- Borislav Ivanov
Clashes and Crisis – Lebanon’s Dark Status Quo
Lebanon – a small, picturesque country on the shores of the Mediterranean, situated right next to Syria and Israel. One of the most highly developed and egalitarian countries in the Middle East, this Arab country is proud with its ethnic and religious diversity – even though it is a predominately Sunni country, there are large Shia and Christian minorities.
Recently, however, several disasters have struck the country. Corruption has been a major issue in the country for years, and the people of Lebanon have grown increasingly tired of that. When the 15-year-long Lebanese civil war ended in 1990, the government decided to tie the country’s currency to the US dollar, bringing incredible stability for around two decades. However, the civil war in Syria and the subsequent rise of the Islamic State greatly destabilized the whole Middle Eastern region, and it greatly impacted Lebanon’s economy. The growth in power and influence of Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by the US, has deterred foreign investors. To help fix the situation and keep dollars flowing in, the head of the central bank of Lebanon came up with a plan – banks would offer extremely generous terms, and an annual interest of between 15% and 20% to anyone, who would deposit US dollars. However, the bank didn’t have enough money to keep those promises, therefore they had to rely on money from new investments. This is called a Ponzi scheme, and the people realized that in 2019, so they stopped putting their money in the bank.
Three events have made the situation spiral out of control. First, the government wanted to raise it revenues by imposing a tax on WhatsApp calls, as most people in the country use the app. This infuriated people, and it sparked large demonstrations. Second, the pandemic hurt Lebanon’s economy severely, especially the tourism sector, which made 18% of the country’s pre-pandemic economy. The third event, which completely sent shockwaves throughout the whole country, was the huge explosion at Beirut’s port in August 2020, which killed more than a 200 people and destroyed several thriving, important and economically developed neighborhoods.
The Lebanese government formed a new government recently, lead by Najib Mikati, a billionaire, who’s already held the position of prime minister twice before.
A large percentage of Lebanese families now rely on money, coming from relatives, which live in other countries, as Lebanon has a very large diaspora throughout the EU and the US.
Recently, the economic crisis of Lebanon has worsened. The corruption, economic instability, political unrest, and high inflation rates have caused many power plants in Lebanon to shut down, leaving thousands of people without access to electricity. Many families now rely on personal power generators, which run on diesel, which is also increasing in price.
This Thursday, the situation has worsened once again at a protest, organized by Hezbollah, calling for the removal of a judge by the name of Terek Bitar. Sniper shots were fired at the protesters, which were met by Kalashnikov bullets and missiles from rocket launchers. Six people have died in the clash, many others have been injured.
Lebanese citizens are now fearful that these events could be the beginning of a new civil war.