GZERO Media logo

What's next for Lebanon?

What's next for Lebanon?

The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?


The timing could not be worse. In recent weeks, Lebanon, one of the world's most indebted countries, has spiraled into chaos after decades of economic mismanagement.

Crime is spiking as desperate Lebanese seek scarce basics like food and medicine, while others are turning to a swarming online barter economy to survive — clothes for baby formula? The deepening economic crisis recently pushed at least 500,000 children in Beirut into poverty, an aid group warned in July.

International observers, meanwhile, have questioned whether Lebanon has already breached the "failed state" threshold.

International support. So far, countries including Australia, Canada, France, Israel, Norway, Turkey and the Netherlands have offered Beirut urgent humanitarian aid in the form of generators, medical equipment and personnel, and even some cash. The EU, for its part, is sending search and rescue teams to search for survivors, while French President Emmanuel Macron will touch down in Beirut on Thursday to offer support to his country's former colony.

While immediate humanitarian support has been forthcoming — and encouraging — the aid itself is unlikely to pull Lebanon back from the brink. There are several reasons for this.

First, humanitarian aid is one thing, but financial lifelines are another. Even before the pandemic crippled the global economy, the World Bank predicted that 50 percent of Lebanese could be living below the poverty line if current trends continued. Hoping to stave off its worst economic crisis since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990, Beirut has since appealed to international creditors like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a whopping $10 billion in financial assistance, but the IMF has refused to play ball unless the Lebanese government reforms its bloated, inefficient, and corrupt public sector. So far, Beirut's power brokers have resisted.

Reformist will is key. Even if the IMF acquiesces and doles out funds to cash-strapped Lebanon, what happens when the money gets there? Lebanon's patronage-ridden public sector and corrupted politicians, many of them former warlords of sectarian groups, have mismanaged the country's economy for decades, lining their own pockets while the middle class has plunged into poverty. IMF support does not solve long-term problems such as government paralysis, poverty and social instability that, experts warn, can only be mitigated through structural reform.

The Hezbollah equation. The political clout of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group, further complicates Lebanon's efforts to secure external funding. In 2018, the IMF pledged $11 billion to Lebanon on the condition that the government institute significant anti-corruption and economic reforms. Washington, which, along with its Gulf Arab allies, deems the group a terrorist organization, recently accused Hezbollah of obstructing reform efforts, a view tacitly supported by other international donors.

This week's tumult also comes as the country braces for a UN court's verdict on the 2005 slaying of Lebanon's former Sunni Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, set to be handed down on August 18. The outcome in the Hariri case, which inflamed sectarian tensions across Lebanon and the region, will likely implicate Hezbollah officials. This risks further complicating efforts to secure external aid, and threatens to ignite sectarian discord amongst already-despondent Lebanese.

As negotiations with the IMF stalled in recent months, a desperate Beirut turned to Beijing for economic support, but it's walking a fine line, wary of irking Washington, a longtime ally, as US-China tensions surge.

The ball is largely in Beirut's court. The government can start working towards comprehensive reform in the hopes of lifting its floundering population out of poverty. Alternatively, it can fall back on the excuse of international donors not coming through and continue with business as usual. Which will it choose?

Bank of America's $25 million jobs initiative provides Black and Hispanic-Latino individuals access to skills and training needed for jobs of the future. Learn more about the initiative, which involves partnerships with 21 community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

More Show less

Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on US politics:

Is Trump out of options now that William Barr said the DOJ found no election interference?

Trump's problem isn't William Barr not finding election interference, it's that he lost the election and he lost it by millions of votes, and he lost it in the most important key states by tens of thousands of votes. Now, this was a very close election. The three closest states, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona, Trump only lost by 44,000 votes so far, and if he'd ended up winning those three, we'd have an Electoral College tie. But the election was not close enough that Trump's strategy of trying to kick this to the courts and then getting it to go all the way to the Congress, with an alternate slate of electors, it just wasn't possible. Had the election been a little closer, he might've had a shot. But as it is, his chances are over. Joe Biden's going to be inaugurated on January 20th.

More Show less

Listen: Benjamin Franklin famously called on American business leaders more than two centuries ago to "Do well by doing good." To him, that meant creating companies that were not just about the bottom line, but also that helped foster happier and healthier communities. Now, as 2021 approaches and the world recovers from the greatest crisis of our lifetimes, sustainable investing is a bigger discussion than ever. What does it mean, and how does it not only help the environment and societies but also build your bottom line? That's the topic of the latest episode of Living Beyond Borders.

More Show less

Iran's nuclear tug-of-war: Hardliners in Iran's parliament passed a bill Tuesday suspending UN inspections of its nuclear sites and giving the go-ahead to massively increase uranium enrichment unless the US lifts its sanctions by February. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani opposes the measure, saying it would be "harmful" to diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with the incoming Biden administration in the US. But Iran's parliament doesn't actually need Rouhani's approval to pass the law, and regardless, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will have the final say on policy – as always! If the law is passed, it will immediately raise the stakes for Biden, who takes office on January 20. Both he and Rouhani say they are keen to resume dialogue in hopes of reviving the nuclear deal, which President Trump walked out of in 2018. But just days after the architect of Iran's nuclear program was assassinated (likely by Israel with the US' blessing) the hurdles to even beginning those talks are rising fast.

More Show less
Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal

Episode 9: Can sustainable investing save our planet?

Living Beyond Borders Podcasts