Socialist Worker

Horrific Beirut explosion fuels anger against Lebanon’s corrupt elite

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2717

The total devastation of Beiruts port area after the blast

The total devastation of Beirut's port area after the blast (Pic: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images)


An enormous explosion in Lebanon’s capital Beirut on Tuesday will cause more misery for ordinary people—and could spur further rage at the government.

More than 100 people were killed in the explosion in Beirut’s port, which destroyed buildings for miles around. Some 4,000 more were injured and several people remain buried beneath the rubble.

As many as 250,000 people could have been made homeless.

Hospitals are overwhelmed. Amal Saad, a professor at the Lebanese University in Beirut, said, “No words can describe what I just saw at the hospital ER. I rushed there because of severe pain in my left arm and swelling.

“We couldn’t get to the entrance because of the pile of corpses that hadn’t been moved. The dozens of severely injured people, including migrant workers. No words.”

There is huge anger over the cause of the explosion, and fear of what the aftermath will mean for ordinary people.

The blast, apparently when a huge store of the explosive chemical ammonium nitrate somehow ignited, also destroyed Lebanon’s only port.

That will be a severe blow to Lebanon’s economy, already in a deep crisis. Ordinary people—already raging at government corruption and being made to pay for the crisis—face new hardships.

Tens of thousands of people in Lebanon have joined waves of protests that first began last year against austerity and government corruption.

The most recent protests, on Tuesday—the day of the blast—expressed fury over power cuts that last up to 22 hours day. They followed protests in May as poverty soared in the wake of a banking crisis.

And in 2019 a movement erupted after the government attempted to tax WhatsApp messages. It quickly grew into a movement against corruption.

Crisis

Successive governments have repeatedly tried to make ordinary people pay for an economic crisis.

As ordinary people were made to pay, they grew furious at a ruling elite—from all political parties and factions—that enriched themselves.

Some 60 percent of Lebanon’s population were already expected to be below the poverty line by the end of the year. Now that the blast has destroyed Lebanon’s only port—in a country that relies heavily on food and fuel imports—the crisis will be even worse.

There is also fresh anger and questions that could pin the responsibility for the explosion on Lebanon’s rulers.

Reports suggest the 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate came from a ship that had been detained in Beirut in 2013. It was removed from the vessel in 2014 and storied in a nearby warehouse.

Lebanese customs officials wrote letters to the courts at least six times from 2014 to 2017, seeking guidance on how to dispose of the highly combustible material. But no action was taken.

As recently as six months ago, officials inspecting the consignment warned that if it were not moved it would “blow up all of Beirut”.

Several questions remain. Chief among them are why such a vast quantity of explosives should be kept for so long in a city of 2 million people, and why it wasn’t prevented from igniting.

Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun said it was “unacceptable” that the explosives had been stored so long in the warehouse. And prime minister Hassan Diab said those responsible would “pay the price”.

But officials knew for years that the chemical had been stored there—and that it was unsafe.

A protest was called to take place in Beirut on Wednesday evening.


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