#YouStink protests highlight rotten Lebanese politics as garbage brings people onto the streets

Marina Chamma blogs and tweets from Beirut and Lebanon as Eye On The East. She’s been on the ground during the #YouStink public protests that, like Lebanese domestic garbage, have spilt out onto the streets. She spoke to me this morning about the situation in Beirut.

Uncollected waste has brought people together across normal community lines to highlight the dysfunction and corruption within Lebanese politics. If it hadn’t been garbage, any number of political issues might have tipped the population over the edge and led to non-party political street protests.

Contractors have been picking up piles of rubbish at night and dumping them in inappropriate sites (eg, close to rivers). Corrupt procurement contracts with companies closely allied to politicians and parties have been cancelled, but the Minister of the Environment has not resigned.

As Marina explains in our conversation, while Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy she would put both those words in inverted commas. On 23 August, protesters in central Beirut came under fire from Lebanese security units with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets. State denials about the extent that force was used are easily countered with the rich evidence of social media reports, photos and videos from the protest. You can read Marina’s reflections on the protests and the state reaction on her blog. A further mass demonstration is planned for 9 September.

With Belfast so frequently twinned with Beirut in comparisons, it is interesting to reflect on the public disaffection with the political system in Lebanon. Northern Ireland is just under half the size of Lebanon. Both places have suffered violence and sectarianism. In recent years, the streets of Belfast and beyond have witnessed protests over non-sectarian issues such as racism, but the movements have quickly peaked and either run out of steam or left it to lobby groups to continue the work with politicians.

In Northern Ireland we await the Secretary of State’s statement at 3.30pm this afternoon. The words and phrases she utters will be closely observed and will influence the scale and manner of reaction by the DUP. A year ago on 9 September 2014, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson described arrangements at Stormont as “no longer fit for purpose”.

The Stormont House Agreement fell apart over Sinn Féin’s reverse ferret late realisation that the welfare reform controls were more limited than they could politically stomach. The renewed focus on the public and political understanding of the extent of the IRA’s organisation and ongoing activities has unsettled unionism. Allegations ranging from poor governance to corruption are bandied about the airwaves and old/new media.

In Lebanon, elections may buy the government more time to deal with the stinking mess they are facing. In Northern Ireland, an election may too delay dealing with the issues that block progress on bread and butter issues as well as starting to deal with our past.

In the short term, would people come out onto the streets in great numbers if Westminster extended their welfare reforms to Northern Ireland, overruling the devolved Assembly?

Towards the end of our conversation we also contrasted the UK’s reluctant change of heart to allow perhaps 15,000 refugees to enter the country with Lebanon’s more generous response to its Syrian neighbour. With a population of around 3m, over the last few years, more than 1.2 million Syrians have moved into Lebanon. Meanwhile, many richer neighbouring Arab states have done nothing to address the humanitarian crisis on their doorstep.

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  • Kevin Breslin

    To be fair, some people in Belfast would be happy with lower rates and the resulting uncollected garbage to be someone else’s problem.

  • aquifer

    DUP policy IS low rates and rubbish politics as someone else’s problem.

  • Twilight of the Prods

    Our sorts of society are often plagued by this sort of govt paralysis and cronyism.

    Lebanon’s ‘Events’ (we say ‘troubles’) were way worse than ours for a lot of reasons not just death toll – but they can take some small crumbs of comfort for the future – being a multi sect country, their sectarian political groups have had reason to attempt to cross sectarian boundaries in forging electoral pacts. Also, although their independence intifada ultimately proved disappointing for many, it did show that cross sect popular mobilisation could achive real change in the short term -chucking the Syrians out. We’re a long way from seeing the SDLP and UUs say, forming a March 14th style alliance.

    There were similar protests in bosnia a while back, but they failed to really catch becasue it was mostly just Bosniaks I think – left more sectarian space to play the ‘but themmuns…’ card.