The social movement in Beirut, mobilizing behind the hashtag #YouStink, began in the Summer of 2015, and calls for reform of Lebanon’s state infrastructure and an ousting of their current political leaders whom protestors argue are more concerned with capitalist corruption than the well-being of their own people. Following the privatization of Lebanon’s garbage collection services and the shut down of the country’s largest waste landfill, trash quickly began to collect on the streets of Beirut, leading protestors to organize in a call for government reform and the rights to a cleaner living environment.
The main source of government corruption in relation to #YouStink is the relationship between the Lebanese government and the waste management company Sukleen. Sukleen has been dumping garbage in public spaces, and the Lebanese government’s completely apathetic response to this crisis has left the citizens of Beirut open to the exposure of disease caused by the multitude of waste being left to decompose in the open. It has been suggested that Sukleen has been allocated state funds in order to act as the country’s leading waste management system, yet they have been apathetic and willing to exploit the garbage crisis in order to obtain a contract extension with the government.
Although the protests in support of #YouStink have aimed to be peaceful, violence has broken out as the government has sent out riot police with water cannons and rubber bullets as a response. Although #YouStink seems to resemble the activism and beginnings that we saw with the rise of the Arab Spring, its supporters seem adamant to distance themselves from being called revolutionaries.
Uprising in the Middle East has generated high controversies. They created models to fight against the social polarization of the political-economic contexts. Basically what they wanted was the down of the regime and in a way I can understand this because being young, trying to go into the “real world” working and becoming independent and at the same time facing what they see as absolutism and oligarchy. The only option they have is to go out on the streets and join each other as a group based on the trends and beliefs they share, to try and change their countries.
To this you can add the “#YouStink” campaign which activists participated complaining to the Lebanese government and accusing them of infecting the country with too much garbage. Activism happens everywhere and in Spain a year ago a crisis like this also happened and the garbage men stopped collecting all the garbage on the streets and these accumulated all over the cities of Spain. Activists ran out to the streets to complain however it never got as degrading as it did in Beirut in 2015. This is very shocking as people are not allowed to complain and speak their minds. It’s a two way thing but if the population would manifest in a peaceful way and the authorities would allow this then everyone will at least be free to say what they wish and at least feel like someone hears them. The way that it’s done in these countries just infuriates the citizens even more. Getting shot sprayed with a powerful water jet or even being beaten up by the police is not acceptable in any way what so ever. Reaching an agreement with the population where they don’t start a fire with anything and the police act more peacefully then maybe some solutions will be taken into consideration.
I have to admit that I hadn’t heard about the trash crisis in Lebanon before taking this class. Since most of the information on the youstink-website was in Arabic, I did a Google search to find out a bit more about the background of the movement. The garbage crisis seemed to be the proverbial straw to break the camel’s back as the country has been struggling with other issues such as intermittent power and water supply, sectarian conflict and the inability to elect a president. The latter two seem to be part of the cause for the trash crisis and therefore make targets for protest. Some might even go so far as to say that the trash is only the cover for the other ongoing conflicts.
Until now, Lebanon’s sectarianism had never sunk so low as to include waste. One is left to wonder whether the current crisis is actually about waste or if it is a sectarian conflict fueled by other factors. – Sami Nader for Al Monitor
In his article Sami Nader poses the question whether religiously divided landfills might solve the garbage crisis, a thought that might seem absurd to people living in Europe or the USA, but apparently religion even plays a role when it comes to trash. As a person that is not religious, but respectful of others’ beliefs, I am sad to read about this. Instead of everybody working together to solve a crisis, this seems like only helping the in- and rejecting the out-group. Even if that finally leads to the removal of garbage, the way of getting there cannot be celebrated as a victory.
Another interesting paragraph that I found was in a New York Times article about the Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the question on where life was worse. It is a strange question to consider which human rights violations and social issues one would rather be willing to accept.
Now, even Syrians fleeing war pronounce themselves shocked at the lack of infrastructure in Lebanon. Some of them, however, express a hint of jealousy that Lebanon’s weak state allows freedoms unavailable in Syria, where protests were crushed with deadly force. (Some Lebanese — especially those who support the government of President Bashar al-Assad — wonder why the Syrians revolted when they had free health care and college education, unimaginable in Lebanon.) – Anne Barnard for The New York Times
I furthermore found a satirical article as a form of digital activism. It appeared on a website that appears to be the Middle Eastern equivalent to the onion. The article was published a couple of days ago, which shows that the crisis is still ongoing.