Decades of government mismanagement, systemic corruption, a prolonged refugee crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the August 4th explosion have culminated in the perfect storm that has plunged Lebanon into economic, social, and political upheaval. The once-thriving middle-income country is now experiencing what the World Bank describes as one of the “worst economic collapses since the 1800s(1).” The lives of the majority of Lebanon’s residents, including its vast refugee population, have been upended, launching around 75% of the population into extreme poverty(2). The continual devaluation of the Lebanese Pound (LBP) coupled with skyrocketing inflation has left countless residents facing hunger and choosing the unthinkable to survive. An increase in school dropouts matched by an increase in child labour is the perfect storm that risks Lebanon’s future, while Tripoli’s recent capsized boat overfilled with people fleeing economic turmoil, risks to become an increasing phenomenon as the situation worsens day by day.
It’s safe to say these elections were like no other. With layers of disaster acting as the backdrop reminder to what years of corruption has led to, an expansion in expat voting and registration, and election monitoring units being deployed by both national and international agencies such as LADE and the European Union(3). The stage was set for Lebanon to vote in a trivial time in its history. A time where the need for good governance, effective leadership and inclusive policies have become an increasing need. The unfortunate missing component is an attempt at reconciliation that may become increasingly apparent as the results of the election bred a return of familiar faces and legacies, or a sharp increase in independent candidates that many loyalists to those in power view as enablers of foreign agendas.
Polarisation is not a new concept in elections nor in governance, as we’ve seen globally over the past few years, yet its impact in Lebanon – a country still fresh off the memory of the Civil War in 1975 and the following Ta’if agreement(4) that appoints political seats based on sect – may be more profound.
Lebanon’s tensions stem from scarcity, not sectarianism
The tensions and outbursts of violence in Lebanon can be understood by examining the historical context, economic deterioration and current political climate pertaining to the upcoming elections. The drivers of current tensions are vast and complex, but include, the perceptions of other groups and the availability of resources, the emotional grievances with the past and stress from the current situation, the structural ways that the government propagates the economic downfall due to their inaction on reforms, and the interests of those in power in maintaining the status quo to remain in power. As the economic situation worsens by the minute and resources become more difficult to come across, Lebanon’s residents must rely on social assistance that has only been provided by the country’s vast NGO network, already strained by a prolonged refugee crisis and the need to respond to a multitude of crises. With the scarcity of both social assistance and the limiting of purchases of staples such as wheat in supermarkets due to the war in Ukraine(5). Lebanon’s residents have witnessed sporadic outbursts of violence in order to procure essential food and medicines(6). A pharmacist in Mrouj was recently stabbed to death, leading to a nationwide shutdown of pharmacies in solidarity(7) as an increase in attacks- some armed – against pharmaceutical employees has been recorded since the onset of the crisis.
Lebanon’s tensions stem from unresolved fear and trauma
The unfortunate reality is, that despite being a country that is painted as a beacon of co-existence, different religious groups live in segregated neighbourhoods and learn very little about one another. Some unfortunately only learn about the “other” group through stereotypes(8) and stories linked to harsh realities lived through the civil war. With the absence of the Civil War from any cultural courses celebrating religious diversity in national curricula, knowledge about different groups remains limited, and is occasionally linked to negative experiences incurred during the war. Due to the absence of this programming, and the existence of generations of trauma caused by years of conflict, the narratives about other groups are rooted in fear and stereotypes(9), and have only served as a driving force to conflict that has been built upon(10) to trigger violence outbursts and memories of the war. The Tayouneh events of 2021(11) are no exception to this phenomenon, as tensions among groups simmered for weeks and erupted into an emblematic recreation of the civil war in one of its most notorious sites.
How is reconciliation the answer?
The Civil War remains a largely undiscussed topic, the current economic situation is a perfect storm for propagating tensions, and political groups have become increasingly polarised between supporters and non-supporters of political groups in power(12). The need to promote collaboration and reconciliation among and within these groups serves in diluting the historical narratives that continually segregate the political arena, and drive fear and tensions to new heights. Though it feels late, the reality is it is never too late to bring former fighting factions together, and to promote collaboration and conversation between loyalists and non-loyalists between groups in hopes that their differences become rooted in policy and not poignant loyalty to an individual over a state. It starts with an attempt at personal reconciliation with one’s own past and beliefs, and builds with education, openness, and a willingness to come together and discuss the decades of trauma that manifest as fear and violence, over understanding and collaboration. Lebanon needs to reconcile with its past and present, in hopes of rebuilding – with all its groups and identities – for the future.
ِAbout the author
Josiane Atallah is a passionate advocate for community-led, sustainable development and education. She has a Masters in International Relations from Syracuse University, NY, in Development and Humanitarian Assistance, a certificate in Middle East Affairs and a certificate in Conflict and Collaboration. She is a recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, and serves as the West Asia Caucus Coordinator for the Major Group for Children and Youth. In her previous and current roles, she has supported community and locally-led organisations and youth in over 20 countries in creating solutions that enable their communities to thrive as a mentor and a trainer, and has worked as a consultant and researcher for the International Rescue Committee, Council of Europe and Restless Development. She has spoken on multiple panels on education, global citizenship and developmental reform with the Union for the Mediterranean, OECD, Teach for All and Erasmus.
- https://www.thenationalnews.com/world/mena/the-future-of-lebanon-s-political- dynasties-1.760691.
The opinions expressed in the guest blogs are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Middle East and North Africa Social Policy (MENASP) Network or the University of Bath.