From the Ground Up: Lebanon Heads Into 2023

Monday, January 9, 2023
Opinion by Jean AbiNader

Although there is no formal executive power and despite repeated warnings of imminent collapse, Lebanon continues into 2023 much as it departed last year. There are some hopeful signs, though. A reorganization of the exchange rate approaching reality, the impending investigation of several leaders for corruption, the continuation of humanitarian aid programs by international donors, and human-scale actions by Lebanese at home and abroad are all incremental albeit decisive signs that the Lebanese are not willing to agree to just fold up.

Although communities have yet to form a united front and a national vision, from the caretaker PM to the heads of the religious communities, there is an emerging consensus on adopting the reforms needed to free up the economy and enable some sense of normalcy to reemerge. The challenges remain and the willingness to mobilize remedies to reduce the hollowness of the state and its institutions are growing.

The Levantine Energy deal, the maritime demarcation agreement, the renewal of the Iraq oil exchange, and the posting of notices to engage professional supervision for the energy sector all point to some relief in the first quarter of the year. On the banking side, banks welcomed the freeing up of dollar to lira restrictions that allow a fairer exchange under less restrictive conditions. Perhaps this will enable the sector to become more service-oriented and less confrontational in dealing with the Central Bank’s dictums for depositors.

Overall, remittances are holding steady if not increasing marginally, signaling that expatriates are still supporting their families and maintaining their interests in the country. A story in the Arab News captures the mood of those who have had enough and don’t see any way out unless leadership, both in the government and in the private sector, can find a way to commit their energies to what’s best for the people.

On the other hand, the story of Lebanon rebuilding through meticulous steps with international partners, both raising a new generation of crafts people and symbolizing a rejection of cynicism, is one that well captures a physical restoration that lifts one’s spirit and hopes for the rest of 2023.

As we pointed out in our recent commentary on This Week In Lebanon, the scheduling of municipal elections for May 31 gives grassroots democracy another opportunity to show that ‘all politics is local,’ and that when faced with making the right choices about what can be effected on the local level, the Lebanese ought to think beyond individual interests. Decentralization can be a reality in Lebanon, if they want it and if they want to make it work through transparent, community-wide programs.

We were pleased to hear from Amazon that Nancy Zakhour’s new book, Elissa and the World of Olives, was added over the holidays. This follow her initial book “Elissa discovers…the Origin of the Alphabet” that we wrote about last year. At 24 pages, it’s about what I can handle at this time of year!

While Lebanon has yet to elect a President or adopt the IMF reforms, the institutions are still functioning although on a scale that does not yet point to recovery. Mobilizing the political will to take the necessary steps is a fully Lebanese decision. Its friends are willing to help but not without the buy in and leadership of the Lebanese themselves. As the ambassadors of the Group of Seven (Friends of Lebanon) remarked, “The unprecedented financial crisis and economic deterioration the country has experiences over the past three years raise serious questions as to the performance and commitment of decisions-makers to effect change.”

We are hopeful.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.