Lebanon struggles to emerge from financial crisis and government corruption
03 July 2023 ( PBS.ORG )
Lebanon has become, for all intents and purposes, a failed state. Its government is rife with corruption and unable to care for its people who suffer chronic and crushing poverty from economic mismanagement and a banking collapse. As special correspondent Leila Molana-Allen reports, the divide between the ruling class and everyone else grows by the day.
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- Amna Nawaz:Lebanon has become, for all intents and purposes, a failed state. It’s government is rife with corruption and is unable to care for its people, who suffer chronic and crushing poverty from economic mismanagement and a banking collapse.As special correspondent Leila Molana-Allen reports from Lebanon, the divide between the small ruling class and everyone else grows by the day.
- Leila Molana-Allen:Flexing their muscles and showing off their firepower, Hezbollah fighters put on a massive show of strength for Resistance Day, the anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000, after years of occupation.The Shia militant group invited us inside one of their training camps deep in the south of Lebanon, near the Israeli border.
- Man (through translator):We celebrate this great day, on this day of Lebanon’s anniversary of resistance and liberation.
Usually highly secretive, this kind of access to the recruits’ training regime and Hezbollah’s highly controversial stash of weapons, largely supplied by Iran, is a first.
For some, it shows just how comfortable they have become with their position in Lebanon. And the reaction from opposing parties has been fierce. By putting on this grand display of its military might, Hezbollah’s armed wing is trying not only to show that it’s prepared to fight enemies across the border, but that its the strongest force capable of protecting Lebanon itself.
As the country crumbles, Hezbollah is only growing. Meanwhile, the party’s political arm is locked in a bitter struggle inside Parliament, trying to cement and increase its power in government. They’re not the only ones. With the leading parties each determined to have their candidates take the top seats, political infighting has brought governance to a grinding halt.
A crop of new members of Parliament is trying to change that. In May of last year, Lebanese went to the polls after four years of protest and political and economic crisis. In that time, the currency has lost 98 percent of its value, the banking system collapsed, and 80 percent of Lebanese now live in poverty.
While the vote kept most of the old guard in power, 12 new independents M.P.s made it through. Najat Aoun Saliba and her colleague Melhem are two of the new faces hoping to create a new political order based on skills and service, rather than nepotism and private wealth.
Najat Aoun Saliba, Lebanese Parliament Member; When parliamentarians think about what’s in it for their own parties, rather than what’s in it for the benefit of the people and the benefit of the country, we get to where we are right now, a complete gridlock with a complete power vacuum.
- Leila Molana-Allen:Bit by bit over the last few years, the Lebanese people have lost everything. They have learned to adapt to no electricity, no petrol, no medicine. How is it possible that they’re living like this?
- Najat Aoun Saliba:They know how to shut the people up. They really do. They have stripped us of everything, even of our dignity. And we keep begging those warlords for services, not for our rights.
- Leila Molana-Allen:Saliba knows Lebanon needs change, and fast, but with the establishment still refusing to work together, she and her colleagues face constant roadblocks.Furious at Parliament’s inability to agree on a president and move forward with desperately needed reforms, they have been staging a sit-in in the Parliament Building for six months.
- Najat Aoun Saliba:Those war leaders have created what we call a deep state. That means they have their tentacles everywhere. I’m sorry to say this, but our rulers have failed us, they have failed the country, and we are in a complete failed state.
- Leila Molana-Allen:Lebanon has now been without a functional government for a year and without a president for seven months.The governor of the Central Bank is on the run from international arrest warrants for stealing from the state. And as M.P.s wheel and deal over political appointments, outside the walls of Parliament, life for the Lebanese people becomes more and more impossible by the day.Of the many sectors of society here facing destitution as the government sits by, the plight of the elderly is one of the most severe. Citizen-run grassroots organizations can do little to create permanent change, more focused on firefighting daily crisis upon crisis. But until the government steps in, they’re the only lifeline Lebanese.
