Tracking Volatility – Is Lebanon’s Collapse Inevitable?
Well, I suppose it depends on who you listen to. From the State Department, the word is that it’s getting worse. From a panel at Haigazian University the same day, there was optimism that the phoenix will rise, resilience will win out, reforms will come incrementally but in time to save the country. From here in Washington, DC, looking at the region and the priorities of the Biden administration it is a challenge to make predictions. The leading decision-makers know Lebanon and have compassion for the Lebanese people and Syrian refugees, but there is no sympathy for the leadership who are content to watch the country collapse. It’s hard to understand the gap between what ought to be done to move in the right direction, and the virtual nothing that is being done besides a bit of angst about subsidies. But since it doesn’t affect the officials, they can continue to hold off the World Bank and the international community.
The latest dose of bad news is that the State Department on April 21 issued a Level 4 travel advisory for Lebanon – DO NOT TRAVEL. The statement said, “Do not travel to Lebanon due to COVID-19. Reconsider travel to Lebanon due to crime, terrorism, armed conflict, civil unrest, kidnapping and Embassy Beirut’s limited capacity to provide support to US citizens. Some areas have increased risk.” It went on to detail specific restrictions and possible risks to US travelers, emphasizing that the US Embassy may not be able to provide any assistance. Considering that it’s very difficult to even get an appointment to visit the Embassy, that’s an understatement.
Of course the border areas are mentioned as areas to avoid, and the streets, and driving, and visiting, and… You can’t blame the US Government. It’s their job to give us their best advice, even if it’s not what we want to hear. I remember the last travel ban on Lebanon. It was a major campaign issue for ATFL in its formative years and a great achievement when it was lifted by then Secretary of State Madeline Albright. This time around, not even loquacious Lebanese Americans can gloss over what’s going on in Lebanon, and it hurts us deeply.
On April 13, the US Intelligence Community released its Annual Threat Assessment, which gives us some insights into how the Administration identifies conditions around the globe that threaten US interests and stability in general. According to a regional summary in Al-Monitor, “In addition to vaccinating their populations, the immediate priorities for post-COVID economies should be expanding social and public health infrastructure to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and future crisis, and doing so while pursuing reforms which create jobs, reduce poverty, attract foreign investment and reduce government debt.”
Once again, the deficiencies apply to Lebanon, without even pointing the finger: adequate vaccination programs, expanding infrastructure to serve the needs of the people, and undertaking reforms to fix their economies. As the Al-Monitor article when on, “More broadly, the Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community notes that throughout the region “domestic volatility will persist as popular discontent and socioeconomic grievances continue to rise … and its leaders struggle to meet public expectations for political and economic reform. … As a result, some states are likely to experience destabilizing conditions that may push them close to collapse.”
So where is the hope? Always in the people, in civil society, in NGOs, among the young and old who refuse to accept that their country is being snatched from them and auctioned off to non-Lebanese interests and their corrupt local partners. It’s what we must believe if we are to continue, each in our own way, to work for Lebanon’s recovery. It will take time. But in this 100th anniversary year of Lebanon’s emergence as a country, we can remind US decision-makers that Lebanon is worth the investment. And, our support for those who will bring change is the key to the country’s survival and resurrection.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.