Beirut, Weekly Report # 5, February 21th, 2020

Place de Martyrs

by Yves

This week three main headlines: the internal political tensions, the visit of a technical assessment team from the IMF and military developments in the Idlib area in Syria. At the end of last week, on 14 February, Saad Hariri has delivered his traditional speech to commemorate the assassination of his father Rafic Hariri in 2005. During this speech, he criticized the Courant Patriotique Libre (CPL), concentrating his attacks mainly on its head, President Aoun’s son in law Gebran Bassil, whom he qualified as “the shadow President”, accusing him of having deliberately torpedoed the action of the government during the last three years. He added that the 2016 presidential compromise between the “Courant du Futur” and the “Forces libanaises” which had allowed Michel Aoun to have the Presidency and him be the head of the government was now “something of the past”, asking for anticipated legislative elections. He added that the 17 Oct “Hirak” had been a determining date for the country and the only who does not want it to be so is Gebran Bassil. It seems that the circle of supporters for anticipated legislative elections is growing with the Kataëb, the “Parti Socialiste progressiste” (PSP) of Walid Jumblatt, the “Courant du Futur” (Saad Hariri) et “les Forces libanaises” (Geagea) but are not sufficient enough to form a strong opposition front. The second main subject is the economy. Lebanon has currently reached a level of public debt of 90 billion dollars while its GDP has gone from 55 to 51 billion $ between 2018 et 2019. Its economic recession could reach between 7% à 10%, while its unemployment rate is between 30% et 40%. 50% de la population is under the poverty line. The Fitch rating agency has intimated that Lebanon is going to have to do some restructuring. It feels the country has technically enough reserves to honor the service of the debt in 2020 & 2021 but that the cost would be so high that it would render the operation politically very unwise. The agency has assessed that there is a need of 10 billion $ to finance year 2020 and 9 billions in 2021, while the Banque du Liban (BDL) reserves have reached 29 billion in January and will be 30,5 in February. Technical experts from the IMF have arrived in Lebanon Thursday and are expected to stay a week. Financially, countries of the Gulf have not shown any inclination in rushing to help Lebanon and had not even attended the CEDRE (Group of Lebanon friends) conference in Paris. This could be explained by the willingness of the government of the US to put pressure on what they have called a Hezbollah sponsored Lebanese government. Only Iran has announced it would be ready to do so. The press has also finally been publishing daily details on what is happening in Syria in the Idleb region. It underlines the heavy humanitarian consequences of the fighting and the current tensions between Ankara and Moscow while underlining the progresses made by Syrian government around Aleppo.