According to reports, the Shiite militia is purchasing food and medication from Iran in a bid to keep the economy afloat and the Lebanese public quiet. But a local journalist says it will not silence the Lebanese.
The month of Ramadan has been a challenge for many Lebanese. Food prices have gone up, unemployment rates remain high and many people continue to struggle with poverty on a daily basis.
In fact, the situation has become so acute that recent reports suggested that Hezbollah, a Shiite militia group that holds seats in the Lebanese parliament, has stepped up preparations for a possible state collapse.
Preparing for Doomsday?
According to those reports, the group is expanding the ration card system, stores fuel and imports such basics as food and medications from Iran, preparing for what’s believed to be even tougher days ahead.
Mohammed Kleit, a Beirut-based journalist and a political activist, who has been monitoring the situation closely, says that Hezbollah-controlled areas have seen an influx of Iranian products in recent weeks, something that has already stirred controversy. It has also split the already-divided Lebanese society.
“Hezbollah loyalists advocate that the subsidies will not only help its group members and their families but also other weak layers of the population. Many others slam the organisation for such a move, saying they are using their soft power to Iranise parts of Lebanon.”
Yet, as always, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Although Hezbollah is probably using the food subsidies as a PR campaign for Iran, the group’s reliance on the Islamic Republic is understandable.
With the currency crashing and food prices rising 400 percent, the supply from Iran is needed to keep the economy floating and the people quiet.
But Kleit says the situation has derailed so much that the Lebanese people refuse to be silenced.
The Lebanese economy has been fragile since the country emerged from its 1975-1990 civil war, but it worsened significantly following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in February 2020 that led to the shutting down of many private businesses.
The deadly Beirut explosion of August 2020 made the situation even more dire, costing the Lebanese economy some $15 billion amid extensive damage.
When conditions worsened, protests resumed with greater force.
In late March, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Beirut over deteriorating living and economic conditions.
Similar protests also took place in other parts of Lebanon, including the country’s poorest city Tripoli, where more than 200 demonstrators were wounded in clashes with the security forces over declining economic conditions and the raging COVID-19 pandemic that has put an additional strain on the country’s economy.
Kleit, who has seen these and similar protests up close and interviewed dozens of demonstrators, says many were beaten up. Others faced threats to their employment and personal security.
This unrest is unlikely to end in the near future, and Kleit is certain that even Hezbollah, with its impressive funds, will not be able to bail Lebanon out of the current mess.
In recent years, reports suggest that the funding of the Shiite group has fallen by 40 percent, partially due to the Western sanctions and partially due to the fact that Iran, which has seen incomes fall due to falling oil prices, could not provide Hezbollah with the $700 million it had allegedly been sending to the movement.
On the Brink of Collapse
If neither Hezbollah nor Iran can come to the rescue, Lebanon might be on the brink of collapse, Kleit believes.
“If Lebanon’s economy collapses, the obvious outcome would be a civil war. If that happens, Hezbollah is likely to come out triumphant given its formidable strength and that can pave the way for a foreign intervention into the country.”
“It will just serve as a perfect excuse for foreign powers to launch a military operation in the country to spread their ‘democracy’. What will happen then? Lebanon will turn into another Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia or Syria,” he warned.
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