Many Lebanese hold the country’s political class responsible for the corruption and mismanagement that has wrecked the country’s economy.
Lebanon’s economic crisis has plunged a majority of the country into poverty, according to a study commissioned by the United Nations.
The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report found that the rate of poverty had jumped from 28 percent in 2019 to 55 percent in May 2020, months before a huge explosion in Beirut devastated most of the Lebanese capital, further adding to the country’s woes.
There are accounts of chronic hunger and Lebanese citizens attempting to flee the country by boat as runaway inflation brought on by foreign currency shortages, a sovereign debt crisis, and the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic bring the country’s economy to a halt.
One source, who preferred not to be identified, told TRT World that a relative had twice tried to escape Lebanon on a boat in attempts to reach the island of Cyprus around 180km away from Beirut. On both occasions, he had been turned back by Lebanese naval forces, almost drowning in the process.
Despite attempts by family members to stop the man from making further attempts to leave, he insists he will continue, arguing the risk of death in the seas is better than “a slow death” at home.
Lebanon is the setting for similar stories of desperation with some even caught on tape.
In July, a man was filmed on security cameras as he held up a pharmacy for a box of nappies for his child.
That same month, a man shot himself in a busy Beirut street with a note that read: “I am not a heretic, but hunger is heresy.”
The Lebanese Lira had lost 80 percent of its value against the dollar in less than a year and consequent inflation has seen the price of groceries shoot up by 60 percent. While the market rate of the Lira is set at 1,500 to a dollar, the actual black market rate is around 7,000.
‘Curse the criminals’
Mohammed Mahmoud, who works as a driver in Beirut, said his salary of around $300 was not enough to cover the rent. As a result, he sent his wife and three daughters back to their village in northern Lebanon, while he moved in with his parents.
“Life is unbearable,” he told TRT World, explaining how even small luxuries for special occasions were beyond his means.
“Eid just went by for us and I couldn’t even afford clothes for my three infant daughters so we ended up making them wear clothes left by relatives from London last summer,” Mahmoud said.
“We couldn’t even buy sweets to give to people who came to our house to wish us ‘Eid Mubarak’ but it’s okay because everyone else also has no sweets to give out.”
It is not just the here and now of living that Lebanese people have to think about but also fears of how much worse the economy will become.
For shopkeepers like Mahmoud’s father, it makes more sense to store stock for their own use should the situation deteriorate, rather than fill their shelves with goods for the “dark days ahead.”
“God help us and curse the criminals running the country,” Mahmoud added.
For many in Lebanon, the authors of their current plight are the political and business elite, who they accuse of siphoning off the country’s wealth and running the state with neglect.
Transparency International ranks Lebanon 137 out of 180 on its global Transparency Index.
The country also suffers from huge wealth disparity with seven billionaires owning as much as 62.4 percent of all adults in Lebanon, according to the ESCWA.
Attempts by foreign leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, to include these politicians and businessmen in the rebuilding of Lebanon’s economy have therefore been met with incredulity.
The extent of distrust was demonstrated in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion with many in the country imploring foreign donors to donate through internationally recognised NGOs so that the money does not end up in the hands of Lebanon’s politicians.