By Theodore Shoebat
Since October of 2019, the political atmosphere of Lebanon has been one of revolution. The Beirut explosion has been the tipping point in favor of anti-government emotions and revolt. Half of Beirut has been destroyed or damaged. 300,000 people are now homeless. Lebanon’s main grain silo was also destroyed, and that means that the country only has a month’s worth of grain left and will have to rely on foreign imports of grain. The country is an extremely devastated state. And this means that it is in the atmosphere of revolution.
Just recently there were protests outside of parliament buildings in Lebanon in which demonstrators cried “Revolution!” As we read from Fox News:
“Anti-government demonstrators clashed with police outside of parliament buildings Thursday, shouting “revolution” as residents blamed the devastating blast in Beirut’s port Tuesday on government negligence. The protests were reminiscent of previous anti-corruption demonstrations that took place in October 2019. … Lebanese forces deployed tear gas and pepper on crowds of demonstrators while protesters threw rocks and set small fires throughout the city.”
The French (a people whose history is most famous for revolution) visited Lebanon, with Macron being met with the cries of “Revolution” from the Lebanese people who want France to intervene in their country. As we read in a report from Yahoo! News: “Macron, wearing a black tie in mourning and flanked by security guards, promised to send more medical and other aid to Lebanon, while those around him chanted “Revolution””. A high school student even asked Macron to intervene in Lebanese politics: “Please mandate or reverse this political system that’s closed on itself. We don’t know how to topple it. You have the power to do it. Please help us.”
The explosion has served as the final straw, pushing the country closer to the brink of violent revolution.
Since 2013, the Lebanese government knew that there were 2,750 tons ammonium nitrate in the Beirut port, and yet nothing was done. This fact is only fueling the fires of revolution. The masses in Lebanon see the explosion as — in the words of the New York Times, “the culmination of years of mismanagement and neglect by the country’s politicians.” You can see these sentiments in the streets of Lebanon. Nada Chemali, a business owner whose home was destroyed in the blast, exhorted her countrymen to get right in the faces of the “big ones” she accused of pushing her country to ruin. “Go to their homes!” she shouted. “Who from the big ones is going to help us?” she yelled. “Who is going to reimburse us?” To further demonstrate how lacking and diminished Lebanon is, there is a shortage of medical supplies, making it even more difficult to help the victims of this horrendous blast. “We need everything to hospitalize the victims, and there is an acute shortage of everything,” said Hamad Hassan, Lebanon’s health minister.
A small Catholic hospital called Rosary Hospital was devastated by the explosion. The blast pushed patients from their beds, took the life of a nurse and broke the legs of another nurse who was in charge of the operating room, according Dr. Joseph Elias, the head of the cardiology department. He estimated that the hospital has more than $5 million in damages. “All the elevators are broken, all the respirators, all the monitors, all the doors — everything is destroyed,” he said. “It is just the walls of the hospital that are still here.” “We aren’t expecting any support because there is no state,” said Tony Toufic, a hospital engineer.
Saint George Hospital University Medical Center, which had been operating in Lebanon for more than a century, including throughout the civil war, was also forced to shut down. According to Dr. Alexandre Nehme, four of the hospital’s nurses and at least 13 patients were killed in the blast. Survivors had to be evacuated in the pitch dark due to the electricity being cut off, while new patients wounded in the blast were coming to the hospital and hoping for treatment. “This is as bad as Sept. 11,” said Dr. Raja Ashou, head of radiology. “For us, it is like that.”
The greatest destruction was on the Mediterranean waterfront and in the residential districts near the port. The impact of the explosion sparked rippling shockwaves that blasted windows miles away overlooking the hills above Beirut. Adjacent to Beirut’s downtown area, windows of prized hotels are seen shattered, their curtains waving in the wind. These hotels were esteemed as the prize of Lebanon, a demonstration of the country rising above the ashes of its civil-war. Now they lie diminished and ruined. People have been picking up debris and rubble, cleaning out the dirt, and the blood. Roger Matar, whose family’s apartment was devastated in the blast, expressed the anger of the city against the country’s officials:
“The banks are holding our money, and if you need to pay workers, you need cash … It should be the government that helps, but they are bankrupt. The country is broken.”
