Samer’s salary, a soldier in the Lebanese army, is no longer enough to provide him with the basic needs of his house, so he found the solution to work as a mechanic in addition to his military service, hoping to secure a better life for his young family amid the economic collapse ravaging the country.
Samer is one of the thousands of members of the army and security forces in Lebanon who are now practicing a second profession, to compensate for the low value of their salaries after the deterioration of the value of the national currency, although the military regulations prohibit this and their violators are subject to penalties.
However, in light of the economic collapse and the lira’s loss of nearly 98 percent of its value, the leadership of the military and security forces turns a blind eye to the issue, in order to allow its members to secure what the bankrupt state is unable to provide.
Samer, 28, who asked to use a pseudonym, told AFP, “The military establishment knows that we are working, but it turns a blind eye, because the soldier can no longer bear it.” Eighty percent of the population in Lebanon lives below the poverty line.
And the young man, who is currently working in a car repair shop run by his uncle in the city of Tripoli (north), one of the poorest cities on the eastern basin of the Mediterranean, added, “If we had not done that, everyone would have fled and not a single member of the army would have remained.”
Samer, a father of a young child, joined the military when he was 19 years old, thinking that he would “guarantee his future,” with the continuity, medical care and social advancements offered by the job in the public sector in Lebanon, but the crisis turned his life upside down.
He explains, “My salary was equal to 800 dollars before the crisis, today I only get a hundred dollars,” with the temporary increases and measures that were approved to support salaries.
Every week, Samer spends three days in his military service, and works for another three days in the workshop. However, his intake is “less than enough to provide food, drink, diapers and milk”.
With the authorities unable to contain the crisis and the repercussions of the collapse of the lira, Qatar began in the summer of 2022 to provide financial support to the army in the form of financial assistance of $100 to its members for a period of six months.
And the United States took the same step, as it started last month, in coordination with the United Nations Development Program, to provide financial assistance in the amount of one hundred dollars per month over a period of six months to the members of the Internal Security Forces, provided that this applies to the army as well.
But in a country where inflation is huge and the exchange rate of the lira changes daily, aid makes no difference.
“At the end of the month, I don’t even have a thousand pounds left with me,” Samer says.
The economic collapse has put all sectors, including the army and security forces, in front of several challenges, most notably continuing to secure basic needs such as food, medicine, fuel, maintenance of equipment, and maintaining medical care at its level.
Since the beginning of the crisis, the army leadership has relied on austerity in its budget. For example, meat has been reduced from the military meals. Then, in 2021, it launched helicopter tours for civilians, in return for a fee.
After he tried to reconcile his military service with working as a waiter in a well-known restaurant near Beirut, Ahmed decided to flee the army and devote himself to his work.
“I grew up loving the military uniform. I still love it, but we suffocated,” Ahmed, 29, a pseudonym, told AFP. Ahmed has spent ten years at the Foundation.
“I left the army because I found that there was no hope of survival,” the young man explains, adding, “I felt as if I was living in the gutter. I only got better when I fled.”
And after his military salary did not exceed the threshold of fifty dollars a year and a half ago, he now earns 450 dollars from his work as a waiter. Today, he is eagerly awaiting the birth of his first child.
The fields in which the soldiers work are varied, such as restaurants, bakeries, agriculture, hairdressing, taxi driving, construction, and even as private security personnel.
The army command did not respond to AFP’s questions on the matter.
The same suffering applies to the security forces, whose situation appears to be more difficult than the military institution, which receives aid from several countries, most notably the United States, to confront the economic crisis.
“there are no solutions”
A security source told AFP, “The Internal Security Forces turn a blind eye to the members’ doing jobs aside, because there are no other solutions. The state is unable to improve their salaries and all the burdens, even school fees, are now in dollars.”
“We are trying to help them as much as possible, but even the one hundred dollars provided by the United States is not sufficient in light of the current situation,” he added.
The budget allocated for the treatment of security personnel is no longer sufficient, with the high cost of hospitalization, and hospitals receiving financial allowances in dollars.
The salary of Elie (37 years), a member of the Internal Security Forces and father of three children, today does not exceed the threshold of 50 dollars today, so he only joined his father to help him in the agricultural work, to provide additional income, albeit a little.
“The worst thing about it is that there is no doctor anymore, and if I break my leg during my shift, I have to bear the cost of treatment,” Elie says.
“Simply put, our situation is awful,” he added.
The economic crisis, according to what Dina Araqji, a researcher at the Control Risks Center, explained to AFP, affected “the ability of the security services to work appropriately and the morale” of their members.
With the disregard for security and army personnel practicing other professions, the agencies’ ability to “respond to the country’s internal security needs is under threat,” she says, in a country witnessing political division and stagnation affecting the work of all institutions.