By Devin Watkins
Lebanon lurched into a political crisis in mid-October 2019. Protesters took to the streets against government plans to tax WhatsApp, a messaging service.
The movement quickly turned into an anti-government protest which led to the resignation of then-Prime Minster Saad Hariri.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Lebanon is now in the grips of a crisis that has left millions wondering if they will have enough to eat.
Political gridlock weighs on Lebanese
According to Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, the country’s political crisis prepared the ground for the economic, financial, and social crises.
Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Giancarlo Lavella, the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch said the political crisis is due in large part to the interference of Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist political party and militant group.
Hezbollah, said Cardinal Raï, “sidelines the State, and declares war and peace wherever it chooses. It helped precipitate war in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.”
He added that the US, the EU, and other Gulf states are hesitant to help Lebanon out of its “grave economic crisis” because they refuse to offer any form of help to a government controlled by Hezbollah.
“That’s why we’re paying the price,” he said. “Lebanese are living with constant hunger.”
Keeping families alive
Cardinal Raï went on to describe the work of the Catholic Church and her institutions in helping people left in want due to the crisis.
“We have created a network in Lebanon to help families in need and keep any family from dying of hunger,” he said. “Half of the Lebanese population lives without the food they need, and many are out of work.”
A recent report by the UN World Food Programme said 50 percent of Lebanese citizens – along with 63 percent of Palestinians and 75 percent of Syrians in the country – had expressed doubts they would find enough food over the previous month.
The war in neighboring Syria has forced many to flee to Lebanon, which has taken in some 1.5 million Syrian refugees since the war erupted in 2011. Add to that around half a million Palestinian refugees and the country is hosting more than 2 million refugees, with a Lebanese population of 4 million.
“All of them want to work and live, and it is their right,” said Cardinal Raï. “But they do so at the burden of the Lebanese people.”
Save Lebanon from political situation
He called on the international community to help Lebanon so that refugees might return home and “live dignified lives in their home countries.”
“To them we say, it is not that we don’t want you,” assured Cardinal Raï, “but you have a history, a nation, a civilization. Go and continue your lives as citizens.”
He said the refugees’ continued permanence in Lebanon risks leading them to destroy their own identity and culture.
“We need to save Lebanon,” concluded Cardinal Raï, “and not let it be dragged through this political situation.”