LEBANON BEFORE AND DURING CORONA.
On this page you can find the difference before and during the Coronavirus. You can also read 'setting the scene'
The situation in Lebanon before the Corona crisis was dire, to say the least. Over the last 8 years, large amounts of refugees entered the country; between 1-2.5 million. For a country that at the time had a population of around 5 million. This influx caused a heavy strain on the country, from schools needing to have two school days in a single day, economic setbacks, and overcrowdedness of certain areas. Much development work was done in this sector by NGOs to combat this.
The government's inability to come to decisions, corruption, and proxy warfare has resulted in multiple years of political deadlock, preventing the proper discourse from taking place and enough decisions being made to run the country.
When the economy collapsed, people started taking to the streets in protests, that quickly developed into riots. Tension escalated quickly and people are not happy with the situation. Many people lost their jobs, and many went out of business. (Khalaf et al., 2020; The World Factbook, 2020; [Redacted], 2020).
A pandemic has been the opposite of what the country needed. Corona can have extremely adverse effects on the country and can spread extremely quick through different communities. Beirut where about a large margin of the country's population lives can be a hotbed for the pandemic. But this is also true for the many informal refugee settlements can be found, as these places often lack proper WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) and thus make pandemic spreading all the much easier. With only around 1402 cases (Worldometer, 2020), Lebanon has gone through extreme efforts to contain the virus as much as possible.
This has had multiple effects. Riots and protests that were taken place became less for a couple of weeks due to gatherings not being allowed; although they are starting to pick up again; and violently so.
Secondly, this is even worse for the poorest people in the country, many of which are a refugee. This is not only due to Corona functioning as a catalyst for the economic crisis, but many founders for NGOs are redirecting funds to this crisis as well. As such, much of the development work in the country is slowing down or needs to prepare for downsizing. The effects on the poorest of the country are thus very extreme and from multiple sources. ([Redacted], 2020).
Setting the scene
Imagine a sprawling urban landscape next to the coast. Tall buildings, cars racing around, and people to be found everywhere. It's a busy day in Beirut. A thick layer of smog lays over the city, an accumulation of the gasses produced by the numerous petroleum powered devices in the cities. From cars to electricity generators. A concrete jungle, with big roads to small passages. At first glance, it seems like one of the many metropolitan areas found over the globe.
There are many ways to describe Beirut, but if I were to sum it up in one word, it would be 'diverse'. While usually, people associate positive elements with eh term diverse, it should be clarified that Beirut is diverse in every sense of the word, the good, the bad, and the ugly. While sure, the religious diversity found within the people is large; as well as people's expression of culture. Why, here in Beirut a street which has people in burkas, people wearing crop tops and shorts, nuns, to soldiers in full military garb, is not an uncommon sight. It is completely normal for people to be doing one of their daily prayers at the mosque, while only a couple of buildings further down the street a club is partying. Think of a typical Dutch club, but now imagine that more extreme. A big mosque is adjacent to a church, ruins of several different civilizations, and the pleasures of capitalism with a large multimedia store.
It is, however, important not to forget the darker and sinister sides of this diversity. Because the flip side of the luxurious lifestyles that exist within Beirut are the countless of people just trying to get by. Poverty is rampant, men, women, children, elderly, locals, foreigners, refugees. Beirut has riches, poverty, happiness, sadness, community, segregation; its diversity is like a double edge sword. Imagine taking Brazilian favelas and combining it with the richest of Monaco, into one city. That is Beirut.
Take Lebanon and plunge it into financial crisis. People on the streets protesting, rioting. Not the Dutch kind of riot, where confrontation with police, results in several arrests. No, a full-blown riot. Molotov cocktails being used to set banks on fire. Armoured vehicles being deployed to curb the sparring. At times, live ammunition being used. Beirut's air is no longer only filled with smog, but with resentment. The situation is dire, people are going hungry, prices are rising, and more start to suffer. Tension is high. Then COVID-19 strikes the world. Lebanon uses this opportunity to tighten restrictions, banning big gatherings. With that ending the protests. There is still a financial crisis though.
People often say that it is almost as if the tension could be cut with a knife, that is how thick it is. For Lebanon, that is a bad example. It doesn't properly highlight what is going on. At this point, a ticking time bomb is a better representation. Corona is burdening the country. While efforts are being taken to help people that need it, and the government does their best in preventing further spread, they are limited in what they can do. They find themselves in a hole that they have dug. People are restless and afraid. The streets, the same ones that were once bustling, then filled with the masses protesting, are now mostly empty. An eeriness has overcome Beirut, one it is not familiar with. Currently, a game of tug of war is happening between protestors and the government. Once the protest starts, stronger regulation gets implemented. Like the tide, it comes and goes. And deep in the ocean, something is stirring. Many see it as a calm before the storm, the question is, can the storm still be prevented.
Corona | Lebanon stats. (2020). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://corona.help/country/lebanon
Khalaf, S., Kingston, P., Ochsenwald, W., Barnett, R., Maksoud, C., & Bugh, G. (2020, January 23). Lebanon | Britannica. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/place/Lebanon
Lebanon: A brief history. (2003, February 24). Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1400004/Lebanon-A-brief-history.html
Lebanon | Worldometer. (2020, May 16). Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/lebanon/
The World Factbook: Lebanon. (2020, April 06). Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/le.html