Beirut Explosion: Be angry, not just sad, for Lebanon

Beirut Explosion: Be angry, not just sad, for Lebanon
The New Arab's Managing Editor, Karim Traboulsi, writes a scathing indictment of the Lebanese government and its negligence over the devastating Beirut explosion.
6 min read
05 Aug, 2020
Over 100 people have died as a result of the explosion [Getty]

We know exactly what caused the apocalyptic explosion at the Port of Beirut on Tuesday.

Many speculated it involved an Israeli strike on a secret Hezbollah weapons depot, although both Israel and Hezbollah have now denied this. Some said it was an accident involving highly explosive ballistic missile propellants belonging to Hezbollah. But by late Tuesday, the working theory was that it was caused by a fire, accidental or otherwise, that then ignited thousands of tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at the port.

Ammonium nitrate, usually a component used in fertilisers, becomes highly explosive in some conditions, and has been used in bombs like the one detonated in the 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist attack.

But none of these are by themselves the real causes of what happened. No, the cause is criminal, government negligence and corruption.

Everyone in Lebanon has long known it was only a matter of time before this negligence and corruption, conceptually abstract notions that are the sum total of the metastatic infractions existing all across the organs of the Lebanese state, would coalesce into one, concrete, literally monstrous explosion.

It was only a matter of time, people believed, before a major cataclysm would be visited on their small homeland, so underserving of all the man-made calamites inflicted on its people.

Many Lebanese may have expected a major earthquake that kills hundreds and levels cities due to long-neglected infrastructure, non-existing building codes, and corrupt urban planning officials, all ensured by the morally bankrupt ruling class in power since the end of the Civil War in 1990.

Many may have expected fuel storage facilities embedded in residential areas owned by politically linked cartels to ignite and set entire cities ablaze.

Many may have expected an aviation disaster over Lebanon, with garbage landfills criminally placed in proximity to the country’s sole airport, inviting scavenging birds that can be sucked into airplane engines.

Others even cynically expected a meteor strike to unravel what is left of Lebanon, a state failed by those in charge at every level at every turn.

This is all not to mention the daily Israeli threats of taking Lebanon back to the stone age, should Hezbollah attack Israeli assets, even as Hezbollah remains a deeply divisive entity whose actions, especially in intervening alongside Bashar al-Assad’s regime and marrying itself to Iran’s foreign agenda, many if most Lebanese people do not support.

If reports are true, the culprit ammonium nitrate had been stored at the Port of Beirut for years. Apart from the suspicious way the dangerous compound had reached Beirut, it was stored without safety provisions next to not only the city’s residential and commercial heart housing and employing tens of thousands of people, but also the country’s main grain silos, medical supplies made even more vital by the Covid-19 pandemic, and priceless culture, heritage, and art sites.

Typical of Lebanese officials, everyone involved from the managers of the port and the director of Lebanese Customs, a man long accused of corruption, to the current Minister of Public Works and Transport, the prime minister, all the way up to the oblivious head of state are deflecting blame, shifting it unto other unnamed mystery figures. Not a single official so far has expressed humility or apology for the massive and irreversible loss of life and property, the avoidable destruction of a capital city.

In truth, no one in Lebanon’s ruling class ever owns up to their crimes. In fact, even in times of cataclysms, they only dig in their heels. As these words are being written, Lebanon’s ruling class, particularly the country’s wannabe President Gebran Bassil, son in law of President Michel Aoun, and his allies in Hezbollah, are insisting on building a catastrophic mega dam in Bisri, south east of Beirut.

Not only is the World Bank-financed dam useless by most expert accounts, its only purpose to enrich politically connected contractors, it will also have a catastrophic effect on the region and is being constructed near major seismically active fault lines. Should it fail if ever filled, it would flood and destroy dozens of villages around it.

Read more: Lebanese are offering their homes to help 300,000 homeless due to 'apocalyptic' Beirut explosion

The Lebanese know all this. Apart from sadness, sorrow and worry, those who survived the blast took to social media over the past 24 hours expressing anger and vowing a resumption of the stalled Lebanese uprising, to get rid of the entire ruling class perched upon their chests. The Lebanese have no problem knowing who is to blame for this and many other preventable disasters. When former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, now in opposition, rushed on Wednesday morning to the scene of the blast to capitalise politically on the tragedy, his convoy was pelted by angry demonstrators.

Shortly before the October 17 uprising, biblical-scale forest fires in Lebanon exposed the same kind of corruption and negligence, when multi-million dollar firefighting helicopters left for years without maintenance could not be deployed, and civil defence crews underfunded for years were left unable to mount a response. In fact, right now, it is the volunteer-based Lebanese Red Cross leading the response to the port blast, alongside underpaid and understaffed civil defense crews, many of whom died in the incident.

The 2019 fires were among leading triggers of the uprising, as The New Arab showed last year. Every other week, there is a similar scandal in Lebanon, involving government sponsored financial fraud, doctored fuel for power plants, spoiled meat allowed to be sold on the market, price gouging, waste mismanagement, toxic water pollution, road safety, and most recently, mishandling of the Covid-19 response. All these involve politically connected actors, known by name to all Lebanese. But this blast is the mother of all scandals.

Beirut now lies in ruins. Our colleagues at The New Arab's damaged offices in Beirut and our contributors and readers in Lebanon are scrambling to lick their wounds and mourn their losses, their country’s future all but gone.

But as we and the whole world joins in with an outpouring of support and aid, we must remember the need to go beyond humanitarian solidarity, and help uphold principles like accountability and good governance.

We must also remember that the so-called Friends of Lebanon group of countries, who count among them  France, the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have played a dirty game in Lebanon, aiding and abetting for years the same Lebanese ruling class, then turning against it when it no longer served their geopolitical interests.

The Friends of Lebanon until Tuesday were imposing a de facto embargo on financial aid to Lebanon, joining forces with its ruling class to starve and humiliate the Lebanese, to pressure Hezbollah. But once their objectives would have been secured, the Friends of Lebanon would have resumed doing business with their corrupt allies in Lebanon, with no regard for the interests of the average Lebanese.

Instead, if the Arab and Western friends of Lebanon want to help, they must direct their aid directly to the people of Lebanon, not its corrupt government, and must join the Lebanese people not just in mourning and sorrow, but also in the anger seeking to replace a ruling class that has robbed the people of this tragedy-stricken land of everything, then murdered them outright.

Otherwise, nothing will change, and another disaster of this scale will surely strike again.

Karim Traboulsi is the managing editor of The New Arab. Follow him on Twitter here.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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