BEIRUT: After a year of financial, political and social turmoil, few in Lebanon believe the crisis-wracked country’s situation will improve in the coming 12 months, while growing numbers fear their plight will worsen dramatically.
“Our country is broken,” said Rima Al-Khatib, who works in the banking sector, describing a year in which her father died and the family was unable to pray for him in the mosque because of a nationwide lockdown at the time.
Al-Khatib told Arab News that she “is in a state of denial about everything that happened this year.”
“I don’t want to reflect on it because it is too painful,” she said.
With university and health studies in recent weeks showing alarming levels of depression and anxiety in young and old alike, it is clear few people have any expectations, let along dreams, for the new year.
One mental health survey concluded that up to 16 percent of people aged 18-24 suffer from severe depression, while 41 percent of women still suffer from post-traumatic stress in the wake of the Beirut port blast.
Meanwhile, lockdowns imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus affected the mental health of 41 percent of the participants in another study, with a further survey claiming 9.5 percent of the population risk becoming depressed because of the country’s dire economic situation.
Al-Khatib said that she will never forget the day of the port explosion.
“I was in my car on the road and a balcony fell from a building in front of me,” she recalled. “I could not understand what happened. My friend narrowly escaped death and the explosion killed two of my work colleagues, leaving two children orphans.”
Al-Khatib said that many Lebanese believe the country “has been taken hostage by a terrorist organization.”
“Our salaries have lost their value. I no longer listen to the news and I do not want to after the government messed up everything by not paying the eurobonds. Now foodstuffs are priced according to the banks’ dollar exchange rate. If the central bank runs out of dollars, what will our life be like?” she said.
“Lebanon has lost its place in the region and I don’t know if it can regain it.”
Majed Baitmouni, a market trader, said that the past year “pulled me back 40 years, financially and morally.”
He said: “They government has brought us only calamities, and the coronavirus made things worse. I had to close my bag shop in Beirut because vendors want me to pay my rent in dollars, so I returned their goods and received the final blow. I have barely any money left and cannot do anything except sell vegetables and fruit in my local area. My wife and children helped me, but instead of making a profit, my debts increased.”
Baitmouni said he no longer trusts the politicians. “They are threatening our livelihoods. They have destroyed us.”
Abdullah Sultan, who owns an iron factory, said he believes the situation will worsen in the new year.
“My priority is for my children to leave this country. My grandmother used to tell us that things would get better soon. I do not want to say the same thing. The problem lies in the foundations of the country and the people — these cannot be changed,” he said.
Assima Ramadan, an office worker, said that 2020 had left her isolated, and she feared the new year would be worse.
“My husband and I lost our life savings in the banks when their value collapsed. We hoped to live with dignity when we grow old, but now we will have to fear illness and the future. Because of the pandemic I have become afraid to walk outside. It is a feeling of helplessness and frustration, and I do not know how to get rid of it.”
University professor Aref Al-Abd said the past year had dealt Lebanon “a fatal blow,” adding: “What can I do to have a dignified life with my family?“
Economic and political deterioration will lead to a deterioration in security, he said.
“What is left of Lebanon? They hit banks, hospitals, universities, and there is fear they will strike coexistence. What happened in the port of Beirut is frightening.”
Sarah Fakhry, a young lawyer specializing in corporate law, said that she had supported protests against the “corrupt ruling authority” in the country.
“But things became even worse. The explosion at the Beirut port added to my fears. The state did not take responsibility for the victims.”
Now the companies that hire Fakhry, including large corporations, are facing closure.
“People are filing lawsuits against the banks, but they do not trust the judiciary,” she said. “I am one of those who has prepared their immigration papers again. I used to live in France and returned to Lebanon five years ago because life abroad is difficult. Now I will not look back.
“The future in Lebanon is dark, and I do not want to be part of it.”