Corruption, not coronavirus, is ravaging Lebanon

Corruption, not coronavirus, is ravaging Lebanon
Comment: Lebanon's inept government officials and violent security forces should be seen as the real virus of our times, writes Carmen Geha.
5 min read
30 Apr, 2020
Anger over a spiralling economic crisis re-energised protests in defiance of the coronavirus lockdown [AFP]
"The army is using live bullets to separate protesters and calm the riots," is the single most repeated sentence during live coverage of this week's events in Tripoli.

The images of armed forces shooting at young angry men is what you mostly see on Lebanese evening TV. That, and Ramadan shows and series.

Earlier this week, 26-year-old Fawwaz al-Samman was killed when the army fired live bullets in the air. His funeral ushered in nationwide pockets of protest and anger aimed mainly at the banks and houses of politicians.

This was the first, but probably not the last, martyr to fall with direct orders from this government. The current Lebanese government is headed by Hassan Diab, a university professor with a 137-page CV.

The Diab government came into power in January of this year following weeks of massive protests across the country. The nation-wide revolution, which started on 17 October is a historical milestone in many ways. It was the first time that Lebanese people came together to denounce their entire post-war political class. They had had enough of carpetbagger governments sucking their money, public property, and basic rights.

Over three decades, people have lost their right to education, their health has deteriorated, and their political liberties have been stripped. Since 2015, Lebanon has had a garbage crisis, and rubbish piles up on the streets. Lebanon, with the highest rates of cancer in western Asia now has a corona government, full of smiling faces and looks of satisfaction.

The Minister of Public Health in Lebanon, Hamad Hassan ends every press conference with a smirk and a message of hope to the Lebanese people

The Minister of Public Health in Lebanon, Hamad Hassan ends every press conference with a smirk and a message of hope to the Lebanese people. His look of satisfaction and pride cannot be mistaken for anything else - he appears genuinely happy about this corona pandemic. If the politicians after the civil war in 1990 were described as carpetbaggers, meaning politicians who made money off people dying and going bankrupt, then these current government officials should be seen as the real virus of our time.

The ministers praise themselves in order to forget that the only way this government got a vote of confidence, was by deploying the army and beating up protesters who tried to block the road to parliament. The army dragged mothers and school kids who tried to block one of the entrances, beat up protesters from another entrance, and closed down main roads with barbed wire. It was a circus of security officials protecting the very same group of people who failed to pick up the trash and who stole public funds.

At the outbreak of the coronavirus in Lebanon, everyone held their breath and waited. Those first couple of weeks felt like we were waiting for the shadow of death, not knowing who would get sick and die first, and who would be spared.

Read more: Lebanese army kills protester in Tripoli amid deteriorating economic woes

The government called for public places to shut down and for people to stay at home after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on 11 March. Staying at home was the only choice available to those of us living in Lebanon.

Whether rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, nobody in Lebanon trusts the government and nobody would dream of trusting the health system. Staying at home came quite naturally to those who could afford it, we all experienced the civil war, we are used to stocking up on canned food and detergents.

Those who could not afford it were doomed. Now eight weeks into the virus, the government is still "studying" its options and "mapping" poor families to distribute a small amount of cash to them. It is the most insulting study and mapping ever to be promised and faked in this small country where anyone can easily show you where the poor reside.

To everyone's surprise, the Lebanese were able to momentarily flatten and even decrease the curve. Days went by with no new reported cases. The prime minister and minister of health congratulated themselves.

But make no mistake, it is despite their corruption and incompetence that we are able to do well in crisis, and not because of it. This government is backed by the same powers that the revolution confronted. Its corona-inspired "popularity" will remain short-lived.

Nobody in Lebanon trusts the government and nobody would dream of trusting the health system

We are, after all, a very superstitious nation. We rarely use the word "cancer" and when someone has cancer, we just say that they are suffering from "that illness". But with time, and when the extent of the damage becomes clear, this government will be remembered as a cancer.

Now that it has entered a losing battle, no matter what they say, Lebanese public opinion knows that the real troublemakers are not young people living below the poverty line, but the rich, fat politicians, and smiling ministers that got us here.

Carmen Geha is a political activist and an Assistant Professor of Public Administration at the American University of Beirut. She specializes in research on social movements and protests, women in politics and refugee policies. 

Follow her on Twitter: @CarmenGeha

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.