The Beirut sea-port explosion

The Beirut sea-port explosion by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker

I have mourned Beirut time and time again, but with all the cities I have lived in, Beirut will always be my favourite. After all, how can I ever forget its hustle and bustle before the infamous fifteen year long civil war that started on Sunday the 13th of April 1975? I was a student back then, with very limited financial resources, but back then, you didn’t have to be rich to enjoy the rich lifestyle of Beirut.

One didn’t have to go to the fancy and exclusive Casino Du Liban to see a show. With many movie theatres showing the best and latest of Hollywood, Bollywood and the Arab World; not to mention French and Italian movies among others, the cost of watching the big screen started from a Lebanese Lira, fifty US Cents to be exact, with three daily sessions playing seven days a week. One didn’t have to be able to afford five-star hotels and restaurants when one could walk out and get a falafel roll at 2 am. This is not to mention the ease of transport from the coast and its beaches to the snow-capped hills, within a day, using public and cheap shared private transport, affordable by all.

Then as the civil war started, Beirut began to shed some of its glory bit by bit. Its sea port, The Port of Beirut, was one of the first victims. The Arab World that relied on the transit trade because it didn’t have its own infrastructure and ports, imported all its good via that port, the Port of Beirut.

But incrementally, as Lebanon lost its ‘Switzerland of the East’ stature, it began to shed the features of its former glory one at a time. It was no longer the centre of commerce or entertainment, but the Lebanese people always felt that there were some foundational icons that the country would not lose.

One of the them was the Lebanese Lira and the Lebanese Banking system. Those financial entities were so robust that they managed to remain solid and functional after literally decades of strife; despite a major devaluation of the Lira in the 1980’s.

As the repercussions of the civil war and what followed it continued to chip away at the backbone of Lebanon, not only financially but also as an entity, the events of last year have incrementally accelerated the collapse of not only the Lira, but also the entire Lebanese banking system.

As the pieces of the domino continued to tumble and fall, one corner stone was put at high risk, and still faces the spectre of collapse, and this is the American University of Beirut (AUB), my alma mater. Formerly known as the Syrian Protestant College, the university was founded in 1866 and has been an elite centre of higher education for the whole region for one and a half centuries.

When I heard the news about the demise of the AUB I was shattered. What more could Lebanon lose I wondered. The last thing that came to my mind was the Port of Beirut. After all, how can a city lose a port? With a major mega explosion, it can.

Much speculation abounds as to who is behind the explosion. I am not a military and explosive expert, but the evidence I have seen points at one thing and one thing only; utter negligence.

The port did not have one explosion, but two. Literally thousands of people heard the first explosion, started to take videos of it with their smart phones, unbeknown to them that another huge one was to follow. The massive second explosion was caught on countless videos from many different angles, clearly showing it was the one that caused most of the devastation; not the first one.

This begs the question. If this was all premeditated, why would the ‘perpetrator’ deliberately create a chain reaction instead of hitting the main target directly? And, if the ‘perpetrator’ planned it this way, what was its guarantee that the first explosion would eventually lead to triggering the major one? Why execute this in such a convoluted manner and then conceal the identity of the actor? Israel would surely have boasted such a feat in harming Hezbollah’s influence and standing in Lebanon, despite what some local political enemies of Hezbollah might claim.

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