Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Lebanon: Pandemic on Regime's Side Against the Uprising

Lebanon: Pandemic on Regime's Side Against the Uprising

Thursday, 26 March, 2020 - 11:15

The coronavirus pandemic has already exacerbated the suffering of the Lebanese people. Fear of the spread of the virus forced private and public institutions to stop working and interrupted the academic year. It has also deepened the economic crisis which has made life extremely difficult for millions of citizens and refugees in Lebanon. However, there is more to the infection's effect politically, as it helps the dying regime get a better grip over the public life, which has become restricted for the majority of the Lebanese and obstructs demanding reforms.

The economic and political paralysis, from which the country has been suffering for many months, was added to the lack of trust in the failed and bankrupt state’s capacity to simultaneously control two intersecting and dangerous crises, the socioeconomic crisis and the pandemic. The truth is that both of these crises are feeding each other and are providing each other with reasons to persist and spread.

There has been no severe rise in cases until now, however, medical bodies, especially public institutions [which alongside the public university and public schools were top targets of austerity policies set by subsequent governments marking comic tragedies that the Lebanese have lived for decades] are still capable of conducting the necessary tests, accommodating the ill and providing them with reasonable medical services. Private hospitals, however, stand in the backbenches wanting to generate more profits from those suffering. This is another issue, however.

This partial control over the disease in Lebanon and the shifting of work of many companies, schools and universities remotely, has provided the political authorities with an opportunity to take a breath and recommence its interests in the issues that led to the uprising last October. The current government seems to be working at a fast pace to issue a series of laws and procedures that will have long-term economic and political implications, such as restructuring the debt, instituting “capital control” and putting restrictions on foreign currency. This could change the nature of the entire Lebanese economic system and may reach a point where it is excluded from the global (or western banking system as some would like to call it) constructing an alternative cash-based system following the suit of countries such as Iran, Syria, and Venezuela. It is no secret that a change of this kind, regardless of its social implications in a country that is organically connected to the global economy, will pose many questions about the function of the economy and how it will provide the Lebanese with their income and the markets that will receive their products. There are also many other mazes that Lebanon will enter, and it is in its worst state in terms of being able to formulate the necessary policies to make large alterations in its regional role.

It cannot be denied that the pandemic has halted all revolutionary activities that opposed the approach that forced the country to hit rock bottom.

The pandemic is taking the side of the regime by stopping demonstrators from taking to the street or conducting any activity. On the other hand, it is facilitating the bureaucratic nature of the regime in carrying on without any obstacles. Relying on telephone and remote orders by using telecom phone networks and the internet allows the regime to maintain some effectiveness without posing any risk of infection to politicians or officials. This is contrary to the revolutionary activities that are based on crowded demonstrations, which have been banned by the government. This will set the regime loose.

The situation, which the regime seems to take advantage of to impose a fait accompli in procedures and laws that would not have passed had the public sphere been open as it was between October and December, will draw new facts that will be very difficult to change later on. Especially that these new factors will be consecrated by legal texts and a large imbalance of powers favoring traditional parties and movements, whether for those taking part in the current government or hoping to return to the frontline.

The new pandemic was a huge blow to the attempts of political and economic change in Lebanon and has put citizens in front of very harsh choices, such as continuing to protest and spreading the virus, or stepping aside and watching how things will unfold under a confused administration that is relying on the lack of alternatives and vacuum as primary elements in overcoming the regime that many Lebanese believed was close to being overthrown.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks