The civil and social movement’s challenge to go beyond the garbage crisis

Mon, 10/12/2015

The latest civil and popular movement which recently erupted in protest to the garbage crisis, and which later expanded to include new slogans such as challenging corruption as well as the call for the downfall of the confessional system, succeeded indeed in rattling the political landscape already in crisis, and in upsetting the traditional political actors, who have been unable to guarantee the basic rights of citizens.
The garbage crisis exploded as a result of past and accrued government policies failures characterized by the lack of environmental visioning, which led to the creation of haphazard landfills in several parts of the country. However, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the long standing battle around the Naameh landfill, which for several years has been the dumpsite for the Beirut and Mount Lebanon garbage and which has by far exceeded its absorption capacity. The residents of the region have long resisted the situation and had organized on numeral occasions into sporadic protest actions, in cooperation with several civil society and environmental organisations. As a result, the Cabinet decided on April 17th 2015 to extend the life of Naameh dump site, until December 2015, and the final date of July 17 was given as a deadline for closing it permanently.
In parallel, the agreement with Sukleen, the company commissioned with garbage removal and disposal in Beirut and some parts of Mount Lebanon, expired on July 17th 2015, although it effectively continued operating following the annulment on August 25th 2015, of the bidding process for new contractors.

Thus, the garbage crisis burst with mountains of rubbish scattered all over the streets of Beirut and its suburbs, a situation which was exacerbated by the refusal of several areas of the country to provide alternative landfills. Thus, the civil movement emerged with the slogan “You Stink” which started in downtown Beirut, but quickly spread to other regions. Mobilised by the series of government failures, a growing number of citizens from all walks of life gradually rallied the movement which itself witnessed interesting mutations. In less than one month, the slogan of the movement extended from addressing the waste crisis, to calling for accountability of those responsible for the rubbish crisis, demanding the resignation of the Minister of the Environment, and afterward the resignation of the Cabinet, then organizing parliamentary elections, and calls for permanent solutions to the electricity and water crisis.
During that period, the civil and growingly popular movement came into direct confrontation with law enforcement forces, and resulted in the detention of several activists. It also gave birth to several other groups such as “we want to hold you accountable” which insisted on its demand for holding politicians accountable beyond the garbage crisis, in addition to other groups such as “change is coming”, “to the streets”, “youth against the system”, “the people want”, “for the republic”, etc….
It is interesting to note however that all the political poles, including those directly targeted by these movements, have openly expressed support and gave their blessing to the mobilization and aims of the movement, while falling short from open participation in the public action, so as not to undermine its neutrality according to these political forces.
Notwithstanding the current positions of various political circles towards it, the civil movement is now faced with serious challenges particularly with regards to its ability to unite, develop a common long term vision and move into a new stage of civil independent action, while maintaining its independence from the main political parties. What is undeniable, however, is that this emerging civil and popular movement has succeeded in galvanizing the Lebanese political life and in re-centering the debate on garbage management around more environment-friendly parameters.