A development expert rejects the automatic link between the Lebanese economic crisis and the rise in crime rates, because “poverty may be just a small factor among a series of other factors, the first of which is the absence of the state and the ease of lawlessness.”
Beirut- With the escalation of the economic crisis in Lebanon, its cities and towns are witnessing an increase in the phenomenon of theft with unprecedented methods and rates, affecting public and private properties, especially those that can be sold – such as scrap – in dollars on the black market, where their exchange exceeded the ceiling of 23 thousand pounds, while it is officially spent at 1500 pounds. , as an imaginary number that does not reflect the value of the currency realistically.
Concern characterizes the diaries of the Lebanese, after the collapse shook the basic pillars of their livelihood, and extended to their individual and societal security, due to the high crime rates, and the increase in violence as a result of the exacerbation of life needs, the practices of power, the beating of the middle class and the dissipation of accountability mechanisms.
After the end of the civil war in 1989, the capital, Beirut, enjoyed relative safety compared to its suburbs. But in recent months, thefts have increased at an alarming rate, according to a statement by its mayor, Jamal Itani, to Al Jazeera Net.
Itani talks about strange thefts; Iron gates and sewage rigs (sewage covers in the streets) are affected, “in Beirut alone, about 300 reagars were stolen, and every time the municipality puts in place an alternative, the thieves snatched it away.”
The mayor links the high rates of theft to long hours of power cuts and the outage of lights, which makes Beirut dark at night, “which also contributed to the theft of motorcycles and the pickpocketing of women’s bags.” He said that the spread of thefts cost the municipality tens of thousands of dollars in losses.
In northern Lebanon, the governor of Akkar, Imad Labaki, complains to Al Jazeera Net about an alarming rise in the rate of thefts, affecting, for example, “electrical wires, cars, batteries, rents and agricultural tools, not to mention the thieves breaking into abandoned homes and stealing their salable possessions.”
The governor of Baalbek-Hermel, Bashir Khader, talks about the same thefts in his towns, and says that the economic crisis prompted those looking for a living to steal. And the exploitation of professional thieves adds to the crisis and threatens the peace of the population, which is caught between declining security and living suffering.
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A report prepared by the Lebanese “International Information” company revealed a significant increase in the rates of theft and murder, and compared the first ten months of 2021 with the same period in 2019, that is, before the wheels of collapse in Lebanon rolled.
According to the recently issued report, theft crimes increased by 265%, and murders by 101 percent. During this period in 2019, 89 murders occurred in Lebanon, while 179 crimes occurred in the same period in 2021.
As for theft, it increased from 1,314 incidents in 2019 to 4,804 in 2021. The report cited an example of an increase in the rate of car theft by 213%, from 351 thefts in the target period in 2019 to 1,097 in 2021.
In parallel, the data of the Internal Security Forces – in a comparison between 2020 and 2021 – indicates that there are different numbers that reflect a relative convergence between them, but they recorded a significant increase in the rates of murder and theft compared to the same period before the fall of 2019.
According to the security forces, car thefts increased between 2022 and 2021 at a rate of 40%, while theft of their contents decreased by 16%, and pickpockets decreased by 12.84%. While thefts alone rose by 130.8%, and murders by 2.5%.
The collapse pushed Lebanon throughout 2021 to an abyss compared to the beginning of the crisis, for several reasons; These include political, governmental and judicial insurrections, specifically after the explosion of the Port of Beirut in August 2020, the lifting of fuel subsidies, the rationalization of drug subsidies and their reaching record prices, the dissolution of public administrations and educational institutions, the spread of unemployment and the layoffs of workers.
Poverty affects about 75% of the population in Lebanon, at a time when the cost of the food basket increased by about 10 times, the lira continued to collapse, purchasing power was destroyed, and the minimum wage became less than 30 dollars per month, meaning that some families live on one dollar a day.
Maha Kayyal, an academic and former head of the Institute of Social Sciences at the Lebanese University, says that the crises that Lebanon has been going through – specifically since the end of 2019 – have put its residents in front of many challenges, after they lost their capabilities, and made them in a daily race charged with anxiety and fear, to secure the basics of their livelihood. This situation – says Kayal – automatically reinforces the grounds of violence, “in exchange for the absence of the authorities, which do not put a horizon for a solution and herald the worst.”
The Academy notes that the Lebanese are left to a violent atmosphere that dominates their general atmosphere, especially after the dispersal of the middle class that previously embodied the balance in society.
She told Al Jazeera Net, that striking the judicial and security system contributed to the spread of crime, as thieves and criminals are not pursued or held accountable, in exchange for invoking chaos and the persecution of the strongest for the weakest, noting that Lebanon witnessed the crime of the age by bombing the port, and everyone flees from accountability. Therefore, changing the value scale, in contrast to the decline of high-level models of society due to their emigration or relinquishment and the disintegration of the middle class, is the weakest means of protecting the Lebanese, in her opinion.
Poverty is not alone
On the other hand, Adib Nehme, a former advisor to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and an expert on sustainable development, refuses to automatically link the Lebanese crisis and the rise in crime rates, because the latter, in his opinion, is not caused by a single factor, and “poverty.” It may be just a small factor among a series of other factors, the first of which is the absence of the state and the ease of breaking the law.”
Nehme finds that digital data on crime rates is insufficient to read the reality of society and dissect the motives for crime. Because these rates “must be accompanied by data on individuals, their ages, family ties, backgrounds, region composition, occupation, or level of education.”
Accordingly, the expert cautions that the perpetrator of the crimes of murder and theft possesses two things; An element of protection and a feeling of strength. He may derive them from the absence of the state and the fragility of the law, or from other motives.
Therefore, the high rates of theft and murder cannot be linked to poverty, and it does not mean at all the inclination of the poor to crimes, according to Nima, because those who often commit them are not only an individual, but a network or “a group” and a gang, and “even small thefts of cables and regals, require the owner of the To network with others to sell it and facilitate his way.”
Nehme goes even further, considering that the Lebanese reaction to what happened to them on the standard of living is much less than expected and does not match the size of the crisis. “We have not reached the stage of extreme or medium violence, and if these circumstances had occurred in another country, we would have witnessed scenes of violence and broader anger against the authority and its policies.”