These are among the latest symptoms of an economic implosion that is accelerating at an alarming pace in Lebanon as its government, its banks and its citizens run out of foreign currency simultaneously.
The collapse is the result of decades of economic mismanagement, corruption and overspending. Hopes for a rescue are fading as the country’s ruling elites balk at the kind of reforms and outside scrutiny that would unlock international aid. Talks with the International Monetary Fund to secure a $10 billion loan have stalled." Washpost
We were standing outside the main terminal at Beirut International Airport watching the chaos in the streets when this question emerged from the mouth of the man who often drove for me when I visited Beirut.
This was about 20 years ago. The country was then more or less paralyzed politically and economically. The fighting part of the civil war had ended but the internal struggle among factions focused on personalities, and religious sects was only intensifying. Syria, then a unified country was an ever present menace on the eastern border. Syrian workers flooded Lebanon and Palestinian refugees inhabited permanent camps that had virtual extra-territoriality. To complete the picture the foreign embassies never tired of meddling in Lebanese politics. Then as now, foreign ambassadors in Lebanon tended to be careerist functionaries who desperately want to raise their profile in their own capitals.
I put my arm around his shoulders and told him that if he could get out, he should because the situation would continue to disintegrate.
And, it has.
The Lebanese are charming, hard working people. This statement applies to all of them, Sunni, Shia, Christians of various types, etc. But the country, like Belgium, was a bad idea.
It was constructed by the French during their rule of Greater Syria as a kind of Indian reservation for the Maronite Christians and carved out of the flank of Greater Syria. The French, another charming people, had long treasured the idea of the Maronites as their little brothers in the ME. The outcome of WW1 gave them a chance to realize this sentimental dream in that they held the League of Nations Mandate for what are now Syria and Lebanon. The result was Lebanon in its present boundaries but the French made a fatal error. For reasons of "economic viability" they made Lebanon a lot larger than the various Maronite enclaves and thus created a situation in which ancient enemies would confront each other politically forever.
To further poison the pot, the creation of Israel and the flight of many, many Palestinians into Lebanon threatened to further de-stabilize the political balance among the multitude of competing factions. The Lebanese response to this was to permanently bar Palestinian refugees from the possibility of attaining Lebanese citizenship and the vote. There were a few exceptions, but not many.
It must be said that the collective Lebanese personality with its proclivity for ostentatious display and the endless scheming to obtain the funds needed to support that display contributes to the instability of their lives. There is precious little sense of civic duty in Lebanon. Public spaces are neglected and a sense of national cohesion is talked about but little felt.
At the same time the aforesaid meddling of foreign embassies and especially the US Embassy has been a constantly destructive and disruptive force. In particular the role played by US political players (the Zionists and the neocons) has been pernicious. Driven by these forces the US has insisted on non-cooperation with any Lebanese government that includes Hizballah ministers. Hizballah, in addition to being the only effective military force in Lebanon, is a mighty political force in its role as a political party operating within the Lebanese constitution. They hold a large bloc of seats in the parliament and they have other parties, notably Christian, as their allies. In spite of that, the US has sought to impede the functioning of Lebanese government because we simply do not care what happens to the country.
I hope my friend and driver left. pl