Lebanese economic bodies call for assistance amid government formation crisis

Lebanese economic bodies call for assistance amid government formation crisis
The new Lebanese prime minister to head the next government is expected to be named within two days. (AFP)
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Updated 20 October 2020

Lebanese economic bodies call for assistance amid government formation crisis

Lebanese economic bodies call for assistance amid government formation crisis
  • Parliamentary blocs hope Aoun will not delay assignment consultations

BEIRUT: The new Lebanese prime minister to head the next government is expected to be named within two days. Meanwhile, questions are being raised regarding Thursday’s parliamentary consultations, with President Michael Aoun rumored to be considering delaying them for a second time.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is the only name proposed to form the new government, with the two Christian parties — the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Lebanese Forces — objecting to his nomination.

Richard Kouyoumjian, former minister and serving member of the Lebanese Forces parliamentary bloc, said that his party’s objection does not mean it is refusing to participate in the binding consultations.

“The mere participation of the bloc’s representatives in the parliamentary consultations makes it legal as per the common agreed values and laws, whether or not the bloc names the person who will be assigned to head the new government,” he said.

Kouyoumjian called for “the implementation of the constitution” and said: “Enough bidding in the name of the sect.”

The stance of the Lebanese Forces means the FPM is the only bloc disrupting the parliamentary process.

The Lebanese Forces’ decision not to propose anyone to head the government differed from its position in the two previous parliamentary consultations. In these consultations, the party proposed Ambassador Nawaf Salam.

Future parliamentary bloc member Mohammad Hajjar hoped that the consultations would not be postponed as “it will not be in the interest of the country and the people.”

He told Arab News: “The first postponement was not justified. We said that the French initiative is an opportunity to rescue the country and that it should not be wasted. We said that postponement does not change anything, but rather will be an obstruction that does not benefit the country. We hope to have a prime minister assigned on Thursday by a parliamentary majority.”

On whether he expects a postponement of consultations under new pretexts, Hajjar said: “Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi called for the application of the law that does not refer to Christian or regional charters in the assignment process. We say that 22 Christian members of parliament will come to the next parliamentary consultations in the Baabda Palace, and some of them might name Hariri while others might not. Therefore, the consultations must be held so that we proceed to form the government.”

Amid the political ruckus, The Lebanese economic bodies representing the various fields of the private sector have launched a new call for help to save the country.

In a meeting on Monday, the groups called for “the immediate formation of a government that can implement the French initiative.”

The economic bodies warned that “we will reach a stage where there is zero liquidity in hard currencies, the dollar exchange rate will rise uncontrollably, the purchasing power will diminish, and the inflation rate will rise. This means an almost complete closure of institutions, mass unemployment, and societal poverty across all sects.”

The experts highlighted that they had previously warned “of this tragic fate repeatedly, and here we are. On the ground, the structure of the country is collapsing, the economy — with all its components — is deteriorating at record speed, and institutions are breathing their last.”

In a position announced on Monday, the International Monetary Fund projected that “Lebanese economy will see one of the region’s sharpest economic contractions this year at 25 percent.”

The Crisis Observatory at the American University of Beirut estimated the cost of closing the poverty gap in Lebanon in 2020 for those below the minimum poverty line at $838 million.

The group explained that this cost had increased three times since 2019, due to a spike in poverty from 8 percent to 23 percent.


In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

Updated 04 December 2020

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

BAJET KANDALA CAMP, Iraq: For half a decade, Zedan suffered recurring nightmares about militants overrunning his hometown in northern Iraq. The 21-year-old Yazidi was just starting to recover when COVID-19 revived his trauma.
Zedan had lost several relatives when Daesh stormed into Sinjar, the rugged heartland of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq’s northwest.
The militants killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.
Zedan and the surviving members of his family fled, finding refuge in the Bajet Kandala camp near the Syrian border where they still live today.
“We used to be farmers living a good life. Then IS (Daesh) came,” he said, wringing his hands.
In a pre-fabricated building hosting the camp’s mental health clinic, Zedan shared his traumas with Bayda Othman, a psychologist for international NGO Premiere Urgence. Zedan refers to the violence of 2014 vaguely as “the events.”
The UN says they may constitute something much more serious: Genocide.
“I started having nightmares every night. I would see men in black coming to kill us,” Zedan said, telling Othman that he had attempted suicide several times. He has been seeing her for years, learning how to cope with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through breathing exercises that she taught him.
Earlier this year, his nightly panic attacks stopped. Finally, he could sleep again. But only for a few months.
In March, Iraq declared a nationwide lockdown to try to contain the spread of Covid-19. Zedan broke down.
“I fear that my family could catch the virus or give it to me,” he said. “It obsesses me.”
As lockdown dragged on, Zedan’s brother lost his job at a stationery shop on the edge of the camp.
“There’s no more money coming into the family now. Just thinking about it gives me a panic attack,” he said.
“The nightmares returned, and so did my desire to die.”
Out of Iraq’s 40 million citizens, one in four is mentally vulnerable, the World Health Organization says.
But the country is in dire shortage of mental health specialists, with only three per 1 million people.

HIGHLIGHT

The Daesh extremists killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.

Speaking about trauma or psychological problems is widely considered taboo, and patients who spoke to AFP agreed to do so on the condition that only their first names would be used.
In camps across Iraq, which still host some 200,000 people displaced by violence, the pandemic has pushed many people with psychological problems into remission, Othman said.
“We noticed a resurgence of PTSD cases, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts,” she told AFP.
In October, there were three attempted suicides in Bajet Kandala alone by displaced people, who said their movements outside the camp were restricted by the lockdown, or whose economic situation had deteriorated even further.
A tissue factory who fired people en masse, a potato farm that shut down, a haberdashery in growing debt: Unemployment is a common thread among Othman’s patients.
“It leads to financial problems, but also a loss of self-confidence, which rekindles trauma,” she said.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about a quarter of Iraqis who were employed prior to lockdown have been permanently laid off.
Youth were particularly hard hit: 36 percent of 18-24 years old who had been employed were dismissed, the ILO said.
A new patient in her forties walked toward the clinic, her hair covered in a sky-blue veil.
Once settled in a faux-leather chair, Jamila revealed that she, too, feels destabilized by the pandemic.
The Yazidi survivor lives in a one-room tent with her son and four daughters. But she doesn’t feel at home.
“I have totally abandoned my children. I feel all alone even though they’re always at home. I hit them during my panic attacks — I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
Othman tried to soothe Jamila, telling her: “Hatred is the result of untreated sadness. We take it out on relatives, especially when we feel devalued — men prey on women, and women on children.”
But the trauma is not just an issue for the displaced, specialists warn.
“With the isolation and lack of access to care, children who have lived a genocide develop difficulties as they become adults,” said Lina Villa, the head of the mental health unit at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in northern Iraq.
“We fear suicide rates will go up in the years to come.”