Lebanon facing total collapse: people face starvation in the face of power vacuum

The Lebanese currency has lost more than 90% of its value and almost 80% of the population lives below the poverty line
Líbano protestas

PHOTO/AFP  -   Lebanese demonstrators block a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis

Lebanon is at one of its most critical moments in social, economic and political terms. Following the end of Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun's six-year term in office on 30 October, the Lebanese parliament is totally divided. Up to ten times the political representatives of the different parties that make up the House have met without any success in reaching a consensus, resulting in an economic crisis and social stagnation in the country. 

This is not the first time, however, that such a power vacuum has occurred: for example, before the election of yet in 2016 there was a two-year presidential power vacuum in the country or, if we go back to 2008, armed clashes ravaged the streets of Lebanon while parliamentarians met in Doha, Qatar, to reach an agreement for a consensual presidential candidate, this time the country is in a highly vulnerable situation, hit by the economic crisis, the debacle of the war in Syria, lack of resources and social division. 

Indeed, some of the consequences of Lebanon's power vacuum include the delay of several initiatives to implement structural reforms for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme or more banal ones such as allowing the country's state television channel to broadcast the football World Cup. 

Week after week, legislators cast blank votes while the people beg for bread and jobs. It is a paralysis for the country that comes at the same time as foreign policy attempts are being made to revive ties with the Gulf states following Hezbollah's dominance over the past decade.

AFP /DALATI Y NOHRA  -   President Michal Aoun delivering a televised speech on the eve of the country's 78th independence day, at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital, on November 21, 2021

Moreover, it is worth noting that this power vacuum comes at a time when, also in international affairs, there is a "rapprochement" between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, which are seeking a diplomatic approach to their relations. 

How Lebanon's voting system works 

Lebanon has maintained a power-sharing system since its independence from France in 1943, whereby the president must be a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of parliament a Shia

After nine failed meetings, the head of Hezbollah's political council, Ibrahim Amin al-Sayed, and the Maronite patriarch, Mar Beshara Boutros al-Rahi, discussed on 2 January the election of Lebanon's next president amid the economic crisis, without reaching a tacit agreement

The meeting took place at the patriarchate's headquarters in Bkerke Palace, where the two sides discussed the country's economic and social conditions in the face of a power vacuum. 

For his part, Al-Sayed emphasised that the appointment of the new head of state should be completed as soon as possible and that the elected candidate should have the highest possible percentage of votes in parliament, something that favours the leader of the Islamic Resistance, who has been gaining greater support in society over the years. 

Since 31 October, the nation of cedars has been struggling with the fourth constitutional vacuum since independence in 1943, and after ten parliamentary sessions, no candidate has yet received a majority of 65 votes for the presidency.

Nabih Berri
AFP/ANWAR AMRO  -   Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri presides over the first session of the newly elected assembly at its headquarters in the capital Beirut on May 31, 2022

However, among the names whispered by the different factions in the country, one name seems to stand out, that of the legislative head, Nabih Berri, capable of assuming the responsibilities and working towards an understanding to name the next representative of the Maronite Christian community to occupy the post of head of state in a consensual manner. 

But the wait is long and tensions between hostile political groups are growing by the day. Naim Kassem, Hezbollah's deputy secretary general, said they would not accept a candidate who opposes their arms stockpile and supports "the US-Israeli project" in Lebanon, for example. 

Charles Jabbour, spokesman for the Lebanese Forces party, believes that "we are seeing a repeat of the past, where Hezbollah and its allies give Lebanon two options: accept their candidate or have a presidential vacuum". 

It is worth noting that in these three years of economic crisis, the Lebanese currency has lost more than 90% of its value and almost 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, while commodity prices remain permanently on the rise. 

Moreover, a further prolonged paralysis could rupture relations with the IMF, which reached an agreement last April to reform its banks and formalise capital controls. However, Lebanon, vehemently inflexible in its political status, remains on the brink of total collapse.

AP/HUSSEIN MALLA  -   People queue outside an exchange office to buy US dollars in Beirut, Lebanon
The state of Lebanon's children

By the first quarter of 2023, the number of children experiencing acute food insecurity in Lebanon will soar by 14%, all accentuated by the severe economic crisis that began in the country at the end of 2019, warns the non-governmental organisation Save the Children. 

Currently, some 652,700 Lebanese and Syrian refugee children living in the nation of cedars are at risk of famine at levels 3 and 4 of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).  

In April, Save the Children estimates that the number of children in these circumstances could rise to 743,500 in a country of less than 7 million people. 

In total, 37% of Lebanese and Syrian adult residents are already food insecure. During the first quarter of the year, this percentage is expected to rise to 42%, hitting more than 2.2 million people of whom 347,000 would be at level 4 according to the IPC. 

Lebanon has become the sixth most food insecure country in the world per capita, behind only South Sudan, Yemen, Haiti, Afghanistan and Central African Republic. 

With this halo of sadness, it is only fitting to remember the country that was once called the Paris of the Middle East. Today a broken East.