Lebanon days away from ‘social explosion’, PM Diab warns

World Bank has called Lebanon’s crisis one of worst depressions of modern history as half of population lives in poverty.

Lebanon Diab
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said only a new cabinet could restart talks with the International Monetary Fund [File: Dalati Nohra/Handout via Reuters]

Lebanon is a few days away from a “social explosion”, caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab has warned, calling on the international community to save a country in deep economic crisis.

The World Bank has called Lebanon’s crisis one of the worst depressions of modern history. The currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value and more than half of the population has been propelled into poverty.

Anger over fuel shortages has spilled into fights at petrol stations and the prime minister appeared to be warning of the prospect of more unrest.

“Lebanon is a few days away from the social explosion. The Lebanese are facing this dark fate alone,” Diab said in a speech at a meeting with ambassadors and representatives of diplomatic missions in Beirut.

Translation: Diab during the ambassadors’ meeting: As we gather here, the streets of Lebanon are full of cars queueing in front of gas stations. And there are those searching in pharmacies for medicine and a can of baby formula. Inside their own homes, the Lebanese are living without electricity.

Diab has been serving in a caretaker capacity since resigning in the wake of the catastrophic August 4 Beirut port explosion. Since then, fractious sectarian politicians have been unable to agree on a new government.

He urged friendly nations to extend assistance despite the lack of a new government, saying that linking aid to reform of a deeply corrupt system has become a “threat to the lives of Lebanese” and to the country’s stability.

“I appeal through you to the kings, princes, presidents and leaders of brotherly and friendly countries, and I call upon the United Nations and all international bodies, the international community, and the global public opinion to help save the Lebanese from death and prevent the demise of Lebanon,” he told the diplomats.

Diab also said only a new cabinet could restart talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“This government does not have the right to resume negotiations with the IMF to implement the recovery plan set by the cabinet, for this entails obligations on the next government that it may not endorse,” he said.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief told Lebanon’s leaders last month they were to blame for the political and economic crisis and some could face sanctions if they continue to obstruct steps to form a new government and implement reform.

‘This is hell’

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said the politicians – which many Lebanese hold responsible for running the economy into the ground – are fixated on a power struggle over who will control the next government, and are blaming the international community for not bailing them out.

“These politicians are blaming the international community for demanding that a government that is able and willing to carry out financial and administrative reforms as well as fight corruption is formed before they unlock financial assistance,” she said, speaking from the capital Beirut.

“The country has been in a crisis for more than a year,” she added. “There’s no basic services in this country, no infrastructure.”

A motorcyclist outside a petrol station in Beirut where long queues had formed told Al Jazeera that life in Lebanon had become “hell”.

“We cannot live any more,” he said.

“We have money but we cannot buy anything. This is not life, this is hell.”

Fuel prices have hiked by 50 percent, and the majority of Lebanese do not get more than two hours of electricity a day.

Furthermore, hyperinflation has resulted in the tripling of food prices in the past several months, while minimum wage – at $50 – has remained the same.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies