Today, Lebanese citizens are resisting the most difficult financial collapse and massive corruption since the establishment of their state. Despite the wars that ravaged the past, economic and health experts consider this crisis as the most devastating one.
They say that Lebanese people are now facing a daily risk of being murdered, emphasizing that “the August curse is chasing the citizens.” After Beirut’s massive explosion last year, dozens of people died last week as a result of the explosion of fuel tanks stored by the monopoly mafias backed by the authorities.
Previously, since 2019, the lives of the Lebanese have changed in a shocking and accelerating manner, as the state fell into the trap of corruption that lasted for years due to the bankruptcy of the current caretaker government and its failure to pay international debts and to take the necessary measures to gain international support.
Lebanon, which used to have Arab and international support, is now considered untrustworthy due to rulers who run the country with corrupt administrations. They have placed the most important needs of the citizen in the hands of the “cartels” and the “mafias” of the monopoly, which control the Lebanese people. The mafias sell vital materials to the black market or withhold them from citizens from time to time based on profit requirements.
LEBANON RANKS 1st IN WORLD'S ECONOMIC CRISES
A report issued by the World Bank last June revealed that Lebanon is suffering from a severe and prolonged economic crisis in which the country is mired in an economic breakdown that ranks among the top three most severe economic crises in the world since the mid-nineteenth century.
For more than a year and a half, Lebanon has been facing complex challenges such as the largest economic and financial crisis in peacetime, COVID-19, and the massive explosion at the Port of Beirut.
The World Bank estimated that in 2020 real GDP contracted by 20.3 percent, on the back of a 6.7 percent contraction in 2019. In fact, Lebanon’s GDP plummeted from close to US$55 billion in 2018 to an estimated US$33 billion in 2020, while GDP per capita fell by around 40 percent in dollar terms. Such a brutal contraction is usually associated with conflicts or wars. Monetary and financial conditions remain highly volatile and, within the context of a multiple exchange rate system, the World Bank average exchange rate depreciated by 129 percent in 2020. The effect on prices has resulted in surging inflation, averaging 84.3 percent in 2020. Subject to extraordinarily high economic uncertainty, the World Bank report expected that the real GDP will shrink by 9.5 percent this year.
LEBANON IS THREATENED WITH TOTAL DARKNESS
ELECTRICITY FOR THE RICH ONLY!
As for the repercussions on the citizen’s living and economic conditions, the economic and financial researcher Dr. Mahmoud Jabai revealed to Majalla that Lebanon is now trapped in near-total darkness due to the lack of fuel, and will soon be threatened by complete darkness because of its shortage of electricity generators.
This situation is the result of fuel no longer being available due to the suspension of credits by the Central Bank of Lebanon, which is no longer able to provide financial support because the amount of dollars it has is equal to the size of the mandatory reserve.
Jabai said that even when the Central Bank of Lebanon provided a hundred billion dollars to be used to subsidize gasoline and fuel, all of the money was spent between the monopoly mafias and storage, and the resources were sold to the public in the black market, so the people did not benefit from anything. Rather, people are suffering from humiliating queues waiting for a small amount that is not enough to satisfy their needs.
Jabai pointed out that Lebanon is heading towards total darkness in the next stage, and this will have serious repercussions in several areas.
At the economic level all electrical production plants will stop working, which will cause production losses and high costs. Companies will turn to the black market to generate electricity at an incredible cost, which means that fuel prices will rise dramatically.
As for living standards, Jabai explained that the purchasing power of the people will decrease, which will hinder them from obtaining necessities, including electricity. He said that "People literally started to sleep on the surface of their balconies to avoid the heat."
Jabai believes that the reason for Lebanon's lack of electricity is due to the corrupt authority that rules Lebanon, in addition to the monopoly cartels of merchants, clarifying that the thefts and deals carried out by the monopoly cartels ruled by the governing parties excluded any external offers to produce electricity with the aim of controlling the market.
Jabai offers solutions that may save Lebanon from its total darkness and fill its deficit in terms of hydrocarbons by reforming the available refineries, as there are two important refineries in Lebanon, Al-Zahrani and Al-Badawi. But the country lacks the ability to refine oil because operations were deliberately suspended by the monopoly mafias so that Lebanon could not produce any energy source.
Thus, the ruling organization is banning international offers to activate electricity production, such as those from Germany and Russia, which offered to invest and restart refineries that would have enabled the country to save two billion dollars annually, with the possibility of providing profits of 6-8 billion dollars from oil refining.
On the other hand, the financial and economic researcher considers that Lebanon can generate electric power by rehabilitating the suspended refineries to refine crude oil and generate electric power. This will save from 60 to 70 percent of the overall fuel costs incurred by the state treasury, in addition to providing electricity 16-20 hours per day for 6 months. “However, with the current situation of the refineries, Lebanon will not be able to refine oil and benefit from foreign donations, as happened in the case of the recent Iraqi oil gift, as Lebanon did not benefit from it at all.”
Moreover, Jabai believes that the Lebanese government should boost competition for external importing bids and prevent the monopolizing authorities from controlling fuel, so as to maintain a larger quantity at a lower cost.
The Lebanese today are dramatically facing the consequences of lifting fossil fuel subsidies.
Warning against a difficult period ahead of the Lebanese, Jabai pointed out that there is no guarantee that goods will be available even after the subsidy is lifted, as the collapse of the purchasing power of the individual will not bear the burden of electricity costs. He added that electricity will be available only to rich people.
STORIES OF LEBANESE PEOPLE UNDER ECONOMIC CRISIS
More than half of Lebanon's population live below the poverty line, as the bulk of the labor force – who are paid in pounds - suffer from a decline in purchasing ability. With the high unemployment rate, an increasing proportion of families has difficulty accessing basic services, including health care.
The Lebanese wake up every day to a new crisis in the basic vital facilities that threatens their living, while they suffer from queues waiting to get diesel gasoline, all while the specter of collapse looms over their quest for health care, food, and job security.
People are living without medicine, struggling to obtain fuel, and suffering from a lack of electricity, while the cries of hospitals denouncing the lack of diesel and electricity increase. In addition, patients with cancer and other incurable diseases are running out of medicine, leaving them vulnerable to death at any moment.
On the other hand, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lebanese are working remotely, while the permanent electricity outage threatens their work. Some of them were dismissed due to their inability to deliver their tasks on time. Some citizens spoke to Majalla, presenting their bitter stories about the crisis.
Rana, 33, who works from Lebanon as a financial auditor for a company outside the country, explained how she was fired because of her inability to deliver her work assignments within the specified deadlines “due to the constant power cuts where I live and the generator owner’s control over the rationing hours that have prevented me from completing my duty as required.”
Majed, 40, an engineer and a father of two, described how he was forced to double his working time to about 18 hours a day for more than one institution, due to the collapse of the Lebanese pound and the decrease in purchasing power.
As for Samar, 40, a housewife, she told Majalla that she is subjected to domestic violence by her husband because of the economic crisis. She pointed out that after her husband was dismissed from his job, he became remarkably hostile and violent.
The 14 -year-old Joanna has another story. Because of the economic pressure that has affected her family, her mother was no longer able to give her supervision as she is also suffering from the consequences of the crisis and works for long hours to support her three children in the absence of the father who died years ago. Joanna (a pseudonym) has become the victim of extortion from her teenage classmates. She used to spend all her time on social media to find someone to talk to during quarantine, as she explained to Majalla.
She said, "No one was listening to me, my mother was always late working to pay household expenses, and my brothers were in a constant state of tension." She explained to us how a group of friends tempted her to send videos and then threatened to tell her uncle (conservative and authoritarian, as she described him) in case she did not comply with their demands. Joanna attempted suicide to escape her reality, but she was saved at the last moment.
What the Lebanese are going through today may be harder than peoples' ability to bear, but it is not the first time that the Lebanese people have suffered from crises. Lebanon has been embroiled for years in civil and external wars which have had a severe psychological impact. Many of them are still suffering from the effects of war in terms of their mental health. However, health experts believe that the Lebanese have the ability to overcome difficulties, due to their love of life, high resilience, and love for their homeland.
To find out the impact of the crisis on the mental and psychological health of the Lebanese, Majalla spoke to the psychiatrist and university professor Dr. Carol Saadeh, who pointed out that people have the ability to overcome difficulties and psychological pressures through the social solidarity that appears in every crisis. She warned against an accumulation of harsh circumstances that may make people suffer from chronic psychological conditions that are not linked to a temporary situation.
Saadeh said that the recent escalations in the country have undoubtedly left the citizenry in a state of "post-traumatic stress disorder," especially due to the coincidence of crises, from the bloody Beirut explosion, to the financial collapse, to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent explosion that killed tens of young people. She added, “In addition to the chronic psychological pressure, the explosion took place and affected every Lebanese. It has resulted in cases of stress, anxiety and depression, all of which were reflected in all ages, especially children and adolescents.”
Saadeh pointed to the emergence of previously inconspicuous signs, such as an increase in violence, excessive nervousness and aggressiveness, all of which result from disturbances due to feeling of insecurity. She said that the Lebanese harness their “defensive elements” in order to maintain their composure and mental health. Here, Saadeh believes that there are people who may show collapse, psychological fatigue, and psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and other symptoms. Others focus on adopting their defense mechanisms, and denial of reality is one of the tools of these mechanisms.
While there are still no accurate statistics for the number of patients who take medication to treat psychological and mental illnesses, Saadeh explained that the percentage of people suffering from depression and other mental illnesses should not be underestimated. She noted that many may not resort to a doctor for advice about the required medications, and warned against the consequences of taking medicines without prescription which may result in addiction and other serious problems.
She stressed that psychological counseling is necessary for many people because of what they have suffered recently. Accordingly, she called on the Lebanese state to provide counseling and psychological follow-up to treat the post-traumatic stress disorder of social and economic collapse. She also advised citizens to exercise and walk, maintain a healthy diet, get enough hours of sleep and return to nature to maintain their inner peace. She also called on them to pray and meditate.
She explained that every person should search for things that enhance their love for life and look at it with passion. She also advised teens to pursue activities they love and to be more active in nature.
Lebanon today is surrounded by wholesale complications, in terms of the faltering formation of the government, the corruption of powerful parties, the use of surplus power by some, and the monopoly of livelihood resources by others leaving the citizen helpless and immersed alone in the crises, hoping one day Beirut might rise from under the rubble.