When Worst Gets Worse
Bloomberg Businessweek|August 17 - 24, 2020
The blast in Beirut laid bare the wreckage from decades of sectarian politics
Lin Noueihed

When Dany Chakour reopens his four upscale Em Sherif restaurants after repairing the damage wrought by the devastating Aug. 4 blast in Beirut, he plans to turn over the 11% sales tax he collects on each transaction to the local charities that helped clean up the city—instead of giving it to the government. “It’s a form of civil disobedience to give to trusted organizations in this time of need rather than to the state, where I don’t know how it will be spent,” Chakour says. “What has the state ever done for us? The state can’t even provide us with electricity.”

Lebanon was already coming apart at the seams before a 2,750-ton cache of ammonium nitrate detonated at the Port of Beirut, killing at least 171 people and wounding thousands. As the realization sank in that the blast was neither a terrorist attack nor the start of a new war with Israel but the culmination of decades of corruption and mismanagement, the streets exploded with rage.

Protests promptly dispatched the 7-month-old government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who blamed his failure to prevent the disaster or lift the country out of a deepening financial crisis on a political elite so entrenched and so self- serving that it threatens to “destroy what’s left of the state.”

Haunted by a 15-year-long civil war that ended in 1990 leaving many grievances unresolved, the tiny nation straddling the Middle East’s political and sectarian fault lines is reckoning with a crisis of identity that was never far beneath the surface. Under a complex power-sharing arrangement that helped seal a peace between warring factions, Lebanon’s president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shi’ite Muslim. The system has engendered chronic paralysis, while sectarian leaders have carved out effective fiefdoms, playing on the fears of the myriad minorities and using their official positions to drive resources toward their own constituents in return for votes and loyalty.

Further complicating the situation is Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia that has morphed into a powerful political force and is accused by critics of running a state within a state. It’s resisted suggestions that it give up an arsenal believed to be more advanced than the army’s.

Amid all of the political disfunction, Lebanon’s 6.8 million inhabitants could at least count on two constants: a relatively sound banking system and the Lebanese pound’s peg to the U.S. dollar. Both began disintegrating last year as the nation was engulfed in a financial crisis that sent the currency into free fall, prompting the central bank to restrict access to dollar deposits. Fearful of seeing their life savings wiped out, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took part in weeks of protests that triggered the collapse of the government in October.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEKView All

The Decline of a Great American Tech Company

How Intel lost its way

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 12, 2021

Gaming the Gig Economy

A group of DoorDash workers are trying to set a minimum rate for deliveries

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 12, 2021

Asian Americans Are Ready for a Hero

After going from “model minority” to invisible minority to hunted minority, the community needs a new generation of cultural and political leaders

9 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 12, 2021

How Toyota Dodged The Chip Shortage

As rivals shutter plants, the automaker’s close monitoring of its supply chain gives it an edge

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 12, 2021

COURSE CORRECTION

A plan to renovate public links in the U.S. capital aims to bring golf back to the community

7 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 12, 2021

Wrapper's Delight

Temporarily changing a car’s appearance is becoming a lasting passion among collectors.

3 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 12, 2021

WON'T YOU BE HIS NEIGHBOR?

Mayor Francis Suarez goes on a charm offensive to lure techies—and Elon Musk—to Miami

6 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 12, 2021

Austin, Reluctant Boomtown

Residents fear that the wave of tech workers arriving will turn the city into San Francisco

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 12, 2021

Your Facebook Friend Has Some Thoughts To Share About Your Covid Vaccine

Mark Zuckerberg wanted to make Facebook a source of reliable information about the pandemic. Instead he created a perfect platform for conspiracy theorists

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 12, 2021

A Squeeze on the Global Middle Class

An estimated 150 million people slipped down the economic ladder in 2020, the first setback in almost three decades

10 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 12, 2021
RELATED STORIES

Beirut – After The Blast

Last summer’s explosion in Beirut killed hundreds of people and damaged much of the city. My efforts to repair my apartment reveal a lot about how Lebanon works—and doesn’t.

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
April 2021

Farah A. Malhas: INSPIRATION FROM LEBANON

In her early childhood, Farah grew up surrounded by art. Being creative was both essential and encouraged by her late father; she is a self-taught artist in that regard.

1 min read
Art Market
Issue #53 November 2020

We must go on,' says Lebanese Designer Elie Saab after blast

'We must go on,' says Lebanese designer Elie Saab after blast

2 mins read
MODEL WORLD MAGAZINE
September 2020

Egypt, Lebanon announce Ramadan to start Tuesday

CAIRO (AFP) -The Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan will begin on Tuesday April 13 in Egypt and Lebanon, religious authorities in the two countries announced Sunday.

1 min read
Manila Bulletin
April 13, 2021

The Great Wall(s)

Cosmo spoke to four female street artists in India who are turning mundane brick-andmortar into revolutionary works of vibrant, meaningful art.

3 mins read
Cosmopolitan India
March 2021

GET UP, STAND UP

After a year of crises, Beirut’s creative set is more determined than ever to survive and thrive, finds Betsy Blumenthal

3 mins read
Condé Nast Traveller India
February - March - April 2021

Track & Trace

Identifying which foods allow your body to operate at an optimal level is key to overall wellness

4 mins read
Emirates Woman
March 2021

Mountainside magnificence

In the luxury ski resort of Faqra in Lebanon, architect Nabil Dada opens the doors for identity to take a tour of his rustic yet modern holiday home which includes an impressive selection of furniture and artworks

4 mins read
Identity
March 2021

Eclectic ensemble

The Gabrielle et Guillaume collectible design gallery makes its West Coast debut with a model penthouse in San Francisco’s coveted SOM-designed residential building

6 mins read
Identity
March 2021

Lebanon administers first jabs of COVID-19 vaccine

An intensive care unit physician and a well-known 93-year-old comedian become the first to receive Pfizer-BioNTech dose

3 mins read
Gulf Today
February 15, 2021