By Teymour Nsouli
New York City, New York
Lebanon has kicked off the new year with an exchange value reaching a low of 33,000 Lebanese Pound to $1 on the parallel market. As the local currency continues to collapse, the Lebanese have little hope for the near future. From fuel shortages to armed clashes, 2021 was an incredibly turbulent year for the crisis-stricken Mediterranean country.
Total blackouts are becoming more and more frequent while the incompetence of the ruling elite continues in full force. Reform is yet to be seen, and Prime Minister Najib Mikati is still teary-eyed over not being able to eat out at restaurants without facing public humiliation. Not only has the government been incapable of carrying out any significant change, but it has also recklessly harmed Lebanon’s foreign relations.
Information minister George Khordahi sent Lebanon into a political crisis with Saudi Arabia after he voiced his support for Yemen’s Houthis against the Saudi-led coalition, leading to a mass expulsion of Lebanese ambassadors in various gulf countries. Lebanon’s political crisis persists in full action, as blood started spilling onto the streets as armed clashes between political foes, Hezbollah and Amal, fought with the Lebanese forces for hours. The face-off resulted in many fatalities and dozens of injuries, reviving memories of the 1975-1999 civil war.
These clashes ignited over the lead investigator into the Beirut port explosion, judge Tarek Bitar. Mr. Bitar has been criticized by many Lebanese politicians for his attempts to pursue senior government officials and hold them accountable for the deadly port explosion. Hezbollah and Amal have called for his removal and even threatened to go “beyond the law” to strip him of his duties. Hezbollah representatives have also refused to attend cabinet meetings unless Mr. Bitar resigns, essentially paralyzing the state. Lebanon’s future is looking bleak; indications of a fractured alliance between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) are leading Lebanon into more turbulent days ahead.
Gebran Bassil, head of the FPM, has described his party’s relationship with the Shia militia as being in a state of “peril.” Adding to Lebanon’s issues, Secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, also lashed out against The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and accused King Salman of spreading terrorist ideology and sending Isis fighters into Syria and Iraq. Nasrallah's frequent commentary bashing Saudi Arabia is a result of the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In its current state, the last thing Lebanon needs is to lose long-time allies who have access to much needed money.
Without support from Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese state is unlikely to receive any endorsement from other gulf countries, which could help the economy and provide desperately needed humanitarian support. This upcoming year will be crucial for Lebanon on many fronts; politicians still seem keen on maintaining the status quo and continuing their sectarian politics. However, Lebanon’s fate may not entirely lie with the Mikati government. Rather, Iran-US nuclear negotiations in Vienna may prove to have a crucial impact on Lebanon. The Islamic Republic will undoubtedly use its cards wisely.