The unrest in Iraq and Lebanon

Demonstrations in Iraq, Lebanon and other Arab countries are expressing long pent-up frustrations, including distrust of politicians.
Saturday 05/10/2019
An Iraqi protester flashes the V for victory sign as a riot police vehicle burns behind him during demonstrations against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment, in Baghdad's central Tayeran Square, October 3. (AFP)
An Iraqi protester flashes the V for victory sign as a riot police vehicle burns behind him during demonstrations against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment, in Baghdad's central Tayeran Square, October 3. (AFP)

Unemployment, deteriorating standards of living and suspicion of government corruption are once again proving to be a combustible mix in many parts of the region.

Demonstrations in Iraq, Lebanon and other Arab countries are expressing long pent-up frustrations, including distrust of politicians. More than 0 demonstrators have been killed in Iraq where denunciation of corruption seemed to be the leitmotiv.

Chatham House researcher Toby Dodge stated: “Politically sanctioned corruption among senior politicians and civil servants is systematically undermining popular faith in the Iraqi government.”

Sectarian quotas are no stranger to the problem of institutionalised corruption. The disproportionate role of the pro-Iranian militias in public life has made Iraq’s situation even more dire.

The suspected haemorrhaging of public funds is huge — estimated at about $450 billion since 2004. Iraq ranks 168th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2018 “Corruption Perception Index.”

A US National Democratic Institute survey of Iraqis last summer reported that “very large majorities” of respondents said three key issues were worsening: corruption (83% said it was getting worse), job opportunities (83%) and cost of living (73%).

The same priorities could be duplicated in Lebanon. Protests there at the end of September were the latest manifestation of public anger and distrust in the government’s ability to introduce long-delayed reforms to shore up the staggering economy and bring in much-needed financial support promised during the CEDRE conference. Lebanon experts see Hezbollah using the protests to pressure the country into opposing US banking sanctions.

The economic crisis has worsened in the past two weeks, with worries about the dollar-reliant local currency losing value for the first time in more than two decades.

Despite tens of billions of dollars spent since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990, Lebanon has crumbling infrastructure, including hours-long daily electricity cuts, trash piles in the streets and sporadic supplies from the state-owned water company.

The crisis of confidence between the public and authorities has reached unprecedented levels. Political leaders are largely blamed for mismanagement and corruption. Lebanon ranked 138th on the “Corruption Perceptions Index.”

The unemployment rate for the under 35s runs at 37%. As in many parts the Arab world, it affects young university graduates more than others.

Lebanon is facing a deep-running fiscal crisis as it staggers under one of the highest debt ratios in the world.

Added to ongoing conflicts, socio-economic grievances and distrust of governments cannot be ignored because they could further destabilise the region if their deep roots are not addressed properly.

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