Lebanese Cabinet finally to meet after feuding Druze leaders reconcile

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, center, meets with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, right, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, left, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug 9, 2019. Hariri has announced that the Cabinet will finally convene after violence between two political rivals that brought the government to a standstill for weeks has been resolved. (AP)
Updated 10 August 2019

Lebanese Cabinet finally to meet after feuding Druze leaders reconcile

  • Cooperation agreement by Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arslan ends six-week political stalemate

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Cabinet will finally convene on Saturday. It follows a reconciliation meeting on Thursday during which two feuding Druze leaders in Mount Lebanon agreed to cooperate with each other to end a political crisis that paralyzed the nation’s government for more than a month.
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said Lebanon’s dollar-dominated bonds and 2030 Eurobond rallied to their highest levels in a week after Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, and Talal Arslan, head of the Democratic Party, agreed to meet to settle their differences. Their meeting was held at Baabda Palace at the invitation of President Michel Aoun, who chaired the talks. Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri also attended.
In a televised address after the meeting, Hariri confirmed that the two men had reconciled and the Cabinet will convene on Saturday. He added: “From today, there will be a new page and we will all cooperate together in the interests of the country and in the interests of Lebanese citizens.”
The stand-off between Jumblatt and Arslan sparked a political crisis that lasted almost six weeks. It began on June 30 when two aides to government minister Saleh Al-Gharib, an ally of Arslan, were shot and killed in Kabreshmoun. Both sides blamed each other for the gunfire, and were at odds over who should investigate the incident. Hariri said that it was agreed during the reconciliation meeting that it will be investigated by a military court.
Berri described the outcome of the meeting as “an achievement.” Jumblatt nodded to show that he was content, while Arslan smiled.
The reconciliation meeting was preceded by a gathering of top officials to discuss the economy. Lebanon has public debt valued at about 150 percent of gross domestic product, one of the highest levels in the world.
Before the meetings, Khalil had warned that “there will be no financial or economic stability without political stability” and predicted that “credit will be affected by the meetings.”
After the finance meeting, Riad Salamé, governor of Bank of Lebanon, said that the discussions were very good.
Hariri said: “The financial meeting stressed the necessity of committing to maintaining political stability, and the attendees reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining the exchange rate of the Lebanese pound.
“The attendees agreed on steps to be implemented in the next phase to contribute to strengthening the economy and commencing with the McKinsey plan.” This was a reference to a 1,274-page plan to revamp the Lebanese economy, which was compiled by US consulting firm, McKinsey and Co.
Hariri continued: “The basic steps include approving the 2020 budget, implementing the 2019 budget, developing a detailed plan to launch investment projects amounting to $3.3 billion, implementing the Cedar projects, fully implementing the power plan, adopting reform laws — particularly those related to public tenders and tax and customs evasion, coordinating with the committee for modernization of laws, activating the ministerial work committees, completing judicial reform steps, strengthening the work of oversight bodies, curbing waste and corruption, and reviewing useless institutions.”
Reacting to the meetings, former MP Fares Souaid said: “Lebanon has succeeded in overcoming the rifts, and Walid Jumblatt succeeded in lifting the siege around him by mobilizing the majority of his community and the Sunni community, as well as winning Christian sympathies.
“The raised tone of Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement and the President of the Republic has diminished due to external pressure.
“I hope we will not return to clashes of a different kind and that all hearts will find peace. I also hope we reach a conclusion so that no one would dare harass anyone. What happened means that in Lebanon, no matter how glorious a sect or an armed party is, they cannot impose their views because the border of each sect ends where the borders of the other sects begin, and everyone realizes that we are all in the same boat.”


Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

Updated 19 October 2019

Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

  • A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut
  • In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands

BEIRUT: Lebanese celebrities joined thousands of protesters on the streets of Beirut on Saturday to voice their anger at the country’s ruling elite.
Singers, actors and playwrights were among a host of high-profile artists who backed demands for action over government corruption and to counter Lebanon’s spiralling economic crisis.
Beirut has been shrouded in smoke for three days following widespread protests and rioting over government tax plans.
A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut and crying inconsolably about her financial state.
The actress, wearing jeans and her face blackened, told protesters: “I am Nadine Al-Rassi. I was hungry for seven days. I have debts. Banque du Liban (Lebanon’s central bank) seized my house and I am unable to rent a home. Corrupt people should be held responsible.”


In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands, saying: “This is the first time I wish I were in Lebanon. My heart is with you.”
In another tweet, the high-profile singer, one of the Middle East’s best-selling performers, said: “I proudly follow the news of Beirut and its citizens ... who are demanding a decent life. It is time for people to get back their dignity.”
Meanwhile, singer and composer Ragheb Alama expressed his dismay at a Council of Ministers plan to impose a daily fee on WhatsApp calls.
“The people’s misfortunes are not funny. Why don’t you tax the polluted air people breathe? It is a great idea that brings money to your fathers’ treasury, too,” he wrote.
Alama accused the Parliament of responsibility for the country’s dire economy: “Why do deputies receive money, privileges and overheads, and what have they done? They covered up for looting and stealing for decades. They are responsible for destroying the economy and the country.”
Nancy Ajram, one of the Arab world’s most popular singers, wrote on Twitter: “My heart goes out to my country every moment and with every heartbeat. We are a people who deserves to live and it is our right to live with dignity. May God protect Lebanon.”
Singer and actress Haifa Wehbe tweeted: “There is nothing better than the Lebanese people when they stand in unity and under one slogan, without any political affiliation. We are all for our country.”
Comedian and prime-time TV host Hisham Haddad was among celebrities who joined protesters at Riad El-Solh Square, near the Prime Minister’s office, site of the biggest centralized demonstrations.
Actress Maguy Bou Ghosn, singer Moeen Shreif, actors Abdo Chahine, Badih Abou Chakra and Junaid Zeineldine, playwright Ziad Itani and musician Ziyad Sahhab also joined the protests.
Actor Wissam Hanna called on Twitter for protesters to close the Beirut Airport road to stop corrupt officials fleeing the country.
“I am all for closing down the airport road to stop thieves from fleeing. I am all for recovering stolen funds. Lebanon rises, revolts and it is time to hold them accountable,” he wrote.
Actress Gretta Aoun said: “We have to take to the streets. They must know the extent of our pain.”