By ELLE BIESEMEYER
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. — Less than two weeks ago, Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib stepped down after a month-long effort to form a new, non-partisan Cabinet for the country.
It was the latest attempt to unify a new government and recover the country from reverberations of the catastrophic Aug. 4 explosion in the port of Beirut that killed 250 people, injured some 6,500 and caused billions of dollars in damage. Persistent chaos in the sectarian political structure and economy of the country has rendered the task fruitless.
Abid, appointed Aug. 31, apologized in a public address to the Lebanese people for his “inability to realize … aspirations for a reformist team” that could salvage the country after such economic and infrastructure devastation.
The current crisis precipitated intervention from France, the colonizing nation of Lebanon until 1943. French President Emmanuel Macron demanded the formation of a new government Sept. 1, and Adib promised the task would be completed within two weeks. But in an attempt to craft a new Cabinet beyond sectarian divisions, he was met with opposition from the sectarian parties that led him to step down.
Macron claims politicians look out only for their own self-interest and the interests of their affiliated parties and sects rather than the people of Lebanon. The sectarian system implemented to end the 1975-1990 civil war distributes political power among different religious sects — mainly Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims and Christians — and has resulted in an oligarchy. Long, fraught transitions of power are frequent in the country, as are corruption and mismanagement.
Lebanese people have an ongoing history of resistance against the famously corrupt government. The most recent demonstrations began in October last year and culminated in a set of reforms proposed by the Cabinet as well as the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hiriri five days into the October protests. After months of debate within what remained of the government, Prime Minister Hassan Diab was appointed and took office in January.
The massive port explosion that left 300,000 people homeless was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Mietek Boduszynski, a professor of Politics and International Relations at Pomona College in California.
In the wake of the explosion, caused by mismanaged storage of ammonium nitrate, Diab’s government resigned Aug. 10. Diab had originally sought to stay in office for two months to lead the formation of a new government but reversed his decision upon pressure from his own Cabinet.
Economic losses after the disaster range from $2.9 billion to $3.5 billion, and recovery costs from $1.8 billion to $2.2 billion. But after continuous failures to establish a new government, international powers are unlikely to extend aid.
With the threat of increased sanctions from France and other nations, the people of Lebanon face even further crisis. The lockdown following the outbreak of coronavirus in the country in February caused the economy, already on the brink of crisis, to plummet. Fifty-five percent of Lebanese live in poverty, the currency has devalued by 70%, unemployment rates have skyrocketed, and the end of the country’s rapidly depleting currency reserves will result in a surge in the cost of basic goods, food and fuel. Access to health care becomes less available as months go on, both due to stress induced by the pandemic and the lack of funding.
After the explosion and amid the worst economic crisis since the Lebanese Civil War, many are left hungry, homeless, jobless and traumatized.
Joanne Nucho, a Lebanese professor of Anthropology also at Pomona College, says she has witnessed the people of Lebanon experience an abundance of conflict. The political and financial crises were already devastating, Nucho said in an interview, “but somehow, after this blast there is a real feeling of loss of hope that I’ve never seen in Lebanon.”