Where financial centers flash their Dow30, FTSE100 and CAC40, here in Lebanon we have our AK-47 index:
Officially, the only legal weapons in Lebanon are shotguns meant for hunting birds. And although much of the population was heavily armed during the 1975 to 1990 civil war, the various factions agreed to disarm their heavy weapons stockpiles, with the notable exception of Hizbollah.
But little was done about light weapons – assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and sniper rifles – which were often stuffed into storage in homes and villages around Lebanon. And ever since, the arms dealers have used an interesting metric for judging the stability of the country: the price of the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle.
And what do these traders have to say about Lebanon’s current “golden period”:
[Abu Mahdi says], “Anyone who tells you that Lebanon is peaceful and stable is lying. Everyone is buying weapons; I can’t keep up.”
What does the government think about all this?
A few minutes after the Hizbollah gunmen arrive, a jeep from the Internal Security Forces, Lebanon’s federal police force, pulls up outside [Abu Mahdi’s] shack but neither Mr Mahdi nor his militant customers seem worried. The police officers have arrived to pick up two assault rifles that they ordered a few weeks earlier. They seem to know the fighters and all start happily chatting and playing with the dozens of weapons stuffed in the back of Mr Mahdi’s truck.
Do these traders have any conscience?
By the outbreak of the July 2006 war between Hizbollah and Israel, [the Ak-47] had tripled to $900 as people expected either an occupation by Israel or ongoing civil strife in the aftermath. “The war was terrible for Lebanon but I made $10,000 profit in just a few weeks,” Mr Mahdi admits. “But prices just kept rising.”
“But I know there is a real problem on the streets right now not just because of the machine guns but because I am selling so many RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) launchers. People only buy grenades when they think war is coming. An RPG isn’t really a weapon you use to protect your house, but everyone is buying them anyway. Not good.”