By Jade Alves-Gabiron
Lebanon has been hit by one of the strongest non-nuclear explosions the world has ever known on Tuesday, 4 August 2020. Even though there is an after and a before the blast, the country was already diving into a systemic crisis since 2018. In 2021, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia estimated to 82% the proportion of population living in multidimensional poverty, a number which has doubled since 2019. The blast, obviously, worsened the country’s situation. But when looking at the annual GDP of Lebanon, one can notice that this process was engaged since 2018, with a decrease of about 25% of its value in two years (data about 2021 GDP is not available yet).
However, those numbers cannot reflect what the daily life of a Lebanese citizen is. Neither can I since I did not directly experience the blast and lived in Beirut for only one month. So, I can only tell you about my Lebanon and the few faces of an extremely complex reality I got to see.
I arrived on the 3rd of August, by the evening. From the plane, the mountains were plunged into darkness and the few lights I could notice looked like stars trying to pierce the surface. Lebanon is going through daily electricity and, from time to time, water shortcuts since the government’s collapse took with him the Electricité du Liban. Finding a bar was still possible in Achrafieh and the drinks were ridiculously low. A US dollar is worth about 20 000 Lebanese lira.
The day after, my friend and I participated in the commemoration of the blast, which killed 236 people and injured more than 45 000. In the morning, we went with an organization called Offrejoie in the neighbourhood than has been the most damaged, Qarantina, to offer them roses, like a reminder that someone’s taking care of them. What else can we do when even the government cannot afford to rebuild its own capital? Pieces of glass and iron littered the ground. Families opened us their doors, children were sat on a wobbly wall staring at us, a woman was crying and screaming. Lebanon had destroyed its own citizens.
In the afternoon, a procession gathered hundreds, if not thousands of people in the port. The army was trying to block them at the entrance of the main streets. To join it was like entering an emollition of anger and mourning, desperation and hope, destruction and resilience. Banners accusing the government of corruption were dressed upon the wall of the destroyed building, the destroyed harbour was facing a massive crowd walking towards the Martyr’s Square. Firemen and women were holding the portraits of their teammates who were the first ones to die. Families were screaming the name of their beloved ones. The crowd was shouting the names of government’s members they hold responsible for having let a thousand of tons of ammonium nitrate illegally there. How could they heal if justice cannot be done?
Corruption has been plaguing Lebanon’s policies for years, but now, it is even threatening what might be the major case ever presented in the country’s court. Many members of the former government are incriminated in the investigation about the 4th of August blast. The first appointed judge, Fadi Sawan, has been removed from the case by the Court of Cassation on February 2021. Tarek Bitar, reputed for his righteousness, succeeded him, but has faced intense pressures since then. In December, he has been suspended for the fourth time after members of the former government lodged about twenty appeals since he oversees the case.
While the judicial system is struggling to provide citizens with the recognition they ask for, many try to flee. When talking to the people there, many of them did not understand what I was doing there, because I could have a stable and – I must admit it – luxurious life in Europe. There are no more job opportunities to the point that most of the taxi drivers I have met have been to university, were the first-graded of their class, but had to give up on their dreams to survive. Some also stay, because they want to fight back, because they don’t have enough money to leave, because they cannot pay online since the bank limited payments in dollars, because they do not want to let their beloved ones alone in a country which is crumbling down.
Furthermore, despite the pandemic being the main mediatic topic across Europe, in Lebanon, no measure is enforced to prevent its diffusion. Almost nobody wears masks and there is no possibility to impose social distancing. However, hospitals are everyday closer to the breaking point because of the lack of both electricity and medical supplies. Ill people, whether because of foodborne infection, Covid-19, or wounds due to protests do not have any guarantee hospitals would be able to cure them. The funds the IMF provided to Lebanon in September will not be enough to give Lebanese people a decent medical system to fight the raising number of cases.
But Lebanon is not only filed by darkness. It remains, even in this very precarious situation, a land of exception. There, the sea meets the ocean in a suffocating warmth; the sunset upon the Rawshe rocks in Beirut is a promise for a better tomorrow; Tyr, Tripoli, Baalbek, and many other cities are still standing, as a reminder of Lebanon’s cultural heritage.
At the end of the day, living in Lebanon in August 2021 has been a thought-provoking and highly inspiring experience. Despite the fact that the country is drowning into an unprecedented corruption and deflation, it has always known how to reborn from its ashes. This article is one of my humble contributions to its rebirth. By spreading the word, making donations, and informing oneself, one is participating to helping the population to survive, since being in Lebanon for many of Lebanese people can no longer by considered as a mere life.