Eid in Lebanon: Return of expatriates and arrival of tourists revitalize sluggish markets

BEIRUT: Lebanese expatriates and tourists from Arab nations planning to spend the Eid Al-Adha holiday, or longer summer breaks, in Lebanon continued to arrive at Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut on Wednesday.

The number of arrivals peaked at “16,000 in a single day,” according to a security source at the airport. The influx of travelers resulted in heavy traffic on roads, and busy scenes in restaurants, cafes, recreational areas and nightlife venues, providing a boost to the country’s sluggish economy and injecting much-needed US dollars into local markets.

People celebrated the first day of Eid across Lebanon on Wednesday despite the ongoing political disputes in the country which, among other things, have prolonged a presidential crisis that will enter its ninth month in two days. The office has remained vacant since the end of October, when President Michel Aoun’s term ended, as politicians have repeatedly failed to agree on a successor.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian were absent from Eid prayers at Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque in Beirut as they are performing Hajj.

During a message sent from Makkah, Derian extended Eid greetings to the people of Lebanon and urged “the concerned political parties responsible for electing a president to cooperate and promote the spirit of tolerance, love and unity, while rejecting division.”

He stressed that “a homeland cannot exist without electing a president who can be entrusted with its interests” and warned that “the ongoing presidential vacuum is a violation of all the concepts stipulated by the Taif Agreement,” the 1989 accord that formed the basis for ending Lebanon’s civil war.

“Have mercy on Lebanon and the Lebanese people, agree on the election and adhere to the constitution and the Taif Agreement,” Derian added.

“We will stand as a barrier against any attempt to circumvent the Taif provisions because what unites us as Lebanese is our national unity, coexistence and respect for the constitution.”

He thanked Saudi Arabia and other friendly countries “for their assistance in preserving Lebanon’s stability, safety and unity in these difficult circumstances.”

During his Eid sermon, Sheikh Amin Al-Kurdi, Lebanon’s Dar Al-Fatwa secretary, appointed by Derian, questioned the reasons for persistently “undermining the dignity of the Lebanese people and depriving them of their rights, as well as the failure of officials to bear the responsibility of fulfilling our country’s national obligations.”

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s presidential envoy, is expected to return to Lebanon next month to continue talks aimed at ending the political crisis. After discussions with Lebanese officials during a visit this month he confirmed his commitment to efforts to “facilitate constructive and inclusive dialogue among the Lebanese people in order to reach a consensus-based and effective solution, overcoming the institutional void and implementing the necessary reforms for Lebanon’s sustainable recovery, in consultation with Lebanon’s key partner countries.”

Meanwhile, Alvarez and Marsal, the company tasked with conducting a forensic audit of Lebanon’s central bank accounts, has submitted its first report to Youssef Khalil, the caretaker finance minister. His ministry said on Tuesday it had received a “draft of the first report, still in a non-final format, and it belongs to the government, not the Ministry of Finance.”

MPs from the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanese Forces and Kataeb parties accuse Khalil of withholding the report from the public.

There have been unconfirmed reports that the document mentions economic, financial and political figures that have been named in the ongoing investigation into allegations of misconduct and other violations relating to the activities of the central bank. However, the Ministry of Finance denied these claims.

The head of the parliamentary Finance and Budget Committee, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, sent a letter to the finance minister requesting a copy of the report.

FPM MP Salim Aoun said: “They are trying to conceal the preliminary report. A government that is too comfortable without a president is trampling on the constitution and the law.”

The leader of the Kataeb Party, MP Samy Gemayel, called on Khalil to “disclose the contents of the report so that we can carry out our legislative, oversight and accountability duties regarding financial and monetary policies, based on accurate and specific figures and data.”

Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan said: “Why was (the report) not sent to the government and the parliament for appropriate action?”

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