Lebanon is now at a crossroads

Protesters, with the help of the international community, can pressure leaders to resign and those responsible for the blasts to be prosecuted

TOPSHOT - A man draped in a Lebanese flag reacts as he stands before the ravaged port of Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 9, 2020, in the aftermath of a colossal explosion that occurred days prior due to a huge pile of ammonium nitrate that had languished for years at a port warehouse. The huge chemical explosion that hit Beirut's port, devastating large parts of the Lebanese capital and claiming over 150 lives, left a 43-metre (141 foot) deep crater, a security official said. The blast Tuesday, which was felt across the country and as far as the island of Cyprus, was recorded by the sensors of the American Institute of Geophysics (USGS) as having the power of a magnitude 3.3 earthquake. / AFP / PATRICK BAZ

Lebanon is in need of international help and competent leadership to recover from the tragic blast that devastated its capital last week.  On Sunday, a conference co-hosted by the French President Emmanuel Macron and the UN raised $300 million in donations destined for Beirut, five days after the city was throttled by the massive explosion of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate improperly stored at its seaport.

The incident killed more than 150 people, injured 6,000, rendered hundreds of thousands homeless and caused damage that will cost up to $15 billion. International donors insist that the aid will go directly to the people of Beirut and not their government – a demand voiced by many Lebanese, enraged by the negligence of their leadership that has brought tragedy upon their city.

Even as Prime Minister Hassan Diab has tendered his resignation, a key demand of protesters, the fall of the Cabinet is not enough to bring about real change in a nation plagued by corruption and mismanagement.

Senior Lebanese officials have admitted to knowing about the dangerous chemicals, stored for six years at the port. This has shattered what little public confidence remained in a government that was already excoriated for its handling of Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis and Covid-19 outbreak.

The closing statement at Sunday’s donor conference urged Lebanese leaders to heed the call of their people to bring about lasting reform.

Beirut requires more than monetary assistance. The city needs medical aid, temporary shelters, engineering expertise and building equipment. Not a single penny was pledged by Lebanon’s wealthy leaders, nor have Lebanese banks allowed Beirutis to access their foreign currency savings, which are locked as a result of informal capital control measures. Instead, the country’s political elite has evaded responsibility for the deadly explosion.

The desire of the Lebanese people and the international community to bypass the state in order to bring about Lebanon’s recovery is unusual, and a badge of shame for the government. But it is, in the short term, necessary.

This, however, does not grant Lebanon’s leadership a licence to do nothing. After Mr Macron’s visit to Lebanon last week, European NGOs complained that local authorities either cancelled the relief they were planning to provide or stalled for hours before aid and rescuers could access the site of the blasts. The country needs its institutions and its officials to stand up and help rebuild its capital, provide relief to those in need and look after the wounded and homeless.

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Protesters must continue to mobilise so that, with the help of the international community, pressure mounts for leaders to resign and for those responsible for the blasts to be prosecuted

The Lebanese investigation into the blasts was meant to share its findings within five days. Nearly a week later, nothing has emerged from the probe. Lebanese protesters have called for an international investigation into the incident, as widespread corruption pervades even the judiciary. Yet there is no guarantee that such a move would bring swift justice.

The only solution lies in strengthening Lebanon’s institutions and empowering the state, undermined by decades of sectarian politics, mismanagement and corruption. Lebanon is now at a crossroads. Protesters must continue to mobilise peacefully so that, with the help of the international community, pressure mounts for those responsible for the blasts to be prosecuted and true change to happen. If these efforts fail, the political class that has ruined Lebanon will remain in power.