Lebanon is a Very Sick Country on Minimal Life Support
The country is sick, the economy is sick, and worst of all people are sick, physically and psychologically.
There’s growing acknowledgement in Lebanon that mental health needs attention as people become more unsettled and driven to despair thanks to an epic financial meltdown, lost savings in zombie banks involved in an unprecedented Ponzi scheme, endemic corruption in the public and private sectors, Covid-19 and its ramifications, chronic power cuts, hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, spiking unemployment, mass migration of professionals, and record-high crime.
It’s a lethal mix and there’s no light at the end of this long tunnel.
“I can’t forget my first visit to a therapist, I went with great hesitation and tried to postpone the matter many times,” said Fouad Bou Ghader of a recurring chat he’s had with friends seeking help before writing a gut-wrenching article in Annahar daily.
The reality of Lebanon’s mental health situation is very difficult for its youth: many have been broken by the economic crisis, many have lived through tough childhoods with lingering effects, many saw the August 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion exemplifying the end of the world, but many have also hesitated to seek help because of its stigma and being associated with “lunatics,” he added.
Mounting pressures, including almost being unable to obtain a hard-to-get passport because of a severe shortage of Lebanese travel documents, prompted Myriam Dalal to write the must-read piece “Why I left Lebanon and Became a Transitional Citizen”
I’ve moved in and out of at least seven different places since the August 4th Beirut Port blast, nearly two years ago…maybe more. I’ve lost count. I had left Lebanon because I came to realize that this country that I was told was mine, actually wasn’t. This understanding felt more like an aha moment, in which I became aware that an institutional/governmental declaration asserting your adherence to some country would not guarantee your feeling of belonging to this piece of land that your parents passed on to you. Lebanon was not my country, it belonged to someone else, and it was something I saw very clearly in the year preceding my departure. The thing is, once you see something, you cannot unsee it — I love it when the English language proves the impossibility of such an act by showing you the absurdity in using the verb’s contrary…you know, like unlove.
Philip Abouzeid, a senior reporter and producer at the MTV Lebanon channel, tweeted a picture of two Lebanese passports and an arial view of the capital Beirut with the comment:
“We want passports to be able to travel, and learn, and keep a beautiful image of our country, more beautiful than your ugliness. There’s nothing beautiful about Lebanon except its people. Its rulers have deprived us of the most basic rights.”
He signed off with the trending “I want my passport” hashtag.
Lebanese officials claim the passport shortage is due to a lack of hard currency to pay the French company that produces the documents but critics insist deprivation of the right to travel is intentional by a criminal ruling class hellbent on imprisoning an entire already traumatized population.
The Lebanese education sector has also been hard hit.
Students and teachers are drained, not knowing if official year-end exams that sap their physical and mental energies will be held and under what conditions, given challenges like not having power for lights by which to study, any reliable internet service for online courses and an education minister’s directive to trim the academic load, which will undoubtedly come back to haunt them as they apply for university admission where the shaved-off subjects are required.
The end of the academic year in Lebanon has led to confused official exams and exhausted students and teachers, wrote Youssef Al Amin in Daraj, an online news site.
“Because of the current situation and fuel crisis, public and private schools have had to revert to blended or hybrid teaching,” he said. “Political chaos the past two years have weighed down on the education sector and according to a Human Rights Watch report, at least 700,000 out of two million school age children in Lebanon were out of school last academic year and in some regions the rate of child labor jumped to 45 percent.”
Rather than remedy the country’s countless earth-shattering problems, government officials and religious leaders tried to divert attention from such “pesky” issues by cracking down on organizers of Pride Week activities with a slew of attacks on the LGBTQ+ community and triggering a trend of “sexual perversion” posts on Twitter.
To which feminists and social activists retorted that those in power would do better to chase violent abusers, sexual harassers, anyone charged with femicide, corrupt officials, criminals behind the Beirut port blast — several of who serve in high government positions — and anyone involved in bringing the country to its knees.
Lebanon’s French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour shed light on officialdom’s hypocrisy by publishing a deep dive report entitled “Homosexuality and the Arab-Muslim World, The Collective Amnesia.”
In it, journalist Stéphanie Khouri documented pre-modern Arabic literature’s plentiful examples, with ample Orientalist illustrations, of alternative sexuality dating back to the Middle Ages.
She artfully and persuasively debunked myths by holier-than-thou patriarchal, puritanical guardians of morality in government, the religious establishment and the media against “normalizers of homosexuality.”
Arab history and literature were rife with accounts of non-heterosexual relationships and such manifestations were not Western imports, she added.
The anachronism, she wrote, was that Arab-Muslim conservatism regarding sexuality was, above all, a product of modernity, notably Western influence that spread during the colonial period.
“In the 19th century, the general mood of Arab societies evolved, going from tolerance and acceptance to condemnation and rejection,” she quoted Islamic history scholar Suleiman Mourad as saying. Mourad teaches at Smith College in the U.S.
Fast forward to Lebanese preoccupation with the issue, which led a local potato chip manufacturer to issue a “clarification” that a rainbow on one of its products predated the latest controversy by a decade and did not mean support of LGBTQ+ rights.
For its part, the Lebanese Psychiatry Society (LPS), a branch of the country’s Order of Physicians, released a statement in Arabic and English saying what was publicly cited on homosexuality and appeared in social media wasn’t based on science and evidence.
“As psychiatrists, we would like to clarify that homosexuality cannot be considered a disease that requires treatment,” it said, adding that the organization’s position dovetailed with international consensus held in the medical and healthcare community for decades, and was consistent with LPS’s 2013 position statement.
The Society recognized that cultural and religious differences in perspective would continue to exist in terms of social acceptability of any behavior — sexual, or otherwise — and encouraged respectful debate on the matter.
But it emphasized the importance of avoiding offensive and threatening language that could endanger individuals’ welfare and safety.
“We also insist on the responsibility of government officials to abide by the Lebanese constitution in protecting human rights from any form of abuse,” LPS said.
According to a sickened, exasperated tweep, the Ten Commandments of living in Lebanon can now be summarized as:
Don’t eat, don’t drink, don’t fill your car with gas, don’t turn on a light or switch on the AC at home, don’t educate your kids, don’t get sick, don’t bathe, don’t sleep with peace of mind, don’t object, and, stay at home.
No wonder Lebanon topped this year’s list of Statista’s “The World’s Angriest Countries,” and by many accounts, the Lebanese suffer from collective PTSD.