The Platform

Depositphotos; Photo illustration by John Lyman

The threat of war looms over Lebanon, casting as deep a shadow on its economy as war itself. The ruling political class’s failure to act has only deepened the nation’s wounds.

In Lebanon, the question of whether conflict with Israel is imminent stirs fervent debate. Will Israel escalate to the level of aggression seen in Gaza? Historically, Lebanon has often found itself on the defensive, sometimes biting off more than it can chew, resulting in significant costs. Yet, the battles have usually been between Hezbollah and Israel, leaving the Lebanese government without the impetus or understanding of what being war-ready entails.

True preparedness is a multifaceted endeavor requiring not only civil defense measures but also the assurance of essential resources like food, fuel, and medical aid. The current scarcity of these resources points to a troubling inadequacy within the government, despite efforts such as the World Bank-assisted procurement of wheat. The ruling class’s mobilization to create an emergency plan raises the question: What, precisely, is the plan?

Remarkably, Lebanon has survived intense crises, such as the July 2006 war and the August 2020 Beirut explosion, without a government-led emergency response. The population’s resilience has been a counterpoint to the political class’s inaction. For decades, citizens have clamored for sweeping reforms in governance and policy, yet the response has been negligible. The economic crisis that began in October 2019 has only heightened the necessity for reform, yet the ruling class has remained idle.

Current discussions about an emergency government plan seem more like a diversion than a solution. The ruling elite’s history of corruption and incompetence distracts from urgent matters like presidential elections, demanding reforms, and holding the corrupt accountable. The enduring spirit of Lebanon, evidenced in its citizens’ resilience, stands starkly contrasted against the government’s inaction. The public’s demand for credible reforms remains strong, a legacy owed to the nation’s youth.

The ruling class’s negligence has caused irreparable damage to Lebanon’s economy, society, and global reputation. Nonetheless, Lebanon has always held itself to high standards, with its educational institutions, healthcare, and cultural achievements. Lebanese talent has been instrumental in the development and leadership of many successful global ventures. The Lebanese diaspora has excelled worldwide, a testament to their expertise and influence.

The recent economic downturn has taken various forms, impacting the young Lebanese eager to embark on their careers. Initially, the financial troubles seemed rooted in economic factors, but it soon became clear that a history of corruption, irresponsible governance, and lack of ethical conduct was to blame. The Lebanese people, international allies, and creditors have long-awaited government reforms that have yet to materialize.

International organizations have criticized the ruling class for the suffering endured by the Lebanese people. The economy, already halved in size, has driven talent abroad and escalated poverty. As basic services falter and public schools remain closed, the anticipation for reform grows more desperate.

Lebanon’s governance has been characterized by an absence of foresight, exemplified by its habitual fiscal mismanagement. The 2023 budget discussions, occurring long after due, are symptomatic of a broader systemic failure. And amidst talk of war, the Lebanese people are expected to believe in the government’s promises of an emergency plan.

Reflecting on the last thirty years, one sees a government reliant on the country’s central bank for unsustainable financial backing. This has perpetuated a cycle of corruption and mismanagement, positioning the central bank as a pseudo-governmental authority. The central bank has been the financier of government corruption, lending undue power to its governors. The Lebanese now wait, not for government action, but for the central bank to propose a solution to the ongoing economic calamity. Yet, the recent hustle to craft an emergency plan in the face of potential Israeli aggression seems to be yet another empty promise, a familiar refrain of unfulfilled commitments.

Mohammad Ibrahim Fheili is currently serving as an Executive in Residence with Suliman S. Olayan School of Business (OSB) at the American University of Beirut (AUB), a Risk Strategist, and Capacity Building Expert with focus on the financial sector. He has served in a number of financial institutions in the Levant region. He served as an advisor to the Union of Arab Banks, and the World Union of Arab Bankers on risk and capacity building. Mohammad taught economics, banking and risk management at Louisiana State University (LSU) - Baton Rouge, and the Lebanese American University (LAU) - Beirut. Mohammad received his university education at Louisiana State University, main campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.