Balwan Nagial
Balwan Nagial

Lebanon is on the brink of collapse

Lebanon is a country in West Asia, it shares the border with Syria to the north and east, Israel to the south, and Cyprus lies just west of it across the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon’s location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland has contributed to its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of its own. Lebanon is home to roughly 6 million people and covers a territory of just 10,452 km2 (4,036 mi2), making it one of the smallest countries in Asia by land area. Arabs comprise the overwhelming majority of the country’s population, while Arabic is the official language.

Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim political leaders agreed on an oral National Pact post-independence in 1943, which was designed to encourage collaboration among the opposing religious groups initiating a unique idea of a confessional democracy. This pact states that Lebanon is an independent country with Arabic and European cultures and was partly based on the 1932 census. Thus agreed to distribute the seats in the parliament on a ratio of 6 to 5: Christians to Muslims. The top administrative positions were also distributed among significant sects: the President is to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the parliament a Shiite Muslim.

Lebanon has often been referred to as the ‘Switzerland of the Middle East.’  A line was once taken solemnly in the 1950s, and the 1960s became redundant due to the 1975-1990 war.  Lebanon enjoyed three decades of prosperity under a free-market economy. Tourism, agriculture, education and democracy thrived and progressive, claiming Lebanon’s title ‘Switzerland of the East and Beirut as Paris of the Middle East’. Lebanon was known to be the most democratic country in the Arab league.

Nevertheless, the golden period of this small country did not endure to flourish with the neighbouring regional and international events and discords.

Lebanon is continuing with serious and protracted economic misery. According to the latest World Bank Lebanon Economic Monitor (LEM) released on June 1, 2021. The economic and financial catastrophe is probably ranked Lebanon in the top 10, possibly top 3, most serious crises episodes worldwide since the mid of 19th  century. In a time of massive provocation, incessant policy inaction, and the absenteeism of a fully functioning executive authority lurk already dire socio-economic conditions and a delicate social peace with no clear turning point on the prospect.

For the last a year and a half, Lebanon has been confronting heightened challenges such as its prime peace-time economic and financial crisis, COVID-19 pandemic and the Port of Beirut explosion.

As the great depression is already there, Lebanon’s political leadership policy answers to these challenges have been exceedingly insufficient. The adequacy is minor due to the gaps between knowledge and quality advice and other reasons such as:

  1. i) an absence of political consent over effective policy initiatives; and
  2. ii) political consensus in defence of an insolvent economic system, which benefited a few for so long.

iii) With a history of protracted civil war and multiple other conflicts,  Lebanon is recognised by the World Bank as a Fragility, Conflict & Violence (FCV) State. There is mounting alertness of probable triggers to social unrest.

iv)The all the time more dire socio-economic conditions risk, systemic national failings with regional and potentially global effects.

The World Bank estimations that in 2020 real GDP tapered by 20.3%, on the back of a 6.7% contraction in 2019. Lebanon’s GDP plunged from close to US$55 billion in 2018 to an estimated US$33 billion in 2020, while GDP per capita fell by around 40% in dollar terms. Such a severe shrinkage is usually associated with conflicts or wars. Monetary and financial conditions remain highly unpredictable; within the context of a multiple exchange rate system, the World Bank average exchange rate depreciated by 129% in 2020. The effect on prices has resulted in heaving inflation, averaging 84.3% in 2020. Subject to exceedingly high vagueness, real GDP is estimated to contract by a further 9.5% in 2021. ( World Bank Lebanon Economic Monitor (LEM) report dated June 1, 2021.)

Lebanon faces a dangerous depletion of resources, including human capital, and high skilled labour is increasingly likely to take up potential opportunities abroad, constituting a permanent social and economic loss for the country.  Only a reform-minded government, which embarks upon a credible path toward economic and financial recovery, while working closely with all stakeholders, can reverse further sinking of Lebanon and prevent more national fragmentation”. (Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director.)

