How Piles Of Trash Might Take Down An Entire Country
Protests in Lebanon Saturday and Sunday, which began over unreliable trash pickup services, are now threatening to upset that country’s fragile political order.
By Sunday evening, Lebanese police and soldiers were firing water cannons and tear gas at the crowd of thousands in Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square. At least one protester was rumored to be dead, and dozens of injuries were confirmed on both sides.
By the weekend, instead of just demanding efficient trash removal, some protesters had taken up the slogans “Revolution!” and “The people want the downfall of the government.” Others hurled the insult “shabiha” at riot police, a disparaging Arabic term that means “thug” and which anti-establishment protesters across the region use to criticize government security forces.
Lebanon has faced a so-called “garbage crisis” since July. The increasingly divided government has failed to assign responsibility for the mountains of trash piling up on the streets of Beirut and other cities, all while gradually running out of money. The Lebanese political system has been hamstrung for over a year, and last month it surpassed its own record for days spent without an elected president (409 days).
The civil war in neighboring Syria is also a factor, having sent over one million fleeing civilians into the tiny country and putting additional strains on public services. (RELATED: Fleeing Syrians Swim Among Drowned Corpses In Chilling Video)
In response to the government’s basic incompetence, the Twitter hashtag #YouStink and its Arabic equivalent “Tala’at Rihatkum” have become a watchword for the country’s disgruntled public. In recent days, “You Stink” has come more closely to resemble an organized protest movement with official leaders and spokespeople.
Late Sunday, Prime Minister Tammam Salam spoke on national television, raising complaints of his own about the country’s “political garbage” and threatening to resign.
A resignation would trigger a more serious political crisis in the country, since replacing the current interim government would likely require approval from Iran and Saudi Arabia, the rival countries which back the country’s two major political factions. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are the highest they’ve been in years, as they take opposite sides in the ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Iraq — as well as Iran’s unfolding nuclear deal with the U.S. (RELATED: The 5 Biggest Winners Of Obama’s Big Nuke Deal — Aside From Iran)
On Monday, the “You Stink” protesters announced that they had postponed that day’s demonstration in order to “reassess.” Meanwhile, Salam’s tentative deadline for dissolving the government is Thursday.
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