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A wave of protests swept “Switzerland Middle East” once again. In Lebanon, the economic, political and humanitarian crises loom large. Revolutionary sentiments, which have persisted in the country for several years, are intensifying as the crisis is leading country to collapse after the coronavirus epidemic and the explosion in the port of Beirut six months ago. At the same time, Lebanon’s neighbor Israel is taking advantage of its deplorable state.
Since the beginning of March, the streets of Beirut, Tripoli, Saida and other cities in Lebanon have been blocked by protesters who are demanding that the authorities take urgent measures to curb the rise in prices after the collapse of the national currency – the Lebanese pound.
Many Lebanese citizens are desperate. People lost their jobs and bank savings.
“We are hungry. It is that simple ”. – say demonstrators.
In response to the rallies, the head of the republic, General Michel Aoun, issued a statement in which he called protests as legitimate and just. He instructed the police forces to “ensure the safety of the demonstrators, as well as protection from pogroms of government agencies and private companies.” However, clashes with the police could not be avoided.
Failed attempts to form a new government
The deterioration of the socio-economic status of the Lebanese population, political conditions and the ineffectiveness of the government machine have led to the years-long political protests in the country. Thus, the first trigger for large-scale demonstrations in 2019 were the government’s plans to introduce a tax on Internet conversation through social networking apps applications like WhatsApp, for example. As a result, the government changed twice.
On August 4, 2020, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port of Beirut, as a result of which more than 170 people lost their lives, more than 6 thousand were injured, and about 300 thousand were left without a home and livelihood. The port of Beirut, which was one of the most important sources of income for the Lebanese treasury, has fallen into ruins.б иecoming another impetus for the destruction of the country’s economy, which was already in a deplorable state.
Following the explosion, massive anti-government demonstrations resumed in the country, leading to the resignation of the government of Hassan Diyab. A week after the disaster, the government resigned.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun instructed Mustafa Edib to form a new government, but all his efforts did not find a response among the country’s political forces. Edib abandoned this mission a month later and the mandate was handed over to the ex-premier, the leader of the Sunni Future Movement, Saad Hariri, who has previously resigned amid the 2019 protests due to the economic situation in the country.
Despite the measures taken, the situation in Lebanon has not been stabilized, and the country still has no government. The formation of a new cabinet has been postponed indefinitely due to the lack of party consensus. Among the last stiking points for further advance, there was the conflict between Saad Hariri and the leader of the country’s largest Christian party, the Free Patriotic Movement. The latter refused to take part in the coalition government until Hariri renounces the sole appointment of all ministers.
The prolonged paralysis of power leads to a complex crisis, and further exacerbates the ineffectiveness of the political system in general. Life support systems have collapsed for many years in Lebanon. For example, there is an acute problem of water supply, which suffers from constant interruptions and a lack of clear tariffs. Regular power outages have led to the large-scale smuggling of fuel and generators. A sanitation crisis has persisted in the country for many years, caused by inadequate maintenance of sewer systems. Last year, Lebanon was unable to cope with the spread of fires on its own because most of the equipment was out of order.
The growth of corruption, deep-rooted distrust to political institutions among the population and the incapacity to form a government make it impossible to get out of the crisis in the near future. The hopelessness of the “new-old” prime minister is evidenced by his recent statements about his readiness to leave office after a video of a mass fight for a carton of milk emerged online.
Lebanon is also known as “Middle Eastern Switzerland” due to the longtime being the regional financial center. The stability of the Lebanese pound, good rates on bank deposits, which led to an inflow of foreign capital, as well as the issuance of numerous international loans, ensured its prosperity. However, after the economic crisis in 2008, the situation changed dramatically and the national reserves were depleted, as well as the public debt sharply grew up.
In addition to many factors, the destabilization of the situation in the Middle East, in particular the war in neighboring Syria, led to a flow of refugees to Lebanon, as well as the of terrorist cells in the country influenced a declined the flow of tourists, while the tourism was the most important sphere of the country’s economy (more than 50 %).
Long before the outbreak of the pandemic, in 2019, about a third of 6.8 million population were already living below the poverty line. In view of the growing economic crisis, the World Bank predicted a jump in the level of poverty in the country up to 50%. With the spread of coronavirus infection, the Lebanese government imposed strict quarantine restrictions, thereby depriving a large part of the country’s population of stable income.
