One month before the centennial of the founding of the country, the Beirut explosion serves as a grim reminder of the dark state of Lebanon. The country seems to relive similar scenarios from the past, where sectarianism and warlord politicians once robbed the country of its prosperity.
Following the blast, which rocked Beirut on August 4th, the international community and international aid agencies are struggling to coordinate their response and help the city and its people recover; amid a drawn-out socio-economic collapse, and a society held hostage by clientelism. Some politicians hoped that the catastrophe would act like a positive jolt to the system, but it has only thrust Lebanon deeper into crisis. Politicians’ continued their irresponsibility and a local investigation seems to be leading nowhere. The Lebanese ship of state is sinking, and there is a very real prospect of wider chaos.
The blast caught Lebanon at an extremely vulnerable point, following months of severe economic crisis compounded by the corona virus pandemic. Practitioners are warning of a national mental health emergency, as people begin to show signs of trauma from the explosion, including nightmares, flashbacks, crying, anxiety, anger and exhaustion. The blast triggered memories of the 1975-1990 civil wars and the 2006 war with Israel among others. Lebanese people are feeling restless and hopeless; the people taking to the streets are not as energetic as before, and emigration requests are skyrocketing. In the meantime, local NGOs have been working on the ground for disaster relief.
On the other hand — and, sadly, as always — Lebanese officials have accused one another of not taking responsibility for catastrophe and the wider collapse of the state. Instead of suggesting solutions, Lebanon’s authorities and political parties remain focused on preserving their own positions of power. They also went on to divert the attention from themselves and confuse the public by demanding they take the first steps towards a non-sectarian country (Haha!)
Designated PM Mustafa Adib, is having a hard time forming a new cabinet as political/sectarian conflicts rose back to the surface, all amidst serious civil unrest due to sectarianism and what looks like some terrorist incidents. Any government needs the blessing of the main Christian and Muslim factions, to ensure it conforms to Lebanon’s confessional power-sharing system. The process of forming a government has in the past taken many months. Donors have demanded to see reforms before unlocking billions of dollars in aid that was originally pledged in 2018 but never disbursed.
During the protests that erupted back in October, a lot of talk about the failed constitution, and the need for a new social contract was in the public. During President Macron’s visit to Lebanon last month, that conversation was renewed with Lebanon’s centennial approaching. What people do not realize is that the constitution and the Taef Agreement are far from being implemented in practice; a lot of the political work in Lebanon is based on non-written agreements between political leaders, who claim this maintains coexistence and civil peace. For example, the Taef states that non-sectarian parliamentary elections should take place right after the preparation of a new modern electoral law and creation of a sectarian based senate. Also, the Taef constitution specifies that sectarian distribution of public sector positions should be strictly for first class employees and high government officials, but a lot of regular officers have been lately denied employment for lack of sectarian balance. After the 2008 Doha Agreement, we began to see new shapes of governments, such as a blocking third for the opposition in the cabinet, a strictly Shiite minister of finance, and a lot of other unconstitutional practices.
In conclusion, maintaining the status quo will only reinforce the sense of injustice that pervades Lebanese society. Lebanon needs to practice its social contract based on democratic principles of accountability, fair play and the rule of law. The Lebanese need to be able to live in a prosperous future that rejects the scourges of sectarianism, corruption, and dependency. We must maintain pressure on the political establishment to respond to this stark reality by stopping political quarrels and starting to implement badly needed reforms. Such reforms would unlock international aid and, more importantly, improve the lives of millions of Lebanese.
We have so far published two other articles on the situation in Lebanon since the explosion: Luke wrote this report shortly after the blast and Viljami focused on the situation of refugees in this article.