Why is Lebanon such a mess?

After the mess that was the port blast in Beirut the country is now suffering from protests, hyperinflation and perpetual power cuts. Essentially Lebanon is now a failed state, which the question, why is Lebanon such a mess right now now?

To read about Syria 11 years on click here.

The mystery of Lebanon

Being next to Syria you really don’t hear all that much about Lebanon, pure testament to the success of western propaganda, but also something far more important and that is states can fail and people can suffer, but so long as it does not fit a certain a convenient narrative you are unlikely to hear about it.

Lebanon is case in point for this, despite being “famous Flor its civil war that lasted over 15 years it is known more now for its relative “peace” as well as supposedly being one of the more stable countries within the region. This though completely ignores the situation on the ground, with people not only suffering, but also leaving in their droves, thus creating a severe brain drain within the country.

What though are the problems in Lebanon? Well they are many, but much of it boils down to its failed experiment with multiculturalism. Failure which has been exacerbated by its constitution and has led to rampant ineptitude and corruption.

The Lebanese ethnic lines and its confessional constitution

Western propaganda likes to point out the values of multiculturalism with nations such as Malaysia, or Singapore for example often being touted as fine examples, but the reality on the ground tends to be somewhat different. Lebanon is one of these cases.  

Lebanon has a population of about 5.5 million people, which consists of 18 recognised religious groups. These have the right to handle family law according to their own courts and traditions, and more importantly form the basis of what is the extremely sectarian and complex world of Lebanese politics. 

So, while the country is technically a Presidential democratic republic, in actual fact the government system is confessionlism, whereby the voting and division of government is done on religious grounds rather than by majority rule. In Lebanon this means that the President has to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime-Minister must be a Sunni Muslim, while the speaker of the house, the least important position goes to a Shia Muslim. In this context it should be noted that Hezbollah one of the most important actors in the nation are a Shia group.

Hezbollah The State Within a State 

When you visit the Shia dominated parts of Lebanon you could almost forget which country you are in, with the yellow flag of Hezbollah and pictures of its general secretary as well as martyrs almost everywhere. 

Hezbollah have of course been declared terrorist group by much of the west, yet while they do fight Israel their tale is somewhat different to what we are presented by western media, with a visit to Mleeta, or the so called “Hezbollah Disneyland” offering a very interesting insight.

To read about Mleeta click here

On our visit there a representative of Hezbollah who not only did not want to be named, but not even pictured said “We do not want to destroy Israel, but we feel places like Jerusalem should be international zones”.

He also had an interesting take on the groups role in Syria stating “You think we went there to prop up the regime right? We went to fight ISIS and when we were liberating Christian communities and the last people to speak the language of Jesus Christ where were all the Christian countries”? 

And while controversial they are obviously popular in the areas under their control not only being a militia,  but also providing social services such as schools and hospitals. Yet they are supported by Iran, arguably another very misunderstood nation, so are therefore seen as international pariahs. 

They are also a polarising part of Lebanese culture and you are unlikely to meet many Christians with a positive view of them with our local guide “We don’t want them, we want to be normal countries like you (our small group was made up of westerners)”.

Why is Lebanon such a mess right now?

AS to why Lebanon is such a mess right now it can be boiled down to main things, both of which are to an extent linked, hyperinflation and a lack of electricity and for this keep in context just how much oil surrounds the small country.

As to why there is hyperinflation in Lebanon? Well for some context at some points last year Lebanese hyperinflation was worse than Zimbabwe’s, as well as Venezuela, alas you will not hear much about this quite simply because they are a capitalist country and should be “prospering” while its sanctioned neighbour Syria should be failing. Again the situation on the ground is very very different. Currently there are two exchange rates, which ironically means that bills for food and the like must be printed in both local currency and USD. I had a $20 meal that “officially” at least cost $280. This means that using ATM’s is undoable for foreigners and even using apps like Uber would go crazy if you let your card exchange at the official rate.

Lebanon’s inflation has gone so crazy in the last two years because of the country’s financial and economic crisis and extremely bad management, with the divided politicians seemingly doing almost nothing to get it into control. 

The currency lost nearly 90% of its value and has put an estimated 3/4 of the country into poverty, again something that has caused a refugee crisis, as well as brain drain from the country. Quite the irony when you consider that Lebanon still hosts the largest Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps, with these people arguably suffering even more than the local populace.

As to why it has energy problems, the reasons are multifaceted, but also heavily linked to the hyperinflation. Lebanon is reliant on fuel imports, so if it does not have any money it cannot produce electricity. This also means that when charging for power it is also needs to charge at the “official”exchange rate, something it can ill-afford to do. The net result of this is that government provided power last just a few hours a day and that out people are reliant on generators for private electric provided for themselves. 

This also shows just how divided the country is and also how hard it is for the nation to play the right card diplomatically. In essence the country is surrounded by oil superpowers, such as Iran, or Saudi Arabia, but becoming too reliant on one or the other would likely lead to international problems, as well as sectarian violence.

The deep distrust of the Lebanese government 

And it is within these tribal politics, tribal politics that played such a pivotal role in the Lebanese Civil War that give people a deep distrust in the political system and the politicians of Lebanon. 

The constitution and the ethnic mix mean that governments need to be coalitions and sadly this has meant, at least to the populace simply corruption and mismanagement of the country, an issue only ignited further by the 2020 explosion at Beirut port. 

On 4 August 2020, a huge amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the port exploded, causing at least 218 deaths, 7,000 injuries, and US$15 billion in property damage, while leaving almost 300,000 people homeless. For context the yield of the blast was the equivalent to 3.3-4.5 magnitude earthquake, or according  to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization it contained an explosive yield equivalent to 0.5–1.1 kt of TNT. This makes it the 6th largest non-nuclear “accidental” explosion in history. 

Why did the explosion happen? As of now the investigation goes on, but of course there are conspiracy theories mainly based around Hezbollah, or Israel doing it, although the reality is probably much simpler and merely involves poor maintenance and negligence by poorly trained end underpaid staff. 

As one local put it to us “There’s no conspiracy, we just don;t have money, or a working government. It was simple ineptitude that we as citizens are left to deal with”. 

Given the context of how bad things had been before this people simply became even more angry, with the initial riots and protests that had started in 2019 taking on a new level of anger and severity. Sadly the protests have not led to any significant changes and two years on from the blast there are more questions than answers. 

Why is Lebanon such a mess and how to turn it around?

Obviously there has been the usual talk of capitalist players such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) coming in to lend more money, although this would come at a heavy price with the country have already defaulted on much of its current debt. Its other choices are joining forces with a bigger richer country as we head into Cold War Two, again an option not without both international and local consequences.

The net result though for now is peoples lives getting worse and getting worse in a country that used to be the top tourist spot in the Middle-East, with Beirut even being called the Paris of the Mediterranean.

The sad reality though is that if things do not get better and fast the country risks essentially becoming a failed state. 

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