Maha El Dahan, Tom Perry
BEIRUT, (Reuters) – At least six persons were shot to death in Beirut as protests against a probe of last year’s devastating port blast sparked the worst civil violence for years.
Another bloodshed has added to the miseries of a nation that is experiencing one of the most severe economic crises ever.
Let’s find out what to do about the Lebanon crisis.
The shooting began as protesters headed towards a demonstration organized by Hezbollah, its ally Amal, to call for the dismissal of the judge who was investigating the blast at the port.
There have been tensions over the investigation into the blast that killed more than 200 and left large swathes in Beirut utterly devastated.
A number of high-ranking politicians and security officers, including Hezbollah ally, have been asked by the judge to answer questions about their negligence in causing the explosion. The cause of this explosion was a large amount of ammonium Nitrate.
All of them have denied wrongdoing.
This probe crisis is caused by one of Lebanon’s major problems, sectarian politics. These have caused divisions in Lebanon and fueled civil war since independence. Christians and Shi’ites are lining up against each other during this conflict.
Shi’ite ally Hezbollah, which is heavily armed and supported by Iran, are among the prominent suspects being questioned on suspicion of negligence.
Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator, issued an arrest warrant this week for Ali Hassan Khalil. He is a former minister of finance and close Hezbollah allie.
Bitar also attempted to interview non-Shi’ite officials. The Sunni former prime Minister Hassan Diab and Youssef Finianous are two examples.
The probe, despite being met with strong Shi’ite opposition, has been supported by a wide range of Christians, including President Michel Aoun (Hezbollah’s chief Christian ally). Political sources claim that this has caused friction between Aoun’s party and Hezbollah.
Because the majority of physical damage to the area was predominantly Christian, this issue is very sensitive for Christian parties.
This latest violence takes place in the context of one the most severe economic depressions anywhere on the planet. It began with the financial collapse of 2019.
This collapse has pushed some 35% of Lebanese into poverty, and the currency was down by 90%. It is the result of decades of financial corruption and mismanagement by the sectarian elite.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s new government has pledged to reopen negotiations with IMF in order to obtain a rescue package.
The government of Lebanon, the banks and the central bank must agree to the extent and the distribution of the enormous losses to the financial system.
In the meantime, Lebanon’s fall is forcing more people to flee, leading to an increase in the number of emigrants. This braindrain, which spans the entire sectarian spectrum, economists predict will bring back Lebanon for many years.
Foreign interests complicate the web of sectarian rivalries in Lebanon.
For years the power balance in Lebanon has been tilted towards Hezbollah, its allies and factions aligned with Western governments and Sunni Arab Sunni-led Gulf Arab countries that have mostly given up their Lebanese friends.
Hezbollah was established by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. It has grown to be more powerful than the government. Washington has been accused of interfering in the probe to further its anti-Hezbollah goals.
Washington has condemned the intimidation of the judiciary by Hezbollah, which it lists as a terrorist organization. France also supported the investigation, declaring that it should be conducted in an impartial and independent manner.
Saudi Arabia is now a hostile ally of its Sunni Muslim Lebanese old ally Saad Al-Hariri but it still has strong ties to Samir Geagea, a militia commander.
(Writing by Maha El Danahan and Tom Perry; Editing: Leela de Kretser