The minimum wage in Lebanon was increased three years ago from 500,000 ($330) to 675,000 ($450), yet a lot of people here still think it’s not enough and that it should be drastically increased. There’s no doubt that you can barely live with $450 in Lebanon given how expensive things are now, but that’s not a reason to increase the minimum wage as this could lead to serious economic problems (there are other ways to improve living standards).
I will not dig into this issue as it’s a very complicated one, but I was reading yesterday a chart published by the OECD, Organization For Economic Cooperation and Development, showing the minimum wages in 34 different countries and I thought it would be a nice idea to see where Lebanon stands on that chart. Since the chart is showing the cost per hour after taxes, we need to compute the cost of 1 working hour in Lebanon according to the Labor Law.
As mentioned above, the minimum wage is now 657,000 LL or $450 and most people work 5 days a week and 8 hours a day, which amounts to 168 hours in May for example. If we take Saturdays into consideration the total number of hours would be 188, so the cost of 1 working hour is between $2.4 and $2.7. This means that Lebanon ranks somewhere in the bottom between Hungary and Estonia. Australia and Luxembourg top the list with wages over $9 an hour each, while the US stands in 11th position with $7.25 per hour. As far as Arab countries are concerned, there’s no data available for Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia’s minimum wage is of $720 per month for the public sector while it’s $268 per month in Jordan, $175 in Egypt and between $176–$266 in Syria,
The new traffic law is still the hottest topic in Lebanon right now and is even being mentioned in foreign media outlets. The Financial Times shared an article on the traffic law (classified under “Syria crisis” for some reason) last week and The National shared a story entitled “Lebanon attempts to impose order on its traffic jungle” on the same topic today .
I got interviewed by Josh Wood from the National and here are the key points I mentioned regarding the new traffic law:
– All previous attempts of implementing the traffic law started almost identically and all failed.
– People are driving more slowly and carefully at night and wearing their seat belts because the fines are huge, or simply because there are fines just like in previous attempts.
– Policemen are still breaking the law and should be punished more severely when they do so as they are role models for others to follow.
– I’m worried about bribes and recommend we automate the whole process by setting up a platform like this [one].
– The idea from the new traffic law should be to help people become aware of the traffic law and care about their own safety, not just fine them and send the money elsewhere.
– Lebanese should know that the fines they are paying are going somewhere to improve the infrastructure.
On a last note, we have to stay optimistic every time someone tries to implement traffic laws and the current minister of interior is a rather pragmatic person so let’s hope for the best! You can check out the full article [here].
I was actually surprised to see all parties sitting on one table to protest against the Zouk power plant on April 25 but I soon realized it was all nonsense when they started talking about forming committees. I know it’s too early to judge but no one had a serious proposal to end the Zouk Power Plant problem and it doesn’t look like we will get rid of it that soon.
What’s even worse is that the posters that they hung on every street and road are all still there and one of them almost fell on my car on the highway. So now the posters against the pollution in Keserwan are effectively polluting the city as well, noting that most of the area’s municipalities were involved in the protest. Cheghel ndeef wou 3al lebnené!
Update: WalkBeirut is not organizing walks at the moment.
One of my favorite things to do in Beirut is walk around and discover new streets, old houses and hidden spots. I always have people ask me about the location of some of the pictures I take while I’m walking around Achrafieh, Mar Mikhael or Gemmayze and I always thought it would be a nice idea to organize walks around Beirut and let tourists and locals discover the old parts of Beirut like they’ve never seen them before.
For those interested, there’s WalkBeirut, which is run by AUB graduates, and offers guided walking tours of Beirut, and there’s also Beirut Old City Walk which is run by Elie Karam who take tourists on walks and shows them Beirut’s old hidden gems. Elie’s next walk is scheduled for May 24. WalkBeirut is obviously the better choice if you want a professional well-guided tour, but I’ve read testimonials on Elie’s Facebook page and most of them loved the experience and found him funny so I think both of them are worth a try, specially that they cover different areas.
In fact, Beirut old city walk covers Achrafieh and Burj Hammoud areas while WalkBeirut‘s stops are mostly around DownTown Beirut and Kantari area. The ticket prices are respectively $15 and $20 excluding food.
If you know other people or organizations who offer walking tours, I will gladly share them.
