Lebanon after the blast

Summary: more than a month after the Beirut harbour explosion, Lebanon struggles to find hope and a way forward.

Four snapshots of a country still reeling from the massive explosion that destroyed Beirut’s port.

The first comes from Bassem Mroue, AP’s Middle East correspondent. He tweeted on 8 September at 09:32 in the morning:

“#Lebanese citizen Tanios Antoun, who was wounded in the Aug. 4 blast in #Beirut succumbed to his wounds today. His death raises to 192 people who were killed…that also wounded more than 6500 people.”

The second is part of a sermon given on Sunday by Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, head of the Maronite church, and leader of the biggest Christian community in Lebanon. Calling for an emergency government, the patriarch urged an end to “clientelism, corruption and bias.”

He said:

“Fateful times require a government in which there is no monopoly of portfolios, no sharing out of benefits, no dominance by one group, and no landmines that disrupt its work and decisions”

The third snapshot is an interview that Riad Salameh, the governor of the central bank of Lebanon, did with CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on 7 September. He declined to resign, despite recent revelations that the bank had inflated its assets by US$6.8 billion in 2018.

“I don’t want to resign because I am continuing what I have in my mind, as a strategy to get out of this crisis, and I’m sorry to disappoint those who are spreading rumours on my resignation every day.”

And finally one from the website of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), a global fund established in 2016 and dedicated to supporting education in emergencies and protracted crises.  Working with UNESCO and Lebanon’s education ministry, ECW has contributed US$1.5 million to help repair the damage to 140 schools that is preventing at least 55,000 students from returning to education.

“Severe destruction of the schools has been reported by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and education sector, including crumbling walls, broken windows, leaking roofs, broken desks and chairs. School water and sanitation facilities have also been damaged, further exacerbating the ongoing health crisis posed by COVID-19.”

It added: “Compounding economic and political crises are putting over a million children and youth at risk in Lebanon.”

Education, individuals and institutions.  The patriarch and the chief of the Banque du Liban are of the elite that many months of protests, which began in October last year and have continued through the pandemic, have sought to sweep away. The patriarch, in his sermon, acknowledges the need for change.  He speaks against sectarianism and entrenched interests.  Whether his words will have impact remains to be seen but at the very least they have resonance with and are an acknowledgement of the street protests.

Many Lebanese expect Mustapha Adib, who was elected prime minister on 31 August, will be little different from his predecessor Hassan Diab who resigned last month following the blast (photocredit: @KhatibHanane)

Riad Salameh, on the other hand,  Banque du Liban governor since 1993, declines to resign and in so doing refuses to accept that he is part of the problem. In the interview he spoke of “a strategy” but few in Lebanon believe that even if he has one it will work.

US$1.5 million seems a pitiful amount when set against the tens of billions it will take to rebuild Beirut.  But it is a start to getting the city’s children and youth back into education. Families still face food insecurity driven by a collapsing Lebanese pound and high inflation. And unemployment stalks Beirut and the country as an already crippled economy took a further hammer blow when Covid-19 struck.

But hope is a commodity without price and repairing Beirut’s schools is a sign of hope and of commitment to the city and the country’s youth.

And so to the tweet announcing the death of Tanios Antoun. In posting it, Bassem Mroue underlines the human dimension of the tragedy that has engulfed Beirut and Lebanon. Tanios Antoun is one of 192 killed; and there are more than 6500 wounded, many still in overcrowded and under resourced hospitals. As yet another government, headed this time by Mustafa Adib, Lebanon’s former ambassador to Germany, struggles to form a cabinet and to come up with a cohesive action plan, Mroue’s tweet reminds us of why we should care that the politicians finally start to get their priorities straight, that rather than looking after themselves and protecting their vested interests they consider first the people.

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