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Awaiting 'Historical Awareness' is Misguided

Awaiting 'Historical Awareness' is Misguided

Thursday, 3 June, 2021 - 11:00

Lebanon's suffering from one of the world’s three worst economic crises since the middle of the nineteenth century has not provided an incentive sufficient to compel the political clique imposing its control over the country to take steps to prevent the exacerbation of the comprehensive collapse.

The World Bank’s Lebanon Economic Monitor issued two reports, ‘Lebanon Sinking (to the Top 3)’ -Spring 2021 and ‘The Deliberate Depression’ -Fall 2020, which explain, without mincing words, the reality of the ongoing political and economic catastrophe. The new report, published in full on Tuesday, June 1, in English, completes the work that the previous report had begun, collecting more data about the situation in Lebanon.

In 2019, the economy contracted 6.9 percent. In 2020, GDP shrank by 20.3%. Tourism has decreased by 71.5%. In 2020, the country’s GDP fell to 33 billion dollars, from 55 billion dollars in 2018. Unemployment and poverty rates have skyrocketed. The crime is exacerbating. The emigration of educated and skilled workers has become a “ray of hope” for the despondent who remain and await transfers from abroad to make ends meet. The human capital Lebanon had accumulated over decades- academics, doctors, engineers, and other skilled workers- is evaporating.

The report ‘Deliberate Depression’ explains how the authorities consciously and deliberately took actions to hinder remedies for the crisis in its early stage. In ‘Lebanon Sinking,’ the economists who oversaw the report, applying various approaches and using the sources available to them (which are limited by the authorities' reluctance to provide data) chart the tragic situation and ways to get past it.

The paths to monetary, fiscal, and economic reform have become well known, and they haven’t changed since the ongoing collapse began: Distributing losses through a haircut, restructuring the banking sector, passing a capital control law that prevents hard currency depletion, and before all of that, the presence of a political authority represented by a government that is capable of taking these measures, passing the necessary laws, and initiating negotiations with international bodies to frame a rescue plan.

The fact that the same recommendations are put forward in the two reports that are half a year apart demonstrates that not even meager progress has been made to change indicators from negative to positive. While the ruling clique agrees with the report’s assertion that the formation of a government is a requisite to recovery, their points of agreement end there, as their vision of the responsibilities and roles of the awaited government diverge radically.

Lebanon’s state of affairs has not resulted, in truth, in a novel vision of government formation, a process that has been ongoing for over nine months. The struggle between the president’s team and the designated prime minister revolve around trivial issues like the “rights” of sects and constitutional interpretations. They are buying time as they await the legislative and presidential elections scheduled for next year. Citizens’ daily struggles are papered over through new, impromptu social protection networks that have been added to those the sects had established as alternatives to state institutions. T

The parties in power have been distributing meals and rations, as well as launching COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, to quell some of the social anxiety felt by the groups most vulnerable to the economic collapse. On the other hand, this kind of political charity conceals the intentions of the forces controlling Lebanon, their plans to avoid implementing serious reforms to put an end to structural and institutional corruption, which the top brass in government and the public sector engage in, with all sides’ approval.

The next government, according to the papers, will be a copy of those that preceded it. The “dream” of the politicians taking part in forming it is nothing more than to use the government as a platform to continue the plundering and looting that had been nourishing them before the October 17 insurgency. In their opinion, the important thing is ensuring that the incoming government protects the leaders defending the crumbs of the state at the service of the divided and conflicting sects.

What has been written above seems a repetition of something that has been said many times. However, does the ruling clique have a “historical awareness” to speak of? An awareness of the process through which the sectarian forces brought this unprecedented suffering upon the country, an understanding of the country’s situation at the global levels and the means for overcoming it and putting Lebanon back on the global map? The answer is an unequivocal no. We should not even hope for anything positive to come from the clique in question. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing can ever be made,” as Kant put it.

It seems that history does not recognize the repetition, and what appears to be a constant return to square one is, in reality, an accumulation of experiences and prologue to change, and we shouldn’t assume that it will be positive for those suffering today, but it will certainly be fierce and brutal.

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