It is hard to imagine that this is the same Beirut that has seen so many odes to the unparalleled revelry of its bar scene — the favorite subject and haunt of many a Western journalist — written in every major newspaper.
Those articles repeatedly peddled the same myth that we are so eager to believe about ourselves: The Lebanese know how to dance while the bullets fly, how to repurpose even war bunkers into nightclubs, how to find a way around every shortage, because the Lebanese are resourceful and resilient. It is an idea that has served both as consolation for difficult living conditions and a point of pride for how efficiently we manage them.
But now it has become clear that there is nothing truly resilient about Lebanon except its politicians and ancient warlords, who refuse to step down, even after their profiteering has bankrupted the country and its people. And while Lebanese banks have long been deemed resilient by economists, the current situation reveals that this designation belongs only to the bankers themselves.
Even the International Monetary Fund, the so-called “lender of last resort,” cannot bring the banks to agree on the audit of financial losses required to unlock a loan. Two high-ranking officials have so far resigned over the stalled negotiations. One of them, Alain Bifani, a former director general of the Finance Ministry, revealed that bankers smuggled close to $6 billion outside the country while preventing small depositors from withdrawing so much as $100.
Christine Tohme is the curator and founder of Ashkal Alwan, an organization that supports local art and cultural production. She started operating it out of her car in 1993, two years after the end of the civil war. Over the last 27 years, despite a lack of state funding, the organization ran a prestigious art study program that sees applicants from across the world. This year, the program was forced to end early when funds meant for students were seized by the banks. “We all worked so hard to make things better, and look where we are now,” said Ms. Tohme. “I am so sad about not being able to dream or see into a future. I am exhausted.”
That exhaustion is heavy in the voices and faces of everyone I encounter. Perhaps resilience has always been the lie we have been fed and that we continue to tell ourselves in order to keep functioning under a state so corrupt it cannot provide a bare minimum of public or social services.
A state that thinks so little of its people that it bickered over the pittance of financial aid it promised to hungry families during the pandemic until devaluation reduced the worth of the aid that each family was getting from $180 to about $50. And then it was never distributed.
But the protests late last year were evidence that refusing to accept resilience is also a refusal to accept the conditions that made it necessary for us to rely on the idea in the first place. A refusal to find private solutions to problems that should rightfully be solved by the state. If things seem bleak now, at least there is this: We have finally come to recognize that a myth is poor consolation for a half-lived life, no matter how attractive that myth might be.
Lina Mounzer is a Lebanese writer and translator.
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