I’m devastated for Beirut – a city I thought I hated


Rola El-Husseini, Lund University

Since the explosion in Beirut I’ve listened repeatedly to the song Ya Beirut (Oh Beirut) by the Lebanese diva Majida al-Roumi, while obsessively reading the news and checking on extended family members – like any other expatriate Lebanese.

The song, which was originally a poem by the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, describes the city as it emerged from the civil war. The poet/singer apologises to the city for misunderstanding it, for maltreating it and calls on Beirut to “rise from beneath the rubble”. Yet the line that struck me the most, that echoed within me was “we now know that your roots are deep within us”. That was an epiphany, as I always thought I hated Beirut.

I first came to know Beirut in the fall of 1988 as a student at the American University of Beirut (AUB). I had not turned 18 yet and came to study English literature as books had been my only friends growing up. They offered me an escape from the realities of the civil war. Jane Austen, Honoré de Balzac, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and others gave me a window into other worlds when bombs fell and bullets sang around us. I was excited to start a new life in a city where I could reinvent myself. Beirut destroyed all my dreams.

Soon after the end of my first semester at AUB in 1989, Michel Aoun, the current president of Lebanon, then head of a military government, began his “war of liberation” against Syria. The western side of Beirut where the university is located was shelled and we were forced to evacuate.

Upon our return following the Ta’if agreement which ended the civil war and sent Aoun into exile in Paris, we resumed our studies. The spring semester of 1990 was crammed into the next academic year, and we undertook an intensive course of study to graduate on time.

I came to hate with passion every moment I spent on the AUB campus and could not wait to leave Beirut, a city I had come to revile after all the years of turmoil. My acceptance for an MA in English literature at the University of London was the initial step in a long trajectory that took me to Paris, Berlin, the US and now Sweden.

Over the following decades, I switched from studying literature to Middle Eastern politics. After growing up in Lebanon during the civil war, I needed to tease apart in an intellectual and systematic manner the events that I sleepwalked through using literature as a crutch. The resulting book Pax Syriana allowed me to clarify (if only in my own mind) the role of political elites not only in the war, but also in the postwar era.

These political elites were mainly warlords who “recycled themselves” as politicians. They were rich tycoons who had made their money abroad, military men and members of the militant group Hezbollah. Lebanon, and specifically Beirut, was a virgin territory where these people could enrich themselves and their cronies.

Clientelism has always been a characteristic of Lebanese politics but it evolved into grand corruption in the postwar period. Graft was rampant in key sectors of the economy, including transport, healthcare, energy, natural resources, construction, waste management and social assistance programmes.

Uprising thwarted by tragedy

The Lebanese rose up in October 2019 against this political malfeasance, demanding the fall of the sectarian regime. They called for the removal of Michael Aoun, who had returned to Lebanon in 2005 after his exile in France and became president in 2016.

The coronavirus pandemic put a stop to the marches and sit-ins on the streets of Beirut and other Lebanese cities. Soon thereafter, the economic freefall predicted by analysts took place.

The economy decimated, Lebanon was falling apart at the seams. Then came the August 4 explosion in the Beirut port, and the medical, economic and social catastrophe took on gargantuan proportions. The dead have not been counted yet, as many are still under the rubble, but over 5,000 are wounded. More than 300,000 are said to be homeless.

The explosion is said to be due to 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate confiscated in 2013 and improperly stored since then in the port. The chemical was to be auctioned or somehow disposed of, but that never happened. Its storage near residential areas was a disaster in waiting.

The Beirut port is a key node in the Lebanese transport sector and the import-dependent economy moves most of its imports through it, including the majority of foodstuffs. However, as a port employee has noted, “corruption at the port is a rule” and while Hezbollah controls it, all Lebanese politicians have interests in this crucial transportation hub. This therefore appears to be a case of criminal negligence on the part of every single Lebanese politician, but especially all the governments that have been in power since 2013.

While writing these words, I find myself choking with a strange mixture of relief and pain. The relief is the knowledge that I have escaped Lebanon – that I saw through the mirage of the postwar period and refused to go back to a failing state. I feel strangely justified in every single decision I took in the past decades.

But my heart is also bleeding for a city I thought I hated. I hurt for the youth of Lebanon stuck in a hell without hope of escape. I read the words that Hamed Sinno, the lead singer of the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, posted on his Facebook page and I weep:

Beirut I hate you so much for making me leave. I hate you for everything you’ve taken from me … I hate you so much for finding a way to punish me when I’m not even there. Beirut I hate you as much as I hate myself for still belonging to you.

