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Can Lebanon Rise from the Rubble?

The destruction of the port of Beirut – and Lebanon's freefalling economy – has fueled calls to end the country's sectarian political system, which allocates power among Christians, Shia, and Sunni Muslims according to a rigid formula. But might such a change merely deepen suspicion among an already deeply divided population?

WINCHESTER, UK – Haram Lubnan, poor Lebanon. As if hosting more than a million refugees from the Syrian war next door, an economy in free-fall, and COVID-19 weren’t enough, now the catastrophic destruction of the port of Beirut has left more than 150 dead, over 6,000 injured, and some 300,000 – 5% of the population – homeless. What can end this tale of woe for a country whose capital once saw itself as the Paris of the Middle East?

Sadly, that image is long gone, destroyed by the 1975-90 civil war, corruption, and regional turmoil. The hapless government called a state of emergency in the wake of the port blast, only to be confronted by demonstrators chanting the slogan that almost a decade ago sparked the Arab Spring: al-sha’b yurid isqat al-nizam — “the people want the overthrow of the regime.”

Although the government has now resigned, popular fury is set to grow: on August 18, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the Hague will issue its verdict on the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Four members of Hezbollah, the Shia militia and political party backed by Iran and Syria, have been tried in absentia for the bombing of Hariri’s motorcade. The verdict had been set for August 7, but was postponed “out of respect for the countless victims of the devastating explosion” in Beirut three days earlier.

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