Opinion | Lebanon’s Mushroom Cloud of Incompetence

And the coronavirus crisis has placed greater pressure on the health sector. After yesterday’s explosion, hospital staff were reportedly treating injuries in streets and parking lots. The explosion may well put Lebanon on the path to a food and health catastrophe not seen in the worst of its wars.

Lebanon’s political class should be on guard in the weeks ahead: Shock will inevitably turn to anger. But I fear that old habits die hard. These politicians are well practiced in shifting the blame. I don’t expect many — if any — high-level resignations or admissions of responsibility.

Will there be a revolution? An uprising of anger? Any revolutionary impulse has to compete with tribal, sectarian and ideological affiliations. For that matter, so do the facts: Even if a single official version of the port incident is presented (and even if it is true), some will not believe it. Paradoxically, our distrust of our politicians makes it harder to unite against them.

These are real obstacles. Yet there has never been more urgency for reform and accountability, beyond the likely scapegoating of midlevel officials. It is difficult to imagine such a concerted, sustained national movement because it has never materialized. But hunger and a collapse in health care may change that.

Lebanon — and the Lebanese — will need a rapid influx of external aid to stave off a critical food shortage and public health catastrophe. It seems to be coming, from countries across the Middle East and around the world. But this will not arrest the country’s decline. Emergency aid will only magnify public humiliation and helplessness. Yesterday’s explosion made clear that Lebanon is no longer a country where decent people can live secure and fulfilling lives.

As I watched videos of Beirut engulfed in smoke and checked in with my friends and family, I found myself thinking for the first time in a while of that summer when I worked at the port. The digitization project was completed, but parties who disliked the transparency it brought found ways to work around it.

Today, it’s irrelevant, of course. The port is destroyed. As for the Lebanese, they will be far more consumed by survival than progress.

Faysal Itani is a deputy director at the Center for Global Policy and adjunct professor of Middle East politics at Georgetown University.

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