Days after the outbreak of the October 17th 2019 uprising, very dangerous signs and manifestations began to emerge of what can be considered Lebanon’s biggest crisis since its creation – a multipronged one. First, it started as a currency crisis amid the plummeting LBP exchange rate, coupled with the declining purchasing power of the Lebanese Pound. Second, it was followed by a financial crisis when the banking sector collapsed and people’s savings vanished. Third, an economic crisis compounded by mass insolvencies and escalating levels of unemployment. Finally, a social crisis when the percentage of Lebanese living below the poverty line exceeded 55%. The COVID-19 pandemic and the August 4th massacre exacerbated the suffering of Lebanese and heightened the risks lying before us. On an official level, the previous phase was characterized by failure and inaction, in a near-total absence of the concept of the state that represents and protects the public interest.
The Legal Agenda closely monitored the activities of Lebanese legislators (both quantitatively and qualitatively) during the past year. It was evident that the performance of the Lebanese Parliament lacked any comprehensive and effective vision capable of addressing multiple crises of unprecedented severity. The key indicators of this unfortunate reality follow:
Legislative Lethargy and Low Productivity
The Parliament held 8 sessions during the period between October 17th, 2019 and the end of 2020. The four legislative sessions included 172 different topics1. Urgent and repeated proposed laws represented 86% of the proposals on the Parliament’s agenda, i.e. the proposals that directly reach the General Assembly, without being studied by the Parliamentary Committees. Moreover, 83% of law proposals were submitted by an individual Member of Parliament (MP) or by only one bloc, knowing that 23% of them were presented by individual and independent MPs not affiliated with any parliamentary bloc. On the other hand, only 8.4% were submitted by two blocs2, and only 5% were proposed by three or more parliamentary blocs3.
These figures indicate two things: First, despite the major crises affecting Lebanon, and the pressing need for a visionary and effective legislative initiative to navigate them, the majority of proposals have been in the form of “urgent legislation” and perhaps populism. Second, we have noticed that the majority of the proposals did not involve any discussion or cooperation between the blocs, while half of the proposals have not even been discussed within the parliamentary bloc itself, adding to indicators that they are not seriously addressing Lebanon’s woes.
In the last three legislative sessions, the Parliament’s average productivity did not exceed 40% of the agenda set for each session. The Parliament examined only 30% of the proposals in May’s session, 32.5% in September’s session5, and 57% of them in December’s session6. In the last session, it adopted a deceptive strategy by including “reform” proposals in the agenda, but it turned out that there was prior preparation to adjourn the session before completing discussion of the entire schedule.
Eclipsing Vital Laws and Watering Down Reforms
The outcome of these sessions was as follows:
- The ratification by the Parliament of 60 laws7, most notably lifting banking secrecy for public officials (but rendering it toothless after altering its content)
- The mechanism for appointments of top-level civil servants (first category), a law that was repealed by the Constitutional Council after an appeal was filed before it8.
- The amendment of the illicit enrichment law.
- The amendment of Article 47 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which guaranteed suspects the right to access a lawyer during preliminary investigations.
- The law to protect areas affected by the August 4th blast and support their reconstruction.
- The law equating ‘martyrs’ of the port explosion with the Lebanese army martyrs.
- The banking secrecy law amendment for forensic audit purposes.
- The protection from domestic violence law amendment.
- The law criminalizing sexual harassment.
However, it was evident that the legislators lacked any vision to cope with crises of unprecedented gravity. Similarly, throughout the period following October 17th 2019, they failed to pass any vital laws. This includes the capital control law, the social safety net laws and the substantial reform laws including the independence of the judiciary law and making the parliamentary committee deliberations public.
Ordinary sessions were turned into legislative sessions or ended up consisting of proposal discussions that were not listed on the agenda, in violation of the Parliament’s internal regulations. Said regulations require disclosing and communicating the agenda to MPs with a copy of the bills, proposed laws and reports that will be tackled, at least 24 hours before the session9. This can be described as “stealthy” legislation or legislation by surprise.
These practices prevent citizens, as well as parliamentarians, from discussing any of these bills or proposals. For example, during a session to discuss the state of the emergency declaration decree10, multiple MPs demanded to open a legislative session as soon as the decree was ratified. As a result, 3 proposed laws, submitted in the form of repeated and urgent proposals, were unexpectedly approved. One of the most dangerous unscheduled proposals that had been discussed and approved despite being off the agenda was the law to protect areas affected by the port explosion and support their reconstruction. This had significant consequences for the damaged areas and rights of affected people.
MPs’ Rhetoric: Acquitting Corrupt Officials and Urging Authorities To Stand Strong
Interventions during the sessions by Members of Parliament were marked by comments filled with supremacy and misogynist rhetoric. They represented the most striking evidence of a complete absence of any sense of responsibility. For starters, MPs did not hesitate to deliver accountability speeches, acquitting themselves of corruption11. MP Elie Al Ferzli did not hesitate to ask for immunities to be waived, because he knows that all political figures are surrounded by “purity and sanctity”. When MP Bilal Abdullah accused the Central Bank’s governor of “evading his responsibilities”, Nabih Berri got angry and asked for the phrase to be deleted from the minutes. He insisted on deleting it despite it being amended twice by Abdullah, and addressed MP Hadi Abu Al-Hosn, who belongs to the same parliamentary bloc, asking him: “What is wrong with him today?”, referring to Abdullah.
