By: Sarah Ansari
Early in the morning last week, I opened up Instagram to mindlessly scroll through memes and came across a recording of a Tik Tok video. The girl in it smiled, looking as though she were about to break into song. She just made her way outside when something on the horizon caught her attention. Her eyes widened for a brief moment before she turned and ran back into the house. Her formerly amiable expression contorted to one of fear as she screamed.
The explosion in Beirut, caught live.
Lebanon has been caught in the crossfires of humanitarian, political, and economic crises, and to protestors, the explosion is yet another sign of governmental neglect and corruption. The ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion had been impounded as cargo back in 2013, and although worries were voiced about the safety of the chemicals, no action was taken by officials to address the concerns. Blame for the tragedy was passed around, with no one wanting to bear the brunt of responsibility(*1).
In the streets, the righteous anger of protestors steeped to an inferno. Security forces were sent to quell the protests, and videos circling online display an excessive use of force– particularly tear gas and rubber bullets– by the dispatched units (*2). The brutality used by security forces on protestors displays the intention of the government to silence rather than to listen.
But how could a government not expect retaliation from its people when it boasts a 25% unemployment rate, pervasive poverty, a trash crisis, lack of clean drinking water, and unreliable power? All these issues existed before the worldwide spread of the coronavirus and have only been aggravated since. The devaluation of the Lebanese pound and poorly-dealt with wildfires only fueled the growing resentment for the government(*3). Meanwhile, the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics prevented any decisive maneuvers to address the people’s concerns.
With eighteen religious groups dividing power based on their population, and the inability to make any “major decisions [..] without the consent of all major religious communities, even the election losers”(*4), the political atmosphere within Lebanon remains stagnant and prone to the decay which it is and has been experiencing. Think of the deadlocks that can come with a divided Congress in the U.S., but multiply the discordant parties by nine. Without major reforms to the political system, the troubles in Lebanon will continue to grow, since the government will spend more time debating than fixing the issues. However, to bring about changes to the distribution of power and to hold officials accountable for their actions, the same officials have to agree to the reforms, something which they have had little incentive to do until recently (*5).
Following the explosion in Beirut, calls for the prime minister, Hassan Diab’s, resignation multiplied, and finally culminated in the resignation of himself and his cabinet on Monday, August 10. In an interview with npr (*6), blogger Gino Raidy discussed the incompetence the Lebanese government displayed following the blast, and noted that “the people […] took charge of the search and rescue, the relief effort, fundraising, and campaigning”. In other words, the resignation of the current officials places Lebanon in the same state they were in before; reforms and other efforts (humanitarian, environmental, etc.) are spearheaded by the people, rather than their representatives.
Raidy does mention the near-certainty of widespread reform now that the government has been dismantled, although if foreign aid gets funneled through the officials, funds will likely go directly into their pockets, rather than to rebuilding and rehousing efforts. Because of this, the humanitarian aid offered to Lebanon comes on the condition that definitive reforms are made to combat the issues discussed earlier (*7). With the stage set for the reconstruction of the Lebanese government, the actions taken now, at this tipping point, will decide the country’s future.
If you wish to send aid to Lebanon, make sure to donate to the Lebanese Red Cross. Various people from Lebanon have said online that it is the most reliable organization to ensure humanitarian aid goes directly to the people.
This article acts primarily as a simplified overview of what’s happening in Lebanon for people who are unfamiliar with the crises. For further reading into the cited issues, I recommend reading through these articles, which discuss the issues in more depth.