An elite that lines its own pockets

As it is, the explosion came at the very worst possible time for the country. Lebanon is currently in the middle of the worst economic and financial crisis of its history; many people have lost their jobs and are teetering on the brink of poverty and the Corona pandemic has only made matters worse. Since October of last year, hundreds of thousands of people have repeatedly taken to the streets, driven by their frustration about their corrupt leaders. They are protesting against an elite that is enriching itself at the expense of the state and whose political actions seek above all to benefit their followers and allies.

Since the civil war ended in 1990, many positions in government have been filled according to a system of proportionality that was intended to ensure that the country's different religious denominations were represented in government. There are 18 officially recognised religious groups in Lebanon. Many Lebanese people see this system as being the root cause of a systematic abuse of power in the country because the leaders of each political grouping attach greater importance to ensuring the backing of their supporters than to the well-being of the people as a whole. No matter how much the situation in the country deteriorates, the political class is not interested in changing the system, because they fear losing their prosperity.

After the explosion, the cabinet resigned. Nevertheless, the likelihood of reforms being introduced now is very low. Just recently, President Aoun appointed former leader Saad Hariri prime minister and asked him to form a government. Hariri spent three years as prime minister before resigning in the wake of last autumn's street protests. Many Lebanese people are sceptical that Hariri is going to be the one to steer the country out of the mire. After all, his policies were one of the things that drove people onto the streets in the first place.

Destroyed houses in the port district of Beirut (photo: Andrea Backhaus)
"The politicians have billions and do nothing," says Sandra Klat from the organisation Bassma, founded in 2002 with the aim of helping disadvantaged families. Since the port blast, the Bassma team has repaired the homes of about 100 particularly poor people. The work is funded by private donors. "People trust NGOs because they know that the money is going to the needy," says Klat

Memories of the Israeli bombs

Multiple crises and explosions have changed Lebanon and its capital, Beirut. There are gaping holes in the walls of many residential buildings, schools and shops where windows once were; parts of some facades have collapsed; many streets are plunged into darkness at night; many houses are empty. Many Lebanese people have left the country. An oppressive silence has descended on those districts previously renowned for their nightlife – where cars with thumping, booming bass used to cruise the streets and young people packed the many bars.

The people of Beirut, once so cheery and upbeat, have become jumpy; many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres, the number of people needing psychological help has increased significantly in the months since the explosion. Residents say that to them, the explosion felt like an air raid. It brought many of them back to the bombings of the civil war, which raged from 1975 to 1990, and also to the air raids of the war with Israel in 2006.

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