Lebanon – ‘big blast should lead to big change’



After visiting the port at the epicentre of this week’s explosion in Beirut, French President Emmanual Macron was greeted by crowds in nearby Gemmayze street, one of the most damaged in the city, shouting chants against the political establishment and endemic corruption, reports suggest.

“I guarantee you, this aid will not go to corrupt hands,” said Macron, who was wearing a black tie in mourning. He promised to send more medical and other aid to Lebanon and to return to Lebanon around Sept. 1, while those around him chanted “Revolution” and “The people want the fall of the regime”.

Credit: NDI

Karim Emile Bitar was part of a group of civil society leaders who met with Macron, Al Jazeera adds. 

“We congratulated him because he spoke of a ‘Lebanese regime’, so it was a way of delegitimising them,” Bitar said. “He had words of encouragement for the Lebanese reformers, but at the same time insisted that France couldn’t interfere in domestic politics, and so it’s up to use to organise, close ranks and unify the opposition to ultimately win elections,” he said.

This week’s massive explosion destroyed half of Lebanon’s capital, but it also drew more attention to the country’s deeply corrupt and crumbling political system, which the Lebanese people have been calling to reform since October, The Washington Institute reports. That is why Macron spoke of “a new political pact” for Lebanon when he visited the disaster zone; likewise, the people are calling for an international investigation and accountability in addition to humanitarian assistance. What does all this mean for Lebanon, and what implications does it hold for U.S. policy? (see below)

There was a time when fears of a violent sectarian power struggle seemed like a good reason to move slowly in unpicking Lebanon’s power-sharing system until this week’s explosion, The Economist contends:

But those in power are using the crisis to hook more of their followers on the handouts they provide. And the cost of moving slowly is increasingly clear. It was not fighting or foreign occupation that led to the destruction of a large part of Beirut. It was incompetence by a corrupt and broken state. Only bold action will fix it. The government should do away with the power-sharing system sooner rather than later, and replace it with something more democratic and meritocratic. RTWT

Lebanon’s political confessionalism was supposed to be a ‘transitional’ measure, whose goal is its own abolition, analyst Loubna El Amine writes for the LRB. People inside and outside Lebanon have repeatedly called for it to be abolished. Many have advocated for a secular state, and a new social contract between ruler and ruled.

To discuss potential scenarios in the coming weeks and months, The Washington Institute is pleased to announce a virtual Policy Forum with …..

Saleh Machnouk is a columnist at the Lebanese daily An-Nahar and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge, focusing on state-building and third-party interventions in ethnically divided countries.

Hanin Ghaddar, the Friedmann Fellow at The Washington Institute, formerly worked as managing editor of Lebanon’s NOW news site and as a journalist with the newspapers Al-Safir, An-Nahar, and Al-Hayat.

Matthew Levitt is the Institute’s Fromer-Wexler Fellow, director of its Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, and creator of its newly released Hezbollah Select Worldwide Activity Interactive Map. (see below)

Charles Thepaut is a resident visiting fellow at the Institute and a French career diplomat. He has worked for several European institutions in France, Algeria, Belgium, Germany, Iraq, and Syria.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 13, 2020  12:00 PM to 1:30 PM ET To watch this forum CLICK HERE


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