Lebanon has captured the attention of the international community with the Beirut port explosion in early August and subsequent renewed anti-government protests across the nation. Official corruption has been a way of life in Lebanon for decades. Only now does it seem that the proverbial chicken is coming home to roost. The government resigned earlier this week as backlash against the political class has reached new heights. There are many questions emerging now about Lebanon’s political future. How Hezbollah will figure into the mixture is one of the more significant ones. Although many Lebanese like the idea of political change coming to their country, Hezbollah support remains considerable among the people.
Early next week the verdict on the 2005 killing of former Lebanese premier Rafic Hariri will come down from the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The verdict had been scheduled to come earlier in the month but the port explosion in Beirut brought on a postponement. The verdict, regardless of which way it goes, could spark fresh violence in Lebanon between Hezbollah, and Hariri supporters. Given the present political climate such clashes will be counterproductive for Hezbollah to say the least. This reality could be the reasoning behind Hezbollah’s claim that it will ignore the Hariri verdict when it is handed down.
What Hezbollah says and does are generally two entirely different things, as the world has learned. The world will be watching the verdict carefully as well. For the first time in decades Lebanon could be on the verge of genuine political change. It would be an absolute tragedy if the Hariri verdict, and Hezbollah were somehow able to derail that chance.
Lebanon is coming to terms with the horrific explosion in Beirut earlier this week. Aid is pouring into the nation from every direction. Old allies, and even old enemies are joining in the effort. The explosion has focused international attention on Lebanon for the moment, and the world is beginning to see how mismanaged, and corrupt the Lebanese government has become. Granted, Lebanon has always had to deal with this to one extent or another, but in recent years the levels of graft, and negligence have skyrocketed. The Lebanese people are seeking a solution and are not confident one can be found within their government. This was evident on Thursday night as anti-government protests flared up outside of the parliament building in Beirut. Fires were set, stores vandalized, and clashes with security forces broke out. Last night could be an indication of larger unrest to come in the future unless the Lebanese government can convince the people that it is committed to being the solution instead of the problem.
France has wasted no time in coming to Lebanon’s side in support. Less than 24 hours after the explosion French aid was arriving in Beirut and French president Emanuel Macron arrived in the city yesterday. French ties to Lebanon run deep so Macron’s arrival, and France’s swift response come as no surprise. The role that Paris will take in the near future remains to be seen. Macron is calling for politicians in Lebanon to come together and bring about change. In short, Macron is demanding reform, as are many other regional, and Western governments.
Lebanon’s people simply want change. A petition calling for Lebanon to fall under French mandate received the signatures of 50,000 Lebanese. This is indicative of the festering mood in the country and the populace’s almost complete lack of confidence in their government. The people want change, and if it is to come from the outside so be it. A dangerous message. Doubly so in uncertain times like these.
It has been around thirty hours since the ammonium nitrate explosion in Beirut devastated parts of the city. The initial of the investigation now underway strongly suggests that the explosion was the result of negligence, and a number of variables coming together at the most inopportune time. The investigation is nowhere near complete yet though and this should be kept in mind. A final verdict will not be rendered for some time. It is worth noting, however, that as Lebanese officials and authorities continue their investigation, at the same time the intelligence services of many Middle Eastern, and Western nation-states are conducting their own investigations of the incident.
Accident or otherwise, the explosion has come at a very delicate time for Lebanon. First there is the COVID-19 pandemic. Infections are on the rise, and the nation’s healthcare system and hospitals are struggling to cope. Economic conditions are another factor. Lebanese are dealing with an economic crisis worse than any since the 1975-1990 civil war. Brownouts are a part of daily live, and clean drinking water is not readily available on a consistent basis. Large scale street demonstrations against the government were a regular occurrence until the pandemic arrived, and the mood of many Lebanese has turned decidedly anti-government, and anti-Hezbollah.
The explosion occurred at Beirut’s port and caused an immense amount of damage. Significant quantities of stored grain have been destroyed, leading to worries about a possible food crisis in the near future. To exacerbate matters, the destruction caused to the port is leading to questions about its operational capacity. The Lebanese government is releasing 100 billion lira in emergency funds to help offset any economic consequences, but there is a growing consensus among economists, and geopolitical analysts that the impact of the blast on Lebanon’s economy will be long-lasting.