A New Beginning for Lebanon?


Smoke fills the sky over Lebanon after a store of ammonium nitrate exploded on August 4, 2020.

Lebanon is currently going through an economic crisis, a COVID-19 outbreak, food and diesel shortages and extreme corruption in every corner of the government, and somehow things got even worse. The capital, Beirut, has suffered a 15-year civil war, Israeli bombings and a Hezbollah siege, but it hasn’t seen anything like the explosion on August 4th that killed more than 200 individuals, injured 6500 and displaced 300,000 residences.

People first thought it was Israel who shot a ballistic missile into the port. The failed government claimed it was fireworks, but port officials revealed that 2700 tons of ammonium nitrate were in the hangars where the explosion occurred. Those explosives have been stored in the port for seven years, and when port managers addressed this issue to the government, no action was taken. While there have been many theories about what may have ignited these explosives, this article will focus instead on why the Lebanese government failed to address the explosives and why they ended up exploding.

According to Russian Coastal Guard officials, a cargo ship with 2700 tons of ammonium nitrate set sail from Georgia, with an intended destination of Mozambique. It docked in Beirut in August 2014, after claiming that the ship was having technical difficulties. The officials said that the ammonium nitrate was in a dangerous state: when it is exposed to temperatures higher than 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), it changes its molecular state and becomes prone to ignition. Even with this warning, the Lebanese government seized the ammonium nitrate and stored it at the port.

Although the port of Beirut was now storing these potentially lethal explosives, the news was kept secret from the public, and the government did not remove the explosives, even though it was stored in a densely populated metropolitan area. The Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Gebran Bassil, even signed a contract to keep the ammonium nitrate, despite its reported dangers. He still says to this day that he has “no direct responsibility to what  happened,” as shown in an interview with CNN’s reporter Becky Anderson. Although there was no proper investigation into who owned the cargo, Fábrica de Explosivos Moçambique (FEM) reported to CNN that the ammonium nitrate was ordered for explosive mining. What was on the cargo ship was 2700 tons of ammonium nitrate, and according to groups like the FBI and the French Police, only between 700-1000 tons were ignited and were present during the explosion scene.

I thankfully did not lose any loved ones in the explosion, but my heart still breaks for the lost ones, the missing, the injured and the homeless. This incident has kept me in shock for days and has affected my daily life: not only me, but also many other Lebanese people, whether they lost a relative, property or morale. It was something so unexpected. What disheartens me the most is that there are still government officials in Lebanon who do not care about the explosion and the damage it’s done. It has made me numb because this catastrophe was not even in the worst-case scenario assumption, and guilty because I was not there to physically help when it happened.

The international community has cared more for us than our own government. Even France’s president Emmanuel Macron came to visit the Lebanese people in person and sent aid. Israel did so too! Meanwhile, our own Lebanese government did nothing but declare a state of emergency. This has led to people rioting and taking over government buildings. The Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, resigned, but this is a small step toward fixing Lebanon’s failing government system.

At this point, I’m not willing to contact people I know who still support the government. I believe most Lebanese are on the same page about removing and prosecuting them. They’ve been demonstrating and posting on social media since October 17, 2019, after the government proposed new taxes. The demands have been clear.

The government’s supporters are too brainwashed to see the economic collapse and corruption. Their answers about who is responsible for the problems would be blaming a different political party or saying that those in power could not do anything. For example, Aounists (people who support the sitting president of Lebanon, Michel Aoun) say he has no power to remove the ammonium nitrate at all. That claim is invalid. A president has executive powers that could give him the authority to do so. A person who does not use his executive power or claim responsibility for his mistakes is not worthy of being called a president.