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MEMO in conversation with Zahra Hankir

Our interview with Lebanese journalist Zahra Hankir

October 28, 2020 at 1:00 pm

The aftermath of the Beirut blast in August has shown the world how destitute Lebanon has become. People with nowhere to go, living in what’s left of their homes, in the rubble and debris with no help or aid. The blast was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate which was stored at the Beirut Port, and was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history.

“People are already dying a slow death in Lebanon so the risk of death is not enough to stop them from trying to escape the country.”

MEMO’s Conversation with Lebanese journalist and editor Zahra Hankir is focusing on Lebanese politics in the wake of the Beirut blast which devastated the capital on 4 August leaving 300,000 homeless, as well as Hankir’s award-winning book Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World.

Hankir flew to Lebanon a few days after the explosion and has spent two months speaking to dozens of survivors who were affected. In particular, she spent two weeks reporting from the Karantina area in Beirut. This neighbourhood is adjacent to Beirut’s port and is one of Lebanon’s poorest quarters, home to predominantly working-class Lebanese and Syrian and Palestinian refugees. Residents just wanted to share their fears and sadness with Hankir. They felt neglected even before the blast, and now they’re still suffering, having lost everything.

“I learned a lot about minorities in Lebanon and their experiences, also Lebanon is enduring a profound mental health crisis in this moment, I wouldn’t even call it post-traumatic stress disorder, because they’re very much living in the trauma and living with the anxiety of what they’ve been experiencing.”

READ: What is the fate of the Lebanese revolution?

Lebanese people feel as though there is no room left for any prospects in the country they have no choice but to call home; there is no room for their dreams or careers, leaving a record-number of people desperate to escape as the situation goes rapidly from bad to worse.

Lebanon has been experiencing severe trauma over the past year, through the economic collapse, inflation, high unemployment rates, protests, government corruption and the coronavirus, as well as the Beirut blast coming just when people thought things could not get any worse. The Lebanese have a reputation for being resilient, but many are critiquing this as a false narrative, because although that is what they have been forced by circumstances to be, to be honest it is a survival tactic.

“The resilient narrative is one that has been heavily questioned, because it presumes that we can keep taking this trauma, we’re strong enough to get through this; ‘we’ll rise like a phoenix, we’ll come out of the ashes’; and I think people have discredited that, because really what’s resilient in the country is the political elite, they are the ones who have been able to continue perpetuating systematic oppression on the people of Lebanon.”