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Cabinet is scheduled to meet today at 10 a.m. despite a planned boycott from Free Patriotic Movement ministers to discuss “the most urgent and pressing issues,” caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati told L’Orient Today. The meeting’s seven-item agenda includes financing wheat imports and securing fuel for state power provider, Electricité du Liban (EDL), which was forced to shut down its two largest power plants earlier this month due to hydrocarbon shortages. In a speech yesterday evening, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah emphasized that the party’s ministers will only discuss the electricity issue and will leave if other subjects are broached. Nasrallah denied that the party’s participation constitutes a “challenge,” but FPM doubled down on its rejection of a cabinet meeting amid the presidential vacuum. Despite the electricity issues at the center of the meeting, FPM-affiliated caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayad has said he will not attend the session, opting instead to send a decree to the remainder of ministers requesting approval for fuel imports and the continuation of a barter agreement with Iraq, which powered EDL plants for months after its conclusion in July 2021. Fayad requested a $300 million credit line, some of which would be used to pay for fuel ships docked off the Lebanese coast and power plant maintenance, while the remaining funds would be used to cover future hydrocarbon imports.
Depositors' rights groups held a sit-in outside the Beirut Justice Palace yesterday, coinciding with the second day of hearings by a delegation of European judges investigating allegations of corruption and money laundering by Banque du Liban governor Riad Salameh. “We have come to make our voice heard by European judges,” said one of the roughly 100 protesters rallying behind depositors’ groups Mouttahidoun ("United") and The Depositors' Cry. Inside the palace, judges from France, Germany and Luxembourg questioned banker Marwan Kheireddine and former Banque du Liban vice governor Ahmad Jachi. The hearings are being conducted through the intermediary of two Lebanese judges, a judicial source told AFP. The Lebanese judiciary, however, did not issue warrants relating to the foreign case, rendering attendance optional. One official called for questioning on Monday missed his hearing.
The Lebanese passport ranks in 100th place out of 199 countries listed on the 2023 Henly Passport Index, tied with passports from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka and Sudan. Lebanon’s passport is one tier behind Iran on the index. The ranking considers the number of destinations passport holders can travel to without a visa, along with the country’s GDP. The Lebanese passport ranked 79th in 2006, before falling continuously from 2007 to 2012, reaching 88th slot. Lebanon ranked 107th and 103rd in 2021 and 2022, respectively. General Security yesterday was set to begin re-issuing biometric passports after a monthslong hiatus during which non-biometric travel documents were issued to citizens. Passport renewals, however, have been stalled due to the unavailability of templates amid a surge in requests, leading to long wait times. General Security head Abbas Ibrahim said earlier this month that the security agency will begin issuing passport at pre-crisis levels in February.
Vehicle resellers and car importers held a sit-in outside the Beirut port to protest increased customs tariffs, while employees from the Telecommunications Ministry and Lebanese state-owned telecoms operator Ogero staged protests across Lebanon demanding delayed salary payments. “They increased the [exchange rate used to calculate] customs tariffs to LL15,000 without adjusting [other] modalities accordingly because there is no cabinet," car importer George Zeiter told L’Orient Today during the protest near the Beirut port. Customs tariffs increased last year after a tenfold hike to the official lira-to-dollar exchange rate from the longstanding LL1,500 peg. Meanwhile, telecoms employees held strikes in Tripoli, Akkar, Saida "in protest against the Finance Ministry's withholding of their salaries for three months now, and to demand a quick solution to it."
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “‘MMFD syndrome’ — or the fragile life of Lebanon’s new political parties”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz