IMF denies reports it negotiated loans with Hezbollah - Haaretz - Israel News

IMF denies reports it negotiated loans with Hezbollah - Haaretz - Israel News
I was tempted to link to the FT's allegation yesterday but they seemed rather phantasmagorical. The IMF would "negotiate" loans with Hizbullah the day Bibi Netanyahu declares himself in favor of the one-state solution.
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Asia Times Online :: Finger-pointing riles Hezbollah

Asia Times Online :: Finger-pointing riles Hezbollah
Sami Moubayed debunks Der Spiegel's accusation that Hizbullah is behind Hariri murder. Even if Moubayed is a defender of Syria and its allies, he makes some good points here, notably the ludicrous claim that Nasrallah wanted Hariri dead because he was getting too popular. What is this, grade school? Yet an interesting question is still not addressed, namely, to what extents were there rogue operations in Hizbullah, if at all?
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Breakthrough in Tribunal Investigation: New Evidence Points to Hezbollah in Hariri Murder - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

Breakthrough in Tribunal Investigation: New Evidence Points to Hezbollah in Hariri Murder - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International
Wow: "Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah ("Party of God") that planned and executed the diabolical attack." Treat with caution...
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Hillary Clinton in Lebanon

So Hillary Clinton made a surprise visit to Lebanon, where she called for elections to be free and fair, and without external interference. I hate to venture into the minefield of Lebanese politics, but it strikes me that elections there are relatively free, in the sense that the state does not rig them, dispatch police to prevent people from voting, or engage in campaigns of intimidation against opposition candidates. This is not the issue in Lebanon since after all there is barely a state there. (With the caveat, of course, that Syria still runs campaigns of destabilization against those politicians that oppose its lingering influence. But this is a wider problem, not per se an electoral issue.) The problem with Lebanon's electoral system lies more in that it is organized on sectarian lines (as the whole political system is), involves rampant vote-buying, and generally offers little in the way of surprise since the parties and confessional groups have an interest in coming to some sort of consensus on their outcome. Indeed, although seats are distributed by confession, some kind of cross-confessional alliance is needed to win individual seats (i.e. candidates have to reach beyond their community), which creates the shifting alliances of the Lebanese political system. So in the context of what's expected to be a narrow victory for Hizbullah and its allies that will return the same kind of national unity government that already exists, Clinton's statements is more of a partisan cry of support for March 14 and a signal to March 8 that the US is watching. But let's not turn this into an issue of elections being fair or unfair, especially in an electoral system designed to reproduce, give or take, the status-quo of the Taif Accords. Everyone knows what the system is - friend of Hillary Clinton or not. Now, ignore everything said above and go read much more informed people blogging about the Lebanese elections here. He (or she) says there are only 18 seats (out of 128) that are really up for grabs, the rest being evenly divided between March 8 and March 14. Personally, if I could vote, I'd go for these guys:
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The Green Party: "Because the Earth is not confessional." In the meantime, the Lebanese economy enjoyed 9% growth last year. P.S. Also read this on the video circulating showing Walid Jumblatt disparaging his March 14 partners and urging reconciliation with Shias, which Michael Young thinks may signal a future change of sides for the Druze weathervane.
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IMF: Midde Eastern economies are buffering global shock

From the Transcript of a Press Conference on the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook, a bit on the outlook for the Middle East:
"QUESTION: We talked almost about all the world's economy. We did not talk about the Middle East. So what's the outlook for the Middle East? And what do you expect them--what kind of role you're expecting for them to play? And if you have time, also I would like to talk about the Lebanese example, because I think if not the only country, like one of the fewest country that was not--they were not affected by the financial crisis. So Mr. Blanchard or anyone. Thank you. MR. DECRESSIN: Yes, we see growth in the Middle East slowing from around 6 percent in 2008 to 2.5 percent in 2009 and 3.5 percent in 2010. So, this is a much better scenario than the one that we have for the euro area or the U.S., for example. So what's happening in the Middle East? You have first the oil price decline which is affecting the economies; and, second, the general decline in global trade. And then for some countries in the Middle East, also the financial crisis. There are some instabilities in some banking systems. Now, the governments have, in our view, reacted very forcefully. They had large fiscal surpluses during the oil price boom in 2008 and 2007 and so they've built up large asset positions. And what they are now doing is they are basically running large deficits to support the economies. And in that sense, they will soften the decline that is going to happen to non-oil activity, and we think that this is very important. Saudi Arabia, I think, among the G-20 is the country that gives the largest fiscal stimulus, and rightfully so. At the same time, countries have also pulled all the stops with respect to monetary easing that they can pull, lowering reserve requirements, for example, and so forth. They have also injected liquidity in their banking systems. Countries have put money on the table for recapitalization. So on the whole, it's a pretty strong policy response, and I think this validates our forecast of a decline in the growth rate, but still positive growth of around 2.5 percent this year. Now, as to Lebanon, Lebanon has been a financial center, and our reading is at least that the country will be quite heavily affected. They've had growth of around 8.5 percent in 2008, and they're going down to 3 percent. So they've been growing a little more than the average in the Middle East in 2008, and they are falling down to approximately the same level as theaverage in terms of growth rates. And there the financial sector is playing a big role as well because it's a big part of the economy, and with generally lower activity everywhere in the Middle East, that will also reduce the financial flows from other Middle Eastern countries to Lebanon, and it will reduce the profitability of the banking sector."
Since Lebanon is kept afloat by financial flows from elsewhere in the region and beyond, one should keep in mind how this will affect the political climate post-elections. When the pie shrinks, there's more fighting for a slice... Note that in chapter two of the IMF's report on the global crisis, there is a section called "Middle Eastern Economies Are Buffering Global Shocks". So basically Middle Eastern countries, esp. oil producers, are providing relief for the advanced economies of Europe and North America whose financial irresponsibility caused this crisis. And many of these countries, even when they have a lot of petrodollars, are poor. (Not to mention whatever kind of pressure is being put on major OPEC producers to keep oil prices low during the recession, beyond falling demand.)
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Mega-Shia conspiracy