- Maya Ibrahimchah, Founder, Beit el Baraka:Lebanon has the fastest aging population in the entire Middle East and North Africa. We have 11 percent of the population that is above the age of 65.So, 80 percent of our senior population lives with absolutely no safety net. Ever since the economic crisis started, many elders are literally sleeping on the streets, because their children are longer able to take care of them.
- Leila Molana-Allen:Maya Ibrahimchah founded NGO Beit el Baraka, House of Blessings, to try and support the increasing number of seniors left with nothing after the banks collapsed, taking their pensions with them.
- They distribute dry goods and groceries donated by the public and the diaspora. This is their pharmacy, filled with medicines brought over in suitcases on domestic flights by Lebanese expats, because the shortages are so extreme, and what is still available in Lebanon’s hospitals is astronomically expensive.
- Maya Ibrahimchah:Actually, when you look at how the politicians are responding towards the social problems and the social crises that we’re having, you realize that they’re living on another planet, because people are suffering miserably, whereas they are still busy with fighting on who’s taking which share of the pie and who’s taking which ministry, where, during this time, the Lebanese population is literally starving.
- Leila Molana-Allen:Sixty-year-old Bruno Shemali worked for 45 years as an engineer in the Gulf, carefully saving his hard-earned money back home in Lebanon. Now it’s all gone.Bruno now survives off the donations he receives from the community market here. But Beit el Baraka is in jeopardy too.With locals no longer able to afford to donate as the crisis rolls on, they are facing a serious shortfall.
- Bruno Shemali, Retired Engineer:My money has been embezzled by the Central Bank of Lebanon. I don’t have any way to go back to zero and begin my life again. So now I have to survive the situation.
- Leila Molana-Allen:Across the country, Lebanon’s old and vulnerable are facing a similarly bleak future.This nursing home in the mountains outside the capital once provided comfortable care for the final days. Now, with their state funding worth cents on the dollar, they can barely keep the lights on.
- Sister Evalyn, Nursing Home Caregiver (through translator):What the government pays every six months is not enough to buy diesel or groceries for a week. We’re no longer able to keep the power on 24 hours like we used to. We’re also facing difficulty providing food. All of us are afraid of the future.
- Leila Molana-Allen:If the nursing home is forced to close, most of its residents will have nowhere to go.Living out the end of your days stripped of the savings and rights that took a lifetime to build is an unbearable indignity. But for young parents trying to raise a family amidst this chaos, getting through each day is a struggle, let alone trying to plan for their children’s futures.When we met Clara Roukouz last year, she was facing a mother’s worst nightmare. Her 3-year-old daughter, Martine, has leukemia. And with their savings locked away and reduced to nothing in the bank, they couldn’t afford the treatment to save her life. Since then, they have limped by on dwindling donations and borrowing all they can.
- Clara Roukouz, Mother (through translator):We are doing the impossible, Leila. The elections came, and we tried our best to make some change. This conflict is bleeding the people dry, and they are just sitting in their thrones away from the blood, sitting high up and watching.
- Leila Molana-Allen:The chemotherapy is working, and Martine is getting stronger, and sassier, by the day. But they still don’t know if they can get enough to finish the course. And, if they do, what comes next?With Martine’s father still unable to find work in a collapsing economy, they face unimaginable debts, with no way to dig themselves out.Clara, you have three daughters. And in this situation with no money, in this debt, you have their education to think about, their health, everything you need for them. What’s their future?
- Clara Roukouz (through translator):If my country won’t take responsibility, as a mother, I must do the impossible to support my children, even if it’s so difficult for us to provide.And I felt for a long time like I can’t catch my breath at home. With my three little girls, I am always with them, and I cannot ever let myself cry in front of them. I cannot cry. I hold myself back every day.
- Leila Molana-Allen:Clara takes Martine home to her sisters, putting on a brave face for them, as always.But for the Roukouz family and so many others like them, trying to build a life here for their children, in this failed state that ignores the needs of her people, bravery may not be enough.For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Leila Molana-Allen in Beirut, Lebanon.