Reform at Customs held up by vacancies

BEIRUT: As politicians call for a renewed effort to end alleged corruption in the Customs Department, a source at the Finance Ministry said that the minister’s hands were tied until the Cabinet filled key vacancies.

Speaking to The Daily Star on the condition of anonymity, an adviser to the finance minister did not deny that there were problems at the Customs Department, but he insisted that the corruption would end once the Cabinet appointed a director general and a board of directors.

“There are 100,000 ways for smuggling. I have manifestos from the customs, and some of them are scandalous to say the least,” he said. “But we need to be clear that we can’t do anything to stop these practices unless we appoint a board of directors and director general.”

He argued that the director general and board of directors would be held accountable for problems.

“The minister cannot take any action unless there is a director general. Once we appoint the director general and board of directors, then the minister can contain the practices at some customs department,” the adviser added.

He said the delay in filling these positions was due to the difficulty of agreeing on candidates.

“The main Christian, Shiite and Sunni parties insist on appointing their own people in these key positions, and this is the main reason the Cabinet is unable to fill these vacancies,” the adviser said.

He added that former Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi had been given exceptional temporary powers to make all the customs clerks fall under his direct authority following complaints of bribery.

“But once the new Cabinet was formed and a new finance minister was appointed, these prerogatives were taken away from Minister Ali Hasan Khalil,” the adviser said.

Many politicians and economists have stressed that the best way to finance the controversial new salary demand for government employees and public school teachers is to crackdown on waste and corruption in public officials, with the Customs Department most often singled out.

Critics say the political class turns a blind eye on the blatant corruption at some entry points, especially Beirut Port.

“There is definitely something wrong at the Customs Department, even if some officials try to downplay these reports. I am sure that some of imported goods are not being subjected to customs charges,” an insider familiar with the practices at Beirut Port told The Daily Star.

“How could anyone explain that customs revenues have dropped in 2013 even though imports last year have exceeded $21 billion.”

The insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, pointed out that total imports in 2013 were $21.228 billion, compared with $17.964 billion in 2010.

“But the customs and value-added tax collected from imports in 2013 fell to $2.9 billion, from $3.44 billion in 2010. Even if there was a surge in the exempted imported goods, the drop in revenues should not have reached this level,” he said, adding that there was obliviously collaboration among customs officials and scouts who inspect the containers entering the customs zone at the port.

According to customs regulations, computers, raw materials, jewelry and some industrial parts are exempted from taxes when they are unloaded from the ships and enter the customs zone.

“Some suppliers and importers falsely declare that their containers are loaded with computers or raw material to avoid custom charges,” the insider said.

“These containers usually are loaded with shoes or garments and these products are subject to taxes and VAT. On many occasions, the customs officials and scouts do not open these containers for inspection in return for a big bribe from the suppliers.”

However, the acting director general of the Customs Department, Chafic Merhi, says that reports of corruption in his department are highly exaggerated.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Merhi said that the department lost significant revenues when the VAT was removed from fuel oil gasoline three years ago.

But the insider said that the VAT exemption for fuel oil did not explain the drop in customs revenues.

Some merchants, however, praised the customs at Rafik Hariri International Airport.

“I must admit that things are under control at Beirut airport after the authorities took a number of measures to end some bad practices that took place in the past. I collect my imported goods with relative ease and without bribing anyone,” Nadim Assi, the former president of the Beirut Merchant Association, told The Daily Star.

Source: The Daily Star

Salam meets al-Rahi, sees no reason for presidential elections to be postponed

Prime Minister Tammam Salam expressed on Thursday his optimism that the presidential elections will be held on time and according to democratic practices.

He said: “We believe that the polls can be held given that Lebanon has been respecting its democracy as demonstrated through the formation of the government and the various parliamentary sessions that have been held lately.”

He made his remarks after holding talks at Bkirki with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on the occasion of the Easter holidays.

“There is no reason for the polls to be postponed seeing as democracy is being applied,” stressed Salam.

“We have no reason to be doubtful of the elections,” he continued.

The premier stated that he is keen on respecting the wishes of al-Rahi in holding the elections on time, saying: “It is our duty to comply with national demands, especially if they are made by Bkirki.”

President Michel Suleiman’s six-year term ends in May.

The constitutional deadline to elect a president began on March 25 and ends of May 25.

Earlier this week, Speaker Nabih Berri called for a parliament session for April 23 to elect a president.

So far, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea is the only candidate to submit his candidacy.

