Lebanon explosion disrupts politics

On August 10, 2020, Lebanese Prime Minister Diab announced the resignation of the entire government in response to the people’s calls for change.

At about 7:30 pm on August 10, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab made a televised speech announcing the resignation of the current government. On December 20 last year, President Michel Aoun appointed him as the new prime minister and authorized the formation of a cabinet. The formation of the new cabinet was completed on January 21 this year. In less than 7 months, with the earth-shattering explosion in Beirut port, Diab’s career as prime minister was about to come to an end.

“Mushroom Cloud” shocks the world
On the evening of August 4, 2020, a deafening noise came from the Beirut port area 1.6 kilometers northeast of the Prime Minister’s Office where Diab lives. The thick smoke rising into the clouds, the flames rushing into the sky, the mushroom cloud like an atomic bomb explosion, the scene is as shocking as an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. The shock wave of the explosion came, and many doors and windows of the Prime Minister’s Office were damaged, and the furniture was destroyed.

The explosion could even be felt by residents of Cyprus 250 kilometers away. Half of Beirut’s city was devastated, many houses were damaged and even razed to the ground. Seven days later, church bells in Beirut rang, and the nation mourned the victims of the Big Bang. According to the latest statistics from the UN Refugee Agency that day, the explosion had killed more than 200 people, including at least 34 refugees, another 124 refugees were injured, and 7 refugees were missing. UNHCR is concerned that the death toll among the approximately 200,000 refugees in Beirut may rise further. Previous statistics showed that more than 5,000 people were injured in the big bang and more than 300,000 people were left homeless. Diab’s wife and daughter were also injured in the explosion. Nazaryan, general secretary of the Lebanese Phalange Party, died of injuries.

Diab announced that the country has mourned for three days and the country has entered a two-week state of emergency. The governor of Beirut, Abd, described the explosion as comparable to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear explosions, and the damage caused was between 10 billion and 15 billion US dollars. The Egyptian newspaper Izvestia reported that the big explosion made the situation in Lebanon worse, the new crown pneumonia epidemic was severe, the economy fell into a trough, inflation continued to increase, and public debt accounted for 150% of GDP, ranking third in the world. . The unemployment rate officially announced by Lebanon is as high as 37%, and the people are complaining. “Global People” reporters have traveled to Lebanon for interviews many times before, and each time they encountered power outages, and often power outages in the hotel they stayed in, they had to rely on their own generators for emergency relief. The hotel manager said that Lebanon is a small country, and electricity is sufficient as a whole, because the poor management level causes frequent power outages. After the Big Bang, Beirut’s life was even more difficult. Among other things, at least 15 local medical institutions (including 3 large hospitals) and 120 schools were damaged, and 55,000 students were affected. Schools were unable to start normally, and anti-epidemic and medical treatment were also problems.

On August 5, Diab held an emergency meeting to request the Accident Investigation Committee to submit its findings within 5 days. On August 8, he called for early parliamentary elections to resolve the crisis. He said that the big bang was “the result of corruption and years of mismanagement” and that the country was “in the devastating impact of a huge disaster.” At that time, he said that he would serve as prime minister for another two months, hoping that all factions could reach an agreement. On August 10, the Lebanese government decided to transfer the investigation of the bombing to the Judicial Committee of Lebanon’s highest judicial institution. That night, Diab resigned.

Above: Beirut Port District on August 12, 2020. Below: The ruins of the Beirut port after the explosion.

On August 4, the mushroom cloud rising from the Big Bang in Beirut.

Above: Beirut citizens view the destroyed building. Below: Beirut street vehicles were bombed.

Three aspects are being investigated
After the explosion, people are most concerned about “what exploded”. Aoun said that it is believed that the explosion was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the port warehouse for 6 years. It is unacceptable not to store such a large amount of chemicals safely. But Russian military expert Murahovsky said that if 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate really explode, then the entire Beirut “will disappear from the map.” Some analysts said that a large amount of ammonium nitrate may have been stolen during storage, reducing the power of the explosion, which is a blessing in disguise. But this statement is just speculation.

