Aftermath of an Economic Crisis: The Rise of Instability in Lebanon

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely constrained Lebanon and its people who were already dealing with the aftershocks of the economic collapse and the consequent countrywide protests. For many, this is due to the country being ruled by a corrupt political class that is still in power to date[1]. Lebanese citizens are exhausted, and all they hope for is a new government. The economic crisis has increased the pressure on the youth with the rising unemployment and academic clampdown, pushing them to emigrate. Lebanese citizens are equally exhausted with the domestic instability. Lebanon is threatened by political, economic, security, and health instability, thus part of the solution lies with holding early parliamentary elections, although this requires undertaking radical reforms and combating rampant corruption in all sectors. Each of these threats will be analysed below.

Security and Military Issues

Earlier this year, the government applied a strict lockdown to fight the severe increase in COVID-19 cases, and it had a major economic impact. On 24th January, protests exploded in the Lebanese city, Tripoli and it lasted for four consecutive days. Violent acts were committed between the protestors and the police resulting in two deaths and more than 200 injured people[2]. The outbreak started after the death of a man in Tripoli, resulting in clashes between protesters and security forces, where local media outlets and witnesses claimed that the police had fired live bullets as the protesters tried to enter the northern city’s municipality building.[3]

Due to the bad economic fallout and rising unemployment, crime rates are increasing, leading to insecurity. On 4 February, Lokman Slim, a Lebanese activist and an outspoken critic of Hezbollah and other sectarian parties was found dead in Addoussieh, a village in Southern Lebanon. The attack on Slim came as a blow to silence the criticism exercised on the government. Slim’s assassination was strongly condemned by many in the international community[4], which urged Lebanese officials to hold the perpetrators accountable. This dreadful crime comes at a time when Lebanon is enduring a severe and prolonged economic depression, the political situation is paralyzed, and the pandemic is out of control. 

The economic and political instability overwhelming Lebanon has urged Lebanon’s interior minister to raise his voice blaming the political parties, as they have been incapable of approving a national rescue plan. “It is only natural that we are unable to perform our security duties completely amidst this chaos, especially as Lebanese political parties could not put forward a national salvation plan to save the nation,” he stated. “Security forces are being drained daily, we have reached rock bottom… I am talking about 90% of our duties, we are no longer able to perform them to protect the people and the nation.”[5] This reveals the fragile security situation in Lebanon, which has led the government to seek international partners to increase humanitarian support and deepen the cooperation and assistance of different security agencies. The US has provided Lebanon with both economic assistance and military aid.[6] Recently, the commander of the Lebanese armed forces requested economic and military assistance from Iraq[7]Such assistance would help contain the current threats being faced by the armed forces. To exacerbate an already challenging time within the Lebanese military, a relatively high number of requests for early retirement, and requests by further junior officers for unpaid leave or vacations of around three months to do work separately to complement their truncated military salaries.[8]

Domestic Violence

Despite the laudable decision by the Lebanese government to criminalise domestic violence in December, the country has seen a massive rise in the domestic violence cases that has augmented reaching a sharp rise of (96.5%) as a result of the pressures exercised on citizens throughout the quarantine period. This number was revealed by the head of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) Public Relations Division, Col. Joseph Musallem. The Officer stressed that it is the ISF’s duty to protect victims, noting that policemen and officers who answer calls to the hotline which the ISF had dedicated for victims, had undergone training and workshops related to domestic abuse so that they could be fully equipped and understand how to communicate with a victim and how to follow and respond to a case. The United Nations has described a global increase in domestic abuse during coronavirus lockdowns as a shadow pandemic, that has resulted in women staying indoors, job losses, lacking agency over herself and the already biased judiciary, along with a drastic economic crisis that is continuously worsening violence in homes in Lebanon, as reported by women’s rights groups.[9]

Maritime Delineation with Israel

Lebanon had to scramble for resources in order to attempt to recover from the crisis. One of the best hopes for Lebanon remains the financial benefit through its petroleum extraction from the Mediterranean Sea. To speed up the drilling process negotiations between Israel and Lebanon on the delineation of the maritime border between the two countries began with the mediation of US officials. The two countries have long disagreed over several points, one of which was the ownership of the Shebaa Farms, the preservation of Hezbollah to maintain arms, and the flight of Israeli military aircraft over Lebanese air space. Recent signs of progress indicate that the negotiations stopped following four sessions.[10] The reason behind this is that the two negotiating parties raised the ceilings of their demands, where during the second session, the Lebanese delegation submitted maps showing that the disputed area extended over 2,290 Km², what is known as the border line 29, and not the previously stated 860 Km². These maps cut off part of the Karish oil field currently explored by Israel.[11] The negotiation is awaiting the Lebanese authorities to deposit the new updates before the United Nations.

Relations with Arab Countries

In April, Lebanon also received shocking news that Saudi Arabia will ban Lebanese food imports to stop drug smuggling.[12] Saudi Arabia has banned arrivals from 20 countries, as it tries to combat the spread of Covid-19, however this time it decided to ban the import of fruit and vegetables from Lebanon for a different reason. The decision was taken in an attempt to prevent the smuggling of millions of amphetamine pills stored in a pomegranate shipment from Lebanon at Dammam’s King Abdulaziz Port[13]. Walid Al Bukhari, the Kingdom’s ambassador to Lebanon said the safety and security of the country and its people were the motives behind the ban[14]. It’s noteworthy that the seized cargo was not Lebanese, and instead had a Syrian certificate of origin (transiting through Lebanon from Syria).[15] This act is strictly condemned, and it tarnishes the country’s reputation. The security bodies in Lebanon have ambushed many drug factories producing Captagon pills, as well as drugs to be smuggled abroad. The United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Kuwait are supporting Saudi Arabia’s recent ban. After all this, in conjunction with the economic failure, has made  Lebanese officials cooperate with international partners to combat this dangerous scourge.

