With Beirut's poitical class under siege, there has been an outpouring of support to help Lebanon emerge from the tragic explosion.
Rabat – Many Lebanese have taken to the streets in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion to ask for the country’s political class to resign and take responsibility for the disastrous blast that has decimated homes and killed hundreds.
“The arsonists can’t be trusted to probe the blaze,” Rita Ghaddar, a 36-year old Beirut resident whose home was damaged told the Guardian’s Martin Chulov. “At the very least, this was catastrophic incompetence. At every level of this disaster is the story of what happens when mafias run a country.”
Unending cycle of discontent
Since the blast, there has been an outpouring of international support flowing into Beirut to help Lebanon emerge from the tragic explosion that hit its capital.
Welcoming the external support, the country’s authorities have promised to prosecute the culprits and more responsibly oversee the country’s recovery.
In the midst of it all, meanwhile, the waves of protests and public anger that followed the catastrophic blast in Beirut suggest Lebanese people no longer want to hear from a political class they are unanimously accusing of complacency and irresponsibility.
Yusuf Shehadi, a former worker at the Beirut port where the blast happened, also told Chulov that port authorities’ negligence is the main reason the explosion happened.
He revealed, uncomfortably, that nylon bags of fireworks were stored in the same warehouse as the tons of ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion.
“This was a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. The former Beirut port worker explained that for years port authorities paid no heed to his and colleagues’ protest against the decision to store the nylon bags in the vicinity of “the large amount of chemicals (ammonium nitrate)” Beirut port customs seized in 2013.
Such revelations happen in an unprecedentedly difficult time for the Lebanese political class. The COVID-19 crisis added to the country’s many years of unresolved turmoil–political polarization, social unrest, and economic uncertainty.
For years, however, even as they protested against the country’s political elite, some Lebanese continued to believe that a small amount of political will and accountability could shake things off.
That some in the political class could be moved to action and allow for an atmosphere that would make possible the needed political, economic and social reforms.
But the explosion–and the ensuing piles of revelations that this was a preventable catastrophe of which port and communal authorities had been informed years ago, has shattered any modicum of trust and hope that some Lebanese may until now have had in store for the current political leaders.
Rather than reform, say on-site observers and most Beirut residents, Lebanon wants a total rupture from the political class responsible for what many have described as one of the darkest industrial accidents.
With Beirut simmering with anger and frustration, LBC, one of the country’s most prominent broadcasters, “announced that it would no longer broadcast any political speeches or statements by leaders about a promised probe into the catastrophe,” the Guardian’s report noted.
Meanwhile, as the government, the Hezbollah leadership, and Beirut’s communal authorities all keep promising to do everything in their power to hold to account the people responsible for the tragedy, the prevailing mood suggests widespread distrust and an unprecedented boycott of the country’s leadership.
International solidarity offers hope
Amid the ruins and devastations–the torn-apart homes, the corpses, the missing, thousands of injured and thousands more left homeless–the burst of international solidarity witnessed in the aftermath of the blast has been a much-needed balm for Beirutis. It may help to offer a venue of hope as the city mourns and struggles to emerge from the desolation.
Morocco was among the countries that have sent loads of disaster relief packages, medical personnel, and COVID-19 materials to help. Iraq, despite its decades of unending crises, has also extended a helping hand to its distressed neighbor. Many other countries, including from Europe, have also provided disaster relief packages and sent in rescue teams.
The Arab League chief, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, has promised to mobilize Arab efforts to help a distressed member of the league. “We are ready to help with all our means,” he said. Many Arab countries have already sent in some form of help, and reports suggest there is more assistance en route.
Turkey has said it is ready to rebuild the damaged Beirut Port. As part of the Turkish pledge, the Mersin Port, in Southern Turkey, is expected to “help Lebanon with customs clearance and warehousing services of large shipments until the Beirut Port is reconstructed,” according to Reuters.
Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay said: “We have said the goods could be transported with smaller ships and other means of transportation from Mersin to Lebanon.”
Macron’s ‘home truths’
France, whose president, Emmanuel Macron, received a hero welcome from thousands of Beirut residents as he toured the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods two days after the blast, has called for an international probe.
In Beirut, Macron hastened to counter accusations of neocolonialism he knew some observers would raise to explain the motives of his visit to the desolated city’s most ruined sites.
Lebanon is a former French protectorate, and it was only natural for some commentators to see in Macron’s much-hyped visit the remnants–or continuation–of France’s “neocolonialist grandstanding.”
But to the thousands of angry Lebanese and Beirut residents who called for Lebanon to “be placed under a French mandate for the next 10 years,” Macron gave a philosophical response.
“I see the emotion on your face, the sadness, the pain. This is why I’m here,” he said. He then promised to deliver the crowd’s message–which he called “home truths– to the country’s political leadership.
The French president added, as if to dispel any remaining accusations of neocolonialism, that he would “never interfere in Lebanese politics.”
His visit, he insisted, is only meant to exert some pressure on the Lebanese political leadership, with the hope of coming up with a new “political deal” that would allow a series of reforms and bring back political accountability.
“I am going to talk to them. I will hold them accountable,” Macron said, speaking of the Lebanese leadership.
In another interesting development, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General, welcomed the show of international solidarity. He argued that “all international aid” is sorely needed to help the country get back on its feet.
In normal times, Nasrallah would have seen Macron’s Beirut rhetoric as arrogant, intolerable, or unacceptable. His televised address, the one in which he celebrated global solidarity and welcomed “all international aid,” would have most probably condemned Macron’s gesture.
But these are no normal times for Lebanon, and the Hezbollah leadership surely understands that fulmination and finger-pointing are the last things Lebanon needs amid growing discontent and elite distrust.
And so, like other Lebanese political leaders, the Hezbollah leadership is playing low profile and letting this moment sink in, as protests continue and anger mounts.
However, as the country slowly recovers and the political class goes back to “business as usual,” it remains to be seen how accommodating of criticism and how receptive of the Macron-style foreign pressure and “home truths” delivery the political leadership will be.