MS Risk Blog

Public Outrage and Crime across Lebanon

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Lebanon is currently experiencing a multilayer crisis economically, politically, and socially, with a paralyzed government and institutions in disarray, which has intensified public frustration, effectively transforming the country into a fertile ground for criminal activity. Crime incidents have spiked considerably during the 2020-2021 period, as organized groups take advantage of this pervading insecurity across the nation and as some locals resort to crime in order to secure their basic needs. The failing economy has also resulted in a series of protests, which hit a record in March 2021, against a flawed political system that fails to meet its peoples’ needs, dragging them into excessive poverty instead. The political leadership, which is largely viewed as incompetent in coming up with a rescue plan, now finds itself under increasing pressure to prevent the country from total collapse.

Political instability and security concerns in Lebanon have been a reality for many decades now, but mass anti-government demonstrations have been taking place periodically, since October 17, 2019, when the government announced a slew of new taxes, which further worsened economic stability. Eighteen months later, the economic conditions in the country are only deteriorating, affecting the citizens who cannot afford goods and services. Currently, some basic commodities, such as fuel, medicines and food are subsidised but the Central Bank has repeatedly warned that supplies may become increasingly scarce in the short-run. Along with the deteriorating economy, the value of the Lebanese Pound has recently fallen rapidly against the US Dollar. On 2nd of March, the Lebanese currency hit a record low, reaching about 10,000 pounds against the dollar on the black market, leading to a sharp increase in prices. This is better illustrated by the fact that according to the World Food Program, since May 2020 the price of subsidised bread has risen by 91.5%, while the price of a basket of key survival items such as rice, pasta and cooking oil has almost tripled since October 2019. The latest drop was logged two weeks later, with the currency trading in the black market at 15,000 Lebanese pounds to the U.S dollar, which demonstrates a devaluation of national currency of more than 20% within two weeks. Overall, the national currency has lost around 90% of its value against the U.S dollar, while inflation has driven some 55% of the population below the poverty line, the country has defaulted on its debts, and banks have locked most depositors out of their savings. A recent report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Hunger Hotspots, clearly stated that a background of food price increases and the lack of economic growth and rising unemployment, civil unrest and violent clashes are likely to become more frequent. In addition to that, the free-fall of the Lebanese currency has led to delays in the arrival of fuel shipments, leading to more extended power cuts around the country, in some areas reaching more than 12 hours a day.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that demonstrations in Lebanon throughout March could be better described as a commonplace. Being fed up with all the dire straits they have been experiencing over the last months, protesters pour into the streets across Lebanon more and more often, demanding an end to the economic crisis that has prevailed for more than a year and a half of political paralysis. The riots are centredmainly on Beirut and Tripoli, particularly outside governmental buildings, but have also occurred at various locations across the country, such as in the Beqaa Valley and Saida. Αs an expression of their outrage, people blocked many major roads with burning tires, torched garbage bins in many Lebanese cities, and carried banners demanding housing services, education and healthcare services. Violent confrontations were frequently reported during these incidents between protesters and security forces, often resulting in injuries from both sides. However, not even under these severe circumstances, did political parties managed to agree on a national rescue plan and form a government, putting their demands aside on Lebanese people’s account. President Michael Aoun, representing Christians, and the caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, representing the Sunni, are the main rivals in this political deadlock, accusing one another for acting deliberately, without taking into account the nation’s welfare. Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim party, traditionally an ally of Aoun, has repeatedly urged cabinet formation in order for reforms to be implemented and foreign aid to be unlocked.

The ongoing crisis has fueled insecurity across the country, offering criminality the chance to flourish. A crime spike has emerged in Lebanon and the primary cause is the country’s ongoing political and socio-economic crisis. Taking advantage of this turmoil, organized gangs carry out armed robberies, burglaries, and thefts. Car theft gangs, in particular, are prevalent and have increased by nearly 50% in recent months. Due to the lack of confidence in the banking sector, a considerable portion of Lebanese have opted for storing money in their homes, which is why criminals are increasingly targeting people’s houses. Desperate people resorting to crime, constituted another case in Lebanon, which could become widespread, if the current crisis is not effectively handled. Desperation might force someone to commit a crime in order to find some food, rather than opportunistic criminal activity. Meanwhile, being overburdened with tackling anti-government unrest and enforcing various Covid-19 restrictions, Lebanese security forces have been drained and unable to fulfil their duties. Data collected from the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and other authoritative sources indicate that theft crimes increased by 144% during January and February 2021 compared to the same period last year, while homicides have also increased sharply by 45.5% during the same period. Therefore, the landscape seems to have become quite insecure for Lebanese, mainly in large cities such as Beirut and Tripoli. It is remarkable that despite the Covid-10 pandemic and the consequent restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus across the country, crime scenes are not decreasing, compared to last year, when the outbreak of the pandemic in April played a significant role in the decline of crime. Experts also confirmed that robbery of shops and pharmacies has become more common in recent months, since the value of robbing pharmacies today is extremely high and their security levels are low.

That being said, it becomes apparent that the freefalling economy of Lebanon is a primary driver behind the sudden spike in crime, since early 2020. Citizens have long been fighting with dire economic conditions and a caretaker government, which has failed to provide the essentials to its people. Although the population has expressed its outrage through demonstrations, damages and daily confrontations with security forces, no significant changes have been made, pushing Lebanon to the edge. In addition to that, criminal gangs have taken advantage of this crisis, increasing insecurity even more. Consequently, as long as economic crisis deepens and as the various political figures do not allow the formation of a fully empowered government, it is highly likely that crime rates will be higher in the future and social cohesion will be further eroded, posing a serious threat of a civil conflict.