Escalating cost-of-living crisis hits Lebanese hard just days after parliamentary elections

Special Escalating cost-of-living crisis hits Lebanese hard just days after parliamentary elections
A woman leaves a bakery with a bag of bread as people wait for their turn, in the neighborhood of Nabaa in the Lebanese capital Beirut's southern suburbs. (AFP/File)
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Updated 19 May 2022

Escalating cost-of-living crisis hits Lebanese hard just days after parliamentary elections

Escalating cost-of-living crisis hits Lebanese hard just days after parliamentary elections
  • As the financial noose continues to tighten for citizens, the country’s elected MPs remain preoccupied with power games

BEIRUT: The cost-of-living crisis in Lebanon has escalated, less than 48 hours after the results of parliamentary elections held on May 15 were announced. The value of the local currency has fallen to 30,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar for the first time in the five months since the Central Bank intervened to regulate the market.

Some shops were forced close to avoid losing money while goods were repriced to reflect the shifting black market exchange rate. Queues for gas returned, even though the price of a 20-liter canister is almost equivalent to the minimum wage.

People are also once again queuing for bread, with some stores selling a bread bundle for 30,000 Lebanese pounds on the black market as bakeries run out of flour.

Doctors and health workers have again warned of medicine shortages amid a lack of subsidies, with cancer medication particularly badly affected.

Meanwhile, power company Electricite du Liban announced further rationing “to avoid falling into total darkness,” pending the arrival of a shipment of fuel on Friday. It blamed the decision on “the rapid consumption of fuel stocks during the days leading up to and following the parliamentary elections.”

It emerged that the main reason for the failure to deliver fuel was a delay by the Central Bank in providing dollar credit amid the likelihood that subsidies on fuel, and possibly wheat, could be lifted. As a result, importers stopped delivering fuel pending the transfer of dollars at the Central Bank’s Sayrafa exchange rate of 23,700 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

The crisis affected domestic gas-distribution companies, which waited for the Ministry of Energy’s new price list on Thursday and then began selling gas cylinders for 400,000 Lebanese pounds each.

The Ministry of Economy has set the price of a large bundle of bread at 16,000 Lebanese pounds — though, as noted, some stores are charging much more — justifying the decision by highlighting “the significant rise in fuel prices, which directly affects the cost of flour production, bread production and transportation, in addition to the rise in the wheat prices worldwide amid the Ukrainian crisis.”

Some predict that Lebanon will be hit by a wheat crisis in the coming weeks amid the lack of funds.

In response to the various crises, public transport drivers took to the streets and blocked roads leading to the ministries of interior and transport with waste containers in protest against the high price of gasoline and the worsening dollar exchange rate.

Hussein Wehbi Mogharbel, head of the Federation of Employees and Workers Union in Nabatiyeh Governorate in southern Lebanon, criticized authorities for their failure to listen to the cries of the poor.

“They manipulate the exchange rate and no one dares to stop them,” he said. “Employees cannot attend their workplaces because their salaries are equal to two gasoline canisters.”

Citizens’ concerns “are increasing and the officials are idly watching,” Mogharbel added.

As the financial noose continues tighten for citizens, elected MPs remain preoccupied by their political power games. Each faction is convening to discuss the election of a new parliamentary speaker, deputy speaker, cabinet and heads of committees.

The term of the current parliament ends on May 21 and the mandate of the newly elected authority is due to begin the following day. The current government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government will transition to caretaker mode as of May 22.

Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces party, which is the largest Christian bloc in parliament following the election, said on Thursday: “The result of the elections was resounding, with Hezbollah and its ally the Free Patriotic Movement losing their parliament majority.”

He said that the current speaker of the parliament, Nabih Berri, who leads the Amal Movement, “does not meet the requirements we seek in the new speaker.”

Geagea added: “This position requires a serious candidate who pledges to implement the parliament’s bylaws literally and adopts electronic voting; someone who would not paralyze parliament and would work on giving the strategic decision back to the government. This is why we will not vote for Berri.”

Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, admitted on Wednesday evening that “no party has a majority in parliament.”

He added: “The many economic and living crises in the country cannot be handled by one team, even if it obtains the majority. When no one has the majority, everyone is responsible and no one is allowed to abandon their responsibilities.

“The current composition of the parliament may delay electing a speaker and designating a prime minister to form the government.”


Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council

Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council
Updated 04 July 2022

Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council

Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed to London to inaugurate the first partnership council between his country and the UK.

