Lebanon government wins confidence vote as parliament hit by power cut

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (C) attends a parliament session to confirm the new government at a Beirut theater known as the UNESCO palace, Sept. 20, 2021. (AP)
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (C) attends a parliament session to confirm the new government at a Beirut theater known as the UNESCO palace, Sept. 20, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 21 September 2021

Lebanon government wins confidence vote as parliament hit by power cut

Lebanon government wins confidence vote as parliament hit by power cut
  • A power outage and a broken generator briefly delayed the start of the parliament session for some 40 minutes before electricity came back on
  • The vote paves the way for his Cabinet to try and tackle the country’s devastating economic and financial crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament has backed the Mikati government in a vote of confidence held on Monday at the UNESCO palace following a power outage and a broken generator that briefly delayed the start of the session.

Some 40 minutes passed before electricity returned thanks to a private generator brought by Hezbollah. It used non-Iranian diesel despite the party’s readiness to secure supplies from Tehran.

Lebanon on Monday morning endured a major power failure due to low production and poor distribution, which led to outages across the country.

The session had been scheduled to start at 11 a.m. but the lights went out in the building now housing the parliament.

MPs were broadcasting on live television waiting inside and outside the hall while the electricity was down.

The incident, which underscored the deep crisis roiling the small country amid an unprecedented economic meltdown, was derided on social media, with some activists and media figures saying they were glad politicians were getting a taste of the suffering.

Hezbollah’s MP Ibrahim Al-Moussawi said: “We had made contacts to secure a generator which was sent to the UNESCO palace. We were ready to secure diesel from Al-Amana Fuel Company, however the secretary general of the house of representatives Adnan Dahir, informed us that the diesel is available and they just needed a generator.”

The new government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said its permission was not sought regarding the import of Iranian diesel. Ships carrying the Iranian diesel arrived in the Syrian port of Banias last week and lorries carrying Syrian plates entered Lebanon through unofficial border crossings that Hezbollah had built in the decade since the Syrian civil war erupted.

Hezbollah stored the diesel in tanks in the Baalbek area owned by Al Amana fuel company that has been under US sanctions since February 2020 due to its ties to Hezbollah. The diesel will be distributed free of charge to government hospitals, with the remaining quantities expected to be sold below the state’s price.

Lebanon is battling a deep depression, with worsening fuel shortages translating into few or any hours of state-backed power each day. Most Lebanese rely on private generators for electricity.

In parliament, Mikati read out the Cabinet’s draft policy program: “From the heart of the suffering of Beirut ... our Cabinet was born to light a candle in this hopeless darkness.”

The new premier also vowed to hold timely and transparent elections in May 2022.

He also pledged to “resume talks with the IMF and develop a plan to revive the economy, adopting a short- and medium-term rescue program starting from the recovery plan after it has been updated with the implementation of reforms in all areas in accordance with urgent priorities.”

He said that the economic plan will be implemented in coordination with the Bank of Lebanon after it has been approved by the government.

Mikati promised to “draw up a plan to reform the banking sector, to pass in cooperation with parliament the Capital Control Act and draft a bill to address the financial and banking conditions that emerged after Oct. 17, 2019, particularly those related to the transfer of funds abroad and the recovery of funds from corruption offences.”

Mikati’s government will also resume negotiations with creditors over a restructuring of public debt on which Lebanon defaulted last year.

Mikati promised that his government would “strengthen and uphold Lebanon’s relations with sister Arab countries and insist, as well as strengthening Lebanon’s international relations and activating its engagement with the international community and its European partner.”

Mikati pledged to “close illegal crossings, reduce tax evasion, amend the Public Accounting Act and complete the 2022 general budget, including its reform clauses dealing with public finances.”

Mikati also promised to “increase electricity supply hours in the first phase, complete the implementation of the electricity sector plan and related reforms with its modernization and the establishment of the country’s needed power plants with the participation of the private sector, and complete the project of bringing natural gas through Floating Storage Regasification Units.”

In its ministerial statement, the government stressed its “efforts to secure an economic- socio-health safety net to restore purchasing power, activate social guarantor institutions, expand insurance coverage of all kinds, put the cash card program into effect in coordination with the ESSN social safety net program for the neediest families and adopt the Old Age Security Act.”