The revolution began in 2019, when protestors — angry about corruption and taxes — eventually toppled the prime minister, Saad Hariri. But the rage was not abated; it has only gotten worse. Lebanon’s currency lost over 80% of its value, and to make things worse, Coronavirus invaded the earth, and lockdown measures were imposed, making the economy even worse. Anger against the government was over corruption and the lack of financial help for citizens. This explosion — which erupted from over 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate sitting in a port, ignored by officials — is serving as the greatest manifestation of government indifference for the safety of its people.
The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate came to Lebanon in 2013 by way of a Russian owned ship called the MV Rhosus. The ship was heading towards Mozambique from Batumi, Georgia, but it was going to stop at Greece for supplies. But the owner of the ship, Igor Grechushkin, did not have enough funds to pay the toll at the Suez Canal. The Rhosus stopped at the Beirut port on November of 2013 and was deemed unseaworthy by the port’s state control, and it was forbidden to set sail. A Lebanese court ordered that cargo be confiscated, and the nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate were parked into the port in November of 2014. For the next six years, port officials repeatedly asked the judge to find a way to get rid of the chemical. In a 2016 letter, they cited “the serious danger posed by keeping this shipment in the warehouses in an inappropriate climate” and asked that it be dealt with “to preserve the safety of the port and its workers.” In his defense, the director general of the port of Beirut, Hassan Kraytem, explained: “We knew they were hazardous materials, but not to that extent”.
The unrest in Lebanon begins in October of 2019, in what is known as the October Revolution. The protests and unrest began over government taxation on gasoline (like what happened in France with the Yellow Vest movement), tobacco and Whatsapp calls. But the cause of the protest movement shifted against things like Lebanon’s sectarian rule, unemployment (which was at 46% in 2018) terrible economy and immense government corruption. Lebanon’s infrastructure is also very poor. You don’t get guaranteed 24 hour electricity in Lebanon, which means that the people have had to rely on the “generator mafia”. Lebanon also has not had access to drinkable tap water since the civil war (which lasted from 1975-1990) and has had to drink only from bottled water. Moreover, the country has a terrible problem with sewage and garbage, which led to the 2015 “garbage crises” that sparked the 2015-16 protests.
At the heart of Lebanon’s unrest is the heavily sectarian character of its society, and the loyalties to foreign powers coming out of the major sects of the country. You have the Sunnis who love Turkey, the Shiites who love Iran and the Maronite Christians who love France. Each of these religious groups serve as almost like satellites towards the foreign power they revere. Lebanon is under a sectarian form of government in which political authority is given based on religious affiliation.
The origins story of the Lebanese protests has been traced to a number of fires that hit the regions of Chouf and Saadiyat. The fires devastated homes and burned to crisp black beautiful greenery that the Lebanese people have taken pride in. The Lebanese government did not send planes to extinguish the fires and had to rely on aid from Cyprus, Turkey, Jordan, and Greece.
The decade of the 2010s saw Lebanon’s economy go through continual decline. By 2019, Lebanon’s GDP reached its lowest point since 2008, and had a debt-to-GDP ratio of 151%, its highest since 2008. 2019 saw Lebanon go through a dollar shortage, leading the coalition government of Saad Hariri to impose an austerity program consisting of a general tax increase and spending reductions. The goal in mind was to reduce the government deficit while maintaining the peg against the US dollar. Reducing its national deficit was a stipulation that Lebanon had to agree upon in order to get a package of USD 10.2 billion of loans and USD 860 million of grants agreed in 2018 with the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Saudi Arabia.
October 17th of 2019, there was a cabinet session held in which the government proposed methods to increase state revenue for 2020. The media reported something that sparked the protests that we have been seeing to today: the government wanted to do a $0.20 tax on phone calls made through online platforms such as Facebook, FaceTime and WhatsApp, which are the main means of calling Lebanese citizens. This was a major spark that fueled the fumes that were already smoldering.