Despite everything that’s been happening in the past few years and despite having the worst ranked country in the world in terms of freedom as a neighbor (Syria), Lebanon was still ranked as a partly-free country in the 2015 Freedom House report. Kuwait was the only other partly free country in the Arab World while Tunisia “became the Arab world’s only Free country after holding democratic elections under a new constitution”, and the first Arab country to achieve the status of Free since Lebanon was gripped by civil war. Lebanon scored 4.5 out of 7 in Freedom Rating, 4 in Civil Liberties and 5 in political rights thereby earning the “partly free” status.
Unfortunately though, Lebanon was given a well deserved “downward trend arrow due to the parliament’s repeated failure to elect a president and its postponement of overdue legislative elections for another two and a half years, which left the country with a presidential void and a National Assembly whose mandate expired in 2013”. As far as Arab countries are concerned, Kuwait was also ranked as partly free, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Iraq, Jordan and Yemen were ranked not-free, while Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria were ranked among the worst in the world.
Check out the full report [here] and more about Lebanon [here].
The union of Cable providers in Lebanon (I didn’t know they had a union) decided to take down LBCI yesterday as a sign of protest against the decision taken by 8 local TVs to make them pay a fee for broadcasting their shows. LBCI, Future TV, Tele Liban, NBN, Al Jadeed, Manar, OTV and MTV all set new broadcasting rules by asking cable providers to pay 4 dollars for each subscriber, and asking all cable providers to sign official documents that grant them broadcasting rights.
Honestly speaking, I think it’s about time someone regulated this whole process and put an end to illegal cable providers in Lebanon. I rarely watch TV but I remember I had to call the cable guy almost every Sunday when I was at my parents to be able to watch Formula 1 or some football game. The quality of the image is bad, they control what you’re watching and rarely answer the phone when needed. Moreover, the fact that they are able to randomly shut down LBCI just to protest is quite absurd and unheard of.
Some may argue that we shouldn’t have to pay to watch local TVs but they need to monetize to survive in this market and having illegal cable providers rebroadcast all their shows for free doesn’t make sense, specially when there are affordable and legal providers like Econet and Cable Vision.
While everyone was too busy talking about Salma Hayek’s visit to Beirut, two brave fire fighters died fighting a blaze in Mar Elias and trying to save others. Mohammad Al-Mawla was 25, a newly wed and a father-to-be while Adel Saadeh who was only 28 was preparing for his wedding. Mawla and Saadeh were involved in evacuating the building and suffocated to death after they got trapped in the building. Some are saying that Mawla rushed first to fight the blaze and was trapped inside, before Saaadeh rushed to his rescue and died from asphyxiation as well.
Needless to say, the only party to blame here is the government as always for not equipping and training our fire fighters properly. Fire fighters need new trucks, new equipment, the proper substances and training to fight a fire and assess a situation. Summer is already here, fires will start erupting everywhere and there’s still no plan to fund these brave volunteers and help them out.
The sad part is that their tragic death barely got any mention in the news, and their brave actions almost went unnoticed. In all cases, I’m just writing this post to show respect to these brave men and share with everyone their story, because it’s more relevant than everything that’s been happening in Lebanon last week.
Fixr.com put together a map of the world with the most-Googled for object in each country, using the auto-complete formula of “How much does * cost in [x country]”. Of course the results aren’t scientific but they are fun to look at.
Here are some of the findings from the Arab world:
– People want to know how much a wedding and a PS3 cost in Lebanon.
– People want to know how much a loaf of bread costs in Syria.
– People want to know how much a camel costs in Saudi Arabia.
– People want to know how much a Ferrari costs in the UAE.
– People want to know how much a Lamborghini costs in Kuwait.
– People want to know how much a kidney costs in Iran.
I don’t know why people are still looking for the PS3 in Lebanon but the wedding cost does make sense and I was actually planning to write few posts about it because it’s almost impossible to get any cost estimate for a wedding here and you can barely find any useful information online.
Check out what other countries are looking for [Here].
The first World Happiness Report was released in 2012 and ranked Lebanon in the 97th position worldwide and 8th position among Arab countries. In the 2015 World Happiness Report, Lebanon dropped 6 spots and was ranked 103rd, which makes sense given the stressful times we’ve been through in the past couple of years. The report also found that “GDP per capita was one of the most important explanatory variables in determining national happiness, along with social support (if you have someone in your life you can count on), healthy life expectancy, freedom (answer to the question “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?”), generosity (“Have you donated money to a charity in the past month?”), and government corruption”.
