Disclaimer: *names have been abbreviated in order to ensure the privacy of the identities involved
In October 2019, the people of Lebanon began to fill the streets chanting “kellon yaani kellon,” which translates to “all of them means all of them.” All of them, referring to the corrupt sectarian government officials who have prioritized their own greed over providing the Lebanese people with fundamental aid and services for years, leaving Lebanon to be the third most indebted country in the world. Lebanon has a debt to GDP ratio of 152 percent, and has over 75 percent of its population living below the poverty line. The country is without a stable economy, stable electricity, waste management services and food security for no reason other than the government’s inherent greed. When the Lebanese people chant, “kellon yaani kellon,” it is intended to leave no question that all politicians, whether the president or a cabinet member, are the problem. As long as the current ideologies perpetuated through political power persist, Lebanon will be stuck in an eternal cycle of corruption.
Years of a broken economic system, characterized by corruption and heavy reliance on imports, the pegging of the Lebanese currency to the US dollar and a diaspora which endlessly pumps cash into a fragile banking system, has inevitably led to the toppling of Lebanon’s economy. In recent months, the Lebanese currency has crashed and prices have skyrocketed, creating a disappearing middle class and further distress on the poor. Over 49 percent of Lebanon’s population (6.8 million) are food insecure, and with the price of grocery staples doubling, or even tripling, low income people are destitute. Some parents have to decide if they are going to buy formula or diapers — as there is no way for them to afford both.
HK*, who has lived in Lebanon throughout her whole life, including the civil war, told The Daily the economic collapse has left Lebanon in the worst state she has ever seen.
“During the civil war, we were mostly scared of bombings,” HK said. “We had hope that the war would end. Now, we are scared of tomorrow and we cannot see hope.”
Lack of hope, a shared sentiment among the Lebanese, is reasonable, given the little to no aid the government is providing for the people. The government has failed to reimburse hospitals, making it impossible to pay staff and buy medical supplies, exacerbating the effects of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 is a problem, like it is everywhere in the world, but it is not our main problem,” HK said. “The economy is our biggest problem.”
Videos have surfaced of pregnant women eating from dumpsters and mothers on the streets offering to sell their organs to feed their children. Among those belonging to the most vulnerable communities are Syrian refugees— 30 percent of Lebanon’s population. Over 87 percent of the refugees lack food, 73 percent lack a permanent home and each one of them are at devastating odds against Lebanon’s economic crisis and COVID-19.
“With all the suffering going on, the government is not doing anything,” HK said. “We need a government that cares about their people — both the poor and the rich people.”
Although the economic crisis hits the poor the hardest, those with economic stability are still affected. Banks are limiting withdrawals and those who have bank accounts in dollars are getting paid in liras — which are worth nothing.
“I went to the supermarket and spent around half a million liras. That bought me hardly anything, basically nothing,” HK said.
Like most of Lebanon’s public services, electricity is poorly provided through a government-owned company. Electricite du Liban, the state power company, cannot afford to purchase enough fuel to provide twenty-four-hour electricity for the Lebanese people but can easily afford to put millions of dollars into the pockets of government leaders and their colleagues. When the protestors say kellon yaani kellon, they are talking about the government leaders who fail to keep the lights on, the garbage off the streets and the Lebanese children fed and in school. Kellon yaani kellon until the lights are always on.
Below are links to organizations that provide aid for the Lebanese people.
Maya Kadouh can be contacted at email@example.com