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.
Amid deepening economic crisis, anti-govt protests continued and talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF) remained deadlocked. Exchange rate on black market early July for first time crossed 10,000 Lebanese lira to the dollar, up from 8,000 on 30 June; marking loss of 85% since beginning of crisis in Oct 2019. In response to rising inflation and poverty rate, Central Bank 6 July announced it will provide foreign currency at fixed exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese lira to the dollar for essential food industries. Anti-govt protests continued across country, fuelled by widespread electricity blackouts of up to 22 hours per day and reports of suicides of two men on 3 July that many blamed on govt’s inept response to deepening economic crisis; protesters 6 July took to streets in capital Beirut, blocking several roads. Negotiations with IMF continued to stall over divisions within Lebanese delegation regarding magnitude and distribution of financial losses. After IMF director Kristalina Georgieva 17 July confirmed no progress had been made in previous 17 rounds of talks, French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian 23 July urged govt to finalise deal with IMF and enact reforms. Following 20 July killing of Hizbollah militant in reported Israeli air raid in Syria, tensions flared between Israel Defence Forces and Hizbollah members in 27 July purported border incident; Israel accused Hizbollah of infiltrating Israeli territory in disputed area along border; no casualties reported; Hizbollah same day denied launching operation and accused Israel of inventing “false and mythical victories”. Authorities 12 July reported highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases with 166 new infections, bringing total number of cases to 2,344. Meanwhile, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah 7 July accused U.S. ambassador Dorothy Shea of “colonial” behaviour; move comes after Shea publicly criticised Hizbollah late June. U.S. General Kenneth McKenzie in meeting with President Michel Aoun 8 July reaffirmed Washington’s support for “security, stability and sovereignty” in Lebanon. In response, dozens of demonstrators, including Hizbollah supporters, 10 July rallied outside U.S. embassy in Beirut to protest Washington’s alleged interference in Lebanese internal affairs in second anti-U.S. assembly in Beirut this month.
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.