Does it make noise, a country that is collapsing? No, not so much. Day after day, Lebanon sinks into political powerlessness and economic misery. Silently. Even during its wars (1975-1990), Lebanon never reached the degree of homelessness that affects it today. “We are sinking”, said an old friend from Beirut.
Lebanese opinion blames the entire ruling class. She denounces a corrupt and incompetent political system. She denounces the perversion of an institutional confessionalism which generates patronage and corruption. The tragedy of Lebanon, and of its four and a half million inhabitants, is that the complex regional developments underway are also weighing on its situation.
The explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020 – 220 dead, 5,500 seriously injured, massive destruction – hit a country that was already in bad shape. A pre-existing political, economic and social crisis that day spiraled away. Logic black series, a country that was a nation of small middle class and a few great fortunes is today eaten away, undermined, submerged by rampant poverty.
In less than two years, says the International Monetary Fund (IMF), gross domestic product has fallen 40%. The Lebanese pound has lost 80% of its value. Unemployment, shortages, damaged health and education systems, desperate youth: Lebanon is paying dearly. If an entire elite, clinging to the status quo, refuses reforms that would open the door to generous international aid, one party, only one, is more particularly accused of this deadly blockage: the Shiite fundamentalist Hezbollah party.
On the defensive
Founded by the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1982, the Party of God is a key player in Lebanese political life. It is rooted in a Shiite community that makes up a third of the population and is at least as large as the other Muslim component of the country, the Sunnis – the last third being Christians. But Hezbollah, with a seasoned militia and stronger than the national army, is also, and even primarily, the instrument of Iranian policy in Lebanon. It is the tool of the preponderance that Tehran exercises in Beirut. As such, this party-militia, State within the State, financed and armed by Iran, defends a political status quo which benefits it wonderfully.
Its control over the port’s activities puts it at the forefront of the chain of responsibilities suspected in the explosion of August 4. Menacingly, armed with its private army, Hezbollah is campaigning, along with most of the other parties, to scuttle the investigation into the port tragedy. But there is on his way a “little judge”, alone against all. Impeccably professional, magistrate Tarek Bitar plays this role with panache – and takes all the risks.
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“One party, only one, is more particularly accused of the deadly blockage of Lebanon: Hezbollah”