Three new problems
Three developments since 2019 have worsened the situation.
First, the government tried to raise money by imposing a tax on all WhatsApp calls, which many Lebanese families use because phone calls are so expensive. The tax infuriated people — many of whom saw it as another example of government-imposed inequality — and prompted large and sometimes violent protests. “People outside looked at the country and said, ‘Why would I involve my business in a place like that?,’” Ben said.
Second, the pandemic hurt Lebanon’s already vulnerable economy. Tourism, which made up 18 percent of Lebanon’s prepandemic economy, was hit especially hard.
Third, a huge explosion at the port in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, in August 2020 killed more than 200 people and destroyed several thriving neighborhoods. “A lot of people couldn’t afford to fix their homes,” Ben said. (This Times project takes you inside the port and shows how corruption helped to make the explosion possible.)
Lebanon formed a new government last month, for the first time since the explosion. The prime minister is Najib Mikati, a billionaire who held the position two previous times since 2005.
The French government and other outsiders have pushed the Lebanese government to enact reforms, but there is little evidence it will. The Biden administration, focused on other parts of the world, has chosen not to become deeply involved.