August 26, 2015 | Quote

Lebanon’s Garbage Politics

Over the weekend, thousands of Lebanese took to the streets to protest against their country’s corrupt political culture. The immediate cause of their concern, and anger, is that the country’s garbage has not been collected for a month and has come to pose, as Lebanon’s health minister warned, a “health disaster.” More generally then, the protests were directed at Lebanon’s political class and most of the country’s leadership, including Prime Minister Tammam Salam. Even after the violence that killed one demonstrator and injured many more, some observers are now hopeful that this growing protest movement (aptly named “You Stink”) might kick off a genuine revolution against the Lebanese political system and bring real democracy to the jewel of the Levant.

Tragically, this is not the case. In reality, the “You Stink” movement is conclusive evidence that for the majority of Lebanese, law-abiding and freedom-loving, their situation is hopeless.

The protests against Lebanon’s political class began in earnest and were quickly overtaken by proxy forces acting on behalf of a few very prominent members of that political class. Photographs show the political affiliations of the thugs sent to the streets to cause mayhem—tattoos and other markers identify them as members or allies of Hezbollah and Amal, the party of God’s sometime Shiite partner and frequent rival for communal favor. Some are saying that followers of Hezbollah’s Christian ally Michel Aoun joined Hezbollah and Amal to attack the army and security forces, who then escalated by opening fire—rubber bullets and also it seems live ammunition—on unarmed civilians. Hence the protest organizers, fearing more bloodshed, have decided to postpone future demonstrations, at least for the time being.


It’s hard not to sympathize with the Lebanese because their situation is tragic. Even if they do see that the fundamental problem with Lebanon right now is Hezbollah, there’s little they can do about it, except to make war. “Understandably, they have no wish to return to the horrors of the civil war years,” says Tony Badran, research fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “For those Lebanese too young to recall that fratricidal conflict, they can look at Syria today to see what’s likely in store. And yet, even if they do not make war against Hezbollah, war is going to come for the Lebanese anyway—if not with Israel, then as a spillover from the Syrian conflict. They’re making war against all their neighbors, and they’re the weakest of them all.”


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