Chronicling the Beirut #YouStink protests can at times yield tragically comic results. Comic because of the absurdity of the situation, tragic because in Lebanon it is the innocent people who always end up with the bad end of the stick.
On Monday August 24th 2015, right after the weekend the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) fired high pressure water canons, tear gas grenades, and rubber coated bullets at the #YouStink protesters, the authorities saw fit to erect a wall to protect the Sarail (house of the government), and the parliament. Resourceful and creative as they are, the protesters graffitied the walls in an act of resilient defiance.
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The Berlin Wall was erected in one day. It took 28 years for the berlin wall to fall in 1989. The Beirut Wall, similarly to the Berlin Wall, was erected in one day. Unlike the Berlin Wall which divided the German people from each other, the Beirut Wall was meant to keep the political elite and the members of parliament, who supposedly represent the people, safe and secure from the angry protesters, thus dividing the government from the people. However, that division is merely symbolic as the government barely functions and the parliament is usually empty as MPs don’t even bother to attend.
Unlike the Berlin Wall, the Beirut Wall was dismantled the next day on the order of prime minister Tammam Salam, whom the protesters are demanding to resign, along with the rest of the government and members of parliament.
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The Garbage Piles On
Meanwhile the garbage keeps piling up in the streets of Beirut since the powers that be can’t agree what to do with it, or rather can’t agree on how to divide the profits from this $1 billion undertaking. The garbage industry is divided between three factions and a company belonging to one of the factions; Nabih Berri (speaker of parliament for the last 23 consecutive years, head of the Amal movement militia/political party and a warlord of the “civil” war), Walid Jumblatt, (Chairman of the Progressive Socialist militia/Party, ex-minister and a warlord of the “civil” war), and Saad Hariri (founder of the Future Movement political party, ex-prime minister, prominent Saudi/Lebanese business man, and son of Rafic Hariri – the assassinated ex-prime minister) and the Hariri owned garbage company Sukleen. The waste disposal budget is divided among these four entities. And as they sit in the comfort of their ivory towers the garbage keeps piling up.
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Nightly Acts of Violence
The #YouStink protesters are continuing with their campaign and are planning a massive protest next saturday. However, many people have become weary due to the presence of thugs planted amidst the protesters to discredit them. The speaker of parliament Nabih Berri has been accused by the protesters of sending his thugs to cause havoc, an accusation mr. Berri denies but henchmen are known for their dirty tactics. Others suspect that the provocateurs are being sent by Lebanon’s Secret Intelligence. Having casually met many “intelligence” officials during my life in Lebanon leads me to not dismiss this argument as I can stand witness to the ruthless stupidity of said “intelligence” officers. Not all of the protesters resorting to violence are provocateurs however, some of them are extremely angry citizens who just can’t take it anymore. These are people who live in the suburbs and underprivileged areas of beirut, who have gone for days, maybe weeks, with minimal electricity, water shortage, and a lack of economic prospects in addition to the garbage crisis. These are people have lost hope and just vent their frustration any way they can, they have nothing left to lose. Thus between the provocateurs and the legitimately angry segment of the protesters and the over zealous armed security forces the protests become violent when the sun sets on Beirut.
Many of the peaceful protesters have taken this to heart and have attempted to stop the the violence by creating a human shield between the angry protesters and the same security officers that assaulted them only a few days ago.
Where do we go from here?
Ultimately, the protesters try their best to dissuade other protesters from committing violent acts because this will adversely affect their cause, and in country like Lebanon situations can escalate very quickly into extreme violence… depending on the mood of the ruling elite.
Inevitably, the ruling elite have lost legitimacy in the eyes of the people. The people of Lebanon are known for their joie de vivre and, under normal circumstances, tend to be ambivalent to the political maneuverings of the ruling elite. However, this ambivalence is not to be mistaken for absolute apathy. Deep down inside the Lebanese have been harbouring many a grievance against the socio-political situation in Lebanon. The Lebanese are also very intelligent and, although they usually let the lies slide, they have come to a point where they are calling out the liars for what they are and refusing to accept the usual political hubris. Whether this citizen movement will continue or will falter is yet to be seen. The trend in Lebanon is that eventually grassroot movements become politicised and eventually the feeling of hopelessness settles in as the people realize that yet again nothing will change. Will this time be any different? Only time will tell. For the moment, the hopes and aspirations of the people of Lebanon are soaring high.