Source: Naharnet

Afghanistan’s next first lady, a Christian Lebanese-American?

They say that behind every great man there is a woman and Afghan presidential hopeful Ashraf Ghani seems to be taking the phrase seriously, sharing the spotlight with his Lebanese-American, Christian, wife at rallies and political events.

Afghanistan will hold a presidential election on April 5 to elect a successor to Hamid Karzai and Ghani has been touted as one of the leading contenders. The American-trained anthropologist has been reported to be gathering female support, with some women professing their backing because he is a Western-educated, former World Bank official.

“Four years ago, I studied a couple of his books, and I prefer him as a candidate because of his knowledge,” Take Khatera Tajamyar, 24, told news outlet NPR.

In March, the election runner held a rally in Kabul attended by several thousand women on International Women’s Day. In a rare sight in Afghanistan’s political scene, his wife addressed the crowd.

Ghani returned to Afghanistan after the Taliban were ousted and held various government posts, including finance minister. Known in Afghanistan as Doctor Ashraf Ghani, he won about four percent of the vote in the last presidential election in 2009.One of Afghanistan’s best-known intellectuals, Ghani spent almost a quarter of century abroad during the tumultuous decades of Soviet rule, civil war and the Taliban regime.

During that period he worked as an academic in the United States and Denmark, and with the World Bank and the United Nations across East and South Asia.

Within months of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Ghani resigned from his international posts and returned to Afghanistan to become a senior adviser to Karzai.

Ghani is among the strongest backers of a crucial bilateral security deal to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 that Karzai has refused to endorse. He has said he would sign it swiftly if elected.

A Pashtun belonging to Afghanistan’s biggest ethnic group, Ghani has defended his decision to pick ethnic Uzbek former warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum as a running mate.

“The ticket is a realistic balance between forces that have been produced in the last 30 years and have a base in this society,” Ghani told Reuters.

 

Source: Al-Arabiya

Arab American National Museum gets $2 million legacy gift

DEARBORN — The Arab American National Museum received the largest gift in its history.

Russell J. Ebeid, a southeast Michigan businessman and philanthropist, announced at ACCESS’ 43rd annual dinner April 12, which is the museum’s parent organization, that he is making a $2 million legacy gift to the museum.

“I have decided to make his endowment because I believe in our community,” Ebeid said at the dinner, according to a news release. “I believe in supporting our institutions and creating a loud and proud historical heritage for our children, grandchildren and the public for generations to come. I trust that this legacy contribution in my will can promote and enhance the museum’s prestige, as well as honor our admirable predecessors.”

The size of the gift is unprecedented.

“This is a tipping point in the way we engage our individual donors,” says ACCESS Deputy Executive Director and CFO Maha Freij. “This contribution is five times larger than any other individual gift we’ve ever received.”

Ebeid has included the gift in his will, and the money will go toward the museum’s Arab American Community Archive. The archive showcases the hard work and contributions of Arab Americans, while ensuring that the Arab American immigrant experience is an integral part of U.S. history. The collection, which focuses the three themes of Immigration, Entrepreneurial Spirit and Rites of Passage, includes digital and physical assets like oral histories, photographs, artifacts, printed materials and more.

“Along with the important work of collecting and preserving these narratives from across the country, the Museum is also committed to sharing them with a broader audience. In this way, the collection impacts the general public who benefit from learning more about the national Arab American community and its history, and it allows the AANM to chip away at the prevailing misconceptions and myths about Arabs and Arab Americans,” the AANM said in an email to the Press & Guide.

Ebeid is a longstanding supporter and member of the National Advisory Board of the Arab American National Museum and the Center for Arab American Philanthropy CAAP, another national initiative of ACCESS. Through his scholarship program housed at CAAP, he supports the educational endeavors of students of color at Kettering University in Flint and exemplifies the Center’s mission of strategic giving in the Arab American community.

Ebeid has long history of recognition

Ebeid, a Lebanese American, grew up in southwest Detroit. He received his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 1962 from Kettering University (known then as General Motors Institute), a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering in 1968 from Detroit’s Wayne State University, and has received two honorary doctoral degrees in Management and Public Service. He was named the National Arab American Business Man of the Year in 2003 and entered the Halls of Fame at Wayne State University and the National Commission for Cooperative Education. In 2010, he was recognized as the Trader of the Year for his work in promoting international trade. Recently, he was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

ACCESS awarded Ebeid the “Making an Impact” award in 2008 In recognition of his philanthropic contributions to the Ebeid Hospice Residence, Ebeid Student Center, Ebeid Educational Hall, and Ebeid Athletic Center at Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio, and the Ebeid Family Scholarship Fund for disadvantaged Arab American students to attend his alma mater, Kettering University. To honor his parents, he provides scholarships to Lebanese students in their ancestral home. He was also the lead sponsor of an Emmy-winning documentary titled Our Arab American Story and the co-producer of a medical film titled Ageing of Men.

