BEIRUT, Aug 24 (Al Arabiya) — The clouds of tear gas that clogged the air on Saturday night in downtown Beirut truly blotted out the smell of rotten rubbish for the first time in weeks. It was clear that things had changed as close to 10,000 demonstrators gathered. They were there to protest the lack of action by the government over the closure of Beirut’s only landfill site, which led to mountains of rubbish piling up in the streets. Before the weekend was over, downtown Beirut h ad descended into chaos over two consecutive days as police fired water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse crowds of protesters, resulting in dozens of injuries.
In mid-July, rubbish collection in Beirut and the Mount Lebanon region — the two most populous areas of the country — had ground to a halt. Within a few hot summer days, piles of rubbish collected around the large municipal dumpsters in streets around the city. The smell of rotting food, feted waste and baking plastic filled the air. Flies swarmed thick around the growing piles that filled street corners blocking traffic, pavements and shop fronts. A group of activists formed the ‘You Stink’ campaign to call for action.
“It’s just embarrassing,” said one protester at an early demonstration against the waste problems in Beirut in mid-July, “What country can’t even collect its own garbage.” However for many, waste was only the latest in a string of problems affecting Lebanon. Years of corruption, inefficiency and lack of investment has left an infrastructure system under strain.
There are daily power cuts, internet speed ranks among the slowest in the world, water shortages are also common and parliament is locked in political in-fighting and rarely passes meaningful reforms.
It was the stink of rotten waste that drove many to the streets this weekend, but it was this lack of progress in all areas of government that they wanted to see changed. There was a hopeful, festival-like atmosphere as crowed gathered in the early evening on Saturday, however it wouldn’t last. The police reaction came as a shock to many.
“It was a totally unexpected use of force, it was like something from the worst dictatorships,” Nasri Atallah, who has been to all the garbage protests since the start of the ‘You Stink’ campaign, told Al Arabiya News.
For years, Lebanese have spoken of the apathy that set in as they watched the failures of their own politicians after Lebanon regained independence from the Syrian regime in 2005. However, finally something had again brought young and old, families and students – all sectors of Lebanon from all backgrounds — out onto the streets in numbers. No one, rich or poor, could escape the piles of rubbish around the city throughout July. Garbage, not a political party or movement had united people of all backgrounds to call for action from the government…[Continue reading on Al Arabiya]