Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Maha Yahya

Today, four of the five pillars that had sustained Lebanon are collapsing, creating fears for the future.

Note: This article by Maha is a year old and since then the Lebanese majority are in much worse conditions. We lacked public electricity and the private providers were unable to supply more than 4 hours a day, simply because of lack of diesel (mazout) and the inability of customers to pay for the exorbitant bills they received. We lack public water, Not even for washing, and the public providers in citernes increased the bill by 3 folds on account of lack of mazout. Potable water are bought in bottled recipients and the price increases every week: I fee that potable water is more expensive than kitchen gas bonbones. Bakeries closed their doors for lack of mazout and affordable ingredients.

In just 2 weeks, the army was directed to clamp down on “reserves” of mazout and benzine and managed to siphon 10 millions liters and distribute them to hospitals, bakeries, municipalities…And the criminals were Not brought to trials, since everyone of them is backed by at least one militia/mafia leaders.

Lebanon was unable to form a government since the resignation of the government in 2019. Frankly, the Lebanese knows that a government means hoarding whatever loans is extended to the State.

Hezbollah has decided to import mazout from Iran, whether the “government” likes it or Not: We can no longer submit to the sanctions of the USA on the faked ground of the increased power of Hezbollah, military and civil administration of the ignominy that the Lebanese are subjugated to.

Lebanese politicians are pushing their country over the precipice.

Eight months into a complex crisis that is threatening Lebanon’s foundations, they have yet to take steps to stem the collapse. On the contrary, they have pursued a malign business-as-usual approach as they hedge their bets on a system that is no more.

Today, four of the five key pillars that have long sustained Lebanon are crumbling.

First, the power-sharing arrangement that has characterized the country since its foundation is no longer working and is characterized by persistent and debilitating blockages. This arrangement rests on an equitable distribution of government posts among the country’s different sects. It was also based on a double negative of a “no to the East” and “a no to the West,” whereby Christians would not seek Western involvement in Lebanon’s affairs, and Muslims would not seek Arab intervention.

The power-sharing system is in no danger of immediate collapse. However, the last time it was contested, Lebanon entered into a 15-year civil war between 1975 and 1990.

The Taif Accord, the settlement ending that conflict, foresaw Lebanon’s transition to a civil state in which sectarian representation in parliament would end. In exchange, all sects would be represented in a new Senate, whose authority would be limited to deciding on major national issues. Yet those parts of the accord were never implemented. Today, sectarian governance has become far more entrenched in state institutions, making change extremely difficult.

Second, Lebanon’s role as a merchant republic,(mercantile system of importing and Not exporting,) based primarily on banking and services, is at an end. In 2018, financial services contributed 8.5% of GDP and the tourism sector (mainly hotels and restaurants) 3.1%.

Today, losses in the banking sector are estimated at $83 billion. In a country that imports almost everything it consumes, informal capital controls and the cancellation of lines of credit to businesses show a banking system that no longer functions.

Similarly, around 800 tourism-related establishments closed permanently between October 2019 and January 2020. Tourism and related services employed 25 percent of Lebanon’s labor force, but some 25,000 individuals lost their jobs in the sector during that same period. It’s likely that this figure has increased because of Covid-19 containment measures. The scale of the crisis is threatening the basic integrity of Lebanon’s economy. Experts now estimate the economy will contract by 25 percent in real terms over the next two years.

Third pillar is the collapse of the middle-class. This economic collapse and the ensuing destruction of wealth is wiping out the country middle class, historically one of the most affluent, resourceful, and professional in the region. Lebanese society is being rapidly impoverished, while the youngest and brightest seek opportunities elsewhere.

One in three Lebanese have reportedly lost their jobs, and many others are likely to be pushed into the informal sector. The Lebanese pound has lost some 80 percent of its value on the black market.

To cite but one example of the effects of this, the average annual salary of an assistant professor at the American University of Beirut is LL94 million. This used to be equivalent to $63,000 a year, or around $5,000 per month. At today’s exchange rate of $1 = LL8.000, the monthly salary has dropped to $11,000 a year, or $900 a month.

