For three days, Lebanon hoped for a miracle as Chilean rescue workers claimed to have traced the heartbeat of a human under the debris of a fallen building. A small child, possibly even a baby, may have been trapped and alive for a month under the rubble, local and foreign media reported.
Flash, a rescue dog and member of the rescue team, had sniffed and first alerted the sign of life. As he crossed the barricades used to cordon off the site with security officials on one side and journalists on the other, Flash was petted by both and hailed as a hero. But the miracle Lebanese held their breath for didn’t come.
On the third day, up in the hills of Kafoun, a shopkeeper watching live coverage of the hunt on television merely lifted his chin, a gesture that means “no or none” in the Levant, when a group of customers asked for an update. The search was eventually called off, no one was found.
A pall of hopelessness hangs over the country since the port in Beirut exploded on August 4 and left 190 dead, thousands injured, and 300,000 homeless. Recovery of a living child at the building 30 days after the blast was nigh impossible and yet the Lebanese craved a miracle, displaying just how desperate they are to be rescued from multiple crises inflicting the country.
Instead of a miracle, they were struck by reality as another warehouse at the same port caught fire a week after the failed rescue operation. Clouds of smoke covered the sky and forced many in Beirut to leave their homes yet again. This time it was not ammonium nitrate, said the state, but oil and tires which caught fire.
The Lebanese say the explosions revealed the extent of the state’s inefficiency in running the country and indifference towards the safety of its people.
The Lebanese say the explosions revealed the extent of the state’s inefficiency in running the country and indifference towards the safety of its people. Many now say there is no chance of change and they must either accept the status quo or leave the country.
The demonstrators feel they have been outmaneuvered by the ruling elite and left despondent.
After the August 4 explosion, infuriated protestors had regathered on the streets but the state crushed their determination as security officials used excessive and at times lethal force against them, according to a recently released report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“Security forces fired live ammunition, metal pellets, and kinetic impact projectiles such as rubber balls, including at health workers, and police deployed excessive quantities of tear gas, including at first aid stations,” said the report. “Several teargas cartridges were fired directly at protestors, striking some in the head and neck.”
Several demonstrators who have been organizing the protests told Inside Arabia that the high handedness of the security forces was meant to weaken the spirit of the protestors. Whilst they find it hard to concede defeat, they admitted there is a growing sense of fatigue in their ranks.
An estimated 75 percent of Lebanese had been struggling to survive before the blast as the economy collapsed.
An estimated 75 percent of Lebanese had been struggling to survive before the blast as the economy collapsed and banks imposed capital controls on withdrawals and transfers. The local currency devalued by 80 percent turning salaries worthless and tripling or even quadrupling prices of basic commodities. The blast and its economic impact have compounded the troubles.
It is hard for thousands of businesses, whose enterprises have been left wrecked by the blast, to procure the funds to rebuild. Those who have the money are worried about reinvesting in the current climate. No one expects the government to provide any help in resurrecting the city. Several owners of cafes, restaurants, and bars in severely damaged neighborhoods told Inside Arabia that if anyone wants to help they must visit independent GoFundMe pages and strictly refrain from donating a single penny to the government.
Saifi Institute for Arabic Language had served as a sort of mini UN, where travelers from around the world learned Arabic and exchanged ideas. The building was damaged in the blast and the owners are still trying to assess whether it can be rebuilt. Nada Dirani, a co-owner of the school, said some state officials had visited but only pretended to assess the damage. “They didn’t ask any questions, just walked around for less than a minute and left,” she said.
A shop worker selling religious mementos in front of a church on fatally destroyed Gemmeyzye Street, laughed when asked if the state had offered compensation. “This is Lebanon,” he said, “the government takes from people, [and] does not give anything.”
“The government takes from people, [and] does not give anything.”
A rather embarrassing discovery proved people’s suspicions when tea donated by the Sri Lankan government for the benefit of blast victims was found to have been gifted to presidential guards.
While Lebanese President Michel Aoun has been conspicuously absent from the streets, France’s President Macron has tried to play savior. He has visited twice since the blast and warned Lebanon’s ruling elite that if economic and political reforms are not undertaken he would ask the West to refuse a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which Lebanon is in urgent need of.
However, France’s reform plan is silent on holding the corrupt and powerful to account. Instead, Macron’s meetings with the representatives of the old guard – including Iran-backed militia Hezbollah – legitimized the same people against whom protestors have been demonstrating. The demand to replace the sect-based power-sharing system and the ruling class that has perpetuated it is at the heart of reforms sought by the Lebanese.
Sadly, the change the protestors seek is as unlikely as the miracle to find a child in the wreckage a month after the port blew up.