2020 will be regarded as one of the worst years in Lebanese history because of an explosion that happened in the country’s capital, Beirut, on Tuesday.
What Caused the Blast?
According to Lebanese President Michael Aoun, the blast was caused by 2,740 tons of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse.
The explosion killed approximately 137 people and injured about 5,000 others as of the latest reports. Dozens of people are still missing and the incident has triggered a two-week state of emergency.
Ammonium nitrate is used as a fertilizer in agriculture and as an explosive. It had reportedly been stored in the warehouse in the port for six years after it was unloaded from a ship impounded in 2013.
Beirut’s Residents are Angry
There is a sense of anger throughout Beirut. The BBC‘s Lisa Sinjab reports that the same people who protested in the streets last October are angry that their politicians failed to prevent this explosion from happening. It is staggering that this was allowed to happen considering the head of the port and the head of the customs authority both told local media that they had written to the judiciary numerous times asking that the chemical be sold or exported to ensure port safety.
This explosion will have a lasting impact on Lebanon’s psyche, alongside many other events that have damaged the country’s self-confidence. It is a desperate call for things to change in Lebanon.
How Can the International Community Help Lebanon?
Perhaps this is where the international community can play its part. French President Emmanuel Macron said that his country will provide aid to Lebanon if the political elite initiate wide-range reforms, and the Lebanese Government is not in a position to say no because of the state of the economy.
Time suggests that one in three Lebanese citizens are unemployed, the currency has lost 80 percent of its value against the dollar since last fall, and mains electricity is only available for a few hours each day. The lockdown made things worse. A July 28 report showed that almost a million people in greater Beirut do not have money for sufficient food.
Anger at Lebanon’s political elite has been growing for some time. Not long before the explosion in Beirut, Human Rights Watch submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council in advance of the next periodic review of its human rights situation in January 2021. The report suggests that Lebanon has not made progress on a number of recommendations it accepted following its previous review in 2015.
Lebanon Suffering from Widespread Corruption
The report states that Lebanese security forces have used excessive force on several occasions against demonstrators, especially following the nation’s October 17, 2019 uprising, often with impunity. Furthermore, prosecutions against people exercising their free speech rights have increased rapidly since 2015.
The rest of the report makes for grim reading. Lebanon’s penal code is still being applied to criminalize same-sex relations, and security forces have interfered with human rights events related to gender and sexuality based on spurious “morality” claims.
The nation’s dollar shortage has contributed toward the difficulties Lebanon’s health sector is facing as patients are not being provided with necessary life-saving medical care. This is because of the Government’s failure to provide public and private hospitals with the money it owes them.
The US Has a Part to Play in Lebanon’s Future
As the Council on Foreign Relations‘ Amir Asmar argues, the Lebanese people must yield positive change without embroiling the country into another civil war. Their desire to remove all sectarian considerations from government and policy is necessary for Lebanon to flourish, although it is unlikely to happen. Perhaps the explosion in Beirut could stimulate further demands for change, and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) has a role to play here due to the positive view many Lebanese citizens have of this institution.
With US support, the LAF helped defeat Islamic State. The US should have a stake in Lebanon’s future, too, because if they can assist the LAF in any way, then they can prevent Hezbollah and its Shi’ite militia from emerging as the only fighting force in the country.
The explosion in Beirut will have a negative impact on Lebanon’s psyche, but it could also be a moment for positive change. Lebanon’s people need to feel more optimistic about the future, but that will not happen without the aid of external forces. Will the international community heed this nation’s call for help?