Lebanon’s Crisis Was Always an Inside Job

Lebanon’s Crisis Was Always an Inside Job
Lebanese army soldiers stand guard in front of a branch of the Credit Libanais Bank that was set on fire by anti-government protesters, in Tripoli, Lebanon, April 28, 2020 (AP photo by Bilal Hussein).

BEIRUT—Seated on a plastic chair surrounded by the chocolates, snacks and bottles of liquor he sells out of his roadside kiosk, 39-year-old Abdallah Al-Saii recalls the day he almost set a bank on fire. “I just got tired of seeing them steal from us all these years,” he says, matter-of-factly.

His convenience store sits on a main road near the town of Kefraya, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon’s most important agricultural region. The surrounding land is dotted with farms, vineyards and orchards, with snow-capped mountains to the east pointing the way to Syria.

This area of the valley seems peaceful. But the superficial calm masks the severe crisis submerging Lebanon. Starting in 2019, when popular protests against corruption and mismanagement toppled the government, the country has endured a series of upheavals that signal a tipping point. A financial meltdown caused by political and financial elites has erased 97 percent of the value of the Lebanese lira against the dollar, leaving three-quarters of the country’s population of 5.5 million in poverty. In August 2020, a massive explosion at the Beirut Port—the result of state negligence and corruption—killed 218 people, injured thousands and traumatized the city.

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