Lebanon on edge
As I write the future of Lebanon and the region is uncertain and unstable. The political parties are currently meeting to try to decide the next prime minister and ultimately the fate of a country which has seen more than its fair share of conflict.
Nearly two weeks ago all Hezbollah ministers withdrew from the cabinet, resulting in the collapse of the fragile government which had struggled to make progress in the eighteen months it had existed. Last Monday the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon(STL) announced that it had passed indictments for the assassination of Prime Minister Harriri in 2005, to the trial judge for consideration on whether to issue arrest warrants.
At present no one knows who the STL has concluded carried out the assassination, but it is widely expected that it will find members of Hezbollah responsible. Hezbollah denies any involvement and blames a number of different parties and believes that there has been false testimony. The main issue facing the future government will be how to deal with the results of the inquiry. Hezbollah put pressure on the last government to denounce and discredit the inquiry, whilst the international community continues to stress the importance that the STL continues to its conclusion and those responsible for the assassination be held accountable.
As if this didn’t make for a complicated enough situation given Lebanon’s location in the heart of the Middle East there are several countries trying to influence the political situation to further their own agendas or to protect themselves. Over the past week a number of different countries have been trying to mediate to reach a peaceful solution. Saudi Arabia and Syria have been actively working to resolve the situation for a few months, and Qatar and Turkey also attempted mediation. Israel and Iran are also keeping a watchful eye on events.
So what does this mean for the people of Lebanon? Everything is up in the air, no one knows what or when something is going to happen. In the past politics has often turned to sectarian violence, and there is very real possibility this could happen again. In 2008 violence erupted resulting in approx 100 deaths in 2 days, there was the war with Israel in 2006 and of course the previous civil war. So every Lebanese person over the age of two has lived through violence on the streets of Beirut and fears that it could happen again.
The day after the government collapsed before going to the office where I am volunteering through the Kiva Fellows Programme I rang to see if it was safe and everyone laughed at me, ‘this is normal for us not to have a government’ was the general consensus. People are cautious but daily life continues!
This weekend we went skiing and the queues for the chairlift proved that people weren’t hiding indoors or fleeing the country. On Saturday night 20,000 people went to see Armin van Burren ‘the world’s number one DJ’ with international singers and the atmosphere was one of anything but fear. In short life carries on, people know from past experience that anything could happen often without warning, but in the meantime they are making the most of the current standoff.
Speaking to the director of Ameen a field partner of there Kiva here in Lebanon, there has been no noticeable effect so far on the demand for and repayment of microfinance loans. But it will be interesting to see what happens over coming weeks. From my experience working with CHF International ACSI which provides microfinance loans in Iraq, microfinance continues as usual and provides vital support to businesses in difficult political and economic circumstances. ACSI currently maintains a repayment rate of 99% and Lebanese MFI’s have an average rate of 98%. Whilst obviously I am hoping that a peaceful solution is found, it would be interesting to compare the demand for and repayment of microfinance loans in Lebanon and Iraq in periods of political instability.
The only certainty is that the future is uncertain and there is a strong possibility that by the time you read this further changes will have been made to the political alliances that are currently being forged and broken in a power struggle which appears to have no straightforward solution. The one thing which strikes me most is that no one seems to be consulting the Lebanese people on who they want to run the country and how they wish to respond to the results of the investigation of the assassination of their elected prime minister.