Politics

International community refocuses attention on Lebanon amid economic, political chaos

By Junaid Salman

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Lebanese queue for bread in front of a bakery in the southern coastal city of Sidon on August 13 amidst a deepening economic crisis sparking various shortages of basic staples in the country. [Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP]

BEIRUT -- The international community is paying close attention as Lebanon navigates a potential economic collapse, refugee crisis and ongoing Iranian interference.

French President Emmanuel Macron last year made two back-to-back visits to Lebanon and has since convened aid conferences to help the country, with the latest taking place August 4.

Timed to meet the first anniversary of the August 2020 port blast that claimed hundreds of lives in Beirut, new pledges totalled about $370 million, Macron's office said.

In addition, there were promises of "substantial aid in kind", AFP reported.

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A Lebanese soldier directs traffic at a petrol station in Beirut on August 14, after soldiers were deployed to force several stations to reopen their doors. [Anwar Amro/AFP]

But as world leaders dug into their pockets to help, they also said that Lebanon's leaders needed to do better in dealing with the fallout from last year's massive blast.

"I think that Lebanese leaders... owe their people the truth and transparency," Macron told the conference.

Fuel, medicine and food have all grown scarce in Lebanon as political parties bicker over the makeup of a new government, holding up a much-needed international bailout.

Concerns over Lebanon

The latest aid reflects the concerns of the international community.

Lebanon is strategically significant for the international community for several reasons, including its location on the Mediterranean coast, according to international relations professor Imad Salameh.

The presence of a large number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is also a humanitarian concern, he said.

Moreover, the international community is concerned about the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)'s influence on the country -- through its proxy Hizbullah -- and its use of Lebanon as a base for implementing the Iranian regime's expansionist agenda, Salameh said.

International concerns over Lebanon have grown since last year as the situation in the country "has reached a state of imminent implosion", said journalist George Chahine.

He said the state's failure to provide basic public services, which will definitely affect the stability of the largest per capita refugee population in the world, is concerning.

Charles Jabbour, another journalist, said international concern over Lebanon has "intensified in the wake of the Beirut port explosions, as... the Lebanese are suffering from a political vacuum coupled with an economic collapse".

The international community worries that "Lebanon could plunge into chaos" and is seeking, through its direct assistance to the public, to prevent the worst from happening, he said.

The responsibility rests primarily with Lebanese officials, and the international community is doing all it can, "as it is pushing for reform and for forming a legitimate government while considering imposing sanctions on obstructionists," Jabbour said.

Iranian threat

Of particular concern to the international community is "the extension of the Iranian incursion into Lebanon", Chahine said.

Many Lebanese claim Iran-backed Hizbullah is at the root of the country's problems, blaming it for Lebanon's seeming inability to pull itself out of crisis.

The party, which continues to exercise control over the political decision-making process, is designated a terror organisation by the United States and some European countries.

Its entrenchment in Lebanon is considered to be the main reason why talks with the International Monetary Fund have stalled, blocking a key lifeline.

On August 9, the US Department of State's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation announced it was putting Hizbullah on its blacklist for violating the arms embargo on Iran, Syria and North Korea.

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