BEIRUT: Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport is perhaps the only active official facility in Lebanon these days.
Caretaker Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamiyeh said Thursday: “Ninety-three flights arrived at Beirut airport on Wednesday, carrying 15,444 passengers coming to spend summer vacation here.
“The number of planes arriving in Beirut will increase in the coming days,” Hamiyeh expected.
Lebanon is counting on summertime travel to pump hard currency into the economic cycle amid accumulated political and economic crises and their impact on the living situation of the Lebanese people.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is also PM-designated, warned Thursday during the Parliamentary Finance and Budget Committee meeting: “Every delay in coming up with solutions to crises costs Lebanon $25 million a day.”
A source at the Middle East Airlines told Arab News: “As a result of the economic crisis, COVID-19 precautionary measures, and the decline in the financial capabilities of the Lebanese, only a few thousand pilgrims will be traveling to perform Hajj this year. Their numbers reached over 25,000 in previous years.”
On Wednesday, an MEA flight carrying the first batch of Lebanese pilgrims landed at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. MEA is the only authorized airline in Lebanon to transport pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia.
The economic collapse and the national currency’s depreciation made the pilgrimage more difficult for those wishing to go to Makkah.
Former MP Mohammed Al-Hajjar complained about “the inability of the Lebanese to travel to perform Hajj because the vaccine against meningitis, which Saudi Arabia requires from pilgrims for their safety, is not available in the Ministry of Health for lack of funding, or in pharmacies.”
Abdelrahman Al-Taweel, who is in charge of the Foutowa campaign for Hajj and Umrah, said: “The number of pilgrims this year did not reach 2,700, which is the quota allocated to Lebanon. The main reason is the high cost of the trip, which amounts to $6,000 per pilgrim. Everything is more expensive nowadays, [including] airline tickets, the price of which has risen globally as a result of the high cost of fuel, as well as tents and other supplies, and other additional fees.”
Al-Taweel noted: “The unavailability of the meningitis vaccine, which the Ministry of Health is supposed to provide to people, prompted the pilgrims to buy it at their own expense. It costs $60, which is equivalent to 1,800,000 LBP, according to the black-market exchange rate.”
Lebanon is trying to convey the image that it is doing well — despite the crises plaguing it — to visitors, including the Arab foreign ministers whom officials encouraged Thursday to hold their consultative meeting in Beirut ahead of the Arab Summit.
However, public-sector employees went on strike and will only resume work once their demands — including increased salaries, transportation allowances and health and educational benefits — are met.
In the absence of solutions, it seems that the general strike will continue, paralyzing the entire country.
MP Ghassan Hasbani, member of the Strong Republic bloc, warned after the Finance and Budget Committee meeting: “The government is yet to present a final financial…reform plan in order to interpret laws. The government must refer this plan to parliament as quickly as possible with a legislative roadmap and laws ready for implementation to speed up recovery and approve a budget that reflects the required reforms.”
It remains unknown whether the composition of the new government that Mikati handed over to President Michel Aoun on Wednesday morning will get the latter’s approval.
Less than 24 hours after the non-binding parliamentary consultations, Mikati drafted a government formation consisting of the current government, with some amendments, particularly to the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Economy.