“Further neglect of Lebanon actually directly undermines Western interests in the Arab Levant and in the Arab middle East, because the Iran axis represented here locally by Hezbollah, it is in their interest that Lebanon collapse, that the people become destitute and become completely desperate,” Malik continued.
“So that then, China could step in and throw us a lifeline of a few billion dollars, which the Lebanese, the exhausted Lebanese at that point, would have no choice but to accept. And that would mean China would then acquire a deepwater seaport, the first one ever in the Mediterranean. They would be then the gatekeepers of that port,” he said.
Investigators believe the explosion may have started with a fire in a warehouse that stored 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive. According to reports, the chemicals had sat in the port, neglected, for over six years.
On Aug. 10, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, called for the resignation of the entire Lebanese government, adding that it is “necessary to hold everyone responsible accountable for this massacre and catastrophe.” The Prime Minister and the rest of the government subsequently resigned later that day.
Anti-government sentiment in Lebanon had most recently bubbled over in October 2019, when thousands of peaceful protestors took to the streets to challenge government corruption and mismanagement of finances. At the time, Pope Francis sent his encouragement to the mostly young protestors.
Malik recently wrote an op-ed for the journal of the Institute of Religion and Democracy expounding on his political analysis of the post-explosion situation.
“The stench of corruption at the highest levels mingled pungently with the odors from the burnt-out hangars as well as the dust from destroyed buildings, businesses, and apartments in the stricken city,” he wrote.
“It is safe to assume that all the governments, presidents, and political leaders in power over the past six years knew about the deadly ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut port. No one lifted a finger to remove this lethal time bomb or even warn the public about it. Whether it was colossal negligence, or complicity with those storing this explosive material for whatever military or terrorist purposes, the result is the same: criminality of the highest degree at the highest levels of government.”
In terms of cleanup and relief, Malik said large piles of rubble have been moved to the side of city streets, but no one has yet been able to clear the rubble out of the city.
Multiple Lebanese survivors of the blast have told CNA that majority-Christian neighborhoods have borne the brunt of the damage from the explosion.
Some international Christian aid agencies, as well as the Red Cross, have been active in the city following the disaster.
Despite damages to their own facilities, Catholic Relief Services has provided relief to the victims of the explosion. Caritas Lebanon has offered water and hot meals at several locations throughout Beirut. Caritas health care centers have also opened, and a mobile medical unit and mental health team have been available to the public.
(Story continues below)
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Malik said although the Maronite Catholic Church is doing a lot to help survivors, the Churches— both Catholic and Orthodox— themselves are in great need since their buildings have been so badly damaged. The Maronite eparchs of the United States have similarly been pleading for prayers and aid for the people of Lebanon.
“We have a number of churches and hospitals that happen to overlook the Beirut port area. That's kind of a scenic view in normal times, but they were just in the direct line of the blast, as you can imagine. And so huge damage has been sustained by these establishments, to the homes, the churches, and so on,” Malik said.
Malik recommended Christians and people of good will reach out directly to Beirut churches to ask them what they need.
“There are Protestant churches, Orthodox churches, Catholic churches, there's everything in Beirut. And ask them directly for their needs. And they will actually tell you,” he said.
Malik said despite the monumental rebuilding task ahead, it has been refreshing to see many young people taking to the streets to volunteer and help their neighbors.
“These volunteers are mostly of the new generation of youth. These people have come from all over the country and across the sectarian divides to help,” he said.