As far as Arab countries are concerned, UAE ranked first followed by Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The least happy country in the region and (almost) worldwide (156th out of 158) is the Syrian one. Worldwide, Switzerland came on top, followed by Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada and Finland.
Here’s the full list for Arab countries (Rank 2015):
Syrian Arab Republic 156
We all know by now that Lebanon’s oil and gas reserves off its coast might be the richest and best in the Mediterranean, and a lot of Lebanese are thrilled about this discovery and already started dreaming about a wealthy country with a solid infrastructure, prosperous economy and a strong army, but transparency and accountability are needed to make the best out of these resources and we are very far from that in Lebanon!
Corruption is at an all time high, Our MPs have extended their term, we don’t have a president and most of the parties handling the oil & gas file are not trustworthy. For that sake, I’ve been following up mostly on reports from [Executive Magazine] and [MESP], and other useful articles like HMA Tom Fletcher’s take on this matter and what George Sassine, who’s an energy policy expert, had to say about it.
George Sassine also happens to be one of the founders of LOGI, The Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI), which is an independent NGO based in Beirut that aims to create a network of experts across the world to help Lebanon benefit from its oil and gas wealth, and avoid the resource curse. I was introduced to LOGI by a friend a week ago and I think what they are aiming to do is exactly what Lebanon needs to maximize the economic and social benefits of its oil and gas wealth. We need an expert’s point of view on these issues and we need competent individuals to inform us citizens on the key issues facing facing Lebanon’s oil and gas industry, and help us understand what’s happening around us and what’s being cooked behind our backs by corrupt parties. Once policies are set in motion and contracts are locked for decades, it will be impossible to change anything and we might fall into the resource curse forever!
Just in case you don’t know what the resource curse is, it is also known as the “paradox of plenty and refers to the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources, specifically point-source non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources. This is mainly due to governments mismanagement, corruption, instability and other factors”.
LOGI is asking people to join their initiative and support them to kick off the initiative through a dedicated website and finance their first research projects. The website will include infographics, dynamic animations, videos, detailed reports and a database of all analyses and news articles on oil and gas in Lebanon both in Arabic and English, and the first research projects will include policy briefs on Lebanon’s export infrastructure strategy, and fiscal policy strategy. LOGI already secured a large part of the amount needed ($10,000), which is honestly nothing when compared to the billions at risk if the oil & gas goes into the wrong hands.
I’m not writing this post to ask readers to donate money as I’m sure they will secure it before the deadline, but to shed the light on this initiative and ask those interested to get engaged and contribute to driving change in Lebanon. I honestly believe we need similar initiatives for all our problems in Lebanon whereas experts join hands to inform the citizens of what’s really happening, put pressure on the government and concerned parties and offer solutions and reports. On the other hand, it is important for us as citizens to follow up on these NGOs and hold them accountable when they break their promises, the same way we should be doing with our politicians.
Georges Sassine is a Harvard University alum and an energy policy expert with a wide range of experience with several multinational companies. He has been widely published commenting on energy, transparency and public policy issues including the Financial Times, CNN, the Huffington Post, Annahar, L’Orient le Jour, the Daily Star and others.
Karen Ayat is a Partner and Contributor to Natural Gas Europe – a leading platform that provides information and analyses of natural gas developments. Karen emerged as a key expert on the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean and her work has been widely published, mainly by Natural Gas Europe and Energy Tribune. She holds an LLM in Commercial Law from City University London and reads International Relations and Contemporary War at King’s College London.
Jeremy Arbid is an energy and public affairs analyst focused on Lebanon’s oil and gas industry. He is currently a journalist covering economics and government policy for Executive Magazine in Beirut. He holds a Master in Public Administration from the American University of Beirut, and a bachelor in Political Science from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Research fellows: several research fellows are helping LOGI launch various research projects including 4 Harvard University master students, and an ESCP Europe Business School graduate.
LOGI’s Advisory Board is formed from several high level executives and experts spanning multinational energy companies, an international energy law firm, a world renowned think tank, academics from top universities, as well as experts from global NGOs focused on transparency in the oil and gas sector.