Lebanon's trash crisis may be coming to an end soon, but the public's disaffection with the country's ruling class shows no signs of abating.
On Wednesday, Lebanon's government approved a plan to end the trash crisis, which has sparked violent protests in the country's capital. The plan calls for, among other provisions, opening two new dumps in the country, one in the northern town of Srar, the other in the Bekka valley to the east.
Lebanese Agriculture Minister Akram Shehayeb unveiled the plan on Wednesday at 11pm local time, as thousands of protesters demonstrated in the streets of Beirut.
Trash has been piling up in Beirut's streets ever since the July closure of the Naameh landfill on the outskirts of the city, triggering fears of a public health crisis. "You Stink!" became a rallying cry, and the protests have been as much about Lebanon's dysfunctional and corrupt political classes as about trash.
"The trash crisis has unleashed the anger that the Lebanese have kept contained for almost 10 years," said Pascal Monin, a professor at the Institute of Political Science at Saint Joseph University in Beirut. Monin explained that the current crisis illustrates "the nonchalance of Lebanese politicians and their lack of any sentiment of public accountability."
The strength of the movement, he added, is that it does not have "a political or religious bias." The "You Stink!" campaign has garnered the support of large swathes of the population. Monin said it would be a shame for Lebanon not to capitalize on the movement's energy to foster political reform. The country has not had a president since May 2014.
Beirut residents braved an unprecedented sandstorm when they took to the streets again on Wednesday. Seven people have died since Monday and three protesters were hospitalized as a result of the massive storm, which has also engulfed parts of neighboring Syria.
On Wednesday, protesters gathered outside the country's besieged parliament before the talks to hurl eggs at the politicians' cars. The late-night resolution came after Prime Minister Tammam Salam called for an extraordinary cabinet meeting that led to the new plan to end the trash crisis.
Besides the two new dumps, the plan calls for a weeklong reopening of the Naameh landfill to allow for the disposal of the waste that has been clogging Beirut and surrounding areas. Authorities warned that the waste was too decomposed to be treated at this point.
But the news is bound to anger those living around Naameh, who have previously said they would oppose a reopening of the landfill.
According to the local daily L'Orient Le Jour, ministers also agreed to temporarily de-centralize waste management as part of their plan, which the newspaper labeled "vague." For the next 18 months, local authorities will deal with waste management at a local level, a solution that will include building treatment plants and establishing new landfills. Monin was critical of the government's plan, which he described as a "temporary and default solution."
Watch the VICE News report from a recent "You Stink" rally in Beirut:
Wednesday's protests saw disgruntled Beirut residents trampling images of their political leaders. In the absence of elections, Lebanese lawmakers have twice extended their mandate since 2009, while Salam's national unity government appears anything but unified.
"If the movement runs out of steam, it won't have gained anything," Monin said. According to the professor, Lebanese citizens will have to put pressure on the government to schedule presidential elections in order to revive the country's democracy. They will also have to push for electoral reform if they want a "truly representative" parliament.
For Monin, the reform will involve shifting from the current majority system to a proportional representation system in future parliamentary elections. He urged Lebanese voters to solicit change through institutional channels rather than violence. "Breaking everything to rebuild hasn't worked in the region's other capitals," he said, referencing the Arab Spring.
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