Demonstrators push a garbage bin along a blocked road in Hamra on Tuesday during a protest against the lira’s fall and mounting economic hardships. (Credit: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)
Panic swept Lebanon as the lira fell to another record low, trading at more than LL15,000 to the dollar before retreating. Small but widespread protests and roadblocks took place throughout the day, notably in Tripoli, the Bekaa, Saida, Sur and Beirut. In anticipation of more price increases in consumer goods, people crowded into supermarkets to stock up on essential items. A number of smaller grocery stores closed shop in order to amend their prices amid the lira’s drastic fall, while others closed in protest of the currency’s collapse. Food and non-alcoholic beverages prices had already increased by some 402 percent as of December 2020, while household items rose by 655 percent over the same period.
Lebanon will scale back food subsidies and gradually raise gasoline prices to save dwindling foreign reserves. Speaking to Bloomberg News, the outgoing finance minister said that “Lebanon can no longer continue with the same pace of subsidies,” without giving a time frame for the changes. Foreign currencies at the central bank currently stand at $16 billion, Ghazi Wazni said, of which only $1 billion to $1.5 billion can be used to fund subsidies, enough for two to three months. Wheat, medicine and fuel are still being imported at the official rate of LL1,507.5 per dollar while hundreds of other basic food and household products are imported at a rate of LL3,900.
Parliamentary committees approved a law granting a $200 million advance to Électricité du Liban to momentarily avoid a blackout. The $200 million is significantly lower than the figure set out in the urgent draft law proposed by MPs from the Free Patriotic Movement, which had called for a LL1.5 trillion ($1 billion) transfer, which would cover fuel costs for around a year instead of two months. Last week, Caretaker Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar warned that without passing the law to purchase fuel to generate electricity, the country would enter a total blackout by the end of the month. The bill was approved by the Free Patriotic Movement, Amal, Hezbollah and the Future Movement, and rejected by MPs from the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, who objected to the use of the central bank’s evaporating reserves. The legislation now goes to the full Parliament for approval.
Lebanon is one step closer to getting rid of more than 1,000 tons of hazardous chemicals found at Beirut’s port. More than a month after a German company was tasked with the cleanup, a letter of credit was opened Tuesday to settle the $2 million owed to Combi Lift after it removed 52 containers worth of toxic chemicals. The chemicals had been repackaged in new and secure containers while waiting to be shipped out. In November 2020, Lebanon signed a contract for the disposal of “hazardous combustible materials” that were discovered in the wake of the deadly Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port that killed over 200 people, injured thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.
The Military Court of Cassation dismissed the conviction of activist Kinda al-Khatib and ordered her release while she awaits a new trial. Khatib was arrested in June and charged with collaborating with Israel and entering occupied Palestine before a military court sentenced her to three years in prison in December. The court decided to release her on LL3 million bail before a second trial is organized at a later date, her lawyer told AFP. Khatib, who denies all charges, had been active on social media in the wake of 2019’s popular uprising, launching fiery criticisms against Hezbollah and the broader ruling class.