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The blame game and the Beirut Port explosion

Source: Annahar
Paula Naoufal
Black smoke rises from a fire at warehouses at the seaport in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Sept. 10. 2020. (AP Photo)
Black smoke rises from a fire at warehouses at the seaport in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Sept. 10. 2020. (AP Photo)
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The Beirut port explosion, which rocked Lebanon over a month ago, has been dissected by both analysts and journalists. 

One important area, however, that has not been thoroughly discussed is the risk communication strategy used by Lebanon’s political class in the aftermath of the explosion that killed almost 200 people. 

As part of risk analysis, the field of risk communication has been gaining traction in order to mitigate the communication gap between decision makers and the public. More specifically, ‘the blame game’ in risk communication is a prominent method used in business and politics in order to avoid blame. 

Politicians comprehend that blame is at the core of politics since public officials often find themselves in various types of dilemmas and hurdles that may entail corruption or noncriminal ethical violation. 

In the case of Lebanon, it is surely easier to call the ruling class corrupt and ignorant instead of understanding their behaviour and response. But attempting to understand the underlying methodology used by the ruling class in responding to the Beirut Port explosion will bring insight into the various strategies used. 
 
The most noticeable method used by the political class was ‘the Agency strategy’ that works on distribution of formal responsibilities or jurisdiction of officeholders to formal organizations or other individuals. 
 
The agency strategy also works on making complex partnerships in order to make it difficult to put a head on a stake. Whether it was attempting to allocate the blame to the Ministry of Public Works or allocating the blame to the head of port customs, or the judicial system, politicians repeatedly tried to shrug off the blame by blaming other stakeholders. President Michel Aoun even went as far as to argue that the Ammonium Nitrate fell beyond his jurisdiction. 
 
Another method used to avoid blame was through ‘The Presentational Strategy’, in other words “Spinning your way out of trouble”. The main focus of this strategy involves making the situation seem like a blessing in disguise and diverting the news onto another issue.
 
In terms of attempting to make the situation seem like a blessing in disguise, Aoun credited the explosion for “lifting the economic siege that Lebanon was under.” 
 
Secretary General of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah, meanwhile, stated that ‘opportunities on a national, regional and international level arise from the womb of disasters’. This was echoed by his ally and head of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil, who told CNN’s Becky Anderson that ‘this big drama can be turned into a big opportunity’.
 
In terms of diverting the news onto another issue, Bassil also attempted to divert the news, by stating in another interview that what was important was to investigate ‘why the ammonium nitrate ignited’ rather than ‘why it was there in the first place’. 
 
Speaker Nabih Berri also used this strategy by stating that the government attempted to direct the blame at the parliament - by asking for early elections, whereas in reality, to him, the parliament should hold the government accountable.
 
One last method used by Lebanon’s political class is the “The Policy Strategy”. This strategy focuses on casting away blame by laying responsibility on one’s predecessor. Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Caretaker Transportation Minister Michel Najjar resorted to this tactic, arguing that the Ammonium Nitrate had been stored at the port for over six years. 
 
Despite the efficacy of the methods, thousands of Lebanese from all walks of life still managed to gather in downtown Beirut days after the explosion and succeeded in bringing down the government.

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