https://thelevantnews.com-by: James Denselow lev
Khalil Gibran’s poem “Pity the Nation” is timelier than ever as his home country accelerates into a phase of “omni-crisis” characterised by more and more chaos and desperate responses from the Lebanese trying to ride out the storm. Speeds Up
Drivers in Lebanon are now paying three to four times the official price for petrol on the black market as shortages of fuel intensify throughout the country. In May the country got darker as two giant barges that had boosted its electricity grid were switched off. More than half of Lebanon’s population is living in poverty, and its financial crisis is likely to rank in the top 10, and possibly even the top three, most severe crises in the world since the mid-1800s, according to the World Bank.
“The increasingly dire socioeconomic conditions risk systemic national failings with regional and potentially global effects,” the World Bank said in a report last month. An association representing Lebanese firms that import medicines has warned of potentially disastrous shortages, as the country’s economic crisis deepens. It says “imports have almost completely ground to a halt” in the past month.
For what ‘systemic’ national failings looks like there is no better place to start than the state of the Lebanese armed forces. During the country’s civil war period from the mid-1970s the army disintegration into confessional groups. Since the end of the war the independence of the army has seen it emerge as the most popular institution in the country. The army’s motto is “honor, Sacrifice, Loyalty” and on the 1st of August it celebrates its annual “Army Day” with established pomp and ceremony.
If the famous phrase that an “army marches on its stomach” is true, then things slowed considerably for the Lebanese army in June when they scrapped meat from all meals it offers to soldiers due to the accelerating cost. The Lebanese military roughly employs more than 80,000 soldiers, most of whom earned the equivalent of $800 a month but now take home between $70-$90. That is far from what they need to buy food, pay for commute, educate their children, and for healthcare. More than 3,000 soldiers have reportedly left military service because they can’t support their families. Army chief General Joseph Aoun warned in a speech to officers in March that soldiers were “suffering and hungry like the rest of the people.” Speeds Up
The desperate state of the country’s army was highlighted recently by the new offer for tourists to ride in their helicopters for $150 a trip in US currency. This attempt to bolster their foreign currency and keep soldiers from leaving is in dynamic contrast to the more dangerous missions the army is now being asked to fulfil. At the end of June gunmen took to the streets in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, firing in the air and at times throwing stones at soldiers amid rising anger at power cuts, fuel shortages and soaring prices.
Back in March the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri said that “the whole country is in danger, the whole country is the Titanic.” If the Titanic metaphor holds true then the ability of the army of keep its soldiers and its operational ability is a key test of whether Lebanon can survive the omni crisis that has engulfed the country. The U.S. has given the Lebanese army more than $2 billion since 2007 but at this crossroads in the country’s history would-be donors are demanding political reform before opening their wallets. Such potential reform is largely characterised by its absence with power brokers in the country seemingly comfortable with the status quo. As a recent Chatham House briefing explained “for Hezbollah, having hybrid rather than ‘full’ state status is ideal for maintaining its objective of possessing and exercising power without responsibility to the Lebanese people”. Speeds Up
A country whose political leadership refuse to take responsibility and almost appear in denial as to the current crisis is in a desperate place indeed. What happens if the army is unable or unwilling to respond to the next demonstrations in Tripoli or elsewhere? As one commentator put it; what to do with a “state that refuses to reform even to save itself”. Amongst more and more apocalyptic language it is critically important to keep a laser focus on the state of Lebanon’s army to assess the whether the country’s decline is temporal or terminal. Speeds Up