Lebanon is currently experiencing the worst financial and political crisis since the country-wide civil war ended in 1990. The economy and the banking system are on the brink of collapse, and hundreds of thousands of Lebanese and Syrians have been pushed further into poverty.
This post will help you understand the context and history of the crisis, how the situation impacts the Lebanese people, and how Horizons continues to minister to the diverse Lebanese and refugee populations throughout the country.
How the Protests Started
In the 30 years since Lebanon’s bloody civil war, quality of life for Lebanese citizens has deteriorated due to rising costs, decreasing wages, crippled public services, corruption, embezzlement, and an ever-widening poverty gap.
The Lebanese Civil War, ending in 1990, devastated the previously thriving economy of Lebanon. After heavy damage to infrastructure, large private corporations took over essential services such as water, electricity, and telephone/internet. Maintaining tight relationships with members of the Lebanese government, these companies have retained control of them ever since.
Since then, property prices, privatized essential services and living costs continually increase, while household incomes have decreased, resulting in high levels of public debt. Though the Lebanese economy has experienced occasional periods of resurgent growth, the vast majority of financial gains have been absorbed, often corruptly, by an already prosperous political elite.
On October 17th, 2019, a number of tax increases were proposed by the Lebanese government, including one on VOIP applications such as WhatsApp. Although intended to relieve the data burden on a poor internet network, for many this proved to be the final straw.
Already angered by years of widespread plutocratic corruption, a stagnant economy, high unemployment, and banking secrecy legislation, the people could no longer stay silent.
Protestors took to the streets in numbers never before seen. Peaking at 1.5 million, one-third of Lebanon’s population, protestors demanded the resignation of Saad al-Hariri, Lebanon’s Prime Minister, along with the entire national government.
Effects of the Protests
On October 29th, Sunni Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri resigned and dissolved his entire cabinet. Protesters filled the streets for over 100 days to demand the additional removals of the President, the Speaker of the Parliament, and all 128 members of parliament—but to no avail.
Months of turmoil have affected almost every aspect of Lebanese life, shutting down roads and schools for days at a time. Largely peaceful protests have occasionally given way to violent rioting, and government security forces have used tear gas to disperse crowds. Clashes with Shiite Muslim counter-protesters have also stoked fears of larger-scale ethnic violence and even another civil war.
The Lebanese working class, and the Syrian refugees among them, has struggled with companies going out of business, job loss, many salaries being cut by 50%, banks restricting cash withdrawals, 60% inflation of local currency, and price increases on everyday foods and necessities. The Syrian refugee crisis has also burdened the already-poor infrastructure with over 1.5 million people in significant need, further pushing the economy into a tailspin.
Even those who have money are denied access. Banks have limited withdrawals and releasing only small amounts to customers, in order to trade US dollars on the Black Market for outrageous profit. As a result, many lower-class Lebanese are now desperate for food, surrounded by Syrian refugees in much the same situation.
This hardship has caused frustration and loss of hope, even leading to a rise in the national suicide rate.
In a tragic event, one man became overwhelmed by debts of around $700. After his daughter requested just 1000 Lira (66 cents in USD), to buy breakfast at school. Distraught at being unable to meet his daughter’s most basic need, he waited for her to leave for school before taking his own life, leaving his wife and children destitute. Sadly, this is not an isolated case.
Impact of Coronavirus
On February 21, 2020, Ministry of Health officials confirmed Lebanon’s first coronavirus case. Schools, theaters, nightclubs, and public gatherings have been prohibited nationwide, and people are advised to stay home in order to minimize further spread. Lebanon’s Hariri Airport is now closed to all travel, as coronavirus reports as of March 23 cite over 256 confirmed cases and 4 deaths.
How Does This Affect Ministries & Churches?
Local churches and ministries face significant difficulties in this crisis. Humanitarian aid resources have been largely exhausted, with decreased financial support unable to keep pace with the rising cost of goods and the vastly increasing needs of refugees and poor Lebanese.
Several international mission teams have been forced to cancel trips to Lebanon due to current health and security concerns. Inaccurate portrayal of events by news and other media, and State Department warnings, often exaggerated due to liability, have further stoked fears.
Border closures and restrictions on travel, transportation, and public gatherings, resulting from the protests are now extended due to the coronavirus outbreak with no end in sight.
How Horizons Has Responded
Amidst ministry center closures, Horizons’ Lebanon team has found creative online solutions to keep sharing Christ with millions of Muslims whose spiritual thirst is growing due to the instability. Field staff members have joined up with our Media Team to create compelling gospel videos, and others have joined the effort to respond to inquiries from thousands of Muslim seekers who write to Horizons’ Arabic-language Facebook platform, Pure Heart of the Middle East.
Similarly, Horizons’ discipleship group leaders have taken advantage of class cancellations due to the coronavirus outbreak, by using their time to further develop the Cubs to Lions curriculum for converts from Islam. They have also continued to disciple and care for refugees via WhatsApp groups.
How Can You Help?
For those of you reading who want to help, we invite you to consider any or all of the three initiatives.
- We encourage you to pray for peace and protection in Lebanon, and for Christians to lead the way in spreading hope through bold acts of kindness and love
- You can send financial support to the Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund, which allows Horizons’ Lebanon Team to continue serving at-risk Muslim communities.
- Stay in touch with news updates and developing opportunities to help by following @HorizonsPDE on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.