For some time now, we have been reading articles on the violence that is shaking Lebanon in the European news. This beautiful Eastern country is going through a crisis of rare intensity. Hundreds of gunshots are punctuating the once calmer daily life of the Lebanese. By thousands, pro-revolutionaries are taking to the streets, blocking the country's main highways and pouring tons of rubble on them. Police officers, even soldiers, end up in hospital. Protesters are wounded, banks, shops and establishments are vandalized and set on fire. While some claim that "it's time for revolution" in disapproval of the government, others bid for it by attacking Parliament. Let us recall that a week ago, demonstrators forced their way through the barricades by climbing them with metal bars. Clashes broke out with the police, firing with live bullets. Yes... nothing is quiet here. Everything is in turmoil.
The terrible circle of violence is set in motion in this country with such conciliatory inhabitants. So let's take a look at the various elements that explain the current situation in the land of Cedars.
For more than a year now, Lebanon has been going through deep economic instability. In the summer of 2019, thousands of Lebanese call for revolution and take to the streets. They consider their rulers to be corrupted. The confidence that the people had placed in them is shattered. It will take time for this trust to be rebuilt. November sees daily demonstrations resulting in dozens of casualties. Protest movements against confessionalism, corruption and social inequality in Lebanon appear. The premises of the incredible economic crisis are being felt and many Lebanese end up on the streets.
Unfortunately, this economic crisis will worsen on March 9, 2020, when Lebanon will be declared in default of payment, unable to repay the Eurobonds. A number of Lebanese banks go bankrupt. It becomes impossible to withdraw US dollars and Lebanese pounds in several institutions. Although they still have money in the bank, many Lebanese families can no longer access it. "What good is it to me to have money in the bank if I can't withdraw it," a Tripolitan will say. The middle class is collapsing. The poverty rate is exploding. Outliers speak for themselves: the poverty line then exceeds 45%. If Lebanon has not been able to repay its debts, it is because of a "hole" in the country's coffers. As several billion dollars are missing, people demand answers as to where these dollars have been since March.
In addition to this event, which has intensified the demonstrations, the coronavirus has made its appearance. Lebanon, in the midst of a crisis, was forced to confine its population. Since 17 March, ports and airports have been closed. The country enters in lockdown and imposes to most of the businesses to remain closed for whole weeks. On 13 June, 1,422 people are affected and 31 deaths are to be deplored …
Due to the spread of the coronavirus, Lebanon announced on Friday 28 February the closing of all its schools and universities. The closure was to last one week. In the twilight of that deadline, it was extended for a further week. And so on, from 7 days to 7 days, and then from 14 days to 14 days... The youth, in need of education, found themselves confined and had not set foot in schools for months. Even today, while many sectors of activity have been able to reopen, all Lebanese schools and universities are closed.
Moreover, the coming year will be a tough one for many schools. Indeed, it seem that 80% of private Catholic schools in Lebanon will not be able to reopen their doors in September 2020 due to lack of means. This news is consequent when we know that these schools educate about two thirds of the students in private schools in the country.
The economic crisis, combined with the confinement, has led to a new wave of demonstrations.
These, more violent than in November, are meant to protest against the unprecedented deterioration of the economic and social situation coupled with the significant degradation of the parity of the Lebanese pound relative to the dollar. The demonstrators attacked the security forces with violence including clashes, stone throws, fireworks projections, grenade launches, burning tires and Molotov cocktails.
For example, on 28 April, violent protests injured 54 Lebanese Armed Forces personnel and security forces vehicles were set on fire. A 26-year-old protester died from a bullet fired by a soldier, leading to increased violence in the demonstrations in the days that followed. As a result, several banks and small shops in Tripoli were vandalized and burned. "I'm demonstrating because I'm hungry, because I don't have any more money," said one Tripolitan woman.
On Thursday, 11 of June, the volunteers left Beirut and went to Qaa, a Christian village in Northern Lebanon, to provide assistance. The journey, which was supposed to last two and a half hours, took much longer. Indeed, the dissatisfaction of the Lebanese is also felt on the main roads of the country. This can be seen by the countless barriers of canisters, tyre walls, rubble walls dumped in the middle of the roads, forcing cars to turn around, sometimes on the motorways themselves. The diverted vehicles look for alternatives and even get lost on isolated country paths in an attempt to reach their destination. It is after many roundabouts and detours that the volunteers finally reached Qaa.
The economic crisis continues and is in full swing. The devaluation of the Lebanese pound (LL) continues its frightening fall. Since January 2020, it has lost 70% of its value against the dollar. "The anger will grow, because the pound is collapsing and the government is unable to react," says Ali, an unemployed former restaurant waiter. People here are afraid. People are hungry. The rate of population below the poverty line, which was known to be 45%, reached 60% on 7 May... it is rising inexorably. Therefore, we see people becoming more and more angry at the current situation.
A few days ago, in Beirut, a demonstrator named Haitham shouted: "People can't take it anymore, that's enough", "People don't have jobs, they don't have food." “They can't buy medicines, diapers or milk for the children.”
So why does Lebanon have to endure such wrath? What to do when hundreds of thousands of families can no longer withdraw money and see the one they own lose its value every day? Is it possible to help the Lebanese when violence is on the rise?
Yes you can! From you house, help those Lebanese families who can’t stop suffer.
Bruno, volunteer in Lebanon.