Analysis. Bank accounts continue to be frozen, and only small amounts can be withdrawn. The dollar, which is the official currency, has reached 11,000 lira on the black market.

Sick and bankrupt, Lebanese protests turn from peaceful to violent

The Lebanese people have been in the streets for a week now, with blockades and the burning of tires on the arteries that connect the main cities of the small Middle Eastern state.

The downward trajectory that began symbolically on October 17, 2019, when millions of Lebanese poured into the streets in a peaceful protest shouting kullun ya’nee kullun (everyone means everyone), demanding the removal en masse of the entire corrupt political class that has led the country to starvation, does not seem to be stopping.

Since then, the protest has turned from peaceful to violent, the economic crisis has precipitated and the health situation as well, so much so that a state of emergency was declared in January—not to mention the disaster at the port on August 4, 2020 that claimed more than 200 lives, caused over 6,000 injuries and incalculable damage to the city.

The financial crisis, the responsibility of which lies with the state, the central bank and the large private shareholders, i.e. the banks that control the country, is unprecedented. Bank accounts continue to be frozen, and only small amounts can be withdrawn. The dollar, which is the official currency, has reached 11,000 lira on the black market, while at the official exchange rate it is still formally worth 1,500 lira.

This was the spark that triggered the latest riots. Inflation is now estimated at between 85 and 90%. The governor of the Central Bank, Salameh, has declared his intention to sue Bloomberg News for having spread the news—later disconfirmed—that sanctions had been passed by the U.S. administration against him.

Salameh has been compared on several occasions to Bernie Madoff for setting up a Ponzi scheme, lying to the Lebanese and putting the country even further into debt, despite knowing that bankruptcy (exactly one year after the declaration of insolvency by the then-Prime Minister Diab) was inevitable.

President Michel Aoun has again asked the army to intervene “without hesitation” against the protesters. General Joseph Aoun has guaranteed stability, but has also criticized the budget cuts against the military, not hiding the discontent that is also felt among the army.

The health crisis still shows alarming numbers despite the six-week lockdown. On Sunday, there were 43 deaths and 2,283 contagions out of a population of about six million inhabitants. With regard to the administration of vaccines, which started only about a month ago with a large delay, there are increasing reports that those with privilege and connections are given preferential treatment.

On the political front, there is no step forward. The stalemate on the formation of the government is the result of the icy relationship between Aoun and the designated premier since October, Hariri. Last month, the latter publicly accused Aoun of still not giving him any answer about the list of 18 non-political ministers that was sent to him, and of insisting on maintaining the parties’ veto power.

The formation of a government would unlock the €253 million collected after the port explosion by the aid commission sponsored by Macron—who has already announced his third visit in a few months— intended for the reconstruction and revival of the Lebanese economy, on the condition of reforms, and which would undoubtedly give a positive signal to the markets.

Hezbollah and Amal have warned the two political blocs of “a social explosion” if a credible government is not formed soon. The latest protest is a strong “wake-up call,” according to Hassan Ezzeddine of the Party of God.

The Pope, after refusing the invitation of the Maronite Patriarch Al-Rai to make a stop in Lebanon on his return trip from Iraq, saying that “it seemed too little, just crumbs, for a country that is suffering like Lebanon,” announced that his next visit to the Middle East will be precisely in this country, a symbol of inter-religious coexistence. But there is suffering, anger and frustration that are now uncontainable.

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