Four days have passed since the huge explosion went off at the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut, an explosion that left large parts of the city in rubble.
According to the latest official figures on Saturday, the disaster has so far cost at least 154 lives, while another 5,000-6,000 are said to have been injured and hundreds of thousands have become homeless.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab has previously stated whether there should have been 2700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that exploded during a fire in the warehouse “Hangar 12” at the harbor on Tuesday.
On Friday, however, Lebanese President Michel Aoun did not want to rule out that the explosion may have been caused by a rocket or a bomb, but said that the investigation will get to the bottom of this.
– He has everything to gain from these statements, namely that it is not due to his own complete incompetence, says country adviser for the Middle East in the immigration administration’s professional unit for country information, Kai Kverme, to Dagbladet.
Promised quick conclusion
Shortly after the incident on Tuesday, an investigation team was set up to investigate the cause of the explosion. Prime Minister Diab stated that they will find out who is responsible within five days, Al Jazeera wrote.
Three days later, President Aoun, who has held the position since 2016, said that a bomb or rocket could not be ruled out as the cause.
“It could have been negligence or foreign influence with a rocket or a bomb,” President Aoun said in a televised interview on Friday.
He pointed out that the cause of the explosion has not yet been determined, and that the investigation will provide answers as to whether the explosion was the result of an accident, negligence or an external influence.
He also stated that he had asked France to investigate whether there were military planes or rockets in the air around the city at the time of the explosion, according to NTB.
– Little trust in the authorities
In addition to being a country adviser for the Middle East, Kverme himself has lived in Lebanon. He emphasizes that it is not possible to say with certainty what has happened in Beirut, as the investigation has not been completed.
He is nevertheless clear that the statements from the president can be seen as a clear attempt to get the attention away from himself.
– Aoun has everything to gain from someone else being to blame for this. This is a huge scandal that affects him directly, and it will speak for his case that it is an attack outside his responsibility, Kverme says to Dagbladet.
He believes it is worth noting that most Lebanese want an international independent investigation, and that the conclusion from national authorities is likely to have little confidence in the population.
– Confidence in the government and the state as such is enormously small among the Lebanese, so there is every reason to believe that the conclusion will be questioned if no external parties are brought in.
Middle East expert at Østfold University College, Rania Maktabi, was born and raised in Beirut. She believes the president speaks like all other politicians in the country, and believes that is precisely one of the most interesting things about this crisis: that they all blame each other.
– Norway itself has experience with a form of crisis like this, but then the politicians showed that they can stand together. Had Lebanon had better politicians, they would clearly have stood together in such a situation, Maktabi tells Dagbladet.
She herself is surprised that a president who himself has experience from the country’s civil war is unable to take responsibility in a crisis that the Lebanese are now going through.
– I almost thought it could not be possible to get worse, but now they really show how bad it is, the Middle East expert states.
Blame it on the government
The shock and grief of the population has in recent days also been turned into anger against the country’s leaders. The demonstrations have been going on for several days, and on Saturday the protesters took over several ministries in the country’s capital.
Many see the disaster as further proof that the country’s political system is pervasive and characterized by both corruption and incompetence when it comes to solving the deep economic crisis.
Kverme also emphasizes that the first hours after the explosion abounded with photos on social media in Lebanon where planes were seen in the background. Such images give the slight impression that Israel was involved, and that the planes attacked Hezbollah targets in the port.
“Many blame Hezbollah for this, and the government is considered a Hezbollah government,” he said.
Hezbollah waited several days to speak, but when they did, they denied any involvement in the disaster. They also deny that they had weapons in the harbor.
Israel, for its part, has rejected intervention and has, on the contrary, offered humanitarian aid to the country.
An unwritten political pact from 1943 states that the president of Lebanon must be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the leader of the country’s national assembly a Shiite Muslim. The seats in the National Assembly are also distributed in a similar way. This means that election results have a somewhat limited effect on the distribution of power.
The distribution also applies in the country’s courts and in the bureaucracy.
– It gives a sectarian representation, but you do not necessarily get those who are best suited for the job, Maktabi explains.
In addition, the country’s politics is characterized by old political family dynasties, of which the Hariri family is an example.
In 2018, the country held the first parliamentary elections in nine years, after being postponed three times. Although only 49 percent of the country’s eligible voters participated, it was Hezbollah allies who ran away with the victory.
The following year, demonstrations also increased in the country.
– Large parts of the country wanted a technocratic government that would be able to implement reforms and overcome the widespread corruption. Instead, the country got a political government that has not been able to do anything needed to implement reforms and get international help, Kverme explains.
– With the technocrats, there was at least a form of order. With politicians, it is again bargaining. Many are incredibly tired of political horse trading, and then prefer appointed experts, says Maktabi.
“Which heads should be hung?”
Local media have so far pointed out welding work near the harbor as a possible reason why the warehouse with 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate went up in the air.
– It is also suspected that the authorities have been aware of the danger of explosion, but that they have chosen to look another way as the port is also a place Hezbollah receives weapons, or that Hezbollah has a weapons depot in the area. Given the widespread corruption, such things can not be ruled out either, says Kverme.
Protesters on Wednesday attacked the convoy of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, writes The Guardian.
From a broken balcony, someone had hung a long string with a sign that read “Which heads should be hung?”.
Similar statements have subsequently trended on social media in Lebanon and are being shouted in the streets by protesters.
“Either they kill us or we kill them,” news anchor Ramez al-Qadi tweeted.
– The president is an enormously polarizing figure, and the demands that he must resign are increasing day by day, says Kverme.
He is supported by Maktabi.
– The mood towards politicians has become worse because politicians argue about who is to blame, instead of helping people in dire need, she adds.
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