Is the Lebanon that we once knew gone?
In early February, Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, leader of the Maronite Catholic Church, called for an U.N.-sponsored international conference on Lebanon in wake of the escalating economic and financial crisis of the country.
He said the conference’s objective would be to “revive Lebanon through immunizing the Document of National Accord issued by the Taef Conference in 1989, and to implement its text and spirit and correct the obvious flaws in the constitution that was amended according to it in 1990.”
Since then, Patriarch al-Rahi has been increasingly vocal on several different issues that the country faces, including the destabilizing role of Hezbollah in the country, amending deteriorating ties between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Hariri, and most importantly, advocating for active neutrality in the conflicts of the region.
The international conference that al-Rahi proposes has been dubbed as a plan to ‘rescue Lebanon,’ and yet it is finding resistance from several political groups. Unshockingly, the biggest critics of the conference are none other than President Aoun and the Iran-backed terrorist group of Hezbollah.
Many in the international community, myself included, are perplexed by the level of confidence- and some argue arrogance- that President Aoun has in terms of a quick fix for the issues. For the majority of his tenure as president, Aoun’s cabinet has been engaged in either gridlock or caretaking positions. Furthermore, negotiations between Hariri and Aoun have been declining rapidly, despite pleas from all parties involved. It has been more than 10 months since the Cabinet resigned.
President Aoun has been given nearly 4.5 years to lead the efforts in healing the country. Since October 2016, the Lebanese Lira has lost 90% of its value. In the past two weeks alone, the value of the Lebanese Lira has fluctuated between 15,000 L.L. and 18,300 L.L. to $1. There is no need to elaborate on how horrendous this is.
The economic fabric of Lebanon has been ripped to shreds, and a number of other challenges, including the Revolution of 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Beirut Port explosion, have beat the life out of the country.
I write the following statement clearly and bluntly: the presidency of Michel Aoun has proven to itself to be disastrous to Lebanon. This is not opinion, this is fact. With that being said, all parties interested in a Lebanon where its citizens can put bread and milk on their tables, must adhere to Patriarch al-Rahi’s call for an international conference on Lebanon.
There is no longer any time for President Aoun and Hezbollah to continue draining the country of its limited resources. There is no longer any time for Nabih Berri to accuse others of corruption and inefficiency while leading Parliament as the Speaker since 1992, and there is certainly no longer any time for the millions of Lebanese citizens that have seen their livelihoods disappearing. There is no more fuel, there is no more food and there is no more medicine.
In fact, as fuel subsidies are scaled back, prices were hiked 30% this past tuesday. The National News Agency of Lebanon reported that the price of 20 liters of petrol increased from 16,000 L.L. to 61,000 L.L. in a matter of days.
It is time for the ruling political class to take pity on the Lebanese people and understand that they are only intensifying the damage by insisting to remain in power. Either end the gridlock or exit the arena- millions of lives are at stake.
Pope Francis’s upcoming meeting with Christian leaders from Lebanon in July 1rst at the Vatican is an opportunity for these points to be discussed. This ecumenical group of clergy represent a starving country appealing to the Pope for help. However, it is doubtful that any immediate progress will be made but pressure must be applied
Both U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield have expressed support for the Lebanese Armed Forces and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which many argue are one of the only functioning institutions currently in Lebanon.
For many decades, Beirut has been known as the Paris of the Middle East. However, I join my fellow expats in revisioning our city and addressing it as simply as the Beirut of the world.
The Lebanon that we once knew is surely gone, but that is not necessarily a negative. It is an opportunity to rebuild the Beirut of the world, and we must do it now.
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