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Beirut explosion awakened int’l community to Lebanon's slide into economic ruin, social collapse

Aug 12,2020 - Last updated at Aug 12,2020

The August 4th blast in Beirut destroyed the city's lifeline to the world, the port, devastated three nearby neighbourhoods and shocked crisis-ridden Lebanese. The explosion of 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate has also, finally, awakened the international community to Lebanon's slide into economic ruin and social collapse.

Having complained about the state of Lebanese affairs for months, French President Emmanuel Macron has ridden to the rescue by touring Beirut while no Lebanese politician dared show his or her face before securing pledges of $300 million to aid stricken Lebanese. Macron's first task will be to bank the pledges as governments often make promises on which they do not deliver. UN experts will decide how the contributions are to be used.

This money is meant to be employed for providing medical aid, food, housing and schooling for Beirutis affected by the blast. Not a penny is to be touched by the country's neglectful, inept and corrupt politicians and administrators. The funds will be apportioned and channelled through UN agencies, like the World Food Programme, and foreign and local non-governmental organisations. With monitoring, most of the money should be spent wisely and usefully.

The quarter of a million dollars is a drop in the sea of Lebanon's needs. The country requires an urgent, simultaneous, sustained infusion of at least $20 billion from international donors and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to rescue its economy and halt rising poverty, which has already gripped  45-50 per cent of the populace.  Over the past year neither the government of politicians headed by Saad Hariri who stepped down in January nor the "Cabinet of technocrats" led by Hassan Diab have drawn up and implemented reforms demanded as the price of funding.  An international coalition of donors who met in Paris in 2018 pledged $11 billion and the IMF which could provide another $9-10 billion continue to insist on reforms, accountability and transparency before the dispersal of the funds. While the politicians have procrastinated and prevaricated with the aim of remaining in office and in power, the economy has collapsed.

Following the Beirut port debacle, Lebanon urgently needs medium-term-to-long-term $10-15 billion in aid to rebuild the port, which handled 85-90 per cent of the country's imports, as well as buildings in neighbouring districts. No funds can be expected to be funnelled through the corrupt government, corrupted administration, bankrupted banks and graft-poisoned contractors.

However, the politicians, administrators, bankers, and their collaborators have no intention of standing down with the aim of meeting the needs of the people. Protesters who took to the streets last October demand the ouster of the ruling elite, prosecutions for misappropriation and misrule, an end to the sectarian system of governance imposed by France before independence, a secular, democratic electoral law and fresh elections which will exclude present and ex-office-holders, warlords and party leaders.

Since it is impossible for protesters to secure their demands here and now, it is time to create a supranational body to supervise a Marshall Plan for simultaneously rescuing Lebanon's economy and reconstructing the port and ravaged residential quarters. Tens of thousands of Lebanese demonstrating at risk of infection by Covid-19, wounding and death demand no less.

Donald Trump joined Macron in his virtual conference and called upon the world community to "help". So far the vast US - with 330 million people, has pledged humanitarian aid worth a measly $15 million, some in food. By contrast, little Cyprus, with 850,000 inhabitants, has offered $5.8 million plus food and medical supplies.

Ironically, Trump called for "calm" in Lebanon and acknowledged the "legitimate calls of peaceful protesters for transparency, reform and accountability". "Transparency" and "accountability" are ironic coming from the most untransparent and unaccountable CEO (chief executive officer) the US has ever had. Even his victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 was not transparent as he was elected with the covert assistance of Russian hackers. This year he was caught secretively eliciting the assistance of the Ukrainian government to smear his Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of November's presidential election.

Having promised during his first campaign, to clean the "swamp" of cronyism and corruptionin in the US capital, he has systematically deepened and enlarged the "swamp". He has employed a Cabinet of billionaires who contributed to his campaign, appointed his son-in-law and business colleagues to key positions, and replaced efficient officials in top administrative posts with inexperienced loyalists. He has undermined the checks-and-balances in the US system of governance by packing the Supreme Court with conservatives and co-opting the Republican majority in the Senate so he can push through destructive policies.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned on Monday due to the Port blast which killed more than 200, wounded 6,000, and rendered 300,000 homeless. He did not, however, admit responsibility. His weak government which failed to deal with the collapsing economy and the needs of the people, had only been in office seven months, he said.  He blamed "corrupt" political clique for the blast, saying that "corruption is bigger than the state" and arguing, correctly, that Lebanon is "paralysed by this clique and cannot confront it or get rid of it”.

Instead of dealing with the coronavirus, Trump has lied about its spread across the US, killing 164,000 and infecting 5 million. According to University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, writing in his Informed Comment blog, Trump "cannot be blamed for all of those deaths" but, at least, perhaps,  "40 per cent of them:" 65,000. These people died due to Trump’s refusal to impose lockdown when the virus appeared in February but waited until mid-March. Cole points out that "missteps" since then will have boosted the percentage of fatalities and infections.

Instead of assuming a mite of accountability, Trump has blamed others and, rather than the pandemic, focused on his campaign for re-election although during his three and a half years in office he has put the US on the route to full-scale Lebanese style corruption. If he wins, the US will, like Lebanon, be "paralysed" by the clique of corrupt Republican politicians, their backers, and voter enablers which cling to power like the political limpets who have sunk the Lebanese ship of state.

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