The vast explosion in Beirut which killed well over 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed countless homes was a devastating tragedy for Lebanon and the region. Most of us in Bahrain and the GCC know Lebanon and its people well and we share this terrible sense of loss.
Yet this wasn’t just a human tragedy; this was a symptom of the catastrophic situation Lebanon has arrived at economically and politically. Even Prime Minister Diab, on announcing his resignation declared: “A political class is using all their dirty tricks to prevent real change… The corruption network is bigger than the state.” This isn’t news to anyone in Lebanon or who knows Lebanon. The question is what Lebanon can do to change this miserable situation. A change in government will change nothing; even fresh elections may not bring in enough new blood to the Parliament to make any difference.
The fundamental problem with Lebanon is its sectarian system which has kept small clans of politicians entrenched in power decades after the civil war. Central to this picture is Hezbollah which has exploited its alliance with President Aoun and certain Christian factions to be the dominant force in the Administration. This matters because Hezbollah is controlled and funded by Tehran and the group has been used in Syria and elsewhere in the region to undermine stability. Hezbollah has trained terrorist elements in Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
Many Lebanese citizens believe that the stockpiling of 2,750 tonnes of explosives in Beirut’s port was Hezbollah’s fault. Hezbollah is known to control the port and the suspicious circumstances behind the Ammonium Nitrate’s arrival are also indicators that the group deliberately held these explosives in this location, which subsequently led to the death of hundreds of innocent citizens.
It is not surprising that thousands of angry Lebanese citizens have taken to the streets. Their only hope for success is in forcing an end to the sectarian system as a whole, in a manner which stops Hezbollah acting as a state within a state. This will not be easy and it won’t happen overnight.
Lebanon is in an economic crisis because corrupt ruling classes systematically extracted the nation’s wealth from its banks and ministries. There is a deep love for Lebanon throughout the GCC, yet the billions of dollars in aid and loans are only likely to recommence after fundamental reforms to ensure that this support benefits citizens; as well as ensuring that it is not used for the benefit of Hezbollah, which Gulf states consider as a terrorist group.
The Lebanon which we in the GCC cherish in our memories is a land of beautiful scenery, welcoming people, wonderful beaches, relaxed social life, rich culture and prosperous trading opportunities. We hope that Lebanon soon can return to being this relaxed and contented paradise, and that GCC-Lebanon relations can return to how they recently were. The rush of GCC states to send in planes and shipments of aid and to support the injured is a reminder of how close Lebanon is to our hearts.
The people of Lebanon remain in our thoughts at this time of crisis and we look forward to a restoration of Lebanon as the pearl of the Arab world