Before I could even reply or acknowledge what had happened, there was a second explosion, even bigger than the first. As buildings crumbled and glass rained down upon us, I was paralyzed by fear.
When the dust began to settle, all I could see was devastation — bloodied people, a café turned to ash, rubble where an entire street once stood. The sirens that followed were deafening.
But then the explosion happened on Aug. 4, and we descended further into hell — a hell that only our anger may save us from.
Though I was fortunate to escape the explosions without many cuts or bruises, one of my friends at the café was not so lucky. Broken glass fell on her, opening a wound in her leg that was bleeding heavily and required urgent stitching.
When we realized what had happened, we ran to several nearby hospitals, hoping the doctors at one them could treat her wounds. But when we arrived at each one, we were told they were either at capacity or had been too badly damaged to take in new patients.
We stopped the first taxi we could find, asking the driver to take us across the city — hoping that we might find a hospital that could treat our friend further away from the explosion. But as we drove around in the taxi, it became clear the explosion had not damaged our neighborhood only — it had rocked much of the city, leaving few hospitals able to help.
With the traffic growing worse by the minute, we could not reach a hospital and ended up going to a relative of my injured friend who lived closer by and was a medical doctor. By the time we arrived, his home had already been converted into a field hospital. Injured neighbors were streaming in, covered in blood, and begging for help.
They, too, could not get hospital care and needed urgent help. Without anesthesia and with few medical supplies available at home, he was forced to stitch wounds from his living room couch.
On Saturday, after four days of managing our losses collectively and supporting each other in the total absence of the state, a day of rage was announced in Beirut. Prompted by anger, thousands of protesters returned to the devastated Martyrs’ Square in downtown Beirut.
Unlike the hopeful protests of October 2019, this time protesters were looking for revenge. Violence quickly escalated with teargas and rubber bullets being fired at protesters who were trying to reach the heavily protected house of parliament.
Today, the political class has lost its credibility, even amongst many of its supporters. The anger needs to be channeled beyond its expression in protests and street mobilizations. And now with the resignation of the government, there is a political opportunity to be grasped.
The opposition needs to rise to this moment politically and lead the transition that will not only topple the rulers, but that will also prosecute them. Without a leadership that can translate the anger in the streets into a political process, this will be, yet again, another lost opportunity.
The international community also needs to immediately freeze all the accounts (and properties) of the Lebanese oligarchs — politicians and bankers — abroad. This is the wealth of the Lebanese people, and investigations are needed to return the stolen money.
Lebanese politicians and their parties should be prosecuted and banned from participating in political life. Only when our leaders have been removed from office and held responsible for their years of malfeasance can we begin to restore justice and rebuild our democracy and the many institutions that are required to ensure its survival.
A so-called “national unity” government that would bring them back to power with international support will be another blow to the Lebanese people and their right for a decent life.
While the future remains uncertain, a catastrophe of the magnitude of the Beirut explosion should not pass without a major political transformation in the country. This is not only for the people of Lebanon, but for the belief that the word “justice” can still have a meaning on our planet.