Beirut to mark explosion anniversary with huge protests

One year on from Beirut port explosion, residents take to the streets to demand justice
3 min read
04 August, 2021
On the anniversary of the Beirut port explosion, protests are planned to take place in front of Lebanon's parliament and the houses of government officials.
Protesters planned to flood the streets of Beirut to mark the anniversary [Getty]

Beirut marks the one-year anniversary of the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion on Wednesday with a mixture of sadness and anger.

The explosion - which killed over 200 people and injured over 6,000 - was deemed an official day of mourning by the Lebanese caretaker government. Most businesses and shops were shut to observe the sorrowful day, and memorials were held by the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and Beirut’s firefighters, among others.

Protests were scheduled for the early afternoon with demonstrators planning to march from the General Security Directorate in Achrafieh to the Lebanese Emigrant Statue, where the families of the victims will gather to speak. Finally, at 6:07 pm, the exact time of the explosion a year earlier, a moment of silence will be held before protesters march towards the Lebanese parliament.

While a general calm held over the city on the morning of the anniversary, there was palpable anger among residents, who have yet to see a single official charged in relation to the explosion.

Judge Tarek Bitar, the official in charge of leading the investigation into the blast, had asked to interrogate several officials in relation to the blast but was rebuffed when the parliament and minister of interior refused to lift the judicial immunity which prevents those officials from being investigated.

On 3 August, Human Rights Watch released a landmark report which said that, among other things, Lebanese officials could be "guilty of homicide" over their handling of the explosive ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut's port.

The night prior to the anniversary, protesters, along with some of the victims' families, plastered Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut with posters of Lebanese politicians with the word "CRIMINAL" written in bold red font across their faces.

Demonstrators also went to the General Security Directorate and spray-painted "lift the immunities" in red paint on its walls, in reference to the judicial immunity which protects officials - such as security chief Abbas Ibrahim - from the official inquiry into the explosion.

Messages circulating on social media urging protesters to wear hard hats, gas masks, and heat-resistant gloves during the protests on the anniversary, to protect themselves should clashes happen between protesters and security forces.

An unofficial plan to target the houses of politicians and officials alleged to bear responsibility for the port explosion with protests was sent to The New Arab by an independent activist. Organised teams were assigned to protest in front of different officials' houses, such as caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, Abbas Ibrahim, and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati.

The month running up to the anniversary was marked by fierce exchanges between protesters and police. The families of the victims staged several protests to demand justice and for the lifting of immunities.

In one such instance, on 14 July, the victims' families carried mock coffins in front of the Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmi's house, only to be beaten by police and teargassed as the protest escalated.

While the protests scheduled are meant to be peaceful, the victims' family association warned officials that should immunities not be lifted by the anniversary on 4 August, "bones will break".