Lebanon is bracing itself for a return to the massive demonstrations and riots which gripped the streets for much of last year, leading to closures of highways, banks, and public buildings. Like the years-long banking crisis, the government is seen as directly responsible for this week's epic tragedy.
Already Thursday night small, sporadic angry protests popped up downtown areas of Beirut. It's expected that following ongoing searches of rubble, as well as funerals for the over 135 killed, and initial clean-up efforts of a capital city covered in glass, mass demonstrations are expected to explode.
Yes people are angry tonight in #Beirut - what does the government expect?— Luna Safwan - لونا صفوان (@LunaSafwan) August 6, 2020
We basically have been living on a ticking time bomb in this city for the past 6 years with 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate impounded in Beirut's port since 2014. #Lebanon pic.twitter.com/otpdKGC2Xz
It was already a country on the brink, but the Tuesday blast centered on the port which had such force as to be compared to a mini-nuke has reportedly displaced 300,000 people - many of which saw entire walls of their homes ripped out - already in a dire situation of huge unemployment especially among young people, skyrocketing inflation, and a banking system teetering on collapse, which already saw closures for weeks at a time over the past year.
There's also of course the COVID-19 crisis which has not abated yet. But even before pandemic shutdowns in Lebanon the World Bank projected a whopping 45% of the population would be below the poverty line by the end of 2020.
Thus anger at widespread government corruption and ineptitude was already swelling before it was revealed that the government allowed 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate to be left in unsafe conditions right on the doorstep of populous residential areas.
It's difficult to see how the #BeirutExplosion will not lead to huge national demonstrations in the coming weeks. Over the past 5 yrs, far less dramatic symptoms of govt failure brought thousands of ppl to the streets. Today, a tsunami of rage is gathering.— Elias Muhanna (@QifaNabki) August 5, 2020
One Middle East analyst and US-based professor, Elias Muhanna, aptly described that "a tsunami of rage" is gathering and about to be unleashed across the country.
Recall too how earlier this year and into last year it's believed a record 25% of the entire population (of nearly seven million people) was on the streets protesting at one point.
Every day a new video emerges documenting the massive #BeirutExplosion from different angle.— Luna Safwan - لونا صفوان (@LunaSafwan) August 7, 2020
This one taken from a jetski offshore during the explosion - you can hear the voice of a man shouting for a woman named Salma asking her to jump.
This at the height of the banking and currency crisis which saw unprecedented restrictions put on patrons of banks: they couldn't draw from their own savings accounts on fears of a run on cash (specifically the dollar), and had strict controls put on external transfers out of the country. This as the local Lebanese lira had effectively collapsed.
Lebanese officials estimate that the explosion resulted in between three and five billion dollars worth of destruction. Currently international aid is en route, including at least three cargo planes worth of emergency aid from the United States.
Multiple countries have also sent emergency teams to set up makeshift clinics at local stadiums, given the over 5,000 wounded in the blast are still being treated.