Northwestern Qatar panelists reflect on aftermath of Beirut explosion

August 29, 2020

Panelists from Northwestern Qatar engaged in a discussion on the social and economic implications of the port of Beirut explosion, reflecting on personal experiences and providing political and historical context within the state of Lebanon.

The webinar, The Beirut Explosion – What lies Ahead for Lebanon, featured three Lebanese speakers from Northwestern Qatar: Sami Hermez, acting director of the Liberal Arts Program and associate professor in residence; Kim Makhlouf, a journalism student; and Lebanon-based alumna Jaimee Haddad. The session was moderated by Keelie Sorel, director of student affairs.

The explosion in Beirut – one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history – occurred on August 4th and devastated the Lebanese capital, killing nearly 200 people, injuring thousands, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.

In opening the session, Hermez, an anthropologist who studies violence and social movements in Lebanon and the Arab world, placed the explosion in context to the country’s recent civil upheaval and the decades of neglect by the Lebanese government that, he said, drove the country to the brink of collapse.

Hermez said that this explosion, as well as the uprising that began in October 2019, in response to government corruption and a worsening economic situation, are "part of one continuous war that Lebanon has been embroiled in since its independence. It’s not a static conflict, it has been through various periods and episodes, where new actors buy into the system of the old ones.”

If there was one “gain” from the protests, Hermez said it was “a revolution in consciousness and how to think about the situation in Lebanon.” However, he also noted that because the protests were leaderless and accompanied by an economic collapse, it “suited the ruling class really well because they were able to point to the protests as a reason for why the economy was crashing, because it intersected with the banking system shutting down and the implementation of capital control on the Lebanese people.”

Other issues, Hermez noted, include the “patronage system that is subsidized through economic corruption,” as well as the “the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which is a significant node, and the political sectarian power sharing system, which was set up under the French mandate,” – all which contributed to the worsening conditions.


Providing perspective from the ground, Haddad, who relocated to Lebanon in January and works for a local NGO, described her first visit to Beirut a few days after the explosion as “driving into an apocalypse” with the city’s bare buildings, shattered glasses and debris covering most of the area. Despite the distress and anxiety, Haddad felt optimistic as she observed the youth and NGOs “on the ground cleaning up the city … and stepping in for the government that isn’t there.”

Makhlouf, a student in Doha, felt the distance between Qatar and Lebanon after the explosion.  “Missing out on things that happen back home with your friends and family is so debilitating,” she said, “… not being there for your country makes you feel like a traitor… but, I put myself to work immediately” because “…there’s no such thing as a small contribution.”

Makhlouf used her social media channels and blog to raise awareness about the situation and provide a platform for people from Lebanon to voice their stories. “As a journalism student, I was able to connect with people, ask them the right questions, and make their voices heard through my articles.”

The panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Middle East Studies Committee and the Student Affairs office at Northwestern Qatar.