Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

LEBANON IS DECPOSING
(16 December 2023)

BEIRUT. While our attention is totally focused on what is happening in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon is decaying.

What was once called “the Switzerland of the Middle East” is now a ghost state: for more than a year there has been no President of the Republic and the government his resigning.

In this already disturbing picture, tension is growing between the various national and international actors operating in the area.

After October 7, the day of the Hamas attack on Israel, there was an increase in clashes also on the blue line that divides Lebanon from its southern neighbor:

“More than 26,000 Lebanese – writes lemonde.fr – have fled the Israeli bombings in the south of the country, resulting in the death of 11 civilians.”

The olive harvest, the main economic source for the populations living in this area, was lost due to the fires caused by the bombings carried out by the Tel Aviv army.

The gradual escalation has extended the firing zone beyond a 5 kilometer deep strip on both sides of the border. The intensity of the fighting is such that the south of the country regularly suffers more than thirty Israeli gunfire per day.

Nobody wants to start the war first, but everyone is ready and an accident would be enough to cause a general conflagration.

***

BOTTOMLESS PIT

The last four years have been a nightmare for Lebanon and the country’s crisis seemed like a bottomless pit: “From 2019 to today – writes Mattia Serra on ispionline.it[1] – the country’s GDP has contracted by approximately 40%, public debt has reached 280% of GDP while the national currency has lost 98% of its value. This depreciation has caused an inflationary spiral on a scale not seen since the end of the civil war [1975-1990 NDR]. If average inflation reached 171% last year, food inflation reached 280% recorded in June 2023. In a context in which the depreciation of the lira continues to erode wages, these increases have had a heavy impact on the population Lebanese. Already in 2021 the UN had estimated that more than 80% of the population lived in a state of multidimensional poverty. More recently the World Food Program estimated that there are more than three million people in need of food support. Further complicating the economic picture is the fact that the Lebanese economy is undergoing progressive dollarization. In the private sector, prices and tariffs have long been indicated in dollars, but it seems that this process is about to also affect the public sector, starting with the (limited) supply of electricity by the state-owned Électricité du Liban. In this scenario, the boom recorded by the tourism sector is unlikely to be able to drive the country’s economy,while the fact that negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) remain essentially blocked makes the prospect of an economic recovery even more remote.»

***

THE TOY HAS BROKEN

It was Rafik Hariri in the 90s of the last century who created the economic model that made Lebanon a paradise for investors:

«Hariri – writes Fulvio Scaglione[2] – was a Sunni Muslim, a great Lebanese entrepreneur with Saudi nationality and many supports in the US and France.»

He was head of government in two moments: from 1992 to 1998 and from 2000 to 2004, as well as the father of Saad who would lead the government in the 2010s and who for some time was considered by many young Lebanese to be a shining promise of national politics.

Rafik was a major financier of Sunni political movements, protagonist of the spectacular reconstruction of the center of Beirut, destroyed by the aforementioned civil war.

However, he was also the main shareholder of Solidére, the company that carried out much of the capital’s reconstruction work.

During his government he inaugurated the policy of large public debt and budget liabilities: to finance the reconstruction work, thanks to investments from abroad, attracted by the high interest rates charged by the banks, he welcomed the money coming from especially from oil-producing countries.

Petrodollars flowed incessantly, the State issued treasury bonds that were subscribed to with eyes closed, Beirut flourished again.

New debts were needed to cover the old ones: suddenly, however, the toy broke.

In the mid-2010s the price of oil collapsed, the flow of money stopped, debts remained in the banks and current accounts had to be blocked.

The government asks international financial institutions for help: in March 2020, Beirut declares default.

“The crisis – Scaglione continues – has thrown families into poverty and devastated a traditionally flourishing and dynamic middle class. And it generated a transversal protest movement, made up of a thousand souls but united in protest with the entire political class, rightly judged corrupt and incompetent.”

Of which Dominique Eddé[3] paints a merciless portrait in l’Orient-Le Jour:

“At the top levels any catastrophe is welcomed as a useful piece of a puzzle that
occupies them full time: the puzzle of a shattered country. They play slowly and silently dividing the pieces, assembling them and dismantle them. They compose patiently
decomposition.

they want what they always have
wanted – each their slice of cake – with
the perfect alibi to make the members of their communities benefit from it. Each the
his money, each his own piece of the people,
each the right to steal in the name
of reciprocity. You steal, I steal, me
I cover you, you cover me.

