Lebanon — January 2010

Sociopolitical Situation

The recent establishment of a national unity government — five months after elections — has eased fears that the country would once again be mired in a dangerous political stalemate. Despite this breakthrough, however, Lebanon remains unstable. There are internal and regional tensions that could lead to serious violence. Given its deep internal divisions, the government is making little progress on policymaking. And, as they wait for the internal situation to calm down and for regional issues to unfold, Lebanon’s leaders appear to be indifferent to the deteriorating economic conditions of the majority of their people.

According to a study published by the United Nations Development Program, more than 320,000 of Lebanon’s 4 million people (about 8%) live on less than $2.40 per day, which means they cannot afford even the most basic of food needs. And another 800,000 people (or 20%) live on less than $4 a day. Further, the average salary in the country has changed in accordance with galloping inflation (projected at 8% for 2010) and the erosion in consumer spending. With the government turning a blind eye to poverty, a large percentage of the population is left to live without sufficient basics, such as food, water and electricity. An estimated 10% of the population controls 70 percent of the country’s wealth.

Economic and political reforms must move forward in order to address Lebanon’s significant public debt (now estimated at $50 billion or 163% of GDP) as well as concerns for education, health care and unemployment. Up to 40,000 Lebanese leave the country every year. Most are students or young professionals seeking what Lebanon fails to offer: economic opportunities in a stable environment. Prices continue to escalate at an unprecedented scale, public deficit increases and the deteriorating state of the electricity sector continues to be ignored.

Religious Situation

Now that Lebanon is experiencing drastic economic, political and social change, society — specifically the youth — is demanding an outlet for open means of communication, cooperation, sharing experiences and building a common history. In this context, a conference entitled “Religious Pluralism in Lebanon and the Arab World: History, Mutations, and Action Prospects” was held in Beirut 24-25 October 2009. It emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue in order to deepen and strengthen the relationships between religions and to prevent extremist tendencies, as well as stressed the importance of protection and defense of fundamental human rights and freedoms.

As poverty increases, those in need are turning to the country’s many churches for help. But the churches’ resources have also declined, weakening their ability to respond to these needs. Instead, the churches have incessantly called for the government to take immediate action to reduce poverty and for NGOs to initiate projects to improve the living conditions of the disadvantaged. Further, the churches have sought to reconcile Lebanon’s many factions, but they have failed in uniting their leaders, mainly the Christians.

In response to calls for the abolition of the confessional makeup of the government, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir has emphasized that sectarianism should be abolished first from people’s hearts. Grand Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Rashid Qabbani (along with the patriarch) stressed that equal sharing of power between Christians and Muslims should not be altered.

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