The Lebanese army has been badly affected by the economic crisis that has pushed 78% of the population below the poverty line, until it has become dependent on the help of Western and Arab friends to prevent the crack or collapse of the last institution in Lebanon that is very popular among Lebanese of all faiths for job security.
And the French newspaper, La Croix, said – in a report to its correspondent in Beirut, Jenny Lavon – that the military institution was, until recently, the best institution in terms of job security, and it pays benefits up to 80% of tuition fees, in addition to soft loans and so on, Thus, “it is not easy to leave it, especially for those who have reached a certain age, which forces them to start a new life from scratch,” says Colonel Boulos, who left the institution and asked not to be identified.
Al-Karwa quoted Boulos, who left the army after 20 years of service, that things have changed radically since the beginning of the economic crisis in Lebanon in the fall of 2019, when his salary of 4 million pounds was about 2,650 dollars at that time, before it faded with changes in the price of Exchange the Lebanese pound, which has lost 95% of its value in the parallel market, and becomes about $160, which is not enough for him to go shopping twice.
Paul considers himself fortunate compared to the tragic situation in which some of his soldiers are, because he has kept the benefits associated with his chauffeur-driven rank, fuel vouchers, and extended medical coverage for his family. We all endure,” says his wife, Rita, that “many soldiers are thinking of leaving, and those who have relatives abroad ask for a long vacation and don’t come back.”
turn a blind eye
Like Paul, Ahmed joined the army 5 years ago to serve his country, of course, but also to get a long-term salary. “Who would have thought the country would collapse like this?” Also wonders this 25-year-old soldier, who now earns the equivalent of 50 dollars compared to 800 dollars before the crisis, an amount that evaporates at the beginning of the month between the almost non-existent electricity and the daily expenses of his family.
Therefore – as the reporter says – since 6 months ago, Ahmed has been cutting his job for several days a month to work as a driver and delivery worker, and his superiors turn a blind eye to these actions, as he says, “They know that we are working elsewhere to survive, and I am not the only one in this case.” He took advantage of the festive season and the return of expatriates to his village to earn a few dollars as a driver, which “allowed me to pay off my debts and buy more food for my three children.”
There is no doubt that thousands in the army combine several jobs to survive – according to the correspondence – with the tacit approval of the leadership, and a military source confirmed that “the value of the soldiers’ salaries decreased by about 95% due to the rise in the dollar and inflation,” and therefore it is allowed to work outside the institution within days. Rest on condition of “legitimacy and not violating the values that the army holds,” according to the source.
The correspondent says that it is impossible to identify a phenomenon such as desertion because the army does not address it. Aram Nargizian, an associate researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, estimated the number of Lebanese army soldiers who retired early or cut their careers at about 3,000 soldiers in 2021, due to “pressure.” On officers, non-commissioned officers and other soldiers,” says Nargizian.
With the severe depreciation of the currency, the defense budget for the year 2021, amounting to 2863.8 billion Lebanese pounds in value, has melted, as it decreased from 1.9 billion dollars at the official rate (1,507 pounds to the dollar) to 114.5 million dollars at the parallel rate (25,000 pounds), according to figures Aram Nargizian, and this amount is not sufficient to provide a decent salary to about 60,000 members of the armed forces, in addition to 26,000 police officers from the Internal Security Forces who are no better off than them, according to a security source, estimated that 450 of them have deserted due to the crisis.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Army, General Joseph Aoun, sounded the alarm in March 2021, when he said, addressing political officials, “People are poor and hungry. Wages and pensions have lost their purchasing power. This also applies to the army. What are you doing? What are you waiting for?”
After the army announced in the summer of 2020 that it would not provide meat to its soldiers due to the high prices, the “logistical” arrangements were re-established thanks to in-kind donations from many countries, including food parcels, free transportation, and medicine or medical equipment.
The correspondent adds that since the Lebanese Forces are in charge of carrying out grave tasks, such as protecting the borders, combating terrorism, smuggling and intervening to break up sectarian clashes, the crisis they are going through worries Western friends, because the army – given that it is not politicized, multi-sectarian and not corrupt – is the only institution that does not It remains solid in Lebanon plagued by chaos, and the only institution that still enjoys the confidence of the population.
Washington, in particular, views the Lebanese army, to which it paid military financial aid of $282.10 million in 2021, as the last bulwark against security chaos, and the only counterweight to Hezbollah and its strong military arsenal. It is a reliable partner capable of stabilizing Lebanon and the wider region.”
The correspondence concluded with the question: Will the cash aid and salaries estimated at one hundred dollars for each soldier, which a delegation from the US Congress discussed in Beirut with General Aoun, be sufficient to prevent the army from collapsing? Nergizian said that adjusting wages to match the rising cost of living would be an essential step in strengthening cohesion.