01/29/2021, 15.03
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Covid and politics, Lebanon in a state of multiform anarchy

by Fady Noun

Days of Tripoli street demonstrations, manipulated by political opposition forces. The religious leaders launch a new appeal for the formation of a government of national unity. The stalemate over the formation of the new government and the personal conflicts between Aoun and Hariri. The coronavirus emergency and the vaccination campaign still under study.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Lebanon is sinking more and more every day into a state of multiform anarchy, at a constitutional, economic, health, judicial, and security level, from which it is unable to break free due to political divisions that undermine the public sphere.

The UN special coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis (see photo) returned yesterday to the violence in Tripoli (North), which since last January 25 has caused one death and dozens of injured. In a tweet, the diplomat - whose mission ends at the end of the month - said that "the violence has intensified, especially in the context of the demonstrations in Tripoli, with many injured [...] This is a new message sent to the elites’ policies: form an effective government, without further delay”. "The people - he then added - can no longer tolerate this free fall into the abyss".

In fact, since the beginning of the week, manipulated by some political opposition forces, hundreds of people have taken to the streets of the administrative capital of Lebanon-North, to protest against the strict confinement measures imposed by the authorities to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and which have recently been extended until next February 8.

These measures prevent the populations of poor urban and / or rural areas - especially in Tripoli, where unemployment rises and day workers account for 80% of the total - from meeting their needs. All this while the state has not yet paid any subsidies, except for some symbolic - and negligible - sums to the poorest families (about 400 Lebanese pounds, or the equivalent of just 40 dollars) and with a limited distribution. Starting the evening of January 25th these demonstrations took on an increasingly violent drift.

In office for Lebanon since 2019, Kubis stood out for a clear empathy towards the popular protest movement of October 17, 2019 and a very severe attitude towards the Lebanese ruling class, corroded by corruption and the struggle for power.

On several occasions, he has shown a communion of purpose with the head of the Maronite Church, Card Beshara Raï, who more than any other has for months denounced the constitutional anarchy that has blocked the formation of a new government after the resignation of Hassane Diab.

His resignation is closely linked to the consequences of the double explosion at the port of Beirut on 4 August.

This drama has revealed the state of neglect and indifference in which the highest civil and military administrative level in Lebanon has fallen in all its scale, which has tolerated without reacting the presence in the port of this delayed explosion bomb since the end of 2013.

The issues of a constitutional nature that prevent the formation of the government (clash over the respective competences between the Maronite head of state Michel Aoun and the Prime Minister in charge Saad Hariri) has been joined by a personal one, which has interrupted relations between the two.

Indeed, in the aftermath of Saad Hariri’s presentation of an effective government formula, a video that went "viral" - intentionally? - from the presidential palace, he shows the head of state having an interview with the outgoing premier Hassane Diab, in which Hariri is branded as a serial "liar".

Hence Hariri, thinking that the president does not need to resort to these unworthy means, has decided not to speak to him again pending his official apology. Within his circle it is widely believed that this move is intentional, also because no investigation has been opened in this regard, let alone have sanctions been imposed on an administrative level.

Three weeks ago the head of the Maronite Church asked President Michel Aoun to take the first step in this affair, and to make contact with the Prime Minister in charge. But nothing followed his appeal.

On Wednesday 27 January the Maronite patriarch and Muslim religious leaders backed an appeal by the communities of Lebanon demanding political leaders put aside "personal conflicts". They, warns the cardinal, block the birth of the government as well as the "wrong calculations" that prevent us from proceeding without further delay towards the formation of an executive of "national unity" called to fight against corruption an essential factor in obtaining international aid.

As for economic anarchy, since October 2019 it has resulted in the arbitrary and illegal exercise of capital control by private banks, which prevent account holders from accessing their accounts due to the restrictions imposed unilaterally by the banks. And which, in particular, deprive them of their currency economies. The latter are no longer guaranteed except at a rate set by the Central Bank and which is equivalent to approximately half of their value on the free market.

In addition, private banks prevent bank transfers abroad unless there are authorizations granted arbitrarily to account holders by the same institutions. This banking anarchy is a reflection of the failure of the banking system itself, which led Lebanon to default on the payment of its public debt in dollars (Eurobonds).

We can therefore see how the country is sliding more and more towards a state of illegality, in which the constitutional rules are no longer respected and where the banking system is taken hostage, in which a part of the population strangled on an economic level can no longer take it. Added to these sufferings are those caused by the new coronavirus pandemic that is raging in Lebanon, with hospitals overwhelmed by the sick and very high mortality rates. With the hope that they will be cushioned by a vaccination campaign scheduled for mid-February and the details of which have been illustrated in the last few hours.

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