Lebanese multi-faceted crisis continues amidst stagnated protests as citizens lose hope.
Jeffrey Battikha, a 24-year-old promising business development executive, has lived in and out of Lebanon throughout his life. He has a deep understanding of the country’s current crisis. Battikha is frustrated with the revolution’s outcome after experiencing internal issues first-hand: “After a year of fight, we are back to square one.”
He claims there is nobody left in the country. Whoever can leave is either already gone or in the process of doing so. The Lebanese crisis could be split into three intertwined issues: a financial and economic collapse, a political crisis, and a refugee emergency.
Add to that the pandemic, the blast that occurred in August, and the proxy war state of the country. “The situation is desperate,” says Battikha, “security footage showing people running into stores to steal diapers, medicine, and food is all over the Internet, and no one is acting on it.”
Battikha was born and raised in Beirut until he was nine. From there, the Battikha family moved to Egypt for over three years. They then lived in Morocco for two more years and returned to Lebanon. He finished his undergraduate studies at the American University of Beirut alongside bartending in a bar that lies in ruins today due to the port’s explosion.
He says: “I felt a big change in the country from when I was a kid to when I went back. Having been exposed to different cultures and having seen how other countries were run, I felt a sort of slap to the face when I understood how deep my country’s divisions were.”
Lebanon is half Christian and half Muslim, and Battikha was raised Catholic. Egypt and Morocco are predominantly Muslim countries, so Christianity forms a tiny minority. Battikha says local Christians were somehow mistreated with attacks on Catholic churches. That reinforced his faith at the time.
The country has always been divided by religion. Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy that includes confessionalism in which high-ranking offices are reserved for members of specific religious groups. As good as it sounds, it arguably doesn’t work. Battikha’s personal opinion is religion should not be included in politics. Faith should be private. In Lebanon, until recently, your official ID stated your religion.
Internal and external wars
“We have never been at peace,” he adds, “there have always been either internal or external conflicts. It is Christians killing Christians, Muslims killing Christians, Muslims killing each other… We have had a war with Israel, we have had one with Syria.” On 17 October 2019, one year ago, the revolution began. Less than a fortnight later, Saad Hariri resigned as Prime Minister along with his whole parliament.
Lebanon got a new PM who lasted three weeks, Hassan Diab. Battikha desperately explains: “After a year of the revolution, however, we are back to square one. Hariri has been reinstated as PM by the ministers. It is almost comical.”
The Lebanese lira has lost over 80 per cent of its value and prices have skyrocketed. Battikha expressed dissatisfaction at being unable to find basic products in shops and added: “There have been three public suicides so far. There are people who have literally immolated -burned alive- themselves in front of government institutions to send a message out.”
Until now, more than three months after the blast in Beirut, no one has been held accountable. About two weeks after the explosion, a couple of Battikha’s friends told him they had soldiers come to their house carrying a tiny box with a few bandages, a couple of sandwiches, and 50p juice. The officials were asking for a picture in exchange for the aid. His voice cracks when he exclaims: “Life doesn’t just go on. People died. People lost their eyes, kids, parents, and homes. This is criminal negligence.”
“I had hope for the revolution last year,” he explains, “I specifically remember a demonstration in which half a million people took part, I then believed we could make a difference.”
Looking at the near future, however, he thinks the country is in a hole. There is a need to bring the currency to its previous value and reform the government into a technocrat and secular organisation. Battikha finally adds: “I think we are headed to a dark place. It is a sad mood in Lebanon at the moment. Nobody is happy.”