The middle class is swelling the ranks of the poor, with the World Bank estimating that around 50 percent of Lebanese now live below the poverty line, while thousands are going hungry. Clothes, food, and fuel are becoming unaffordable as year-on-year purchasing power has been halved, with inflation reaching 90 percent in June 2020. The price of basic goods increased by around 55 percent in May alone. All this represents an epic collapse with a generational impact.

A fourth pillar of the Lebanese system, namely freedoms, is also being eroded. Since independence, Lebanon has been renowned for freedom of speech and a flourishing press. By the end of the 1940s the country was publishing 39 dailies and 137 periodicals in three languages. In its heyday Lebanon acted as a safe haven for dissidents and refugees, boasting a cultural and intellectual life unparalleled in the region, a role it continued to play until recently, albeit much less effectively.

The decline in fundamental freedoms and the repression of free speech is apparent in the alarming increase and systematic targeting of activists, dissidents, and refugees over the past few years, with the help of more aggressive security services and a pliant judiciary. While Lebanon’s constitution upholds freedom of speech within the bounds of the law, its penal code criminalizes defamation against political and religious officials. Since October 17 at least 60 individuals have been arrested or summoned for interrogation because of things they posted on social media. More recently, there were reports that the country’s top prosecutor ordered a security agency to investigate social media posts offensive to the president. In response, a coalition of fourteen organizations has been formed to defend freedoms.

Finally, the Lebanese system’s fifth pillar, the army and the internal security forces, is also feeling the impact of the economic crisis.

Like all Lebanese, military and security personnel have seen their incomes and pensions disappear. The salary of the army’s commander has declined in dollar terms to around $750 a month, while that of a colonel has gone down to $300 and a soldier to $150. The personnel may be faring better than those who have lost their jobs, but they no longer enjoy many of the benefits they previously did. In an environment of heightened tensions, economic pressure on the military and security sector will only grow. More worrisome, this is happening as crime rates have risen in recent months.

In response to this dire situation, national-level decisionmaking has been slow, with politicians displaying callous disregard for the country. They continue to seek short-term gains and are looking for ways to hang on to power, plunging Lebanon deeper into crisis. By dragging their feet they are imposing further losses on depositors, who cannot withdraw their U.S. dollars from banks except in pounds, and at an official rate far lower than the black market rate.

Agreement on an economic rescue plan is critical for unlocking desperately needed financial assistance. Yet, the government and parliament are still bickering over the size of Lebanon’s financial losses as the government negotiates with the International Monetary Fund. Rather than introduce reforms, the politicians have continued to behave much as they did in the past. This was evident in recent civil service appointments that privileged political clientelism over merit. Without reforms, external support will not materialize.

Meanwhile, political parties are returning to their sectarian reflexes, fracturing the Lebanese polity even more. Trends visible on the ground point to increasing fragmentation, with villages, towns, and neighborhoods initiating self-protection mechanisms.

Against the background of Covid-19, increasing crime rates, and collapsing state institutions, parties have revived their protection rackets and are providing food and medicine to constituents in need. This is happening even as many Lebanese seek a nonsectarian state that upholds their rights as citizens, not merely as members of a sect.

Lebanon’s problems can only be addressed if its political leaders place the country’s, and their own, long-term interests above short-term gains. That means an agreement to shoulder some of the losses stemming from the crisis and bringing in a government capable of envisioning and implementing an immediate stabilization program and a medium- to long-term recovery program. So far, however, these do not seem to be priorities for Lebanon’s political leadership.

Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.

The assassination of Luqman Slim underlines that the scope for dissent in Lebanon is rapidly narrowing.(More like widening with the increase of calamities that are Not resolved by any institution)

The killing of Luqman Slim is another bad omen for Lebanon. Luqman was not just any activist. (Very few Lebanese have heard of him, mostly the embassies were dealing with him and funding his institution Umam)

He was a vocal critic of Hezbollah (for over 25 years and he visited Israel too), who chose to continue living in his family’s home in Haret Hreik in the southern suburbs of Beirut, an area controlled by those whom he criticized harshly. (And lived in security and safety)

I met Luqman in 2004 with the late journalist Samir Kassir and Samir’s wife Giselle Khoury. (Late Kassir was assassinated by the Druse civil war leader Walid Jumblatt, as a matter of female jealousy )

Luqman, with his wife Monika Borgmann, had invited us to watch a private screening of a movie they had produced on the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982.