When he retired in 2011, completing a tenure of more than 40 years, Ebeid was board chairman emeritus at Guardian Industries Corp. in Auburn Hills and president of its Glass Group. He was responsible for the company’s worldwide sales, marketing, and manufacturing activities that are performed by over 19,000 people employed in 24 countries on five continents. Prior to joining Guardian in 1970, Ebeid was employed at General Motors.

Ebeid is the current owner of the Fairlane Club in Dearborn. He currently serves as a trustee for ProMedica Health Systems and Lourdes University. He has served as a director of the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan – an educational curriculum designed to teach and promote free market principles to the former socialist and emerging economies of third-world countries of the world.

 

Source: Press & Guide

Election session set for next week, white smoke unlikely

MAARAB, Lebanon: Speaker Nabih Berri called on Parliament to convene on April 23 to elect a new president as Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea announced a broad campaign platform stressing the state’s monopoly on the use of force and universal health care for all Lebanese.

The parliamentary session, set for noon Wednesday, will likely fail to elect a president as no candidate appears ready to secure two-thirds of the vote by MPs, and the session may not achieve quorum.

Geagea, meanwhile, took another concrete step in his campaign by proposing a raft of political, economic, security and judicial reforms that he said would augment the state’s power, uphold the Constitution and rule of law, and secure Lebanon.

Lebanon today has been robbed of its will and decision, and the state is undermined and paralyzed and close to becoming a failed state,” Geagea said in a speech before dozens of party cadres at his fortress-like residence in Maarab, north of Beirut. “National responsibility requires us to stand together to break the chains of fear, anxiety and chaos and hurry to save the republic.”

Berri sent Amal MP Michel Moussa to attend Geagea’s rally, in a sign of cautious openness to his candidacy. Representatives of Future Movement leader and former premier Saad Hariri, former premier Fouad Siniora and Kataeb leader Amine Gemayel also attended, along with March 14 Secretary-General Fares Soueid.

But Geagea faces an uphill battle in gaining the support of his rivals, having been a staunch critic of Hezbollah and its intervention in Syria.

The March 14 leader has also not been endorsed by his own bloc, which has yet to throw its weight behind any candidate for the presidency.

Presidential nominees are also only likely to win the race on the back of a regional consensus agreement involving Saudi Arabia and Iran, political sources told The Daily Star. No signs of an imminent breakthrough on the issue have emerged.

Future MP Ahmad Fatfat, who attended the speech on behalf of Hariri, told The Daily Star that the bloc was in “intense discussions” but had not yet made a decision on which candidate to nominate. Hariri’s chief of staff, Nader Hariri, met early Wednesday with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

But Fatfat said March 14 would only nominate one candidate and would do so before the first Parliament session to elect a president, suggesting the decision could come as early as next week.

MP Strida Geagea told The Daily Star she was confident the alliance would back her husband in the race. “There should be a unified decision in the coming days but the atmosphere is positive toward nomination,” she said.

She said Geagea would meet with senior officials in all political blocs in Lebanon “without exception,” kicking off the tour Wednesday by meeting President Michel Sleiman and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai and delivering a copy of his presidential campaign platform.

Sleiman and Rai will meet during the Easter holidays to discuss the election, likely stressing the need to hold it on time. They are also likely to discuss the presidency in upcoming meetings in the Vatican on the sidelines of a ceremony canonizing Pope John Paul II.

Sleiman’s six-year term ends in May. A two-month consultation period to elect a new president began last month.

Geagea has sought to portray his campaign, which carried the slogan “the strong republic,” as a triumph of state power, rule of law and the “primacy of the Constitution.”

“There will be no leniency in the principle of the state’s monopoly over weapons,” he told attendees, as he began outlining a sweeping set of campaign promises.

Geagea vowed to reform the judiciary by fighting corruption and patronage and appointing a large corps of judges to speed up trials, in addition to improving prison conditions. He said he would work to abolish the death penalty, bringing Lebanon in line with human rights conventions.

He called for reforms in the nation’s security services, criticizing them for failing to apprehend the culprits in attacks targeting members of the March 14 coalition and declaring his support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The STL is tasked with investigating the Feb. 14, 2005, attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.

