There really are no words to describe what people felt witnessing the explosion that occurred in Beirut last week. Corruption? Devastation? Heartbreak? Annihilation? Even words like these don’t seem to suffice.
But I do think that what we have witnessed in terms of protests on the streets since the explosion comes closest to the most appropriate descriptor: rage. Fuming, seething, seeping, bleeding and explosive rage.
I attended some of the protests that occurred last year, and while there were occasional clashes between protesters and security forces (police and army), it clearly was nothing like what has been going on since last week. The army has been significantly more aggressive in their approach, reportedly firing rubber (and live) bullets at protesters and forcefully beating them. Despite all the reverence the Lebanese usually give to the army, they are fully aware that the institution they are deeply proud of is acting like an accomplice and protecter of the state.
But, let me put the rage that I mentioned earlier into context: As I wrote in an article previously, October of 2019 was a stressful month for the Lebanese. ‘the price of the Lebanese Lira dropped, with 1000 L.L equalling 0.66 USD (it had been equal to 0.75 USD since the late 90s) early in the month. Petrol stations went on multiple strikes and you’d be lucky to find cash waiting for you at your nearby ATM. Then, several parts of the country were victims to large forests fires that left irreversible damage….On Thursday, 17thof October, the government revealed a plan to apply a monthly tax on Whatsapp to enable voice and video calls.’ On October 18th 2019 the protests would start and carry on well into 2020, on and off and in line with pandemic related events. During this period the following events took place, slowly making life in Lebanon increasingly suffocating and unlovable:
- The chronic shortage of American dollars continued to exacerbate with sellers struggling to obtain dollars.
- The price of the Lebanese Lira began to drop in the black market (at one point 1 USD=10,000L)
- Lebanese banks apply strict limits and dollar withdrawals AND refuse to give out dollars at the rate in the black market.
- Shop owners increase prices during the pandemic and lockdowns.
- Coronavirus cases increase (looking at the world cases I got chills because no cases were recorded on the 5th of August due to the events that had occurred the day before…)
- Petrol and diesel begin to run low, with power outages occurring even the most elite areas of Beirut (during the smouldering heat of summer)
- Finally the explosion of 2750 tons of Ammonium nitrate stored adjacent to a residential area takes place on the 4th of August 2020, killing, at the time of writing, 210 people, with tens of people still missing, and thousands of homes destroyed.
To sum up, the rage is warranted. It is justified. It is needed. Lebanon has had so many ‘tipping points’ before, but perhaps this is where the line gets drawn.The government resigned yesterday, but that is not enough. The whole hierarchy has to go. From top to bottom, a purge is required.
Perhaps, FINALLY, the day of reckoning has come.