Navigating the Tumultuous Waters of the Lebanese Refugee Crisis.

In the realm of international politics, Lebanon has surfaced into the limelight, owing to a bold proclamation by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, a staunch pro-Iran terror group. His recent address illuminated a perspective on the sensitive matter of Syrian migration through Lebanon, sparking vigorous debates and eliciting varied reactions from the global community. As Lebanon grapples with an intensified influx of Syrians crossing its border, Nasrallah has proposed a controversial solution: ceasing the prevention of Syrians’ maritime passage to the European Union.

This significant uptick in migration from Syria, motivated by citizens endeavouring to evade the hostile clutches of the Assad regime and circumvent a deteriorating Syrian economic landscape, has thrown Lebanon into a precarious situation. The Lebanese military has thus beseeched for augmented resources and manpower to safeguard the expansive 394-kilometer border with Syria, a feat currently deemed unattainable given the present circumstances.

Nasrallah’s assertion hinges on the claim that the United States, through its rigorous imposition of sanctions epitomised by the Caesar Act, is instrumental in the destabilisation of the Syrian economy and, consequently, the displacement of Syrian refugees. He postulates that relieving these sanctions and allowing investments to flow into Syria would catalyse the return of countless Syrians to their homeland.

However, beneath the macrocosmic lens of international politics, the escalating Syrian refugee crisis has catalysed a crescendo of xenophobia and frustration amongst the Lebanese populace and political entities alike. A palpable tension percolates through the nation as nearly 1.6 million Syrian refugees seek solace on Lebanese soil, eliciting a complex maelstrom of socio-economic and political quandaries amidst an already dire Lebanese economic crisis, which has submerged approximately 80% of its citizens into the abyss of poverty since its inception in 2019.

The fractious relationship between the Lebanese and Syrian refugees is increasingly evident. Several prominent Lebanese political factions have voiced a unanimous plea for the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. This has been accompanied by the execution of numerous deportations by the Lebanese state since April, alongside an upsurge in anti-Syrian demonstrations within the capital, Beirut.

Meanwhile, humanitarian organisations adamantly underscore the inhospitable conditions within Syria, highlighting the palpable dangers that await returning refugees, including potential torture, forced disappearances, and even fatal encounters with security services. This situation places the involved parties in a moral and political quandary, with seemingly no straightforward resolution in sight.

The disconcerting crisis transcends Lebanese borders, permeating into the European Union, where member states exhibit increasing frustration towards the burgeoning numbers of Syrians journeying by sea to seek asylum. A notable example was witnessed on 15th September when Cypriot Interior Minister, Constantinos Ioannou, approached the EU parliament, imploring them to reassess the security situation within Syria. This was with a view to initiating the return of Syrian asylum seekers, whilst concurrently soliciting additional financial assistance for Lebanon, which he defined as a crucial “barrier” preventing further refugees from infiltrating Europe.

This complex, multi-faceted crisis intertwines geopolitical, humanitarian, and socio-economic threads, creating a delicate tapestry that requires a meticulously balanced approach. While Nasrallah’s provocative strategy of essentially employing the refugee crisis as a bargaining chip with Europe raises ethical and practical questions, it undoubtedly propels the issue further into the global arena, necessitating urgent, collective contemplation and action.

As Lebanon navigates through these tumultuous waters, the coming months will be pivotal, not only in shaping the nation’s socio-political landscape but also in defining the broader international response to a crisis that continues to unfurl amidst an already chaotic global stage.

Image Credit: Anwar AMRO / AFP

Embarking on a Joint Venture in Maritime Oil and Gas Exploration: A Closer Look at the Consortium Formed by QatarEnergy, TotalEnergies, and Eni in Lebanon.

Lebanon has witnessed a significant shift in its energy sector dynamics with the announcement of a three-way consortium between QatarEnergy, TotalEnergies, and Eni to explore oil and gas in two maritime blocks off its coast, signaling an intriguing turn of events for the region’s energy landscape. Amidst a complex geopolitical backdrop and an evolving global energy market, this endeavor, heralded by the Lebanese energy ministry, unfolds a chapter that could be pivotal for Lebanon’s economic prospects and energy security.

In a beacon of positive development amidst Lebanon’s multifaceted challenges, the energy ministry declared that QatarEnergy would be joining hands with France’s TotalEnergies and Italy’s Eni to foster exploration activities in the nation’s offshore sectors. The consortium underscores a shared vision and collaborative effort aimed at harnessing the potential encapsulated in the eastern Mediterranean and Levant offshore areas, which have historically proven to be reservoirs of substantial gas discoveries, especially over the previous decade.

