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Dar al-Hayat - March 19, 2009 by Ghassan Charbel It is a very dangerous year. These words are not uttered by a local politician trying to appropriate a parliamentary seat or someone from the opposition trying to hold the government responsible for the deteriorating situation. They have nothing to do with the activities of pirates in the Gulf of Aden; the inter-Palestinian dialogue and its details that would almost make one forget that Palestine is occupied; or the "decisive" Lebanese elections that would almost make one forget that Lebanon is constantly on the edge of the abyss. It is a very dangerous year. These are the words of World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick, who stated that the global economy "is likely to shrink this year for the first time since World War Two". There are also suggestions that the global financial crisis is deeper than what many believe; and that experts do not have a secret recipe that guarantees safety from this abyss that is threatening prosperity and stability. It is not necessary to convey worrying numbers. They are present every morning on the news and on the front page of newspapers, including ours. It is not surprising for the world to drown in a sea of depression. The crisis touches every single inhabitant of this global village. It touches his daily bread, working opportunities, and ability of the State to keep on rising with the burdens thrown on its shoulders. We wouldn't be exaggerating if we said that the current financial crisis is similar to a fierce world war. Huge institutions are collapsing, closing, and dismissing thousands of workers. Companies that were thought to be stronger than states are disintegrating. Whole fortunes are suddenly disappearing into thin air and factories appeal for help then announce their bankruptcy. It is not a simple matter for the United States to feel the need for China's help to overcome the crisis. It is also not a simple matter for White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers to have to reassure Beijing and say that the Chinese have nothing to worry about regarding the money they invested in the United States treasury bonds. It is a very dangerous year. It suffices to say for instance that 20 million Chinese have lost their source of income, and that the Chinese authorities are getting ready to face the wave of strikes or disturbances. We are talking here about an economy that has achieved nothing short of a miracle in the past years. We are talking about a giant country whose economic deterioration will have serious repercussions not only domestically but also on other countries. News of China's troubles will not make the world happy. As for the Indian giant, it is not safe either from the repercussions of the financial whirlwind. If we add to this the numbers coming in from Tokyo, we find it is a dark picture indeed. What is most dangerous in this picture is the feeling that the crisis might worsen even more and that the necessary treatment will be painful and costly. Decreased investments, increased unemployment rates, and reduced trust in the banking system are all factors that might lead to serious consequences - strikes, riots, the collapse of governments, and the rise of radical forces. Even worse, countries might sink into complete economic paralysis that would make them lose any immunity against strong neighbors. An example of this might be the countries that were born from the ashes of the Soviet Union. This year might become more dangerous for reasons unrelated to finance. Barack Obama might have to face unexpected circumstances. An unusual flare-up of violence in Iraq could prevent the withdrawal he pledged according to its announced schedule. A collapse in Pakistan could put its arsenal into untrustworthy hands and open the doors of a conflict with India. It is a very dangerous year. The best thing wise governments can do is make exceptional efforts to maintain stability and reduce damages until the storm subsides.

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