Severity: Warning Alert

Transportation: Protests likely to persist nationwide in Lebanon through at least June. Related strikes, travel disruptions likely.

This alert affects Lebanon

This alert began 27 Apr 2020 23:13 GMT and is scheduled to expire 30 Jun 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Event: Protests, strikes
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Through at least June
  • Impact: Increased security; transport and commercial disruptions; possible violence

Summary
Nationwide anti-government demonstrations and strikes will likely persist in Lebanon through at least June. Despite the imposition of movement restrictions to combat the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), protesters have continued to rally against the country's rising rates of unemployment, devaluation of the currency, and financial policies. Protesters are particularly frustrated with banks and financial institutions, which have imposed capital controls on withdrawals and transfers. Widespread business closures and unemployment under the country's nationwide lockdown further contribute to the public's economic grievances and increase the potential for civil unrest.

Absent a rapid improvement in the economic situation, demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, and roadblocks will likely continue nationwide, including in Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, and Tyre. Prominent rally sites include public squares, government buildings, and city centers. In Beirut, protests will likely continue to materialize on Riad el-Solh Road, Martyr's Square, and near the government palace.

Roadblocks surrounding Beirut have occasionally prevented medical teams from deploying nationwide to conduct COVID-19 testing. Demonstrators will likely continue to sporadically barricade main roadways during protests, prompting ground travel disruptions. Transport disruptions and strikes could also result in further commercial disruptions. Security forces will almost certainly continue to monitor and respond to all protests and roadblocks. Clashes between security forces and protesters are likely if protesters ignore police orders or are overly disruptive.

Protesters have engaged in acts of vandalism against public and private property. Banks, which have imposed capital controls and have limited withdrawals and foreign transfers, will likely continue to be targeted. Notably, a branch of the Bank of France in Sidon was targeted with an explosive device on April 25. Additional similar incidents cannot be ruled out. Periodic bank closures in response to the demonstrations have been occurring throughout Lebanon; further bank closures are possible and will likely result in low cash supplies at ATMs.

Background and Analysis
Lebanon is one of the world's most indebted countries with a debt to GDP ratio of over 150 percent. Anti-government demonstrations condemning corruption and economic mismanagement erupted nationwide in mid-October 2019 over the imposition of a tax on WhatsApp calling and other internet calling platforms. The unrest prompted former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign; however, his resignation failed to appease the protesters, who continue to demand an overhaul of Lebanon's entire political system via sweeping reforms and early elections. Lebanon's new government headed by current Prime Minister Hassan Diab won a vote of confidence from parliament Feb. 11 despite nationwide protests that rejected the vote. Protesters argued that Diab's government gives the illusion of reform without substantive change, as his ministers were selected by the same entrenched political elite. Diab has vowed to implement a series of reforms to address the country's dire economic situation. However, his government faces a host of economic problems, including inflation, devalued currency, high unemployment, and large public debt.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the issues faced by Lebanon's government by further straining limited government resources and currency reserves. Authorities confirmed the country's first COVID-19 case in late February as Lebanon's financial problems hit an all-time low. The government defaulted on its debt for the first time in history when it opted not to make its payment on a USD 1.2 billion Eurobond due March 9. The payment would have depleted Lebanon's critically low reserves of foreign currency, which the government has vowed to preserve for critical imports such as food, fuel, and medicine. The government will enter negotiations with creditors regarding restructuring the remainder of its USD 31 billion public debt. However, Lebanon's credit ratings and its reputation in global financial markets have suffered. As a result, Lebanon lacks sufficient funds to execute an effective public health response to the pandemic. The government has struggled to acquire the necessary medical supplies, pay healthcare workers, and provide aid to its citizens and businesses. The ongoing pandemic has thus worsened the conditions that initially sparked the anti-government demonstrations and has furthered the public's underlying distrust of government.

Advice
Liaise with trusted contacts regarding protest sites, and maintain contact with diplomatic missions. Avoid all demonstrations due to the potential for localized clashes or other security incidents. Allow significant extra time to reach destinations in city centers in Lebanon until the protests abate. Do not attempt to pass through roadblocks; wait for authorities to remove them. Be alert for residual debris and sharp objects if driving on previously blocked roads. Heed the instructions of local security personnel. Remain courteous and cooperative if approached and questioned by law enforcement officers. Reconfirm business appointments.

 


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