I cannot pretend now that we are not in a pandemic no matter how much I try to avoid and ignore it.
A big part of the world is on lockdown and living in stress due to home captivity and the looming dangers of the virus. While in Lebanon, we are blessed with an incompetent government that failed (not only now,… it is an ongoing series of failures that were somehow hidden for over 30 years) to provide a decent living for its citizens, with a pandemic/crisis or without.
Now, it’s been a little over 2 months since the unofficial state of emergency and lockdown in action. I was in Amman-Jordan in the beginning of March for a workshop and came back on March 11th on the last flight from Amman before stopping all flights to and from Beirut. We didn’t expect this to happen. I was sort of considering skipping the flight and staying in Amman, but since it is been 2 months and we’ve seen barely any changes, I am glad I didn’t.
Things are particularly harder in Lebanon (not dismissing the struggle in any other country) to be going through a pandemic after of all the things that went downhill leading up to the disastrous 2020.
We’ve been going through a dysfunctional government for a long time. In the summer of 2019, we had a shortage in US dollar, which we use interchangeably with the local currency, and banks stopped transactions to foreign accounts which led importers to hold strikes to apply pressure. Our economy is not based on exporting, and we don’t have support for local productions. The economy relies on foreign investors and depositors and on the tourism and F&B sector. The dollar shortage caused a shortage on imported wheat and flour, fuel, and power supply (mind you, we still don’t have 24-hour electricity feed, sometimes not even 12) to name a few. Things went downhill in October 2019 after announcing yet another increase in taxes that all people would be affected by, including the infamous WhatsApp Tax, in which the genius Minister of Telecom presented a 4 dollar (on the old exchange rate) tax on all VoIP calls through the app. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. People went to the streets, blocked roads, protested demanding rights, and for the first time in a very long time, it was not under any political party’s flag but the Lebanese flag.
Banks took this opportunity and closed their door to small depositors. Yet, it became know some time later that they still allowed huge transaction from large depositors to other countries. I am no political or economic analyst, but this is what I gathered from witnessing and reading about what’s going in. This caused another shortage in dollars that led to banks to unofficially enforce capital control by prohibiting transfers outside the country, and later even inside the country, limit cash withdrawal, and later limit online transactions to services outside the country.
How is this related to the pandemic?
It is our daily nightmare. We aren’t just on lockdown. We are suffering a suffocating economy and a dying country.
Due to the monopoly of foreign currency, the 20-something year old peg that fixed the Lebanese Lira to the dollar was no longer valid in black markets. The lira lost its value. Prices increased to keep up with the rates and to keep importing. People’s salaries now barely buy a week’s supply of necessities. The fear of the virus is immensely overshadowed by the fear of starvation.
They took to the street again (whether provoked by yet another political agenda or hunger and poverty driven, the rumors flood the scene), more violently this time.
Yet still nothing changed.
We are living an unmatched uncertainty. For once, we feel that we are not the only ones living in this stress. The whole world in lockdown and implementing great measures to contain the virus. As the world starts to open up again and go back to normal, here is Lebanon we have no normal to go back to. National debt is piling up, trust in banks is non-existent, businesses are closed, some of them indefinitely, no foreign money coming in, and no exports to bring in profits. Yet we have a load of goods to import, fuel for electricity (go check out the scam deals and the compromised shipments) and flour mainly.
As the world open doors for life to continue, with protective face masks on, people in Lebanon will still be struggling to make a living, navigate their way through power outages, increased prices, increased unemployment rates, the brutality of armed forces, the corruption and inhumanity of politicians and people in power, the security of borders, the invasion of our land, massive general instability…. and COVID19.
I had to add this later after finishing writing as I am becoming more aware of the increased number of people, including my close friends and I, who are struggling with mental issues while being on lockdown. All what’s mentioned above is not making things easier to get by, and we’re trying to stand by each other and get through this. On this subject, I came across an article by a fellow blogger (shall I start counting what she does? Check her out online, her podcasts, articles, among others) Farah Berrou, about being resilient and how we are realizing how it has harmed us as much as it benefited us. Read it here