Lebanon on the cliff's edge?

After the explosion in Beirut thousands are protesting against the country's political elites. Clashes with the police have left several people wounded. The investigations into the causes are focusing on thousands of tonnes of ammonium nitrate that were stored at the port, the management of which is widely regarded as corrupt. Observers fear Lebanon could be further destabilised, with fatal consequences.

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Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Prevent apocalyptic conflict

The entire Middle East region could be facing a catastrophe, Rzeczpospolita warns:

“In Lebanon the system of power is based on the division of influence between different religious groups: The president is a Christian, the prime minister is a Sunni, the speaker of parliament is a Shiite. If responsibility for the explosion is attributed to one of these religious groups it could quickly lead to civil war. What's more, an armed conflict in strategically located Lebanon - between Syria, which has been bleeding for years, and Israel, a country under a state of emergency - could lead to a total conflict in the Middle East, which the whole world fears and wants to avoid. We must not allow this situation to turn into an apocalyptic conflict.”

Právo (CZ) /

New wave of refugees a distinct possibility

Právo points to potential consequences for the European continent:

“Europe, too, although crippled by coronavirus right now, must pay close attention to what is happening in Lebanon. In the extreme case, which of course can't be ruled out, the Lebanese state could collapse, and that could lead to a serious further destabilisation of the Middle East. There is the possibility that a new wave of refugees will be set in motion, and it's clear what their destination would be. This is another reason why broad-based humanitarian intervention by the European Union in Lebanon is indispensable.”

Vedomosti (RU) /

Hazardous materials are stored in our cities too

It's not only in Lebanon that huge risks are ignored when it comes to storing dangerous goods, Vedomosti stresses:

“Walking past a Russian industrial area, you can't help thinking that we're hardly more disciplined in storing dangerous goods than they are in Beirut. ... We live in an industrial society that cannot exist without hazardous materials. But everything must be done to ensure that they are not stored in densely populated areas. Unfortunately, however, self-important bosses and their bungling subordinates have a free hand to do just as they please.”

Megaphone (LB) /

Revenge will come

The mood in Beirut is now alternating between despair and deep anger at the political class, writes Samer Franjieh, a commentator for the Lebanese independent media platform Megaphone:

“We are not Lebanese citizens, but hostages held by a handful of criminals. There is no escape from them. Only death brings liberation. ... We are just zombies that move, walk and talk. Life has abandoned us, taken away our hopes, fears, restlessness, love and even our will to survive. We no longer have a future to cling to or a past to remember. ... We are nothing, and because we have nothing to lose, we will kill you. We will pick up the pieces of the road and use them to fill in your graves.”

Polityka (PL) /

Lifeline has been cut off

Polityka describes the huge economic impact of the explosion:

“No longer having a functioning port means that the main route for food and medications from abroad is temporarily unavailable. Domestic production can only cover about 20 percent of demand, the rest is imported. The Port of Beirut was where all the goods arrived. The granaries holding 85 percent of Lebanon's grain supplies were also damaged. Some of them are contaminated, and no one knows how much. The threat of hunger hangs over the city and the whole country.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Old rivals endangering reconstruction

Unfortunately there is no reason to believe that the conflict between the Lebanese clans will now subside, El Periódico de Catalunya comments:

“The fragmentation suggests that the historical rivalries will yet again interfere with the distribution of international aid arriving in Beirut and the management of the plans for the reconstruction of the city, which is practically the same as rebuilding the country. ... The weakening of the institutions and the lack of effective control over political actors has facilitated the proliferation of parallel power structures and the dilution of responsibilities - a reality that has created situations like that which provoked this latest bloodbath. There is no guarantee that this destructive conflict between clans will now ease.”

hvg (HU) /

A devastating cocktail

The Lebanese economy was in a desperate state even before the explosion, hvg points out:

“Although there is no good time for such a disaster, according to analysts the blast right now will further aggravate the political and economic crisis - in a country that has never really emerged from the civil war that pitted Shiites, Sunnis, Maronites and Druze against each other. The sluggish state institutions and the constraints imposed by the coronavirus pandemic have aggravated the situation: the economy, which was already on the verge of bankruptcy before the pandemic, is in ruins. Prices are rising rapidly, unemployment is at around 35 percent and hundreds of thousands are leaving their home country.”

La Stampa (IT) /

US can help solve Middle East leadership vacuum

The US must urgently reverse its decision to renounce the role of global policeman - also to protect Lebanon from further crises, diplomat Giampiero Massolo concludes in La Stampa:

“Washington has its good reasons: the trend towards energy independence, which makes the protection of traditional oil routes seem less strategic; geographic distance, which reduces the jihadist threat and migration flows; the waning understanding of the American public; a growing focus on Asia and China. ... Nevertheless there is no power that can replace the US. Yet at the local level there are many candidates. ... From Russia to Turkey to the Gulf states. ... If we don't want to leave the Mediterranean region to others, we as the EU would do well to urge Washington to get more involved once again.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Was it really fertilisers?

The possibility that the ammonium nitrate was intended for production of explosives should also be considered, says Jutarnji list:

“It is common knowledge that Hezbollah, thanks to its land bridge to Iran, has stockpiled a huge arsenal of missiles that pose a deadly threat to Israel. Therefore, despite the official investigation results, we should not rule out the possibility that a local agent underestimated the danger of storing this material in the warehouse. ... Israel has been quick to deny responsibility, which is good. In doing so it is depriving Hezbollah of the arguments for a casus belli. ... Perhaps this really was an accident. But in that case this is the result of chaos in a state that is no longer even able to take proper care of artificial fertilisers. At any rate it is a major blow for Hezbollah.”

La Stampa (IT) /

A country on the brink of collapse

It is not just the explosion that has rocked Lebanon, La Stampa points out:

“The more the neighbouring countries were drawn into the maelstrom of events and tried to drag the country along, the more it resisted. But the Lebanese miracle is deceptive, a pious fraud destined to sink into political impotence and economic disaster. The currency has lost 60 percent of its value, the state has declared bankruptcy, powerless in the face of a debt that accounts for 160 percent of the gross domestic product. ... But above all on the political level everything must change, because it's all just a sham. A political class consisting of corrupt men, unscrupulous compromise acrobats, clan chiefs who swapped the camouflage suit of the militia for that of a ministerial official, has failed.”

Népszava (HU) /

Lebanon has missed its chance

Instead of looking to the future politicians have been all too quick to accept the country's division into pro-Western and anti-Western blocs, Népszava criticises:

“The election campaigns were just a formality, and voting patterns were shaped by identity. Everyone voted for 'their' politician, even if they're corrupt. The politicians took advantage of this situation. Rather than investing in the future, they lined their own pockets and those of their party or friends. The result? A dying state. ... If the previous governments had put even a minimum of effort into it, Lebanon's fate could have changed for the better. Maybe it could even have become a prosperous country once more, the 'Switzerland of the Middle East'.”