Al Ferzli also deliberately delivered, in most of the sessions, speeches that restore confidence in authorities. He called upon them to unite, close ranks, and withstand threats from any external [opponent], on the street and in the media (and implicitly in the judiciary). He hates that authorities attempt to submit to people’s wishes, even to gain certain interests. He rejected a law proposal showing “a tendency for a populist situation designed to tell people that we are innocent of this righteous blood”. Then, he shouted at MPs, “Sirs, populism is doomed to extinction…beware of submitting to the banking secrecy trick, because I see in your faces full trust, complete innocence, and clean hands”.
We also witnessed bullying incidents by MPs against caretaker ministers, as Al Ferzli rebuked them for tweeting that “they were ‘here’ because of the revolution or the people”, stressing that their confidence is not from the revolution, but from parliamentarians. He threatened them, if they were to repeat such tweets, saying: “I swear to God, I will call for a no-confidence vote against you”.
The Lebanese legislature utterly failed at addressing the numerous challenges caused by the economic collapse, the pandemic and the Port Massacre. If it succeeded at anything, it is undoubtedly buying time for a crumbling house of cards and reinforcing the status quo.
1 Just to clarify, the total items on the agenda of the four sessions is 195, but the October 30-31st 2020 session agenda included 16 proposals that had been initially placed on the agenda of the May 28th 2020 session. Another proposal was carried forward from the agenda of April’s session to the October 30-31st 2020 session. Finally, 4 proposals were transferred from the April 21-22nd session’s agenda to the May 28th agenda, while 29 proposals were transferred from the September 30th 2020 agenda to the December 21st 2020 session’s agenda.
2 Most notably, the proposal to waive ministerial immunity; the proposal to amend Article 96 of the 2019 Budget Law, which provides for the payment deadline extension of taxi registration plate installments; the proposal to abolish the Ministry of the Displaced and the Central Fund for the Displaced; the Anti-Food Waste proposal; and the proposal to set exceptional and temporary controls on bank transfers.
3 In particular, the deadline extension proposal to regularize building violations; the proposal to regulate the cultivation of cannabis for medical use; and the proposal to not include sentences issued under the Publications Law in the criminal record.
4 It should be noted that in the legislative session held in April 2020, the Parliament discussed its entire agenda (71 items, including 5 that were tackled from outside the agenda).
5 Proposals from outside the agenda.
6 Proposals from outside the agenda.
7 Full outcome of the April 2020 legislative session also known as the “Decision is Mine” or “How to Tighten Grip on Society” session; Ratification of 24 laws out of 70 proposals. Results of the May 28th 2020 session: Saad Hariri called for a General Mobilization to help people, not confronting them with a State of Emergency: Nabih Berri gave 10 additional emergency days; Results of the September 30th 2020 and October 1st 2020 sessions: Parliament ratifies the port martyrs’ right to compensation, with little justice to the disabled. Full results of the December 21st 2020 legislative session: Parliament approaches the contentious secrecy with caution.
8 The decision was issued by the Constitutional Council on July 22nd 2020 following the appeal filed by the President of the Republic.
9 In particular, Article 8 of the regulations.
10 The session was held on August 13th, 2020.
11 (…) and demanding to hold everyone accountable “from the top of the pyramid to the smallest civil servant”, including the Speaker of the Parliament and the President of the Republic.
12 In this context, for example, we mention when Berri wished in April’s session to vote in favor of the amnesty law, featuring only one article, so that “we teach a lesson, to all people without exception, that we are capable of taking a unified stance”.
The Legal Agenda
Legal Agenda is a Beirut-based non-profit research and advocacy organization with offices in Lebanon and Tunisia and correspondents in several other Arab countries. It was established in December 2009 by a group of legal professionals, scholars, and human rights activists who institutionalized their efforts to build a critical and multidisciplinary approach to law and justice in Arab countries with a special focus on political, civil, social, and economic rights. Since its inception, the Legal Agenda has conducted analytical research on legal and judicial developments in the Arab region from a critical and multidisciplinary perspective. Its research examines how laws are produced and applied and the relationship between law and social changes. The Legal Agenda has three different media publications, namely The Legal Agenda–Lebanon, The Legal Agenda–Tunisia, and The Little Agenda magazines, in addition to its website. Via these platforms, the Legal Agenda contributes to public debate with the results of its research, investigative journalism, and watchdog activities. Through strategic litigation and advocacy activities, the Legal Agenda promotes legal and social change via the courts and public institutions. In 2014, the
Legal Agenda established the Civil Observatory for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary in Lebanon, which monitors and analyses court cases, trials, and judicial policies concerning the various actors in the justice system, such as judges, lawyers, litigants, and judicial assistants. In 2019, the Legal Agenda launched the Parliament Observatory in Lebanon, which monitors and analyzes legislative activity and practices and works to ensure access to legislative information and improve the legislature’s work.