The Beirut Explosion Wasn’t An Attack, And That Makes It So Much Worse

I was at my office, having just seen a couple patients in clinic, when my friend Elia texts me: “there’s been an explosion at the Beirut port, check on your family.”

I had seen pictures of it on Twitter, affixed to the speculation that it was fireworks related. I didn’t think much of it until I saw a video in which a mushroom cloud ballooned over the port’s hangars, and expanded, taking everything in its wake. In the space of less than thirty seconds, the city where I grew up was essentially no more.

I was lucky to have been able to get in touch with my family right away. They were physically safe, but I wasn’t too sure about their mental state. My brother was in a daze. The apartment where my grandparents lived, where my father and all his siblings grew up, in the heart of Achrafieh, was completely destroyed. The dressoir that stored a lot of our family’s possessions lay broken. Not even the civil war had scraped it, as its battles raged outside those very same windows that now lay on the floor, shattered, like the collective nation in which they existed.

Lebanon has broken me, and many others, so many times. But what I saw out of Beirut was something else.

Saint George Hospital, the place that turned me a doctor, was destroyed and lay in rubbles. My brother, a medical student there, ran to help his colleagues attend to the wounded. He described a scene out of a Grey’s Anatomy finale, because Hollywood drama is the closest we have to compare things to, and that’s coming from a country that’s survived terrorist attacks and a civil war.

He and my other colleagues told me stories about the worst day of their lives as doctors, as bodies lay on the ground, as wounded crammed the streets outside a now non-functional emergency room, being attended to on the asphalt, as a nurse cradled three newborns all at once, in an office whose windows were now dust on the floor. They told me about how they were themselves bleeding and didn’t notice, how some of their colleagues were also injured, and some had passed.

But that was the fate of the entire city, and the country as a whole. It wasn’t just one neighborhood, one building, one street. Every building in Beirut was damaged. Every family was affected. Every neighborhood was shattered. Every single life was broken, some gone forever.

Our parents lived the civil war. Some of our grandparents had lived through the great famine where most of the Lebanese population had died. We lived through Syrian and Israeli occupation, a plethora of terrorist bombings and Israeli wars. Still, we persevered. Resilient is what they called us, but resiliency is no more. The fate of the Lebanese is, it seems, to forever exist on soaking up the trans-generational collective trauma that now plagues our lives as Lebanese citizens. “I will never forget that explosion until I die,” is what my brother told me. The sentiment was shared by every person that I knew, and I believe it. The videos are ingrained in my memory, and I had seen them off an iPhone screen, thousands of miles away.

Today, I am helpless. As an expat, so far from home at a time like this, whose childhood home lay in ruins in a city he once called home, unable to help beyond the measly dollars to donate in the hopes of atonement. I am helpless to see my friends and family in so much despair, at a situation beyond their control. Because COVID-19 wasn’t enough. Because a free-falling currency wasn’t enough. Because rotten chicken wasn’t enough. Because no running electricity and water were not enough. Because life in Lebanon, in all of its joie de vivre hell, was not enough.

Today, I’m also angry. I’m not angry at the notion that “if this had happened in a Western capital, the outcry would have been so much worse.” I don’t even have the bandwidth to wrap my head around what if’s. This happened, this is real, this is tangible, this happened to people we know, to a city we all lived in, to streets whose pavement we all walked on.

I am angry because of that mother who went on television to describe her son’s sweet face and hazel eyes only to realize he was gone moments later, his obituary affixed to her crying face in a picture that cannot leave my mind. Is the fate of our mothers to always be crying, either in hospitals, television screens or airports?

I am angry because nurses whose only fault was them doing their job at at the hospital where I trained are now dead, their only fault being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, as is the fate of so many others of my country-men.

I am angry because that’s the only emotion I can process today. It took the government five whole hours to issue a statement on an explosion that decimated the only city in the country they cared about. Five whole fucking hours of silence, of conspiracy theories ravaging Twitter and WhatsApp, of our firefighter and Red Cross heroes risking their lives to save people at the site of the explosion and around, as hospitals were flooded with injured folks they couldn’t treat, as people were found dead on the street, as parents wept, and as expats mourned. Five whole hours of silence culminated in a statement that was worth garbage, telling us they were going to investigate, when we all know it was their fault.

