Can Lebanon Rebuild Not Just Beirut, but Its Broken Political System?

Can Lebanon Rebuild Not Just Beirut, but Its Broken Political System?
Graffiti written by Lebanese citizens in front of the scene of the explosion at Beirut’s port, Lebanon, Aug. 9, 2020 (AP photo by Hussein Malla).

The devastating explosion that tore through Beirut earlier this month exposed the elite corruption at the heart of Lebanese governance. The blast itself, which was almost certainly caused by a stockpile of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that had sat unguarded at Beirut’s port since 2013, may not have been deliberate. But it had everything to do with Lebanon’s history of conflict and the elderly politicians, many of them former warlords, who still hold power in its dysfunctional, sectarian and clientelist political system. With the public mobilizing against the country’s kleptocracy, the survival of the status quo is in question. But whether a reformist alternative can take its place remains uncertain.

Since the 1970s, Lebanon’s political elites have eschewed the hard work of governing in favor of plundering the country’s resources and concentrating power among themselves. To date, as much as $100 billion have been squandered from the country’s banking system in corrupt deals. Now, with more than 200 people dead from the blast and thousands more injured and displaced, Lebanon’s leaders are once again determined to escape blame for a disaster of their own making by rejecting an international investigation into its causes and culprits.

Lebanon had already been seething before the explosion. In last year’s so-called “October Revolution,” a series of protests erupted over a new tax on the popular messaging service WhatsApp, in a sign of the increasing popular frustration with the old order. At the forefront of this uprising was a new generation of activists who recognized the serious problems facing Lebanese society and the failure of the political class to address them in any meaningful way. The fact that the recent catastrophe was caused by negligence has only sharpened their resolve for an alternative.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.