Video showing crowds in the departure hall at Rafic Hariri International Airport as large numbers of the Bangladeshi community is leaving due to the economic crisis in Lebanon.
The quarantine measures, including a state of emergency in the country, which were supposed not only to contain the increase in the number of cases, but also the spread of protests. However, the ever-prolonged self-isolation regime amid inaction on the part of the authorities, the absence of a support program for the poor and a reduction in subsidies has become a trigger for the population on the verge of starvation.
The local currency continues its collapse and crossed the 10,000 lira mark for one unit of the US currency the last week. As a result, there was another rise in prices for all goods. Food prices in the country have jumped by 400% year-on-year, according to official government statistics, and now 45% of the Lebanese population is on the poverty line. Since October 2019, the national pound has lost up to 80% of its value.
Joke video showing how to pay coffee soon in Lebanon.
The blow that knocked down the Lebanese economy was the explosion in the port of Beirut. According to the Governor the blast caused up to $ 15 billion in damage, which was also confirmed by Lebanese President Michel Aoun. Adding to this the general financial assistance needed to stabilize the economy during its hyperinflation, which, according to the report of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, exceeds $ 93 billion, it becomes obvious that the economic situation in Lebanon, even in spite of international assistance, is very deplorable.
Army Commander-in-Chief Joseph Aoun warned on Monday that the crisis has put at risk the existence of the armed forces, as the situation of its lower ranks raises real concerns.
“The soldiers are starving, as are the civilians,” the general said.
The crisis led to a sharp increase in crime. The number of homicides in the country increased by 91% in 2020, and robberies – by 57%, according to a study by Information International based on police data.
Inflation is skyrocketing, the currency has almost completely lost its value, the amount of cash in circulation has fallen away sharply, and banks do not give citizens access to their savings. Rising unemployment, deep trade balance problems and the outflow of international investment, all these factors are exacerbated amid the global economic crisis, provoked, in particular, by markets glut, a change in the technological paradigm, increased trade barriers and the negative expectations among investors.
In addition to the national crisis in Lebanon, the situation is aggravated by regional military-political problems, primarily caused by the destructive behavior of the Israeli leadership.
Israeli warplanes are violating Lebanon’s borders on a regular basis. For example, on March 15, they were spotted flying at low altitudes over the Bekaa.
A few days ago, the Lebanese army opened fire on two Israeli UAVs that violated the Lebanese border. As reported by Al Manar TV channel, one drone was seen in the sky over army positions in the border area of Mays el-Jebel, and another was moving over the village of Blida. The UAVs were forced to turn back to Israeli territory.
Several Israeli missiles were reportedly launched on the border strip near Mays al-Jebel.
The reconnaissance flights of Israeli aircraft and UAVs are a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which established a ceasefire on the border after the conflict in the summer of 2006. Nevertheless, the Israeli military justifies such flights by the need to monitor the actions of the Hezbollah.
Recently, Benny Gantz said “there are thousands of homes in Lebanon with weapons storerooms alongside their guestrooms. We have the moral obligation to protect Israeli citizens and we will attack these weapons storerooms ”
Thus, he justified potential Israeli strikes on Lebanese civilians.
Foreign aid seems to be Lebanon’s last hope. While the actions of international organizations like the IMF have not yet led to the desired result, Beirut can count on some bilateral assistance. France is the first to help the state that has been under its mandate for decades. However, today Paris is less enthusiastic as all the efforts made after the Beirut explosion came to noting. Also, Russia seems to be interested to take part in the regulatory process, largely through Hezbollah. Thus, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Mohammad Raad, the head of the Hezbollah bloc in the Lebanese parliament on March 15.
To a large extent, the current situation in Lebanon was caused by the actions of the past American administration. Therefore, there are some hopes that the situation can stabilize amid the new policy of the White House in the Middle East. Washington has already made some steps. While Israel maintains militant rhetoric, General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Commander of the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), visited Lebanon on same March 15.
The stability in Lebanon plays a major role for the whole region, as it is has close economic ties with its neighbors, especially Syria. The crash of Lebanese economy may lead to the destabilization in the Middle East.
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