Justice for Beirut: Hope for Structural Change or Just False Hope?

Saturday 8 August 202001:26 pm

Will #Beirut_Explosion succeed in bringing about the change that consecutive catastrophes, old and ongoing, had failed to bring?

Reeling under the strain of a political and economic ticking bomb for decades, Lebanon had grasped its last breath as the explosion went off. The country has been designated by the outside but even more so by its own people as politically, financially and tragically, morally bankrupt. Three decades following the end of the civil war and Lebanon seems to have failed at every turn to establish a functioning state or at the very least resembling one. Nothing out of the ordinary was required from its politicians. Its citizens have endured so much that all they ask for is access to their basic rights; electricity, safe and clean water, job opportunities and dissociation from the regional power struggle.

The country has been in ruins long before the explosion of 2,700 ton of ammonium nitrate that has engulfed Beirut’s city center, leveling neighborhoods and bringing the nation to its knees with almost 200 people dead, 5000 wounded and close to 300,000 on the streets as their homes have turned into rubble. Beirut is in ruins as the intensity of the explosion was equivalent to a nuclear bomb with shockwaves travelling across the city. The explosion was so intense that it was felt in Cyprus some 240 kms away, it caused an earthquake which was measured at a magnitude of 3.3. It was felt in all directions across the capital and beyond. people reported feeling the pressure of the explosion as far as the mountains, some 18kms to the north of the capital and as far up as 800 km above sea level.

Nothing out of the ordinary was required from #Lebanon's politicians. Its citizens endured so much that all they ask for is access to basic rights; electricity, safe and clean water, job opportunities and dissociation from the regional power struggle

This city has endured so many wars over the years and the Lebanese have always prided themselves on their strong will, love for life and resilience. But by the account of almost all of those who witnessed the explosion, many of whom have lived through the civil war- the most brutal of all, and accounting for the younger generation that have lived through the Israeli wars on Lebanon, almost all of them can agree on one thing: they have never seen anything like this. The people have reached a breaking point which saw people taking to the street in nation-wide cross-sectarian protests across Lebanon in October 17- saying enough is enough. This was an outright indictment of the whole political establishment. People have called for a cleansing of some sort to the whole political class as they cried foul to the sectarian power-sharing system that hijacked the nation all these years, and since the Taif agreement which marked the end of the civil war. To the disappointment of the many, these protests were only able to cause a resignation of the prime minister and the formation of a new cabinet that did not do much save replacing old faces with new ones without ridding itself of the establishment which remained in control running business as usual.

Why did the authorities ignore the many warnings from officials at the ports describing it as a ticking-bomb as they asked for the material to be sold, auctioned off, or simply sent to another country. Who could put this material to “good” use?

Now questions arise as to what was a 2.7 ton of Ammonium Nitrate doing at the port at the periphery of a highly-dense residential area at the heart of the capital of almost 2 million residents. Who authorized that a highly explosive material be moved to a warehouse in the port. Why did the authorities ignore the many warnings from officials at the ports describing it as a ticking-bomb as they asked for the material to be sold, auctioned off, or simply sent to another country. Who could have any use for this material and what has it been doing lingering at the port six years after it had been confiscated. These are the very basic questions that the Prime Minister has promised to answer in 5 days. Some port and customs officials have been placed under house arrests and some have had judicial proceedings directed against them. It is not sure how the culprits will be brought to justice when it is a chain of command that starts high up with public officials at the highest levels of government and does not end with a general director in the customs or port management. If a serious investigation should be carried out, does this mean that we are about to witness a whole system of governance falling apart piece by piece in a domino-like effect, or will justice sacrifice a few officials to save the “system”. There’s an unsettling sense based on past incidents that few stand justice as a scape-goat to keep the “the system” afloat. That should justice be truly served, it will take down with it the foundations upon which this system is built and made to benefit the establishment. The Lebanese people are yet to see who will be culpable of this war-crime; accidental or intended. Scenarios of an Israeli strike, targeting an arms depot for Hezbollah which happened to be next to the Ammonium Nitrate warehouse, are swirling around with eye-witnesses reported hearing the sound of a jet right before the explosion. Trump has clearly stated that he has been briefed by his generals that this was an attack and not some industrial type of explosion. However, and regardless of who carried the attack or how the alleged explosion happened, what was a 2.7 ton of explosions doing in a warehouse for six years strapped to Beirut’s body like a suicide vest in nothing short of an act of terrorism. Negligence is an understatement and to describe the explosion that obliterated swaths of the capital is a whitewash, which only serves as a tool to let some off the hook while lessening the punishment for those who committed this “negligent act”. This is an act of terrorism, nothing short of that and whoever was complicit, knowingly or inadvertently, must be held accountable; a word that is devoid of any meaning in this part of the world.

This brings me to the events prior to the explosion, Lebanon has seen unprecedented terror-like acts against its citizens as a result of economic mismanagement and decades of corruption has siphoned off the state’s resources and pushed it to an unprecedented economic and financial crisis or rather collapse. The currency has lost around 80 percent of its value against the dollar; prices have soared more than quadrupling; electricity blackouts for up to 20 hours a day; unemployment levels at a record high; country’s default on a eurobond debt for the first time in its history; capital controls at the banks; and to top it up the coronavirus pandemic. Lebanon is not on the verge of collapse, it is a broken state. Despite the state of no-state, the newly appointed government had failed to initiate any substantial change under the pretext that they inherited a drowning ship and there is only so much they are capable of. This is just to say that the current state of a collapse should have been enough for the country to have ignited a revolution- one that unlike the 17th of Oct. revolution- would have seen the whole regime toppled down witnessing the overhaul of a corrupt and inept system of governance whose main pillars continue to run the state like a puppet.

Amidst all the terror and fear, we hear cries for an international tribunal for an investigation into the port explosion in Beirut. Did our memory fail us to recall that the International Tribunal for Lebanon that started 15 years ago into the assassination of the later prime minister Rafic el Hariri and is yet to deliver its verdic due Friday (yesterday) but was postponed due to the blast. What justice would it deliver when it lacks the power to enforce its verdicts on Lebanon’s soil save for a few international arrest warrants and some frozen bank assets? Is this the justice Beirut is seeking today? will the culprits abide by the rulings issued by an international judicial body? if one group or the other was indicted, would they not use the tribunal to denounce “foreign interference”- the likes of which we had seen in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Moreover, if the Lebanese cannot trust their own justice system for exposing the culprits, then I am afraid seeking foreign “help” won’t do much to change anything either. Change and sanitization of state institutions must come from within-and I suspect that reliance on the outside would only strengthen the existing power-structure instead of dismantling it in addition to an increased isolation of the more radical wings of the state sending Lebanon further into disarray and delusion.

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