Wednesday 24 May 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 24/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Reuters

Opinion / Leila Molana-Allen

Negative interest

The governor of Lebanon’s central bank, Riad Salameh, is now a fugitive from international justice after skipping a court hearing in Paris last Tuesday. The following day, Interpol issued a red notice (a request to all countries to help in detaining him). Salameh was once the darling of Middle East financial circles, credited with stabilising Lebanon’s economy and maintaining its currency at a steady dollar peg for more than 20 years. But when the economy began to collapse in 2019, it soon became clear that Salameh’s magic touch was an illusion. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese watched as their savings were reduced to nothing, while the banks imposed capital controls to stop them making withdrawals. Salameh sat back and called it a blip.

He is now facing charges of corruption, illicit enrichment and embezzlement from the state in no less than five countries. Swiss authorities believe that he and his family members have squirrelled away more than $330m (€305m) in stolen funds in their banks. Tens of millions more have been revealed in Paris and London. More damningly, there is now direct evidence that Salameh’s son was able to transfer millions of dollars out of Lebanon after its economy began to collapse, even as everyday Lebanese were banned from accessing the savings and pensions that they so desperately needed.

Were this not a country where impunity for corrupt officials has become the order of the day, it would be unbelievable that, more than a year after these multiple criminal charges were filed, Salameh still holds his role as governor. He clearly hopes that his term, which finishes at the end of July, will run its course before the state removes him. If Lebanon’s political establishment ever hopes to regain the confidence of its people, it is time to hold those who have looted their country to account.

Leila Molana-Allen is Monocle’s Beirut correspondent. For more, tune in to ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio at 07.00 London time.

Image: Reuters

Politics / Timor-Leste

Split decision

Voters across Timor-Leste headed to the polls on Sunday for parliamentary elections. The opposition National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), led by Timorese independence hero Xanana Gusmão, won about 42 per cent of the vote, while the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) came in second place, with about 26 per cent. CNRT fell short of gaining enough seats to form a majority government but is expected to build a coalition with the Democratic Party (PD), one of the 15 smaller outfits that shared the remaining votes, and nominate Gusmão (pictured) as prime minister. The CNRT-backed Nobel Peace laureate José Ramos-Horta is the incumbent president, so having control of both branches of government should ease political roadblocks and add to stability in the Southeast Asian nation, which is Asia’s youngest democracy and among its most progressive. Timor-Leste is one of the region’s poorest states but planned membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will bolster economic ties and add an important democratic voice to the regional bloc.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Iran

Rhyme nor reason

Ali Akbar Ahmadian has become secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, replacing Ali Shamkhani, who held the post for close to a decade. Shamkhani (pictured) announced his departure with a social-media post quoting a cryptic verse by 16th-century Iranian poet Muhtasham Kashani. A shake-up has been rumoured since the execution in January of Alireza Akbari, an Iranian-British former official and erstwhile Ahmadian ally accused of spying for the UK.

The appointment of a veteran commander with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps might also indicate that Iran is heading in an ever-more conservative direction. “Far from a show of strength by the regime, this appointment is a show of weakness,” Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa programme, tells The Monocle Minute. “In the efforts to deter protests [against the government], they find themselves igniting them. The system in Iran invites clashes between pragmatists and radicals, and currently it’s the hardliners on domestic politics who are winning the day.”

Design / Lisbon

Initial designs

Spring is a busy time in the world’s cultural calendar and this year, Portugal is hoping to nudge its way onto the agenda with the first edition of Lisbon Design Week. The event, the brainchild of Belgian entrepreneurial duo Julie de Halleux and Michèle Fajtmann, kicks off today and runs until Sunday. About 50 participating venues around the city will host exclusive presentations, lectures, masterclasses and guided tours. Expect a strong representation of Lisbon-based ceramicists, such as Cécile Mestelan and Anna Westerlund.

French designer Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance will showcase his latest explorations in bronze and beeswax from his studio, Made in Situ, while the city’s famed Four Seasons Hotel Ritz will host an exhibition of its Portalegre tapestries. In Espaço Novobanco, a selection of works from the bank’s photography collection will be presented alongside design objects crafted by Portuguese artisans that correspond to the imagery. “The focus is on Portugal,” De Halleux tells The Monocle Minute. “Though we have international brands participating, Lisbon Design Week is about work and dialogue made within the country and providing a great opportunity for visitors to learn more about Portuguese design.”

Image: Shutterstock

Architecture / Venice

Pride of place

Demas Nwoko is the recipient of this year’s Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for lifetime achievement. The 88-year-old artist and self-taught architect received the prestigious award in recognition of a body of work that combines both Western and African art and architectural traditions. Monocle caught up with Nwoko (pictured) at the opening of the Venice Biennale.

Early in your career in Nigeria, you become renowned for using materials that were not common in architecture. How did you win work?
People were doubtful but interested. Early on, one client called my wife and asked, “How dependable is your husband? We want to give him this job to do. Do you think he can do it?” My wife said, “Well, if I know him, whatever he sets his mind to do, he will do it – and he will do it very well.”

How did you approach the creation of new materials – such as laterite mixed with concrete – for your projects?
I often didn’t know what I was developing but I would start making, which was part of the creativity that I got from my art background. Once I had worked out the technology, I could then pass it on to builders.

What do you hope that people take away from your approach to design?
My work is a critical examination of the global materials that are produced in the industrialised world. I also want to show that everybody has to be involved in the assessment of the value and quality of both the aesthetic and function of an environment.

Image: PLP Architecture

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

Chasing zero

Cities around the world are making commitments to reduce their net carbon emissions to zero. But what are the steps being taken to ensure that this goal is achieved and who is leading the race towards a greener urban future?

Monocle Films / Portugal

Inside Portugal’s tinned-fish industry

Tinned sardines are an icon of Portugal. We visit a family-run shop and one of the country’s last artisanal canneries to discover why sardines are cherished by the Portuguese, how the industry started back with Napoleon and what is driving the revival of canned fish. Discover more from the country with Portugal: The Monocle Handbook.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00