LEBANON – Lebanon’s economic collapse spells doom for Mideast Christians

New York Post | David J. Malloy, Gregory Mansour and Abdallah Elias Zaidan | March 2, 2020

Last month, the US Senate confirmed America’s new ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea. She will need all the help she can get. Although the ambassador is well-respected for her regional expertise, she is dealing with a country on the verge of economic “implosion,” according to the World Bank, and one mired in formidable humanitarian and security challenges. Lebanon’s Christian community, the largest in the Middle East (excluding Egypt), is at risk.

She should have the help of a special envoy who can bolster and broaden her outreach.

Ambassador Shea takes up her post just as that small Mediterranean country is poised to hit rock bottom in a downward economic spiral brought on by entrenched governmental mismanagement. For years, the government has failed to meet international goals for reducing deficit spending. It even passed up generous aid by Cedre, a multilateral donors’ conference for Lebanon, rather than adopt reforms.

March 9 marks the first of several deadlines over the next quarter, when Beirut is obligated to repay billions of dollars in Eurobonds. A sovereign default, which seems likely, could result in the collapse of Lebanon’s banking system, wiping out depositors’ savings and bankrupting businesses and government services.

The United Nations’ top official in Lebanon warns that thousands of Lebanese could be driven out by economic despair. Many Christians are not waiting for the state to fail, according to Lebanese sources. The exodus has already begun.

All 18 of the country’s religious communities are feeling economic pain. Forty percent of the population is living in poverty, according to the government’s own statistics, and that number could soon reach 50 to 70 percent.

Lebanon’s hundreds of Christian charities are depleting their reserves to serve the needy, irrespective of religion. Hunger is now reported in all parts of Lebanon, as some are no longer able to provide the basic needs for their families. In some places, schoolchildren tell teachers, they haven’t eaten in days. Nationwide, there are critical shortages of medicine, and hospitals are curtailing treatments and have ended nonessential surgeries.