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Beirut Port Disaster Lays Bare Lebanon’s ‘Failed State’

Beirut Port Disaster Lays Bare Lebanon’s ‘Failed State’

Monday, 2 August, 2021 - 07:00
A view shows damage at the site of the blast in Beirut’s port area, Lebanon August 5, 2020. (Reuters)

Local and international observers and analysts draw a bold line under the date of August 4, 2020, not only as the day of the catastrophic explosion in the port of Beirut, which led to the almost complete destruction of the vital facility, the deaths of hundreds of people and the demolition of about a third of the neighborhoods in the heart of the capital.

Rather, this date separates two phases: the faltering state in the face of difficult economic and financial crises, and the reality of the non-state mired in the catastrophic failure of the entire systems of power and administration and the resounding fall of its institutions and its economic and monetary sectors.

The catastrophe - the third largest non-nuclear explosion in history - shocked the whole world with its intensity. It occurred while the political differences within the country were growing and feeding the massive monetary chaos, further exacerbating the economic and living crisis.

This is how the surreal Lebanese scene emerged after successive developments that culminated in the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government two days after the blast. It is now working in a minimal caretaker capacity, thus suspending the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on the rescue and recovery plan.

Like a snowball, the cost of treating the financial gap grew. The gap was estimated between USD 55 billion and USD 90 billion, amid a futile debate to determine who would bear the losses.

What’s shocking in the succession of events, which Asharq Al-Awsat reviewed with a number of experts, and which were compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic and the deficit in public finances, is the general state of “indifference” and denial that the authorities adopted in dealing with the massive popular protests and port disaster. They have deliberately placed the entire country on a steep downward spiral and cost it the confidence of internal and foreign actors.

The authorities dealt with the massive explosion from a security perspective. They resorted to prescriptions to relieve pain through uncalculated spending from the reserves of hard currencies at the Central Bank, while its often-indifferent positions rubbed salt in the deep wounds of the country’s economy.

Moreover, the parties in power proceeded with odd determination to acquire the status of “failed state”. They have collectively insisted on dealing negatively with the international community and its active institutions, and with frank disregard for its rescue initiatives, foremost of which is the French proposal, emphasizing Lebanon’s isolation from its regional and international environment.

The experts’ domestic concerns quickly matched a shocking report by the World Bank a few months after the port explosion. The report warned that Lebanon suffered from a severe and chronic economic depression, and this economic and financial disaster was likely to rank among the top ten, and even top three, severe crises in the world since the mid-19th century.

In the face of these enormous challenges, the continued failure to implement rescue policies threatens the already deteriorating social and economic conditions and the fragile social peace. There is no clear turning point in sight.

In a language that goes beyond usual diplomatic standards, the World Bank has determined that the response of the Lebanese authorities to these public policy challenges has been largely inadequate. This is not due to gaps in knowledge and good advice, but rather to a lack of political consensus on effective policy initiatives.

The World Bank suspected the presence of “a political consensus around protecting a bankrupt economic system, which benefited a few numbers for a long time.”

It warned that given Lebanon’s history fraught with a long civil war and multiple conflicts, there is a growing concern over potential catalysts for the outbreak of social unrest.

The increasingly dangerous social and economic conditions threaten the failure of the national system, with regional and possibly global effects.

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