Lebanon has been plunged into major crisis ever since 2019, with currency collapse and debt default compounded by the Covid pandemic. Half of the country’s seven million inhabitants have been plunged into poverty, and all are suffering from the collapse of social institutions and the decay of public services – all, that is, except the super-rich comprador leeches who feed on IMF loans and throw crumbs to the impoverished majority.
Ordinary citizens, outraged and desperate, have repeatedly taken to the streets to protest, but have lacked any coherent leadership. In August last year an event occurred which shook all Lebanon, when a massive store of ammonium nitrate, a highly combustible substance which can be used for both fertilisers and bombs, was ignited, resulting in a devastating explosion in Beirut’s port area that flattened much of the capital, killing over 200 people and injuring many more.
In the aftermath of this terrible accident the government collapsed, and for over a year the country had no government at all. Nobody was prepared to shoulder the responsibility for the mess, preferring to engage in mutual recrimination and self-exculpation as the country drifted rudderless deeper into crisis.
Imperialists blame locals, then replace one stooge regime with another
Media coverage of the dire situation in Lebanon was content to blame the corruption and incompetence of the political elites, neglecting to trace the rot back to its root cause: the transformation of Lebanon into a vassal state of imperialism. The fish always rots from the head down.
Imperialism kicked Lebanon when it was down, banning oil imports from Iran and freezing IMF loans to the country. But as time went by still with no functioning government, the west started to panic.
The reason that so many loans had been made to a debtor so unlikely to be able to meet its debt obligations was not primarily economic but geopolitical: Lebanon’s strategic location in the middle east.
The European Union, with Emmanuel Macron to the fore, judged that it was time to urge the political elites to settle their squabbles and cobble together a ‘responsible’ government – ie, one acceptable to the west. The EU parliament threatened to hit with sanctions anyone who was deemed to be ‘destabilising’ the effort to get a new government sorted.
The EU in particular had an incentive to get a new government in place, fearing that if the political crisis in Lebanon was not patched up, the result could be a mass exodus of refugees pushing into Europe and destabilising politics closer to home.
The west has relied upon Lebanon to absorb large numbers of refugees fleeing the imperialist wars that uprooted them from their homes in the first place. Bearing in mind that Lebanon’s own population numbers only seven million, the country currently accommodates a million and a half Syrian refugees and another half million Palestinians and others. If the country is allowed to drift back in the direction of civil war, many of Lebanon’s own citizens could soon be opting to leave themselves.
So, under pressure from both the EU and the USA, a ‘new’ government was sworn in on 20 September, including in its ranks some old faces nominated by shia, sunni, christian and druze factions, plus a handful of technocrats.
The prime minister, Najib Mikati, is a multibillionaire telecoms magnate who has already been prime minister several times before. He made all the right noises about structural reform, fiscal responsibility and weeding out corruption, and he undertook to kick-start talks with the IMF to unlock billions of dollars in aid, promising to fix shortages of food, fuel and medicine. He would doubtless have promised more had he not been requested by the Speaker not to read out all nine pages of his speech for fear that the electricity would go down again before the session concluded.
Under pressure from the west, all the major parties endorsed the new cabinet, with the sole exception of the right-wing Lebanese Forces.
US enforcer arrives to remind everyone who’s boss
A month into the new regime, on 14 October, US deputy secretary of state Victoria Nuland arrived with an inter-agency delegation that included both the State Department and, significantly, the US Treasury. At the press conference held at the US embassy in Beirut, Nuland expressed her “support for the aspirations of the Lebanese people for security, for economic stability and for transparent and accountable governance. Terrorists and thieves have robbed them of hope for far too long.”
If by ‘thieves’ she meant the oligarchs, it’s clear that by ‘terrorists’ she intended Hezbollah. Hezbollah stands as the biggest obstacle to the complete imperialist domination of Lebanon, and this is well grasped by the masses, who do not forget the heroic part played by Hezbollah in the expulsion of Israel occupiers from Lebanese soil.
The widespread popularity of the group is reinforced, too, by the key role it has played in providing schools, medical care and other forms of welfare – things that successive governments have fallen down on.
Nuland went on to urge “prudence and accountability in the use of Lebanon’s more than a billion dollars in IMF special drawing rights”, adding piously that “this money belongs to the Lebanese people and must be used for their benefit”. She went on to pledge an “additional 67 million dollars in new US support for the Lebanese army, bringing our total of support this year to 187 million dollars”, and bragged that the US had shelled out over $300m in “humanitarian support”.
And in conclusion Nuland put particular stress on “a clean, impartial, independent judiciary” as the “guarantor of all the rights and the values that we, as democracies, hold dear and share. Again, the Lebanese people deserve no less, and the victims and families of those lost in the port blast deserve no less. Today’s unacceptable violence makes clear what the stakes are.”
The ‘unacceptable violence’ to which she referred was a four-hour gun battle that took place outside Beirut’s Palace of Justice. That very morning a peaceful street demonstration, led by Hezbollah and Amal, was held to draw to public attention the way in which the judicial investigation tasked with finding out who had been responsible for the Beirut blast in 2020 was being politicised, effectively turning the investigation into a witch hunt against Hezbollah. The protesters called for the resignation of the presiding judge, Tarek Bitar.
As the marchers passed through the Tayouneh-Badaro neighbourhood, snipers opened fire on them from rooftops, precipitating a four-hour gun battle in which at least seven people died. Hezbollah identified the snipers as belonging to the Lebanese Forces (the same Lebanese Forces who refused to endorse the new government), and a seasoned Lebanese journalist, Hosein Mortada, released a photo of Shukri Abu Saab, a member of the Lebanese security forces and a US embassy employee, claiming that he had been one of the snipers.
The tactic of deploying anonymous snipers to initiate violence, which can then be used to justify punitive repression or counter-revolution, is well-known. Most notoriously, anonymous rooftop snipers opened fire on Maidan protesters in 2014, helping to create the atmosphere of panic which was then used to justify the subsequent violent overthrow of Ukraine’s elected leaders and imposition of an ultra-nationalist junta in Kiev.
A leaked phone conversation between EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton and her Estonian counterpart Urmas Paet blew the gaff. On the recording, Paet said that a medic on site during the shooting, “clearly a person with authority”, told him that the snipers were shooting at both sides, adding that there was a growing understanding that the snipers were not acting on the orders of Yanukovych, but rather those of the US-backed Maidan opposition.
Curiously enough, Victoria Nuland also played a starring role in the Maidan saga, popping up in Kiev to hand out biscuits to the Maidan ‘rebels’ and egging on their efforts to overthrow the legitimate government.
There can be no salvation for the Lebanese people so long as their country continues to be a vassal state of the EU and the US. As we concluded a year ago, in the wake of the terrible blast in Beirut port:
“After close to two decades of unconscionable depredations, there is no quick fix for Lebanon. It clearly needs to act fast to make itself self-sufficient in the necessaries of life – which could certainly be achieved by mobilising for the purpose all those people currently unemployed or underemployed.
“However, for this to be done efficiently would require a centrally-planned socialist economy, driven not by profit but solely by the need to satisfy the requirements of the people.
“Until the Lebanese people are in a position to install such a system, there can only be more trouble ahead.”