Lebanese novelist Charif Majdalani wrote a journal in the summer of 2020. In 75 tiny chapters, he tells the story of the collapse of Lebanon.
The corruption of the political class, the sacking of its heritage, the financial bankruptcy are described with sobriety and a bittersweet irony. Humor sometimes breaks through: “Traffic jams are not worse than they used to be, although the traffic lights have gone out with the power shortage.”
“Where some are still on, incomprehensibly, the traffic police encourage the motorists to run them, with great angry gestures, making everyone roll at the same time, as if they were taking revenge on the last remnants of the reminder of the order that no longer exists, so why still respect those damn last surviving lights.”
The Lebanese are worried and angry that their money is being confiscated by ruined banks, awaiting repayments from the bankrupt state. But they fight, demonstrate like never before, get by, they are used to it.
The political class is gaining time, determined to do nothing so as to continue to loot their own country with impunity. The billions that left Lebanon just before the accounts were blocked are not lost on everyone.
Majdalani, with small fine touches, takes us to the heart of this disaster, the fruit of decades of corruption, encouraged by the communitarian system.
And then comes August 4 and the terrible explosion which ravages Beirut: “As if this collapse that I was recounting had not been rapid enough, as if this unravelling had not been quick enough, I do not know what malignant force would have decided to rush them and here, in a few seconds, everything that was still standing was sent to the ground.”
The tone changes and this ultimate tragedy overwhelms Beirut. The discouragement this time seems the strongest, even if everyone gets to work to clear it away, the state services are absent, of course.
But Majdalani is not Lebanese for nothing and wants to end on a note of hope because he must, even if all seems lost: “This morning, on certain badly damaged facades of the Mar Mikhael district, red and white banners have been displayed: we will not leave, we will rebuild.”
An astonishing little country which alternates the most disastrous examples with the most admirable, and knows how to make itself so endearing.