Can Arab Gas Pipeline plan enable Lebanon to keep the lights on?

Can Arab Gas Pipeline plan enable Lebanon to keep the lights on?
Protesters gather in front of the Lebanese electricity company headquarters in Beirut, where a crippling cocktail of crises is threatening to plunge the cash-strapped country into total darkness. (AP)
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Updated 12 October 2021

Can Arab Gas Pipeline plan enable Lebanon to keep the lights on?

Can Arab Gas Pipeline plan enable Lebanon to keep the lights on?
  • On Sunday the Lebanese state electricity network collapsed completely for the second time this month
  • Arab Gas Pipeline deal struck with Egypt, Jordan and Syria offers glimmer of hope amid the darkness

DUBAI: Lebanon was plunged into a total blackout this week after two of its main power plants shut down before the army stepped in to supply fuel from its stocks. It was the latest in a series of disasters to strike the country’s public-services infrastructure in general, and the power sector in particular, in recent times.

Energy production reportedly dropped to less than 200 MW while the country requires around 3,000 MW. The blackout occurred less than a month after Electricite Du Liban, the state electricity corporation, warned that Lebanon was heading toward a “total and complete” power outage unless more fuel supplies were secured.

The collapse of electricity production also came just weeks after the energy ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria agreed on a road map for the delivery of Egyptian natural gas to Lebanon, which, if successfully implemented, could provide the country with up to 17 hours of electricity per day.

Millions of Lebanese currently endure power outages of up to 22 hours per day as their leaders struggle to secure the foreign capital needed to import fuel. Operators of private backup generators are being pushed to their limits as costs of diesel and repairs have skyrocketed.

“We hope that the import of gas will happen as soon as possible and the cooperation between the countries is considered natural because it is not the first time that cooperation between us has taken place,” Raymond Ghajar, Lebanon’s former energy minister, said last month.

Earlier this month, after a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Tarek El-Molla in Cairo, Ghajar said Egypt had offered extra quantities of gas. Molla hinted that a deal could be finalized “within the coming weeks.”

The plan is part of a US-coordinated effort to deliver natural gas via the Arab Gas Pipeline, which originates near Arish on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and extends through Jordan, Syria and into Lebanon.




Lebanon’s former Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar, Jordan’s Energy Minister Hala Zawati, Syria’s Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources Bassam Tohme and Egypt’s Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources Tarek El Mol. (Reuters)

“This is a good step in the right direction but more needs to be done,” Laury Hayatyan, MENA director at the New York-based Natural Resource Governance Institute, told Arab News, citing the need for forming technical committees from each country to monitor the pipeline’s condition.

According to Ghajar, Lebanon is in talks with the World Bank to secure financing for the import of Egyptian natural gas, which will provide the country with 450 megawatts of power.

“To produce 450 MW, Egypt has to provide Lebanon with around 1 billion cubic meters or 670,000 tons of gas,” Marc Ayoub, an energy policy researcher at the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute, told Arab News. “Egypt can probably do that given its large gas discoveries in recent years.”

The total energy production and the amount of gas needed will also depend on the efficiency of Lebanon’s power plants, he said.

Lebanon currently has a maximum power generating capacity of 2,000 MW, far less than the 2017 summer peak demand of 3,400 MW. The power generating-capacity figure is misleading, however; some 50 percent of the output is wasted due to grid inefficiencies.

The biggest challenge facing the Arab Gas Pipeline is something else, however: The state of the industrial infrastructure of each country.

Infrastructure in Syria, a country devastated by a decade-long civil war, is in urgent need of repair so that gas can reach Lebanon. Egyptian gas stopped flowing through Syria in 2010.

“They said that gas will be transported as soon as possible,” Hayatyan said. “But what exactly does this mean and how much time will it actually take to set up everything?”

Despite the US sanctions on Syria under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, which prohibits financial transactions with the country’s institutions, Washington seems to have given its tacit approval to the pipeline proposal.
 




Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, was pushed into a total blackout in April after its main power stations went offline due to a lack of fuel. (AFP)

“There were signals from the US ambassador to Lebanon that initiated these proceedings, but we must wait for an official confirmation from the US Treasury,” Hayatyan said.

However, the exact payment terms must be agreed on, given that each point of entry charges a transit fee for gas to pass through. “For instance, before the civil war in Syria, they used to take part of the gas transported instead of cash payments,” she said.

In the past, the gas was transported to Lebanon’s Deir Ammar power plant. However, if the arrangement is to be revived, the plant will need to be refitted, having been run on liquid fuel for many years.

If the deal eventually goes ahead, it will not be the first time Lebanon has imported gas from abroad. “We used to import gas back in 2004 when the Arab Gas Pipeline was completed,” Roudi Baroudi, an oil and gas expert, told Arab News.

“If Lebanon had fully benefited from that partnership and the Arab pipeline, most of its electricity problems would have been resolved.”

Lebanon’s government says net transfers to state power firm EDL amount to between $1 billion and $1.5 billion per year, most of which is spent on fuel oil. In 2016, the International Monetary Fund said the accumulated cost of subsidizing EDL amounted to roughly 40 percent of Lebanon’s entire national debt, which itself exceeded 150 percent of its GDP.

