Lebanon: one year after Beirut port blast

France's President Emmanuel Macron's diplomatic attempts have been unsuccessful sofar and Lebanon is facing a crisis that seems to have no end.

Matteo Toppeta Matteo Toppeta

On 4th August 2020, one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history devastated the port of Beirut and entire neighbourhoods in Lebanon's capital, causing more than 200 deaths and around 7,000 injuries, due to the explosion of around 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. Initially it was feared to be an assassination attempt and the search for a culprit has not yet found an answer; families still demand justice, while the country struggles with an unprecedented economic crisis. The crisis in Lebanon, however, predated the explosions, due not only to the covid-19 but also and above all to the bankruptcy declared in March 2020, with a rapport debt/PIL of 170%.

Instead of a moment of reckoning, the blast has deepened Lebanon's political paralysis - the country has had an interim government for almost a year - and an economic collapse that began in autumn 2019. Investigations into the blast have stalled, with sectarian leaders and their political parties closing ranks against a judge who wants to question several powerful officials. Lebanon's political paralysis, financial crisis and stalled investigations might seem like separate problems, but they are the result of three decades of systemic neglect and lack of accountability since the end of a 15-year civil war in 1990.

The current situation in Lebanon is catastrophic; the majority of Lebanese families live off people working abroad who manage to send them money or bring them basic necessities such as medicines and hygiene products. Even today, many families are unable to afford medicines, partly because the government of Najib Mikati, who took office last year, has begun to eliminate any kind of subsidy. With the complicity of the covid-19 pandemic, which since the beginning of August has again seen a surge of over a thousand cases a day, hospitals continue to suffer from a lack of oxygen and sometimes even find themselves without electricity. Moreover, the country's humanitarian crisis is likely to worsen as 4 million people, including 1 million refugees, will not have access to drinking water within a short time, in about three weeks. The possibility of Lebanon becoming a failed state is becoming more and more obvious every day, as even international aid is not sufficient. In this context, the political inability of Lebanon is the main factor, and even though one year ago many heads of state promised large amounts of aid, such as the French President Macron, today the situation is unchanged. In fact, the first problem in Lebanon is the absence of a government capable of legislating because of its confessional divisions: Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Maronite Christians who cannot agree.

Macron's international failure

By mid-October 2020, Macron had called for a rapprochement between all of Lebanon's political forces, an attempt that completely failed. Macron wanted to try to get the country out of the economic crisis, avoiding Turkish interference with the intention of organising a conference by January 2021 between China, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and institutions such as the UN, the European Union and the Arab League. This meeting was held only a year after the explosions, on 4th August 2021.

The aim is certainly to lift the country's fortunes, but it is undeniable that such a situation is also caused by international complications. The real problem is that Macron, by offering the possibility of an agreement watched over by Paris, has allowed the old ruling class to recycle itself. This attempt was essentially unsuccessful, given that the explosion of 2020 did not end but, if anything, accelerated Lebanon's systemic crisis, and dragged with it Paris' ambitions to be the ultimate decision-maker on the stability of the Cedar Country.

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