I am angry to see those videos of parents hiding their children under cabinet, of windows exploding on little boys and girls whose only fault was be curious at the smoke coming out of the seaside of their city.

I am angry because Donald Trump went on TV, in one of his many COVID-19 briefings, in the same day after he called 1000+ Americans dying daily of COVID-19 “it is what it is,” to tell the world he thought the Beirut explosion was a bomb, when all signs point it isn’t. I’m angry the leader of the free world, if you can even call him that, fans the flame for conspiracy theories just because he felt like it.

I am angry because 2800 fucking tonnes of ammonium nitrate lay in a hangar at the Beirut port since 2014, untouched, inappropriately managed, improperly handled, illegally maintained, and incompetently not attended to, until they blew up and took a whole city with them.

I am angry because the government fucking knew about the explosives, the head of the port knew about the chemicals, they knew how dangerous they could be, and like everything else that they do, they disregarded it and moved on, in their collective circle jerks of corruption.

I am angry because the president’s response the following day was to read a speech written by someone else, off a dell laptop. I’m angry because the only worry that our politicians have is about their careers and nothing else. I’m angry because I get to be angry at watching my home explode in front of my eyes, and those responsible have still not resigned.

What happened in Beirut was not terrorism, it was criminal negligence. And that makes it so much worse, because what happened was preventable. All the lives lost, all the homes destroyed, all the streets that are now unrecognizable could have gone about their day on August 5th, 2020, worrying about COVID-19 and a depreciating currency, as it was on August 4th before 6PM their time. Instead, we mourn.

What happened in Beirut was not terrorism. If it had been, the explosion as difficult as it was, would have been a little more palatable, something beyond our control, something we couldn’t do anything about, something that we couldn’t have prevented even if we tried. But this didn’t need to happen.

Every single life that was lost, body that was injured, building that was damaged is on our government and entire political body for gambling our lives and livelihood away with their unfathomable incompetence, unmatched negligence, and grotesque carelessness. They kill us every single day, with their corruption that’s ruined the economy, with their lack of leadership and oversight that’s affected every single aspect of our lives in Lebanon. They killed us yesterday when they conveniently forgot about chemicals that exploded with the force of the strongest explosion the world has seen since Hiroshima.

You should be angry too. I don’t give a shit about their so-called investigations, we know who’s responsible. They are, every single one of them. Their incompetence was abstract for so long, but that is no more: it’s now tangible. You can see it in a destroyed city. They destroyed Beirut, it’s on them. We deserve more than what we are given in politicians who are telling us now is not the time to be angry, but to pray. Fuck their prayers, their laments, their crocodile tears. I can pray and be angry at the same time.

This was preventable. Say it again and again until you’re angry too. Also, if you can, donate to the Lebanese Red Cross using their app.

Lebanon Protests: The Need For Change Doesn’t End With Hariri Resigning

Via Art Of Thawra

It took 13 days of the entire country being paralyzed for Lebanon’s politician to budge. In a statement in which he decried that “no one is above their country,” Saad Hariri – our now (former?) prime minister issued his resignation.

His resignation comes today to the background of plenty of Hezbollah and Amal thugs storming the downtown Beirut area, beating up protesters, women, reports, breaking down equipment, and the tents those protesters were using to demand basic human rights.

If anything, Hariri’s resignation can’t be more timely: he is resigning from leading a country he was not able to govern, as exemplified by our own security forces standing helpless as those goons came down on peaceful protests, bolstered by their impenetrable political shield.

But let’s not forget that this isn’t just about Hariri, or Bassil, or Aoun, or Berri, or any other politician who hasn’t been at the forefront of the protest chants. Kellon ye3ne Kellon means that Hariri’s resignation should be one of many, and it should be a wake up call for us that building the country we deserve doesn’t stop when someone resigns.

In 2005, the massive protests after the assassination of Rafic Hariri led to the resignation of the prime minister. A lot of people were satisfied with that development, and it was surely triumphant. But as the subsequent decade has shown us, it was not enough.

Hariri resigning is not enough.

Our politicians are symptoms of a syndrome. This syndrome is the sectarian rule of law that has enabled them to persist as parasites, leeching off the people from whom they’ve sucked all the will to survive.

