Syria and Lebanon, the devastating economic crisis unleashes the anger of the square


“Thief, thief, Riad Salame he is a thief, ”shouts Beirut Square in a new night of anger that has rekindled the protests that have been going on for months in the country and only partially dormant during the coronavirus crisis. Thousands of people flocked to the streets on Thursday evening to ask the government and the central bank president, Salame, for a devastating economic crisis. The Lebanese pound has plummeted to about $ 5,000 compared to about 4,000 a week ago, since October it has lost 70% of its value: businesses close, prices have skyrocketed, more than a third of the population is out of work , in a country where about 47% of the inhabitants are under 24 years old.

Salame has announced that it will begin to put dollars on the market from Monday, an attempt to curb the collapse of the currency and the announcement has gained some value to the pound, but the crisis in the country is systemic and the protesters accuse the responsibilities of a corrupt and inefficient ruling class. The executive who took office in January and is led by the former education minister, Hassan Diab, is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund to obtain a loan of about 10 billion dollars, but also on this emergency measure the heterogeneous coalition that supports the government is divided. The IMF in turn wants guarantees on the state of public finances and on proposals to cover the huge financial losses.

During the demonstrations on Thursday night, the demonstrators set fire to the tires and blocked the streets, in some cities such as Tripoli they tried to enter the central bank headquarters but were rejected by the police.

The Lebanese crisis is also having repercussions on neighboring Syria, where – after nine years of war – the president Bashar Assad, which has prevailed in the conflict thanks to the support of Russia and Iran, is increasingly weak and in difficulty due to the economic crisis that is undermining hopes of even a minimal economic recovery in the areas under its control.

Thursday Assad removed the premier Imad Khamis after several days in the province of Sweida, which is in the south and under the control of the regime, new protests began against the government. The new premier will be Arnous, who is originally from Idlib, the area not controlled by Damascus, but the move seems destined not to change the balance very much.

The population is exhausted, the economy has collapsed, inflation is skyrocketing, the regime does not even have the money to buy enough grain reserves for the coming months of the year and there is fear of a shock in the supply of other foodstuffs food. The economic disaster was compounded by sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe, but according to Middle East Institute scholar Charles Lister, who wrote a very documented analysis of the Syrian situation for Politic, “Syria’s economic crisis is not the consequence of the wide spectrum of sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe”, but of a set of factors: the war, of course but also “the financial crisis in Lebanon”, the main source of foreign currency for Syria, and “the crippling levels of corruption and incompetence that put the regime and government structures in difficulty”.In the past year alone, the Syrian pound has lost more than 80% of its value. The Druze community has also taken to the streets in Sweida, so far it has kept as far away from the conflict as possible. The slogan that animated the first democratic uprisings of 2011 against the regime: “Go Bashar” is back on the streets of the city.

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