Even before the explosion, Lebanon was already facing an increased economic crisis, a profusely spreading COVID-19 epidemic, rising social unrest and the cascading effects of the long-drawn-out conflict in neighbouring Syria. The explosion and arrival of COVID-19 have both placed enormous pressure on the highly vulnerable population. The Lebanese population and sizeable Syrian refugee populations are now more likely to be impoverished and food insecure heading into 2021. Ongoing political and economic crises show no signs of progress to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the immediate term.

How Can Lebanon Be Helped?

Lebanon is the next neighbour of Israel. Furthermore, Israel ought to help Lebanon as both Israel and Lebanon share common attributes. Israel and Lebanon have varied populace and intricated historical roots. Both are part of the elongated path of the Middle East and have civilisations dating back to ancient histories. Nevertheless, current political splitting and the commandeering of Lebanon’s politics by Hezbollah have made relations problematic and untenable.

Now amidst a unique crisis, Lebanon merits assistance, and I think there is no better country than Israel to extend the helping hand in this need of the hour. Defense Minister Benny Gantz has offered to assist Lebanon as it suffers from a deteriorating economic disaster.

“As an Israeli, as a Jew and as a human being, my heart aches to see the images of people going hungry on the streets of Lebanon,” he wrote Sunday on Twitter. “Israel has offered assistance to Lebanon in the past, and even today, we are ready to act and to encourage other countries to extend a helping hand to Lebanon so that it will once again flourish and emerge from its state of crisis.”( The Jerusalem Post July 5, 2021). Israel sent an official proposal to United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to provide aid to Lebanon. However, the Lebanese government’s chances to acknowledge the positive to Israel’s offer are very bleak.

The European Union (EU) has since long been among the significant donors in Lebanon. France, specifically, has held several donor conferences, and President Macron has promised to rally additional support. For long such aid came with no or few pre-conditions despite apparent flaws in the country’s governance and economic model. Immediate steadiness seemed to be the main issue as benefactors more recently have attached substantial investments in the country’s substructure to considerable sectoral and structural reforms. It then refrained from releasing funds as the Lebanese government failed to improve its practices appears to have changed.

The U.S. ‘maximum pressure campaign against Iran has intensified the impasse, which has affected Iran’s Lebanese ally, Hizbollah. While approving the European call for reforms, U.S. officials blame Hizbollah for hindering development and object to Macron’s choice to call Hizbollah, together with other parties, to take part in the restructuring process.

Hitherto, these contributors face a quandary, though they do not want the country to become a disastrous state that broods a severe humanitarian crisis. They also do not want to bail out the privileged whose track record advocates taking Lebanon over the escarpment. Consequently, these donors attempt to regulate their aid policy by retorting to critical short-term requirements with emergency humanitarian aid through keeping their projects for basic infrastructure functional and binding their initiatives of more significant aid to the unveiling of fundamental reforms.

Conclusion:

Lebanon is nearing a ‘social explosion’ amidst the world bank report describing Lebanon in the worst modern depression. Lebanon’s currency has been devalued by about 90% of its worth, unemployment rise steeply, and fuel prices have taken to the air. Many homes, businesses, and even hospitals only have electricity for some hours every day, and drugstores are running low on medicine. The UN has cautioned that over 75% of families in Lebanon do not have adequate food or money power to buy foodstuff.

People of Lebanon can solve Lebanon’s recovery and reconstruction needs, particularly of the port and impacted areas and affected populace. With a sustainable urban planning approach and quick socio-economic recovery action, they can rejuvenate Lebanon.

There is a need for essential reforms targeted to facilitate recovery and reconstruction and the roots of the crisis. Participation of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) is of utmost importance—mobilisation of more support for the urgent needs of the susceptible, needy, marginalised and underserved people.

We all should continue, with one voice, to call the leadership of Lebanon to set aside the prejudiced political interests and decide a government that effectively defends and retorts to the basic requirements of the people of Lebanon.

About the Author
Colonel Balwan Nagial retired from the Indian Army in 2019 after serving for thirty years. Managed administration, security, project mgt throughout his service. He loves writing and contributing in newspapers and magazines in India. He loves Israeli culture.
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