Following months of intricate negotiations, the stakeholder distribution among the consortium members was agreed upon, with QatarEnergy securing a 30% stake, while TotalEnergies and Eni would retain 35% each. Notably, this resolution emerges after Lebanon’s first licensing round in 2017, during which a consortium—comprising TotalEnergies, Eni, and Russia’s Novatek—was victorious in procuring bids to explore offshore 4 and 9 blocks.

However, the journey to this current consortium configuration has not been without its share of challenges and evolutions. In September 2022, Novatek relinquished its involvement, thereby bestowing its 20% stake upon the Lebanese government. This withdrawal necessitated the recalibration of stakeholder investments and roles within the exploration project and rendered the involvement of a new partner, QatarEnergy, both timely and vital to sustaining the momentum of exploration activities.

Moreover, the geopolitical dimension, invariably intertwined with energy exploration and production in the region, played a critical role in shaping the framework and agreements related to these maritime blocks. Particularly, the lingering dispute between Lebanon and Israel concerning their maritime border witnessed a historic resolution in the month succeeding Novatek’s withdrawal. The U.S.-brokered landmark agreement between Lebanon and Israel, delineating their maritime borders, became a pivotal determinant in the structuring and future trajectory of the exploration endeavors in block 9. Notably, a portion of block 9 is situated south of the newly established border with Israel.

A distinct and diplomatically nuanced agreement between Total and Israel was fashioned concerning the revenue generation from the aforementioned segment of block 9, reinforcing the intricacy of managing energy exploration within a context of layered geopolitical considerations. The agreement firmly established that neither Lebanese nor Israeli corporations would operate in the zone located below the newly delineated border, instigating the transfer of the TotalEnergies and government stakes to entities referred to as “vehicles” of TotalEnergies and precipitating the quest for a new consortium partner.

This ambitious exploration initiative arrives amidst heightened global interest in the eastern Mediterranean and Levant regions, particularly given the notable gas discoveries in the previous decade and the augmented reliance on diversified gas supply chains in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The consortium, therefore, not only represents a cooperative venture aimed at tapping into the rich energy potential off Lebanon’s coast but also resonates on a larger scale within the context of regional energy security and global energy supply dynamics.

In conclusion, the formation of the consortium between QatarEnergy, TotalEnergies, and Eni and the ensuing exploration in Lebanon’s maritime blocks is emblematic of the complex, yet potentially rewarding, interplay of energy exploration, geopolitical considerations, and collaborative international ventures. It is imperative that such collaborations are navigated with a judicious blend of economic foresight, environmental consideration, and diplomatic acumen to ensure that the potential benefits can be realized in a manner that is conducive to regional stability and symbiotic international relations.

With this initiative underpinning Lebanon’s aspirations for energy self-sufficiency and economic rejuvenation, all eyes will be attentively observing the unfolding chapters of this exploration story, deciphering its implications not only for the nation but also for the broader dynamics of the global energy landscape.

Turkey is set to resume operations on a crucial crude oil pipeline from Iraq following a six-month suspension, as announced by Turkey’s Energy Minister, Alparslan Bayraktar, on October 2nd. The announcement was made during the ADIPEC conference held in Abu Dhabi. Upon reactivation, the Iraq-Turkey pipeline is poised to supply almost half a million barrels to the global oil markets weekly.

The pipeline’s operations were initially halted half a year ago subsequent to an arbitration decision by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). The ICC mandated Turkey to remunerate Baghdad for unauthorized exports that occurred between 2014 and 2018. Following the ruling, Turkey embarked on maintenance work on the pipeline, which is a significant conduit contributing approximately 0.5% to the global crude supply.

In the interim, Baghdad and Ankara came to an agreement to postpone the recommencement of the pipeline flows until the maintenance assessment, particularly imperative as the pipeline transverses a seismic zone, was finalized. Concurrently, the two nations have been entwined in a legal skirmish regarding arbitration awards. Bayraktar had mentioned in the previous month that Turkey was considering legal proceedings against Iraq, given that the latter has an outstanding enforcement case against Turkey.

Moreover, Bayraktar emphasized Turkey’s history as a steadfast transit route for oil and gas. This pipeline resumption is not only vital for Turkey and Iraq but also stands to have a substantial impact on global oil markets by infusing a considerable quantity of crude oil amidst existing market dynamics.

