The World Today for October 26, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

A Place Called Rock Bottom

LEBANON

As befits a widow who follows local Muslim traditions in Lebanon, 32-year-old Ammouneh Haydar remained inside for 40 days following the death of her husband in a fuel tank explosion. As she mourned, however, her thoughts were less focused on her husband than on her four children whom she can’t feed due to Lebanon’s financial and political crises.

She’s been feeding water mixed with sugar to her seven-month-old son, CNN reported.

Lebanon’s economy has collapsed, reported the Washington Post. Between 2018 and 2020, it shrunk by 40 percent. The government defaulted on its debt early last year. The value of the currency, the pound (also known as the lira), has declined by 90 percent. Seventy-five percent of the population now lives below the poverty line. Fuel and medicine shortages are common. The lights often don’t come on.

Corruption is at the heart of the problem. Prime Minister Najib Mikati recently claimed that corrupt elites were hoarding food, fuel and medicine while regular folks like Haydar and her children went hungry. The hoarded goods were likely worth around $7.4 billion, around two-thirds of the money that the Lebanese government spent on subsidies for those essential items.

Powerful criminals are also likely behind the violence that has broken out as people struggle to survive in the Mediterranean country.

When protesters took to the streets because they wanted investigators to discover why a warehouse exploded on the Beirut waterfront last year, killing more than 200 people and injuring more than 6,500 others, gunmen opened fire. The shooting escalated into street battles between Christian and Shiite Muslim militias that echo the civil war that devastated the country between 1975 and 1990, the New York Times wrote.

The Iranian-backed force Hezbollah orchestrated the violence to stop the investigation, argued Financial Times columnist David Gardner. In the Hill, Eric Mandel, director of the Middle East Political Information Network (MEPIN), similarly raised alarms about Iran using Hezbollah and the chaos in Lebanon to increase its influence and potentially harm Israel.

Hezbollah has also used its political weight in the Lebanese government to push for the dismissal of a judge who is looking into the 2020 explosion, according to France 24. The judge, meanwhile, is sticking to his guns and calling ex-ministers to testify in his probe, Al Jazeera added.

Hope is hard to come by in Lebanon these days, the Atlantic explained. But at the very least, many hope there is never a repeat of the civil war they are still rebuilding from.

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