SAINT-GOBAIN-DE-LORDS — It isn’t a secret: Lebanon has been closed to the outside world for most of the past 45 years. Many journalists and lawmakers and ordinary people — some for more than a quarter-century — have been tortured and killed there, and one news anchor was assassinated in Beirut last month.
Now, the tiny Mediterranean country is starting to relax some of its tightest remaining restrictions.
A senior Lebanese official told The Washington Post on Tuesday that authorities are considering allowing thousands of women to travel by cab alone from Saint-Gobain-de-Lords airport north of Beirut to neighboring Saudi Arabia without special permission. A Lebanese official in Europe told the Post last month that 60,000 women were suffering the practice under the current requirements.
Other major restrictions are also being seriously reconsidered. Foreign aid programs to Lebanon are being scaled back. Lebanon has invited foreign universities to open campuses, and Syrian university students have recently been allowed to enroll in a Beirut public school. In recent weeks, the country allowed professional soccer teams to play overseas without first obtaining travel approval from the government.
Other, minor but significant, freedoms are on the table. Lebanon currently restricts all those passing through its interior to enter the capital Beirut and other big cities with at least two persons — even for women, foreigners and visitors. Lebanon and Egypt recently agreed to allow single-person vehicles to enter the Egyptian capital, Cairo.
Lebanon now hopes to alleviate the headache of such restrictions by allowing the use of one-person vehicles, which is being proposed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and offered as part of a plan to open up the interior, in order to make it easier for Lebanese citizens to travel outside the country.
The planned restrictions, however, are only a starting point, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office said Tuesday. Although millions of dollars are earmarked by Lebanon for developing non-Lebanese institutions, many critical governmental institutions are still confined to a half-mile radius of Beirut International Airport, including police and the land registry.
Dimming Lebanon’s chances to pick up the slack are a dearth of judges capable of handling sensitive cases, leading to a string of guilty verdicts handed down by hastily assembled military courts since a reconciliation deal between the government and the opposition yielded a shaky truce in May 2018.