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In October 2019, protests against a corrupted government and economic mismanagement initiated in Lebanon. After 8 months, the economic conditions in Lebanon seem to have worsened.
The spread of Covid-19 had a disruptive impact on countries’ economies, and Lebanon is not the exception.
Laila Kaddour, from Tripoli, Lebanon, was interviewed by TNGO’s political analyst Aurora Ceccotti to have a personal point of view about what it means to live in Lebanon in this unprecedented historical period.
Aurora: The protests resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In practice, did you notice changes that practically ameliorated people’s life?
Laila: The ex-prime minister Hariri’s resignation gave us hope, you could see the protesters growing stronger and they will become more powerful. It led us to believe that we could drive them out of office, one by one. However, I would like to state that Hariri never did do anything to ease the life of the Lebanese nor did he do anything that, per se, hurt us besides him being a part of the rotten government that was and still is stealing from its citizens.
Aurora: Did the government provide any type of financial benefit to people economically affected by the pandemic?
Laila: At first, the government asked a lot of documents from the citizens who were qualified to get financial benefits. This, in turn, cost them more money than the money that was being distributed. The money being distributed was 400,000 Lebanese Liras which in the current market exchange rate is equivalent to $100 or €90. This is a one-off payment and will not be distributed again. However, the government then decided to not go through with asking the citizens for their documents and just sent their army to distribute the money in the poorer areas. Nevertheless, what the government has failed to show is that they had a hand in stealing this money from their people too. They had people on their list who have previously passed away and took those 400,000 Lebanese Liras to themselves all while claiming to give it to the deceased. They also decided to influence the amount spent by dividing them equally into the different religious groups (i.e. the same number of Muslims as those of Christians, including the different sects in each).
Aurora: Are protests still taking place? If so, how are they affected by the pandemic?
Laila: The protests have not ceased since the start of the revolution; however, they have dwindled in size. Instead of the large crowd that started off in October and November, we now have a small number of people marching on the streets daily asking for our basic rights. The pandemic has not at all affected the protests since, as many have stated, they would rather die from the virus than from their own hunger and watching their children starve to death. I do expect that the protests will grow soon as there have been more and more people let go from their jobs. It is also crucial to point out that there now exist around 2 million Lebanese residents below the poverty line and the rate of this is growing slowly but surely. This will definitely be a drive to have those people join the protests.
Aurora: Around the world, there has been a development of anti-lockdown movements for the sake of a quicker economic recovery. Are such movements present in Lebanon?
Laila: No such movement has taken place in Lebanon. This is due to the fact that although there were rules laid out by the government, it has not been properly implemented. In the capital, Beirut, I have seen a better implementation of these rules, but it is not hard to break them. For example, in the previous weeks, the government set out a curfew at 7 PM allowing no one to leave their houses. I have seen some cars on the roads after that time and many on the street just walking around. In Tripoli, on the other hand, there has been no implementation of these rules among the others laid out. No one adheres to the rules due to their need to provide. I can easily claim that these past few weeks with the lock-down rules have been no different than a year ago, before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Aurora: The economic crisis in Lebanon has reached an alarming level, as consumer prices are peaking, and the Lebanese currency has crashed. What does it mean in practice? How does this crisis affect your and people’s lives?
Laila: The economic crisis in Lebanon could be compared to that of Venezuela, we have different currency exchange levels for different working sectors: the banks have one which differs from that which is the official one set by the government which also is different from that of the current exchange rate set by the currency exchange offices. In other words, you tend to pay with the highest exchange rate but get paid with the lowest.
As for our purchasing power, it has taken a hit. As we import most of our products, this means that the prices of those products have to go up since the buyers have to pay for these at the current exchange rate. And since the banks have not let us wire and transfer our money abroad, we have not been able to pay for products that we usually import from abroad. Lebanon is not capable of surviving without the imports since we do not produce much and do not have substitutes for those products. It is also worth mentioning that the government is doing nothing to help its citizens with this.
Aurora: Any final comment?
Laila: These people in power that we have placed our trust in have stripped us of our basic rights. We do not know what the future holds but with the way things are going I expect our rates of unemployment and poverty to increase and our purchasing power to decrease as well as our quality of living. I hope for better times and I hope for justice to be served.
This interview is part of TNGO’s Human Stories rubric.
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