Lebanon to slash official exchange rate from Nov. 1, finance minister says

Lebanon’s caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil attends a parliament session in Beirut on Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 September 2022

Lebanon to slash official exchange rate from Nov. 1, finance minister says

  • After saying the move would come into effect on Nov. 1, the ministry later said the step was conditioned on the approval of a plan to address the crisis
  • “The goal is for there to be a unification of the exchange rates in Lebanon,” Finance Minister Youssef Khalil said

BEIRUT: Lebanon plans to slash its official exchange rate, replacing the 1,507 per dollar rate adopted 25 years ago with a rate of 15,000 in a step toward unifying numerous exchange rates, the finance minister told Reuters on Wednesday.
After saying the move would come into effect on Nov. 1, the ministry later said the step was conditioned on the approval of a plan to address the crisis, which is under discussion in parliament.
The Lebanese pound has plunged by more than 95 percent from the official rate since Lebanon fell into financial crisis three years ago, with dollars currently changing hands at around 38,000 on a parallel market.
“The goal is for there to be a unification of the exchange rates in Lebanon,” Finance Minister Youssef Khalil said, calling the decision a “fundamental step” in that direction. The step would come into force on Nov. 1, the ministry said.
“Today, Lebanon has entered a new phase and is no longer using an official US dollar exchange rate that makes no sense ... Now we have one that is useful, based on which you can steer the economy toward a better situation,” he said.
The decision — which Khalil said was agreed with central bank governor Riad Salameh — marks a milestone in the meltdown that has plunged swathes of the population into poverty in the worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
Salameh told Reuters via text message that the decision “will require time before it is implemented.
“We have to wait before anticipating further moves,” he said.
Ruling politicians have so far taken scarcely any action toward tackling the crisis.
Unifying the numerous exchange rates operating in the country is one of several conditions set by the IMF for Lebanon to secure a badly needed aid package. The Fund has said this is crucial to boosting economic activity.
The IMF said last week progress in implementing reforms remained very slow, with the bulk yet to be carried out.
In addition to official and parallel market exchange rates, authorities have created several others during the crisis, including unfavorable rates applied to withdrawals of Lebanese pounds from hard currency deposits in the frozen banking system.
Khalil noted that unification of the exchange rates was an IMF demand, but added it was also something that must happen regardless, saying the government was taking a gradual approach.
On Monday, the parliament approved a state budget that applied the 15,000 rate to customs taxes — a step aimed at boosting state revenues. Khalil said this had paved the way for the decision he announced on Wednesday.
He said discussions were under way with stakeholders including banks and depositors on the implications of the decision and how it would be applied. “We have taken this month to explain to everyone carefully what is happening,” he said.
Financial authorities would also work to contain any social or financial repercussions, especially regarding housing loans and “help the private sector on an orderly transition to the new exchange rate,” a ministry statement added.
Several economists contacted by Reuters said there were not enough details to comment on the move.
RECOVERY PLAN
Lebanon’s crisis was caused by decades of profligate spending by a state riddled with corruption and waste, together with unsustainable financial policies.
Depositors have paid a big price, mostly unable to access dollar savings or forced to make withdrawals in pounds at unfavorable rates.
A recovery plan that would address some $72 billion in losses in the financial system has yet to be finalized.
Asked by Reuters how the decision would affect depositors, Khalil said “there should not be any impact” while adding that this was under study.
Khalil said an update to a draft government financial recovery plan was being discussed in parliament.
“It needs time,” he said, adding that Wednesday’s decision would reflect positively on the plan “because it is helping economic activity and increases revenues for the state.”
Khalil said money coming into Lebanon was avoiding the banking sector due to distortions in the exchange rate and a lack of confidence, which he said he hoped would be assuaged by the unification of rates.


Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

Updated 04 December 2022

Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

  • Women-led protests swept Iran after a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died in the custody of the morality police in September
  • The morality police were established under hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to 'spread the culture of modesty and hijab'

TEHRAN: Iran has scrapped its morality police after more than two months of protests triggered by the arrest of Mahsa Amini for allegedly violating the country’s strict female dress code, local media said Sunday.
Women-led protests, labelled “riots” by the authorities, have swept Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died on September 16, three days after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran.
“Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary” and have been abolished, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
His comment came at a religious conference where he responded to a participant who asked “why the morality police were being shut down,” the report said.
The morality police — known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad or “Guidance Patrol” — were established under hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to “spread the culture of modesty and hijab,” the mandatory female head covering.
The units began patrols in 2006.
The announcement of their abolition came a day after Montazeri said that “both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue)” of whether the law requiring women to cover their heads needs to be changed.
President Ebrahim Raisi said in televised comments Saturday that Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched “but there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible.”
The hijab became mandatory four years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy and established the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Morality police officers initially issued warnings before starting to crack down and arrest women 15 years ago.
The vice squads were usually made up of men in green uniforms and women clad in black chadors, garments that cover their heads and upper bodies.
The role of the units evolved, but has always been controversial even among candidates running for the presidency.
Clothing norms gradually changed, especially under former moderate president Hassan Rouhani, when it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans with loose, colorful headscarves.
But in July this year his successor, the ultra-conservative Raisi, called for the mobilization of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law.”
Raisi at the time charged that “the enemies of Iran and Islam have targeted the cultural and religious values of society by spreading corruption.”
In spite of this, many women continued to bend the rules, letting their headscarves slip onto their shoulders or wearing tight-fitting pants, especially in major cities and towns.
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia also employed morality police to enforce female dress codes and other rules of behavior. Since 2016 the force there has been sidelined in a push by the Sunni Muslim kingdom to shake off its austere image.


State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

Updated 04 December 2022

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

  • Executed prisoners identified as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi

TEHRAN: Iranian authorities executed four people Sunday accused of working for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, the state-run IRNA news agency said.
IRNA said the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard announced the arrests of a network of people linked to the Israeli agency. It said members stole and destroyed private and public property and kidnapped individuals and interrogated them.
The report said the alleged spies had weapons and received wages from Mossad in the form of cryptocurrency.
Israel and Iran are regional arch-enemies.
IRNA identified the executed prisoners as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi.


Delay in enacting law against underage marriage sparks concern in Egypt

Updated 03 December 2022

Delay in enacting law against underage marriage sparks concern in Egypt

  • Parliament’s legislative and constitutional affairs committee decided to postpone the final approval of the draft law until it received a response from Al-Azhar Al-Sharif

CAIRO: A delay to a new draft law, currently pending before the Parliament of Egypt, that criminalizes marriage under the age of 18 and increases the punishment for violators, has sparked controversy in the North African country.

The hold up is due to Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the Islamic scientific body, which has yet to determine the extent of the proposal’s agreement with Shariah law.

Mohamed Sultan, a member of the parliament’s human rights committee, told Arab News: “The House of Representatives submitted a new draft law that increases the punishment for violators of the crime of underage marriage, whether it be parents, authorized persons or lawyers. The Cabinet approved the draft law in April.

“We aim to eliminate this negative phenomenon — as underage marriage is a crime against children — in addition to its negative impact on society. At this age, they are not capable (of taking) responsibility for forming a family and raising children, and this is a flagrant assault on the childhood stage.

“The draft law stipulates that it is not permissible to marry a person who has not reached the age of 18. Whoever marries or participates in the marriage of a male or female under the age of 18 will face a fine of between 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($814) to 50,000 pounds, and a prison sentence no shorter than six months.”

He added: “Anyone who incites the marriage of minors is also punished with the same penalty, and the child is not considered criminal or responsible for this crime.”

Parliament’s legislative and constitutional affairs committee decided to postpone the final approval of the draft law until it received a response from Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, which is the largest religious institution in Egypt.

