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An Ethiopian migrant worker waits outside her country’s embassy in Beirut. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

It is just over a month since the Beirut port explosion, and the footage from that day remains as shocking as it was when it first began to appear on our TV screens and social media. In fragments of video, the world saw Beirut life freeze in confusion at the unfamiliar sound of the explosion, then shatter as its impact hit. Among those bits of film we saw one scene, captured on domestic CCTV, that was replicated across the city – an African nanny instinctively scooping children up out of harm’s way, and protecting them with her body.

Many of these nannies are now sleeping on the streets of Beirut.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Lebanese protester speaks with security forces in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020.

The monstrous explosion that tore into the early evening of a mid-summer's night this past Tuesday in Beirut is, whatever way you cut it, just the latest manifestation of the multitude of endless avenues of miserable corruption that have plagued the country for generations.

Lebanon's political oligarchy engages in kleptocracy with a rampant intensity unlike almost anywhere in the region, seemingly unrestrained by any sense of public compassion or institutional necessity. There is an apparatus of corruption that has, for decades, hollowed the entire country from the inside out in an endless cycle of dysfunction and theft.
Now, that bottomless dispassion has culminated in much of its capital being reduced to something akin to a post-apocalyptic cityscape.…  Seguir leyendo »

An anti-government protester in Beirut puts up a poster accusing corruption in Lebanon's state judiciary. Photo by Sam Tarling/Getty Images.

In the aftermath of the devastating Beirut port explosion last week, it is not just the role of the Lebanese political class that has come under scrutiny, but that of their international peers too.

Sunday’s international donor conference led by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, raised €253m (£228m) in relief funds, but it also signalled an important change in rhetoric. For the first time, donors affirmed that relief funds would directly go to the Lebanese people, and that longer-term economic assistance would be dependent on Lebanon implementing structural reforms.

This affirmation came hot on the heels of growing international attention on rampant corruption among Lebanon’s ruling political class, which is widely blamed for the port explosion.…  Seguir leyendo »

A view of the port the day after a massive explosion at the port on August 5, 2020 in Beirut, Lebanon. Houssam Hariri / NurPhoto via AFP

From all we know, the blast that destroyed much of the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut in the early evening of 4 August was an accident – but if so, it was an accident only in name. Storing, against repeated warnings, more than 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate for nearly seven years under unsuitable conditions near a densely populated area amounted to asking for a catastrophe to happen. Blatant, perhaps criminal, negligence and bureaucratic ineptitude were the immediate causes of the explosion that killed over 150, injured more than 5,000, displaced up to 300,000 and caused an estimated $2 billion in damage to the city – and counting.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sometimes, it seems as if fate is trying to prove its unlimited capacity for cruelty. When the skies over Beirut exploded on Tuesday, sending shockwaves felt all the way to Cyprus, 150 miles away in the Mediterranean, and devastating much of a city that was once known as the Paris of the Middle East, it seemed one of those times.

But the never-ending tragedy that is Lebanon is not the result of the random doings of destiny.

Lebanon's government has blamed a large quantity of poorly stored ammonium nitrate for the blast that rocked the city, killing at least 135 people, injuring more than 5,000 and destroying the capital's critical port, through which most of the goods Lebanon needs -- including food -- enter the country.…  Seguir leyendo »

A helicopter puts out a fire at the port of Beirut after Tuesday’s explosion. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

My first summer job was at the port of Beirut. It was the late ’90s and I was just a teenager. I spent muggy months entering shipping data as part of an ambitious new program to move the port from analog to digital log keeping. It was as unglamorous as you would expect from a bottom-rung job in the bowels of a Middle East bureaucracy. But despite the heat and the monotony, there was optimism.

The port was critical infrastructure in an economy rejuvenating after 15 years of civil war. Digital log keeping was part of the future — and an attempt to introduce much-needed order and transparency to a recovering public sector.…  Seguir leyendo »

The aftermath of the massive explosion at the port of Beirut, in the heart of the Lebanese capital. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It began as a rumble. A deep bass rattling through the building. And then a roar for seven, eight, nine seconds, an eternity. A sound that could be made only by the world itself breaking open. I was certain it was an earthquake.

My husband rushed from the balcony to our bedroom. Waves of pressure rolled over us; we crouched and clutched at one another. Glass broke, doors blew open, objects shattered. From the street rose screams and oaths. And terrified exhortations: “Ya Muhammad! Ya Muhammad!”

“What was it?” I asked, when I could breathe again.

Infijar,” he responded.…  Seguir leyendo »