Former CIA agent Bell worked in Lebanon for many years. After watching the explosion video, he said that there were two explosions. The first one was probably caused by ammonium nitrate, and the second was an “arms explosion”, and guessed it happened. The explosion may be an arsenal. After analyzing the video, Italian blasting expert Cope said that the mushroom cloud produced during the explosion was orange. If it was just an explosion of ammonium nitrate, the color should be yellow. He analyzed that there should be a catalyst when it exploded, otherwise all ammonium nitrate would not explode together. Moreover, the bright red mushroom cloud can be seen during the second explosion, which is a typical feature of the lithium metal explosion, and metal lithium is the propellant of the missile, so he also believes that there are military materials in the warehouse.

Bradbury, president of a Canadian consulting company, said that the explosion was caused by fireworks. He said that this port is Lebanon’s water freight center and one of the largest and most active ports in the Mediterranean. Imports of local fireworks are common, and the area seen in the video is the place to store this kind of goods. He said that there are some speculations about the storage and transportation of weapons at this port, but they have not been confirmed. There are reports that “the explosion occurred in a fireworks and gasoline warehouse. It is possible that the fireworks, gasoline and weapons were stored together.” However, Major General Ibrahim, Director of the General Administration of Public Safety of Lebanon, said that containers containing explosives such as ammonium nitrate were the source of fires and explosions. “It is naive to say that this huge explosion was caused by fireworks.”

On August 6, the Lebanese government froze the bank accounts of seven officials in Beirut Port and issued a travel ban on them. Since then, they have detained the Director of the Port Administration Quretem, the Director of the General Administration of Customs and other officials, and conducted investigations. . Officials say that those responsible will likely face “the highest penalty.” Aoun said that investigations are being carried out from three aspects: how the explosives entered the port and stored, whether the explosion was caused by human negligence or an accident, and whether there is the possibility of external interference. He said that the possibility that the explosion involved “missiles, bombs or other (sabotage) acts” is not ruled out. The Arabiya TV station quoted US and local intelligence officials as saying that although the cause of the explosion has not yet been determined, the preliminary assessment is that it was an accident.

It is worth noting that some public opinion is directing the responsibility for the explosion to the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah, which is influenced by Iran. There are reports that most of the activities in this port are under “informal control” by Hezbollah, and there are signs of a fire in the warehouse. A Western military analyst said: “In the past few months, Iran has continuously strengthened its foothold in Lebanon and Syria… The conspiracy is expanding. The only thing we can confirm is that these things will plunge Lebanon into more politics. And economic chaos, and this country is on the verge of collapse.”

The bombed “political mosaic”
A big explosion disrupted the political arena in Lebanon, ousted a prime minister, and also pushed Hezbollah to the forefront. To understand all this, one has to talk about Lebanon’s “political mosaic”.

The reporter of “Global People” once heard the introduction of Chinese Ambassador to Lebanon Wang Kejian that Lebanon is a very special country in the Middle East. Although it has only a population of more than 4 million, it has more than 100 party groups and more than 40 militias, representing different sects, For family and party interests, the system of decentralization is implemented.

On August 11, 2020, people in Beirut were demonstrating.

Lebanese believe in as many as dozens of religions, with slightly more Muslims, but Christians also account for 46%. Christians are divided into Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Orthodox; Muslims are divided into Shiite, Sunni and Druze. Nowadays, Maronites, Shiites and Sunnis are dominant in Lebanon. Traditionally, the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces are the Maronites, the prime minister is the Sunni, the Druze is the defense minister, and the foreign minister is The Greek Orthodox or Catholic persons are appointed, and the speaker is Shia. After the Lebanese Civil War, the National Reconciliation Charter promulgated in 1989 and the new charter promulgated in 1991 both clearly proposed “abolishing sectarian politics” and re-adjusted the authority of the president, prime minister, commander-in-chief, etc., but in the actual level of power distribution , Still based on sect.

