The human tragedy unfolding in Lebanon could be blamed on its corrupt politicians, but its roots run deep in Lebanese sectarianism.
While the world appears to have been too busy with developments in Afghanistan, another tragedy is currently unfolding in Lebanon. One country facing one crisis after another.
However, the crisis in Lebanon is not new, it dates back decades but has worsened over the past two years due to sectarian politics and corrupt politicians, bankers and bureaucrats. The current economic crisis has worsened as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in 2020, followed by the devastating explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4 last year, which was described by experts as ” one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history “.
After the explosion in Beirut, the crisis worsened exponentially. According to The New York Times, the price of consumer goods has “almost quadrupled”, leaving people with barely access to basic necessities such as food and medicine. Some healthcare companies are running out of drugs “needed to treat cancer and heart disease” due to the country’s inability to source products from foreign importers.
Fuel has become scarce in Lebanon due to the lack of foreign currency to pay energy suppliers, which has resulted in the closure of power plants, hospitals and water pumping stations. As a result, civilians were left without electricity and potable water, as well as the ability to heat or cool their homes. And those who want to leave are stranded because there is no fuel available to fill their vehicles.
The current crisis has left nearly half of the Lebanese population in poverty and sparked more mass protests to eliminate the political elite “accused of corruption, mismanagement and neglect”. BBC News reports.
In a statement, UNICEF said that; “The needs are enormous and the urgent formation of a new government with clear commitments to reform is essential to address the current crisis through determined and systematic action to protect children’s lives and ensure access to water. and all basic services.
Lebanon is on the verge of serious collapse, warned Najat Rochdi, the UN deputy special coordinator for Lebanon, in an interview with the Italian newspaper Efe.
She said: “I’m not talking about a theoretical scenario that maybe in a few months, if nothing is done, the situation will collapse. No! We are talking about a serious start to a serious collapse and people are paying a very high price today. The “only solution, the only way to save Lebanon, to save the Lebanese and to save the country, is with reforms,” she added.
Lebanon political scenario
The crisis-ravaged country has been ruled by an interim government for more than a year due to a lack of political consensus, making it impossible to implement the necessary economic reforms that the international community demands from Lebanon.
Lebanon is heading for more “chaos and poverty” if a government is not formed immediately, a Lebanese lawmaker has warned, the end of this week marking 13 months since the resignation of the administration of Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Diab resigned following the port explosion on August 4 that devastated the capital, but he remained in office. The term of President Michel Aoun ends in October next year, while that of Parliament ends in May.
On whether the president would seek to stay in power after his term ended as he did in the 1980s, Future Movement vice president Mustafa Alloush said Arab News newspaper that “Aoun will not repeat his experience of fleeing the presidential palace.” He is anxious to transmit the policy to Gebran Bassil, his son-in-law, and to give him a clear part in the next formulation of authority.
As new secular Lebanese political groups struggle to organize ahead of the 2022 elections, sectarian parties are using populist rhetoric and aid politics to gain support from their constituents.
Criticism is quite rare among Lebanese who still support sectarian political factions in power since the 1990s. According to researchers and political analysts, despite the social anti-corruption movement that emerged after October 17, 2019 and the recent victories won through “thawra groups” in elections and university student council unions, many Lebanese still support establishment parties. .
Of sectarian conception, the political class has played on sectarian sentiment since the civil war. The Amal Movement was the defender of the “destitute Shiites”, while the Minister of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil presents himself as the protector of “Christian rights” in his political declarations.
Members of the new political movements born of the October 2019 protests say the ‘us versus them’ narrative helps distract from the real issues at stake: corruption and impunity.
For example, politicians from Christian, Druze and Sunni parties claim Iran as their adversary and Western countries as their friends. On the other hand, Hezbollah and its allies claim Israel as its opponent, view Western states, especially the United States, as friends of Israel and accuse them of imposing a blockade on Lebanon, as the fuel in the country is getting worse.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati has managed to tinker with a 24-member cabinet after negotiating with President Michel Aoun last week, a composition that is satisfactory to everyone, including an international community that wants sectarian factions share the portfolios and appoint a technocratic government.
Hopes are high, but expectations are low. Sectarian political factions have negotiated who gets which portfolio, but Mikati admitted last month that the conversation was less about plans for reforms and policies to recover from the economic crisis, and more focused on who gets what.
The author is a New Delhi-based political commentator.
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