As crowds mark the Beirut Monster Blast, tears and anger mix.
Thousands of Lebanese stood silently facing Beirut port on Wednesday to pay tribute to relatives and friends who had died, only to be interrupted by wailing sirens and revolutionary shouts.
Protesters a few hundred yards (metres) away attempted to assault a barrier leading to parliament even as candles were lighted and the names of those murdered in last year’s huge blast were read out.
Marches, concerts, prayers, protests, banners, vigils, and statues: the cacophony that erupted in central Beirut on the anniversary of Lebanon’s worst peacetime catastrophe underlined how divided many people were.
While some people were still horrified by the enormous death and destruction caused by last year’s port explosion, others saw their revolutionary zeal renewed.
Despite Lebanon’s dramatic financial and social breakdown, the chanting of “thawra, thawra” (revolution, revolution) had not been heard by such a huge crowd on the streets in months.
The ceremonial celebration was held against a dramatic backdrop of the sun setting on the Mediterranean, a vivid red shipwreck, and gutted grain silos, whose somber shape has become an image of the wounded city.
As Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch led a mass shortly after 18:07 – the exact moment when the explosion ripped through the city – victims’ families sat on immaculate white plastic chairs, cradling images of their deceased relatives.
Last year, Sari Majdalani was working in the kitchen of a nearby restaurant when calamity struck. He made it out unscathed and is now working as a cook, but morale is low.
“I try to deceive myself and convince myself that everything will be fine. But I don’t think there’s any hope right now,” the young man added.
Scenes reminiscent of an October 2019 protest movement that had sparked nationwide hope were playing out, a far cry from the state funeral mood that had engulfed the blast site and its environs.
Young men with bare chests attempted to scale a razor-wire-topped barricade restricting entrance to parliament, which is seen as the source of the blast and the rest of the country’s ills by many.
Hundreds of protesters were pushed back by police officials brandishing batons and tear gas as the Maronite patriarch, wearing his towering white mitre, completed his homily.
Meanwhile, hundreds gathered on Martyrs’ Square, which is positioned between the two locations and served as the focal point for weeks of protests nearly two years ago that unsettled Lebanon’s hated leadership.
For many Lebanese, the lack of justice has been almost as traumatic as the catastrophic explosion itself. Brief News from Washington Newsday.