Once the most popular tourist destination in the Middle East, Lebanon has since descended into political turmoil, economic instability, and widespread poverty. Years of government negligence and financial mismanagement have cost this once-prosperous nation its future, forcing its people into worsening conditions of destitution.
In 2020, Lebanon’s economy experienced massive inflation at nearly 85%. The Lebanese lira’s devaluation has resulted in a minimum wage of approximately $67 per month, leaving over half the population under the poverty line. Most struggle to acquire bare necessities. Unemployment rates are also at an all-time high, having exceeded 30 percent. Many families now rely solely on local charities and non-governmental organizations for their survival. The currency collapse consequently created a banking crisis, which is blocking customers from accessing their savings in U.S. dollars and limiting their ability to leave the country.
The Beirut Explosion on August 4th, 2020 only worsened the economic crisis. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, 300,000 Lebanese became homeless after the port exploded. Many who were injured in the blast could no longer provide for their families, while those who lost close family members also lost primary sources of income. The estimated cost of repairing property damages was a staggering 5 billion dollars, placing an economy already in debt under unimaginable strain.
While the explosion was determined to be an accident, Lebanon’s current situation is ultimately the result of years of its political leaders’ unmitigated theft and corruption. Reports have traced 100 billion dollars’ worth of squandered funds and plundered resources back to Lebanese officials who continue to cling to power, despite the passionate civilian protests that have been raging in downtown Beirut since last October.
The call for government reforms was echoed by French president Emmanuel Macron, who, after the explosion, demanded that the Lebanese government make radical changes. Although it is arguable that the world’s attitude towards the corruption in Lebanon has been negligent, the situation has become impossible to ignore. Macron is currently pressuring Lebanese politicians to form a government of non-partisan specialists who can develop policies to alleviate the financial crisis. While the concept might be effective, the establishment of a new government has hit a wall. Politicians continue to argue over the semantics of a new cabinet and the new ministers’ elections. Lebanese prime minister-designate Saad Hariri and president Michel Aoun have repeatedly failed to come to a viable agreement.
In early April, an open letter published in the French daily newspaper Le Monde was signed by over 100 Lebanese civil society figures. The letter pleaded with Macron to freeze the assets held by Lebanese figures suspected of corruption. It claimed that a “political-economic mafia is responsible for the misery, hunger and insecurity from which more and more Lebanese suffer.”
Macron has expressed similar concerns and exasperation at the unchanged government in the former French mandate nation. In response to the deadlock, France will be imposing sanctions against select Lebanese officials. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian declared that Paris began imposing entry restrictions on specific politicians and politically-affiliated Lebanese individuals for hindering efforts to solve Lebanon’s protracted crises. Following a visit to Malta, Le Drian stated, “On a national basis, we have started to implement restrictions on access to French territory against personalities involved in the current political blockage or involved in corruption. We reserve the right to adopt additional measures against all those preventing an exit from the crisis, and we will do so in coordination with our international partners.” Le Drian’s comments were the French government’s first official confirmation that the Lebanese government’s failures will not go unpunished.
The European Union, which has been urged to adopt similar policies, will reportedly support the sanctions. The United States and United Kingdom are additionally preparing joint sanctions against corrupt Lebanese parties. The overall objective is to pressure officials out of the deadlock and accelerate the formation of a new government. Le Drian is expected to travel to Beirut on May 11th to continue campaigning for a new government. If his efforts are successful, the trip could result in the release of more than $20 billion in foreign aid, which will push Lebanon down the road to reformation.
International intervention against the corruption is long overdue, but these recent efforts may prove critical to the future of the region. It is an important time to monitor the situation in Lebanon, especially after the French minister’s upcoming visit. If the government is reformed in the near future, it is vital that its policies be focused on internal affairs and preventing longstanding corruption. It is also essential that Lebanon’s future government eventually be able to function without constant scrutiny. The new government will need to work diligently to earn the people’s trust.
Although multiple countries sent generous donations to Lebanon in the wake of the Beirut explosion, those donations were not enough to stabilize the struggling economy or alleviate the burdens of poverty. Insecurity is still a shadow over Lebanon’s future, but the possibility of foreign aid and the threat of international sanctions may offer a necessary push in the right direction.