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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.

24 mins ago - World

Jimmy Lai among Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders sentenced to prison

Students standing under a banner during a flag raising ceremony on the first annual National Security Education Day in Hong Kong. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Hong Kong court sentenced a group of pro-democracy activists to up to 18 months in prison Friday for organizing a massive unauthorized protest in August 2019 that drew an estimated 1.7 million people, AP reports.

Why it matters: Critics say the sentences send the message that even peaceful pro-democracy activism will be severely punished. They mark a continuation of Beijing's overhaul of Hong Kong's political structure, designed to crack down opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

Local news moves to the inbox

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A slew of new companies are launching platforms for local newsletters, a shift that could help finally bring the local news industry into the digital era.

Driving the news: Substack, the email publishing platform for independent journalists, on Thursday announced a new local news platform.