Beirut, Weekly Report # 4, February 14th, 2020

by Yves

Most of the information of the week was about the meeting of the parliament, the vote of its program and the reaction of the street. “La république bunkérisée” (Lebanese Republic behind a bunker !) was the title of the main Francophone newspaper, l’Orient le Jour on 12 February. Although, due to the current political coalition, the vote was from the outset not a real challenge, reaching the quorum to allow the session to open was more difficult. On the side of the support for the government, President Aoun’s Courant Patriotique Libre, Amal, Hezbollah et Sleiman Frangié’s Marada party were there although they had been criticizing the national electricity plan and the willingness of the government to pursue it. On the side of the opposition, MP’s of Courant du Futur, Walid Jumblatt’s Parti Socialiste Progressiste (PSP), Rassemblement Démocratique and Forces libanaises participated but did not vote the confidence to the government. While the street was chanting «No confidence, no confidence (to the government)», out of 83 MPs, the government obtained a confidence vote with 63 for, 20 against and one abstention. As a matter of fact, the session was opened by President Nabih Berry even if the quorum of 63 might not have been reached after an arrangement was made with chief PSP Walid Jumblatt and some members of the Forces Libanaises (Christians) while the newspapers underlined that the people was the “master of the street”. During the day and after what is now more than 120 days of popular contest, 370 demonstrators were injured during the clashes with the security forces. On the other hand, of real political significance was the much applauded and unusual homily of Beirut Maronite Archbishop Mgr Boulos Abdel Sater exhorting the government to take care of the people or … resign, in front of an audience composed of President Aoun, the president of the parliament, the Prime minister and various ambassadors. The main issue is now about the financial situation of the country and the decision which has to be taken quickly by the government. As a reminder, the government will have to refund on 9th March a first batch of Eurobonds of a value of 1,2 billion $ … or not … There are basically two options: paying, which the government will not be able to do for the whole 2020 total (an amount of 4,8 billion$ in April and June) or rescheduling the national debt with its debtors. The public debt has now reached 91,6 billion $. Whatever decision, there is a need to get a proper assessment of the economic and financial situation of the country which the IMF can do and which it has been officially requested to do yesterday but only for technical help. For different reasons, but mostly political ones, Hezbollah is the main party against the payment of the March Eurobonds and might accept the IMF help but only on its own terms. By Friday 14, because of Hezbollah’s opposition, the government has still not made any decision yet. The other main headline is also about the tensions in Syria between Turkey, Russia and the Syrian government troops. On Monday fighting took place south-east of Idleb and five Turkish soldiers were killed while a hundred Syrians were reportedly killed.