The council will be co-chaired by Shoukry and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. It will include political consultations and discussions on economic and trade issues, with the participation of British Trade Policy Minister Penny Mordaunt.

A spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the launch of the council comes in light of strengthening cooperation between the two countries in various fields.

While in London, Shoukry met with Lord Tariq Ahmad, British minister for South Asia, North Africa, the UN and the Commonwealth, to discuss bilateral relations.


Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan

Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan
Updated 04 July 2022

Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan

Woman stabbed by husband in front of court in Jordan
  • The woman, who was rushed to the hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit, was listed in fair condition.

AMMAN: A woman was stabbed by her husband in a public street in Karak in front of the Karak Sharia Court on Monday, according to a Jordanian security source.

The unidentified man pulled out a knife and stabbed his wife in the back, chest and right hand, according to a source at Al Karak Public Hospital.

She was rushed to the hospital shortly after and admitted to the intensive care unit. She was described as in fair condition.

The attacker has since been apprehended, and police are currently investigating the incident.

According to eyewitnesses, family disputes between the couple led them to review the case at Sharia court before the situation escalated and the husband attacked the victim.

Following the death of 18-year-old Iman Ersheid, who was shot dead on campus, public outrage in Jordan has fueled calls for the death penalty to be enforced in such cases.

Last week, the High Criminal Court in Jordan sentenced a 50-year-old to death for stabbing his ex-wife before the Northern "Rusaifa" Sharia Court in a similar incident.


US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling
Updated 05 July 2022

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling
  • Navy targets weapons and drugs in Arabian Gulf and Red Sea

JEDDAH: The US Navy is offering cash rewards of up to $100,000 for information leading to the interception of smuggled weapons and narcotics in the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea.

The initiative by the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet does not directly name Iran but analysts said it was clearly aimed at curbing the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthi militia in Yemen and restricting the lucrative regional drugs trade operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Any destabilizing activity has our attention,” 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins said. “Definitely we have seen in the last year skyrocketing success in seizing both illegal narcotics and illicit weapons. This represents another step in our effort to enhance regional maritime security.”
Operators fluent in Arabic, English and Farsi will staff a phone hotline, and the Navy will also take tips online in Dari and Pashto. Payouts can be as high as $100,000 or the equivalent in vehicles, boats or food for tips that include information on planned attacks targeting Americans.
Asked whether new seizures could increase tensions with Iran, Hawkins listed the weapons and drugs the Navy hoped to intercept under the program. “That’s what we’re after,” he said. “That’s not in the interest of regional stability and security.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

The fleet and its allies seized $500 million in drugs alone in 2021, more than the four previous years combined, and intercepted the shipment of 9,000 weapons, three times the number in 2020.
Despite a UN Security Council arms embargo on Yemen, Tehran has long been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. UN experts have examined missiles aimed at civilian targets and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and traced the components back to Iran.
The rewards program is the latest initiative under 5th Fleet Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who also launched a drone task force last year amid rising tension with Iran. The US Navy and Revolutionary Guard naval forces have had several encounters in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Houthis said last week they were monitoring increased US activity in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.“Because of this, defense and confrontation options are open,” a spokesman said.


Gaza’s economic crisis puts a damper on Eid celebrations

Gaza’s economic crisis puts a damper on Eid celebrations
Updated 04 July 2022

Gaza’s economic crisis puts a damper on Eid celebrations

Gaza’s economic crisis puts a damper on Eid celebrations
  • Commercial activity is unlikely to show much improvement during the Eid Al-Adha season as people further tighten their spending

GAZA CITY: Samira Shamali will not buy Eid clothes for her four children because of worsening economic conditions in Gaza, with businesses struggling to stay afloat, rising poverty and unemployment, and skyrocketing prices.

Commercial activity is unlikely to show much improvement during the Eid Al-Adha season as people further tighten their spending, say analysts.

“There are more (important) priorities than new clothes for Eid,” said Shamali. “I will only buy basic necessities so that we can celebrate Eid and receive guests. Prices are all on the rise, and our income is limited.”

The 47-year-old mother’s oldest child is 16 and the youngest seven.

In contrast, Mahmoud Al-Talouli, 33, has decided he will buy clothes for his children. He was out shopping with his wife and two daughters on Omar Al-Mukhtar Street in the Rimal area in search of suitable clothing.

