Aug 8, 2020 - World

What's next for Lebanon after the Beirut explosion

A young woman wears a face mask with the Lebanese flag on it as she carries cleaning supplies
Photo: Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Beirut residents are still clearing rubble from streets that appear war-torn, days after a blast that shocked the country and horrified the world.

Why it matters: The explosion is likely to accelerate a painful cycle Lebanon was already living through — discontent, economic distress, and emigration.

The big picture: Lebanon was already undergoing a massive financial crisis, deepening coronavirus outbreak, and political instability following months of protests. It was also recovering from devastating wildfires last year.

  • The economic crisis had left 75% of Lebanese in need of aid, 33% unemployed, and 15% — one million people — below the poverty line, BBC reports.
  • Lebanon already had among the lowest life satisfaction levels in the world, wedged between Zimbabwe and Afghanistan, according to Gallup.
  • Add to that an explosion which killed over 150 people, injured more than 5,000 and left as many as 300,000 homeless in a matter of minutes.

Where things stand: While countries such as France have offered to help, it's unlikely the international community can truly come to Lebanon's rescue — financially or otherwise — during a pandemic that is sapping most attention and resources.

  • Lebanon's middle class has been outraged by the government negligence that allowed 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate to be unsafely stored in the city's port for six years, and by a "slow and ineffective rescue effort," The Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Blame-shifting and an unwillingness to allow international experts to lead an investigation into the explosion are doing little to restore confidence.

Between the lines: There is general agreement in Lebanon that the political ruling class is corrupt, the Middle East Institute's Hassan Mneimneh tells Axios.

  • As the dust settles in Beirut, there will likely be more protests calling for "the fall of the regime."
  • Yes, but: "As dramatic as this event is, it does not seem to be a break from the cycle of trauma," Mneimeh says.

What to watch: Educated younger Lebanese, already struggling with high unemployment, are likely to head West in search of employment, Mneimeh says.

  • Many have the skills and means to find work outside of Lebanon. That could drive a brain drain just as Beirut and Lebanon are attempting to rebuild.
  • Financially, foreign governments have said they will provide Lebanon with short-term aid, but many will be cautious in dealing with a government that is notoriously corrupt and associated with Hezbollah, per the Journal.
  • The International Monetary Fund and the Trump administration have already said they'll oppose a $5 billion bailout Lebanon is seeking absent major economic overhauls.

The bottom line: The chances of "organizing something constructive" in the aftermath of the explosion appear low, according to Mneimneh.

  • "The prospects for Lebanon are still very grim," he says.
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