Geagea pledged to improve the state’s infrastructure and to promote ecological and religious tourism to help combat rising unemployment and spiraling public debt. He also promised to transparently manage Lebanon’s offshore oil wealth and set up free trade zones including in the Bekaa Valley and the coastal regions.

Geagea also vowed to introduce mandatory universal health care for Lebanese citizens, subsidized by the state for the poor.

Geagea said he would uphold international resolutions, including 1701 which ended the 2006 war, and 1559, which called for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon, a measure aimed at Hezbollah.

He also vowed to resolve the dispute over the Shebaa Farms in south Lebanon by negotiating an agreement with the “legitimate” Syrian government, declaring Lebanon’s sovereignty over the territory.

Hezbollah argues that the Shebaa Farms area must be liberated. Israel maintains that the land belongs to Syria and will only be given up as part of a comprehensive peace agreement with the regime there.

Ministerial sources told The Daily Star foreign diplomats in Lebanon had expressed their optimism that the presidential polls would be held on time and said they were no longer worried over the possibility of a vacuum in the state’s leadership because of the presence of the unity government led by Prime Minister Tammam Salam. – Additional reporting by Antoine Ghattas Saab

Source: The Daily Star

Schools face brunt of fresh salary bill strikes

BEIRUT: Public sector employees held a nationwide strike Wednesday and promised further protests over Parliament’s delay in endorsing a long-awaited salary raise, as Education Minister Elias Bou Saab warned that continuing unrest risked severely disrupting the school year.

The Union Coordination Committee, which is spearheading the protests, threatened to go on strike again on April 29 if its demands for a pay hike were not met.

Public schools across the country closed as teachers and civil servants protested over the issue.

In a news conference at Riad al-Solh Square in Downtown Beirut, the UCC slammed the banking sector’s opposition to a proposal that would see a tax on deposit interest revenue increase from 5 to 7 percent in order to finance the wage hike.

“Only last year, banks made a profit of around $2.3 billion,” said Hanna Gharib, head of the UCC.

He said that only $2 billion was declared while the remaining $300 million was allocated for personal use by bank owners and managers.

“The proposal made by the Finance Ministry to raise taxes on banks … reduces the profits of banks by $250 million only,” Gharib said. “Where is the disaster?”

Parliament Tuesday formed yet another committee to study the draft law within a two-week deadline. The move angered the UCC, which has been waiting two years for a final decision on the proposal to be reached.

After being mulled by Cabinet, the draft law was passed to a parliamentary subcommittee and Parliament’s Joint Committees, who have been examining it for over a year.

Teachers and public sector employees are demanding a 121 percent salary raise that would be effective retroactively, and have rejected suggestions that the extra money could be paid in installments.

Many MPs argue that the wage hike, which is expected to cost around $2 billion, would have a grave impact on the ailing economy amid a drop in revenues.

Some voiced fears that the step would result in a strong depreciation in the pound, as happened in 1992 following the Civil War.

In a further escalation of tensions, Amal Movement MP Hani Qobeisi announced that he had decided to go ahead with a lawsuit against Francois Bassil, the head of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, for reportedly insulting MPs over the tax hike proposal.

Bassil denies the allegations.

“I am not afraid of the lawsuit, I am under the law and judiciary,” he said.

Later, a UCC delegation visited Education Minister Elias Bou Saab at the ministry.

“Official exams are in danger and the ability to finish the academic year is in danger if demands are not met,” Bou Saab said at a joint news conference.

Voicing his support for the demands of teachers, he added: “It is unacceptable to depict teachers as the enemies of the Lebanese economy and push them to take steps they don’t like.”

The minister said that while he agreed the salary raise required an in-depth examination, this should have happened before.

“I hope that studying the figures will be finalized within two weeks before April 29. I hope that schools will not be closed before that date.”

Gharib, who spoke at both news conferences, threatened to call further strikes and protests on April 29 if UCC’s demands were not met, even suggesting teachers might boycott marking official exams.

Many civil servants are justifying their demand for a salary raise by pointing to a pay hike judges received last year, prompting the Higher Judicial Council to release a statement Wednesday emphasizing that the sector had its own salary scale that should not be compared to the rest of the public sector.

Speaking at Baabda Palace, President Michel Sleiman said that while he supported the right of teachers and public sector employees to have a wage hike, he believed this should be fulfilled based on the available revenues.

The draft law to raise salaries was initially approved by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati and referred to Parliament in March 2013.