I have an inkling what this feeling stuck in my craw is: it is survivor guilt. I survived Lebanon and Beirut but my roots are still there.The Conversation

Rola El-Husseini, Associate Professor, Director of Studies, Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Beirut explosion: the disaster was exceptional but events leading up to it were not – researchers


Scott Edwards, University of Bristol and Christian Bueger, University of Copenhagen

At the time of writing at least 100 people have lost their lives and a further 4,000 have been wounded following an explosion in the Port of Beirut. While the actual cause remains uncertain, the tragedy calls to attention the tremendous consequences of a lack of port security.

The explosion, on August 4, at around 6pm local time, appears to have been fuelled by 2,750 tons of the highly reactive chemical ammonium nitrate. The chemical had been the cargo on a ship, the the MV Rhosus, which entered the port at Beirut in 2013 due to a lack of seaworthiness and was prohibited from sailing. After the ship’s owner abandoned the vessel soon afterwards, the ammonium nitrate remained in a storage facility in Beirut’s port.

While the disaster itself was exceptional, the events leading up to it were not. Hazardous material is shipped across the world’s oceans on a daily basis. It is often mishandled or illegally traded. Abandoned containers of hazardous goods are found regularly in ports.

While maritime security tends to focus on preventing high-profile events such as piracy, terrorism or cyber-attacks, all too often it is daily mishandling that makes disasters possible. Part of preventing disasters such as what has happened in Beirut will mean strengthening port management and addressing crimes such as smuggling and corruption.

Abandoned ships

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has recorded 97 cases of abandoned ships and crews since 2017. Ships are abandoned by their owners if a vessel is no longer lucrative to maintain, or perhaps if the ship has been stopped by authorities and fined. While the situation of the seafarers aboard these ships is often tragic, as they may receive little pay or even food for months, what happens to the load of the vessels is often unclear.

And the IMO number only reflects the cases of ships – we know little about how many containers stand abandoned in ports around the world.

A UN report indicates that this number may be large. Containers often lie abandoned within ports, sometimes even by design, fuelled by criminal activities such as waste smuggling and corruption. Despite some efforts to counter this, the issue remains widespread and there are continued obstacles to tackling it.

International waste trade

Shipping companies often sail to Asia with empty containers, as much of the flow of trade is from Asia to Europe. As a result, they are willing to take low-value and high-volume bookings on the initial leg.

This has facilitated a burgeoning waste trade and with it a smuggling sector, where illegal forms of waste such as unrecyclable plastics are shipped from western countries to countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Thousands of these containers lie abandoned once they reach the port.

Aerial view of ship loaded with shipping containers in ocean
A trade in waste flows from Europe to Asia.
Avigator Fortuner/Shutterstock

Much of the waste is less dangerous than the ammonium nitrate that fuelled the Beirut explosion, but it can still have dreadful effects. Plastics, for example, can cause hazards if not properly disposed of. Much of it ends up in the ocean, fuelling the ocean plastic crisis.

In 2019, Sri Lankan authorities discovered more than 100 abandoned containers in the port of Colombo. They contained clinical waste, potentially including human remains, and were leaking fluids. The risk that the containers had contaminated the ground and surface water in the two years they had lay in port unnoticed fuelled public health concerns. Sri Lanka has been able to investigate this problem – but it is likely that, in many cases, abandonment goes undiscovered.

Prevention

The abandonment of dangerous containers in ports is not a new problem. Since the 2000s there have been significant efforts to increase security levels in ports through surveillance, training and safety protocols. In light of the continuing abandonment problem, we know that these measures – and their implementation – are insufficient.

First, we have to start seeing the smuggling of waste and the abandoning of ships and containers as major offences. They should be seen as important parts of the blue crime and maritime security agenda. Appropriate legislation is needed to criminalise them. An international database for such crimes is required, as is transnational cooperation to address them.

Second, corruption in ports plays a key part in ensuring that abandonment goes unnoticed. It needs to be addressed with a concerted international effort.

Finally, increased efforts in building the capacity of ports to deal with hazardous waste, to detect smuggling and to deal with abandonment cases are needed. In particular, this will be necessary for ports which have limited resources and are common destinations for abandoned containers, such as ports in Asia and Africa.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the International Maritime Organization and the European Union already conduct port security capacity building work, in particular in Africa. More of this kind of work is needed.

Beirut has shown us the kind of impact a port disaster can have on a city and its inhabitants. Lessons must be learned to make sure a tragedy like this does not happen again.The Conversation

Scott Edwards, Research Associate, University of Bristol and Christian Bueger, Professor of International Relations, University of Copenhagen

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Beirut explosion yet another heartbreak for a country already on the brink


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Lebanon did not need one of the world’s most horrific accidental detonations to remind people it is a state teetering on the edge of collapse.

However, the destructive power of 2,750 metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate ignited in Beirut’s port, killing 135 people and injuring 5,000 more so far, has amplified the parlous state in which Lebanon finds itself.