Foreign Interference

For the past 18 months, Lebanon has been surviving a distorting economic crisis. Lebanon is facing an existential consequence due to the affiliation and submissiveness of some political parties to foreign countries. Lebanon’s ruptured politics is also vulnerable to foreign interference that has long driven domestic crises. Since the withdrawal of Syrian forces in Lebanon back in 2005, many of its political struggles have reflected tensions between the Iranian alliance, on one hand, and the Gulf Arab states allied with the United States, on the other hand. Lebanon now finds itself between these two alignments and has resulted in diminished sovereignty to take its decisions independently. The best one can hope for is that the 2022 parliamentary elections, if held on time, will aid in the attempt to prevent further economic collapse. Most Lebanese citizens seek the emergence of new leadership that has the power to put the country on the right track of prosperity it deserves.

International Consequences of the Events in Lebanon

The international community has given Lebanon extensive support to face its crises with the hope to make a positive impact on the security and peace situation in the region. Lately, Lebanon’s relations with surrounding countries have experienced a hit, especially after what happened with Saudi Arabia.[16] Tension controls the relationships between Lebanon and other Arab countries.  Nonetheless, the French initiative to rescue Lebanon appeared to be gaining wide Arab support. The French initiative was launched by the French President Emmanuel Macron during his second visit to Beirut on September 1, 2020 after the Beirut Port Blast. The French President organized a conference to collect donations. In addition to France’s call for the formation of a new government as an essential condition to implement the required reforms in order to acquire international aid, particularly through the CEDRE conference. However, this initiative ran into several obstacles as France is not directly interfering in the disputes and this is still delaying the government formation. It’s worth mentioning that regional countries maintain a strong influence on Lebanese politics through local allies. Many believe that the Maritime delineation with Israel may contribute in putting this dispute to an end peacefully. Besides French support, the Lebanese armed forces and police continuously receive assistance from international donors like the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, along with Saudi Arabia.


Clara Bou Gharios holds a Master’s degree in law from the Faculty of Law at the Lebanese University. She has completed the Inter-University Programme on International Criminal Law and Procedure set up by the T.M.C. Asser Institute and the Outreach and Legacy Section of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and works as a legal researcher in the area of the rule of law and social justice. She is presently also serving as a Social Media Manager in the Platform for Peace and Humanity.


[1] Barroso Cortés, F.S. and Kéchichian, J.A. (2020), The Practice of Corruption in Lebanon. Middle East Policy, 27: 119-135. https://doi.org/10.1111/mepo.12530

[2] Azhari T. (28/01/2021), Lebanon: Funeral held for demonstrator killed in Tripoli protests, AlJazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/28/funeral-for-protester-killed-in-tripoli-lebanon

[3] News Wires (29/01/2021), Clashes over lockdowns, inequality escalate in Lebanon’s Tripoli after protester’s death, France 24, https://www.france24.com/en/middle-east/20210129-protests-escalate-in-lebanon-s-tripoli-after-killing-of-demonstrator

[4] Including the American, German and Swiss’ ambassadors.

[5] Lebanon’s interior minister says security forces reached ‘rock bottom’: local media (10/03/2021), Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-crisis-security-idUSKBN2B22LA

[6] Haboush J. (21/5/2021), US announces $120 mln in military aid to Lebanon, looking for more ways to help army,, Al Arabiya English, https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2021/05/21/US-announces-120-mln-in-military-aid-to-Lebanon-studying-more-ways-to-help-army

[7] News Wires, (16/6/2021), Lebanese army pleads for help as country grapples with financial crisis, France 24, https://www.france24.com/en/middle-east/20210616-lebanese-army-pleads-for-help-as-country-grapples-with-financial-crisis

[8] Nerguizian A, (9/3/2021), Spot analysis from Carnegie scholars on events relating to the Middle East and North Africa, Malcolm H. Kerr – Carnegie Middle East Center, https://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/84032

[9] The Shadow Pandemic: Violence against women during COVID-19, (27/5/2020), UN Women, https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/5/press-release-the-shadow-pandemic-of-violence-against-women-during-covid-19

[10] Rida N. (19/3/2021), Lebanon’s Military Delegation to Border Negotiations Asks Govt for ‘Bold Decision’, Asharq Al-Awsat, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2868861/lebanon%E2%80%99s-military-delegation-border-negotiations-asks-govt-bold-decision

[11] Rida N. (19/3/2021), Lebanon’s Military Delegation to Border Negotiations Asks Govt for ‘Bold Decision’, Asharq Al-Awsat, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2868861/lebanon%E2%80%99s-military-delegation-border-negotiations-asks-govt-bold-decision

[12] Saudi Arabia bans Lebanese produce over drug smuggling, (23/4/2021), Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-lebanon-food-idUKKBN2CA26R

[13] Spencer R. (28/4/2021), Pomegranate used to smuggle amphetamine pills from Lebanon, The Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/pomegranate-used-to-smuggle-amphetamine-pills-from-lebanon-sl39sbmsd

[14] https://twitter.com/bukhariwaleeed/status/1387021934886629377

[15] Houssari N. (24/4/2021), Lebanon vows to punish drug smugglers as Saudi import ban bites, ArabNews, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1848171/middle-east

[16] Houssari N. (24/4/2021), Lebanon vows to punish drug smugglers as Saudi import ban bites, ArabNews, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1848171/middle-east

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