Reporting by Manar Heikal, Lebanese Streets
Protests spark in the streets of Beirut over increasingly piled up garbage as a result of the government’s mismanagement of getting rid of the wastes. The view of the garbage containers overflowed in the streets of Beirut became normalized to the extent that people started throwing their trash in plastic bags next to the bins. The plastic bags built growing mountains of garbage that eventually turned into a tragic and unfamiliar scene. The contract signed with the garbage collecting company Sukleen has recently ended and the government did not assign any other company to take up the task.
On the other hand, the city of Naameh has been suffering from the garbage management crisis as it hosts the main landfill that holds waste from both Beirut and Mount Lebanon. While the government promised Naameh’s residents of building a bigger and newer site, it failed in doing so and exceeded the promised deadline of July 17. The landfill was originally structured to hold up to two million tons of garbage yet now it holds 15 million tons. This has lead to the residents’ suffrage of nauseating smell and of health risks. Naameh’s internal crisis has reflected on both Beirut and Mount Lebanon disposal outlets, thus the same crisis occurred in the capital and its neighboring cities leading to the current protests.
“All the people on the streets know very well that the problem is not restricted to the garbage crisis,” Abbas Saad, an undergrad student and President of the AUB Secular Club “it is rather a reaction towards this corrupted and sectarian regime.”
In the past few days the protest became a symbol of the Lebanese people’s struggle against neo-liberal capitalism and the neo-liberal state. “Our parliament and government belittle the minds of the youth that have risen for their rights. The bids made [last week] were a farce and a crime that can be added to the series of crimes committed by all our political elite.” said Issam Kayesy, a member of the American University in Beirut’s Secular Club.
The situation witnessed a rapid escalation in the complaints as the slogan altered from ‘You Stink’ to “the People Demand” as it extended to various crises that are a product of the regime over the past decades. The campaign now calls for economic, political and social rights that guarantee personal freedoms. Some protesters view the government as “clearly saying to us: we do not fear you and we do not care about your demands. Today, they took the wall they erected in front of us down. This was a small victory.” Kayesy remarks.
Some of the protesters believe that the deal was a golden opportunity to direct the people’s movement and their demands, while some believe that the regime-toppling slogan and the call for a revolution are loose and illogical at such stage. “We want to hold the Minister of Interior Minister Machnouk as well as anyone else responsible for violence. We want him to hold the responsibility for his incompetence.” said Kaysey, “We want a radical solution for the garbage crisis, far from sectarian quotas.”
After the violence and crackdown on the protesters on August 19, some protesters think that the deal was also aborted and there was another small victory, but we want a radical, fair, and sustainable solution, far from sectarian quotas and corruption. Yet others believe that with the existence of corrupt politicians, any deal they accept will most probably go into the pocket of one or more of these politicians. Thus, the protest must continue until a deal that only benefit the residents.
Hasan Chami, an AUB student thinks that “the protests form pressure against the current ministers, and they are gaining momentum and popularity. If this goes on, the ministers will eventually lose legitimacy and power from more and more people, something they can’t afford to bear.”