About one year after the explosion of the port of Beirut, in August 2020, Lebanon is still struggling to get out of the rubble that is plaguing the country. The country’s economy has accumulated three consecutive contractions in GDP, with 2020 being the year with the worst result: a drop of 20.3%. Inflation is in the triple digits and more than half of the population is below the poverty line. Data are from the World Bank.
The situation is aggravated by the explosion of the port, an episode that left 221 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. Prime Minister at the time, Hassan Diab, resigned and his predecessor in office, Saad Hariri, took over. However, Hariri failed to form a government even after nine months of negotiation and left office in June 2021, exposing a political stalemate. At the moment, former prime minister and billionaire Najib Mikati is trying to form a government.
Despite the exposure of world headlines about the tragedy of August of last year and the visit of the rulers of European powers, so far the country has not managed to obtain a financial aid package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or another nation, only one-off aid .
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France, which colonized Lebanon until the first half of the 20th century, announced last week the shipment of medicines, computers, powdered milk and scanners to control the country’s smuggling. The material will be sent by a ship that left the port of Marseille. Qatar this month announced the monthly shipment of 70 tonnes of food over a one-year period. The first food donation went to the Lebanese Army. Information about the donations was released by the country’s state news agency.
In late June, the population took to the streets in protest against the possible end of the government’s fuel subsidy and the rise in the cost of living. Without subsidy, prices can rise further. Protesters closed streets in the capital Beirut and in other cities across the country. Blackouts caused by the lack of electricity and the increase in the price of medicines also contributed to popular dissatisfaction.
The government of Lebanon believes that the end of subsidies can increase imports and, thus, generate more foreign exchange for the government. The authorities promised to implement an income transfer program for 500,000 vulnerable Lebanese families worth US$137 a month (about R$700).
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In an interview with Brazil in fact, professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) Murilo Sebe Bon Meihy explains that political crises in Lebanon are recurrent due to its institutional design. To accommodate the country’s different confessional communities, from an arrangement made after the 1975-1990 civil war, the prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim, the president is a Maronite Christian, and the speaker of parliament is Shiite. In addition, the Parliament has reserved seats so that Christians and Muslims have the same number of seats.
“In fact, this political arrangement prevents the State from fulfilling the provision of basic services to the civilian population. And with the arrival and intensity of refugees in the country, especially Palestinians and Syrians, the State is even more unable to provide these services”, evaluates Meihy.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Lebanon has the largest number of refugeesper capita only around the world and is home to approximately 1.5 million refugees from Syria. Lebanon’s population is 6.8 million people. Meihy, a Middle East researcher, points out that the country works as a kind of “sounding board” for regional conflicts in the region and is the target of disputes between powers such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“Lebanon is a country completely dependent on foreign capital. Often, this foreign capital enters the country depending on the internal political arrangement. In other words, countries like Saudi Arabia, for example, which often inject money into the Lebanese National Bank, only do so when allied groups take control of Lebanese politics. As is the case with Saad Hariri and Movimento Futuro”, analyzes the professor at UFRJ.
Meihy also highlights that France is a relevant actor in Lebanon and tries to exert influence in the country. French President Emmanuel Macron was the first international leader to visit the country after the Beirut port explosion.
“This does not happen just because of the will of the French government, there is no philanthropy in international politics, France makes this important political movement, in fact, for various reasons, including economic reasons, because it saw, as it was in the post-civil war period, opportunity to grab reconstruction contracts”, assesses the professor at UFRJ.
* With information from People’s Dispatch.
Edition: Arturo Hartmann