Lebanese Anger At Government Grows During Long-Term Economic Crisis

Starting Tuesday, March 3rd, 2021, Lebanon’s citizens stood in the streets in protest. The dissent saw the burning of tires and garbage containers on the streets of Tripoli, Lebanon’s poorest city. They were enraged by the country’s financial status, as the currency had fallen to a new low. The economic meltdown has locked people out of bank deposits, wiped out jobs, and have created newfound concerns regarding hunger and food insecurity. The past year has seen a growing uprising against the Lebanese political leaders. A combination of events―such as the bankruptcy of the state and federal banking systems, the Beirut blast that destroyed parts of the city and killed around 200 individuals, and of course, the pandemic―has added fuel to the anger of Lebanon’s inhabitants.

Beirut resident Jad Selim said, “We need a salvation government to implement an economic rescue plan because these temporary fixes are no longer working,” according to Reuters. Many Lebanese are looking to migrate to other countries due to the financial crisis. However, this is also a financially draining option, and it has gotten harder to get out of Lebanon due to the pandemic. The financial burden has fallen especially hard on small depositors, as they are usually the ones to not have other funds or sources of savings. Also hit are small businesses and a local workforce that is paid in Lebanese Lira, a currency that has been devalued to the worth of only 0.00066 U.S. dollars. 

The downfall of the economy came in 2019. Before this, the economy’s structure was already strained, according to a detailed report given by the World Bank. Then, in 2019, the effects of the Syrian civil war bled over into Lebanon. Around 1.5 million Syrian refugees sought refuge in Lebanon, as the country’s official policy is to host them until the war in Syria has ended. However, in 2019, due to the onset of so many Syrians, the Lebanese economy took a hit. The GDP rate had reached double digits before the crisis and fell down to around 1 percent. The exchange rate for 1 U.S. dollar was around 1500 Lebanese dollars (Lira). In 2020, this jumped to around 4200 Lebanese Lira for one U.S. dollar. This was due to the dollar shortage in Lebanon. This dollar shortage was devastating. Over 750 restaurants and small businesses had to close and over 25,000 employees lost their jobs. This all happened in a matter of months. Lebanon’s gross domestic product fell to 44 million U.S. dollars after being 55 million U.S. dollars the year before.

After this, the pandemic hit. The country had to default on bonds for the first time and reached out to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for aid though negotiations with IMF never went anywhere. Right now, the central bank is in massive debt and the value of the national currency (Lira) has been extremely unstable. A big reason for Lebanon’s current economic crisis also has to do with the government’s corruptions and political instability. After the Beirut explosion, Lebanon’s citizens demanded the then-current government, headed by Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, to step down due to massive corruption and exploitation of the working classes. Just a year later, a newly formed government headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab was put into place. However, this novel government is also being accused of corruption. Lebanese citizens are fed up with constantly living in poverty while corrupt government officials live with relative wealth. 

Nearly half of Lebanese live either near or below the poverty line. It is crucial that humanitarian organizations provide aid for these people―in the form of food, water, and other basic necessities―until there is some effective change in Lebanon’s economy and government.