Lebanon Rocked by Instability

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


The economic and political outlook in Lebanon continues to worsen as government policies and assurances fall short of the demands of the people protesting in the streets as well as of the global financial markets. The last two weeks have seen another round of finger-pointing when it comes to identifying the real culprit. Many in the region remain convinced that the crisis is of Hezbollah’s making, while Hezbollah officials point to US policies, with regard not only to Lebanon, but also to Iran and Syria, as the real reason for Lebanon’s vicious circle of political violence and economic instability.

For many, Lebanon’s economic decline comes as the country is caught up in a perfect storm of monetary and financial mismanagement as well as geopolitical conflict, leading Al Ahram’s Hassan Al-Qishawi to conclude that “the fortunes of its national currency are only one of the problems facing Lebanon, with many saying that the country is at the edge of an abyss amid fears of possible famine…. The reforms the government promised were ‘impractical’ and would be impossible to put into practice owing to the lack of political agreement in the country, the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. Meanwhile, many Lebanese are changing their pounds into dollars, eager to salvage what they can from the further depreciation of the national currency…. The US and European sanctions against Syria have also deprived Lebanon’s neighbor of dollars, making Beirut the prime destination for Syrians seeking to pay for imports and adding more pressure on the demand for dollars in Lebanon.”

A recent Daily Sabah report sheds additional light on the worsening state of the Lebanese economic and political situation: “Lebanon’s currency has taken a nosedive, losing around 70% of its value in recent months. The Lebanese pound was trading on the unofficial market at 9,000 against the U.S. dollar. It is traded for 1,507 against the U.S. dollar on the official market…. Lebanon is suffering from high unemployment, slow growth and one of the highest debt ratios in the world. With this economic failure, protesters have intensified their demonstrations against the government and the political system in general…. The main displeasure of the Lebanese people appears to be with the current political system.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s government has undertaken an effort to muffle the voices of the protesters, a development which, according to The National’s Aya Iskandarani, indicates that hardline elements within the government may be on the ascendance: “The government and party leaders have launched a campaign to clamp down on activists and demonstrators, especially those active online, eating away at basic liberties, such as freedom of speech and the right to protest peacefully…. The inspiration for the state’s most recent clampdown on dissent may have come from prominent figures close to the Syrian regime within the new government…. The clampdown has also, in part, been led by the Lebanese judiciary. Instead of safeguarding the rights of citizens and acting as an independent institution, some prosecutors have gone to great lengths to justify political arrests.”

While the government has been trying to silence the opposition, regional observers, including Arab News’s Maria Maalouf, have been quick to point the finger in the direction of Hezbollah, blaming it for Lebanon’s perennial state of instability: “Hezbollah has been and will be the primary instrument used by Iran to destroy Lebanon and wreak havoc throughout the Middle East…. Due to Hezbollah’s intrusion on the Lebanese system of government, demonstrations have been ongoing since last October, with the people demanding better living conditions, an end to corruption, the provision of more services, and serious long-term political reform…. Hezbollah is the major obstacle to Lebanon’s economic excellence because it is draining the country’s reserves of dollars and sending them to Syria, Iraq and Iran…. Lebanon is weak because Hezbollah is strong.”

Asharq Alawsat’s Eyad Abu Shakra is also critical of Hezbollah’s divisive role in Lebanese society and especially with regards to its detrimental effects on Lebanon’s state-building efforts: “Looking now at what Hezbollah has achieved since 1982, it becomes clear how necessary its existence has been to destroy Lebanon as it was known before, and how useful it has proven to be in undermining Lebanon’s Western culture, religious tolerance, and free-market economy….. Despite the recurrence of the ‘Resistance’ and ‘Liberating Jerusalem’ slogans, and never-ending ready-made accusation of treason leveled at any critic of Iran or Hezbollah, the latter has not fought against Israel since 2008…. In Lebanon, also stands uncovered the role of Hezbollah in impoverishing the Lebanese people, destroying their state, undermining its banking system and threatening its culture, national identity and interests. All this is happening under the watchful eyes of a government installed with the sole aim of covering [up] Hezbollah’s full involvement in the Iranian expansionist project.”

It is no surprise that much of Lebanon’s political and economic instability is due to the ongoing conflicts and instability in its neighborhood, which, unfortunately, as Hazem Sahieh asserts in an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, in the case of Lebanon, “do not stop at the borders. They are at the heart of the country’s internal policies, but also the heart of its residents’ sentiments and feelings…. Some consider Lebanon itself to be a border that goes beyond the geographic space that the country occupies. It has long been described as a border between East and West, becoming a bridge in times of amity, and erupting like an earthquake in times of anger. This equation yielded a success that ran for nearly two decades and a semi-success which lasted for a few years…. Lebanon is the Iranian-Israeli border as well, a duty that Hezbollah has volunteered to uphold, since its inception nearly four decades ago.”

Iranian website Press TV reports that Hezbollah has pushed back against such accusations, arguing instead, as one of its officials did this week, that the responsibility for the current state of affairs lies at the feet of the United States: “A senior official with the Hezbollah resistance movement has said US President Donald Trump’s administration is pursuing a policy of starvation against the Lebanese nation, noting that Washington’s agenda serves the interests of the Israeli regime in the region…. Hezbollah’s deputy chief further highlighted the acute shortage of dollars in Lebanon amid an economic downturn, saying Washington is ‘primarily responsible’ for the problem because it is blocking the flow of cash into the Arab country.”

The accusations against the US government reached a fever pitch this week, when Hezbollah and some government officials accused the US ambassador to Lebanon of interference in the country’s domestic arena. Following the accusations, Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman reported that Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, accused the US, in particular, of “seeking to have certain appointments at the central bank…. Nasrallah also delved into economics. He suggested that Lebanon’s economy is based on elites and luxury goods, tourism and bourgeoisie mentalities. He suggested the people must get back to the land and plant and turn the country to agriculture. He painted a picture of an agricultural pastoral Lebanon…. Nasrallah also highlighted the importance of China. He said that the US was angry at the effectiveness of China. He argued for Chinese companies investing in Lebanon.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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