“And that’s just one of the many problems plaguing the country and shutting the system down, making ‘LebanOFF’ more than just an amusing slogan”
Lebanon is apprehended in a deep political division mirroring the regional fault lines. Sectarianism has been the key element entrenched in the system of Lebanon. Lebanese political institutions thwart the country’s idea by making it dependent on the sectarian leaders. The political leaders from each sect have maintained their power and influence through a system of patronage to shield the passion of the religious communities by lending financial incentives, legal and illegal means of aid to its people. The Taif Agreement is considered the bedrock of this political system. The root of the problem today evoked from the protests of the 14th March protest which was led by Saad Hariri’s political block with the backing of Saudi Arabia and the USA, whereas the March 8th protest led by Michel Aoun’s party and the Hezbollah, with the support of Syria and Iran. The new technocrat government in Lebanon has the support of the March 8th alliance. The Hezbollah is identified as a terrorist organization by the US and the EU has blacklisted its armed wing. Lebanon’s religious diversity makes the country prone to external power interference, like Iran’s backing of the Shia militant Hezbollah movement, which is actively involved in Syria’s civil war. Hezbollah is a fundamental power intermediary that dominates the government of Lebanon.
Syria influences Lebanon’s foreign policy and internal policies, and its military forces from 1976 until 2005. After the civil war, former militia leaders took control over the government ministries and public institutions by patronizing networks into the bowels of the system. Government jobs, contracts, and other resources are allocated by the sect through the process known as muhasasa.
Lebanon’s foreign policy captures the dynamic overlap between domestic and foreign politics. Often in Lebanese politics, local actors deploy transnational ideologies or bandwagon with external actors to gain a stronghold in domestic political struggles. Lebanese Government compromised with the sovereignty of the state and its foreign policy. The March 14 alliance, led by Saad al-Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, and the Lebanese Forces, sought to realign Lebanon’s international foreign policy with USA whereas the alliance led by Hizbullah, Michel ‘Awn’s Free Patriotic Movement, and Nabih Berri, resisted this foreign policy since then. The country needs international funds to break out from 152% debt of GDP ratio. It needs billions of dollars to bailout from the IMF and the World Bank. Lebanon’s currency is falling by 60% and banks are limiting cash withdrawal. The United States pursue close ties with Lebanon, to preserve its independence, sovereignty, national unity, and territorial integrity. The United States, along with the international community, supports the exercise of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) 1559, 1680, and 1701, including the disarming of all militias, delineation of the Lebanese-Syrian border, and the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) throughout Lebanon. The United States assures a peaceful, prosperous, and stable Lebanon significant to peace in the Middle East. Lebanon hosts the highest per capita number of refugees in the world, with over one million registered refugees from Syria, between 170,000 and 270,000 longstanding Palestinians registered with the UN, and over 20,000 Iraqi and other refugees. Since the Syrian crisis, U.S. humanitarian assistance in Lebanon reconciles the Syrian refugees and host communities with food, shelter, medical care, clean water and sanitation, education, and psychosocial support.
The Deep-Rooted Crisis
The recent colossal explosion in Beirut, nearly 200 people died with 6,000 injured and left a quarter of a million became homeless. Initially, people believed a blast is an act of war or terrorism as residents of Lebanon’s capital tended to the injured and cleared the wreckage for survivors. The Lebanese had worst experiences; frequent airstrikes and car bombings because of the wars than the industrial disasters. Reconstructing the areas damaged by the blast could cost up to $15 billion and is likely to accelerate an economic collapse in Lebanon that coincided with the 2019 protests. Lebanon ranks 138th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s global Corruption Perceptions Index. The very system of sectarian power-sharing which is fuelling the patronage networks has handicapped Lebanon’s governance.
The environmental crisis began decades ago in Lebanon. In 2015 Lebanon’s waste crisis began with a landfill site closed and government authorities failed to implement a contingency plan in time to replace it. Its dumping and burning waste on the streets became rampant causing environmental and health issues. The Human Rights Watch calls it “a national health crisis”. The Lebanese government is relying on oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean to fuel even opening up tenders for France’s Total and Russia’s Novatek for offshore drilling. The power plants pump out plumes of thick grey smoke into an otherwise bright blue sky. Plastic is turning up on beaches around the world, but the difference in Lebanon is that rubbish is also being directly dumped into the sea and coastal landfills are spelling disaster for the shoreline’s ecosystem and public health.
The shortage of US dollars in the country’s commercial banks, which led to the Lebanese pound losing value against the dollar for the first time in two decades on the newly emerged black market. The economic upheaval emerged when the importers of wheat and fuel demanded to be paid in dollars, bakeries, and petrol station unions called for strikes. Lebanon is dealing with its worst economic crisis in decades. It has the third-highest public debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio in the world at 150%. Youth unemployment is 37%, while the overall unemployment rate has reached 25%. A third of the population is living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Interest payments consume almost half of government revenues crippling public finances. A public sector wage increase in 2017 and higher interest rates have added to the budget deficit.
Considering the ratio of Human Rights Violation in Lebanon; during the October 2019 anti-government demonstrations the security forces of the nation propelled excessive violence force against the protesters, including prosecutions for defamation and menacing freedom of speech. The 2017 anti-torture law fell short of civil society expectations and Lebanon’s obligations under international law. Lebanon continues to try civilians, women, children in its military courts for taking part in the protest. Transgender women in Lebanon also face systemic violence and discrimination in accessing basic services, including education, employment, health care, and housing.
The Quick Fix
Lebanon has several social and economic issues even the judicial system is faulty in assistance to the promotion of workforce employability and productivity, good governance, social cohesion, and economic growth. The major issues include; lack of access to clean water and improved education services to Lebanese communities, electricity, and refugee crisis. Including the growing economic crisis, escalating violence and trampled liberty needs to be concluded in the 21st century. The increasing problems like high taxes and lack of jobs have agitated the new generation. The truth is Lebanon never really recovered from a long and devastating war. The corrupt political and finance game in the region is creating havoc. But a majority supports the sectarian politics seeing ideology and the ripped out benefits in the power-sect. There should be advanced science labs and research technology for recycling and improved waste management systems in the country. Lebanon’s government must ensure the safety of its people including common environmental and health issues. The youth needs healthcare, jobs, and good educational institutions; end the sectarian opportunists’ system of politics and high-level corruption outright a democratic regime.