Lebanon, the country with the most bustling ports in the Middle East, was plunged into an explosion of acrimony on Friday as Prime Minister Saad Hariri asked the country’s top general to launch an investigation into the port explosion which leveled a building in Beirut and injured scores of people.
The explosion, which occurred in the southern suburb of Beirut, was aimed, according to the BBC, at killing someone. Whether the agents behind the explosion were Lebanese Shiites, or Arab fighters from an outside group, or affiliated with the Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is allied with Tehran, remains unclear. Some linked the explosion to tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are at odds over several issues.
The explosion occurred on the anniversary of the beginning of the Lebanese civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990 and was sparked by Israeli intervention in neighboring Palestine in 1982. This country has not yet recovered from that conflict. At that time, Beirut’s sprawling port and its surrounding area became the focus of local gangs and battle between rival militias. Over time, those tensions continued as the country’s political and economic elites turned a blind eye toward those on the periphery. As the country slowly descended into chaos, many politicians asked for deeper monitoring of the country’s shores.
That debate has seemed to simmer anew after Friday’s explosion. Several threats were made against Hariri. The Lebanese prime minister has faced opposition within his own country, with members of his Future Party calling on him to resign. The prime minister remains determined to remain in office until a new government is formed, though there is no sign that an arrangement has been reached. Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Saturday that an investigation into the explosion was underway and he pledged to cooperate in the search for the perpetrators of the explosion.
Social media has been ablaze with criticism of Hariri and his security forces. Some Lebanese have said that the explosion could have been foreseen. Two days prior to the blast, there had been some clashes in the area between Hezbollah and another militant group, Amal, but the subsequent investigation determined that no one was fired from those guns.
“The story hasn’t changed,” a Lebanese security source told ABC News. “What has changed is the timing, after and before [events that occurred].”
Critics of Hariri have invoked the specter of the 1960s, when Lebanese National Security chief General Elie Kirt, who was assassinated by a car bomb, was said to have warned the prime minister of the plans of Iranian-backed Shiite groups.
Hariri, in response to the blast, said that he was opposed to interference from Iran and said there was no place for Iran in Lebanese politics. Yet even if it turns out to be sectarian, the explosion is threatening to add an extra layer of tensions to an already shaky state. The members of Hariri’s own political party have called for his resignation, saying he does not deserve to remain in office.
On Saturday, Hariri’s office confirmed the prime minister’s attendance at a weekly cabinet meeting on Saturday.
Saturday’s government session is the third in succession to begin at the same time. No real progress is likely. Lebanon’s long period of political paralysis — think Syria’s war — has killed its reputation for being able to avoid civil conflict.
In 1991, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, as part of the Saad Hariri era, brought parliament back into session after it had been shut down in 1980s amid the political unrest. The long-serving premier Gabonese with ties to Egypt and Saudi Arabia told Newsweek that Lebanon had a chance at “peace” only after “deeper legislative reform.” Yet today’s Lebanon still does not have a parliament that can govern.
“We made attempts to break the cycle [of Lebanon’s] fractured political scene, but the old atmosphere of the Lebanese presidential system — whereby an annual presidential nominee is selected by a political group — seems to prevent this process from achieving stability,” he said.
“What we need is an advanced parliamentary system that includes a system of checks and balances to assure stability.”