Despite their differences on several issues, major political forces in Lebanon agree to obstruct the judicial investigation into the horrific Beirut explosion that would expose them to accountability, according to analysts.
Some of these forces do not hesitate to take political and judicial steps and even use the street to stop the current judicial track led by the judicial investigator, Judge Tariq Bitar, despite the risks involved in moving the street on civil peace.
Since the port explosion on August 4, which killed at least 214 people, injured more than 6,500 others and destroyed large neighborhoods of the capital, the local investigation has made no progress, after the authorities rejected an international investigation.
The authorities attributed the explosion, when it occurred, to the storage of huge quantities of ammonium nitrate without protective measures, and it later emerged that officials at several levels were aware of the dangers of this storage and did not act.
During the past months, the attempts of the judicial investigator, Tariq Bitar and his predecessor, Fadi Sawan, to interrogate political and security officials collided with political interference and lawsuits that suspended the investigation twice, and the defendants refused to appear before him, before Hezbollah, the main opponent of Bitar’s work, and its ally, the Amal Movement, called for a demonstration to demand Bitar’s resignation developed into riots and shootings that killed seven people.
“The ruling class in Lebanon is unanimous in the desire to abandon the achievement of the port and will use all available means to obstruct its path,” Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, told AFP.
Although major political forces, including the gathering of former prime ministers, also criticize Bitar’s work, Hezbollah, the most prominent military and political force in the country, is leading the campaign against him, accusing him of “politicizing” the investigation and “discretionary” in prosecuting officials, demanding a judge. Honest and transparent” to complete the investigation.
Since his claim against former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers who are allies of Hezbollah, in addition to security, Bitar is facing increasing political pressures that observers fear will lead to his removal, similar to his predecessor Fadi Sawan who was removed in February after his allegations against political officials.
Human rights organizations and the victims’ families denounce the political interference that obstructs the investigation and the failure of officials to attend their interrogation sessions, expressing their fear that this behavior will perpetuate the principle of “impunity” prevailing in Lebanon.
“A segment of society has decided that it wants to move forward and seek the truth,” Nadim Houry, executive director of the Arab Initiative for Reform, explains to AFP, but it is facing a “political class that is ready to use threats, violence and even launch another civil war, to prevent this quest for truth from bringing about a result.” “.
“rule of law”
According to Houry, the political class feels threatened in what he describes as “a major battle in Lebanon for the rule of law.” Bitar’s issuance of an arrest warrant in absentia against former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a member of the Amal movement led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, after he failed to attend an interrogation session, sparked the anger of the movement and Hezbollah. The arrest warrant came after the Court of Cassation refused to stop Bitar from investigating.
The pressures of Hezbollah and its allies did not pay off in pushing the government of President Najib Mikati last week to adopt the demand for the removal of Bitar, which overthrew a session of the government and threatens to obstruct its work a month after its formation in the midst of an unprecedented economic collapse. The tension moved to the street.
The Tayouneh area, which is one of the old contact lines during the civil war (1975-1990), and near which Bitar’s office is located in the Palace of Justice, witnessed a protest demonstration on Thursday called by Hezbollah and the Amal movement. According to security reports and witnesses, demonstrators took advantage of the movement to enter the streets in the area and smash storefronts and cars.
The vast majority of participants in the demonstration were men and young men, a large number of whom wore black T-shirts, and put badges on them for Hezbollah and the Amal movement. And heavy shooting took place during the demonstration. The investigation has not yet determined its parties, but the photos and media reports that were published showed the participation of Hezbollah and Shiite Amal elements in the shooting, and bullets fired from buildings in the nearby Ain al-Rummaneh area, which is in large part affiliated with the Christian Lebanese Forces party. The clashes claimed the lives of seven people affiliated with the two Shiite parties.
Hezbollah accused “snipers” of the Lebanese Forces party of shooting, which the forces denied, stressing that the clashes erupted after demonstrators passed through a predominantly Christian neighborhood, breaking cars and assaulting private property. A video clip of a soldier shooting a protester was also circulated on social media.
In his first comment on Thursday’s events, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced Monday that his party has 100,000 trained and equipped fighters in Lebanon, explaining that he mentions this number for the first time “to prevent war, not to threaten civil war.” Thursday’s scene brought to the Lebanese minds images of the sectarian civil war that ended with a political agreement and a general amnesty law, without real reconciliation and purification of the memory of the war.
According to Houry, the political class fears that the progress of the investigation into the port explosion will set a “precedent” after a political regime that has established “impunity since the end of the civil war.” And he believes that its pillars “regardless of what Bitar finds, they resist the possibility that any of them will be held accountable.” Houry expresses his belief that Hezbollah, by leading the campaign against Bitar, “is acting as if it is the imperial guard of the regime that has existed since the 1990s.”
Al-Khatib says that the components of the political class “may vary in politics, but they unite in benefiting from the system… hence their opposition to any steps to reform it or to establish accountability within it.” In the wake of the confrontations in Beirut, the spokesman for the families of the victims of the explosion, Ibrahim Hoteit, who resides in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah, announced his abandonment of his duties, calling on Bitar to step down. Many believed that he was under pressure.
Many Lebanese who participated in the popular movements against the political class since their launch on October 17, 2019, preferred to stay in their homes on Sunday on the second anniversary of these protests, for fear of clashes. Al-Khatib believes that “the ruling class wants to push the Lebanese to conclude that the price of accountability is too high.”