Author: Angelik Nehme Published: 28 November 2021.
An event organised by the London School of Economics, LSE, on the 4th of October, 2021.
Chair: Omar Al-Ghazzi, Assistant Professor at the Media and Communications department at LSE.
First Speaker: Ibrahim Halawi, International Relations Teaching Fellow at Royal Holloway University London, Secretary of Foreign Relations for a Lebanese party. He is interested in revolution and counterrevolution, especially in the Middle East.
Second Speaker: Ghida Frangieh, Beirut-based lawyer with a Master's degree in Applied Human Rights, Head of Strategic Litigation Unit for the Legal Agenda. Some of her interests include social justice and human rights.
Third Speaker: Abir Saksouk, Architect with a Master's degree in Urban Planning, Legal Agenda member, Dictaphone Group co-founder, Public Works Studio co-founder and co-director. Some of her interests include spatial inequality, urbanism and law.
Lebanon: A Serious Case of Entangled Crises
In the span of around 50 years, Lebanon has witnessed a series of horrendous crises, starting from the Civil War and until the current economic situation. To name a few calamities, Lebanon has struggled with murders based on religious affiliation during the Civil War of 1975, the serial assassinations of various political figures, including Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005, and a five-week war against Israel in 2006. Hence, Lebanon is no stranger to struggle. In recent years, Lebanon witnessed the 17th of October Revolution in 2019, one of the largest non-nuclear blasts ever in 2020, and a horrendous economic crisis in 2021. In one of their latest webinars, LSE's Middle East Centre has discussed what Lebanon is facing and what might be in store for it.
Ibrahim Halawi mentioned how the current crises overlap is unmatched. He noted that Lebanon is witnessing the largest per capita wealth disappearance in modern history. This disappearance places the country in a transition period. When countries face such conundrums, the government usually tries to restructure its debt, attempt to protect the most vulnerable social class, and create some kind of vision for what the state would look like upon controlling the crisis. However, what happened in Lebanon is contradictory, as those in power purposefully helped create various exchange rates, which strengthened the black market and put the people at monopolists' mercy. In addition, government officials played a vital role in the mass migration of educated young talents, who were the core of the 17th of October revolution, since they are the main adversaries of the corrupt regime. Those in power devised this course of action to shield themselves from the consequences of this crisis, hence making the people suffer. Halawi also mentioned how the newly formed government is trying to reignite talks with the IMF. However, he suggests that the government plans to cause further brain drain and maintain its power.
"Lebanon is witnessing the largest per capita wealth disappearance in modern history." - Ibrahim Halawi -
Ghida Frangieh raises the issue of the judicial sector and its role in combating the mafia regime. The Beirut blast investigation is struggling since the wages of judges lost value, and the industry is severely underfunded. The authority has devised a judicial entity of non-independent judges, which resulted in decades of non-existent accountability. This issue caused a lack of trust between society and the judiciary. However, the judicial sector is trying to combat the regime established after 1990 when Lebanese officials were amnestied. Social movements opposing the current corrupt government want accountability not just for the blast, but also for the economic crimes, public funds embezzlement, necessity monopolisation of medicine and fuel… However, senior officials are sabotaging the investigation by claiming immunity when summoned by the judge. All those who have been questioned and detained following the blast were mid-level civil servants. After the current judge clung to the law, and decided that questioning would occur, the mafia members became allies to shield one another from accountability.
Abir Saksouk shed light on spatial justice and how one year after the blast, the most affected neighbourhoods are devoid of all senses of normalcy since they did not receive an iota of the needed attention. Thus, the majority of the individuals living in the affected neighbourhoods did not return home. The impacted areas are subjected to neoliberal urbanisation, which rendered the tenants in those neighbourhoods at risk of eviction and permanent displacement. The law protects individual property rights without paying much mind to tenants' situations. In addition, many of those subjected to eviction threats are refugees or foreign workers who have delicate legal situations.
Lebanon is facing severe economic hardships. The World Bank estimated that 30-50% of Lebanese people would fall below the poverty line. However, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation, making economists suggest that this percentage has become much more significant. Human Rights Watch highlighted how the downfall of the exchange rate has made acquiring basic necessities incredibly strenuous. A recent report by Reuters conveyed that the fuel shortages have made everyday life a challenge, and numerous accidents were prompted by it. In addition, this shortage rendered bakeries and hospitals at risk.
Heavy fire took over the Tayouneh area around the 14th of October following demonstrations to remove the current judge who is investigating the explosion. Pictures of frightened students sitting in their school's corridors as the scenario escalated circulated the internet. This clash took the form of a mini civil war that lasted for a short while and killed over three people and injured over 20. Lebanese people are overwhelmed with a series of overlapping crises; hence, serious measures must be implemented to ensure that brief hostilities like this one are not brushed off as just another Thursday night.
In the era of the exploitation of people’s needs, skepticism regarding the upcoming elections is only fair. During the elections of 2018, there was no independent authority that oversaw the organisation and funding of the elections. This eerie notion begs the question of how the upcoming elections will differ, since Lebanon would be facing severe consequences if the electoral law remains unchanged. The Lebanese diaspora is trying its best to reconnect with Lebanon through employing its efforts towards civil society roles. The middle class and the youth of Lebanon that have found themselves outside of their home country in pursuit of a better life must find a way to reintegrate themselves in Lebanon’s political aspect.
It is a gut-wrenching experience to hear Lebanese elders, who have been around during the Civil War, reflect on the current situation and say that although the war at the time was atrocious, the hardships they are facing today are unprecedented. It is unfathomable that a country like Lebanon struggles with fuel, electricity, water, and other necessities that are considered unshakeable rights in other countries. It is also incomprehensible for a country's leaders to be so entangled in corruption, to the extent that the families of the Beirut blast victims still do not know who to hold accountable for their immeasurable losses. The most difficult to process part of the current scenario is that the solutions are clear as day. Many external and foreign entities have promised to aid Lebanon on the condition that appropriate reforms are implemented. However, when IMF negotiations were halted upon disagreement among Lebanese politicians, it became vividly clear why they are referred to as Mafia. Lebanese people are urged to lift their spirits and have a sense of hope, since they have overcome numerous obstacles in the past. However, the current situation leaves no room for fake positivity. The only way right now is forward, and through real change .
Angelik Nehme graduated with an MSc in Development Economics & Policy from the University of Manchester. She has a BSc in Economics with a track in Political Science and international Affairs. She whished to put her skills to good use, by reporting about international issues. She is keen on economic development matters, and she favours sustainable growth.
"Deadly Chaos Erupts During Beirut Rally Against Port Blast Judge - France 24". 2021. France 24. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20211014-deadly-chaos-erupts-during-beirut-rally-against-port-blast-judge.
"Explainer: How Bad Is The Crisis In Lebanon?". 2021. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/how-bad-is-crisis-lebanon-2021-09-10/.
Halawi, Ibrahim, Abir Saksouk, and Ghida Frangieh. 2021. "Navigating Collapse: Where Next For Lebanon?". Omar Al-Ghazzi Webinar, LSE Middle East Centre, 2021.
Staff, Reuters. 2021. "Timeline: Lebanon's Ordeal From Civil War To Port Blast". U.S.. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-crisis-turmoil-timeline-idUSKBN28Y0S1.
"World Report 2021: Rights Trends In Lebanon". 2021. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/lebanon.
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