Diab, 61, is a computer technology expert who served as Minister of Education of Lebanon from 2011 to 2014. On October 17, 2019, a large-scale demonstration broke out in Lebanon. The demonstrators demanded that Prime Minister Hariri step down and form a new technocratic government. On October 29, Hariri resigned. In December, Diab, who was supported by Hezbollah and other Shiites, was appointed as prime minister, was authorized to form a cabinet, and successfully formed a cabinet in January the following year. But after he came to power, some people protested, questioned his qualifications, and demanded further political reforms. His predecessor, Hariri, accused Hezbollah members of assassinating him and brought the lawsuit to the International Court of Justice.

For months, Lebanon has been considered a flashpoint of geopolitical tensions. Just hours before the big explosion, a large number of anti-government demonstrators clashed with security forces outside the Department of Energy. After the explosion, the protesters demanded the resignation of Aoun and Diab and broke into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Environment. The Lebanese police and security forces clashed with the protesters. The latter threw Molotov cocktails and rocks while the former fired rubber bullets and tear gas, causing hundreds of injuries.

On October 29, 2019, Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri resigned.

Lebanese President Aoun.

After the explosion, Lebanese Hezbollah leader Nasrallah made a televised speech saying that some political factions and regional forces tried to pour dirty water on Hezbollah, implying that Hezbollah was storing arms in port warehouses. “I firmly deny that Hezbollah is in the port. Missiles or other weapons are stored in any warehouse.” He called for a fair investigation of the explosion and severe accountability of relevant personnel. At the same time, he also questioned why the relevant authorities allowed large amounts of ammonium nitrate to be stored in the port warehouse for a long time. “Even if someone deliberately launched an attack this time, if this batch of ammonium nitrate is indeed stored in the warehouse for so many years, then the explosion is partly due to ( Some people’s) negligence and corruption”.

After Diab announced the resignation of the cabinet, the political turmoil has not subsided. On August 11, protesters gathered near the port of Beirut, demanding that the president and other officials step down. Some protesters chanted the names of the victims, and some held a poster of Aoun with the words “He knew”, suggesting that Aoun knew nothing about the danger of ammonium nitrate in the port. On the same day, Aoun promised to conduct a prompt and transparent investigation into the bombing. He posted on social media that “I make a promise to the grieving Lebanese people that I will work until the moment the truth is revealed.” He also asked Diab and his cabinet to continue to serve as the caretaker government until the new government is formed.

To help Lebanon out of its predicament, the world has extended a helping hand. On August 9, the Chinese government’s special envoy for the Middle East, Zhai Jun, announced at a high-level video coordination meeting on emergency assistance to Lebanon that the Chinese government will provide Lebanon with US$1 million in cash assistance to support Lebanon’s rescue of the injured in the Beirut port bombing , And provide assistance to families who have suffered huge losses or have been displaced. Russia, the Gulf countries, Egypt, France, and the United States have also expressed their intention to provide assistance to Lebanon.

Some analysts say that Lebanon’s top priority is to solve people’s livelihood issues. Although Lebanon leaders will work hard to form a new government as soon as possible from August 12th, whoever forms the cabinet will have to face Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in a decade. Bank insolvency, rising unemployment, and severe foreign exchange shortages are just as tricky as the Big Bang investigation. At the same time, the new crown pneumonia epidemic in Lebanon is also getting worse. On August 11, there were 300 new confirmed cases and 7 deaths. The number of new cases in a single day set a record. The big explosion caused the displacement of Lebanese people and increased the risk of the spread of the epidemic. At the same time, less than half of Beirut’s hospitals can provide comprehensive services, which makes the fight against the epidemic more difficult. Compared with political disagreements and struggles, the tasks of disaster relief, anti-epidemic, and economic rescue may be more urgent.