With the Stench of Garbage comes a Breeze of Hope

“We have been sleepless for years,

We decided to wake up today,

Oh homeland, do not blame us,

We are now beyond the realm of blame.”

                                                      – Anthem of the Revolution,’  (Arabic), Ziad Al Rahbani

You may call the life that has suddenly exploded on the streets of Beirut whatever you like. You may call the energy spreading throughout the veins of its youth – which had started to believe in the sense of defeat inherited from their forefathers as a fact of life – whatever you like too. But we cannot deny that during the past two weeks, as popular protests triggered by a shameful garbage crisis have gained momentum in and around Beirut – from the August 22-23 protests (see Eye on the East’s post “Live from Beirut…“) to the biggest demonstration in Lebanon’s history organized independently of sectarian parties on August 29 – something has broken and something has been revived.

What has been broken is apathy and what has been revived is hope.

As opposed to other countries in the Arab World, the proverbial ‘wall of fear’ has never truly existed in Lebanon, or at least not for as long and as oppressively as it did/does in places like Tunisia or Saudi Arabia. In Lebanon, it has never been about why people didn’t take to the streets to demand for the decent life they deserved, but why it was taking them so long to do so. A sense of defeat and apathy, sometimes more poisonous than fear, seemed one of the best ways to explain the lack of initiative and resolve for people to do so. So many lives lost, so many sacrifices made and still, nothing seemed to change.  Today, people who swore to never take part in a demonstration again or who have never taken to the streets before, are speaking up and/or are on the ground protesting and demanding.  Because we’ve had enough.

At the same time, and similarly to many countries in the Middle East and beyond, the utter hopelessness of the status quo became a fact of life in Lebanon. Many of us couldn’t imagine how the vicious circle of failed statehood, inequality, injustice, unequal development, corruption, sectarianism, nepotism, lack of accountability and sovereignty, among others, could be broken. Today, it isn’t that an all-encompassing solution will be implemented to start tackling these poisonous traits, which have stood in the way of achieving Lebanon’s socio-economic potential. Today, it is about people believing that there truly is hope that things may start changing, that they may be solved, when there wasn’t any only a couple of weeks ago. Because we’ve truly had enough.

It is telling that for once, as the garbage crisis exploded onto the streets of Beirut (for more details, see Eye on the East’s It’s About Garbage and so much more), the reality on the ground, quite literally reflected (and continues to do so) the exact state of our politics: garbage. Yet the crisis was still about garbage, until the government and political class made it about more than garbage. When peaceful protesters took the streets and were faced with unprecedented violence, the government and law enforcement forced upon the protesters to demand much more than a resolution to the garbage crisis. Therefore, this also became about democracy (and our right to protest peacefully, people’s voices to be heard and demands to be met), accountability (for those who used force against protesters and who let the garbage crisis reach this stage), corruption (whereby the issue of garbage was only the tip of the iceberg), and quite simply human rights (Lebanese people’s right to live a decent and healthy life).

The Lebanese government has yet to meet the protesters’ main demands: including the resignation of the minister of environment, resignation of the minister of interior and accountability for those who exerted violence during protests; release of arbitrary detained protesters; restoring municipal jurisdiction over waste management; and the holding of parliamentary elections (as a condition to reinstate popular legitimacy into the central pillar of our so-called parliamentary democracy). Yet two major victories of the movement so far have been: having forced the government to retract from awarding contracts to waste management companies based on nepotism and corruption, and more importantly, people’s belief that things that they’re voices could finally change happen.

There is already talk calling into question the various movements that have spearheaded the protests, in spite of their rightful demands. Questions are not so much why they started, which is clear, but who may be fueling them, using them or exploiting them, whether local or foreign parties. I will let time answer those questions. As of now, such accusations appear as mere scare tactic unleashed by those who fear the change these movements seem to have made inevitable. Today, what matters the most is that something has broken and something has been revived. The Lebanese people have an opportunity, to make their voices heard and impose upon their stinking political class that things shall not be the same again from now on. The scope of the various groupings that have converged in the squares of Beirut, such as “You Stink,” “We Want Accountability,” “The People Want” – with every new day witnessing new groups and even more rightful demands – is further proof that people are unwilling to retract this time, because their demands are long overdue, and their voices long ignored. And to me, this is what matters the most.

We, the Lebanese, have finally decided to wake up today… I hope so, I truly hope so.

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