They don’t have a country to govern.
What they have to govern is an agreement
based on disagreement.They govern themselves.

They govern their own survival
and, evidently, they do it well.
Everyone helps the other not to fall. The building collapses, they hold on.”

***

THE APOCALYPSE

The clearest sign of the debacle that endangers people’s lives and property was given on August 4, 2020 when a violent explosion devastated Beirut: a deposit of ammonium nitrate, a chemical substance used to produce fertilizers, left unattended for years, blew up, causing the destruction of several neighborhoods of the city.

221 people died and others were injured: The detonation caused an earthquake measuring 3.5 on the Richter scale and its effects were felt as far as the island of Cyprus, located 200 km from the Lebanese coast.

***

EPOCAL NEGLIGENCE

In 2013, according to Al Jazeera, a ship arrived in Beirut, bound for Mozambique, in need of engine repairs.

The freighter is carrying 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate: the authorities seize the cargo for fear that it could explode, and place it in hangar 12.

For years, customs officials have sent letters to administrative offices to obtain the removal of the dangerous cargo: nobody Answered.

On August 4, 2020, in the afternoon, a fire broke out: the cause of the flames was welding work in progress in the warehouse containing the dangerous substance; other sources speak of a deposit of fireworks which, when exploded, would have generated the cataclysm.

The fact is that at 6pm it is the apocalypse: three years later the Lebanese justice has still not managed to shed light on what happened; the investigating judge in charge of conducting the investigations is threatened with death and nothing is done to punish those responsible for a catastrophe which a minister of the time compared to the Hiroshima bomb.

***

THE REPUBLIC OF ALLOTTION

Since the beginning of its history, Lebanon has been the country where the most unbridled subdivision reigns: since 1936 a decree has been in force, issued by the French high commissioner who was then administering the territory, which divided the population into 17 religious communities, subsequently increased to 18: of them 12 Muslims and 6 Christians.

Not only must the President of the Republic be a Maronite Christian and the head of government a Sunni, but Beirut airport is run by Shiites, the pharmaceutical industry is run by Orthodox Christians and construction by Sunnis.

The logic of division spares nothing: even the distribution of seats in Parliament occurs along ethnic-religious lines and governments must include ministers from all communities: a little for me, a little for you, as Eddé said.

Furthermore, the country is a site of conflict between the different factions of the Palestinian resistance: fighting frequently breaks out in the refugee camps between elements of Al Fatah and other minority groups.

In this context, the influence of Hezbollah, God’s party, has grown, who can count on powerful friendships both in Tehran and Damascus.

In the legislative elections of 15 May 2022, the coalition led by Hasan Nasrallah won 62 of the 128 seats in the Beirut parliament and from this position influences all Lebanese political life.

Hezbollah does not want any change in the land allotment system because it has drawn considerable advantages from it over the decades.

This is why he is blocking the election of a new President and the formation of a government that the cedar republic desperately needs.

In the South, on the border with Israel, it has 100,000 militiamen and every day rockets launch towards the territory of the Jewish state.

***

WHAT FUTURE FOR LEBANON?

In this complex picture, given the risk of failure of the country’s system, what future does Lebanon have?

Can a state still function in which if there is no agreement between all parties, everything stops?

Above all, do the Lebanese still want to live in a place where everything is divided according to the Cencelli manual?

In the 2022 legislative elections, a handful of candidates presented themselves who tried to collect the votes of those who did not identify with ethnic-religious parties: 8 of these candidates were elected, but the majority of deputies were the expression of either the Christian coalition or the Muslim front.

If, as some claim, the citizens of the land of cedars are no longer those who emerged from the internal war that devastated them until 1990, they must demonstrate it by rebelling against the division logic that is drowning them.

PIER LUIGI GIACOMONI

***

NOTES:

[1] M. Serra, Libano: se lo Stato si sgretola, ispionline.it, 18 settembre 2023;
[2] F. Scaglione, Libano: si schianta tra fuoco e fiamme il volo miracoloso del “calabrone” d’Oriente, famiglia cristiana, 9 Agosto 2020;
[3] D. Eddé, L’Orient-Le Jour, LIBANO. Lo spettacolo della decomposizione, in Internazionale N. 1395, 5 Febbraio 2021.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share