In Beirut, a year later, tears and anger

Thousands of Lebanese, but no official responsible, marched through the streets of the Lebanese capital on Wednesday to commemorate the first anniversary of the deadly explosion that traumatized a country today at its wit’s end, strangled economically and plagued by corruption. Violence between demonstrators and police broke out in the evening.

A human tide, thousands of red, white and green Lebanese flags , and always that sad look, everywhere. On August 4 2021, time stood still and, in the heart of Beirut, it looked like the day after the explosion which, a year earlier, killed 50 people, injured more than 6 500, and ravaged the Lebanese capital.

Wednesday in the middle of the afternoon, three steps converged towards the port, from three districts of the capital. Marches to the sound of revolutionary songs, with here and there “thawra!” (revolution!) Which resound, released by thousands of determined young people to do battle and rekindle the revolutionary flame, extinguished for months. During the first hours, however, it was a time of sadness. The anger these young people saved for later, for the evening, once the families of the victims, displaying images of their deceased loved ones, returned home. “I am here for the victims, not for Lebanon”, explains Randa, in her sixties. Under her sunglasses and blue mask, she says that “her daughter and her family were injured” in the explosion. They lived in the district of Gemmayze, near the port. Today, they no longer live there. Like so many others, they left the country. “I’m alone here!” she laments, accompanied by some friends. The haemorrhage of young graduates has accelerated since the explosion of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored for years in a warehouse at the port, with more than 50 000 departures in the following months, and neighborhoods that have become ghosts, although the buildings have been renovated by NGOs.

Fadi came with his cousin. They both live in Canada and have returned “not really for the holidays, but to see our loved ones” , he explains. While having his picture taken in front of the port, this fellow with slicked back hair explains that he had not returned for a year and a half, Covid obliges, while the Lebanon has collapsed, economically and politically. Today, he even had to hide from his family that he was participating in the march. “They are afraid for us, but there is nothing! Look, there are just people coming to pay homage to the victims. ”

These commemorations tasted bitter. A taste of salty, sweat, scorching heat, and injustice. A feeling of injustice that is increasing day by day, with an investigation that is trampling , blocked by those same who “knew” , as Jean-Louis explains, 18 years old, carrying a sign “Judge Bitar, lock up those bastards.” “Of course! he said, they all knew there was ammonium nitrate in the port, they sent firefighters, paramedics to their death! ”

Anger against impunity Wednesday evening, at 18 h 000, the precise time of the explosion, it’s a whole crowd, thousands of people , who stops short and observes a minute of silence, broken here and there by a few tears. Quickly, these tears give way to anger, anger against the impunity of Lebanese government officials , none of which had come for the commemorations, against this never-ending investigation which is blocked by the immunity that politicians preserve, with success, as best they can. As the sun sets over the silos of the port, this anger, stored up for a year, swells. Protesters move towards parliament, threatening. Then follows a ballet between security forces, army and demonstrators. Some attack, others throw stones, and are then drowned in tear gas, which makes them flee for a few moments. The ballet begins again and again. Then, around 18, everyone goes home. Calm returns.

“We were fed up , explains Ziad, in his twenties, in marcel with a scarf around the neck. There were tens of thousands of us this afternoon, then they all left, those who stayed were filming us as we were fighting! The police should be by our side, I don’t understand why they are beating us! ” Ziad shows his swollen calf and his scar, a small bloody spot. “It was a ball covered with rubber that did this to me, they shot us, yet they were far away!” These rubber-covered balls are responsible for many injuries, a total of a hundred on the side of the demonstrators.

He is 22 hours, Beirut is calm. Plunged into darkness for lack of electricity, the country, changed forever since that date, falls asleep, groggy.