Friday 27 January 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 27/1/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Maria Klenner

Opinion / Leila Molana-Allen

Pressing ahead

Lebanon has had a tough start to the year. In the first few weeks of January the economic crisis ravaging the country deepened further; last week, the lira hit an all-time low. The currency has now depreciated by more than 95 per cent in just three years. The nation has lost its voting rights at the UN as a result of its unwillingness – or inability – to pay the more than $1.8m (€1.65m) in dues that it owes from the past two years.

It also entered 2023 trapped in political deadlock. Having failed to elect a new president for months, the country is limping along with a caretaker government that can’t launch the reforms that it so urgently needs. Citizens understandably feel that the elites are working in their own interests rather than those of the wider public.

But in recent days, a ray of light has emerged. Two new independent MPs, Najat A Saliba and Melhem Khalaf, have occupied parliament for an ongoing sit-in. Enraged by its 11th failure to agree on a new president, they have refused to leave until a resolution is reached. They have told the nation’s media that they want to bring new hope to Lebanon. Dozens of their colleagues have visited them to show support. Even if a president still hasn’t been found, Saliba and Khalaf are keen to demonstrate that at least some people are trying to make things happen.

Meanwhile, the country’s economic saviour-turned-devil Riad Salameh, the governor of its central bank, is facing multiple charges in European nations, which accuse him of fraud. And the investigation into the Beirut blast, long stymied by efforts by politicians and the judiciary to block accountability, has finally made some headway. The judge leading the investigation has announced that he will ignore establishment warnings to suspend the investigation and press ahead with interrogations of security officials, judicial figures and politicians. These developments might not bring immediate change to a collapsing country but a willingness to break ranks and pursue justice is the only hope that Lebanon can cling onto.

Leila Molana-Allen is Monocle’s Beirut correspondent.

Image: Alamy

Politics / Czech Republic

At a crossroads

A two-day run-off election for the Czech presidency begins today after none of the eight candidates received an absolute majority two weeks ago. Ex-army general Petr Pavel is pitted against billionaire and former prime minister Andrej Babis (pictured, in front of a poster of Pavel). While Pavel is eager to offer military support to Ukraine, Babis has questioned Nato’s collective-defence clause.

“Babis’s pledge to strive for peace in Ukraine seems intended to appeal to the many Czechs who are uncomfortable with the level of support being provided by the West to Kyiv,” says Prague-based journalist William Nattrass. “Pavel, on the other hand, firmly backs the current government’s uncompromising stance against Russian aggression.” Though it is the government that sets foreign policy, many still regard the presidency’s position as symbolic of the country’s stance. This weekend could determine whether the Czech Republic’s foreign policy will change dramatically.

Image: Reuters

Business / Japan

Playing catch-up

Toyota’s CEO, Akio Toyoda, has announced that he is stepping down from his role after 14 years at the helm of the Japanese car-maker. He will be replaced by Koji Sato (pictured, on left, with Toyoda), who is currently the company’s chief branding officer and head of Lexus, its luxury car division.

The grandson of Toyota’s founder, Toyoda took the reins in 2009, just before the global economic downturn and a safety controversy in 2010 shook the business. By 2022, Toyota had recovered to become the world’s most valuable car company but it has lagged behind some of its competitors in the race to make electric vehicles. With Sato’s appointment as CEO, the company is gearing up for a significant change. “The mission of the new team is to fully remodel Toyota as a mobility company,” Toyoda announced on Thursday. All eyes will be on Sato to see how speedy that transformation will be.

Image: Shutterstock

Urbanism / Netherlands

Racks and tracks

Cyclists in the Dutch capital will have more space to park their bikes from this week with the opening of an underground bicycle garage near Amsterdam Centraal station. Built at a hefty cost of €60m, the structure is capable of holding as many as 7,000 bikes. That should bring some much-needed relief to the overcrowded racks in the city centre.

Amsterdam has been working hard on smoothing connections between rail travel and cycling; cities around the world should take note. When it comes to weaning commuters off cars, creating cycle paths alone isn’t enough. Joined-up thinking is necessary for encouraging citizens to use different means of transport, as well as ensuring that there’s a safe, reliable place to store their ride once they are ready to hop off.

Image: Benjamin Schmuck

Publishing / France

Picture perfect

The Angoulême International Comics Festival, Europe’s second-largest event dedicated to illustrated books, kicked off yesterday in the southwestern French city and runs until Sunday. The festival, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, holds a special place in the French publishing calendar. One in four books sold in the country is a comic book; the nation has one of the world’s largest consumer markets for the format, with readership continuing to rise.

Despite a cloud hanging over the cancellation of a retrospective by controversial cartoonist Bastien Vivès, there is plenty to get excited about, with a notable focus on young audiences and manga. Look out for exhibitions around town showcasing everything from Japanese title Attack on Titan (pictured) to French-Ivorian cartoonist Marguerite Abouet. The debate about creative freedom at one of the planned round tables seems like a pretty good idea too.

Image: Virginia Rota / Peeping Tom

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Culture

Onstage in 2023

Robert Bound is joined by theatre critics Natasha Tripney and Matt Wolf to discuss the year ahead onstage. We put the spotlight on showstopper musicals, a play starring the actor of the moment and staged versions of bestselling novels by Olga Tokarczuk and Hanya Yanagihara.

Global / Monocle Films

Monocle preview: February issue

Monocle’s February issue is all about celebrating places that work, whether that’s a parliament, home or metro carriage. From a floating office to a school teaching children the rules of the road, we profile the locations that look good and work well for those who use them. Plus: Charleston’s hospitality boom and why you should learn Russian. Order your copy today.


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