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Independence day, Salameh talks exchange rate, LGBTQ+ event banned: Everything you need to know to start your Wednesday

Here’s what happened yesterday what to expect today, Wednesday, Nov. 23

Independence day, Salameh talks exchange rate, LGBTQ+ event banned: Everything you need to know to start your Wednesday

Protesters demonstrate their opposition to a proposed capital control law. (Credit: Hussam Shbaro)

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Lebanon did not hold its usual military parade to mark its 79th Independence Day yesterday due to the ongoing presidential vacuum, which began when Michel Aoun’s term ended on Oct. 31 and is now in its fourth week. Various local and international political figures called for an end to the executive vacuum. A seventh Parliament session to elect Aoun’s successor is scheduled for Thursday, while no consensus on the next president appears to have been reached yet among MPs. Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea — whose party along with its allies has repeatedly voted for Zgharta MP Michel Moawad — on Monday played down Hezbollah’s influence on the outcome of the presidential election, having previously accused the party of picking the prior president by boycotting election sessions. Hezbollah, along with the Free Patriotic Movement and their allies, cast blank votes during last week’s session, as they have done at each parliamentary session dedicated to the election of Aoun’s successor. US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf re-emphasized the importance of electing a president, noting that the executive vacuum impedes the delivery of US aid.

Banque du Liban circulars regulating bank withdrawals will adopt the new official exchange rate of LL15,000 to the dollar as of February 2023, central bank chief Riad Salameh said Monday. BDL circulars enabling citizens to withdraw from their accounts at various exchange rates — none of which is anywhere near the parallel market exchange rate — still offered a higher rate than the old official rate of LL1,507.5. Salameh added that there are plans for the same period to only have two exchange rates in force: the upcoming official rate of LL15,000 and the rate set by the BDL exchange platform Sayrafa, which as of yesterday was around LL30,000, almost LL10,000 lower than the parallel market rate. The governor capitalized on his first media appearance in months to reaffirm the status of BDL’s foreign exchange reserves, offer a positive forecast for economic growth and boast about his achievements in mitigating the crisis while shifting the blame for it.

A man forcibly retrieved part of his mother’s savings from Al Baraka Bank in Hamra on Monday. Depositors’ rights groups Cry of the Depositors announced that after an unarmed holdup, the woman and the bank reached an agreement granting her around a tenth of her savings. Most banks are employing heightened security measures after a spree of holdups by depositors attempting to retrieve their own funds, which have been practically stuck in banks due to informal restrictions since 2019. Meanwhile, protesters on Monday opposed Parliament’s attempt to formalize banking restrictions in the current version of capital control draft law. Depositors’ group Moutahidoun (United) founder lawyer Rami Ollaik criticized the draft law for limiting depositors’ right to sue banks for withholding funds, adding that the law should instate measures for retrieving funds transferred abroad, especially by “government employees.”

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi banned an LGBTQ+ event scheduled for today and tomorrow, bypassing a State Shura Council decision. Mawlawi in June instated a ban on public LGBTQ+ events, prompting outrage from queer rights organizations and advocates whose appeal to the State Shura Council led to a temporary suspension of the decision. Last week, Mawlawi nonetheless instructed security forces to prevent another LGBTQ+ event. The original ban relied on appeals to “habits and traditions,” while Mawlawi’s recent decision cites a risk of “security incidents” on account of groups allegedly intending to disrupt the scheduled events. "This way of targeting LGBTQ+ people is very harsh and goes beyond the legal framework,” a member of Helem, an NGO dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights, told L'Orient Today.

Negotiations to broadcast the 2022 FIFA World Cup on public channel Télé Liban failed on Monday due to difficulties in settling payments. Caretaker Information Minister Ziad Makari told L’Orient Today his “part of the job is finished,” passing the ball to the government, which, due to its caretaker status, is unable to approve the payment to secure broadcasting rights. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in a statement on Monday noted “obstacles” in the search for other ways to pay. Caretaker Tourism Minister Walid Nassar announced on Saturday that establishments broadcasting World Cup matches must declare any entrance fees, which each establishment must fix throughout the tournament.

In case you missed it, here's our must-read story from yesterday: “When did Lebanon become a land of executive vacancies?”

Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Lebanon did not hold its usual military parade to mark its 79th Independence Day yesterday due to the ongoing presidential vacuum, which began when Michel Aoun’s term ended on Oct. 31 and is now in its fourth week. Various local and international political figures called for an end to the executive vacuum. A seventh Parliament...