How Can it Get Worse for Lebanon? Revolution, the Pandemic, Refugees, and the Economy
By: Noureldin Mohamed/Arab America Contributing Writer
Another one of our Arab gems located on the Eastern Mediterranean shore, Lebanon, is in chaos. Famous for its ethnic diversity, beauty, and rich history, Lebanon is having another rough year in 2020. Corruption, austerity, unemployment, recession, and sectarianism brought Lebanon’s stability to its knees. It all started when protesters took to the streets on October 17th, 2019, in response to the government’s planned taxation on gasoline, tobacco, and telecommunication. One of the protesters was quoted saying, “This is a revolution for the people….It’s not political and it’s not sectarian. There are no flags but Lebanese flags. The whole country is united.”
However, that is not the case now. The nationwide protests lasted 122 days and are still ongoing, leaving Lebanon vulnerable to injustice and inevitable sectarianism. While the Lebanese army expressed its respect for the right to protest and its commitment to protecting private and public property following increasing attacks on banks, it called upon protesters to end the roadblocks and the vandalization of public and private property, entering into confrontations with protesters to do so. In the month of April, in Tripoli, the Lebanese army opened fire at the crowd, resulting in injuries among protesters.
In addition, the issue of sectarianism not only divides the country, but it also leaves leadership obscure and foggy. The country holds representation from five Islamic sects (Sunni, Shia, Druze, Alawite, and Ismaili); the Maronites and eleven other Christian sects; and the Jewish community. This makes it hard to bolster solidified leadership in the nation. Flashbacks of the 2012 sectarianist days which left approximately 76,000 people displaced are in bringing back panic and distress. Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, son of the former president, Rafik Hariri, resigned after a scandal tarnished his image.
COVID-19 Pandemic, Lebanon’s Refugees
Nonetheless, the situation remains the same, if not worse. On top of the revolution, Lebanon struggles with COVID-19 like the rest of the world. . The COVID-19 crisis and the necessary lockdown have dramatically worsened the economic crisis and profoundly disrupted the food supply chain. Untroubled by the risks of the novel virus, protesters took back to the streets of the previous center of gathering in Tripoli, as the situation becomes unbearable. Lebanon has 1,140 cases so far with as many as 26 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Not only is it leaving the Lebanese people powerless and desperate, but also the 1.5 million Syrian refugees added to the 5.9 million home population. They are not scared of the pandemic as much as they are scared of starvation. Although, they do not have the capability of social distancing nor hygiene or sanitary means. One of it’s refugee camps centers is Bar Elias, 15 km off of the Syrian Border, a camp called Medyen has been unofficially operating since 2013. This camp houses Syrian and Palestinian refugees together. Surprisingly, there has been no data showing any coronavirus infections among the camp or any nearby refugees sites. Yet, it would be disastrous to see any infections among refugees, as they are already deprived of any medical necessities, let alone for something as vital as today’s novel virus.
Where is the International community?
The United Nations introduced a crisis response plan for Lebanon since its impact by the Syrian Civil War in 2017. The LCRP was put forward to assist Lebanon in economic recovery, humanitarian aid, and provide relief for the public sector. Meanwhile, the United States and the European are urged to establish a dedicated emergency fund to help Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world and the Middle East at large to avoid a severe food crisis; otherwise, starvation may spark a new migration flow to Europe and further destabilize the region. he United States, the Group of 20 (G-20) and the World Trade Organization must step forward and endorse policies on export restrictions. Furthermore, Lebanon calls for intervention to fend off aggression by Israel on its soil amid the crisis. Israel has been seizing an opportunity to gear up its efforts as warplanes have entered Lebanese airspace multiple times. This leaves a vital question: will Lebanon’s vulnerable situation give way for Israel to revamp the long-fought conflict that was halted in 2006?
Hunger and Inflation
A hunger issue currently prevails as the Lebanese Lira plunges compared to the U.S. dollar, leaving a nationwide shortage of the dollar. Basic goods are outside the reach of 75% of the population. Ever since the October Revolution, protesters and troops have clashed on and off to manage the numerous issues the country is facing. As inflation soars, some Lebanese citizens took it into their own hands and started growing their own food. More than 220,000 jobs in the private sector have been lost since mid-October when protests fueled by worsening economic conditions erupted against the political elite, according to a survey in February.
Government officials resorted to an act of pointing fingers with no solution. The problem lies in a deep, failing system involving multiple parties that refuse to unite for the national cause. It’s sad that Lebanon’s situation leaves many people wondering, will the revolution continue with the remembrance of its martyrs and the urgency for a carved-in-stone solution rather than a simple band-aid fix?
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