The Mediterranean’s former jewel on the brink of collapse

The « Switzerland of the Orient », as Lebanon was also formerly known, weakened by the civil war from 1975 to 1990, consecutive to the Arab-Israeli wars, is succumbing to its historic economic crisis.
Source: Beyrouth ruined on August 28, 2015 by Camillelons

Lebanon, mosaic of parties, communities and ethnic groups  

Before the civil war, Lebanon was bubbly with cultures, and the country most open to individual freedom in the Middle East. In 1962, Beyrouth, the capital city of Lebanon, was called « Switzerland of the Orient» : luxury hotels, privates beach and expansive American cars were everywhere in the town where Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims coexisted.  

After decades of tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbours, this peaceful bubble exploded with the blockade of the Strait of Tiran, which triggered the Six Days War between Israel and an Arab coalition. Following Israel’s victory, around 280 000 Palestinians fled to Lebanon and to Jordan. The Palestinian refugee community in the south of Lebanon however also became a source of tension, as Palestinian militants started a guerrilla war against Israel from Lebanese territory, which led to negative consequences for the Lebanese population when Israel retaliated.

Moreover, the Palestinians’ behaviour created tensions with the Christians. This chain of tensions turned into a civil war from 1975 onwards : 150 000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands ran from a ruined Lebanon. As a bordering country, Lebanon was regularly invaded by the Hebrew State which tried to eradicate the PLO. While the division of power was favouring the politic and economic domination of the Maronite Christians, a heterogeneous movement, the Lebanese National Movement (LNM) was created by Christians and Shiites which supported the Palestinian resistance and namely the PLO.

The Phalangist Christians – enemies of the National Lebanese movement – asked for Syria’s help which intervened in 1976 and contributed to the Tall-a-Za’atar Palestinian refugee camp  massacre, before backfiring on its first allies. This civil war amplified in intensity over its course and peaked in an Israeli invasion of Lebanon and an international intervention. The Taëf Agreement on October 1989 triggered the peace process. However even today, tensions persist.

The weak balance, consequence of the civil war, risks to be broken

The punctual demonstrations started on Thursday 17 October 2019 after the creation of a new tax on internet messaging services such as WhatsApp. Hundreds of thousands demonstrators took to the street in anger, in order to contest the government in place. This tax was finally scrapped, but the movement extended. The Lebanese rebelled against the government’s immobilism on the face of the economic crisis, the defective public services and the endemic corruption. On 20 October, the demonstrators shouted repeatedly were « Revolution, revolution » as a reminder of the Arab Spring, and « Everything, means everything » in order to signify that all the political class must be replaced, even the Lebanese president Michel Aoun. They did not believe in their capacity to solve the crisis.

A critical economic crisis…

In fact, according to the Global Bank, Lebanon is experiencing one of the worst economic crises since the 19th century. Lebanon faces an unemployment rate between 15 and 25%. It represents a GDP recession of 25%, which has made the value of the Lebanese pound plummet, and an inflation of 150% according to the IFM and the Lebanese government. The growth rate is only situated around 0,2%, one of the worst performances of the country since the middle of the 19th century. This economic degradation is partially due to the civil war in Syria since 2011, which has caused over 1 million refugees to come to Lebanon and has blocked important overland routes to regional commercial partners. This has resulted in severe discontent among the population. More than the half of the population lives under the poverty line. 

… leading to a decrease in purchasing power and a degradation of living’s conditions 

30 years after the end of the civil war, the Lebanese population faces daily water and power cuts. They only have around two hours of electricity available per day. One of the most visible and problematic consequences is the shortage of fuel : drivers are obliged to wait for hours to get a few litres of fuel. The health system is exhausted. Indeed, the inflation causes a shortage in common medications and forces the system to ask for the help of private donors. The rude working conditions lead 20% doctors to leave the country. 

An aggravation of the situation despite the demonstrations

The number of promises by the Lebanese leadership have begun to tire the population, which wants to see actual improvements to their daily situation. A help of 11,6 milliards of dollars was promised by the international community in exchange for significant reforms. However, to date the Lebanese government, which also battles internal divisions, has done little to comply with this promise. In fact, the Lebanese Minister Council approved reforms to solve the economic crisis, proposing a 50 % reduction of parliamentarians’, ministers’ and the President’s salaries, accelerating the licensing of construction plans for a new power plant, and reforming the tax system. These reforms seek to reduce of 0,6% the public deficit.

Apparently, this step forward did not satisfy the population enough. The Lebanese decided to take to the streets again, after the declaration of these resolutions. On 4th August 2020, the explosion of a bomb in Beyrouth which caused 214 deaths and more than 500 wounded. It added a social crisis to the economic one. The international community’s worry was accentuated. A few days later, the Lebanese government resigned. It is still not replaced. Finally, adding to this the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we can say that Lebanon is truly on the brink of collapse. 


to succumb = succomber

on the brink of = sur le bord

to take to the streets = manifester

tire someone = fatiguer quelqu’un

to plummet = chuter

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