Analysis: How an investigation into Beirut’s port explosion is rattling Lebanon’s elite, stirring memories of civil war

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Snipers shot people from rooftops. Masked gunmen retaliated with rocket-propelled grenades and B7 rockets. Panicked school children took shelter in the corridors. And above all, violence was running along the capital’s east “Green Line”, a major war front that divided Beirut’s Christian East from the predominantly Muslim West during the 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

It was enough to send down the spines of those still grappling with collective trauma – like last summer Beirut port explosion — and old. The wounds of the civil war continued to heal, and seeing the smoke rising from buildings covered in the scars of long-running battles was almost too much for the common people to bear.
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Yet for all the harshly familiar optics of Thursday’s fight, the political climate is new. Violence did not pit Muslims against Christians. Nor is the motivation communal. Instead, violence emerged from a fault-line that is divorced from those terrifying realities.

The investigation into the port blast, which killed more than 200 people, is at the center of Thursday’s uproar. The investigation – the biggest legal challenge to Lebanon’s ruling elite, which also has a hold from the civil war – is widely seen as a potential milestone, a tool through which the country has been able to trace its blood-soaked past. may start giving up.

Neither the masked gunman who came out hezbollah-organized The protests against the port investigation, nor the unidentified snipers who posed as the probe’s defenders, have a vested interest in moving forward in Lebanon or finding answers from the August 2020 devastation. Hezbollah and its ally Amal have accused the Christian Right – the wing party and former militia, the Lebanese Force (LF), of being behind the sniping – the LF has dismissed.
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Thursday’s fighters appear eager to keep the small Mediterranean country stuck in the past, when the population has voiced overwhelming support for a better future. Judge Tarek Bitter, who is leading the investigation, has emerged as one of those advocates. Hezbollah, on the other hand, has established itself as Bitter’s most vocal opponent.

People of all religions suffered casualties in the August 2020 blast. In Lebanon’s religious circle, the people want justice. In the same vein, Hezbollah – which has so far not been prosecuted in the investigation – has led a political offensive on the part of a multi-religious elite.

Bitter has sought to be questioned by top executives across the board, and recently arrest warrant issued Against three former ministers – a Sunni Muslim, a Shia Muslim and a Maronite Christian.
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So the divisions do not play along Lebanon’s age-old confessional lines. Instead some say that observers should look at the implications of the investigation itself. The investigation into the Beirut explosion has shocked the political elite in such a way that the explosion, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, could not have taken place.

After unsuccessfully petitioning to remove Bitter from his post, the ruling class appears to be trembling in its shoes. It is the same elite that survived a civil war, thanks to an amnesty law that marked the end of the conflict, and remained largely unaffected by the nationwide popular uprising of October 2019 and the devastating economic devastation that followed.

The effects of the investigation could extend beyond Lebanon and into the Arab world at large. It is a region known for brazenly undermining its judiciary, even as a growing appetite for accountability among an increasingly frustrated Arab youth.

If, against all odds, Bitter can see through to his investigation, he can set a precedent for the entire field. Arab leaders should pay attention.

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Credit : www.cnn.com

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