Had Lebanon made the most of its pipeline partnership, the state’s treasury could have saved something in the region of $5 billion over 18 years. “That is if we assume that the price of a barrel of oil ranges between $50 and $60,” Baroudi said.

Egypt, Jordan, and Syria might be willing to extend credit lines to Lebanon, at least in the short term, Baroudi said, adding that “the most important thing now is to open diplomatic channels with all these countries.”

To increase the productivity of the new pipeline supply, Baroudi said it would make sense for Lebanon to convert the rest of its power plants to run on gas. “The Zahrani, Jiyeh, and Zouk plants should be converted and connected to the grid,” he said.
 





“We are now counting on the international community to fund vital projects in the public and private sectors to revive economic life,” Lebanese President Michel Aoun said. 

In the meantime, Lebanon is looking to purchase excess capacity from Jordan, which could supply about three hours of electricity per day. “Jordan has been producing an excess of electricity in recent years after embracing renewables and is looking to sell that to neighboring countries,” Hayatyan said.

Lebanon also struck a deal with Iraq in February to swap one million tons of Iraqi oil for derivatives that match its own power plants’ specifications.

When precisely the Lebanese people will see any benefits is unclear. Grappling with the worst financial crisis in its history, Lebanon has gradually increased fuel prices in recent months because the cash-strapped central bank can no longer afford to fund fuel imports.

The latest price hike, expected to be followed by further increases in the coming weeks, is widely seen as a prelude to a final and definite lifting of fuel subsidies by the government.

Acute fuel shortages have brought the small Mediterranean country to the brink of humanitarian disaster, with hospitals across the country struggling to provide power to ventilators and other life-sustaining equipment.

To fill a medium-sized vehicle’s tank, most Lebanese have to pay close to the monthly minimum wage of 675,000 Lebanese pounds, at a time when nearly 80 percent of the population is estimated to live below the poverty line.


Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
Updated 27 October 2021

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
  • Decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination to enter workplaces
  • The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants, banks and travel

RABAT, Morocco: Demonstrators took to the streets in cities around Morocco on Wednesday, some clashing with police as they denounced the country’s decision to require coronavirus vaccination passes to be allowed to work and enter public venues.
The decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination in order to enter their workplaces. In a statement, the government has said employers have “direct legal responsibility” to enforce the decision.
The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants and banks as well as domestic and international travel.
The North African kingdom of 36 million people has Africa’s highest vaccination rate, with more than 50 percent of the population fully inoculated. Earlier this month, the government also started administering booster shots.
But the abrupt and unusually widespread vaccine requirements have also prompted opposition, and led to big crowds at vaccination centers as people rushed to get shots.
In the capital, Rabat, protesters gathered outside the parliament building and chanted slogans against the rule, arguing that it goes against fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Police formed a line to prevent the angry demonstrators from getting inside the legislature.
A few protesters clashed with police as they were pushed away down Mohammed V Avenue that leads to the parliament building.
Among protesters was Nabila Mounib, a member of parliament and the secretary general of the opposition Unified Socialist Party. She joined the protest after being barred from entering the parliament building for showing up without a vaccination pass.
Similar scenes unfolded in other Moroccan cities, with dozens of protesters taking to the streets in the country’s most populous city, Casablanca, as well as tourist hotspots of Marrakech and Agadir. They shouted “United against the pass!” as police pushed and swung batons at some of the demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them.


Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim
Updated 9 min 50 sec ago

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim
  • The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement he rejected Kordahi’s comments
  • Najib Mikati said George Kordahi’s comments on TV did not reflect government’s, president’s position on Yemen

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Wednesday distanced himself from comments made by the country’s Information Minister George Kordahi suggesting that the Iran-backed Houthis were “defending themselves” in Yemen.

Kordahi had been responding to a question from the host of “Barlamanasha3b,” an Al Jazeera-affiliated youth TV show, asking about his position on the conflict in the war-torn country.

During the interview recorded on Aug. 5, one month before being appointed information minister, Kordahi said: “The Houthis in Yemen are a resistance movement, defending themselves and not attacking anyone.” He added that the group was acting in self-defense against the “Saudi-UAE attack on Yemen.”

Mikati said: “Kordahi’s statement reflects his personal opinion which we do not accept. These comments do not express the government nor the president’s (Michel Aoun) position on the Yemeni issue. Lebanon is committed to its ties with Arab countries.”

When Kordahi’s remarks later surfaced in a video posted online, they sparked a frenzy on social media and an official protest to the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Yemen’s Ambassador to Lebanon Abdullah Al-Deais.

Kordahi replied by saying he had not intended “in any way, to offend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the Emirates,” and expressed his “love and loyalty to the leaders and people of the two countries.”

He added: “What I said about the war in Yemen being an absurd war that needs to stop, I said it with conviction, not in defense of Yemen, but also out of love for Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

Lebanon's Information Minister George Kordahi speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon on Sept.  13, 2021. (REUTERS File Photo)

But Al-Deais said Kordahi had only “added insult to injury, as he did not apologize, but rather confirmed what he had said.”

