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Morning Brief

Hariri bows out, cabinet to tackle draft budget, public school teachers’ strike to continue: Everything you need to know to start your Tuesday

Here's what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Tuesday, Jan. 25

Hariri bows out, cabinet to tackle draft budget, public school teachers’ strike to continue: Everything you need to know to start your Tuesday

Supporters of Hariri block a road in Beirut with burning tires. (Credit: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

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Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri will not seek re-election in May and will bow out of politics. In a televised address yesterday, a tearful Hariri said he would step away from political life and not seek re-election, asking members of the Future Movement, his political bloc, to do the same. He blamed the demise of his political career on the deals he made with rivals over the years, adding that though this prevented civil war, it did little to make life better for Lebanese citizens. He said that it also cost him his wealth and the political backing of the Gulf. Hariri’s supporters blocked roads across Beirut in the wake of the announcement. His decision comes after he met over the weekend with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, PSP leader Walid Jumblatt, and took a meeting with his political bloc. Hariri has been absent from the political fray in Lebanon since failing to form a government last July and has been living in the UAE ever since; he returned to Beirut late last week.

Lebanon’s cabinet reconvenes this morning, after meeting yesterday for the first time in more than three months. During yesterday’s session an array of agenda items were approved, including an increased transportation allowance for private and public sector employees, transportation compensation for soldiers and security forces and “temporary assistance” to public sector workers, including retirees with pensions. Benefits for contract public school teachers were also increased. The cabinet also appointed Judge Claude Karam as head of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. However, a controversial budget proposal was left for today’s session, set to take place at the Presidential Palace in Baabda. The Free Patriotic Movement has criticized the draft budget because it gives the finance minister unilateral powers to modify income tax rates and the lira’s exchange rate. Additionally, the Amal Movement yesterday said it would not support any new taxes on middle- and low-income groups. Cabinet meetings had been stalled since Oct. 12 due to Amal and Hezbollah opposition to Judge Tarek Bitar’s ongoing investigation into the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port blast. Last week both parties said they would return to cabinet meetings due to the deteriorating situation in Lebanon.

Lebanon began negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. The meetings were supposed to start in mid-January, but were delayed due to the global COVID-19 surge and are now taking place virtually. Deputy Prime Minister Saade Chami, who is leading discussions on the Lebanese side, said the main issues being tackled include the budget, the banking sector, the exchange rate, the balance of payments, the energy sector, governance and assistance to low-income families and the government’s economic recovery plan. Once negotiations are concluded and the Lebanese government greenlights the deal, a preliminary agreement will be signed with the IMF.

Public school teachers will continue their strike despite the education minister's promises of increased benefits. In a statement released yesterday, the Public Primary Schools Teachers League said they would not return to schools, arguing that the cabinet had not tackled many of their demands. Education Minister Abbas Halabi had earlier in the day told teachers to return to work, saying the ministry’s “promises had been fulfilled.” Last October, the Education Ministry outlined a new benefits package for full-time teachers, including a raise equivalent to half their current salary and an additional $90 a month paid out at the parallel market exchange rate. Despite the government having approved increases to their benefits during yesterday’s cabinet session, the Committee of Contracting Professors said their demands were also not met. The committee said they deserve “payment of the remaining 35 percent of the contract value for the past academic year.” The ongoing economic crisis has taken a toll on Lebanon’s education sector. Earlier yesterday, students from the Beirut Arab University held a sit-in to protest tuition hikes.

In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday:Meet two men who are forced to rummage in the garbage to survive


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri will not seek re-election in May and will bow out of politics. In a televised address yesterday, a tearful Hariri said he would step away from political life and not seek re-election, asking members of the Future Movement, his political bloc, to do the same. He blamed the demise of his political...