Is Lebanon the Venezuela of the Middle East?

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The country was already struggling with its economic and social problems, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit

After two massive blasts in succession in Beirut, Lebanon was expected to limp back to normalcy in months. Unfortunately, that is not happening. Much as the world community would like the things in Beirut to get fixed, the Lebanese politicians don’t seem to cough up enough political will to set things right. Maybe they don’t know how to. The way things are going, soon the political leadership will find that there is no one left to govern!

Lebanon has been grappling with one of its worst economic crises for more than a year, and many are starting to describe the country as the Venezuela of the Middle East!

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Joumblatt in a series of tweets in July, expressed that he was alarmed about the economic and political situation in Lebanon. He likened the plight to Iraq and Venezuela. Of course, he, like many other Lebanese politicians in recent years, have been an inalienable part of the problem. Many of those now complaining have been a part of successive governments that mismanaged the resources of the country. However, these politicians are now blaming others without having any scruples about what they themselves did! Rather than searching for solutions they are trying to find scapegoats.
As political impasse coagulated over government formation, Moustapha Adib, Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate, resigned on September 26. Now enveloped in a thick smog of political uncertainty, Lebanon hurtles down the dark and scary road to nowhere.

Lebanon’s economy is now in shambles. It has the third most debt-to-GDP ratio in the world, with its currency highly devalued. Strangely enough this wretched country has as many as three different exchange rates! The official rate is £1,500 for $1 while the bank rate is £3,850 for $1 and the black-market exchange rate is over £9,000 for $1 and that also keeps on climbing every day!

Those who are still employed are no better than half of the country who is unemployed and struggling to pay the rent, piled-up bills, schools fees, and hospital bills. The salaries of the Lebanese are no longer worth anything.
They even find it difficult to fund basic, minor expenses such as recharging mobile phones or even paying for gas for their cars. Many are now dependent on the food rations distributed by some NGOs. The self-respecting intellectuals and professionals who worked all their life now feel ashamed that they have to wait for food aid distribution that tantamount to begging. Dignity has painfully drained out of people’s life. Lebanon imports more than 80 per cent of its food.
This glaring compulsion has fuelled inflation by many folds. Oil, chocolate, butter, shampoos, meat or even sanitary napkin pads are now luxury items.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun sensitized people that, “Lebanon is heading towards hell if a new government is not formed as soon as possible.”
The country was already struggling with its economic and social problems, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The recent explosions at Beirut port dealt a cruel, crippling blow that left around 300,000 homeless, 191 persons dead, and another 6,000 injured.

The leadership in this crisis situation has also left much to be desired. Political leaders are still not acting responsibly in the throes of this crisis. Everybody is trying to find scapegoats, blaming the other side, cursing on social media, and spreading hatred. All these are only worsening the situation. It seems a tough road ahead for the country.

There are so many things to do to sort the situation out. Leadership need to emerge like phoenix from the ashes, sit together and hammer out a plan to save Lebanon.

Basic necessities and the demands of the people on the streets of Lebanon must be given utmost consideration. Lebanon’s interest must come first. Unless the basic things are fixed, the Lebanese politicians may soon find that there are no one left to govern. Many Lebanese are applying for immigration and many have already left. Lebanon deserves to be saved.

One question lingers in the mind of all who have some interest in the safety, security and welfare of Lebanese people. How come a huge consignment of deadly explosive remained unattended in Beirut port, that also for years?

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