“Lebanon suffers from poor leadership”

Volker Perthes

Prof. Dr. Volker Perthes (61) is director of the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) in Berlin.

(Photo: SWP)

Berlin The explosion in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, killed at least 135 people and injured more than 5,000. The director of the Science and Politics Foundation, Volker Perthes, lived in Beirut himself. Perthes believes that the tragedy is a symbol of the political crisis.

Lebanon is also doing poorly economically. Rampant corruption means that laws are not complied with. “Obviously important security measures are also ignored,” says the 61-year-old. Aid that has now been offered by many countries should therefore also be linked to the willingness to reform.

Read the full interview here:

Mr. Perthes, you lived in Beirut. How do you assess the situation after the accident?
One of my friends from Beirut told me this morning that it was a great tragedy and shows how badly Lebanon is governed. This impression will remain when the pieces are swept together. The country is not only suffering from an economic crisis and the corona pandemic, but is also in a political crisis of legitimation.

Is the country’s poor leadership also responsible for the disaster?
Yes, corruption is widespread and means that laws are not complied with. Important security measures are obviously also ignored.

What does the tragedy mean for Lebanon’s economy?
It is currently about emergency aid. This is difficult because the country is economically burdened and is neither solvent nor creditworthy. The health system was overloaded before the explosion. People’s wages are falling, many can neither afford doctors nor get enough food. Now large parts of the port in Beirut have also been destroyed, which makes imports more difficult.

Lebanon is home to more than three million refugees, most of them from Syria. Will people make their way to Europe now?
I don’t think there will be a big migration wave from Lebanon now. For some time now, Lebanon has been using less friendly measures to persuade Syrian refugees to return home. On the other hand, many Syrian refugees keep Lebanon’s economy going because they are helping small businesses at very low wages.

What can Europe do now to help Lebanon?
The EU has already offered help. It is less about money than, for example, medical help. The United Nations should coordinate international aid.

How can the country be stabilized in the long term?
Lebanon is already negotiating a longer-term aid program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the EU. Brussels and the IMF have formulated reform requirements for this which are accepted by the Lebanese government. Only they have not yet been implemented, which is why IMF aid is now stalling.

What is this about?
Above all, it is about better political leadership in the country. To fight corruption, to ensure reliable customs revenue in the port of Beirut. Europe should therefore not simply put money on the table, but help to bring the necessary reforms on the way.

Mr. Perthes, thank you very much for the interview.

More: After the disaster in the port of Beirut, the country has to reinvent itself.

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