The Yemeni envoy added: “Kordahi’s remarks go against Lebanon’s clear position toward Yemen and its condemnation of the Houthi coup and its support for all relevant Arab and UN resolutions.”

Following a meeting with Aoun on Wednesday, Mikati added: “It is true that we distance ourselves from conflicts, but we do not distance ourselves from any Arab position in solidarity with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

This position is a constant position, and we look forward to the best relations.

“Kordahi’s comments will not affect the general course, especially since the constants of the Lebanese position on relations with Arab countries were stated in its ministerial declaration. The interview with Kordahi took place before he was appointed minister and was broadcast yesterday,” Mikati said.

Separately, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that Kordahi’s comments reflected his “personal stand” and “do not reflect the government’s position.”

In a statement, it said: “The ministry has repeatedly condemned the terrorist attacks on Saudi Arabia and maintains its position in defending the security and safety of its Gulf brothers, for whom it holds love, respect, and appreciation, and refrains from interfering in their internal and external policies.”

The Gulf Cooperation Council noted that Kordahi’s remarks showed his limited knowledge and lack of understanding of the situation in Yemen.

GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf condemned, “the Lebanese minister of information’s defense of the Houthi coup group, while ignoring the intransigence of the Houthi movement against all international efforts to end the Yemeni crisis, and at a time when the Saudi Houthi group is targeting missiles and marches, targeting the defenseless Yemeni people, and preventing relief aid from reaching the stricken areas.”

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Al-Bukhari on Wednesday met with Al-Deais.

In a statement issued by the Saudi embassy, Al-Bukhari reaffirmed “the Kingdom’s position on supporting legitimacy in Yemen, reaching a political solution, in accordance with the terms of reference represented by the Gulf Initiative and its executive mechanism, the outcomes of the Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference and the resolution 2216, in order to preserve Yemen’s unity, integrity, respect its sovereignty and independence, and reject any interference in its internal affairs.

“The Iranian-backed Houthis continue hostilities and terrorist operations by firing ballistic missiles and booby-trapped drones to target civilians and civilian objects in Saudi Arabia, violating international and humanitarian law by using civilian populations in Yemeni civilian areas as human shields, and launching booby-trapped boats and remotely marching, posing a serious threat to regional and international security,” he said.

The Saudi envoy highlighted, “the legitimate right of the Saudi-led coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen, to take and implement the necessary measures to deal with these hostilities and terrorist attacks, and to prevent the smuggling of weapons into these militias that poses a threat to the freedom of maritime navigation and global trade in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea.”

Al-Bukhari praised “the efficiency” of Saudi air defenses in intercepting and responding to more than 400 ballistic missiles, 791 drones, and at least 205 naval mines.


Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geager from attending hearing

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geager from attending hearing
Updated 28 October 2021

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geager from attending hearing

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces leader Geager from attending hearing

BEIRUT: Supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party on Wednesday blocked roads to leader Samir Geagea’s residence as he failed to turn up for a hearing at army intelligence over fatal clashes in Beirut.
Geagea was summoned to the hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday, amid claims by the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement that Lebanese Forces (LF) supporters shot dead seven of their followers in clashes on Oct. 14.
Geagea has denied the claims and said he is being unfairly targetted for his support of a probe by Judge Tarek Bitar into the August 2020 Beirut port explosion that Hezbollah opposes.
“We won’t let anyone, not Hezbollah nor Iran nor Syria or anyone try to subjugate us,” LF protester Fadi told Reuters.
“We are here today in 2021 sacrificing for Samir Geagea just like he sacrified for us in 1994 so Lebanon could remain and we could remain,” Fadi, who did not give his last name, said.
Geagea, a former warlord, was imprisoned after Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war and released in 2005 following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after three decades of occupation.


Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence
Updated 27 October 2021

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence
  • The mission added that the envoys found Hamdok in good health

CAIRO: Envoys from France, Germany, Norway, the UK, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations met with Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok at his residence, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission Sudan (UNITAMS) wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

The mission added that the envoys found Hamdok in good health.


US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
Updated 27 October 2021

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
  • Iran's negotiator said after talks with EU mediators in Brussels that Tehran had agreed to resume talks
  • “This window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps”: State Department

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Iran to show “good faith” and quickly revive a nuclear deal after the clerical state indicated it would return to negotiations in Vienna next month.
Iran's nuclear negotiator said after talks with European Union mediators in Brussels that Tehran had agreed to resume talks in Vienna next month. These discussions had been on hiatus since June.
"We are prepared to return to Vienna, and we believe that it remains possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on return to mutual full compliance" with the 2015 nuclear deal, a State Department spokesperson said.
The talks should focus on "closing the small number of issues that remained outstanding at the end of the sixth round of talks in June," he said.
"As we have also been clear, this window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps, so we hope that they come to Vienna to negotiate quickly and in good faith."
President Joe Biden has repeatedly offered to return to the nuclear accord reached in 2015 but his administration has voiced growing frustration at the prolonged delay, which comes as a new hardline government gets settled in Tehran.
Then president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions, leading Iran to step up contested nuclear work in protest.