Beirut blasts
A helicopter puts out a fire at the scene of the massive August 4 explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut. Image Credit: AFO

Cairo: More than four months after a fatal explosion struck Beirut, deepening Lebanon’s political and economic dilemma, no way out looms in sight for the country. On August 4, a huge blast at the Beirut port rocked the capital, leaving around 200 people dead and devastating large chunks of the city.

The blast, attributed to large quantities of ammonium nitrate poorly stored at the port, struck while Lebanon was roiled by months-long street protests against the ruling elite.

The protesters have accused the ruling class of corruption and mismanagement of economy, pushing the country to the verge of a financial collapse.

In recent months, the Lebanese pound has lost as much as 80 per cent of its value as the country’s foreign currency reserves have ominously been eroded.

The explosion came to fuel public discontent and forced the government of Hassan Diab to resign under home and international pressure.

In the aftermath of the blast, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut where he called the rival Lebanese politicians to adopt much-needed reforms to bail out economy.

Macron, whose country was a former colonial power in Lebanon, kept the pressure on his second visit to Beirut in less than a month in September, urging for swift formation of a cabinet of technocrats and introduction of massive reforms linked to financial aid.

In October, prominent politician Saad Hariri was designated for forming the government that has been since in the throes of birth amid economic deterioration.

Macron had to cancel a trip to Lebanon, which was scheduled for this week, after he tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The cancellation must have come as a piece of good news to some Lebanese politicians.

“Some political leaders, especially the presidential team, can feel happy over postponement of Macron’s visit to Lebanon,” Lebanese writer Walid Choucair wrote this week.

Invent pretext

“The postponement has spared them embarrassment and an awkward situation in dealing with him. For, they had to invent pretexts to justify delay in forming the government on which France bets for unleashing urgent reforms mentioned in the roadmap outlined by the French president to save Lebanon from a catastrophic financial, social and political collapse,” Choucair added.

Paradoxically, investigations into the port blast have bogged down over political squabbling and legal wrangling. Last week, investigative Judge Fadi Sawan, handling the probe into the blast, charged caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zaieter and Youssef Fenianos with negligence and demanded their questioning.

The indictment has drawn objections from Hariri and the Iran-allied Hezbollah movement. Zaieter and Khalil argued that the move against them violated the constitution and requested Sawan replaced with another investigating judge. Their request has prompted Sawan to halt his probe pending a legal decision.

As things are standing, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian probably hit the nail on the head recently when he likened Lebanon’s political and economic collapse to the 1912 disastrous sinking of the Titanic - but only without the music.