The debate that ensued was as harrowing as it was enlightening. It was the first of many interactions over the subsequent two years around the memory of the civil war, questions of accountability, and commemoration of the victims, and their importance for Lebanon’s future. These debates dissipated after Samir’s assassination on June 2, 2005.

Luqman was also a harsh critic of Lebanon’s political class, of the repression of the uprising in Syria, of Iran’s regional involvement, and of much else. (What about US invasion of Iraq? Of Israel successive pre-emptive wars on Lebanon…)

But he was also more than that. With Monika, Luqman went on to establish the UMAM documentation and research center in his family home. UMAM aims to inform the future (generation?) by addressing past atrocities.

Since 2005, the center has been collecting information and establishing a database for all those killed, or who disappeared, during the fifteen-year Lebanese civil war. It has also made documentaries and organized discussions on some of the most painful episodes of that conflict.

Their work is critical if Lebanon is to come to terms with the war’s legacy and is essential in determining accountability for the crimes committed during that time. (The Lebanese parliament decided to absolve all the civil war leaders and those who committed crimes against humanity. And these “leaders” are still controlling and ruling Lebanon since 1992)

This work carried out by Luqman and Monika was vital in a country where the political leadership is largely made up of those who fought during the war. Lebanon’s conflict ended with the mantra of “no victor and no vanquished.”

In 1991, parliament passed an amnesty law covering most of the crimes committed during the conflict. Militia leaders moved from the streets into government to occupy the state and its institutions. The history of the civil war was never integrated into school curriculums. Knowledge of the war has largely been defined by individual points of view, not by a collective Lebanese effort to remember the war to better transcend it.

To understand the killing of Luqman one must also look at Lebanon’s broader context.

Since October 2019, when the Lebanese took to the streets to protest against the corruption of their political parties and leaders, the country has been facing an economic collapse that has impoverished more than half the population and decimated the middle class. (Bankrupt State at all levels, politically, economically and financially)

Rather than addressing the sources of discontent, the leadership has remained unwilling to implement the reforms needed to unlock international financial aid, for fear that this would undermine their influence over their constituencies.

Lockdown measures associated with Covid-19 have only hastened this economic breakdown. Without outside financial support Lebanon will continue to sink into the abyss.

Ironically, by protecting their system and continuing with a business-as-usual approach the political parties have also signed its death warrant. That may not be a bad thing, but in the meantime millions of Lebanese will suffer terribly.

The catastrophic (electromagnetic pulse bomb) explosion in the port of Beirut last August 4 further increased the anger of the Lebanese and their vocal criticism of the political leadership.

Six months later, no one has been held accountable for what happened and the official investigation is going nowhere. For many Lebanese there was no question as to who was responsible, when protestors hanged effigies of their political leaders on gallows set up at a demonstration in Martyrs’ Square last year.

Luqman’s killing underlines that the space for dissent is closing fast in Lebanon. Over the past year or so, the political leadership’s tolerance for criticism has been decreasing as more and more journalists and critics have been taken into custody by the authorities.

Yet Luqman’s killing went much further. It heralded a return to political assassinations as a means of silencing those in opposition.

The crime has sent shock waves across Lebanon and beyond, especially among opposition groups and, more so, among most of the 19 officially recognized religious sects.

For many this brought back memories of 2005 and the years that followed, when Samir Kassir, Gebran Tueni, (Communist secretary general Georges Hawi, Mohamad Chatah, Pierre Jr. Gemayel, and many security officials… Pierre Jr. Gemayel was assassinated by agents who were dispatched from the US embassy and returned to the embassy. And why was Pierre Jr. assassinated? Because he expressed his opinion during the government meeting of valuing Hezbollah resistance during the 33 days pre-emptive Israel/US in 2006)

One wonders whether Luqman Slim would have been killed had Kassir and Tueni killers been brought to justice. (Lebanon never brought to trial Israel, US, France, England… perpetrator of assassinations, Not even lesser States such as Jordan, Saudi Kingdom or the Emirate..)

That is why we should have serious doubts as to whether those who assassinated Luqman will themselves be brought to justice.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

November 2021
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