Lebanon Faces U.S. And Christian Cleric Scrutiny Amidst Political And Socioeconomic Hardship

Lebanese politicians faced backlash from Christian religious authorities on Sunday, as fears of hunger and economic crises arose. The conflict could lead to instability not seen since the country’s 15-year civil war. A top Christian cleric, the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, said in a sermon according to Reuters that “it appears politicians want to hide their responsibility in emptying the treasury and not enact any reforms.” Al-Rahi urged Lebanon’s Prime Minister to take action after calling politicians out for caring too little of the people, said Reuters. Prime Minister Hassan Diab only has been in office for five months, said Emma Graham of CNBC.

“Political officials…do not have the courage nor the freedom to meet and find ways out of the suffering,” said al-Rahi, according to Reuters. Graham said that unemployment among the population of seven million has shot up by 30% since the end of May, with a drastic 190% increase in food inflation prices. Since 1997, one Lebanese pound has held a similar value to a U.S. dollar, however as recently as October 2019, 80% of its value on the black market has been lost, Graham said. 

Lebanon’s economic troubles had become conspicuous in the last year when their capital inflows slowed; since then, protesters have taken to the streets to speak against the cronyism in their government, said Reuters. Analyst Nasser Yassin spoke of the situation, saying that the ruling class “would rather the country remain on the cusp of collapsing than initiate serious reforms,” as recorded in Arab News. These reforms “would strip them of essential tools they use to impose authority and control over the state, the economy, and society.”

To relieve the crisis, Lebanon is looking for a 10 billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and thus far has completed 16 rounds of negotiations, said Graham. For Lebanon to receive funding from the organization, specific criteria and regulations must be met, said Arab News; such criteria are that Lebanon audit a central bank and also float currency to follow a singular exchange rate. According to Arab News, a significant complication with getting funding to Lebanon surrounds their deep connection with Iran, but more specifically the Hezbollah terrorist organization. Hezbollah is one of the largest stakeholders in Lebanon to date, according to Berens; however, Arab News said they are an enemy to America.

Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State, said that “we are supportive of Lebanon as long as they get the reforms right and they are not a proxy state for Iran,” however, Iran’s role in Lebanon is crucial for their current socioeconomic system. 

The protests, which began back in October of 2019, according to Tamera Berens of Newsweek, connect people of numerous religious backgrounds who are all bound in a fight against political corruption in the ruling class and reliance on powers such as Iran and Syria.

Henri Chaoul, a former advisor to Lebanon’s minister of finance, told Hadley Gamble of CNBC that in regards to the Lebanese community, their only cards, or best chances at fighting the corruption, was to take to the streets, according to Graham. Arab News said that protests are going so far as to call for the removal of the current political class. Chaoul followed up to say that Lebanon needs “a revolution, not an evolution, to move to the next stage in our political discourse,” said Graham. 

Graham said the economic crisis has also caused fuel shortages that leave millions without power for upwards of 20 hours daily. These shortages have forced many hospitals to become inoperable, said Graham. Hospitals have had to deal with coronavirus patients these past few months, similar to many places worldwide. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 2,000 cases of the coronavirus have hit Lebanon, and 36 related deaths have occurred, said Graham.

Ellie Hunter