Speaking at the beginning of a Cabinet session in the palace, Sleiman said amendments introduced to the law by a parliamentary subcommittee that raised its cost could have a negative impact on economic stability.

Commenting on requests by some Lebanese that he return other recently passed laws to Parliament, Sleiman said he would make a decision in line with country’s best interests, national laws and the Constitution.

Longtime tenants have been holding protests urging him not to sign a rent law endorsed in the past two weeks, arguing that it is unfair.

Landlords have held several opposing demonstrations, urging Sleiman to sign. The president’s signature is necessary for the law to go into effect.

Sleiman said relevant departments in the presidential palace were studying the draft law.

Source: The Daily Star

Hale praises security plan successes in Tripoli, Bekaa

BEIRUT: The U.S. Ambassador in Lebanon David Hale welcomed Wednesday the government’s success in implementing security measures in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley.

“The United States stands with the government, the security forces, and the people as they work toward peace,” Hale said while on a tour in north Lebanon that included Tripoli and the town of Bnashi in Zghorta.

“This is why my country has given more than $1 billion in support to the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces, and why we will continue to support those seeking to ensure peace, stability and prosperity.”

Hale also highlighted the government’s capacity to take effective action when it stood united.

“When there is political will, the security services are demonstrating they have the means to bring stability. I would like to especially thank the soldiers and officers on the ground here, and note their courage and dedication to this cause,” he added, according to a statement issued by his embassy.

In the northern capital, Hale met with the Mufti of Tripoli and north Lebanon Sheikh Malek al-Shaar.

“It is good to come back to Tripoli, a city I first visited in 1992 during my initial tour in Lebanon. I have come back on many occasions since then and look forward to returning,” he said after the meeting.

“Being here reminds me of the great respect I have for the people of Tripoli, who, like the mufti, work hard every day to strengthen rule of law, as well as counter violence and terrorism,” he said.

I have great respect for the moderate and peaceful citizens of Tripoli who, for too long, have suffered violence, terrorism, neglect and economic challenges,” he added.

In Bnashi, Hale met with the head of the Marada Movement Sleiman Frangieh and discussed local and regional issues, according to a statement issued by Frangieh’s office.

Source: The Daily Star

Cabinet makes key appointment, addresses hospital issue

BEIRUT: The Cabinet Wednesday appointed a female head for the Civil Service Board and approved a plan to address the deteriorating Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut.

Chaired by President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace, the Cabinet appointed Fatima Sayegh as the new head of the Civil Service Board for a six-year term.

Due to lack of consensus among the groups forming the government, Cabinet did not make further appointments to the many vacant posts in the public sector.

The government also approved a plan proposed by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour to tackle the mounting problems facing Rafik Hariri University Hospital.

Media reports emerged recently alleging corruption in the hospital, which was inaugurated in 2004.

There are also complaints about the hospital’s inability to provide medications to patients suffering from chronic diseases.

The facility is also witnessing a severe cash flow problem and operating way below its capacity of 400 to 450 beds.

The Cabinet tasked Abu Faour and Minister of State for Administrative Development Nabil de Freij, to come up with a method to appoint a new board of directors for the hospital.

The Cabinet decided to provide the hospital with a loan amounting to around LL 20 billion ($ 13.3 million) after the new board was formed.

Speaking to reporters after the session, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said President Michel Sleiman had expressed his satisfaction with the ongoing plan carried out by the Army and Internal Security Forces to restore security in the Bekaa Valley and Tripoli, in his remarks made at the start of the meeting.

Sleiman described the plan as excellent, that saying it should continue and be accompanied by development plans in the Bekaa Valley and north Lebanon, and by combating extremism.

The president highlighted the need to assure tourists, particularly other Arabs, that the situation had been stabilized in Lebanon, as tourism season has already started.

Sleiman said that Tourism Minister Michel Pharoan should launch a swift plan for this purpose, accompanied by a media campaign.

The president expressed relief that residents of the Syrian Christian village of Maaloula had returned home and that priests had returned to their monasteries after the Syrian army drove out rebels from the area earlier this week.

Sleiman also called for the protection of minorities in Syria who were not taking part in the conflict.

The president said that Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk was in the midst of contacting relevant officials and political groups to secure a road to evacuate the Lebanese residing in the Lebanese village of Tfeil, close to Syria.

The village, located in east Lebanon, can only be accessed through Syria’s Qalamoun region, which has been witnessing fierce fighting between the Syrian army and Syrian rebels in recent weeks.

