"All measures taken in the name of rescuing the economy become, as if touched by a magic wand, measures that serve to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor". With these words the Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman reflected on the power of liberal capitalism without being aware that several years later this economic system would bring Lebanon to the brink of the abyss. The economic crisis that is hitting this country has created the perfect scenario for the resurgence of the spirit of the October 2019 protests, while at the same time increasing tension between the supporters and opponents of the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah.
Clashes between supporters of the Future Movement - Lebanon's political party led by Saad Hariri - and the Amal movement, a Shi'ite political organization aligned with Hezbollah, have been at the forefront of the protests this weekend. The collapse of the currency, rising inflation and the deep financial crisis in Lebanon have led hundreds of people to attend demonstrations across the country. However, violence has taken over the sentiment of protest and caused these peaceful demonstrations to result in dozens of burning tyres, the use of tear gas by the police and the deployment of the Lebanese Army.
In Lebanon, the economic crisis has taken on a political dimension. Lebanon's prime minister, backed by Hezbollah, went out last Friday to give a speech to try and calm things down. "Your rights are guaranteed by the banks and the Central Bank. The state is the guarantor, that's why we have to protect the state so that it is the guarantor of all your children, your belongings, your money and your future," he said during a televised speech. However, these statements did not convince the hundreds and hundreds of demonstrators who have taken to the streets of Beirut and other cities over the weekend.
In his speech, the Lebanese leader insisted that "the country is not bankrupt" but is facing "economic difficulties" and assured that the executive "will not allow the people's money to be lost", blaming previous governments for impoverishing the Arab nation. The daily Arab News believes, however, that the financial institutions have been the "main points of Iranian and Syrian money laundering". "The United States is ready to impose new sanctions against the Assad regime, while Lebanon will continue to pay the consequences for the thousandth time. This is the price of being dragged into Tehran's 'axis of resistance'," they have said.
Lebanon - a country of some five million people and home to more than 1.5 million refugees - is one of the most heavily indebted nations in the world. The state led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab is currently facing its worst economic crisis since the country's 1975-1990 civil war. The protests that began in October to end mismanagement of resources have turned, after a halt to the coronavirus pandemic, into clashes between Hezbollah supporters or those calling for its disarmament.
The citizens of Lebanon have been concerned about rapidly rising inflation and declining standards of living in their nation, exacerbated in recent months by the coronavirus pandemic. Al Monitor has said that after several clashes between supporters of Amal and Hizbollah in central Beirut, supporters of the Shiite group stormed one of the main protest sites with "about 200 motorcycles", according to Elie Hindy, executive director of the research centre of the majority Christian party Lebanese Forces.
Zeina Helou, a political activist and researcher, told Al Monitor that she was not comfortable with the call for the demonstration on Saturday for several reasons, including the increased role of political parties. "I knew that many political parties were behind this and some new groups that are not very transparent. I personally don't trust political parties, even those that currently claim to be outside the government and have joined the opposition," she said.
For his part, Mustafa Allouch, a member of the political office of the Movement of the Future, considers that "leadership, at least on the Sunni side, is absent". "At the same time we see poverty, the loss of hope. All this will lead to chaos. And when I say chaos, it is chaos because it will translate into atrocities in the streets, looting, anarchy," he warned.
"President Aoun will convene the Superior Council of Defense on Monday afternoon to study the security situation following the latest events," his office announced on the social network Twitter upon learning of the impact of these clashes. The economic crisis plaguing Lebanon - which has led to rising unemployment and forced the country to default on its sovereign debt for the first time - has sparked anger among the thousands of people who have taken to the streets to protest against the existing political system.
The government has drawn up a package of reforms to revive the economy and is in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to attract financial aid; while the forecasts are not at all favourable for this country, as inflation is expected to exceed 50% before the end of the year, in a state where more than 45% of the population lives below the poverty line.