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The lira made dramatic gains on the dollar over the weekend, having plummeted to an all-time low of 37,700 on the parallel market on Friday. The unexpected turnaround in the national currency’s fortunes came hot on the heels of a late Friday afternoon announcement from the central bank, affirming that all those wishing to change lira to dollars could do so at commercial banks in accordance with Circular 161. Circular 161, which BDL in mid May extended through July, allows commercial banks to sell unlimited dollars at the central bank’s Sayrafa platform rate. The circular was released in December of 2021. It had initially stabilized the currency market from mid-January through February this year until the difference between the rate on the parallel market and the bank’s platform started to diverge as commercial banks limited selling US dollars at the Sayrafa rate by lowering their clients’ daily quotas. Between the May 15 parliamentary elections and Friday, the lira lost almost 30 percent of its value against the US dollar. BDL has instructed all commercial banks to keep their branches open until 6 p.m. today, tomorrow and Wednesday. It has also instructed them to pay public sector employees their salaries in US dollars at the Sayrafa rate. As of Friday, the Sayarafa rate averaged LL24,600 to the US dollar. Meanwhile, as the lira appreciated to around LL27,000 to the dollar on Saturday, the Energy Ministry significantly revised downward the prices of diesel and household gas, but left gasoline prices unchanged, while the caretaker economy minister urged supermarkets and foodstuff traders to adjust their prices in line with the lira’s gains. It remains to be seen if BDL’s instructions to banks will be adhered to and again stabilize the exchange rate for a chunk of time.
Today is the start of a week-long strike by judicial assistants. The announcement was made on Saturday after a group of judges made a similar announcement last week. Their demands include improving their working conditions in courthouses across the country. The workers called out the “indifference” shown to their needs previously and their lack of health care coverage. They added that starting today, they “will no longer go to all courthouses,” except for two officials who will be present to accept urgent requests. They also voiced “solidarity” with the call for a judges’ strike. Court officers and judges have recently observed several strikes to demand improvements in their working conditions. They have also criticized the condition of many courthouses, some of which lack water and electricity and are not well maintained.
Opposition candidates faced defeat in both the Tripoli and Beirut Order of Physicians’ elections yesterday. In Tripoli, Wassim Darwiche lost to Mohamad Safi who was supported by both the Future Movement and the Azm Movement. In Beirut, opposition candidate George Haber lost to Joseph Bakhache, who was supported by the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah and Amal. The results of the second round of voting in the Beirut order were not immediately clear Sunday evening, with multiple media outlets reporting “objections and problems” erupting “due to the lack of organization” of the ballot.
On Tuesday, Parliament will meet to elect a new speaker, deputy speaker and commissioners. The session was initially scheduled for the first Sunday after the May 15 elections but was postponed. The session will be chaired by the oldest member of parliament, coincidently the outgoing speaker himself, Nabih Berri, who is expected to win reelection with a comfortable majority despite the Lebanese Forces saying its MPs will not vote for him. Although the FPM has not taken a clear position on the matter, there is broad expectation that Berri, who has been in the job since 1992, will garner the party’s votes. A meeting over the weekend between Berri and Elias Bou Saab, the FPM’s candidate for deputy speaker, was widely interpreted as a subtle endorsement of the Amal leader’s reelection in exchange for Bou Saab’s election as deputy speaker. Local media cite sources as denying any such horse trading and saying that there is no deal with Berri. Aside from the speaker and deputy speaker, MPs at the session are also expected to elect two secretaries and three commissioners for the Parliament's bureau. Though not required by law, the deputy speaker post traditionally goes to a Greek Orthodox MP. The two secretaries and three commissioners are also distributed along sectarian lines, with the secretary positions reserved for one Maronite and one Druze, and the commissioners divided up as follows: one Armenian, one Greek Catholic and one Sunni.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from over the weekend: “The week that Nabih Berri’s throne shook”