Economy

Lebanese blame Hizbullah for exacerbating financial crisis

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

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A wall built to keep protestors away from Lebanon's parliament is seen here on February 17th. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

As Lebanon contends with an economic and financial crisis that has seen the value of its currency plummet, many blame Hizbullah for allying itself with the Iranian regime, embroiling itself in Syria's war and ignoring domestic issues.

"The party has brought harm to Lebanon and the Lebanese," said former shopkeeper Mustafa Hamad of Beirut's Tariq al-Jdideh, who has been camped out in Martyrs Square since the outbreak of protests on October 17th.

"It is true that successive governments since 1990 have pursued faulty financial policies, but they did not harm Lebanon as much as Hizbullah harmed Lebanon and its people with the wars it dragged the country into," he told Al-Mashareq.

"Hizbullah's involvement in the region's wars caused Arab countries friendly to Lebanon to stop their support and pushed the US to impose sanctions," he said.

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The large fist towering over Beirut's Martyrs' Square has become a symbol of the protests that erupted in Lebanon on October 17th. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]   

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Lebanese people walk near protestors' tents in Beirut's Martyrs' Square on February 17th. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq] 

The US Treasury on July 9th imposed new sanctions on Hizbullah, designating for the first time elected officials from the movement.

Lebanese MPs Amin Sherri and Muhammad Hasan Raad were included on a terror-related blacklist, accused of "exploiting Lebanon's political and financial system" to benefit Hizbullah. Also blacklisted was Wafiq Safa, a top Hizbullah official close to party leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The three officials "leverage their positions to facilitate Hizbullah and the Iranian regime's malign efforts to undermine Lebanese sovereignty", US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the time.

Hizbullah's actions and its misjudgment of their consequences "have reflected negatively on Lebanon, and we are paying for them today with a financial and economic collapse", Hamad said.

"Hizbullah contributed to the economic collapse by smuggling goods through illegal crossings, depriving the [Lebanese] treasury of customs revenue, not to mention the pound losing value against the dollar," he said.

Parallel economy saps treasury

"Hizbullah has created a parallel economy in Lebanon and benefited from the black economy," writer and political activist Hanna Saleh told Al-Mashareq.

"It smuggles and directs major operations and deals, depriving the treasury of about a third of its income annually," he said, noting that Hizbullah smuggles goods through the Syrian port of Tartous to Lebanon without paying customs fees.

It uses Beirut's southern suburb, a Hizbullah stronghold, as "a distribution point for smuggled goods", and uses the city's airport, port and close to 140 illegal land border crossings for smuggling, he said.

Since 2006, Hizbullah has controlled a large share of the country's resources, "brought harm to Lebanon and dragged it into the worst economic and financial crisis, with significant repercussions on state services", he said.

"Hizbullah today possesses military capability, military control and veto power over economic decision in Lebanon," Saleh said.

Hizbullah bears major responsibility

The economic and financial crisis in Lebanon shows that Hizbullah "is far detached from the Lebanese political reality", said Charles Jabbour, head of media and communications for the Lebanese Forces.

"The indicators of the collapse did not just emerge suddenly, yet nothing was done to prevent it," he told Al-Mashareq.

"Hizbullah's political mind is outside Lebanon," he said. "It did not give the economic and financial situation utmost importance, nor did it press the need to limit the focus to economic and financial matters."

Despite its talk about fighting and stopping corruption, he said, the party "has not demonstrated any seriousness" in following through.

"All its stances are for media consumption, as it has not taken any practical step to address the electricity [shortages], illegal crossings and customs issues," he said.

Hizbullah "bears a major part of the responsibility" for the economic crisis, Jabbour said, calling on it to withdraw from conflicts in the region, which have had a negative impact on Lebanon, and "lift the cover on its corrupt partners".

Lebanon has reached the point of financial collapse, said Tony Issa, a political analyst who works for al-Joumhouria newspaper.

The current circumstances necessitate "that Lebanon obtain the support of international institutions, starting with the International Monetary Fund (IMF)" if it is to resolve its economic crisis, he told Al-Mashareq.

This means "it will have to comply with the requirements of transparency and reform, eradicate smuggling and tax evasion, and put an end to [partisan] favouritism in the public sector", Issa said.

If Hizbullah does not comply with international requirements, he cautioned, "the whole country will drown, and nobody will be able to bear that".

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