Sometimes, it so happens that the metaphor of being killed by corruption stops being a metaphor. A coterie decides the citizenry’s fate, an economic crisis runs parallel and social conflict abounds. The explosion in Beirut on 4th August, which injured thousands, killed at least 220 and forced into homlessness an estimated 300,000 people, cannot be seen but with the lens of corruption and malfeasance. About 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been negligently stored at the Beirut port for 6 years after a ship which made an unscheduled stop at the port was forbidden from sailing onward. It is now being reported that the President and Prime Minister were reminded of the existence of its storage as recently as last month and dozens of bags of fireworks were stored in the same hangar as the ammonium nitrate, which is unstable at high temperatures and should not be stored near highly combustible substances. Incidentally, this compound was also used in the Delhi High Court bombing of 2011.
Soon after the explosion, the protesters hit the streets demanding accountability and overhaul of the system that had failed them. Prime Minister Hassan Diab- installed to his post in February after Saad Hariri’s government fell in October- had to resign after a third of his cabinet quit. The public, of course, is not appeased by this political manoeuvre because one, the governmebnt would still stay in a caretaker role until a new cabinet is elected by the people or appointed by the President; and two, because Diab is only one of the many actors of the sectarian theatre whose owner and director is the Hezbollah.. There is, although, no evidence to link the current explosion to Hezbollah, but the Shia Islamist political and militant group has been known to use the Beirut port for smuggling munitions and other contraband.
Since the end of civil war in 1990, politicians have worked in tandem with oligarchs, taking their cuts from state contracts and essential services, while simultaneously keeping the public scared, divided and dependent through sectarian tactics. Corruption is so deep rooted in Lebanon that it is hard to find political figures not tainted by relations with the oligarchy or who could be trusted to run a clean government that could get Lebanon out of the financial crisis that has left almost half of its population in poverty.
Getting out of this tragedy and rebuilding the city will be a tough task for people in Beirut. World leaders and international organisations have pledged $298 million, but this and other aid will come in exchange for deep systematic changes, the kind which Hezbollah is opposed to. The international community must forcefully insist on these reforms and extend support to the Lebanese in their fight for an equitable system. Only with perseverance, the coterie will fall.
After the explosion in Beirut, the Customs Department in India fast-tracked the auctioning of around 740 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored near Chennai since 2015. Hyderabad-based firm Salvo Explosives & Chemicals won the bid and has moved all 37 containers of ammonium nitrate.
All editorials are written by Tushar Kohli and his small team and represent the collective view of the Editorial Team.