Lebanon’s telecom, internet sector could collapse within days

Lebanon’s telecom, internet sector could collapse within days
Parliament’s Media and Communications Committee agreed on Tuesday to ‘open an additional credit for Ogero to meet its needs of fuel and spare parts.’ (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 October 2021

Lebanon’s telecom, internet sector could collapse within days

Lebanon’s telecom, internet sector could collapse within days
  • Dollar exchange rates range from LBP1,507 to LBP16,000; people need a govt that works 24/7, says lawmaker

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s telecommunications and internet sector could collapse within days due to fuel shortages, a parliamentary committee warned Tuesday.

Parliament’s Media and Communications Committee said: “The quantity of diesel at Lebanon’s state-owned Touch and Alfa mobile companies and the state-run telecommunications company Ogero, which operates fixed lines and fixed internet, is enough to run for only a few days, otherwise telecom services will crumble.”

Telecom companies in Lebanon have joined the long list of at-risk industries and institutions because of a financial and economic crisis. 

Electricite du Liban was unable to secure electricity for institutions and households in recent months, especially after the government subsidy on diesel was lifted. Diesel prices, which were set in US dollars, doubled as a result. 

Telecom services, including the internet, were intermittently suspended in several regions in recent months.

MP Hussein Hajj Hassan, who heads the committee, said: “The dilemma is not limited to the inability to secure diesel, but also the inability to purchase spare parts, whose prices have become exorbitant. In addition, we have thefts targeting telecom networks in Lebanon, some stolen pieces of spare parts and transmission poles are being sold online.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Telecom companies in Lebanon have joined the long list of at-risk industries and institutions because of a financial crisis.

• Electricite du Liban was unable to secure electricity for institutions and households in recent months, especially after the government subsidy on diesel was lifted.

• Diesel prices, which were set in US dollars, doubled as a result. Telecom services, including the internet, were intermittently suspended in several regions.

“It turned out that Touch and Alfa, which get diesel from oil facilities, now have to pay for it in dollars, so now government institutions are required to pay in dollars. This is complicated because companies do not have the right to buy with dollars from the market, and this increases the cost, and this foreign currency is not available.”

The General Directorate of Oil decided in September to set the selling price of diesel at $549 per ton at oil facilities only, after liberalizing imports. 

There are no regulators for exchange rates, so Lebanon ended up with four: LBP3,900 to the dollar in commercial banks, LBP14,000 on the Central Bank’s Sayrafa platform, about LBP16,000 on the black market, while the official rate is still LBP1,507 to the dollar.

The state no longer controls diesel sales and has failed to put in place a mechanism for how its institutions, which only deal in Lebanese pounds, are able to buy diesel.

The committee agreed on Tuesday to “open an additional credit for Ogero to meet its needs for fuel and spare parts, at a value of LBP350 billion in the 2021 budget.”

Communications Minister Johnny Korm is expected to present this issue before the Cabinet on Wednesday.

The committee hoped the government would reach a “clear mechanism between the Ministry of Communications, Touch, Alfa, Ogero, and the oil facilities to provide the necessary quantities of diesel in Lebanese pounds.”

Ogero’s director general, Imad Kreidieh, said the internet service in Lebanon would be suspended if diesel was not provided to the corporation’s centers.

Committee member Rola Al-Tabash MP told Arab News: “We would slide into a new crisis that paralyzes everything in Lebanon and isolates it from the world if diesel for the telecom network’s generators is not provided. The Ministry of Energy’s policy over the years has led to this inability to secure power. The General Directorate of Oil, which considers itself an independent administration, has set its prices in dollars, and the state cannot buy with dollars.

“Each ministry is working on its own. Such action cannot help a country move forward. We need a government that works 24/7 and follows an integrated economic plan. After the health and the education sectors have collapsed, will the telecom sector follow suit? I don’t think citizens can bear such a thing.”


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.