These tragedies in Lebanon today are the most recent symptoms of a national emergency rooted in the culture of corruption in all facets of government.
The lights in Lebanon have gone out.
Almost one year to the date of the massive blasts that rocked Beirut and the entire nation, Lebanon has spiraled to even lower depths.
On Saturday, the American University in Beirut (AUB) Hospital announced that at least 45 adults and 15 children reliant on ventilators would die within 48 hours if its energy shortage was not reversed.
Hours later, a “fuel storage tank hidden by black marketers” north of Beirut exploded and killed 28 people. Those killed by the explosion, and the 79 more injured by the blast, had desperately scavenged the tanker for energy to power their homes.
These stories and scenes are not isolated, but rather the most recent symptoms of a national emergency rooted in one sickness. One that was sowed by the gatekeepers of a state that has not only failed the Lebanese people, but pilfered it of food and fuel, power and its greatest national resource – morale.
If last year’s blasts stood as a metaphor for the culture of corruption infesting Lebanese governance, this weekend’s appeal from the AUB Hospital and fuel tanker explosion are emblematic of its swinish greed. Party leaders and politicians of every sect and confession have commandeered fuel and food and emptied their bank accounts of dollars while the funds for working Lebanese remain frozen.
This greed, which spread to form a system of kleptocracy on the federal and regional levels of Lebanese government, is manifested in the theatre of tragedy that is life in Lebanon today.
Beyond the lucid horror of blasts that make headlines are hidden calamities that slowly and systematically strip the Lebanese people of life and the basic necessities needed to survive.
Grocery stores, once overflowing with locally sourced food, are barren. Pubs and cafes, always pulsating with energy, are empty. Restaurants serving Lebanese fare, beloved internationally, are shuttered. Districts riveting with nightlife have been reduced into ghost towns.
If the Lebanese maintained one thing – even after decades of foreign occupation and civil strife, puppet rule and proxy wars – it was their zeal for life, and their enviable spirit to live alongside danger that always looms.
Even that natural Lebanese resource has been depleted, almost entirely, by thieves that have commandeered the nation’s government and everything around it.
Over the last two years, the Lebanese Lira has fallen by 90 percent. Currently, the currency pegged to the American Dollar has plummeted from its standard 1,500 to 21,000 (Lira equaling a Dollar), becoming virtually worthless on an open market bereft of basic goods and necessities.
Instead, the Lebanese are left to find what they can on a terrain made by state leaders that unmade the nation: the black market. A terrain where the haves can make ends meet in the interim, while the rapidly swelling population of have nots lack the dollars to buy bread, water and now fuel.
The World Bank considers the economic crisis ravaging Lebanon among the most dire it has seen in 150 years. The central financial strategy of luring investment was essentially a Ponzi scheme that broke the bank — and the back of working families.
After the government defaulted on its national debt, it placed taxes on WhatsApp calls – a lifeline of Lebanese domestic and international communication. Then protestors stormed the streets of Beirut demanding answers from leaders at the very top levying draconian policies against people at the very bottom. Covid-19 ripped through the nation at its breaking point, followed by August 4 blasts that destroyed the port and the spirit of a people at point zero.
State leaders with foreign bank accounts fled. Those with means left, or plotted an escape. Those bound by poverty and the perils it spawns were left behind, bracing for a downward spiral that seemingly has no floor. The United Nations estimates that 77 percent of households in Lebanon cannot afford to buy food, 71 percent of remaining families cannot access clean water, and electricity shut offs are a permanent reality for an impoverished population that officially encompasses half of the country’s people.
“For a large part of the population, electricity will become a luxury. Driving your car will become a luxury, too. Transportation will become a luxury,” shared Heiko Wimmen of Crisis Group.
By the time this article is published, life itself may be a luxury for 45 people tethered to ventilators at the AUB Hospital – a place where heads of state, queens and kings from the region once travelled for elite medical attention.
Lebanon has known tragedies. In fact, its modern history consists of chapters of war and wounds inflicted on a nation nestled between sea and mountains. As a child, I remember the haunting voice of the Lebanese icon Fairuz croon and soothe the nation after its most recent tragedy, seemingly feeding the people with energy to confront the aftermath of another war or massacre, bombing or blast.
“I told them our country will be created anew
Lebanon of the pride of the stubborn people
Oh how I loved you
With your madness I love you.”
She sang with that haunting contralto, providing a hapless people with hope. Today, that voice is drowned out by deafening blasts and a piercing poverty spawned by the hands of government crooks, who have robbed the land of its milk, honey and that enduring Lebanese resource eroded to the bone, pride.
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