Thursday. 29/7/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Leila Molana-Allen

Hoping against hope

This week a not-so-new face re-emerged in Lebanon’s floundering political system. Najib Mikati (pictured), who has already been the country’s premier twice, won the backing of enough parties in parliament to become its next prime minister-designate. It comes after Saad Hariri abandoned his efforts to appoint a cabinet on 15 July after almost nine months. Mikati, a billionaire from the northern city of Tripoli, was tapped because he is relatively inoffensive to all sides. But to many here, Lebanon’s richest man embodies the same corruption, greed and lack of accountability on the part of the country’s elites that has brought Lebanon to its knees.

There’s little sign that Mikati will have any more success than his predecessor in encouraging MPs to forsake political one-upmanship in favour of rapidly forming a government to introduce reforms. But those reforms are desperately needed. The national power grid has failed; in sweltering temperatures, Lebanese citizens now get no more than two hours of government-supplied power a day. That shortfall is supplemented by exorbitantly expensive generators for those who can afford them but with a massive diesel shortage, even these are failing. Meanwhile, in a country with limited access to public transport, fuel scarcity means hours-long queues to get enough petrol just to get to and from work. With the currency jumping wildly to about LBP20,000 to the US dollar – up from LBP1,500 just two years ago – food and basic essentials are becoming increasingly difficult to afford.

Mikati himself admits that he doesn’t “have a magic wand” and international leaders are only cautiously optimistic about his appointment, having seen so many putative political saviours flail and fail over the past few years. Another turn around the same old political merry-go-round is unlikely to prove any more effective in a country that is failing its citizens on every front.

Leila Molana-Allen is a freelance correspondent and regular Monocle contributor in Beirut. Hear more from her on ‘The Monocle Daily’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Alamy

Travel / Balkans

Band together

Today the leaders of Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia (pictured, left to right) will officially unveil a Balkan “mini-Schengen” area featuring scant travel restrictions, fast-track work permits and smoothed trade barriers. The move is both an homage to and a rebuke of the EU, to which all three are yet to be granted membership: North Macedonia has been attempting to join for 18 years, Serbia for nine and Albania for seven. And while the European Commission supports the new border-free area and suggests that it could even boost membership chances, “enlargement fatigue” is the prevailing mood in most of the bloc’s capitals. Not so in mini-Schengen, whose three members hope soon to be joined by Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and even disputed-status Kosovo. “You could take the ‘mini-Schengen’ plans in two different ways,” says Monocle’s Balkans correspondent Guy De Launey. “Either as the western Balkans showing the maturity to prepare themselves for membership of a much wider free movement and free trade area; or else, their exasperation that their EU membership aspirations seem to be stuck in the slow lane, if not broken down on the hard shoulder.”

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Peru

Long division

Peru’s new leftist president Pedro Castillo (pictured) was sworn in yesterday with a full agenda and plenty to live up to after an election that has left the nation sharply divided. A former teacher, Castillo has promised major reforms, including redrafting the constitution and hiking mining taxes, to guarantee “no more poor people in a rich country”. But enacting those changes will be difficult: an opposition-led alliance earlier this week won a vote to install their preferred leadership team at the helm of Peru’s congress.

“What we’re seeing is a repetition of what’s happened in Peru in recent years, with congress and the president going in opposite directions and fighting each other, keeping the country immobilised in the process,” Vinicius de Carvalho, senior lecturer at King’s College London’s war studies department and director of the Brazil Institute, tells The Monocle Minute. “It doesn’t seem like Castillo’s election will heal the nation’s wounds.”

Image: Getty Images

Society / Japan

Gathering pace

Team Japan continues to pull off a medal-winning streak at the Olympics this week with strong performances in surfing, swimming and softball, to name a few – but the mood among the public in Tokyo remains a strange one. Around the capital there are few overt signs of the Olympics taking place, other than the increased presence of police officers and the usually unseen Japanese Self Defence Forces standing in camouflaged uniforms on the streets around sports venues. And while there are no public-viewing gatherings, many citizens remain glued to their televisions at home, providing fodder for plenty of cheerful conversation in cafés and places of work. Political scandals and rising coronavirus case numbers aside, it feels impossible for this sports-loving nation to ignore the world’s best athletes giving their all. But leaders will need to keep a close eye on the health situation if they hope to keep the city’s chatter lively.

Image: Alamy

Aviation / Italy

Economy class

Italy’s aviation sector is getting an aid injection. The European Commission this week granted €800m in compensation to Italian airports and ground-handling operators to make up for losses caused by travel restrictions during the pandemic. “Airports are among the companies that have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus outbreak,” said Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s head of competition policy. “This scheme will enable Italy to compensate them for the damage suffered.” The aid package comes as a new Italian flag carrier, ITA, is set to replace the beleaguered Alitalia in October. Alitalia has flown for 74 years, undergoing six failed rescue attempts in the 13 years since its privatisation, costing the government €10bn in bailouts. ITA will be bidding to buy the Alitalia brand and hopes to fly using its livery. The Italian government, the new airline’s biggest shareholder, is confident that mistakes won’t be repeated. Travellers are slowly returning to the skies this summer but Italian aviation will have to chart a careful course.

To hear more on ITA and Italy’s airport aid, listen to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24

M24 / Food Neighbourhoods

Recipe edition, Vanessa Bolosier

A delicious Caribbean Creole dessert recipe from the author of new cookbook Sunshine Kitchen.

Monocle Films / Berlin

Studio Babelsberg: reel deal

Despite the ubiquity of digital effects in cinema, Berlin’s Studio Babelsberg has preserved the craft of prop making. Its lifelike items continue to appear in some of the biggest movies today. We inspect the studio’s stunning hand-built sets and its museum-like archives.

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