Wednesday 2 August 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 2/8/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Leila Molana-Allen

Reality cheque

The governor of Lebanon’s central bank, Riad Salameh, has stepped down after 30 years in the post. After the civil war, Salameh (pictured) made the country’s banks the go-to for investors across the Arab world through their attractive interest rates. But as the economy began to crumble in 2019 as a result of its national debt and the economic pressures of neighbouring Syria’s civil war, the house of cards collapsed. As the value of the Lebanese lira plummeted, banks imposed arbitrary capital controls and savers watched as their hard-earned cash turned to pennies on the dollar.

Salameh, meanwhile, insisted that it was a blip. In the four years since, the lira has lost 90 per cent of its value and almost 80 per cent of Lebanese now live in poverty. Despite this, the elites stood by Salameh. But he has now been accused of worse crimes and faces charges in five countries with two international arrest warrants over embezzling state funds. Still, Lebanon’s leaders have shown no signs that they plan to hand him over to justice – the search for his successor will be far from smooth. And while deputy governor and Salameh’s temporary replacement, Wassim Mansouri, has warned that he will no longer write the government a blank cheque without a proper budget, critics still see him as a compromise appointment.

Given that the country’s leaders have been unable to agree on a cabinet or a president for a year since its last election, the chances of voting in a new governor who will impose true reforms are slim. The International Monetary Fund sits in wait, ready to help with billions of dollars when Lebanon introduces the reforms that it has long demanded. Beirut’s only chance of true financial recovery is an economic leader willing to upset the establishment and make difficult decisions; many here have lost hope that such a figure exists.

Leila Molana-Allen is Monocle’s Middle East correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Hanwha Aerospace

Military / Australia

Brothers in arms

South Korean defence firm Hanwha has won a contract worth up to AU$7bn (€4.2bn) to build 129 Redback armoured vehicles for the Australian army, beating Germany’s Rheinmetall to the deal. Hanwha will construct the first personnel carriers, which are equipped with a machine gun and an anti-tank guided missile, in Geelong, Victoria. The pandemic delayed testing and prolonged the tender process, and the Australian military’s original request of 450 vehicles was cut down after its Defence Strategic Review in April, which prioritised funding for littoral equipment such as landing craft.

The deal follows a meeting in May between the country’s defence ministers in which they agreed to strengthen their bilateral and maritime security ties. South Korea and Australia are both adherents to the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which focuses on countering Chinese influence in the region; an increase in military co-operation is only likely to continue.

Image: Alamy

Aviation / Angola

Way with words

As of today, TAAG Angola Airlines will increase the number of flights between Luanda’s Quatro de Fevereiro and São Paulo’s Guarulhos international airports. The Angolan state-owned airline will now operate six flights a week between the two cities instead of the current four, with the eight-hour journey being delivered by a 22-craft fleet comprising Boeing 777 and 737s.

Both Luanda and São Paulo are looking to boost their status as connection hubs between South America, Africa and Europe; with the Brazilian branch having recently become South America’s busiest airport. TAAG is currently the only airline operating along the Brazil-Angola transatlantic route, which in 2019 carried an impressive 110,000 passengers. The augmented flight path will complement increased connections between Lisbon, Porto and the Angolan capital, all of which will boost trade and tourism between the three Lusophone countries.

Image: Naoyuki Obayashi

Society / Japan

Clean as day

Toilets are a symbol of Japan’s world-renowned hospitality culture. No more so than in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward where 17 public toilets have been remodelled with the help of designers from around the world. The Tokyo Toilet project was promoted by the Nippon Foundation and the Shibuya Ward Office to flush away the image of public restrooms as “dirty, smelly and dark.”

The maintenance and management of the facilities have now been handed over from the foundation to the ward office, which has plans to promote the bathrooms as a tourism resource, including the transparent toilets (don’t worry, the walls turn opaque when someone is inside) at Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park (pictured). The project’s key aim is for the architectural design to stand the test of time. As the works of art move into public control, the facility creators are hoping their hard work and imagination don’t go down the pan.

Image: Shutterstock

F&B / France

Bitter end?

As worldwide inflation surges, certain hitherto totemic prices have come under threat. In New York, the $1 slice of pizza is a vanishing rarity, while in Paris, the €1 shot of espresso is becoming endangered. Attempting to protect and promote its coffee culture, the French capital has created an interactive map listing every bar, café and brasserie in central Paris that still serves €1 espressos.

The map, which was conceived 10 years ago and has just had a visual revamp, features about 80 spots, a reduction of around 50 per cent from the number when it was launched. Since then, Paris has climbed global cost-of-living indexes and consistently ranks as one of the most expensive cities in Europe. With inflation in France currently hovering around 4.5 per cent, the €1 espresso might not represent the most financially profitable product for café owners but what it symbolises is invaluable.

Monocle Radio / The Entrepreneurs

Hyper Hypo

In the heart of the Monastiraki neighbourhood in Athens, two friends took the plunge to create the bookstore that they thought the Greek capital was lacking. Hyper Hypo is both a community hub and publishing house, whose ethos and selection balances a smart mix of the playful and the profound. Monocle’s Paige Reynolds reports.

Edits / Monocle

July/August issue, 2023

Who tops our liveable leaderboard? Monocle’s annual Quality of Life Survey puts the world’s best cities through their paces and profiles the urban centres on the up. We also get set for summer by gardening in Hiroshima, dining in Marseille and dancing in Mexico City. Plus: how Bratislava’s bass-playing, architect mayor is helping the city to find its groove. Grab your copy today.


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