In a plea for saving Lebanon from a financial collapse, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Lebanon’s leadership on Sunday to put the ailing nation’s population first and embrace crucial reforms.
The UN chief is currently visiting the tiny Middle Eastern country, which is experiencing its worst socio-economic crisis in three decades, a crisis that threatens the viability of a fractured and sectarian Lebanese society.
Ahead of his meeting with President Michel Aoun, Guterres stressed the importance of putting Lebanese society ahead of political and religious divisions that plague the country.
“It is essential for leaders to put the people first, and implement the reforms needed to set Lebanon back on track, including efforts to promote accountability and transparency, and root out corruption,” the UN chief said.
Guterres also urged Lebanese leaders to hold the culprits responsible for the devastating Beirut port blast in 2020 that claimed the lives of around 200 people and resulted in billions of dollars in damage.
“I know the Lebanese people want answers, and I hear your demands for truth and justice,” Guterres stated.
While in theory a reasonable request, the situation in Lebanon is complex. The port blast was reportedly caused by explosive chemicals that were illegally smuggled and stored by the Iranian-backed terrorist organization, Hezbollah, in a warehouse at the harbor.
Consequently, many Lebanese blame Hezbollah for the country’s most lethal disaster, which some describe as Lebanon’s 9/11. The problem is that backed by the Iranian regime, Hezbollah has emerged as the most powerful player in Lebanon, possessing more firepower than the conventional weak Lebanese military.
Needless to say, Hezbollah has no interest in an independent investigation of the port blast that would likely point fingers at Hezbollah and its Iranian patron. In October, Hezbollah demanded the removal of the judge probing the lethal blast.
Prior to the devastating civil war in the mid-1970s, Lebanon was one of the most thriving and liberal societies in the Middle East. Beirut was frequently described as the Paris of the Middle East and its affluent Christian citizens embraced a Western-oriented lifestyle.
However, an extended civil war, massive emigration of well-educated Lebanese citizens and the intervention of foreign powers such as Syria, PLO and Iran quickly reversed the fortunes of the once thriving Middle Eastern country. In addition, Hezbollah’s aggression against neighboring Israel further undermined the fragile state of Lebanese society.
While many countries have experienced different financial troubles over the years, Lebanon’s financial crisis is particularly severe. In June, the World Bank referred to the country’s socio-economic crisis as one of the worst in the world since the 1850s.
“The economic and financial crisis is likely to rank in the top 10, possibly top 3, most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century,” the World Bank report stated regarding Lebanon.
To put the severity of the Lebanese crisis in a wider context, this 170-year period includes the U.S. Civil War, the great global depression in the 1930s and two devastating world wars that crippled the economies of nations worldwide.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Lebanon could reportedly reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund as early as January or February 2022. Lebanon’s Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh Al Shami said on Sunday that a ministerial committee and the country’s central bank governor were reportedly in agreement that Lebanon’s ailing economy had lost some $69 billion during the crisis, according to the broadcaster Al Jadad.
By comparison, Lebanon’s nominal GDP was projected to reach around $20 billion in 2021. In other words, Lebanon’s huge financial losses amount to more than three years of its national gross domestic product.