A massive explosion ripped through the Port of Beirut on Tuesday, sending shockwaves through the Lebanese capital, killing over one hundred and injuring thousands. This comes with Lebanon already on the brink of economic collapse, struggling to address a COVID outbreak, and as the trust gap between citizens and the state is wider than ever. Although in the immediate aftermath of the explosion some suggested Lebanon had been attacked, the cause of the explosion is likely much more banal: government negligence resulted in thousands of pounds of explosive chemical material to be improperly stored in the port for years. USIP’s Elie Abouaoun and Mona Yacoubian examine what this demonstrates about the already beleaguered Lebanese government, the long-term implications for the country, and how the international community has responded so far.
While Americans are understandably preoccupied with multiple crises at home, a catastrophe is looming in Lebanon with significant implications for the United States. Roiled by a major debt crisis that has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic lockdown measures, Lebanon is rapidly spiraling toward the worst-case scenario: a failed state on the eastern Mediterranean.
Lebanon’s leaders have lacked a cohesive strategy to respond to COVID-19, exacerbating tensions that sparked mass protests last fall. But while the government struggles, and Hezbollah’s influence weakens, USIP’s Elie Abouaoun says, “Unfortunately, the protest movement is as fragmented as the government.”