It is not a surprise that, nowadays, criticizing Hariri – to many – feels as if you’re criticizing Sunnis. It is not a surprise that many think criticizing Hezbollah and Amal is akin to criticizing the foundation of Lebanese Shiism. It not a surprise that criticizing Aoun or Bassil or Geagea feels to a lot of people as if you’re attacking Lebanese Christianity.

This is because those politicians have been able to use our sectarian divides as walls that they’ve erected around their halos, in order to perpetuate the illusion of their sanctity, in order to let us think they are untouchable.

The mere notion of some politicians being red lines that should not be crossed in this country, or in any democracy, is a no-go. They should all be open for criticism, impeachment and – most importantly – removal from office.

But that will never happen if we continue to prioritize sect over country. If me, a Lebanese Maronite, will forever be clinging to my Maronitism as the scope with which I view my citizenry, then Lebanon will never be able to become a country that can inhabit all of its people. The same thing applies for people of other sects.

This means that moving forward, Hariri’s resignation is not enough to instill the change we need. Gebran Bassil becoming a “former” minister is not enough, despite how catchy his chants can be. Moving forward, cute chants of “mabsoutaaa3” are not enough to move this country forward.

What we need is a drastic overhaul of the Lebanese system that enables its citizens to be equal in the eye of a common law, not by the law of their respective sects. What we need is a for an electoral law that is not tailored to our current politicians or people who are like them, to enable different faces with the same bullshit to be brought back to office.

What we need is to start concrete steps towards the de-sectarianization of this country so that – in 10, 20 or 30 years from now – we can get to a place where a Lebanese citizen would not introduce themselves by how they pray.

Until then, I congratulate all of the protestors on this first much-needed ounce of change, and hopefully it is the bellwether of more change to come.

Lebanon Protests: It’s Too Late To Believe Any of These Politicians’ Promises

(Picture via Anis Tabet).

Nata2 badri, as my mom would say.

72 hours have come and gone. Aoun, Berri and Hariri have finally come out of their weekend long slumber to unveil their country saving plan… and they think we’re actually going to believe them this time.

The plan that Hariri unveiled today is offensive to every single Lebanese who had to suffer through their corruption for years. This so-called plan is an insult to the intelligence of the millions who have been starved over the years, and who were protesting in the streets over the last 4 days.

It’s ridiculous that it took millions of us protesting across the world for them to *finally* succumb and cut down on their salaries, on their benefits, on long standing black holes that siphoned public funds into their pockets.

What Hariri and the rest of Lebanon’s ruling class believe is that they can continue to fool people with the same empty promises they’ve given for years. If it was *this* easy for them to enact these changes, why hadn’t they enacted them months ago when they were scrambling to come up with a budget for a country that functioned without one for decades?

It’s because they’ve taken our silence for granted. It’s because they assumed they can do whatever they wanted to this people and get away with it. But that stops now.

No Mr. Hariri, your empty promises don’t fly here. Just look at workers at Future TV and Saudi Ogeh were promised for years, none of which was ever fulfilled.

No, these empty reforms don’t address the root of the problem which is that these same politicians who have failed to reform anything for decades cannot suddenly see the light and decide to enact much needed change.

No, switching one way for these politicians to steal money to programs called Elinor and Elissar is not reform. This is just another name for theft.

It’s too little too late for empty statements masquerading under the guise of change to be effective. We should be better than to believe such empty words.

I really hope that years of lies are enough to have us believe that more lies can never be truths.

Stay tuned, Lebanon. The revolution continues.

The Weekend When Tripoli Was The Icon of Lebanon’s Protests

I’ve been writing about Tripoli so frequently on this blog, not only because I loved that city, but because the preconceptions that many Lebanese had of it – mostly out of biased media whose job was to alienate fellow Lebanese from the Northern capital.

Those preconceptions varied from “tripoli is where ISIS is” to “there’s nothing to do there anyway.” Many Lebanese that I know have started their third decade of life without having visited the city.

As Lebanon ends its third consecutive day of massive protests, the like of which the country has never seen, one thing is abundantly clear, regardless of what amounts from the revolution: Tripoli has finally gotten its chance to show its true color to everyone, and it did so out of the sheer will of its own people.

