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Despair and Anger in the City’s Skies

Despair and Anger in the City’s Skies

Friday, 14 August, 2020 - 11:30
Elias Harfoush
Lebanese writer and journalist

Beirut does not deserve the disaster that hit it. At one point in time, the city used to sparkle; its fate was decided by politicians who knew its worth and the weight of the responsibility placed on their shoulders to protect the capital and the country.

No. Neither Beirut nor Lebanon were like this. Men in positions of leadership deserved to be there. They were not enticed by the positions they could attain by allying with anyone who held influence or carried arms. These men ran the Lebanese state, without their only “merit” being their role in a civil war that cost no less than 150,000 lives, injured and handicapped hundreds of thousands and destroyed cities and villages.

These "heroes" of the war share the blame for the situation Lebanon is in today. They wiped out the country during the war and continued this mission in peacetime. Their approach to governance is akin to that of leaders of gangs and militias, namely, sharing booty; they promote their beneficiaries and clients and heighten sectarian sentiments and tensions whenever a different approach gains steam. For their existence depends on exploiting these toxins that have made it impossible to establish a state in which citizens are equal and civil servants are promoted based on merit, not their loyalty to this or that leader.

The explosion at the port, despite its grave magnitude, is not the only calamity that has befallen Lebanon. The state has been running its affairs recklessly before this recklessness came to characterize political and military decisions and its foreign relations. Here, too, temptation and personal benefit played a role, and the party that runs Lebanon has turned into a tool in the hands of an armed force that operates outside of the state’s jurisdiction. Hezbollah’s power and the famous “understanding” between it and the ruling party have replaced the state’s constitution and laws.

The share of the blame for the explosion is not restricted to those directly responsible. It is an example of what goes on in all state agencies. It was caused by an accumulation of negligence and cronyism, bribes and middlemen, a complete absence of accountability and the paralysis of oversight bodies that have been stacked with loyal sycophants. The judiciary has also been paralyzed by politicians’ interference with its prerogatives. What could all of this have led to but the state's collapse, bankruptcy and inability to manage its affairs?

The explosion of tons of ammonium nitrate is thus a lethal declaration of the state's calamitous failure and negligence.

Ten days have gone by since the port disaster, and the so-called state in Lebanon is still searching for the official who let the huge amount of ammonium nitrate lay on hangars for seven years.

Hassan Diab's government had promised us, before it resigned, that we would know who was responsible within five days. Ten days after the disaster, no results - to convince the families of the victims that those responsible will be held accountable - have been announced.

No one knows who runs the state or how prerogatives and responsibilities are divided. The president, the commander in chief of the armed forces, the “strong president”, with his party, son-in-law and the ally who brought him to his position behind him, is warned about the chemical that “could blow-up the city” and does not find the time to do anything; “the hierarchy” prevents him from interfering with the port.

The hierarchy-adoring head of state had been tasked with presiding over a transitional government to prepare for presidential elections. He understood from this that he had been appointed president. He acted on this assumption and dissolved parliament. He ordered the army to bombard "hostile" areas. He ignited wars as he pleased. When his current allies drove him out of the Baabda Palace, he left defeated, looking for someone to provide him refuge.

President Michel Aoun is, of course, not the only one responsible for the disaster that struck Lebanon, killing nearly two hundred people, injuring thousands, destroying homes and displacing more than 300,000 residents. But he is the President of the Republic who vowed to preserve the country, protect its people and establish the rule of law. When a crime of this magnitude occurred, however, the president went looking for a scapegoat. He demanded tapes that show "the missiles that bombed the port" and then expressed reservations about an international investigation, based on the pretext that he wants "swift justice". Given all of this, Lebanese citizens are justified in asking about the purpose of wasting time with such absurd questions, while those responsible for the negligence, directly or indirectly, are known, and they knew the extent of the damage that could be caused by the material they buried, and they did nothing.

I say this because the persistent negligence and irresponsibility that characterize the so-called Lebanese state and those who run it makes the occurrence of disasters inevitable, if not in the port of Beirut, then in other public facilities. Of course, this time, the extent of the damage was immense because the explosion of the type of material that had been stored leads to disaster.

However, this neglect characterizes every ministry and institution. It is behind the financial collapse, a result of the absence of oversight over financial transactions and banking operations. It is behind the persistence of the electricity crisis though half of the public debt accumulated over the years was spent on it, while no one knows the justification for spending all this money on such poor provision. The same can be of other public services and infrastructural projects in a country whose service standards are now classified among the lowest of the low.

The country is now paying the price for its economic collapse and its isolation, caused by the persistent silence about Hezbollah’s role in the region’s crises on the part of the ruling elite and this role’s implications for Lebanon’s political and economic interests, while none of the beneficiaries of Hezbollah’s protection dare to speak out against the duality in national decision making, which has no parallels in any other independent country.

The explosion at the port has opened the door to a debate in Lebanon over how to solve the crisis and deal with its damages, and, most importantly, how to avoid another similar disaster. But it is those who are looking who created the current disasters. This means that the country is still turning in a vicious circle which will end where it had begun, namely, with the same officials returning to the same positions.

Put simply: in their presence, there is no hope for any solution.

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