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Beirut is scarred forever, says top tech startups UAE investor

Walid Hanna/Dubai
Filed on August 6, 2020
Beirut has never ever witnessed a destruction that is comparable to the August 4, blast. - Reuters

Lebanese are left to beg for donations from the international community.

On August 4, my heart skipped a beat as I kept seeing explosion in Beirut making headlines and making me feel guilty for being one of the lucky ones.

Since July 2006, my work has led me to commute between Beirut and Dubai as I invest in technology start-ups. On Tuesday, I was on vacation in France watching on social media what will soon become my worst nightmare.

Despite having endured several wars since the 70s, 80s and the 90s plus a 33 days intense pounding of Lebanese infrastructures by Israel in July 2006, Beirut has never ever witnessed a destruction that is comparable to the August 4, blast.

This "Hiroshima mushroom-like" explosion has killed and wounded 5,000 persons and has displaced 300,000 others, these are now left without a roof over their head. Beirut is forever scarred.

The economic consequences are disastrous. By the end of year 2019 Lebanon had already witnessed a very severe economic crisis, this has led to the October 17 revolution, the amazing 'Thawra', then came an unprecedented financial crisis, a default on public debt reimbursement, a 500 per cent devaluation of the Lebanese pound and then outbreak of Covid-19.

Covid-19 alone has triggered a recession hitting the Lebanese economy with a negative 12 per cent rate in 2020. Subsequently, a massive job loss and a triple digit inflation has pushed the unemployment rate to skyrocket to 50 per cent and famine is looming, Lebanon's social fabric has disintegrated and the Lebanese are left to beg for donations from the international community. Thankfully, France is leading the way and several GCC countries will offer help.

All kind of speculation have emerged with regards to what has caused the explosion. Lebanon's immediate future will depend on this "cause". Some believe it was an Israeli missile who has targeted a Hezbollah weapon warehouse, others believe it is an accidental fire involving firecrackers and fertilisers. We might never find out, but the only certainty around this is that someone corrupt is guilty of criminal negligence. Whoever has authorised the warehousing of 3,700 tonnes of a chemical explosive called ammonium nitrate at the doors of a densely populated city -for 5 years- is criminal.

The Lebanese economy is already in a free fall, the country's infrastructure is in a disastrous state with extremely poor energy, power and water supplies, and now that the country's main Port has been flattened by the explosion and that thousands of homes have been destroyed, it is difficult to imagine how Lebanon's future can be anything but bleak.

This said, another war with Israel would further take Lebanon 30 years back and once the economy is back to the stone ages, we will hear a surviving militia man claim a virtual "victory" from his underground bunker.

By saying this, I expect some Iranian backed militia to accuse me of being a "traitor to the resistance" but i am just another true Lebanese who dreams of a strong Lebanese state, a secular state that would be protected by truly Lebanese army and the disarming of all militias as per UN resolutions. I believe in a country at peace with its neighbours and I praise Jordan and Egypt for leading the way.

Corrupt Lebanese leaders have been mismanaging Lebanon's meager resources for 30 years, and despite many reform promises little has been executed while public debt has reached a staggering 200 per cent multiple of the country's GDP and the default on public debt reimbursement was announced in March this year.

In the aftermath of August 4, and in the absence of reforms by the current Hezbollah-backed government (that is also backed by several other corrupt politicians), the IMF will not provide Lebanon with any funding, the World Bank and other backers will rightfully follow the IMF's lead. As soon as the Central Bank will have depleted all of its dollar reserves to fund the failed state using depositors' money from the banking sector, the country will become unable to import fuel, medicine and other vital goods.

The future looks very bleak, and however educated, entrepreneurial and resilient the Lebanese are, one cannot stop wondering how can Lebanon survive these cumulative disasters with such corrupt public servants that have been ruling and stealing the country for 3 decades.

Being optimistic by nature, I do believe that the sun always shines after a thunderstorm, inshallah something good will come out of this horrific disaster.

Walid Hanna is founder and CEO, Middle East Venture Partners. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.


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