As for the Beirut port explosion, the government stressed its “keenness to complete all investigations to determine the causes of the explosion, uncover the full truth and punish all perpetrators.”

The Lebanese Forces parliamentary bloc voted against granting Mikati’s Cabinet confidence. “We will not bet on this government to do miracles. This government was formed to stop the collapse, prevent the explosion and, most importantly, it is an election government,” said MP Strida Geagea.

Hezbollah MP Mohammed Fadlallah called for a “criminal financial audit of companies that exercised monopoly,” criticizing “banks that stole the Lebanese savings, urging them to return these savings and assume their responsibilities.”

The head of the Strong Lebanon bloc, MP Gebran Bassil, said his bloc would give the government confidence “because the government was duly formed. The prime minister respected the constitutional partnership with the president of the republic. It has also included in its ministerial statement our demands and this is a positive thing.”

However, a dispute took place between Bassil and deputy speaker of parliament, MP Eli Ferzli, over Bassil’s accusation that a number of deputies and ministers had “transferred their funds abroad.”

“The parties who disrupted the country are the ones who formed the government under the auspices of Hezbollah. The latter is in full control of the council and there is no possibility of any reform. The big confrontation will be in the next elections, so that the people can overthrow this system,” said Sami Gemayel, Lebanese Kataeb Party chief, who resigned from parliament.


Qatar emir appoints Al-Kuwari finance minister in reshuffle

Qatar emir appoints Al-Kuwari finance minister in reshuffle
Updated 12 sec ago

Qatar emir appoints Al-Kuwari finance minister in reshuffle

Qatar emir appoints Al-Kuwari finance minister in reshuffle

DUBAI: Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has appointed Ali Bin Ahmad Al-Kuwari as finance minister in a government reshuffle, according to a statement issued by the court on Tuesday.

Al-Kuwari had been serving as commerce and industry minister and as acting finance minister before the reshuffle.

His predecessor in the finance ministry, Ali Sherif al-Emadi, was arrested over embezzlement allegations and stripped of his duties in May.  


Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo

Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo
Updated 17 min 34 sec ago

Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo

Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo
  • There were 2.1 million aircraft passengers in July

CAIRO: There were 18,500 flights into and out of Egypt in July compared to 6,500 in the same month last year, an increase of 185 percent, according to the country’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.

In June there were some 14,000 flights, compared to 500 in the same month last year.

There were 2.1 million aircraft passengers in July, more than quadruple the 500,000 passengers in the same month last year.

In June there were 1.6 million passengers, compared to 300,000 in the same month last year.

There were 19,200 tons of cargo transported by plane in July compared to 16,700 in the same month last year, an increase of 13 percent.

In June 21,300 tons were transported compared to 16,100 in the same month last year, an increase of 32 percent.


Lebanese parliament confirms election date as March 27 - sources

Lebanese parliament confirms election date as March 27 - sources
Updated 49 min 43 sec ago

Lebanese parliament confirms election date as March 27 - sources

Lebanese parliament confirms election date as March 27 - sources

CAIRO: Lebanon's parliament on Tuesday confirmed the legislative election date as March 27, sources told Reuters.

The earlier than usual date - elections were originally expected to be held in May - was being debated in order not to clash with the holy Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
It means Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government has just a few months left in office as it tries to agree a financial recovery plan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) amidst a deepening economic meltdown.
Once a new parliament is elected, the Mikati cabinet will only act in a caretaker role until a new prime minister is given a vote of confidence and tasked with forming a new government.


Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat
Updated 19 October 2021

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat

Lebanon elite united against Beirut port blast probe seen as survival threat
  • Explosion of a huge stockpile of poorly stored fertilizer on the dockside on August 4, 2020 killed more than 210 people
  • ‘Lebanon’s ruling class may be political opponents but they are united in profiteering from the system’

BEIRUT: They may often squabble but Lebanon’s political parties seem united in rejecting an investigation into Beirut’s massive port explosion that they fear could threaten their survival, analysts say.
The explosion of a huge stockpile of poorly stored fertilizer on the dockside on August 4, 2020 killed more than 210 people, wounded thousands and ravaged half the capital.
In the aftermath of mass protests in late 2019 demanding the ouster of the traditional ruling class, many said the disaster was just the latest example of official incompetence and corruption.
But months into a domestic investigation, no one has been held accountable.
Politicians have repeatedly obstructed the work of judge Tarek Bitar by refusing to show up for questioning, filing legal complaints against him or calling for his dismissal, which last week sparked deadly violence in the heart of Beirut.
Analyst Lina Khatib said hopes were fading of holding those responsible for the port blast accountable.
“The ruling class in Lebanon is in agreement about wanting the port probe to be abandoned and they will use all available means to derail it,” said Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House think tank.
The country’s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah has spearheaded a campaign to remove Bitar, accusing him of political bias.
The debate over his future, which comes after the previous investigator was removed in February, has already triggered the postponement of one cabinet meeting despite the urgency of addressing Lebanon’s acute economic crisis.
Nadim Houry, executive director at the Arab Reform Initiative, said that the whole ruling class felt under threat in what he described as “an essential battle in Lebanon for rule of law.”
“A section of society has decided that they want to go all the way and ask for truth,” but they face “a political class that is willing to use threats, use violence, use even launching into another civil war to prevent that quest for truth from leading to a result,” he said.
It emerged after the port blast that officials had known that hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate had for years been left to linger in a warehouse near residential neighborhoods.
Families of the victims see in Bitar the only hope for justice in a country where impunity has long been the norm.
After the 1975 to 1990 civil war, Lebanon issued a broad amnesty that benefited the country’s warlords, allowing many of them to become political leaders.
“Regardless of what Bitar finds, it’s the idea itself that any of them can somehow be held accountable that they are resisting,” Houry said.
Any success in the blast probe would set a precedent and unravel a “impunity regime” under which each party agrees not to pursue the other for its crimes, as long as it is not targeted itself.
Tensions came to a boil last week after a rally against Bitar organized by Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Amal descended into violence that killed seven of their supporters.
The sound of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades trapped residents indoors for hours, reviving memories of the civil war.
Hezbollah accused snipers of the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, of causing the bloodshed, but the latter has denied this.
The army, meanwhile, is investigating a video circulated on social media that appears to show a soldier shooting at protesters.
“Hezbollah is increasingly acting as the praetorian guard of the regime that has come into place since the 1990s,” Houry said.
The Iran-backed movement, the only one not to have disarmed after the civil war, is at least partly blacklisted by most Western governments but holds seats in parliament.
While political parties have publicly supported an investigation, analysts say they ultimately wish to protect their own interests.
“Lebanon’s ruling class may be political opponents but they are united in profiteering from the system... and they therefore oppose any steps to reform it or to instil accountability within it,” Khatib said.
A spokesman for the families of blast victims quit on Saturday, after many feared he had been intimidated into toeing the Hezbollah line and calling for Bitar to step down.
Ibrahim Hoteit, who lost his brother in the explosion, lives in a Shiite-majority neighborhood.
The following day, many refrained from taking part in a protest to mark the second anniversary of the now-defunct 2019 protest movement, fearing further violence.
“Ultimately, the ruling class want to push the Lebanese to conclude that the price of accountability is too high,” Khatib said.


Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt
Updated 19 October 2021

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

Magnitude 6 quake hits eastern Mediterranean, quake felt in Egypt

CAIRO: A quake shook Cairo and other cities in Egypt at 0535 GMT on Tuesday, according to Reuters witnesses and social media postings.
Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, and Assiut, in Upper Egypt, were among cities where people said on social media they felt their houses and buildings shaking.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the authorities.

The tremor, whose magnitude the US Geological Survey measured at 6.0 and depth at 37.8km (23.5 miles), was also felt on several other Greek islands including Crete and Santorini, state TV said,
It also shook the Cypriot capital Nicosia, Beirut, Cairo and other cities in Egypt, parts of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the region around southern Turkey’s Antalya, Reuters witnesses said.
Two powerful quakes rattled Crete in recent weeks, killing one person and damaging buildings.
A Greek seismologist said Tuesday's quake came from a different African fault and no aftershocks were expected.