It's been reported today that a group of Egyptians, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, and Lebanese have arrested in Egypt for belonging to a smuggling ring to Gaza, while Israel alleges they could be a threat to Israeli vacationers in Sinai. So this story involves Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran vs. Israel and Egypt, as well as attempts to spread Shiism in Egypt. Needless to say, I am skeptical. Report: Egypt arrests 7 Israeli Arabs for spying for Hamas, Hezbollah Egypt arrests over 40 suspected smugglers to Gaza Israel says tourists in Sinai are attack targets Pro-Hezbollah Group Arrested In Egypt Update: Here's Reuters' story: Egypt holds men on suspicion of aiding Hamas-lawyer
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Boomtime for knights in Lebanon

The Lebanese authorities, like every country, issue out statistics on various economic indicators. Below is the chart that shows the number of employment permits issued for various professions between 2003 and 2005. Click to get a bigger image and look at under "specialized professions," where there is a category for "knight." A holdover from the Crusades?

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Links January 20th and January 21st

Automatically posted links for January 20th through January 21st:

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Links for 12-18 December

Automatically posted links for December 12th through December 18th:
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Links for 12 December

Automatically posted links for December 9th through December 12th:

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Links for December 3rd

Automatically posted links for December 3rd:

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Links for November 26th

Automatically posted links for November 26th:

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Del.icio.us links for November 21st

Automatically posted links for November 21st:

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ICG on "Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis"

International Crisis Group - Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis:
Looking back over the past ten months, Lebanese can feel somewhat relieved. The massive demonstrations in December 2006, followed by a general strike and clashes between pro- and anti-government forces with strong sectarian overtones, as well as a series of assassinations and car bombs, brought the nation perilously close to breakdown. State institutions are virtually paralysed; the government barely governs; the economic crisis is deepening; mediation efforts have failed; political murders continue; and militias, anticipating possible renewed conflict, are rearming. Still, fearful of the consequences of their own actions, leaders of virtually every shade took a welcome step back. An important explanation lies in Hizbollah’s realisation that its efforts to bring down the government carried dangerous consequences. Facing calls for its disarmament and denunciations of its (allegedly foreign-inspired) adventurism in triggering the July 2006 war, the movement concluded that the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and its backers were hostile actors intent on cutting it down to size and further aligning Lebanon with the West. As a result, it carried the fight squarely on the domestic scene, removing Shiite ministers, taking to the streets and pushing for the government’s ouster. This resort to street politics was risky and ultimately self-defeating. At almost every social level, Shiite support for Hizbollah has solidified, a result of both the movement’s longstanding efforts to consolidate its hold over the community and a highly polarised post-war environment. Former Shiite adversaries are, for the time being, silencing their differences, viewing the movement’s weapons as their best defence in an environment where Shiites feel besieged from both within and without. But while the movement demonstrated its mobilisation capacity and enjoyed support from an important segment of the Christian community, its use of an essentially Shiite base to bring down a Sunni-dominated government reinforced sectarian loyalties. Sunnis and many Christians were alarmed at Hizbollah’s might and ability unilaterally to trigger a devastating confrontation; they increasingly saw it as a Shiite not national movement and as advancing an Iranian or Syrian not Lebanese agenda. In short, while the movement sought to highlight the conflict’s political stakes, the street battles quickly morphed into confessional ones, forcing Hizbollah into a sectarian straitjacket and threatening to distract it from its primary objectives.
Some interesting stuff about the Aoun-Hizbullah relationship coming to a head over the presidential elections towards the end.
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Spy or sex tourist?

Israeli in Lebanon under investigation in muder case and on espionage charges - Haaretz:
During questioning, it emerged that Sharon had visited Lebanon 11 times on his German passport over the last two years. He denied allegations he was on an espionage mission and said he was in Lebanon for leisure purposes, according to the source. Media reports said that police in the Merje area, a hotbed of the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement in Beirut's southern suburbs, were investigating the killing of Moussa al-Shalaani when the probe led them to Sharon. Al-Shalaani had been shot with a gun belonging to a security officer who had been his roommate. The roommate was summoned for questioning, and maintained that he had lost his gun. The roommate also said that during the time of the murder, he had been with his German friend who was residing at the Four Points Sheraton hotel in Beirut's luxurious Verdun neighbourhood. A hotel employee told the police that Sharon had paid him to not write his full name on any documents. "His conflicting testimonies led the authorities to arrest him, and further investigations are underway in a murder case and espionage," the judicial source said. "He is denying charges of espionage and insists that he is gay and he likes to have sexual relations with Lebanese men and that is why his visits to Lebanon were frequent," the source said. "But further investigations into the case showed that Sharon had a friend in the Lebanese security offices who used to facilitate his entries to Lebanon and with the help of a hotel clerk he managed to hide his real name," the source added. A Lebanese security agent was also held for questioning about his relations with the Israeli man after the two maintained contacts through the Internet, said officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Lebanon forbids any contacts or dealings with Israel. Lebanon's General Prosecutor Saeed Mirza said investigations were underway into how the story was leaked to the press. During questioning, it emerged that Sharon is well-versed regarding Lebanon, speaks Arabic well and knows how to use he language's many idioms. According to reports, Sharon learned Arabic in the United Arab Emirates from a teacher of Bahraini citizenship. The Lebanese media reported that Sharon kept his cool during questioning and denied accusations that he was a spy.
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