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The Beirut Disaster: What A Fair Historian Might Say!

The Beirut Disaster: What A Fair Historian Might Say!

Wednesday, 12 August, 2020 - 08:45

If one of us were to role play and become a historian, what might this historian say about the Beirut disaster?

At first, after shedding light on the disaster’s humanitarian and economic dimensions, he would situate it in the particular Lebanese context during which it took place. He will find that it crowned a bankrupt approach for managing politics and the economy, and it took place a few months after a colored revolution that had tried and failed to push corrupt political class aside. He will also emphasize that the aforementioned class was represented, at the time of the crisis, by its worst faction and most inane and unappealing, namely, the Aounists, who promised a “strong reign” and then ended up overseeing the weakest period of governance the country had known in its hundred years of existence.

As a footnote at the bottom of the page, the historian would add: It is true that Michel Aoun represented the majority of the frustrated Christians of the country when he became president, unlike the weak presidents who preceded him, but he seems to have ended up among them, because the residents of the capital’s most devastated areas (the port, Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael, Ashrafieh ...), Christian neighborhoods, hold him responsible for what happened to them.

The historian will surely comment about the symbolism in much of the people’s reactions. He will refer to the fact that the curse words that had been almost exclusively directed at Gebran Basil, the president’s son in law, were now being directed at the president himself. As for the biggest taboo that had been broken, it was the mock-hanging of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nassrallah in the public square: until that moment, daring to mention Nasrallah had been a life-threatening debasement of sanctity. This was broken. "Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah" became just “one of them,” though he is the most dangerous among them.

The historian will focus on this major transformation and its significance: Even those who exonerate Hezbollah of direct responsibility for the disaster realized, or most of them did, that the state’s collapse is founded on its abandonment of its monopoly on maintaining security, its most critical function, in favor of Hezbollah. It is with this division in particular where the path towards disintegration, the tragic climax of which we saw at the Port of Beirut, began. He will add, to remind his reader of the period which shortly preceded the blast, that Hezbollah had been the most prominent and effective protector, during the October Revolution, of the regime responsible for the disaster.

However, our historian will leave us with two unresolved questions: On one hand, will the Lebanese manage to produce a cross-sectarian political force that can in turn create an alternative form of governance, thereby preventing Lebanon from ending itself as a nation and a state? On the other hand, do the Lebanese understand that, until further notice, the most powerful thing they possess is what remains of their friendships with the rest of the world, friendships that they ought, from here on out, to avoid wasting away with “resistances” and getting involved in conflicts that they do not have the capacity for?

In another footnote, on another page, the historian will add that the disaster showed the truth in what had been said, decades ago, by a Lebanese politician who saw that "Lebanon's strength lies in its weakness."

It may have been noticed that the historian does not mention the prime minister, Hassan Diab, or his ministers, nor does he refer to the government’s fate or the early resignations of some of its ministers. Furthermore, the Lebanese disaster has a regional context as well, a context that the historian calls “a succession of regional tragedies”: It came after two disastrous regional developments that induce nothing but deep sense of pessimism: In Syria, since 2011, its ruler, Bashar al-Assad, has been capably killing his people and displacing them on a massive scale. That experience demonstrated how little value human life held especially since it did not hamper the persistence of Assad’s presidency, and no accountability is forthcoming.

In Iraq and Syria, starting from 2013-2014, ISIS has been present. It seized vast territory in both countries and established an unprecedentedly barbaric regime. The movement has been dealt with major and fundamental military defeats, but the causes that brought it to life have not yet been addressed. It continues to be dealt with, in its ups and downs, as a mere military event.

This, in general, is bad news. Its negative implications may be limited if aid is obtained to restore some of what had collapsed in Beirut and relieve some of the victims' families pain. However, it raises issues for Lebanon, and thus for the region as well, which remain to be contemplated and addressed. As for the conclusion that our historian presents in the form of a question, it is the following: "How long will the lives of the people in this region remain cheap, how long will they continue to be killed by oppressive regimes and petty leaders who rely on kinship and sectarian ties and keep their citizens preoccupied with major ideological conflicts meant to further undermine the value of their lives?"

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