The decisions and subsequent actions from both countries following the reactivation of the pipeline will be pivotal, especially considering the previous legal and operational challenges. As this development unfolds, it may potentially usher in various economic and geopolitical implications within the region, and perhaps, on a global scale.

Image Credit: Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

The Syrian administration has taken bold steps in an attempt to revitalise its beleaguered economy by simultaneously doubling the salaries in the public sector and curbing fuel subsidies. These declarations were promptly communicated after the Syrian pound plummeted to a historic low against the US dollar in the unofficial exchange arena.

This drop in the currency’s value has exacerbated hyperinflation, plunging a staggering 90% of Syrians below the poverty threshold. Recent economic pressures have led to infrequent demonstrations, even in areas traditionally supportive of the government.

Since the onset of civil unrest in 2011, following President Bashar al-Assad’s aggressive response to nonviolent calls for democratic reforms, Syria has been grievously impacted. The resultant civil conflict has claimed the lives of over half a million citizens.

Current figures suggest that a significant 70% of Syrians, equating to over 15 million people, are in dire need of humanitarian aid, with 12.1 million facing food scarcity.

Wednesday saw the introduction of presidential mandates, proclaiming a sweeping 100% salary and pension increment for public sector workers, armed forces members, and government affiliates. This marks the initial salary augmentation since December 2021.

These directives also formalised the standard minimum monthly wage, setting it at 185,940 Syrian pounds. This translates to £17.09 when converted at the official exchange rate, but is much lower when pegged to the prevailing unofficial rate. To contextualise, at the war’s commencement, the Syrian pound’s exchange rate to the dollar stood at 47:1.

Based on data from May, this adjusted wage would hardly suffice to purchase even one-third of the essential monthly groceries for a typical family of five, as per the World Food Programme’s estimates. Moreover, it would barely cover a mere tenth of a similar family’s most basic household expenses.

As inflation soars, vulnerable families grapple with escalating bills. The minimum household spend, according to the WFP, has surged by 62% since May 2022 and an astonishing 159% since September 2021.

In an accompanying overnight announcement, Syria’s commerce department publicised a complete withdrawal of petrol subsidies and a semi-withdrawal of fuel oil subsidies, effectively hiking the cost of both commodities.

The Prime Minister, Hussein Arnous, expressed last year that reductions in fuel subsidies would serve to alleviate the budget deficit and aid in stabilising the Syrian pound, benefiting impoverished families. Yet, financial experts highlight that the government’s inability to uphold these subsidies and indicate that the raise in public sector wages may inadvertently spur further inflation and currency depreciation. This could potentially nullify any economic advantages in the coming months.

Government officials attribute the grave economic plight and the struggles of everyday Syrians to the stringent US sanctions instated in 2019, which zero in on entities extending support to Assad’s regime. The US maintains that these measures exempt humanitarian assistance.

At the recent Saudi-China Business Forum in Beijing, entities from Saudi Arabia and China endorsed multiple housing and infrastructure contracts, highlighting the strengthening bond between the two nations.

The forum, chaired by Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing, Majid bin Abdullah Al-Hogail, primarily concentrated on investment possibilities between the two nations in areas such as urban infrastructure, housing, real estate development, and financing. During the event, Al-Hogail extended an invitation to Chinese companies to engage in Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning real estate market.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, a total of 12 agreements related to infrastructure development and financing were signed during this event, with the total value exceeding £1 billion ($1.33 billion). Although the specifics of the entities involved have not been disclosed, it has been confirmed by the Saudi Ministry for Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing that Al-Hogail interacted with representatives from the Chinese state-backed investment powerhouse, CITIC. Their discussion centred on construction opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the potential adoption of “green housing technology,” as detailed in a press statement released on Tuesday.

The bigger picture: Ties between Saudi Arabia and China are evidently deepening. Earlier in March, China played a pivotal role in brokering the pact that saw the restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Moreover, economically, Saudi Arabia hosted the Arab-China Business Conference in June, which generated deals surpassing £7 billion ($10 billion). Just last month, Saudi Aramco procured a stake worth £2.5 billion ($3.4 billion) in the Chinese petrochemical entity, Rongsheng Petrochemical Co. Ltd.

In 2022, it’s noteworthy to mention that Saudi Arabia was China’s primary supplier of oil.