Adonis Diaries

Anger Over Garbage in Lebanon: Plausible that it will Blossom into Demands for Reform of militia system

Posted on: December 10, 2016

Anger Over Garbage in Lebanon: Plausible that it will Blossom into Demands for Reform of militia system

BEIRUT—Weeks of protests over mounds of uncollected trash in Lebanon’s capital have grown into a broader antigovernment campaign, echoing those that have transformed the political landscape elsewhere in the Middle East.

Demands by the “You Stink” movement and its supporters for a change of Lebanon’s leadership—heard in chants for the “downfall of the regime”—face a challenge: The country has no coherent government to overthrow and no opposition to take its place.

Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militia and political party, has declared its support for the grass-roots rallies, which are scheduled to resume in central Beirut on Saturday and could be this year’s largest.

Past calls for political overhauls in Lebanon also collided with the country’s sectarian-militia based political system.

But those arrangements, a legacy of both the country’s drive for independence in the 1940s and its ruinous 1975-1990 civil war, have proved remarkably durable despite widespread dissatisfaction.

The system’s resilience has led even some veteran activists to dismiss the latest talk of revolution in this country of 4.5 million people.

“The slogan, ‘Down with the regime’,” isn’t realistic,” said Joanna Nassar, 32, who for years has campaigned on issues that include the Arab-Israeli conflict and civil marriage.

“If there is hope in Lebanon, it’s more of a reform thing than a change of regime. If change is possible, it’s through institutions and laws,” Ms. Nassar said.

Many “You Stink” protest organizers say they don’t wish to see the kind of Arab Spring demonstrations that ended in civil war or a return to authoritarian rule. Instead, they hope to galvanize support around ridding the government of its constitutionally mandated sectarianism and building ties across Lebanon’s often deep religious and political divides.

Still, most of the country’s veteran activists hold out little hope that Lebanon’s latest political ferment will lead to political change.

“I’m very happy for what’s happened, but I’m also very cautious. Maybe it’s experience,” said Haitham Chammas, an activist unaffiliated with any political party who has helped organize demonstrations and participated in advocacy groups in Lebanon since the early 1990s.

Last Sunday’s demonstrations turned violent, as police fired tear gas and hoses at thousands of protesters gathered in front of the office of Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

More than 400 demonstrators and members of the security forces were wounded in the melee, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. “You Stink” organizers decided to delay planned daily protests after 32 demonstrators were arrested, Lebanon’s state news agency reported. (The Minister of Interior admitted over 100 were detained)

Lebanon’s state prosecutor appointed a military prosecutor this week to investigate accusations of police abuse, and Mr. Salam said protesters “have the right to stand up to what happened and even hold officials accountable.”

Even Lebanese who didn’t participate in the street demonstrations say the protests over government ineffectiveness and ineptitude are justified. Power shortages have become chronic, and the economically stretched country now has more than one million Syrian refugees in its territory.

The latest crisis began in July after residents near a large landfill south of Beirut, worried about possible environmental hazards, blocked garbage trucks from unloading trash. Unable to locate an alternate dump site, authorities allowed trash to accumulate on Beirut’s streets.

On Tuesday, Mr. Salam held an emergency meeting of his cabinet to address the garbage problem but adjourned without agreeing on a solution.

Even on the best of days, Lebanon’s government, made up of seven main political parties grouped in two opposing blocs, barely operates.

  1. The country hasn’t had a president for more than a year.

2. Legislative elections haven’t been held since 2009. Parliament is rarely able to achieve a quorum to conduct business, yet has renewed its mandate until 2017 on what many Lebanese say are dubious legal grounds.

The current government paralysis is partly the result of a political system constructed by quota. Each cabinet position and parliamentary seat is distributed among Lebanon’s 19 officially recognized religious sects, including Sunni Islam, Shiite Islam, Maronite Christians, Greek Orthodox Christians and followers of the ancient Druse faith.

“You have 18 different dictators, represented by the sectarian community,” Ms. Nassar said. “It’s by nature dysfunctional.”

But even as Lebanese complain about their sectarian system, the country’s political establishment hews to it, said Firas Maksad, a Lebanese political analyst and founder of the Washington-based consultancy Global Policy Associates.

Even widely popular secular movements such as the “You Stink” campaign are unlikely to persuade voters to support candidates outside their own sect, Mr. Maksad said.

“I actually think that Lebanon’s archaic sectarian system is deep in patronage and corrupt, but it’s also an accurate reflection of Lebanese society,” he said. “I think the Lebanese with the garbage crisis are being forced to face their own rotten reality.”

Veteran activist Gilbert Doumit said he still plans to attend “You Stink” protests, though he said he is heartbroken by decades of failed overhaul efforts.

“I don’t have high hopes anymore for such movements,” he said. “I literally failed in every movement that I’ve been involved in. One of the symptoms of the political environment we’re living in now is my failure, and the failure of the people of my generation.”

Note: Since the Syrian troops vacated Lebanon in 2005, the main Lebanese former militia leaders ruled Lebanon.  The control of Syria over their greed dwindled and they grabbed the public funds and every donation and loan that the government received.

This ruling triumviri of Nabih Berry, Walid Jumblat and the political representative of the Hariri clan Fouad Seniora refused to invest in any infrastructure so that the citizens paid twice for every facility that the State was supposed to shoulder. 

Patsy Z shared this post of Gilbert Doumit

I said “I don’t have high hopes anymore for such movements”, but I continued and it is not mentioned in the article “unless those movements transform into a political platform with a clear agenda, leadership and organization, and therefore becomes a serious opponent capable of either changing the political will or the political elite itself.”

Calls for political reform, however, collide with country’s entrenched, sectarian-based political system.|By Matt Bradley and Dana Ballout

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December 2016

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