Lebanese celebrate first anniversary of Beirut explosion



BEIRUT — Lebanon has seen its biggest anti-government protests in months this week as citizens marked a year since a massive explosion in the port of Beirut killed more than 200 people and severely damaged parts of the city.

The explosion, caused by several tons of ammonium nitrate poorly stored at the port since 2014, have highlighted the dysfunction of the Lebanese state and the irresponsibility of its political class. Although a number of officials, including the president and prime minister, have been warned of the danger of explosives, prosecutors’ efforts to indict anyone for the blast have failed due to the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by them. current and former government ministers.

BEIRUT — Lebanon has seen its biggest anti-government protests in months this week as citizens marked a year since a massive explosion in the port of Beirut killed more than 200 people and severely damaged parts of the city.

The explosion, caused by several tons of ammonium nitrate poorly stored at the port since 2014, have highlighted the dysfunction of the Lebanese state and the irresponsibility of its political class. Although a number of officials, including the president and prime minister, have been warned of the danger of explosives, prosecutors’ efforts to indict anyone for the blast have failed due to the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by them. current and former government ministers.

“The government did nothing. The explosion did not happen on its own; they caused it, ”said Ibrahim Hoteit, whose brother, 46-year-old firefighter Tharwat Mohamed Hoteit, was killed by the explosion after reacting to the fire that caused ammonium nitrate to ignite . Hoteit and the families of other blast victims have called for a United Nations-backed international investigation after losing faith that the Lebanese government can competently investigate.

“What should happen is a revolution. People shouldn’t go off the streets, and we hope that, not to get off the streets until they get what we want, ”Hoteit said.

Last year’s explosion came amid social unrest that began in October 2019, when protesters began to regularly block roads and take to the streets to protest government corruption and economic mismanagement. . Since then, the country economic deterioration only got worse, with the government defaulting on international loans and its currency losing more than 90 percent of its value against the dollar. Banks froze depositors’ accounts in an attempt to cut their own losses, robbing people of their savings. Since the government effectively ran out of money, it has completely lifted or reduced subsidies on a number of items, causing shortages of fuel, medicine and more, which have made the plight of citizens worse. The fuel shortage has also crippled electricity production in Lebanon, leading to widespread blackouts.

Adding to the problem, Lebanon has been without a government for a year, as politicians bicker over the allocation of ministerial portfolios. Lebanon’s sectarian quota system typically results in delays in forming governments, but Hoteit said the political class – often referred to simply as “the mafia” by the Lebanese – is united to protect each other.

“Politicians differ when they talk about money and quotas. But they’re a hand at the end, and the biggest example is when they all came together to reject the waiver of immunity “for the blast, Hoteit said.

What caused the fire remain unclear as well as whether the shipment of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, apparently destined for Mozambique, was in fact destined for another destination. The port of Beirut has long been known for corruption and smuggling, and an investigation by a Lebanese television reporter suggested that the company that owns the ammonium nitrate had links to Syrian businessmen. It was speculated that the explosives could have been intended for groups fighting in the civil war in Syria.

Much of the port itself remains mutilated and large parts of the adjacent quarters are still in ruins. The government provided little assistance for the reconstruction, leaving the effort to nonprofits and private citizens.

As of Wednesday evening, thousands of people filled both sides of the highway next to the port as well as the streets of surrounding neighborhoods. Others simply cried outside their homes, where they were when the explosion struck. After observing a minute of silence at 6:07 p.m. local time, when the explosion struck, the protesters marched towards the Lebanese parliament within a kilometer and a half. Protesters have attempted to storm the building on several occasions over the past two years and have been, as before, dispersed by police with tear gas.

For some protesters, Wednesday rekindled hope that the protest movement, which regularly occupied public space in 2019 but has since dried up, could be revived.

“It’s been a year and nobody knows what happened, what caused it,” said Mohamad Kaouk, a 21-year-old student who was part of the group that marched in front of parliament. “It felt good when we went to the port in large numbers. But I hoped it wouldn’t stop after a day. I don’t think they should have waited [the anniversary] go protest. We are living in difficult times: inflation, no electricity. I don’t know why people are still sitting and waiting.

The country monthly minimum wage is now considered insufficient to feed a family as prices have skyrocketed in this import-dependent country. A number of countries as well as the International Monetary Fund have pledged to provide aid if Lebanese politicians agree to a series of reforms designed to reduce corruption and government mismanagement. So far, no government has accepted these reforms, and it is unclear whether a new one, every time it is formed, will.

“The outlook looks deeply negative in all likelihood,” said Sam Heller, a member of the Century Foundation who studies Lebanon and Syria. “In the absence of some sort of major change of mind or collective awareness on the part of the country’s political class, which seems to remain fairly firmly in control despite what some think of its legitimacy, he seems the country is probably heading for more deterioration and substantial hardship and hardship.

Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990, has set the bar very low for how serious it is, but some Lebanese say the current situation is worse in some ways. In a perverse way, the economic crisis can also create an increased dependence on the political parties which contributed to its creation.

“I don’t really know how many Lebanese go [be] able to handle it: the kind of deprivation that’s already set in and looks likely to get worse, ”Heller said. “People say it doesn’t really compare to the experience of the Civil War, that the affordability of these essentials wasn’t really that bad.”

He noted that some political parties have pivoted to provide a minimum of welfare for their own voters, but said: “It is difficult to see how these types of party networks could provide the whole country. It seems inevitable that a large part of the Lebanese population will fall through the cracks.


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