al-Shaab village; alleged cross-border attack by Hizbollah on Israeli troops night of 25-26 Aug prompted retaliatory airstrikes on Hizbollah posts. Amid surge in COVID-19 cases, caretaker govt 21 Aug imposed two-week partial lockdown and night time curfew.

July 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Amid deepening economic crisis, anti-govt protests continued and talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF) remained deadlocked. Exchange rate on black market early July for first time crossed 10,000 Lebanese lira to the dollar, up from 8,000 on 30 June; marking loss of 85% since beginning of crisis in Oct 2019. In response to rising inflation and poverty rate, Central Bank 6 July announced it will provide foreign currency at fixed exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese lira to the dollar for essential food industries. Anti-govt protests continued across country, fuelled by widespread electricity blackouts of up to 22 hours per day and reports of suicides of two men on 3 July that many blamed on govt’s inept response to deepening economic crisis; protesters 6 July took to streets in capital Beirut, blocking several roads. Negotiations with IMF continued to stall over divisions within Lebanese delegation regarding magnitude and distribution of financial losses. After IMF director Kristalina Georgieva 17 July confirmed no progress had been made in previous 17 rounds of talks, French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian 23 July urged govt to finalise deal with IMF and enact reforms. Following 20 July killing of Hizbollah militant in reported Israeli air raid in Syria, tensions flared between Israel Defence Forces and Hizbollah members in 27 July purported border incident; Israel accused Hizbollah of infiltrating Israeli territory in disputed area along border; no casualties reported; Hizbollah same day denied launching operation and accused Israel of inventing “false and mythical victories”. Authorities 12 July reported highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases with 166 new infections, bringing total number of cases to 2,344. Meanwhile, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah 7 July accused U.S. ambassador Dorothy Shea of “colonial” behaviour; move comes after Shea publicly criticised Hizbollah late June. U.S. General Kenneth McKenzie in meeting with President Michel Aoun 8 July reaffirmed Washington’s support for “security, stability and sovereignty” in Lebanon. In response, dozens of demonstrators, including Hizbollah supporters, 10 July rallied outside U.S. embassy in Beirut to protest Washington’s alleged interference in Lebanese internal affairs in second anti-U.S. assembly in Beirut this month.

June 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Unprecedented currency collapse sparked renewed anti-govt protests while negotiations with International Monetary Fund (IMF) stalled due to disagreement between govt and banks over magnitude of financial losses. As anti-govt protests 6 June erupted in centre of capital Beirut, clashes fuelled by sectarian invective broke out as some protesters called for disarmament of Hizbollah, leaving 48 demonstrators and 25 soldiers reportedly injured; political and religious leaders next day called for calm. Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 17 June reaffirmed group’s resistance to any attempt to coerce party into disarming through economic pressure. Exchange rate on black market 11 June for first time crossed 5,000 Lebanese lira to the dollar and stood above 8,000 on 30 June, despite govt’s new pricing system aimed at gradually reducing rate; currency depreciated by more than 80% since beginning of crisis in Oct 2019. Following currency crash, anti-govt protesters across country including in cities of Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon 11-13 June took to streets; some rallies turned violent, with protesters attacking banks and commercial property. PM Diab 12 June held emergency meeting, announced Central Bank will inject dollars into market to mitigate currency collapse. Meanwhile, negotiations with IMF over rescue package stalled due to disagreement between govt and banks over scale and distribution of financial sector losses; banks insist on repayments of internal debt and deposits through selling state assets whereas govt previews “bail-in” solution affecting shareholders of banks and depositors alike. PM Diab 10 June announced senior govt appointments widely seen as controversial due to background of appointees, sparking doubts that govt is serious about installing technocratic experts to address economic crisis. IMF 19 June emphasised need for consensus to move reforms forward, warned of “deeper-than-expected” GDP contraction in second quarter of 2020. President Aoun 25 June convened national dialogue despite opposition’s boycott and protests; warned of “atmosphere of civil war”. Govt 30 June raised price of partially subsidised bread, sparking further protests in Beirut.

