Lebanon’s garbage crises continues to drag out adding to the Lebanese woes of institutionalised corruption, lack of utilities (electricity, water, sanitation) and Israeli/ISIS aggression to their south and east respectively.
Last year Lebanon witnessed yet another surge of people power that received unprecedented media coverage in Lebanon and abroad. Leading this surge were the “You Stink” and “Civil Society” movements who received support from international celebrities, human rights groups and a multitude of embassies.
So why have these movements fizzled out, failed miserably and are now flopping around like a dying fish pulled from Lebanon’s polluted waters?
1. Absence of a clearly defined and united message
As people started gathering on the streets to protest the piling garbage, these movements started chanting slogans calling for the collection of garbage, then they demanded for the resignation of the environment minister, then the resignation of the Government and finally for the fall of the Lebanese Political system. Many people who were fed up with the corruption that has been plaguing Lebanon since 1992 wanted to take to the streets, yet were hesitant at the fall of the political system.
2. Hijacked Leadership
The Lebanese people are wary of street actions. Exactly 11 years ago (March 14 2005), Lebanon witnessed a mass demonstration calling for “Freedom, Sovereignty & Independence” from the Syrian occupation. Ironically, this demonstration was led by the very people who offered themselves as doormats for the Syrian intelligence apparatus in Lebanon for decades and after 2005, to any embassy willing to give them a dollar so that they stay in positions of authority.
Likewise, the demonstrations in 2015 felt very similar to those in 2005. Leaders of these movements seemed well funded, somewhat well organised and appeared out of nowhere. Later on, footage started to emerge of the leader’s ties to a number of embassies.
3. No solutions to offer
Training, funding and organisation mean little if you do not have a genuine underlying cause that can direct these resources for the greater good. What solutions were offered as a substitute to the corrupt ruling class? What clearly defined and realistically implemented policies did they produce?
Everyone knows that Lebanon’s corrupt leaders are too busy scrubbing the doorways of embassies to have any answers or solutions. So what did these movements offer except hollow slogans?
What was the alternative political system they proposed if their demand for the fall of the existing one was achieved? Chaos? Anarchy? War?
4. Lack of credibility
In 2005, the Change & Reform Bloc entered Lebanon’s parliament. In 2008, they entered government having excelled in their ministerial work despite the abyss of opposition they received from the corrupt ruling class.
Where were these movements/protests in support of the three previous Telecommunications Ministers (not the current) having to fight for every inch of reform in that ministry? Where were their voices when Lebanon’s previous President and previous Prime Minister’s sole agenda were to stifle any reform in the Energy Ministry?
Opposition to the reformists came in many forms; it came from the opponents, centrists, and from a few “friends and allies” too. The “You Stink” and “Civil Society” movements were nowhere to be seen.
5. Inability to differentiate between Reformers and Corrupt
This move is what most likely killed their credibility and ability to get support of the people. For 10 years, the reformists have been fighting corruption and injustice from within the Lebanese political framework. Instead of adding their voice to this growing trend, another of the protestor’s slogans was “All of them means all of them”, referring to all the Lebanese politicians (MP’s, Ministers and Parties) as corrupt and useless.
They attempted to paint the Reformists with the same brush as the corrupt ruling class. This caused confusion amongst the people taking to the streets as the majority of the Lebanese support and are in desperate need of government reform. Slowly the flow of people started drying up; and when the reformers held two massive and civilised rallies on September 4th and October 11th (pictured above) 2015, the “You Stink” and “Civil Society” movements were exposed as empty shirts.
It is almost hard to believe how much they squandered unprecedented support from embassies and international media outlets, how much they doused the flames of growing frustration from a people oppressed by their own leaders. Perhaps this was their end game?
They say history is made by those who show up; it also helps if you have a genuine cause.