Read more:
Beirut explosion: the disaster was exceptional but events leading up to it were not – researchers


Lebanon might not meet the accepted definition of a failed state because it retains the trappings of a central government. But an administration corrupted by a patronage system based on the country’s confessional groupings has long failed to deliver basic services to a population of 6.8 million.

Power shortages are a fact of daily life, inflation is rampant, the Lebanese pound has collapsed, unemployment has gone through the roof, crime has sky-rocketed, and food shortages are endemic.

If not a failed state, Lebanon is a failing one.

And it has been failing for a long time.

In essence, Lebanon’s problems are structural and therefore not capable of simple, or even rational, solutions.

A young man with gauze on his face is hugged by a young woman who is crying.
A young couple caught up in the explosion in Beirut.
Ibrahim Dirani/Dar al Mussawir/EPA/AAP

The problems go back to the French mandate-era constitution of 1926, which sought to divide power between the country’s Christians and Muslims.

Under these arrangements, refined over the years, the president would be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the National Assembly, or parliament, a Shia Muslim.

Cabinet’s composition would reflect these main confessional strands. So would positions in the military, security apparatus, judiciary and bureaucracy.

Needless to say, haggling over the distribution of the spoils of office has contributed to one of the most corrupt countries on the planet.

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Lebanon ranks 137 out of 180 globally.

Lebanon’s wealth, such as it is, has been looted over the years by officeholders and their cronies to the point where the country is effectively bankrupt.

All this has taken place against the background of a civil war throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and two Israeli invasions, one in 1982, the other in 2006.

Then there is the increasing and disruptive influence of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, now the dominant political force in the country. Hezbollah’s growing power is one of the reasons Lebanon’s fragile power-sharing arrangements have come under increasing stress.

At the same time, Lebanon has been inundated by Syrians displaced by their homeland’s civil war.

Relative to its population, Lebanon has absorbed more refugees than any other country in the world. They account for 30% of Lebanon’s population.

These pressures have pushed the Lebanese administration close to breaking point.

In that context, the port ammonium nitrate explosion could hardly have come at a worse moment for an embattled government. It has been engaged in months of testy negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout plan.

IMF negotiators have been frustrated by their inability to get Lebanese counterparts to sign on to an emergency relief scheme to enable Lebanon to keep functioning.

Among the sticking points has been agreement on what money has been lost or otherwise misappropriated.

“It has been really difficult. The core of the issue is whether there can be unity of purpose in the country,” the IMF’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, told reporters after talks had stalled.

This is an understatement.

Lebanese have been taking to the streets to protest against government corruption and incompetence. Those protests will now be fuelled by greater levels of outrage over the mismanagement by port authorities of highly combustible material that arrived on a Russian ship bound for Madagascar in 2013.

That ship did not continue the voyage. Its cargo was offloaded and placed in a warehouse. Higher authorities ignored repeated warnings from customs officials about the risks of continuing to store the ammonium nitrate.

Tragically, this episode pretty much sums up Lebanon’s central problem: lack of accountability due to a fractured and fragmented administration.




Read more:
Trouble in the Gulf as US-Iran dispute threatens to escalate into serious conflict


Action is already being taken against officials deemed immediately responsible for overseeing security in the Beirut port. But this is unlikely to assuage anger among the general population over what has taken place.

A man with bandages on his head walks past soldiers in Beirut.
Lebanon was already on tenterhooks before the explosion.
Hassan Ammar/AP/AAP

In the days before the explosion, and separate from it, Lebanon was already on tenterhooks in anticipation of a UN-backed court verdict in the trial of four members of Hezbollah accused of assassinating former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Hariri, who spearheaded Lebanon’s reconstruction after its civil war, was killed in Beirut in 2005 by a massive truck bomb.

UN investigations based on phone records identified four alleged culprits, none of whom have been seen in public for years.

Hezbollah has questioned the validity of the UN’s inquiries.

The verdict was due on February 7. It has now been put off to August 18.

If the UN court finds the accused guilty it will add to sectarian tensions.

Questions have been asked in the past about whether Lebanon can survive as a confessional state based on archaic power-sharing arrangements. Those questions may resurface.

In the meantime, the country’s strategic significance, abutting Israel in the south and Syria to its east and north, means it is not in the interests of the wider Arab world, nor the West, to allow it to implode.

The outlook for Lebanon, whose main city was once known as the Paris of the East, is bleak.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: International


General

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania

Russia

United Kingdom

Lebanon

USA

South America

Lebanon: Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from Lebanon.

For more visit:
http://www.christianexaminer.com/article/lebanons.christians.in.danger.of.being.overrun.losing.access.to.politics/49579.htm