And Lebanon is in the news yet again. Was there ever a time in the past 70 to 80 years when it was not? Has there ever been a period of 10 or 5 years — or even 1 year — without news outlets reporting on some disaster, crisis or conflict taking place in that 10,452-square-kilometer area? How long has the longest period of peace and tranquility in Lebanon?
People of my generation onward have never really seen a quiet Lebanon. Certainly, brief periods of calm descended on this small multicultural, multifaith nation when tourism made it a popular destination with people across the world, more specifically with nationals of neighboring Arab countries.
With its resilient people, natural scenery and Mediterranean weather, Lebanon has it all — from mountains to beaches, from the historical and archaeological to the modern and cosmopolitan, from sailing to skiing, from exquisite fruits and vegetables grown in its rich and arable soil to iron ore and salt. It has the makings of a country that should be at the other end of the spectrum. It is a country where the people of 18 official faiths and sects have been known to show the capability to live peacefully together, pray in their different places of worship and be an example of religious tolerance — if only politics did not intervene.
Fifteen years of civil war, 15 years of Syrian occupation, the Israeli occupation, the intifada after Rafic Hariri’s assassination, the 2006 Lebanese war, the 2007 Lebanese conflict — to name but a few — have left the country impoverished and ravaged. The financial liquidity crisis, which began in August 2019, has added salt to the wound and made it acutely more difficult to find ways to rebuild the nation and heal the scars. Lebanon imports 80 percent of its needs, including fuel and food, and it is a real estate and bank-based economy, so this crisis has brought additional hardship as the Lebanese pound has lost 85 percent of its value.
If hope still existed then for a slow recovery, that was soon to be shattered as the coronavirus pandemic proved to be yet another blow to a country in political and economic turmoil, a country close to collapse and bankruptcy and where the health care system is in dire need of help to survive. With the previous trash crisis impacting on residents’ health, with electricity being limited to a few hours a day, and food, goods and medicines quickly disappearing, the last thing Lebanon needed was the arrival of this pandemic.
And then, on Aug. 4, two explosions in Beirut’s harbor provided more evidence to support the claims of failed governance, rampant corruption and criminal negligence as the story unfolds daily.
I join the millions around the world whose hearts and prayers go out to the people of Lebanon. How many disasters have to happen for people to wake up? When is enough, enough? When can Lebanon and the region live in the basic rights of peace and prosperity?
Hoda Al-Helaissi has been a member of the Shoura Council since 2013. She is also a member of the foreign affairs committee within the Shoura.