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Calamity with a Neutral Face

Calamity with a Neutral Face

Thursday, 12 August, 2021 - 10:30

In a single week, four people were murdered near petrol stations: three in the North died in a shootout that spiraled into familial armed clashes, and a fourth in the South died after a speeding truck crashed into his car, which he had been parked as he had was waiting in line to attain this precious item.

These killings did not have a lasting effect on the Lebanese people’s daily lives. The victims’ families buried their loved ones and made fruitless attempts at attaining justice, while citizens continued to gather around gas stations where the calamities had transpired. As for the pharmacies without medicine, citizens barge into them in hopeless attempts to find remedies that could assuage their pains and cure their children’s illnesses. A manifestation of this is the incident in which a woman recently drove her car into a pharmacy that could not provide her with a simple drug, an incident added to a list of similar “antics.”

Hospitals issue periodic warnings that they will imminently cease to function due to the shortage of diesel required to keep their electric generators running. This comes amid the perpetual lack of government-supplied electricity. Later, the focus shifts toward warnings about the shortage of medicine and medical equipment needed for surgical operations. This week, these omens were accompanied by the announcement that a serum factory had stopped working due to the suspension of its generators.

Mills that supply flour to bakeries are sounding the alarm one after the other. They desperately need diesel. Otherwise, no bread will be sold in a country where it is becoming a substantial (and growing) part of citizens’ meals in light of the massive increase in food prices. As for schools and universities that are approaching the start of their academic year, their future remains a mystery. Many students’ parents cannot pay tuition, and public educational institutions are hardly able to take in more of the students leaving private schools and universities. Moreover, teachers’ salaries are now worth a mere few dollars after the collapse of the Lebanese Pound, the currency they are paid in.

Suffocating congestion to buy missing items. Streets are getting dirtier, while a major waste crisis is expected to erupt within the next few months. Traffic lights have not been operational for over a year, and drivers have resorted to taking matters into their own hands by being “savvy,” bullying others, and behaving with a degree of hostility. New terms’ introduction into our lexicon heralds the high degree of harshness and austerity of life in Lebanon, including: ‘the great crash,’ ‘total darkness,’ and chaos.’

This is a brief description that does not refer to the accompanying human suffering and tragedies that are met with efforts to exploit misery and extract wealth from others’ poverty, behaving as people do in times of drought and hunger and when criminality regulates the relationship between the powerful and the weak.

Accordingly, one might expect to hear the wailing sounds of (long-time and new) beggars in the streets of cities and villages and to see stretched queues of those affected by the collapse of the education, health, and banking systems. Except for some cases of the road blocking in a few villages in response to electricity shortages, as well as the demonstrations held by families of the Beirut port bombing’s victims (who are facing the political class and its smear tactics), a protest rarely goes beyond that expresses hopelessness or a shrug of the shoulders as a sign of despair. This is quickly followed by the hapless resumption of their daily lives and their quest to live another day of a life that resembles anything but life.

One cannot but acknowledge the ruling elite’s talent for annihilating, over the past two years, every effort made to unite the ranks of the oppressed and create a civil, political alternative capable of representing hundreds of thousands of Lebanese that have expressed their repudiation of the current amalgamation of corruption, sectarianism, and illegitimate armament. Politicians and their followers have painted a neutral face on the catastrophe they have bequeathed to citizens.

And, lo and behold, we see presidents, parliamentary blocs, political parties, MPs, and ministers complain of corruption, darkness, and medical shortages. Some even have dared to call on people to search for the culprits behind the current tragedy. With every turbulence, a “preacher” detached from reality makes an appearance, issues threats, and espouses meaningless rhetoric.

It is, therefore, a catastrophe with a neutral face. It is an orphan catastrophe, propelled by obscure natural causes, and politicians and their followers are working on getting out of it in a manner similar to what is being done by the parents of Lebanese students stranded in foreign countries after banks have prohibited the paying of their tuition. This is the expansion of the farce that incessantly eats up new victims every day and destroys the hopes of generations whose only remaining goal is to flee Lebanon.

As for the dreams of the October 17 uprising that broke out in 2019, it sufficed for allied politicians to pay a few Captagon addicts and mobs on motorcycles to prove to millions of Lebanese protesters that achieving these dreams without paying the price of blood and violence is impossible.

People with poker faces walk the streets as they wander from crowded gas stations to empty pharmacies. This is a disaster no one is responsible for. It is merely the result of failed policies that spanned decades in a country whose people are anxiously awaiting that which they dare not say aloud.

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