Women marched in Beirut over the weekend to mark Mother’s Day, mourn those killed in the Beirut port explosion and protest the ruling class. (Credit: João Sousa/L’Orient Today)
Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri are set to meet again today for renewed talks on cabinet formation. The president and premier-designate held their first face-to-face meeting in over two months in Baabda on Thursday, following repeated exchanges of scathing press releases in which each accused the other of holding up the formation process. Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt was the latest politician to wade into the negotiations, visiting Aoun on Saturday and calling for a “compromise” between the two parties. It has now been over seven months since Lebanon had a fully empowered government and, as of today, exactly five months since Hariri was designated to form a cabinet.
Restaurants, gyms, day cares, games halls and Casino du Liban can open their doors again today as Lebanon enters the final phase of its COVID-19 deconfinement plan. The businesses, which have been closed for more than two months, will have to abide by strict sanitary measures, such as limits on capacity, reduced opening hours and regular PCR testing, and customers will have to seek prior permission via the Impact platform. Schools, however, will not be welcoming students back, as the conditions set out by the caretaker education minister for a safe return to classrooms — including vaccinations for teachers and testing provisions — have not been met. More than 1 million children have missed out on proper education for over a year due to disruption from COVID-19 lockdowns and difficulties accessing online lessons.
The Health Ministry has made a deal with Pfizer for an additional 750,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in May and June, the caretaker health minister announced. The new agreement brings the total number of doses to be delivered from Pfizer by June to 901,000, Hamad Hassan said, and will allow the inoculation of the most vulnerable populations. The national vaccination campaign has rolled out slowly, with only 135,409 doses issued so far, in part due to the limited quantity of vaccines currently available. Meanwhile, the municipality of Qobeiyat invited residents to register to receive doses of the Sinopharm vaccine obtained by Premier-designate and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, raising concerns of vaccines being used as a political tool.
A series of protest marches were held over the weekend to call for a new government and denounce the ruling class. On Friday, hundreds of protesters marched through downtown Beirut calling for a transitional government and decrying the horse-trading that has delayed the formation of the new cabinet. Saturday and Sunday also saw a number of marches across the country against deteriorating living conditions, including women’s marches in Beirut and Jiyyeh to mark Mother’s Day and mourn those who were killed in the Beirut port explosion.
The president’s office said the central bank would launch its own currency exchange platform this week to record all transactions in an attempt to get a handle on the deterioration of the lira. The announcement of the platform, which is supposed to monitor transactions at commercial banks and licensed exchange shops, came following a meeting at the Presidential Palace between central bank Gov. Riad Salameh and the president’s finance advisor, Charbel Cordahi. According to the president’s office, Banque du Liban will intervene in the market using its hard currency reserves to absorb liquidity whenever needed to reduce pressure on the lira’s value. While the platform aims to become the reference point for all currency exchange operations, it is not yet clear at which rate it will set transactions.
The family of slain archivist and Hezbollah critic Lokman Slim launched a foundation in his name to continue his work and shed light on political assassinations in Lebanon. Slim, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, was found shot dead in his car in south Lebanon on Feb. 4 after visiting a friend in the area. His widow, Monika Borgmann, announced the creation of the Lokman Slim Foundation during a ceremony in the Slim family home in Haret Hreik on Sunday that marked 40 days since his death, saying it would “continue his thoughts and ideas, publish his writings and fight impunity for all political assassinations.” No arrests have been made in Slim’s murder case.