Blackout Beirut: The Recent Electricity Crisis in Lebanon

I felt like I was in a war zone this past weekend when the power in Beirut kept circulating between three hours of grid connection and three hours of grid disconnection. Perhaps the “highlight” of my day was trying to shower using a lit candle as your only source of light.

I am used to electricity outages. I am from a village in Northern Lebanon where more than 12 hours of coverage per day is seen by many as some form of the second coming of Christ. But in my village in North Lebanon, I have a “moteur” subscription which fills in the many blanks left by the electricity we should get from our dear state. In my Achrafieh neighborhood, however, you don’t have “moteur” providers because you never needed them before. Add to that grandparents who have been through weeks and weeks of no-electricity during the civil war and it makes the three hours tolerable for a power-needing person like me.

But no matter, as Beirut cycled between Beirut-on and Beirut-off in three hour turns, even the iPhone app to track the outages didn’t work anymore. And I had no idea what was happening until I watched the news and saw that workers from South Lebanon had apparently decided to strike at the Zahrani Power Plant. A little delving into this and a political nature of the strike is also revealed. Nearby municipalities supported the decision of the plant’s “workers” for strike. The “apparent” cause? Electricite du Liban (EDL) decided to move a 40 MVA transformer from the Plant to the nearby city of Saida.

Part of the news report I watched has Southerners complain about them being “left out,” about them being “targeted” by the Lebanese state with only few hours of coverage per day. My initial reaction was: are they [insert obscene word] kidding me?

Let’s get  a few things straight.

1) The Southerners are not the only people who have suffered in Lebanon. It’s 2011. The Israelis left 11 years ago. The July 2006 war happened, well, in 2006. We all stood by them through all of their Israel-related misery. We harbored them in our schools, gave them food from our homes and did what any proper citizen would do. They can stop accusing the whole country of targeting them whenever something doesn’t go their way.

2) I get as much coverage as they do in my village in North Lebanon and yet you don’t find me storming power plants and cutting power for those who have it. This is NOT the way you solve things.

3) Apparently our beloved minister Gebran Bassil (whom we, in my caza, voted against a bunch of times and yet always found in power) couldn’t even get the political parties behind the “workers” to get them to stop their “strike.” This begs the question: if the minister of energy, who’s also a proud ally of those political parties, can’t reign them in, then who can? This also raises doubt on exactly how far Aoun can control Hezbollah. Mr. Aoun was always proud of being Hezbollah’s main ally in the country, believing that Hezbollah did whatever Aoun wanted. Well, not always, is it?

4) Now that our prime minister Miqati has apparently sorted things out, the question asks itself: what if Hezbollah decides to act out again? what’s there to stop them? If their own allies can’t do anything against them then who can? What’s to stop this whole “I can do whatever I want and you can’t do anything about it” mentality that they have?

As I came back to my Achrafieh neighborhood at 6 pm today, I was struck by how dark it was. Few were the buildings that had lights in them. The streets were dark. The people were gloomy. I couldn’t wait to go back home to North Lebanon where there was actually light and mind you, my house in Achrafieh is exactly halfway between St. George’s and Geitawi hospitals – you’d think an area where two hospitals were located would get some preferential treatment. But no matter. A friend in Jal El Dib had 8 minutes of electricity all day today. A friend in Mansourieh a little more than 8 minutes but also a dismal amount. And yet, you don’t find us storming roads, burning tires, calling for strikes in power plants in our regions. It’s not that we couldn’t do that. The easiest thing to do is spur violence. What’s not easy, however, is to suck it up and work on fixing the electricity situation, which has been coexistent with our life as far as I can remember, with a radical solution, not ruin whatever few megawatts other people get.

And this is one of the reasons, dear Hezbollah, I can never – ever – support you.

But you know what’s interesting? Out of all the governments that have been ruling the country since 2005, this is probably the most dysfunctional one. What’s sad? It’s one-sided and made up mostly of those who want to change and reform. Well, here’s how it goes: over promise, under-give, the system blows up, blame others.