A deadlocked power struggle in Lebanon between political leaders who are more influenced by Saudi Arabia and those more influenced by Iran is leaving ordinary citizens paying the price.
Lebanon’s problems seem to be so difficult to overcome right now that some are seeking divine intervention. This Thursday, Christian leaders from the country will gather at the Vatican with Pope Francis for a “Day of Prayer and Reflection for Lebanon.”
Vatican News says the summit is intended to “help revive hope and peace in a country oppressed by years of political, economic and social crises, which came to a head in the violent explosion of August 2020 at Beirut port, which shattered the city.”
The summit for Lebanon is “a day for prayer, in communion with all the different Christians of Lebanon and their leaders,” said Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron, based in Brooklyn, New York. “It’s not really a political advocacy, although it has political implications, because the Holy Father is bringing attention to this serious situation of Lebanon, which can only be managed by prayer, by a miracle, a change of hearts.”
Bishop Mansour, who was in Lebanon last week for the synod of bishops meeting with the head of the church, Patriarch Béchara Boutrous Raï, said that the Lebanese Pound has been devalued by 90% over the past year. A family has to make do with only a tenth of what funds they had a year ago.
“With the government in disarray there are all kinds of rules and regulations for the banking industry that need to be put in place by a common government,” the bishop said in an interview. “I know a young family whose mother deposited her paycheck and got only half of it. The bank can only give so much cash. She asked what will happen to the other half and the banker said ‘We hope it will be there once you’re able to take it out again.’ The wealthy who have their money in Lebanon are not able to pull it out to help the poor.”
Bishop Mansour pointed out that Patriarch Raï, in reaction to the outsized influence from both Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran on political leaders in Lebanon, “has been very consistent in saying two things: Lebanon needs to become like a Switzerland of the Middle East in its neutrality, and second, he wants an international conference on Lebanon at the United Nations.”
Recent popes, especially Pope St. John Paul II, have upheld Lebanon’s model of Christians and Muslims living and working together in harmony, the bishop pointed out.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief this month urged sparring Lebanese leaders to set aside their power struggle and form a cabinet or risk a total financial crash and sanctions.
“Speaking after talks with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and House Speaker Nabih Berri, Josep Borrell said he delivered a frank message that some leaders could face sanctions if they continued to block steps to form a new government and implement badly needed reforms,” Reuters reported June 20.
“The country is in big financial trouble and in order to solve the economic crisis they need a government,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief. “A ship in the middle of a storm needs a captain, needs a crew for the system to work … If not, the ship will sink.”
Borrell said Lebanon needed a government with technical capacity and real authority to avoid the failure of the outgoing government of Hassan Diab, which he said presented a sound financial reform plan that was blocked by politicians.
Lebanon’s currency has lost 90% of its value. More than half the population are living in poverty while grappling with raging inflation, power blackouts and shortages of fuel and food.
The crisis has been aggravated by political deadlock, with Hariri at loggerheads with Aoun for months over forming a new government.
Borrell said foreign aid would not flow without a government that engaged with the International Monetary Fund and delivered reforms to tackle corruption and mismanagement of funds. But he said the leaders he met were pessimistic about making progress.
In the meantime, there has been a disproportionate number of Christians emigrating from Lebanon. “They feel that it’s easier for them just to leave,” Bishop Mansour said. “They’re educated with different languages, they’re professional people, and they feel that Lebanon is not going to offer them much to help them raise their families.”
He said that he sees Thursday’s Vatican summit as similar to the day of prayer and fasting for Syria Pope Francis called for a few years ago, when Syria was “on the brink.”
“I think this is a very strong, powerful request to ask the people of God to intercede and to ask the saints to intercede for Lebanon,” Bishop Mansour said. “I think it’s the same approach. … It’s gathering the Christian leaders, strengthening their communion with one another, helping Christians be more and more unified. This is a helpful gesture.”