Ahmed Al-Sawy, editor-in-chief of Sawt Al-Azhar newspaper, told Arab News: “Al-Azhar and its Grand Imam Sheikh Al-Tayyib resolved the issue of child marriage years ago by defining a legal age for marriage, and the scholars supported all efforts to criminalize child marriage.”

Al-Sawy cited statements by Al-Tayyib in which he said: “When talking about this issue, we must differentiate between minors in two senses — the first is the girl has not yet reached the age of puberty, and the second is the girl has just reached puberty but is yet to be psychologically and mentally ready for marriage.”

He added: “I do not think that marriage with minors who are yet to reach puberty was something that existed, occurred, or was a phenomenon that attracted attention. Rather, what used to happen was the girl’s marriage right after reaching puberty.”

Al-Tayyib previously stated: “The issue of determining the age of marriage for girls is subject to the circumstances of the era and changes … and the fact that the law now sets the age of marriage at 18 years is welcome, and there is no objection to this.”

Islam Amer, an Islamic scholar and marriage expert, told Arab News: “I demanded more than once to criminalize the customary marriage for those under 18, and I am now calling on parliament to issue a law that criminalizes marriage under the legal age because early marriage is a violation of children’s rights.”
 


Over 200 killed in Iran protests: top security body

Updated 03 December 2022

Over 200 killed in Iran protests: top security body

  • The country's Supreme National Security Council said the number of people killed during unrest sparked by her death "exceeds 200"
  • A general in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said hundreds of people had lost their lives in the unrest

TEHRAN: More than 200 people have been killed in Iran since nationwide protests erupted over the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, the country’s top security body said Saturday.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died on September 16 after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
Quoted by the official IRNA news agency, the country’s Supreme National Security Council said the number of people killed during unrest sparked by her death “exceeds 200.”
It said the figure included security officers, civilians and “separatists” as well as “rioters” — a term used by Iranian officials to describe protesters.
A general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said more than 300 people had lost their lives in the unrest.
The security council said that in addition to the human toll, the violence had caused millions of dollars in damage.
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights on Tuesday said at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”
UN rights chief Volker Turk said last week that 14,000 people, including children, had been arrested in the protest crackdown.


Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general

Updated 03 December 2022

Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general

  • Protesters have burned their head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans
  • "Both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue)", of whether the law needs any changes, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said

TEHRAN: Iran’s parliament and the judiciary are reviewing a law which requires women to cover their heads, and which triggered more than two months of deadly protests, the attorney general said.
The demonstrations began after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died in custody on September 16 after her arrest by Iran’s morality police for an alleged breach of the dress code.
Protesters have burned their head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans. Since Amini’s death a growing number of women are not observing hijab, particularly in Tehran’s fashionable north.
The hijab headscarf became obligatory for all women in Iran in April 1983, four years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy.
“Both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue),” of whether the law needs any changes, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said in the holy city of Qom.
Quoted on Friday by the ISNA news agency, he did not specify what could be modified in the law.
The review team met on Wednesday with parliament’s cultural commission “and will see the results in a week or two,” the attorney general said.
President Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday said Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched.
“But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible,” he said in televised comments.
After the hijab law became mandatory, with changing clothing norms it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans and loose, colorful headscarves.
But in July this year Raisi, an ultra-conservative, called for mobilization of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law.”
Many women continued to bend the rules, however.
Iran accuses its sworn enemy the United States and its allies, including Britain, Israel, and Kurdish groups based outside the country, of fomenting the street violence which the government calls “riots.”
A general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said more than 300 people have lost their lives in the unrest since Amini’s death.
Iran’s top security body, the Supreme National Security Council, on Saturday said the number of people killed during the protests “exceeds 200.”
Cited by state news agency IRNA, it said the figure included security officers, civilians, armed separatists and “rioters.”
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights on Tuesday said at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”
UN rights chief Volker Turk said last week that 14,000 people, including children, had been arrested in the protest crackdown.