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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.

Go deeper

Nov 10, 2020 - World

Exclusive: Bahaa Hariri says Lebanon and Israel should resolve disputes, move toward peace

Bahaa Hariri, the billionaire son of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, told Axios he thinks Lebanon and Israel should resolve their border disputes and move toward a peace deal.

Why it matters: Israel is an enemy country under Lebanese law, making this a very unusual statement from a member of one of Lebanon’s most prominent political dynasties. Bahaa’s brother Saad is currently trying to form a new government in Lebanon and is known for holding hardline positions on Israel.

Woman who allegedly stole laptop from Pelosi's office to sell to Russia is arrested

Photo: FBI

A woman accused of breaching the Capitol and planning to sell to Russia a laptop or hard drive she allegedly stole from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was arrested in Pennsylvania's Middle District Monday, the Department of Justice said.

Driving the news: Riley June Williams, 22, is charged with illegally entering the Capitol as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct. She has not been charged over the laptop allegation and the case remains under investigation, per the DOJ.

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID-related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.