Lebanon on verge of ‘social explosion’, caretaker PM warns


Caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab appealed on Tuesday to the international community to help avert an imminent disaster, saying Lebanon is just “days away from a social explosion”.

Speaking after a meeting with ambassadors and diplomats in Beirut, Diab told officials that Lebanon was facing a “painful and dark reality”, due to the social and economic impact of its financial crisis.

In an impassioned speech, Diab declared that the combined challenges meant “the country [was]a short distance from social explosion”, adding, “I call on the world to save Lebanon.”

He paired his plea with a request not to punish his people for the actions of “corrupt” political figures.

The World Bank has called Lebanon’s economic collapse one of the world’s worst in the past 170 years. The currency has lost nearly 95% of its value since last year, while food prices have more than quadrupled in the same time period.

There are crippling fuel and power shortages, which have resulted in shootouts at petrol stations, and left citizens struggling with just an hour of mains power a day. The United Nations has warned that more than three quarters of the country’s population does not have access to – or cannot afford to buy – food.

“Lebanon is a few days away from the social explosion,” Mr. Diab said on Tuesday, urging friendly nations to extend assistance despite the lack of a proper government.

“I appeal through you to the kings, princes, presidents and leaders of brotherly and friendly countries, and I call upon the United Nations and all international bodies, the international community, and the global public opinion to help save the Lebanese from death and prevent the demise of Lebanon,” he added.

The spectacular collapse of the tiny Mediterranean country of six million is anchored in decades of corruption and mismanagement but crescendoed in late 2019, quickly spiralling out of control.

A foreign currency shortage has crippled the import- and dollar-dependent nation, leaving residents struggling to find fuel, medicines and basic supplies. Swathes of the country only have a few hours of mains power a day, threatening hospitals and food stores, and leaving entire neighbourhoods in darkness.

Compounding the crisis was the pandemic and an enormous blast at Beirut port in August last year, which killed more than 200 people and destroyed swathes of the capital. The government, under the leadership of Mr. Diab, resigned shortly afterwards.

Billions of dollars of international aid pledged at the time of the explosion were tied to the formation of a new government and a reform plan to deal with rampant corruption. But the political elite, who have vied for power and traded blame, have yet to agree on a cabinet.

Mr. Diab said on Tuesday that linking aid to reform a deeply corrupt system has become a “threat to the lives of Lebanese” and to the country’s stability.

“The Lebanese are facing this dark fate alone,” he added.

Earlier this year the United Nations issued famine warnings about Lebanon. On Tuesday, the American University of Beirut’s Crisis Observatory released a report that said a month’s worth of main meals for a family of five now costs more than three times Lebanon’s minimum wage.

The UN’s child agency warned last week that 77% of households did not have food or cannot afford to buy food.

Meanwhile, without a government and without serious steps to work on reforming the country, there is little hope of cash injections from foreign nations.

In fact, the European Union’s foreign policy chief told Lebanon’s leaders last month they were to blame for the political and economic crisis and some could face sanctions if they continue to obstruct steps to form a new government and implement reform.

Qatar’s foreign minister is expected to visit Lebanon this week to discuss aid to specific Lebanese sectors, including the army.

Other Gulf nations, such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which once ploughed billions into Lebanon, now regard it as a “lost cause”, according to regional experts who cited the rising influence of Iran through Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

“Lebanon has dropped to non-existence when it comes to Saudi Arabia and UAE,” said Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, who regularly visits Lebanon.

“They are very angry with what Hezbollah is doing and they are very sad to see what Lebanon has become.”

In his Tuesday speech Mr. Diab noted repeated calls for assistance to be linked to reform, but said “the siege imposed” on Lebanon was not affecting the corrupt – an apparent reference to politicians.

“What sin have the Lebanese committed to pay a dear price? Are the Lebanese people supposed to die at hospital’s doors on the way to holding the corrupt accountable?” he asked. (Source: The Independent)