Beirut shattered

10 Aug 2020

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IT is difficult to describe in words the devastating blast that rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut last week. Watching the footage of the massive explosion at a port warehouse was disturbing enough; Beirutis must have gone through hell as the blast ripped through their city. While the explosion was caused by over 2,700 kg of ammonium nitrate stored at the warehouse, the jury is still out on what exactly triggered the blast. Various theories are doing the rounds — an Israeli attack targeting Hezbollah’s weapons, sabotage etc — though no clear explanation has emerged. The Lebanese president has mentioned two possible causes: “negligence or foreign interference through a missile or bomb”. While only a thorough investigation can uncover the truth, thousands of Lebanese took to the streets of Beirut on Saturday to denounce their government; the country had already been simmering, caught in the middle of an economic meltdown with people railing against the Lebanese political class. The blast at the port was, as it were, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Lebanon has had a chequered history following independence from France in 1943. Under the so-called National Pact, power has been divided amongst the country’s religions and sects. Rather than creating harmony, this has aided instability, with the country going through a vicious civil war from 1975 till 1990. Moreover, Lebanon is located in a rough neighbourhood, with regional conflicts spilling over into its territory. Israel has violated Lebanese sovereignty with particular impunity, invading the country in 1982. Tel Aviv’s occupation of south Lebanon lasted till 2000, when the Zionist state was driven out by Hezbollah. In more recent events, the effects of the Syrian civil war have also had a destabilising effect, adding over a million Syrian refugees to the number of Palestinians Lebanon hosts after they were driven out of their homeland by Israel. To add to these troubles, Lebanon’s political class has been unable to steer the country out of troubled waters due to a mix of corruption and incompetence. In the immediate future, the international community needs to stand with Lebanon and help it get back on its feet. Many countries, including Pakistan, have stepped forward by sending relief supplies. In the long run, the Lebanese must themselves reform their political system to create a democratic state where fundamental rights are assured for all, instead of waiting for foreign saviours to pull them out of the quagmire.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2020