It is sorrowful to see the intellectual and knowledgeable Lebanese youth be optimistic that life elsewhere will provide them with more opportunities and a brighter future. It was reported by The World Bank in its recent April statement that Lebanon’s GDP is projected to contract by 9.5% in 2021.
The so-called Switzerland of the Middle East is now drowning in a political, financial, and economic crisis which has been continuing since 2019. It has made more than 55% of the country's population impoverished and unable to meet their basic needs according to UNESCWA.
The anti-governmental movement, dubbed the "October Revolution,” is the biggest in nearly ten years, and has no political party backing. The October 17 protests did not occur haphazardly; this failed state had been experiencing severe economic difficulties since 2009, when GDP growth peaked at 10.1%, a figure which has since fallen to 0.2% in 2019. In 2020, real GDP growth fell by 20.3%. The local currency's depreciation has already resulted in triple-digit inflation and poverty is on the rise. The nation is attempting to establish its third government in less than a year without a functional executive authority.
The inability to form a government has hindered progress in resolving the collapsed nation’s economic problems. The Beirut explosion, as well as the lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of the COVID-19, aggravated this broken state’s deep financial crisis, which has been going on since late 2019. In Aoun administration, the unemployment rate surpassed 50%, and the cost of living has increased by more than 140%, making it impossible for many people to purchase basic necessities. The minimum monthly income which was already as low as $400 has now fallen under $40.
This situation comes against the backdrop of a country that has experienced no economic growth in years due to the inexcusable incompetence of a neglected ruling class that has embezzled, and stolen the hard-earned money of the Lebanese people, rather than investing it in productive projects. The country's downfall is due to the same old tainted ruling class. People are at risk of assault if they dare to demand basic human rights, and they are shot down if they peacefully demonstrate.
This has drained the Lebanese youth. After years of fighting for a country that they dream about every day, they are exhausted. The Lebanese people deserve to live the stories that their grandparents told them about; Beirut’s Golden Age. In the Ain El Mreisseh neighborhood, luxury hotels opened on the beaches. A slew of nightclubs sprouted on the nearby Rue de Phénicie; trendy hangouts where one could catch a glimpse of a movie star, or an international celebrity. Local cafes were packed with fast-talking, chain-smoking students from the nearby American University of Beirut. The Saint George Hotel, which became a central place for the capital’s jet set, including Brigitte Bardot, Peter O'Toole, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton, was perhaps the oldest and most popular destination.
Now we are far removed from this utopia, and everyday each one of Lebanese citizens jumps out of fear of every unexpected sound. This comes after the 4th of August’s massive blast which occurred in the port area of Beirut, injuring more than 6500 people, and affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands. People are in constant fear of another outside threat that might put their family and friends' lives in danger.
In this crashed nation, sexual assault is a common occurrence. In figures, 1 out of 4 women are sexually harassed based on a study conducted in 2018 by ABAAD NGO. Walking down the streets after 8:00Pm is the worst nightmare of every woman living in this perilous nation.
According to data gathered by the Internal Security Forces (ISF), homicides rose dramatically by 45.5% across the country in January and February 2021.The same death toll was 32, up from 22 in the same time frame in 2020. the rate of theft had risen by 144% in January and February 2021 as compared to the same timeframe for the previous year.
Defaced mountains, rivers that have been polluted, beaches and seafronts that have been destroyed, piles of unprocessed refuse, nonexistent sidewalks, chaotic building activities, state institutions that do not protect the individual, a banking system that favors shareholders over depositors etc., are all the norm.
The “The Pearl of the Middle East”, where accumulating wealth at the expense of all else was the mode of operation, is long gone. There is no telling what kind of state will replace this ruin. Individual rights must be prioritized. Having clean water, clean air, a healthy environment, shelter, access to healthcare, prompt justice, dignity, and adequate education are all long overdue. Under normal circumstances, these are unquestionable universal principles, but they were withheld from this country, leading to a large number of deaths.
The Lebanese people are told that the young are their only hope, but there remain many unanswered questions.
Will the Lebanese people ever join together and finally cooperate to establish the idyllic country they have always dreamt of?
Written by Yara Dally
Yara Dally is a columnist at DecipherGrey.
Photograph: Shahen Araboghlian|Wikimedia.org