A week after the tragedy, the Lebanese street at war against its leaders

Beirut | At 6:08 p.m. Tuesday in Beirut, a crowd, crying and angry, paid tribute to the victims of the explosion that devastated the Lebanese capital a week ago, and vowed to bring down the entire ruling class.

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Hassan Diab’s government resigned on Monday. But in the streets, the Lebanese also want the departure of the Head of State, the Head of Parliament, members of political parties … long accused of corruption and incompetence and held responsible for the tragedy through their negligence. “All means all”, they keep proclaiming.

At 6:08 p.m., church bells rang and calls to prayer in mosques were made. It was at this time that Beirut was rocked on August 4 by a gigantic explosion at the port of Beirut, caused by a fire in the warehouse where, according to the authorities, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate were stored.

At least 171 dead, 6,000 injured and nearly 300,000 homeless, not to mention an unknown number of missing. Entire districts of Beirut transformed into fields of ruins.

Since then, it is the population, especially young volunteers, who clear the rubble and help the poorest and those in need, in the face of the inertia of the public authorities who have taken no initiative to support the people. Local and international NGOs have also mobilized to provide medical aid and food.

The government’s resignation further leaves the country in limbo, but protesters want all leaders to be held accountable and brought to justice.

“We will not mourn, we will not wear black until we have buried power,” said a speaker to the crowd of Lebanese, mostly dressed in white, gathered at the gates of the blasted port.

Some cry, others can hardly hold back their tears. A woman goes through the endless list of the names of the victims, which also scroll across a screen.

Clashes near Parliament

“My brother died because of state neglect, because of corruption,” said Ali Nourredine, holding the portrait of Ayman, 27, a soldier who was in port.

He does not care about the resignation of the government. “There will be a change when the whole regime changes,” he said, on the verge of tears. “But I hope all these young people here, that the death of my brother, can bring about the change.”

A few km away, near the seat of Parliament, clashes took place for the 4th consecutive day: dozens of demonstrators threw firecrackers at the police, who responded with tear gas.

At the origin of the gigantic explosion, the presence for six years at the port of tons of ammonium nitrate stored without “precautionary measures” by Hassan Diab’s own admission.

Seven days after the tragedy, the authorities have not yet been able to explain why so much of this dangerous chemical was stored there, in the middle of the city.

The local investigation is continuing, they say, after around 20 unidentified people were arrested – port and customs officials, officials and engineers.

In October 2019, an unprecedented protest movement was born to denounce the economic slump and decaying public services and to call for the departure of a political class almost unchanged for decades, accused of the country’s ills.

” Almost impossible ”

The explosion was one catastrophe too many for a population overwhelmed by economic difficulties: historic depreciation of the Lebanese pound, fuel shortages, hyperinflation, draconian banking restrictions …

“Those who appointed Diab and those who made Diab leave (…) are more dangerous than Diab,” criticized lawyer and activist Imad Ammar.

The Diab government announced in January, two months after Saad Hariri’s resignation under pressure from the streets, has been formed by a single camp, that of the Hezbollah armed movement, which dominates political life, and its allies.

Who will succeed Hassan Diab? The Prime Minister is appointed by President Michel Aoun, himself much maligned, on the basis of binding consultations with the parliamentary blocs of traditional political parties, also rejected by the streets.

It also remains to be seen whether the scale of the cataclysm will push those responsible to form a government quickly, when negotiations usually take months.

Either way, analysts are divided.

Hilal Khachan predicts the emergence of “new political parties” and believes the explosion could “be a game changer.”

Jeffrey G. Karam, political scientist at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, judges, on the other hand, “almost impossible to consider or even to imagine that the explosion will sweep the political class in power”.

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