“If you ask any Lebanese family ‘what did you eat today?’ most will answer ‘fruits and vegetables.’ These are the products that cost the least. We survive, but with difficulty.”
The black hole into which Lebanon seems to have fallen has no apparent end in sight. Hunger and poverty are on the increase, and at the same time the number of people renewing their passports to flee abroad is growing. A crucial part of what is happening is the counter-revolution: the defeat of the popular protest movement by the ruling class, which shows itself able to keep the revolt from bringing them down.
We talked about this with the journalist Nizar Hassan, leader of the Li Haqqi (For my rights) movement, who was on Thursday in Salerno at the Ghirelli Theatre at 6:30 p.m. as part of the Mediterraneo Contemporaneo review, curated by Maria Rosaria Greco.
There are shortages of electricity, fuel, medicines, food: how are the Lebanese living today?
In socio-economic terms, the situation is tragic. We are facing a total economic and financial collapse. The currency is worthless and goods cost up to ten times more than in the past. The government has suspended subsidies for food, medicines and fuel, imposing a sudden austerity.
People cannot afford basic necessities. Only the price of state-supplied electricity has remained at the original level, but it is unreliable: it is available only a few hours a day, and those who can use private generators. But fuel is sold at the new, extremely high prices: an entire monthly salary is needed to pay for gas for cooking or heating.
International institutions, such as the UN, and humanitarian organizations have been warning for months of the risk of a food crisis in Lebanon. Is the need to fulfil basic needs changing society?
Society is much poorer than it used to be. Ours was a country that wasn’t doing too badly, thanks in part to the introduction of dollars into the economy and the stability of the lira. However, that economic model has collapsed and a new one is needed to survive. There is hunger in Lebanon, but it is often invisible due to the presence of many humanitarian initiatives. People, especially those who live in non-marginalized areas, the middle class, are not used to showing their poverty, they are ashamed of it. This is a middle class mentality; marginalization is neither accepted nor used to ignite social conflicts.
Two months ago, Beirut was the scene of armed clashes between the Phalangist right and Hezbollah. Is this a sign of a sectarian war that could explode?
Sectarian clashes are not a natural disaster. They are a political decision taken by political factions. They prefer this to power sharing in parliament or confrontation in the media. When political and judicial institutions are no longer functioning, those in power see sectarian confrontation as a chance to survive. We are facing a civil war without a war: the level of polarization around Hezbollah and the regional powers and the armed clashes in Tayouneh are a mirror of what Lebanon is today, a democracy which is only apparently peaceful, with armed militias in the streets killing each other.
It is a system that keeps the Lebanese divided into sectarian groups, based on the fallacious promise that that group will protect them. Civil war ends up being the true nature of the system, which was created and implemented in such a way as to be a continuation of civil war, despite the fact that they’re saying they imagined it that way precisely to avoid internal divisions. The rhetoric of the ruling class is much harsher and more polarized than it was in 1975. There is no longer even an attempt to hide the sectarian and reactionary language. Now we wait for the spring 2022 elections, where we will see how they will “resolve” these divisions.
Two years after the start of the October 2019 popular uprising, what is the status of the movement?
The Lebanese popular movement has been defeated; we have now realized this fact. Not only did we not achieve our goals, but the opposite of what we were calling for took place. This was seen with the sectarian clashes in Tayouneh. The Lebanese counter-revolution was a perfect counter-revolution: it had several forms, the worst of which was convincing people that they had no influence. Millions of people took to the streets to change the fate of Lebanon and to avoid its collapse, but they didn’t succeed and those in power reproduced the same political dynamics. The sectarianism that governs the banking and financial system has caused its collapse, and not even the international institutions are able to impose reforms on Lebanese politics. We are at the point where the IMF seems more progressive than our ruling class; it’s ridiculous.
In this situation, people are convinced that they have no power to change things, and this has caused a collective depression. No one is living their life or looking to the future anymore. The people’s movement is going through a bad period; we may see a revival in the run-up to the elections, but most political activism uses middle class practices and has not produced alternative methods to deal with counter-revolution and inequality.
Articles and reports are talking about an increase in emigration abroad. Who is leaving?
Those who can do so are trying to leave, especially young people and families who have the resources to do it. It’s not the poor who are leaving, they can’t afford to, but the middle class. I would leave too if I could. It’s the only way to live a dignified life, away from a defeated and impoverished society, with fewer resources to fight oppression and injustice, easier to manipulate and exploit.