- Trust in the Lebanese judicial system among the lowest in the world, at 16%
- More see Beirut Criminal Court investigation as fair than biased
- The majority of the Shia community opposes the continuation of the investigation
WASHINGTON, DC – Nearly two years have passed since one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history ripped through central Beirut on August 4, 2020, killing 218 people and leaving 300,000 homeless. The improper storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate and the resulting disaster are symptomatic of decades of state failure and neglect, but the failure of the Beirut Criminal Court to hold anyone accountable for the disaster threatens to aggravate this tragedy.
While the investigation into the Beirut port explosion continues to be blocked by lawsuits and protests from influential senior politicians, only 16% of Lebanese expressed confidence in their justice system in 2021. This percentage is a all-time low in Lebanon and was among the lowest in the world in 112 countries where Gallup asked this question last year.
Judge Tarek Bitar, head of the Beirut Criminal Court, took over as lead investigator into the blast after another judge was removed from office in February 2021 following legal challenges by officials that this judge had charged with negligence. Widely seen as non-partisan, Bitar has so far resisted similar calls to step down, as well as threats to his security.
When asked whether Bitar’s investigation into the 2020 port explosion was conducted fairly or biased against certain groups, more Lebanese said the investigation was fair (35% vs. 23%). Given the political sensitivity of the topic, however, more than four in 10 Lebanese (42%) expressed no opinion. When looking only at Lebanese who expressed an opinion, 61% say the survey is fair.
In scenes reminiscent of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, Hezbollah’s fight to neutralize Bitar’s investigation took a violent turn last October after supporters of the Iran-backed party and its allies were targeted by snipers as they demonstrated against attempts to question former government ministers.
The specter of renewed civil conflict over efforts to bring accountability to the port blast looms over the investigation and may dampen the enthusiasm of those who would otherwise seek justice. Still, by a margin of more than 2 to 1, Lebanese adults say Bitar should be allowed to continue his investigation. When looking only at Lebanese who give an opinion, two in three (67%) say the investigation should continue.
Popular survey among most Lebanese communities, with one exception
There is broad support for the port investigation to continue among most major Lebanese faith groups, including 84% of Christians who express an opinion and a similar rate among Sunnis (88%). It is only within Lebanon’s Shiite community – which largely lends support to Hezbollah and allied political groups – that there is significant opposition to the Beirut port investigation. Slightly less than one in four Lebanese Shiites who express an opinion believe that the investigation should continue.
The fate of the port inquiry represents a test of the legitimacy of the Lebanese state. The ability of the Lebanese justice system to hold Hezbollah and other powerful political factions accountable to the state is tenuous at best. The continuation of the Bitar investigation represents a rare democratic challenge from within Lebanon’s government to the country’s powerful political establishment, most of whom have good reason not to have their own culpability examined. port explosion.
The Lebanese are used to receiving little from their government, to the point that most Lebanese say they would emigrate from the country if they could. But while Beirut Port Authority and other officials have failed to keep citizens safe, the justice system’s failure to hold anyone accountable would prove the state’s inability to help prevent the next disaster. .
The investigation into the port explosion is widely seen by Lebanese as fair and has a popular mandate to continue. The recent shortcomings of Hezbollah’s political allies in the legislative elections highlight the disconnect between Hezbollah’s obstruction of the investigation and Lebanese public opinion.
As a fragile state, Lebanon and its national institutions continue to need international support, if only to ensure that the country’s ills do not spread beyond its borders. An independent judiciary in Lebanon capable of fighting endemic corruption and repelling undemocratic tendencies represents one of the surest ways to strengthen government sovereignty and the nation’s well-being.
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