Lebanon on the Verge of Collapse

Israel’s neighbor to the north is now gripped by a popular uprising that many fear could lead to civil war

By Edy Cohen | | Topics: Lebanon

After hundreds of thousands protested in the streets of Lebanon, Prime Minister Sa’ad Al-Hariri submitted his letter of resignation to Lebanese President Michel Awn. 

For the past two weeks Lebanon has been aflame – no other word can describe the situation on the nation’s streets. The country has been paralyzed in spite of all the experts who thought the demonstrations would end after the second day due to lack of interest, or because of the rain and cold weather conditions. What is happening in Lebanon these days can be described as a coup of the people against the corrupt Lebanese politicians who have caused the country on Israel’s northern border to slide into a severe economic depression.

Lebanon operates like a mafia. Its 128 members of parliament and ministers steal whatever they can through the businesses, hotels, shops and real estate holdings they run on the side. There is no separation between government and the business sector. The undeniable fact is that in Lebanese politics, if you can score a government position, you’re going to be rich.

The Lebanese people have finally had enough and called for mass protests against the corruption, while putting forth specific demands. They are calling for the resignation of the entire political leadership, including the prime minister, president, chairman of the parliament, and all ministers and members of parliament who are still active. In other words, a full 180-degree change. Until elections can be held, they are requiring that the politicians be replaced by independent technocrats who have had nothing to do with Lebanese politics going all the way back to the Civil War of 1991.

A small number of families have controlled Lebanon for a long time, families who have become indescribably wealthy. One example of this kind of corruption is the family of the current President, Michel Awn. His two daughters are employed at the presidential palace as advisors to the President, one of their husbands is his Foreign Minister, the other, who is divorced from the daughter, continues to serve as a consultant. There is no judge, jury or media outlet that bothers to question this nepotism. That is because Lebanon is made up of 18 different communities, the smallest of which is the Jewish, numbering only a few dozen. Almost every community has its own regulations, own newspaper, television station, etc., and struggles only to promote the members of their own group. Government employees are recruited from within their own group, family and connections rather than skill sets or even popularity. The entire system is corrupt, including the media and the judicial system, which routinely surrenders to politicians and their dictates.

The demonstrators are also demanding new elections and the establishment of an oversight body that will include untainted judges to expose the bank accounts of the politicians, prosecute them, and return the funds to the state. This demand will be difficult, as the country’s founding politicians are accustomed to stealing and becoming rich at the expense of the citizens, many of whom can’t even pay their monthly bills.

Lebanon is a small country encompassing just over 10 thousand square kilometers (3,800 square miles), and yet carries a $100 billion debt. Lebanese banks are unable to meet this debt, and even the interest on the loans they are unable to return. Adding to the trouble, the banks have shut down since the beginning of the protest. Complicating the situation even further are the sanctions imposed by President Trump on Lebanese banks for working with Hezbollah and Iran. The entire system is on the verge of collapse.

The strength of this protest is not only that it is a grassroots movement without permanent leadership, but also because it is standing up to all current power players, including even the militant Hezbollah. One of the most popular slogans of the protest has been: “Every one of us is one, and of course Nasrallah is one of them” (i.e. corrupt politicians). These sentiments were expressed after two speeches Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, gave threatening the demonstrators and falsely accusing them of receiving funds from foreign agencies. Nasrallah could not shake up the demonstrators, especially after a number of incidents in which several dozen Hezbollah operatives tried to deter the demonstrators, but the Lebanese police intervened defending the civilians. 

Some of the demonstrators started burning Israeli flags, but others stopped them. “We demonstrate against the corrupt politicians, we must not lose focus by dealing with another subject,” the demonstrators said as they put an end to the flag-burning.

The people’s protest is having an impact. The attempts to accuse Israel of being behind the movement have failed. The Prime Minister has resigned in a show of support for the demonstrators, leaving the other politicians in serious trouble. No one has a solution and people in the streets of Lebanon are boiling mad. Right now it looks like there is only a dead end with an unclear future, or even a civil war on the horizon. One thing seems clear – the Lebanese are not giving up anytime soon, and appear to be willing to go all the way to bring about radical change in their country.

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