The Parliament of Lebanon granted the national army broad emergency powers on Thursday after approving a state of emergency declaration for Beirut in response to unrest over the massive explosion in the city’s port that killed at least 200 people.
Following the explosion of more than 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate warehoused in Beirut’s port that devastated the city, widespread protests against negligence and corruption by the country’s government that led to the disaster began in the city. In response to the calls for reform, Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet resigned from their offices, leaving the government in disarray over how to respond to the crisis. The caretaker government installed after Diab’s resignation pushed for the extension of emergency powers in order to respond to the ongoing demonstrations. The law gives the Lebanese military the power to declare and enforce curfews, to prevent public gatherings and demonstrations, to censor the media and to refer civilians to military tribunals for any alleged security breaches. Only one member of parliament, Osama Saad, opposed the declaration. The state of emergency is set to continue through August 21, though it can be further extended by Parliament.
In a statement reported by PBS, Lebanese civil rights attorney Nizar Saghieh called the delegation of emergency powers to the military was the result of “incredible chaos” but that the only justification was to “control the opposition” to the government. Karim Nammour, a member of Lebanese civil rights group Legal Agenda, similarly told Al Jazeera that “the only real reason we can see for a state emergency is to grant security forces powers to control the streets as much as possible—to give legal coverage to things that would otherwise be impossible.”
The cause of the explosion is still under investigation, and on Thursday the FBI announced that it would be assisting Lebanese authorities determining the cause of the accident at the invitation of the Lebanese government.