Right-wing militia brutally attack Lebanese protesters on port explosion anniversary
A justice symbol monument is seen in front of towering grain silos that were gutted in the massive August 2020 explosion at the port that claimed the lives of more than 200 people, in Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 4, 2021. A year after the deadly blast, families of the victims are consumed with winning justice for their loved ones and punishing Lebanon's political elite. Meanwhile, when they demonstrate for that justice, the people are attacked by right-wing militias. | Hussein Malla / AP

Just over a year ago, on Aug. 4, 2020, all eyes were on Beirut, Lebanon. The city was rocked by a massive explosion at its port that killed 208 people, injured over 7,000, and left over a quarter-million of the capital city’s residents homeless. Suddenly everyone wanted to know what was going on in Lebanon. What caused the explosion? Who was responsible? Why is the city once known as the “Paris of the Middle East” filled with destruction and poverty? Then, just as abruptly as the attention began, it came to an end. But the crisis in Lebanon—which began almost a year before the explosion—did not.

During the autumn of 2019, Lebanon began to descend into what the World Bank has called one of the worst economic depressions of the modern era. Since then, the Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value and is still dropping. With that, most of the savings of the average Lebanese citizen suddenly have become all but worthless. Unemployment is staggeringly high, at 40%, and half the population is living under the poverty line. According to the UN, more than 75% of households are lacking food or the money to purchase it.

The financial depression gripping Lebanon was caused by 20 years of unchecked corruption in both the political and economic sectors. For two decades, a small, national elite comprising Lebanon’s top bankers and politicians managed the country’s economy in a manner that lined their pockets. The richer they got, the more they inched the rest of the country towards calamity. Everyone knew disaster was coming; it was just a question of when. At the end of 2019, the system reached a tipping point, and the country was pushed over the edge into financial depression.

It was in the midst of this tragic decline that the Beirut port explosion happened. Due to lack of enforcement of safety regulations and government incompetence, a large section of Beirut was destroyed. In response, massive protests erupted across the country demanding the government be held responsible for its failure to prevent the disaster. The cabinet resigned in shame, but Hassan Diab, the prime minister, remains in place as a “caretaker” until elections can be held.

In the interim, the quality of life has continued to decline for the working class of Lebanon, and the inept “caretaker government” is either unable or unwilling to do anything to help. The wealthy and the privileged have done what they can to protect their assets and those that can leave the country have done so. The people of Lebanon are angry and demanding better.

In light of this, on the one-year anniversary of the Beirut port explosion, a mass protest was called for by the Committee of Families of the Port Victims. Many progressive forces, such as the Lebanese Communist Party, unions, and other pro-democracy forces, heeded their call. The protest was announced a week ahead of time so that people would have time to organize and opposition groups would not see it as spontaneous unrest.

Despite the organizers of the protest doing everything they could to ensure that the event would happen peacefully, the protesters were violently and brutally ambushed by the far-right militia known as “the Lebanese Forces.” The LF laid in wait, and when the protesters arrived, they attacked them with sticks, stones, firecrackers, knives, and pistols.

At least 20 protesters were injured, seven of them severely due to stab wounds and bludgeoning at the hands of the LF militia. Two youths, Jack Barakat and Johnny Barakat, were kidnapped and forced to embarrass themselves in exchange for their lives being spared.

The leader of the LF, Samir Geagea, tried to excuse the violence perpetrated by the members of his organization. He claimed they were defending an LF office from what they thought was a spontaneous attack. However, the facts don’t support this claim, as the location and timing were announced a week before and there are no LF offices in the area. The Lebanese Forces are part of a right-wing, conservative establishment that is seeking to maintain the status quo, despite the system falling apart around them.

It is time that the world once again starts paying attention to what is happening in Lebanon. Millions of people are going without food, work, and other basic necessities. The government is incapable of caring for its citizens, and the next elections are not until May of next year. When the people stand up for themselves and their families, they are met with violence at the hands of right-wing militias. The people of Lebanon deserve better.


CONTRIBUTOR

Amiad Horowitz
Amiad Horowitz

Amiad Horowitz studied history with a specific focus on Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh. He lives in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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