The World Today for July 01, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

LEBANON

Ever Collapsing

Lebanon keeps lurching from crisis to crisis.

The currency amid the coronavirus pandemic shrunk 90 percent. Last summer, a massive blast in Beirut harbor killed more than 200 people, destroying much of the city center.

Today, fuel shortages are the emergency. The diverse Mediterranean nation lacks a robust mass transit system, making everyone, especially ubiquitous delivery services, dependent on gas. But, as the Washington Post reported, lines at gas stations now stretch for miles as the government, facing a shortage of foreign reserves, slashed fuel subsidies as gas smuggling to neighboring war-torn Syria continued to siphon off supply.

Gunfire and knife fights have erupted as frustrated drivers wait hours for their precious gas rations, France24 reported. The high cost of transportation or lack of fuel has led many students to simply abandon their studies, added Deutsche Welle.

In fact, Lebanese demonstrators blocked a highway to protest government-announced measures to curb smuggling to Syria, the Associated Press added. It was one of the bright spots in the country’s battered economy where poverty, power outages and other signs of collapse are becoming more prevalent.

Gross domestic product is expected to shrink by almost 10 percent this year after contracting more than 20 percent last year and almost 7 percent in 2019. Desperate to balance its budget and retain foreign cash to import medicines and other essential goods, the government also recently ended sugar subsidies that increased the price of bread by 18 percent, Al Jazeera noted.

Military leaders have complained that they might not have sufficient cash to pay troops who maintain the country’s security in a very troubled region, Al-Monitor reported. The US, in response, has been pouring money into its ally’s forces to maintain readiness. Soldiers earn around $100 a month, an eight-fold drop. Officers get $400 a month.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz said the Lebanese army was “begging for charity.”

Writing in the Arab News, columnist Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg, who is also a top official at the Gulf Cooperation Council based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said Lebanese leaders needed to get a handle on their situation, arguing they faced a “looming meltdown.”

As Reuters explained, Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and President Michel Aoun have been unable to reach a deal to name cabinet ministers for 10 months. Al-Hariri needs a government that can implement reforms if he hopes to receive foreign aid that would relieve the suffering of his people.

When political scientists and other observers discuss instability in the Middle East, this is it.

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