| 23 September 2021, Thursday |

Why Beirut blast is latest in never-ending cycle of suffering in Lebanon

Sheikh Bahaa Hariri wrote in “Arabian Business”:

When the people need change, accountability, and action, all they get is entrenched institutionalised corruption and the appointment of elitist bygones who have done more damage than good


A year ago today Lebanon was shaken to its core by the explosion of hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate which had been knowingly and negligently stored in the Port of Beirut for over five years. Those responsible are yet to be charged.

Lebanon, a country plagued by endemic economic and political injustices, has been left reeling in the wake of the blast. Not only has it had to address the problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, problems which have ravaged the healthcare system and exacerbated the already dire social inequities, but it has also suffered at the hands of the self-serving political elite.

The story is the same: catastrophe strikes, officials are to blame, the people needlessly suffer, accountability is nowhere to be seen, and so the cycle continues. A stark example of this is the appointment of Najib Mikati as Prime Minister designate. The same Najib Mikati who was in power when the ammonium nitrate arrived in Lebanon in 2014.

When the people need change, accountability, and action, all they get is entrenched institutionalised corruption and the appointment of elitist bygones who have done more damage than good. It is clear, nothing has changed.

The political elite have shown their true colours once again by calling for immunity for those implicated in the atrocity which devastated the nation a year ago. This is a gross obstruction of justice by a group who have continually demonstrated they are above the rule of law, despite being the very same people who are meant to, indeed obligated to, uphold it.

Furthermore it is a distinct violation of judicial procedure, reflecting a broken legal system strangled by the corruption and cronyism of the political elite.

The negligence and corruption of the entire institution of government and parliament is shameful. Those who have committed crimes against their own country, who have time and time again actively betrayed the trust of those they are meant to serve, must be held responsible.

While the country yearns for justice, reparations, and truth a year on from the tragedy, which displaced more than three hundred thousand citizens and obliterated tens of thousands of homes, the rot at the heart of the system remains. This rot needs to be eradicated. Now.

Time for change

Najib Mikati assuming the role of PM designate is clear evidence that the time has come for fundamental, meaningful and sustained change. The people deserve justice, they deserve a system which works for them not against them, they deserve a brighter future.

We must drag Lebanon back from the precipice of being a failed state and once again achieve prosperity.

Given the current political establishment has failed, Lebanon needs something new. Something not corrupted by the current system of sectarianism. This is why I have lent my financial support to a new grassroots political movement – Sawa Li Lubnan – who are the only group to do this.

The corruption embedded into a wholly unjust system enables the sectarian factions, which have long dominated Lebanon’s public life, to continue abusing the system.

Through grassroots activism and an overhaul of the entire system we can help end the madness that has infiltrated every facet of Lebanese society.

Starting with corruption, arguably the most salient and important issue preventing Lebanon from enacting meaningful change, Sawa Li Lubnan proposes a reform of the entire judiciary and amendments to the constitution, among other changes to the health, defence and economic sectors.

Accountable politicians

Transparency must be established to reinstate credibility in the judiciary; Sawa Li Lubnan proposes a democratic merit-based system of election to the Supreme Judicial Council and civil service with strict rules governing the exercise of power.

A truly independent and effective judiciary has to exist if we have any hope of restoring the integrity of our nation and preventing the political elite from undermining the rule of law and acting in their own interests, as they have done by calling for immunity for those indicted in the aftermath of the blast.

Furthermore, without accountable politicians and without removing the sectarian self-interest of the current political class, bringing an end to the corruption that blights every facet of Lebanese life is little more than a pipe dream. Thus, corruption and cronyism, across the board, must be eradicated for Lebanon to be able to recover from its decades old wounds and move towards a brighter, more prosperous future.

Laws are there for a reason. However, in Lebanon they have yet to serve their purpose. I believe, as does Sawa Li Lubnan, that engaging the Lebanese people, in conjunction with granting regulatory and oversight agencies, the independence they need to successfully operate, will empower civil society to once again wield power in holding officials to account. Decentralisation of power is key to this process.

We must heal from the inside out. We must put the interests of our people first, because it is they who have suffered most.

Through Sawa Li Lubnan, the Lebanese people have a voice and a vehicle for promoting a fairer, safer and more prosperous future.

If we dodge the fundamental issues that have led us to this disaster, Lebanon and our children’s futures will be further destroyed. But if we choose to stand together and support Sawa Li Lubnan, we can affect the meaningful change that Lebanon so desperately needs and can prevent future catastrophes such as the one which ravaged our nation a year ago to this day.