Sleiman called on relevant officials to consider ways to open a road in Lebanon connecting the village to the country.

The president highlighted the need for ministers to be productive and called on the Administrative Development Ministry to coordinate with relevant ministries to address any problems delaying appointments in vacant posts.

Sleiman called on Defense Minister Samir Moqbel and Machnouk to give instructions to boost security measures around places of worship during Good Friday and Easter mass, set to take place this weekend, in order to prevent any possible security incidents.

Source: The Daily Star

Halal industry to be worth $2.5 trillion by 2018

Halal food and lifestyle, products manufactured or produced as per the Islamic laws, sectors are expected to grow phenomenally as Muslim population continues to grow and the companies hoping to tap into the lucrative market.

As per the latest State of Global Islamic Economy Report, published by Thomson Reuters in partnership with DinarStandard, consumer expenditure in 2012 for the fast-growing global halal food and lifestyle sectors was $1.62 trillion and is expected to be valued at $2.47 trillion by 2018.

“Global brands such as Nestle, Carrefour, Marriot, Pfizer, as well as regional investment firms and thousands of SME’s grapple with serving this fast growing, global, and complex market,” said Rafi-uddin Shikoh, Managing Director & CEO of DinarStandard, in a statement released yesterday.

The report defines halal as:

“Food permitted per Islamic dietary guidelines from the Qu’ran. Muslim followers cannot consume: pork or pork by products, animals that were dead prior to slaughtering, animals not slaughtered properly or not slaughtered in the name of God, blood and blood by products, alcohol, carnivorous animals, birds of prey.”

GCC halal food imports are set to jump from $25.8 billion in 2010 to $53.1 billion by 2020, and the UAE’s annual halal food imports is expected to reach $8.4 billion by the end of the decade – according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The UAE is all geared to position itself as the gateway of this growing industry segment. The UAE government has recently announced setting up of ‘Halal Cluster,’ a 6.7 million square feet land in Dubai Industrial City, for firms dealing in halal food, cosmetics, and personal care items, according to the CEO of Dubai Industrial City, Abdullah Belhoul.

“This industry itself, we know it is growing. So we think there is a lot of opportunity… and we need to capitalize on this,” said the CEO.

The report mentions that the global Muslim consumers spent about $1,088 billion in food and beverage consumption in 2012, accounting for 16.6% of global expenditure. “This expenditure is expected to grow to $1,626 billion market by 2018. This represents the Halal food potential market world-wide within its core Muslim consumer market,” according to the report.

 

Source: Al-Bawaba

Reports: Gemayel, Saniora agree on March 14 coordination to choose single presidential candidate

Kataeb leader Amin Gemayel and the head of al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc Fouad Saniora agreed on the importance of coordination between the March 14 alliance’s members before backing any presidential candidate, sources said Tuesday.

Saniora visited Gemayel on Monday after talks with al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri in Riyadh.

MTV reported on Tuesday that Hariri had telephoned the Kataeb chief on to discuss the latest developments.

A terse statement issued by the Kataeb chief’s press office on Monday said discussions with Saniora focused on the presidential elections and the need to hold them on time.

But sources told several local dailies that Gemayel and Saniora stressed the unity of March 14, the importance of coordination to have a single candidate, and coming up with a mechanism to choose the person who is most capable to garner the support of MPs from outside the alliance, mainly centrists.

The vote of lawmakers from the coalition is not enough to guarantee the election of a March 14 figure, they said.

After his talks with Gemayel, Saniora met with the March 14 camp’s independent figures and briefed them on the results of his discussions with Hariri in Riyadh.

The adviser of the Mustaqbal movement chief, Nader Hariri, who was in Riyadh with Saniora, met with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat, a centrist, at his residence in Clemenceau.

Also Monday, Gemayel held talks with President Michel Suleiman’s adviser, former Minister Khalil Hrawi.

Sources said that Gemayel was coming under pressure by party members and his allies in March 14 to officially announce his candidacy for the presidency.

Suleiman’s six-year term ends in May but the Constitutional deadline for the election of a new head of state started on March 25.

Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea was the first to announce he was running for the presidency, leaving his March 14 allies in confusion.

Other presidential hopefuls are Gemayel, MPs Butros Harb and Robert Ghanem, who are like Geagea members of March 14.

Potential candidates from the March 8 alliance are Hizbullah allies Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun and Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh.

Lebanese presidents are always chosen from the Maronite sect in accordance with the 1943 National Pact.

 

Source: Naharnet

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