Economic meltdown, political deadlock plague Lebanon - GulfToday

Economic meltdown, political deadlock plague Lebanon

Lebanon crisis

A demonstrator carries Lebanon's national flag on a blocked road, during a protest against currency devaluation and mounting economic hardships, in Beirut, Lebanon. Reuters

Lebanon is facing an unprecedented crisis. The economy has sunk to its lowest. The Lebanese lira is going for 3,900 for a US dollar. In the black market it has reached the absurdly phenomenal level of 18,000 Lebanese lira for a US dollar. The World Bank has described it as one of the three economic crises since the mid-19th century. There is shortage of gasoline, of medicine and food. People are out on the streets protesting political class which they believe is corrupt and inefficient.

Trouble started for Lebanon when a huge explosion at the storage dump of the inflammable ammonium nitrate ripped through the area near the port creating a 460-ft crater, killing 270 people, injuring over 7,000 and causing a loss of US $1.5 billion. There was a wave of popular anger at the irresponsible manner the explosive chemical was stored. The government had resigned. Ever since there has been no legitimate government. The caretaker government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab is flailing its hands, unable to restore stability. At the same time, European Union (EU) countries led by France want to impose sanctions against Lebanese leaders for the negligence that triggered the explosion.

Meanwhile, designated prime minister Saad Hariri, struggling to form a government,  resigned on Thursday, citing “key differences” with the president. He had submitted a list of the cabinet to President Michel Aoun. He had also travelled to Cairo and met Egyptian president Fateh Al Sisi to win support, which he did. But it does not look an easy task given the complexities of the confessional political system that involves the three major religious communities – the Maronite Christians who hold the presidency, the Sunni Muslims who have the prime minister’s post and the Shia Muslims who have the speaker of parliament as part of their share.

There is then an acute economic crisis accompanied by a political deadlock. The political class divided as it is on community lines is unable to sink its differences and form a united front to save the country. The people are desperate, and as one Lebanese observer put it the rich have become poor, the middle class have become destitute. A once proud country which has earned the reputation of being a vibrant commercial hub in the region with its banking system, educated middle class as well as being a tourist destination has now sunk into utter despair. It is not just a financial meltdown. What Lebanon is going through is a total meltdown of its entire political, economic, and social system.

The real sign of hope in the middle of national ruin is the anger of people, who poured out on to the streets and demanded accountability from the political class. The people are helpless, but they are demanding that the politicians mend themselves, and that they bring back order. Right now, it might seem that the angry protests, which often degenerate into violence, are only adding to the troubles that the country is facing. But the people refuse to be passive, and through the protests they are showing their strong disapproval of the political class.

Can the chaos that began with the fatal explosion last August and which in turn triggered the violent street protests chasten the politicians, who have been busy playing their partisan agendas? There is need for the United States, the EU, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund to come to the aid of Lebanon and pull it out of the economic dumps. But the economic revival can only be anchored by a stable political regime in Beirut. And the Lebanese people are demanding that the political leaders rise to the occasion and hold the reins.

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