Beirut, the capital of Lebanon was hit by two massive blasts on 4th of august, 2020. The second explosion ripped apart the Beirut port. According to reports, it was discovered that the blast was caused by the detonation of 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely at the port for years. The ammonium nitrate was seized by the Lebanese government 6 years ago from an abandoned ship and was kept neglected for years. The blast took 200 lives and wounded around 6000 people. As reported, around 300,000 people have become homeless after the explosion. The blast ripped apart buildings in a radius of around 10 kilometres in Beirut.
Furthermore, Lebanese government announced a two weeks state of emergency in response to the blast. Officials estimate that the explosion causes more than $3 billion of damage and that the country’s collective economic losses may amount to $15 billion. There are predictions that Lebanon might run out food supply. The grain silo at Beirut port was next to the epicentre of the explosion and 85% of the country’s grain was usually delivered through this port. United Nations World Food Programme would be sending 50,000 tonnes of wheat and flour to Beirut, to avert food shortage. The blast has bought with itself a humanitarian crisis in the already unstable nation.
Following the explosion, a huge uproar by the masses came out on the road, as people held the present government and its negligence responsible for the current disaster. The protesters called for the ouster of the government in power.
Consequently, the Lebanon government succumbed to the mounting public anger and on 10th August, Prime Minister Hassan Diab submitted his government’s resignation to President Michel Aoun. The announcement was made in a national television address by Diab, in which he claimed the blast was an outcome of the chronic corruption in the state, administration and Lebanese politics. Diab, who was appointed Prime Minister after months of deadlock stated,
“the system of corruption is deeply-rooted in all the functions of the state; nevertheless I discovered that the corrupt system is bigger than the State, and that the latter is constrained by this system and cannot confront it or get rid of it.”
Furthermore, he said his government had, “gone great lengths to lay out a road map to save the country”, also claiming that, “a very thick and thorny wall separates us from change; a wall fortified by a class that is resorting to all dirty methods in order to resist and preserve its gains, its positions and its ability to control the State.”
Until a new cabinet is formed, the government will stay in a caretaker capacity.
Lebanon is a war ravaged country, having a past history of 15 years long civil war, which ended in 1990. This has left many unsolved grievances for the country. Following the war, a number of warlords marked their presence in the country’s politics and still control huge chunk of the country’s political, economic and social sectors. Lebanese economy has been stuck at 1-2% for many years, and the pandemic has bought the economy to a further halt. The outgoing
government defaulted on $30 billion on bonds. Lebanon’s debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 178% at the end of 2019, making it the third-most indebted nation. Unemployment in the country stands at 25% and nearly a third of the country’s population lives below the poverty line.
The currency has lost 8% of its value since October 2019. Not only this, the country is dealing with high pollution levels and a garbage crisis too. Frequent long power cuts have become a part of people’s daily lives. After the COVID-19 outbreak happened and a lockdown was imposed, the country was exposed to the inadequacies of its health sector, after it faced a medical facilities crunch. The rising inflation made things even worse, when the citizens couldn’t even afford to buy basic necessities for themselves.
Citizens of Lebanon have been discontent for a really long time now. In late 2019, a plan to tax Whatsapp calls outraged the masses against the economic crisis and corruption. The protests led to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who was replaced by Daib in January. Even though,the present government has resigned, the Lebanese people are continuing their protests, because the end of this government does not necessarily mean an end to their anger. It is believed that the citizens are now demanding a new reformed political system.
Political system of Lebanon
Many protestors blame the entrenched political system for the havoc caused in the country. Officially, 18 religions are recognized in the country. The political system of Lebanon is sectarian in nature. The country’s three main offices, the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker are divided on a religious basis. According to it, the President should be– a Maronite Christian; the Prime Minister –a Sunni Muslim; and the Speaker – a Shia Muslim. This National agreement dates back to 1943.Powerful families also still play an independent role in mobilizing votes for both local and parliamentary elections. Parliament’s 128 seats are also distributed evenly between the Muslims and the Christians. Also, each religious community has an allotted number of seats.
However, demands of alteration of this system have been doing the rounds for decades. It is said that this sectarian system is the reason, the country becomes a direct target of external powers, in this case Hezbollah. Hezbollah, a powerful Shia party-cum-militia backed by Iran, designated as terrorist organization by the United States, the United Kingdom and several other countries is believed to be influencing the working of the corrupt sectarian government of Lebanon to block the reforms which might threaten its authority over Lebanon’s politics, economy and financial system.
In the events that have unfurled, there are still ongoing protests in Lebanon. Citizens now are demanding for fundamental reforms of the political system. They want a complete overhaul of the system. The government’s plans to investigate the blast were not enough for many who have lost all faith in the political elite. The Lebanese parliament will now have to decide on a new Prime Minister, a process involving the same sectarian politics at the root of protesters discontent. It is unlikely to be a smooth or quick process due to the country’s complex political system.
Lebanon has called for international help as concerns mount over shortages in a nation that depends heavily on imports. Kuwait, Turkey, Germany and others have offered medical aid and
assistance with rescue operations. But decades of corruption and failure to prove that Lebanon’s political class is serious about reform means donors remain reluctant to provide the government with budget support. Germany President Emmanuel Macrons visited the blast torn Beirut, but he warned Lebanon’s political elite that he wouldn’t give “blank checks to a system that no longer has the trust of its people.” He called on them to create a “new political order”. By and large, the future of Lebanon looks very grim as of now.