Lebanese diplomat urges people not to prejudge Beirut blast investigation

Ambassador Amal Mudallali
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Updated 08 August 2020

Lebanese diplomat urges people not to prejudge Beirut blast investigation

  • Ambassador to the UN Amal Mudallali called on public to wait five days for findings of government probe

CHICAGO: Lebanon’s ambassador to the UN, Amal Mudallali, has called on the public to give the Lebanese government time to complete its investigation into the causes of the explosion on Aug. 4 that destroyed Beirut’s port and downtown areas, and urged people to “not prejudge” the results.

President Michel Aoun has formed a government committee to investigate the blast, which killed more than 150 people, injured more than 5,000, and damaged properties as far as six miles away. It is thought it was caused by a fire that ignited 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the port for more than six years.

The government has detained a number port managers and employees. However, many people responded to with skepticism to the announcement of the investigation, and there have been calls for an independent inquiry with a focus on the government’s responsibility for the events leading up to the explosion.

“The government already has established an investigative committee, and they said that within five days they will share the results,” Mudallali said during a video conference hosted by the Arab American Institute (AAI) in Washington D.C. on Friday. “So let’s wait five days and see what the results are.

“I don’t know what they will come up with but let’s give them a chance and listen to what they have to say, and then we can judge. It is not easy to judge before they come up with something. The problem is there is a deficit of trust in the country and that’s affecting everything.”

The damage caused by the explosion has left more than 300,000 people homeless, including 80,000 children. There is an urgent need for medical aid, and financial assistance for recovery efforts, including the rebuilding of the damaged parts of the city.

Mudallali said that after decades of enduring one devastating crisis after another — including the civil war; the 1978 Israeli invasion, occupation and subsequent repeated conflicts; the COVID-19 pandemic; and the current financial crisis — many people have had enough and want to leave the country.

“On the port, there was a statue of a Lebanese emigrant standing and looking out to sea,” said Mudallali. “This statue is gone now. It was destroyed. That is a symbol now.

“We don’t want that to become the symbol of the Lebanese now: that they leave, that they get out. We want the Lebanese to stay. We need them to stay and rebuild, because otherwise there is no one else to do it. But helping them rebuild is not just (a case of) sending them aid and food or whatever; we have to help them build sustainably and build better, and to stay in their country and make it a good country again.”

Mudallali was appointed UN ambassador by the Aoun government in January 2018. Before that she served for five years as foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who was assassinated on Feb. 14, 2005 in a suspected Hezbollah-initiated bombing. More recently she was principal adviser on American affairs to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, and a columnist for Arab News.

Asked by AAI president, and conference host, Jim Zogby whether the Lebanese government has “the political will” to implement the economic reforms required to strengthen global confidence in Lebanon and unlock international financial aid packages, Mudallali said that she believes people are more aware now of the urgency of the requirement for reforms, and the need to start making progress on implementing them.

“I think people understand now that there is no other way out and there is no other way forward except by doing that,” she added. “I am hoping that things will be better.”

Opposition MP Paula Yacoubian said the public has no confidence in Aoun’s government, which she described as “a bunch of thieves, crooks” and a “mafia.” The official investigation is “looking for scapegoats” and “weak” members of the government to sacrifice, she added.

“They are trying to get away with (identifying) a few people who are responsible for the failure … they are starting with (the person) who is the customs manager,” said Yacoubian. “We see this many times — whenever there is a problem, they find a scapegoat.”

She predicted that the Aoun government will be forced out of power as a result of the explosion, and described the administration as an “enemy that is a cancer in the country.”

Aoun on Friday rejected calls for an international investigation into the explosion. He said the cause has not yet been determined and that government probe will look into the possibility that “external interference” was involved.


Archaeologists unearth 27 coffins buried 2,500 years ago in Egyptian tomb

Updated 22 September 2020

Archaeologists unearth 27 coffins buried 2,500 years ago in Egyptian tomb

  • Egyptian antiquities officials believe the discovery to be the largest of its kind in the region

CAIRO: Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered 27 coffins that were buried more than 2,500 years ago in a pharaonic cemetery.

The sarcophagi were found at the Saqqara site in the governorate of Giza, south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Egyptian antiquities officials believe the discovery to be the largest of its kind in the region. Saqqara was an active burial ground for more than 3,000 years and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Initial studies indicate that the coffins and shrouds inside have remained tightly sealed since burial, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

The discovery was part of an Egyptian dig in the Saqqara area which unearthed an 11-meter-deep well containing colorfully painted wooden coffins stacked on top of each other along with other smaller artefacts.

Khaled Al-Anani, the Egyptian minister of antiquities, postponed announcing the discovery until he could visit the site himself, where he thanked teams for working in difficult conditions.

Ahmed Abdel Aziz, a professor of pharaonic archeology at a private university, said: “This new discovery is not the first in the Saqqara archaeological area. Archaeological discoveries have increased over the past years which draw attention to this region.

“This prompted many archaeological missions from many countries to work in this region, trying to probe the depths of this region and the treasures hidden inside it.”

Al-Anani said the increase in archaeological discoveries and the number of projects recently implemented by the Ministry of Antiquities were down to political will and exceptional support from the Egyptian government.

He pointed out the importance of resuming the work of 300 archaeological missions from 25 countries after a hiatus of a number of years, including some working in Egypt for the first time such as the joint Egyptian Chinese archaeological mission.

There were about 50 Egyptian missions working at sites in governorates throughout the country and Al-Anani praised their efforts in helping to unearth more evidence of ancient Egyptian civilization.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities, said that Saqqara was one of the most promising historical areas when it came to archaeological discoveries, adding that he planned to continue working in the area with his mission members to uncover more secrets and treasures of the past.

He noted that new finds during the current excavation season would have a positive impact on tourism in Egypt at locations such as Giza, Saqqara, Luxor, and Aswan.

Mohamed Abdel Hamid, vice president of the Egyptian Association for Tourism and Archaeological Development, said that the discovery was a testament to the architectural development of the area that could be seen in King Djoser’s collection. The pharaoh was found in a step pyramid which was the first tomb in Egypt to be built using stones.