From its world famous Fayha Choir singing a cappella, to Marcel Khalifeh going to this city to sing at a protest, to them turning the infamous “se7et l nour” to not one, but TWO full blown raves, to thousands of them singing the national anthem at the top of their lungs, to their world famous sweets maker Hallab giving away 10,000 knefes, to its people baking manakeesh for the protesters for free. Tripoli was the highlight of Lebanon’s protests as it tore down stereotype after stereotype that was thrown at it for years.

Each of those moments was so fantastic to behold there isn’t a person I know who wasn’t taken aback by them. But I was not surprised, nor were the people who knew what this city was capable of.

Think about how gigantic a step it is for a DJ to be blasting techno music from a rooftop into a square that has been associated with Islamists for years, as thousands of people bopped their heads and threw their hands up for life.

Think about how enormous of a step it is for this city who has been taken for granted by the countless politicians that have claimed it to tell every single one of them to fuck off.

This northern city is representative of the Lebanese spirit like nothing else. It’s been brought down so many times. It hasn’t even been a decade since it had a war that few outside of the North cared about. It suffered through years and years of harmful propaganda – sometime by the same media of current ruling parties… and still it rises.

From the middle of New York, to all those in Tripoli who showed the city in the best light possible, you’re all amazing. Thank you.

Lebanon Burned. And Now It May Rise

My heart broke two days ago when I saw my home country burn, quite literally, in front of our eyes. As firefighters and regular people alike risked their lives to save our forests and homes from turning to ashes, it seemed fitting that a country whose course was scorching earth culminated that way.

The fire was literal and figurative. The trees burned, but so did people’s savings. The shrubs erupted, but so did people’s patience. Homes burned, and so did the fragile foundation on which the semblance of the Lebanese state remained.

As the government botched yet another aspect of its job towards its citizens, as people died trying to save each other from the fire while our politicians watched, it felt like we were turning into the ashes from which the Phoenix that this country has been likened to can finally be reborn.

They raised taxes. We took it in.

They didn’t collect garbage. We took it in.

They didn’t provide security and didn’t protect our currency. We took it in.

They didn’t provide for our children and elderly. They broke our social fabric. We took it in.

They cultivated divide and hatred. We swallowed it in.

They turned us into expats. They killed us. We took it in.

And then we rise.

You can call it the WhatsApp revolution. You can call it what you want to. But whatever the name may be, what is happening across Lebanon today is exactly why a part of me will love that country.

It’s that moment where enough became enough. When the raised taxes, the higher fuel prices, the lack of electricity and water and decent internet, the lack of security, the depreciation of citizenry all culminated in what may be lebanon – finally – rising.

It’s that split second in which thousands of my people can gather on the streets to cry for their rights.

It’s that kick that that feisty Lebanese woman can deliver to an armed officer threatening her.

It’s that middle finger that a protester gives to a politician who has taken his support for granted.

It’s that anger at years during which those very politicians have turned living in Lebanon into an actual hell.

It’s the years in which they failed to provide what constitutes the essentials of basic human decency.

It’s that Sunni in tripoli who is finally tired of Hariri.

It’s that Shia in Nabatieh who tore down the picture of Nabih Berri. It’s that Christian in Mount Lebanon who finally told Gebran Bassil to shove it.

Those chants in the streets, the party flags torn up, the politician pictures burned down could all point to a new dawn for a country who has been needing daylight for so long.

Yes I am wary. I had hope when I still lived in Lebanon and we protested the garbage crisis. I had hope even before then when I was a teenager and part of the millions who took it to martyr’s square on March 14th. But my Lebanese experience has trained me not to get my hopes up sometimes. Yet this time seems different.

There’s another air to how the protests are. This is the first time we’ve seen this level of anger and angst, perpetuating across the political and sectarian spectrum, uniting people I’d never thought could be united.

This is the first time their attempts at attacking the validity of the protests has completely failed, and conversely fueled their legitimacy.

Today, I have hope for my country. I’ve never had this much hope since I was 15 years old, on March 14th. I have hope that finally Lebanon may rise, and become the country we deserve to have.

To all of those in the streets fighting for everyone’s rights, you are heroes. Thank you for the good fight, we are humbled by your bravery.