May 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Amid tanking economy and continued social and financial hardship affecting millions, govt 1 May applied for International Monetary Fund (IMF) financial assistance following IMF’s 30 April approval of economic reform plan; govt 13 May reportedly began negotiations with IMF. Hundreds of anti-govt protesters 1 May gathered in front of Central Bank in capital Beirut to demonstrate against devaluation of currency and rising inflation. Banking sector 1 May rejected govt rescue plan on grounds it will “further destroy confidence” in country, 20 May presented counter proposal. Prosecutor 18 May charged senior Central Bank official with manipulation of exchange rate and money laundering; Central Bank 15 May denied charges. Despite Central Bank’s efforts to impose rate of 3,200 Lebanese lira to the dollar through repressive measures, Lebanese lira 20 May remained at 4,200 on black market; in effort to defend currency, Central Bank 21 May announced it will provide dollars for food imports. Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 26 May rejected U.S. and Israeli pressure to change nature of mandate of UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL); U.S. ambassador to UN 4 May said “the time has come to either pursue serious change to empower UNIFIL or to realign UNIFIL’s staffing and resources with tasks it can actually accomplish.”

April 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Dire economic conditions continued to worsen amid COVID-19 outbreak despite govt efforts to soften impact; anti-govt protests mid-April resumed in Tripoli city and capital Beirut. Govt 1 April announced emergency support of 400,000 Lira for particularly hard-hit families; Central Bank next day instructed banks to pay out small depositors at rate near real value of Lebanese Lira, raising concerns about further devaluation of currency; Lebanese Lira continued to depreciate throughout month, 27 April reaching 4,200 to the dollar on black market. Leaked govt economic reform proposal early April sparked controversy over plans to use large deposits to cover banking losses. Meanwhile, Hizbollah announced plan to rely on 20,000 volunteers, 4,500 doctors and nurses, and 32 health centres across country to help counter COVID-19 spread. Reports 22 April of first COVID-19 case in al-Jalil Palestinian refugee camp, which hosts 9,400 people, in Bekaa Valley raised fear of wider spread among vulnerable population. Govt 9 April extended nationwide state of emergency until 26 April, thereafter announced five-phase plan to end lockdown with 27 April opening of some businesses. Six months after mass rallies first erupted over corruption and economic hardship, several hundred anti-govt protesters 17 April returned to streets in Tripoli in defiance of lockdown to demonstrate against soaring food prices leading to death of one protester on 27 April. Protesters 21 April drove around Beirut in cars to express discontent with political leadership; protestors 24-28 April launched wave of firebomb attacks on banks in Sidon, Tyre and Tripoli reportedly in response to currency deterioration.

March 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Govt’s measures to slow spread of COVID-19 dealt further blow to economy already in dire straits. To prevent spread of virus, govt 15 March declared state of mobilisation including closure of airport 18 March and of many businesses until 29 March and deployed army and riot police to enforce social distancing; 26 March extended measures till 12 April. Lebanese Lira continued to depreciate, 6 March surpassing 2,700 to the dollar on black market. PM Diyab 7 March declared Lebanon will default on foreign debt payment, deciding against payment of Eurobonds maturing 9 March. In televised speech, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah 13 March said it may approve assistance from International Monetary Fund on certain conditions, moderating previous statements by party representatives that indicated strong rejection. In defiance of instructions by Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, Lebanese banks 16 March announced they would close until 29 March during nationwide mobilisation to contain COVID-19. By 30 March some banks opened branches for limited hours and for non-cash operations only, while others were receiving clients on appointment.

February 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon

Parliament gave new govt vote of confidence as anti-govt protesters clashed with security forces. In capital Beirut, govt 6 Feb approved financial rescue plan that includes taking “painful steps” to tackle economic crisis. Parliament 11 Feb gave govt vote of confidence, as protesters attempting to disrupt parliamentary session clashed with security forces, leaving around 400 protesters injured. Lebanon 12 Feb formally requested International Monetary Fund (IMF) to send delegation to help draw up comprehensive rescue plan. Team of IMF advisers 20-24 Feb met PM Diab and other govt representatives and discussed options to overcome crisis. Hizbollah 25 Feb said it opposed IMF managing financial crisis.

January 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Lebanon