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Fear, panic and anger overwhelm Beirut residents who want to see accountabilityExBulletin

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NPR’s Michel Martin talks to Rami Rajeh, a Lebanese father of two, about how Beirut feels the day after deadly clashes erupted in the city and how residents are facing a wrecked economy.



MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Lebanon just held a day of mourning after violent clashes left at least six people dead and injured dozens more. The violence took place amid a protest over the investigation into last year ‘s deadly explosion in the Port of Beirut. The political militant group Hezbollah had called for Thursday’s demonstration. They demanded the removal of a judge who was investigating Hezbollah’s political allies in connection with the port bombing.

But the latest violence was just the latest unrest in a country that has suffered so many losses. The country is still rocked by last year’s eruption, which flattened large parts of the capital Beirut but also faced a worsening economic crisis. And all of this has had a profound effect on people’s daily lives. We wanted to focus on that part of history, everyday life, people who are just trying to get through it. So we called him Rami Rajeh. We spoke to him last year shortly after the explosion in Beirut Port, and he is with us once again.

Welcome back. Thank you very much for talking to us once again.

RAMI RAJEH: Thank you for giving me this opportunity, Michel.

MARTIN: As we said, Lebanon just held a day of mourning for those killed in Thursday’s attacks. Would you help us understand, how is the mood in the city now? What have you seen and felt in the last two days?

RAJEH: Well, let’s start with Wednesday night. There was a lot of tension. There were a lot of messages on WhatsApp, but mostly voice notes that were going viral. And they were initiated by the parties who were calling for protests. And they were not really, you know, shy to call out fear to anyone who happened to hear these voice notes.

So there was a fear that began to build on Wednesday. And then by Thursday, things escalated quite quickly and as a result, escalation, clashes, panic, fear and then the news start coming out. And he realizes that people are dying, people’s houses are being shot at, people’s shops are being shot at, destroyed. So you know, there is fear, panic.

MARTIN: You know, you grew up during the civil war, you were a kid then and you grew up during that period. And in this country, the press is drawing a parallel with that era in part, this is because clashes took place between a Shiite Muslim neighborhood and a Christian neighborhood. But do you think that analysis is right?

RAJEH: Not really. I mean, on the surface, yes. Geographically, yes. But today, war or the form of war is not really a religious war or a sectarian war or – nor is it – if we want to draw parallels in 1975, it is not sectarian militants who take regional agendas and try to put the result on Lebanese soil . It really is not so. There was a movement. The movement started immediately after the forest fires that broke out in October 2019, and the basis of this movement is accountability. These are the people against the elite who have been in power for decades, who have never been subjected to any form of accountability over the years.

MARTIN: When we talked last year, you were telling us that your kids were starting to notice, like, you know, why the streets looked dirtier. How, why is the electricity off for hours at a time? Why are things so expensive, just like the usual treatments, like, sweets, like, you know, sour, you know? What about now? Do they still ask those questions?

RAJEH: Well, now, we’ve moved on to, you know, another dimension. It is not about affordability; it has more to do with availability. So – and when I talk about availability, it ‘s mostly about electricity, because in any modern society, a lot of things depend on electricity for you to have them, for example, the internet, which, as you know, most of children to have some kind of access at least one hour a day; TV, you know, how much food is in the fridge and why, sometimes, you do not replace something because you know you have not had it so much – the fridge has been on for so long. So there is no more luxury in our lives. It’s very much a daily fight, you know, you know. Honestly, I think it will serve them well – they are experiencing this.

MARTIN: You know, why do you say that? I remember when we spoke last year, it is your decision. Choices is your choice to raise your children in Beirut. I mean, I’m sure you have other options.

RAJEH: Yes.

MARTIN: And you were telling us last year that it was your decision to keep raising them in Beirut because you wanted them to learn that not everything in life is easy and that war is part of – a kind of transformation of – transformative process of a country. Do you still feel that way?

RAJEH: Yes, yes. I hope war shapes them into more, you know, challenged and challenged human beings because even people in the most advanced economies and most developed nations – they suffer from climate change, so it is – war is there. And I hate to say that, but most of the time, the reason is very similar. It’s greed. And if you – are resisting here or in California because of forest fires, the root cause is very related, but the scale is very different.

MARTIN: Do you see yourself as optimistic, would you say? How would you describe your mental state for the future of the country?

RAJEH: difficult it is hard to be optimistic in a place where, for example, if you have an air conditioner in your apartment that you have not turned on all summer, you would be a little delusional to feel, I know, optimistic that many of the things you have , do not use them or your income is one tenth of what it once was. Your purchasing power is constantly depreciating.

There is nothing to be optimistic about, but there is something that feeds this – you know, this war, which is the meaning that people have a right to say. And it is only about insisting on creating some kind of change

MARTIN: This is Rami Rajeh. He is the father of two children living in Beirut. Rami, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us. Of course we appreciate it.

RAJEH: Thank you, Michel.

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