“My two daughters are young, and they don’t know if the economic conditions are tough or good, so I can’t (have) Eid pass without buying them clothes,” said Al-Talouli, who is a carpenter and works for daily wages.

“The economic conditions are difficult, but the children should rejoice. Aren’t the difficult conditions and wars they witness sufficient (unhappiness) for them? At least (they should have a) celebration during the Eid period.”

The Gaza Strip has unemployment of over 45 percent due to the Israeli blockade.

About 80 percent of its population depends on food aid provided by UNRWA and international institutions, according to official UN reports.

Although Israel allowed about 12,000 workers from the Gaza Strip to work in the country after the last war in May last year, they were not better-paying jobs.

Hamed Jad, an economist and director of Al-Ayyam newspaper’s office in the Gaza Strip, believes that these workers are paying off old debt, and because of the uncertain job situation, are forced to save what little money is left over.

“The number of workers is limited, and the Gaza Strip has been (having these) harsh economic conditions for many years. Those who have money are afraid of the future. The political and security conditions are unstable,” Jad told Arab News.

The economy of the Gaza Strip depends mainly on the salaries of those working for the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government in Gaza.

About 50,000 workers and retirees in the Gaza Strip receive salaries and pensions from the Palestinian Authority, while about 40,000 are employed by the Hamas government in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority has not yet paid the salaries of its employees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because of the economic crisis. Payments are likely to be made on Wednesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh announced on Monday.

Basem Skaik, a women’s clothing merchant, stood in front of the door of his shop, complaining about the lack of customers during the Eid season.

“The economy in Gaza has been suffering for years, (there is) security instability, high prices for most commodities, and instability in the exchange rate of the dollar, which increases prices for the consumer, reasons that may limit (people’s) purchasing (power),” Skaik told Arab News.

“We are merchants, but at the same time we live in Gaza and we also have needs. Many merchants and shop owners closed the doors of their stores, and some of them were imprisoned because they were unable to pay their debts,” he added.


Weathering sandstorms, Iraqis grit teeth and battle on

Weathering sandstorms, Iraqis grit teeth and battle on
Updated 04 July 2022

Weathering sandstorms, Iraqis grit teeth and battle on

Weathering sandstorms, Iraqis grit teeth and battle on

BAGHDAD: Another sandstorm has darkened Iraqi skies and it’s hard to breathe, but Baghdad motorcycle delivery rider Milad Mitti doesn’t have the luxury of missing a day’s work.

Like most people in the now blistering hot desert country, the 30-year-old battles on in frustration, wearing goggles and a grey neck warmer over his mouth and nose “so I can breathe.”

Iraq, still recovering from decades of war, is now facing new environment challenges on an unprecedented scale: Since mid-April it has weathered a dozen dust storms that have often shrouded it in an otherworldly orange glow.

Thousands have been rushed to hospitals so far, and on Sunday, as has happened many times in recent weeks, airports were again forced to delay flights for hours due to the poor visibility.

Most Iraqis never bothered with face masks when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, but they do now.

“This is probably the first year that Iraq has had so many sandstorms,” said Mitti in a busy square in the center of the sprawling capital, which was baking in 40 degrees Celsius (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) heat.

“It is very difficult to see,” he said. “It’s suffocating. It’s hot. You have to drink juice and liquids to protect yourself.”

A married man, he said he relies on the job which pays him about $600 a month.

“I have a family,” he said. “I have responsibilities.”

On the deserted terrace of a cafe in the capital, the black faux-leather chairs were once more covered with a film of dust.

A waiter, with a brown apron tied around his waist, wiped them with a wet cloth, then hosed down the floor with water.

In May, the sandstorms sent at least 10,000 people to hospitals with respiratory problems, claiming at least one life.

Many patients were elderly or suffering from asthma, other respiratory ailments or heart disease, the most at-risk groups.

After Sunday’s dust storm, more than 500 people were rushed to hospitals across the country for respiratory problems, Health Ministry spokesman Seif Al-Badr said Monday.

At his Baghdad hospital, doctor Seif Ali Abdel-Hamza saw four patients on Sunday, as this time the sandstorm in the capital lasted just hours, not days.

“The more intense the storms get — the more storm days you have, as it has been the case in recent weeks — the more cases of choking there will be,” said the chief resident at Al-Kindy Hospital.

“The majority of patients suffer from chronic diseases, such as asthma or allergic bronchitis; the majority are elderly.”