Over the past few weeks protesters in Lebanon have reemerged after a slumber in great numbers, talking over downtown Beirut. “You Stink” protests, which started as a result of a “garbage crisis” and government incompetence have been met with severe repression leading to one death and hundreds of injuries. Bay Area Intifada reached out to a comrade on the ground who has been engaged in the demonstrations. Lara is an anti-authoritarian media worker from Beirut. The following interview was conducted on Monday August 30th – Thursday Sept 3rd. No changes or edits have been to the text.
*Q: Can you talk about what ignited the current protests taking place in Lebanon? It’s hard to believe it’s just about the garbage crisis.*
*A:* The easy answer would be to say they were ignited after July 17 when access to the Naameh landfill was forcefully sealed off and people started drowning in garbage. This landfill, which has been in use since 1997 and absorbs most of Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s trash, was successfully shut down by environmental activists and residents living near the dump. Or, you could trace them back to January when the same scenario took place but was resolved relatively quickly after promises were made to permanently shut down the Naameh landfill in July. Or, maybe to 2004 when the plan to use Naameh expired but was renewed (the 6-year arrangement has lasted 17 years turning the agreed-upon 2 million tons of trash into 15). Alternatively, you could go further back to 1995 when the Hariri-connected Averda company was awarded a secret contract to manage garbage in the two aforementioned governorates. At the time, Rafiq Hariri (the assassinated former prime minister notorious for displacing thousands of Beirutis) privatized waste management and allowed Sukleen and Sukomi to monopolize it and turn it into a profitable industry without any accountability or transparency. Averda charges taxpayers three to four times the regional average per ton while arrogantly ignoring the terms of its contract, namely when it comes to recycling and composting.
I think it’s important to trace the garbage situation back to its roots because it illustrates the level of ineptitude, corruption, and brazen incompetence of the successive Lebanese governments.
The more complex answer would be to trace them back to the foundation of the modern Lebanese nation-state, that is on political sectarianism.
But as you rightly point out, garbage is not the crisis, it is a mere symptom, a very visible and smelly one of a much larger crisis. Trash only exposed the filthy face of this regime. It was the catalyst and dealing with it was the main demand. But government repression and brewing anger toward the ruling elite led what was a mere “anti-garbage” mobilization to quickly become an anti-government movement.
Finally, bear in mind that this trash situation comes in the midst of decades-old shortages in water, electricity and all basic services and some months after learning that there is, quite literally, shit in the food we consume. Continue reading