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Wed 12 Aug 2020 12:31 PM

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Beirut blast: 'We lost money, business and above all our hope in the country's future'

A group of restaurant owners have said they will stop paying an 11% VAT to the state and will instead donate the money to non-governmental organisations working to help victims of the devastating blast at Beirut's port

Beirut blast: 'We lost money, business and above all our hope in the country's future'

Tens of thousands live now among debris of stones and glass, in apartments without windows, roofs, without power or water supply, some without walls or roofs. Photographer: Ramzi el Hajj

Beirut has changed forever. Unrecognisable streets of the Lebanese capital are filled with all sorts of debris and shops are severely damaged. Seconds of that devastating blast changed the life of 'Beiruties' dramatically and forever.

The city’s residents have lived through all the horrors of wars for more than four decades, dating back to the civil war in 1975, followed by the Israeli invasion of their capital in 1982, the Israeli attacks in 1996 and 2006, and other bombings, including the massive bombing that killed Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005

The dates of each cataclysmic event are ingrained on their minds, but August 4 will represent something altogether different.

The explosion that shattered the city claimed the lives of 160 people (with dozens still missing) and injured 6,000. 

Just over a week later, Beirut continues to clean up and assess the unprecedented damage to homes, streets, shops and cars.

Tens of thousands now live among debris of stones and glass, in apartments without windows or roofs, some without power or water supply.

In a tour in the areas most affected by the blast - Gemmayzeh, Quarantine, Mdawar and Downtown - you feel a change in the Lebanese mood.

One shop owner in Gemmayzeh said: “We were hit by a mini nuclear bomb. Nothing left, only debris. I will close my business and leave Lebanon definitely.”

Nearby, in a damaged restaurant, you find a man clearing the debris, he wears a face mask protecting him from the duel threat of dust and coronavirus.

“It is over, we love our beautiful country, but we have no confidence in our politicians at all. They robbed us during years and years, and now, by their negligence, they destroyed us with the Ammonium Nitrate,” he said.

“Sadly, our clients have gone; dust and debris are the new ones.”

Hanna, 45, standing in front of his little grocery, now severely damaged, said: “We don’t have money to repair the damages, as you see; [there’s] nothing saved. It is a catastrophe, even in the worst days of wars, we didn’t lose hope, now we are hopeless.”

Downtown Beirut, with its renowned cafes, restaurants and international luxury brands, is now the scene of a clean-up operation, where volunteers are taking part in the campaign to clean the cobblestone streets. Businessmen, in their shops, are evaluating the unprecedented damages and losses.

Nabil, 40, is speechless in his coffee shop.

“No words can describe our catastrophe, the Downtown has been hit by a triple blow - the first after October 17 revolution when demonstrations paralysed our businesses, and sometimes the protesters destroyed shops and cafes, and they were clashing with security forces, and vandalising public and private facilities.

“Then came the Covid-19 pandemic and now the tragedy. We lost money, business and above all our hope in the country's future.”

A Lebanese restaurateur said he will stop paying an 11 percent value-added tax to the state and will instead donate the money to non-governmental organisations working to help victims of the devastating blast at Beirut’s port, Bloomberg reported.

“It’s so depressing to reopen in the middle of such destruction,” Dany Chakour, owner of the Em Sherif restaurant chain with four stores employing 400 people in the city, said by phone. “To give a purpose to resuming our operations, we decided to help the NGOs who are the only ones helping on the ground. We won’t pay the government, that’s for sure.”

Twelve other restaurant owners are considering following suit, he said.

Chakour said he will file his tax returns in September as usual but will show the state that the money it’s owed has been given to seven NGOs, including the Lebanese Red Cross and the Lebanese Food Bank.

If he’s taken to court and forced to pay up, then that’s a risk he’s willing to take, he said.

“Today the urgency is helping people, and this is our priority,” Chakour said.

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