For many, Sukleen has become a symbol of corruption, institutional inaction and political apathy — elements which, when combined, have effectively turned Lebanon into a state run by monopolies. In July, Sami Gemayel, the head of Lebanon’s right-wing Christian Phalangist Kataeb party, accused Sukleen of stealing public funds and blackmailing the country to renew its contract. The newly elected party leader said Sukleen was using the ongoing garbage crisis as a means to enforce another extension of its 20 contracts with the state, accusing it of being part of a “mafia.”
“There is a company [Sukleen] that has been making profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars over more or less 20 years on the expense of the Lebanese and the municipalities, and thus on the expense on the daily livelihood of all citizens,” Gemayel asserted, as quoted by Lebanon’s Daily Star. “With utmost rudeness, after it made these huge amounts of money, this company stopped collecting garbage the moment its contract ended.”
After a few small protests in late July, tens of thousands began joining the civic movement, which swelled to an all-time high of 250,000 on Aug. 29. Protesters called for a legal, economically efficient solution to the garbage crisis that is also environmentally-friendly and safe for all Lebanese citizens.
The activist and the state
An ordinary Lebanese man reborn an extraordinary activist, Aly Sleem is the force behind the #YouStink movement. Speaking to L’Indro Sleem described the makeup of the movement: “We are a group of people who are not politically affiliated with any political sectarian party, we share no strict ideology and we’re not sectarian. We formed ourselves on July 21, a few days after the Naameh landfill was closed by the government.”
“Our demands are really simple,” he continued. “We ask for an environmental and sustainable solution for the garbage crisis in Lebanon, away from any political and sectarian brokerages.” And it’s precisely this range of ethnic, religious and social backgrounds collected under a single movement that stands to inspire change beyond the country’s waste collection crisis. Shiite, Sunni, Druze, Orthodox Christian and atheist — #YouStink has mobilized broad popular support, which is a remarkable feat for a country which has been defined by its citizens’ religious differences since gaining its independence in 1943.
While #YouStink remains stubbornly apolitical in structure, its leadership is determined to challenge the ongoing political status quo by forcing the entire political apparatus to face the popular music. Sleem told L’Indro what the movement hopes to address after the waste management crisis is resolved: “We have previously stated that we do not aim for any political position and that we have strict demands when it comes to the resolution of the garbage crisis. That being said, once a sustainable and environmental solution is found we will be tackling other social issues — electricity is high on our list. Despite an injection of funds of $1.5 billion, blackouts have become a terrible nuisance. There, too, corruption needs to be addressed.”
While protesters have said they remain committed to nonviolence and peaceful resistance in view of bringing about change, the state has opted to use water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas against demonstrators. “Officials’ use of violence only reinforces our determination,” the student-turned-activist Sarah Haddad told L’Indro. “Lebanese will not be bullied into compliance. Those tactics will fail.” Demonstrations turned violent last month after protesters attempted to surround the Lebanese parliament. “Dozens of anti-government protesters have clashed with police officers in Beirut during the most recent confrontations in the Lebanese capital. Media reports suggest that several people have been injured and arrested during the rally,” RT reported.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, several sources told L’Indro that many protesters have already been warned that they could lose their jobs if they continue to exercise their right to free expression. Hanan Shabaty, a Beirut-based journalist, told L’Indro that in September she was informed that her manager would not tolerate having one of his staff “mingle with wannabe revolutionaries under pretense of media coverage.” “Such pressures have become rather common those days. The establishment is using financial pressure to kill the civic movement,” Shabaty said. “But let’s face it: It’s not going to change anything, not really! We have reached a point of no return here and I don’t see any strong-arm tactic work in the long run.”
A march against corruption on Oct. 6 called on all groups and political contingents to unite for Lebanon. Protesters made their way from a finance ministry building in downtown Beirut toward the Central Bank in the city’s Hamra neighborhood. Soon after arriving at the bank, activist Asaad Zebian was arrested along with a member of the campaign, a move he described as being thug-like.
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