Posted by Waseem Mardini on August 27, 2015 in Blog
The Lebanese are a historically resilient people. Their country has been host to invasion, civil war, and protest after protest. Walk the streets of Beirut and you'll see war-scarred buildings serving as a reminder of past strife, and the new steel and glass towers a hint towards the city's future. For a visitor, Beirut is a captivating city. Living there is an entirely different story.
The mountains of trash that have been piling up in Lebanon's capital this summer are but one symptom of the widespread corruption and dysfunction of Lebanese political officials. Municipal mismanagement has prevented effective delivery of electricity and water and other essential services. For example, Beirut residents must endure regular blackouts and Lebanon is home to some of the slowest internet speeds of any country around the world.
The people of Lebanon have put up with a lot over the years and have every right to be upset with leaders that are incapable of delivering the most basic services to the people.
Attempting to answer why the trash is piling up, each party has been pointing fingers at the other. If it isn't the government's fault for not finding a suitable landfill site, it's the waste collectors holding out for a better contract. Ultimately the blame lies with the Lebanese government and the originally flawed political system.
Lebanon has for decades been governed through a confessional democracy - a sectarian division of powers. The outcry in the streets this week (which was also communicated with the hashtag #YouStink on social media) over the abject failure of Lebanese officials to find solutions is a clear indication that broader changes throughout the political system are needed. Finding a place to dump the trash is not enough. These crises over basic services have persisted for years and this current trash row won't be the last. The country has been unable to elect a president for the past 14 months and the parliament extended its own mandate when it didn't agree on new elections.
This may not be Lebanon's turn to engage in the revolutions that have roiled the Middle East, but it is clear that the Lebanese people are making their position known. They will not put up with the corruption, cronyism, and dysfunction that have characterized Lebanese politics for so long.
This unrest comes when Lebanon is on the brink. Beyond the domestic problems Lebanon has taken in an enormous number of refugees as the Syrian civil war rages on. AAI has been advocating for more assistance to Lebanon, a key U.S. ally, as it wrestles with the weight of supporting refugees and its ongoing political instability.
It's hard to imagine a clearer symbol of public malfeasance and inefficacy than sidewalks piled high with rotting garbage. Perhaps, the events of the past week will translate into substantive change for the people of Lebanon. With more than a generation of institutionalized corruption, solving Lebanon's political system will take time. As much as the environment may warrant it, Beirut residents are unlikely to hold their breath.