Lebanon. Anger mounts over economic crisis as politicians lag behind | Business and economic news

Pharmacies close and gas stations ration meager fuel reserves as the country plunges deeper into economic collapse.

Pharmacies went on strike and gas stations rationed scarce fuel Thursday across Lebanon as public anger over an accelerated economic collapse escalated with little sign of an end to a high political stalemate. level.

Since late 2019, politicians have failed to agree on a bailout to unlock foreign liquidity that Lebanon desperately needs.

“We really look at the abyss, see it very clearly, and I think it’s now or never,” said Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center, alluding to the prolonged failure to form a new one. viable government capable of initiating reforms. .

He added that major political parties, including President Michel Aoun’s ally, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, are reassessing their positions as delays worsen the economy’s free fall and unrest escalates. .

Aoun on Wednesday told Saad al-Hariri, appointed acting prime minister in October, to form a new government immediately or make way for someone else.

Al-Hariri retaliated by telling Aoun if he could not approve the composition of his cabinet, then the president should call a snap election.

The two met again on Thursday, raising speculation whether there would be a breakthrough after months of faction wrangling.

The Lebanese pound fell 90% in the country’s worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. It has plunged many people into poverty and endangered major imports as dollars dwindle.

A French diplomat said on Wednesday that France, which led the aid efforts to its former colony, and its international partners will seek to step up pressure on Lebanese politicians in the months to come.

Strikes and closures

The currency has collapsed so quickly in recent weeks, losing a third of its value, that grocery stores closed on Wednesday and bakeries warned they may have to follow suit.

Many pharmacies closed their doors on Thursday and launched neon strike signs, the latest sector of the economy to express frustration.

Ali Obaid, a pharmacist from Beirut, said he could no longer meet the expenses. “Pharmacies will close permanently if this continues,” he said.

Comments that subsidies – especially on fuel, wheat and drugs – may end soon have also sparked panic buying.

Banks have imposed informal controls on citizens’ savings and the central bank’s foreign exchange reserves are dwindling in a country dependent on imports for more than 80% of its basic needs.

Cars lined up outside gas stations earlier this week, and scuffles over subsidized products in supermarkets have heightened fears among Lebanese about their most basic needs.

The steep descent from the pound sent protesters to the streets, blocking the roads in anger at a entrenched political elite that has dominated since the Civil War.

But public anger has not spilled over into nationwide protests similar to those in 2019, even as Lebanon suffers from multiple crises, including a surge in coronavirus infections and pressure on the health sector.

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