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Lebanon’s cabinet is meeting this morning for the first time in more than three months, with the 2022 draft budget topping its agenda. The last cabinet meeting to take place was on Oct. 12, before it was stalled owing to Hezbollah and the Amal Movement’s opposition to Judge Tarek Bitar’s investigation into the Beirut port blast, which the parties claim Bitar has “politicized.” However, last week the Shiite duo said they would return to cabinet meetings due to the deteriorating situation in Lebanon. On the agenda is the 2022 draft budget, which was released to the public on Thursday. It forecasts a deficit of LL10.26 trillion excluding a treasury advance of LL5.25 trillion to Electricité du Liban and uses several different exchange rates, ranging between LL15,000 to LL20,000 to the US dollar. The draft has received some backlash. On Saturday, the Free Patriotic Movement criticized the budget proposal on the grounds that it gives the finance minister powers to modify income tax and the exchange rate and that it does not “reflect a vision of economic recovery.” Lebanon will also hold a meeting with an International Monetary Fund delegation on Monday. A budget is a prerequisite for any IMF rescue package.
Kuwait’s foreign minister presented Lebanon with suggestions for rebuilding trust with the Gulf. During a two-day official visit, Sheikh Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad Al-Sabah met with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and Speaker Nabih Berri. According to Reuters, the proposals focused on implementation of UN Security Council resolutions and holding elections on time, as well as a commitment to the 1989 Taif Agreement and tightening controls on exports to the Gulf to prevent drug smuggling. This was the first such visit by a high ranking Gulf official following French President Emmanuel Macron’s attempts to heal the rift between the Gulf and Lebanon. Relations broke down last October following the broadcast of comments made by then-Information Minister George Kurdahi that were critical of Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen. Kurdahi resigned in early December, but diplomatic ties between Beirut and Riyadh have yet to be restored and a Saudi import ban on goods from Lebanon remains in place.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is expected to announce today whether or not he will run for the upcoming parliamentary elections. A televised address by the Future Movement leader is scheduled for 4 p.m. Yesterday, supporters of Hariri gathered in front of his home in Downtown Beirut demanding he run again. Hariri briefly spoke to the crowd, but did not give any indication of his stance. He did, however, meet over the weekend with Progressice Socialist Party head Walid Joumblatt and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and on Friday the former premier presided over a meeting of his parliamentary bloc. Hariri returned to Lebanon on Thursday from the United Arab Emirates, where he has lived since failing to form a government in July.
Dozens of demonstrators gathered yesterday in front of the Association of Banks of Lebanon headquarters before marching to the headquarters of the central bank. The protesters were decrying the economic situation as well as the informal capital controls enforced by commercial banks on depositors over the past two years, as well as taxes proposed in the new draft budget. The protest came days after a man held bank employees hostage in a bank branch in the Bekaa on Wednesday because the bank refused to pay his savings in dollars. It also comes after a sit-in 12 days ago at BDL after the lira surpassed LL30,000 to the US dollar on the parallel market. The lira has since appreciated to just over LL23,000. The national currency’s gains are largely attributed to the central bank pumping large quantities of dollars into the currency market.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from over the weekend: “Bring in the accused — sexual harassment claims follow Marwan Habib to Florida”
Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Lebanon’s cabinet is meeting this morning for the first time in more than three months, with the 2022 draft budget topping its agenda. The last cabinet meeting to take place was on Oct. 12, before it was stalled owing to Hezbollah and the Amal Movement’s opposition to Judge Tarek Bitar’s investigation into the Beirut port blast,...