An uprising of unprecedented scope has rocked Lebanon as the country’s economy tumbles deeper into recession. Poverty and unemployment could lead to violent unrest. Donors should put together an emergency package but condition further aid upon reforms to tackle corruption, a major grievance driving protest.
Unprecedented currency collapse sparked renewed anti-govt protests while negotiations with International Monetary Fund (IMF) stalled due to disagreement between govt and banks over magnitude of financial losses. As anti-govt protests 6 June erupted in centre of capital Beirut, clashes fuelled by sectarian invective broke out as some protesters called for disarmament of Hizbollah, leaving 48 demonstrators and 25 soldiers reportedly injured; political and religious leaders next day called for calm. Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah 17 June reaffirmed group’s resistance to any attempt to coerce party into disarming through economic pressure. Exchange rate on black market 11 June for first time crossed 5,000 Lebanese lira to the dollar and stood above 8,000 on 30 June, despite govt’s new pricing system aimed at gradually reducing rate; currency depreciated by more than 80% since beginning of crisis in Oct 2019. Following currency crash, anti-govt protesters across country including in cities of Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon 11-13 June took to streets; some rallies turned violent, with protesters attacking banks and commercial property. PM Diab 12 June held emergency meeting, announced Central Bank will inject dollars into market to mitigate currency collapse. Meanwhile, negotiations with IMF over rescue package stalled due to disagreement between govt and banks over scale and distribution of financial sector losses; banks insist on repayments of internal debt and deposits through selling state assets whereas govt previews “bail-in” solution affecting shareholders of banks and depositors alike. PM Diab 10 June announced senior govt appointments widely seen as controversial due to background of appointees, sparking doubts that govt is serious about installing technocratic experts to address economic crisis. IMF 19 June emphasised need for consensus to move reforms forward, warned of “deeper-than-expected” GDP contraction in second quarter of 2020. President Aoun 25 June convened national dialogue despite opposition’s boycott and protests; warned of “atmosphere of civil war”. Govt 30 June raised price of partially subsidised bread, sparking further protests in Beirut.
Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon have thought many times about going home but in the end deemed the risks too great. Donors should increase aid allowing the Lebanese government to continue hosting the Syrians, so that any decision they make to leave is truly voluntary.
Four years after plunging into Syria’s civil war, Hizbollah has achieved its core aim of preserving the Assad regime. Yet with no clear exit strategy, the Lebanese “Party of God” faces ever greater costs unless it can lower the sectarian flames, open dialogue with non-jihadist rebel groups and help pave the way for a negotiated settlement.
The fate of the border town Arsal mirrors Lebanon’s many policy failures. The government applies heavy-handed security at the expense of basic services and fair economic opportunities. It should change its policies to become more flexible, accountable and supportive of Syrian refugees – and receive more international help in return.
Lebanon is surviving internal and regional strains remarkably well, but this resilience has become an excuse for tolerating political dysfunction. If the Lebanese political class does not take immediate steps like holding long-overdue elections, fighting corruption and promoting the rule of law, its complacency will only make an eventual fall harder and costlier.
Hizbollah’s intervention in Syria strengthens the Assad regime but transforms the Shiite movement as it redefines the enemy and itself within the confines of an increasingly sectarian struggle.
[The Trump administration] is content allowing Israel to take the lead in pushing back against Iranian and Hezbollah influence in Syria.
The real risk [for Israel and Lebanon] is that of a miscommunication or accident being a trigger of a conflict across their border.
[The return of Assad’s forces to the border] has the potential of creating a more united front of resistance between Lebanon and Syria against Israel.
Hezbollah thrives on its position of being a state within a state, an alternative provider for all kinds of things [when Lebanon's political institutions are weakened].
Hariri as [Lebanon's] Prime Minister created the impression that coexistence with Hezbollah and by extension with Iran was possible; his departure is designed to erase any doubt.
For months now, [Israel] has been sounding alarm bells about Hezbollah’s and Iran’s growing footprint in Syria, and about the Lebanese capacity to produce precision-guided missiles.
The accumulation of crises is driving ever greater numbers of Lebanese into absolute poverty. While the COVID-19 lockdown is gradually easing, the loss of jobs and purchasing power triggered new protests that are turning violent and may prefigure the disintegration of state capacity and institutions.
A new wave of popular protests has jolted an already deeply unsettled Arab world. Nine years ago, uprisings across the region signalled a rejection of corrupt autocratic rule that failed to deliver jobs, basic services and reliable infrastructure. Yet regime repression and the protests’ lack of organisation, leadership and unified vision thwarted hopes of a new order. As suddenly as the uprisings erupted, as quickly they descended into violence. What followed was either brutal civil war or regime retrenchment. Tunisia stands as the sole, still fragile, exception.
Originally published in Valdai Club
After 13 years of maintaining the status quo, Israel and Hezbollah are now negotiating new rules of engagement.
Originally published in Middle East Eye
The Israel-Lebanon border has been relatively quiet for the past 13 years. The latest tit-for-tat threatens the balance.
Originally published in The American Prospect
Lebanon’s elections yielded few surprises, says Crisis Group’s Lebanon, Syria and Iraq Project Director Heiko Wimmen in this Q&A. Hizbollah is slightly stronger and its main rival weaker. But the polls do represent a return to normalcy.