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Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati late yesterday evening scheduled a cabinet meeting for noon today to discuss daylight saving time after widespread backlash over last week’s government decision to postpone the adoption of summer time. Meanwhile, confusion over the time change reigns across Lebanon. L’Orient Today, for technical reasons and to keep our readers informed as seamlessly as possible, switched to daylight saving time this weekend as previously scheduled, joining several media outlets, private institutions and religious leaders — including television channels MTV and LBCI, private school Collège Notre-Dame de Jamhour as well as the Maronite Patriarchate. Caretaker Education Minister Abbas Halabi yesterday announced that the country’s schools would adopt summer time as previously scheduled, then backtracked later in the day and said schools could choose which time to operate on. Meanwhile, caretaker Justice Minister Henri Khoury dubbed Mikati’s postponement of the time change “illegal.” The delayed adoption of summer time also caused confusion at the Beirut international airport where digital clocks displayed conflicting times. Critics have read confessional motives into the postponement of the daylight saving time shift, which impacts the time at which Muslims break their fast during Ramadan. Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran Bassil, in a Friday statement criticizing the delayed clock winding, said “the story is not sectarian — the story is arrogance and ignorance.” Progressive Socialist Party head Walid Joumblatt and Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea also criticized the decision. Social media users jeered at the government’s decision — “Mikati is thinking of canceling Mondays," tweeted comedian Naim Halawi; “The IMF: Time is running out. Berri & Mikati: we'll change the time.” read another tweet. Others, meanwhile, have given the issue a sectarian flare: "My Christian colleagues tell me 'We are worthless in this country now. You decide not to change the time and we have to comply,’" said a lawyer on Twitter.
Protesters on Friday burned tires outside Banque du Liban (BDL) headquarters in Beirut, decrying restrictions on foreign currency bank deposits, while others attempted to enter a bank chairperson’s home. “[BDL head] Riad Salameh is a thief,” chanted some of the Depositors’ Cry members gathered outside the central bank headquarters, before moving their protest towards other banks in the area. The protesters demanded the full recovery of their deposits, which since the onset of the financial crisis in 2019 have been subject to informal capital controls imposed by commercial banks. The same day, a couple attempted to enter the home of Lebanese Bank for Commerce (BLC Bank) chairperson Nadim al-Qassar to demand access to their frozen funds, depositors’ rights collective Moutahidoun ("United" in English) lawyer Rami Ollaik told L'Orient Today — after the group earlier this month called on “all angry depositors to direct their anger towards bank owners in their residences.” The Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) last week suspended an open-ended strike after BDL increased its Sayrafa exchange rate — at which depositors can purchase dollars — in an attempt to quell lira losses on the parallel market as the local currency rapidly plumbed new low after new low. Meanwhile, ABL has repeatedly shifted blame for banking restrictions towards BDL, notably telling depositors that their funds are no longer in the banks in a statement decrying a spree of vandalism against banks last month.
Prison food suppliers on Friday threatened to stop “food deliveries to prisons in a week from today,” citing unpaid bills and outdated prices. “We have requested several times since January 2023 the change of food prices for prisoners in Roumieh, Baabda women's prison, Tripoli and Zahle prisons, and have had no response,” the prison food suppliers said, also criticizing “great losses” from unpaid bills. Seven months’ worth of unpaid invoices prompted the same prisons’ caterers to issue a similar threat last August. Lebanese prisons are experiencing unprecedented overcrowding, parliamentary human rights committee head MP Michel Moussa told L’Orient Today. Meanwhile, their inmates lead, according to prison expert Omar Nachabe, an “idle life of deprivation.” Prisoners’ relatives have repeatedly denounced atrocious health conditions, including outbreaks of skin diseases unacknowledged by security forces. Lebanon’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture issued a damning report on Lebanese prisons last May, criticizing poor health conditions including a lack of adequate medical care and “inedible” food. In November 2021, a video circulated on social media networks showing Roumieh prison inmates self-mutilating to demand improvements to their conditions.
Overworked electrical generators have sent five telephone stations offline across Lebanon, state telecom provider Ogero announced Saturday. “Outages occurred in the exchanges of Antelias [north of Beirut], Damour, Amroussiye [Chouf, south of Beirut], Chekka [North Lebanon] and Ras al-Nabaa [Beirut],” Ogero said, noting an interruption of services in the areas mentioned and their surroundings. Ogero employees announced the start of an open-ended strike last week to demand improved compensation, while noting that they would continue to undertake repairs as required. During a similar strike by Ogero employees last year, Lebanon experienced a multitude of telecom outages. The government session previously scheduled for today planned to address the repercussions of the economic crisis on employees.
“Get ready to take to the streets,” said Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran Bassil to his supporters on Sunday, concluding his speech at the party’s eighth national congress. “There is no parliamentary majority for one side in Lebanon … we are compelled to hold a dialogue,” Bassil said, urging a collective solution to implement reforms. Bassil claimed to be a natural candidate for the presidency as “the head of the parliamentary group,” but said he did not run for office to avoid being at the root of the presidential vacuum — which has persisted since Nov. 1 despite 11 attempts by Parliament to name a new head of state. “When I asked [Hezbollah] if they could gather 65 votes for Sleiman Frangieh without us, they were offended,” Bassil continued, reiterating his refusal to support Hezbollah’s preferred candidate and accusing the party of prioritizing its own self-preservation over the interests of the state. The disagreement over Frangieh’s potential presidency entrenches a rift between Hezbollah and the FPM, which saw the former’s refusal to also boycott cabinet sessions amid the presidential vacuum as a betrayal. Bassi in his speech also lashed out at caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and central bank governor Riad Salameh.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from over the weekend: “IMF won’t give in when it comes to losses”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz
CLARIFICATION: Today's Morning Brief has been updated to reflect that Prime Minister Najib Mikati late Sunday evening scheduled a cabinet session for 12 p.m. today to discuss his decision to postpone daylight saving time.
Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati late yesterday evening scheduled a cabinet meeting for noon today to discuss daylight saving time after widespread backlash over last week’s government decision to postpone the adoption of summer time. Meanwhile, confusion over the time change reigns across Lebanon. L’Orient Today, for...