In the mid-20th century, Lebanon was one of the wealthiest and most prosperous countries in the Middle East. Its capital, Beirut, was once known as the Paris of the Middle East. It was the only state in the Middle East where Christianity was dominant, at one point making up over 60% of the population.
Decades later, "the country is in free fall," according to one expert. A 15-year-long sectarian civil war, an influx of Palestinian and Syrian refugees, foreign interventions, large-scale emigration, and deep corruption turned Lebanon into one of the poorest and least stable countries in a poor and volatile region. The past four years have seen a series of crises that resulted in the collapse of the Lebanese economy and mismanagement contributing to the 2020 Beirut port blast that devastated the city. The once-thriving Christian community has plummeted to roughly one-third of the population.
Dr. Habib C. Malik, a senior fellow on Lebanon and the Christians of the Middle East at the Philos Project, spoke with the Washington Examiner about the worsening situation in the country, specifically that facing its Christians. He is the son of one of Lebanon's most influential figures: diplomat, philosopher, and theologian Charles Malik — one of the eight draftees of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
At the heart of the problem lies the ruling "Mafia-militia cartel," Malik argued. It comprises people of the deeply corrupt ruling class supported by Iran's proxy militia, Hezbollah. The mafia part of the cartel plundered the country for years. That was only realized in 2019 when the Lebanese population became aware of a Ponzi scheme run by the central bank, depleting everyone's savings.
“I had some savings over the years for the education of my children, and they just vanished overnight,” Malik said of how he was affected personally. “Prices are going through the roof, inflation is just skyrocketing.”
The skyrocketing price of heating oil has been particularly difficult as the country struggles through a cold winter.
"We have had to rehabilitate a chimney in our home, which we haven’t used much before," he added. "We saved up firewood, which will last us through the winter."
"The Lebanese have been quite resourceful in trying to cope, but those beneath the poverty line are living in misery. ... People are suffering," he said.
While everyone suffers equally on a daily basis, Malik argued that the Christians in the country are hit especially hard — both in terms of emigration and the lack of any true allies to help.
"The suffering is indeed evenly distributed when you talk about everyday suffering … but the Christians are being hit very hard with emigration, they are leaving. The Christian community here have a very bleak future," he said. He added that the country is hemorrhaging its Christians, particularly its youth.
Representative of the bleak prospects of the youth in the country is Claire Moussa, a 24-year-old Lebanese Catholic who fled the country in 2022. She moved to Bulgaria to be with her boyfriend. There, she is pursuing a career in modeling.
"I had to leave my country because Lebanon is a graveyard of a young person’s dreams. Some people can make it, and I respect them; however, too many doors are closed for people like me, and leaving is my only choice for a better future and opportunities," she told the Washington Examiner. "At some point, every news you hear about the country is depressing."
Chances at reform are practically impossible without outside help, Malik argued, as the country is being "held hostage" by Hezbollah.
"They money launder and deal in drugs, all under the name of the resistance movement," he said. "It's in Hezbollah’s interest to protect the kleptocratic mafia" ruling the country.
While most of the country suffers, Hezbollah continues forming a "statelet"; conditions in Hezbollah-controlled areas are far superior to those in the rest of the country, giving more Lebanese an impetus to join them. Funding from Tehran helps the group remain prosperous as the Lebanese economy crumbles. Hezbollah even pays their members in U.S. dollars, Malik said.
Their conditions have resulted in a triumphalist mood among Hezbollah fighters. Malik cited friends of his who approached the group, only for the fighters to bluntly tell them, “Listen, Lebanon is ours; it belongs to the Shiites. If you don’t like that, then pack up and leave.”
This is in line with a report by the Philos Project, cited by Malik, called the "Invisible Jihad." It alleges that a central strategy of Iran is to create unfavorable conditions in places such as Lebanon that will result in the widespread emigration of Christians, Sunnis, Druze, and all other non-Shiites. The end goal is a fully Shiite state, in line with the religion of Tehran.
Malik believes the only possible means of changing the country's downward spiral is foreign intervention, though he clarifies it cannot be an armed intervention.
Rather, the international community should send direct aid to the populace, outside the hands of Hezbollah and the corrupt Lebanese state. The once thriving sectors of healthcare, education, and finance specifically should be targeted with aid, which will have a positive cascading effect. Historically, those sectors were only made possible by the Christian community, he argued, so Christians will in turn have second thoughts about emigrating.
Put in simple terms, the way to face the worsening situation of "Sunnis, Druze, Christians, and non-Hezbollah Shiites is to offer them the means to endure," he said. "That is the answer."