The country has long been suffering from a devastating financial and economic crisis, primarily caused by corruption, mismanagement and incompetence. The local currency was sent into free fall over a year ago and has lost more than 80% of its value since October 2019.
The Beirut explosion and the COVID-19 pandemic have only worsened the situation , exposing the deadly incompetence of the political elite. Unemployment and poverty have reached unprecedented levels. In August 2020, the United Nations warned that half of Lebanon’s population was at risk of going hungry by the end of the year.
While the country’s rich and powerful are funnelling their money out of the country, regular people who had money in the banks have lost access to their savings and are living with the anxiety that they will not get them back unless the government comes up with a real solution to the crisis.
Lebanon continues to be ruled by improvisation, incompetence and impunity as a result of the sectarian power-sharing agreement that followed the 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990. The country’s warlords put on suits and became the country’s politicians. A general pardon was issued and the state’s coffers became a lucrative cash cow to be divided among the major political and financial players who were now running the state.
The financial crisis since 2019, the pandemic, and the Beirut port explosion are only the most spectacular examples of the failures of the state and those who run it.
Last week’s protests in Tripoli are not new, nor are the reasons behind them. People, especially in the north of the country, have beendemonstrating without fail since 17 October 2019, demanding accountability for corrupt elites and solutions to their many economic and social woes.
Protesters have been met with violence from official forces such as the army and police, as well as from the thugs of various political parties. Meanwhile their demands for change have been ignored – so much so that on the first anniversary of the 2019 protests, which brought down the government of Saad Hariri, he was reappointed as prime minister by Parliament and tasked with leading a new government, which he has yet to form.
People are fed up with the political deadlock caused by personal feuds and power-sharing agreements between political parties, who repeatedly accuse one another of corruption but always end up sitting together in the same governments.
The lack of trust in state institutions makes it hard to imagine any way out of the crisis. People have little faith in new promises, especially after witnessing first-hand both the incompetence and the violence of the state.
Since last year, medical supplies have been running low, not only because of the pandemic but also because of the severe financial crisis. Yet while people suffocated to death for lack of oxygen machines, a field hospital donated to Lebanon by Qatar, containing 50 respirators and 500 beds, was left unused for months because the two major Shiite political parties, Hezbollah and Amal, could not agree on where to set it up to get credit for it.