I haven’t been able to batter my way through the FT paywall to the story on Lebanon, but I suspect it closely resembles all the others being published in the western media today, including this one from the Guardian which isn’t bad.
If you’re following this story (and you should because it has enormous international political implications), here are a few nuggets.
The prevailing mood in all of the reports of an outburst of anger against a political class that is not just corrupt and incompetent, but was itself responsible for the civil war which devastated the country for fifteen years. No more, people are saying. They must all go. Hang the lot (photographs of nooses are appearing on social media). Nobody seems to believe the system can be reformed, and most people seem to want to tear it down, perhaps literally. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of coverage in the French media, and if you read French or just use Google Translate, this article by the playwright Wajdi Mouawad gives you an indication of how the articulate, professional middle class feels, without whom no progress is really possible. Like a lot of the comments, Mouawad’s is apocalyptic : this is it, he says, the explosion is the symbol of the end of an era, the long crucifixion of the country since 1975, finally (he hopes) blowing away the old guard who fought the civil war and have profited from the peace. The trouble is, there’s no New Guard to take over.
Unfortunately, the Lebanese political class is living down to expectations: blaming each other or mysterious foreign powers for the explosion, and arguing now about whether the inevitable investigation should be national or international. Unsurprisingly, the President, Aoun, and Hassan Nasrallah the Hezbollah leader, want a purely national enquiry (they are in power, after all) whilst the opposition want an international one. Signs are that donors will demand the latter at a meeting tomorrow, but the controversy will, of course, neatly divert attention from more important issues. Meanwhile, Nasrallah has had to formally deny that Hezbollah had stocked weapons and explosives in the port, and that that was the source of the explosion. (An extreme form of this conspiracy theory, going round in the region, is that an Israeli missile destroyed Hezbollah’s stockpile and set the explosives off).
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And finally, today is a “day of anger” with mass demonstrations in Beirut near Martyr’s Square, the traditional venue for such protests. L’Orient-Le Jour, the main French-language newspaper has live coverage on its site, including videos. So far, the Police are in the front line, using lots of tear gas, but the Army are also there. It would actually be sensible to use the Army, since they are better trained and led, and are the one national institution in which anyone has any confidence. But the commanders won’t be happy, because they risk getting embroiled in the political controversies. The Army have a good record in calming down and dispersing violent protests in the past, but they won’t want to be seen as protecting a regime which many of them despise as much as any other Lebanese. The real fear is that the Army will split, as it did 1975,in which case there will be nothing holding the country together.
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