The protests began on the day the reforms were reported on. It began with just about one hundred protestors in downtown Beirut, who began blocking streets. The Minister of Higher Education, Akram Chehayeb, and his convoy, passed by the area when protestors surrounded his car. His bodyguards responded by firing rounds in the air, which only exasperated the crowd’s anger. Larger crowds appeared in Martyrs Square, Nejmeh Square and Hamra Street, as well as other regions in Lebanon. The Minister of Telecommunications, Mohamad Choucair, announced that the “WhatsApp tax” idea had been trashed. But this did not abate the masses. Political offices started to get attacked. On October 18th, the day after the WhatsApp Tax was reported and subsequently scrapped, protestors in Nabatiyeh and Tripoli attacked the offices of Hezbollah (Shiite), Amal Movement (Shiite) and the Free Patriotic Movement (Christian nationalist). A mob of protestors wanted to stampede through the Parliament building, but were repulsed by tear grass. Protestors set up roadblocks and set tires and trash cans on fire to block access as an expression of outrage against government corruption.
On October 19th, Hassan Nasrallah, the General Secretary of Hezbollah, addressed the country by expressing disapproval of the taxes but at the same time encouraging the people to not be angry with the Hariri government, but rather the previous administration. A Christian party called Lebanese Forces (formerly a militia during the Lebanese Civil War), which held several positions in the government, announced its resignation from the cabinet. On October 21st, Prime Minister Hariri convened a press conference announcing multiple reforms such as cutting the politicians’ salaries by half, reducing the deficit by half in 2020, giving financial help to families in poverty and giving $160 million in housing loans. None of these were able to quell the mob. That evening, numerous men in motorcycles holding up the flags of Hezbollah and the Shiite Amal Movement began heading towards the protests, but were stopped by Lebanese soldiers. Hezbollah and Amal denied having any involvement in this.
The protestors were enraged at the government, to the point that they refused to have any dialogue with the state until the whole government resigned. President Aoun asked for dialogue, but this was met with more road blocks. Hezbollah militants, in support of the government, began to have scuffles on the streets with protestors. These fighters also began to exclaim their support for Hezbollah in the streets. Nasrallah made a speech in the meeting calling for his supporters to leave the streets.In the same speech Nasrallah praised the protestors for getting the government to make economic reforms, but he warned that the protestors were being used by local and foreign agents as part of a strategy of tension to spark a civil war. “In view of the difficult financial, economic and living situation in the country, in view of security and political tensions that are prevailing in the region … a vacuum will lead to chaos, to collapse,” Nasrallah said. He went on to explain: “I am afraid that there are those who want to take our country and generate social, security and political tensions and to take it to civil war”. On October 29th, Hezbollah and Amal militants attacked protestors in Beirut, overrunning and chasing them away, as we read in a report from N World:
“The tension Tuesday comes on the 13th day of anti-government protests. AP
A group of men shouting Hezbollah and Amal Movement slogans attacked protesters and overrun a sit-in blocking a major highway before chasing the demonstrators down the hill to Martyrs’ Square and destroying the 13 day-old sit-in.
The group of a few hundred men charged and attacked protesters on the ring-road that connects east and west Beirut before breaking through and running down towards Martyrs’ Square where they pulled down tents, smashed chairs and tore down stages at the centre of the national protest against the government. As their numbers swelled, the army was deployed to push them out of downtown but hundreds headed down the road towards the prime minister’s office at Riad Al Solh where a few hundred protesters were still gathered.”
On October 31st, President Aoun did a speech expressing his commitment to fighting corruption. This did not abate the crowd, as demonstrators blocked roads in Sidon, Bekaa and Khaldeh with burning tires and huge numbers of people. Thousands of people gathered together to protest in Al-Nour Square in Beirut. The Lebanese Army and riot police had to be deployed across the country in order to maintain peace.
These protests have been taking place for months. This explosion just made everything a lot worse and is tipping the country further and further into revolt and revolution, and possible violence. If protests have gone on for this long over taxes and unemployment, imagine what this explosion will be a catalyst towards.