Over the last year it seems as if just when all possible descriptions have been exhausted for the deteriorating social, economic and political crisis in Lebanon, a new downward turn in the situation develops.
The last few days have seen the World Bank declare Lebanon’s economic crisis amongst the worst in the last 150 years, whilst the Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, who has been serving in a caretaker capacity for 10 months now, has stated the country is ‘days away’ from a social explosion.
The country’s GDP has collapsed from $55bn in 2018 to $33bn last year, whilst food prices have tripled in the last few months. The World Bank has published a report saying that the “social impact of the crisis, which is already dire, could rapidly become catastrophic”. People struggle to find medicine and baby formula, whilst long queues are in place to get fuel. The armed forces have been reduced to selling helicopter rides to tourists to help bring in money.
A new round of demonstrations took place last week as fuel subsidies were cut by the government, including storming of one of the premises of the central bank by protesters. There are even reports of protests taking place by fuel smugglers against being stopped from taking advantage of subsidised fuel in Lebanon and selling it across the border in Syria!
A potentially significant development preceding these was a general strike called by the official trade union federation, the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL), on 17th June demanding the formation of a new government. However, this seems to have been called as an exercise in ‘letting off steam’, and was supported by a number of the major sectarian political parties including Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement.
Whilst the leadership of the CGTL may not have a serious strategy to fight for the interests of Lebanese workers, undoubtedly being forced to call action, after silence throughout most of the last few years, reflects growing discontent below.
As we commented in our previous article discussing the developments around new independent unions in Lebanon … “These developments show the potential for a re-forging of the workers’ movement in Lebanon, a question that will become increasingly vital as the capitalist sectarian parties seek a way out for capitalism on the backs of workers and the poor.
“Those layers moving into struggle need to organise action committees, democratically electing them immediately in all communities and workplaces, so that they can link together to organise support and solidarity actions, supervise aid, food and shelter to all those affected and discuss the way forward.”
In the absence of any general initiative along these lines from the workers movement, then other forces will attempt to step into the vacuum. The latest is Project Watan, launched in the last few days, by former MP Neemat Frem, previously part of the bloc led by Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. Project Watan, is pitched as an anti-sectarian populist political party, attempting to stake a claim to be a political continuation of the mass uprising that brought down the Hariri government in the autumn of 2019. Frem, however, is a former President of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists and is CEO of the multinational manufacturers INDEVCO Group, his pro-capitalists interests will be miles apart from the workers and poor in Lebanon facing the current desperate situation.
There is no way forward for the masses in Lebanon under the continued rule of the sectarian parties, or supposedly ‘non-sectarian’ capitalist opportunists. Lebanese workers and youth will need to build their own independent organisations. As the crisis in Lebanon continues to deepen, this is a task that increasingly cannot wait.