Written by Gabriel Huland and May Assir – Corriente Roja
Monday, 31 August 2015 17:51
Piles of rubbish have been growing on the streets for many hot weeks since the authorities had no alternative arranged when a major landfill site, Naameh, where the capital wastes were deposited, closed on July 17. The private company Sukleen stopped collecting the garbage till the parliament agreed on a new site.
Given the accumulation of plastic bags full of rubbish, the heat wave gripping the city and the government inaction, the residents tried to make the health hazards mild by pouring lime powder with rat poison on the rubble or directly burning the bags while the social unrest grew in the streets and social networks.
The waste crisis: the straw that broke the camel’s back
The poor administration of the garbage is nothing but the tip of the iceberg of the crisis plaguing the small Arab country localised between Syria, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. The disagreement inside the government as to what disposal company should be granted the new contract once more disclosed the economic interests of the ruling groups. Garbage collection has been recently privatized as part of a very ambitious plan of privatizations that included water supply, electricity and telecommunication companies.
Last Saturday 22, recurrent government inefficiency and corruption in the administration consisting of political leaders of the main religious factions in the country, presided by Tammam Salam, pushed thousands of Lebanese to protest in the streets convened by the #YouStink movement.
The putrefaction of the streets made thousands of Lebanese from different creeds and towns agree as to the fact that the origin of the problems of the infrastructure, scarcity of water, electricity shortages and unemployment were all due to the decadence of the administration.
The demands chanted by the demonstrators referred to their wish to topple the whole administration as such and even some sectors of activists intoned the famous song of the Arab Spring “People wish to topple the regime.” The police rushed in to repress the movement with tear gas, water cannons and beating people as well.
Elia El Kazen, an activist of the Socialist Forum, asserted that more than 75 people were hospitalized on Saturday due to the repression by the police and the army. A second demonstration was summoned on Sunday and the demand of toppling the regime became stronger after the repression of the previous day. Some more confrontations between the demonstrators and the police took place claiming one dead and over 200 injured according to the Red Cross. New demonstrations have been announced for the following weeks.
The protesters were mostly young people from different social backgrounds. Some of them came from the middle-class neighbourhoods of Beirut but there was an outstanding number of young people from the outskirts of the Lebanese capital, from such neighbourhoods as Chiah, Ghbeiri and Khanda al-Chami. They became the main targets for the police, explains El Khazen.
The temporary solution provided by the administration and the wastes company seems to please nobody: the lorry drivers unload tons of rubbish on the sides of the nearby mountains and in the poor neighbourhoods of the capital so as to calm down the moods of the middle class.
Economy in crisis, dependent on commerce and foreign capital
The Lebanese economy is almost totally hinging on services (75%), leaving agriculture and industry with no more than a fourth of the GDP. The aid sent over from the expatriates account for 20% of the income. 35% of labour force is employed in services. Tourism, banks and general trading are among the main engines driving the country’s economy.
Before the starting of the Arab revolution and the civil war in Syria, the country was growing at an amazing rate of 9% – 10% a year thanks to the growth of the banks. Lebanon is one of the financial centres in the Middle East. The beginning of the convulsions in the neighbouring country resulted in the drastic reduction of economic activities which, between 2011 and 2014 grew at an average rate of barely 1.5%.
The level of indebtedness of the country is extremely high, the foreign debt reached nearly 140% of the GDP and the budget deficit soared to 10%. On the other hand, the trade deficit exceeds four billion dollars, making the economy extremely dependent on foreign capital.
Unemployment has growth to high levels and the government has launched a plan of privatization of public enterprises, as mentioned above. The number of people living below the line of poverty is about 30% according to UN estimates. Some of these figures are previous to 2011 and the situation has deteriorated since then. The protests of these days are but the beginning of the people’s reaction to the economic and political chaos installed in the country.
The crisis of the Syrian refugees
The civil war in the neighbouring Syria has caused a large influx of refugees in Lebanon. According to the most conservative estimates, there are about 1.1 million Syrians in the country, which would mean about a fourth of the population.
Authorities have prevented the construction of “official” refugee camps for those scattered over 1,700 communities and this week the UNCHR (UN Agency for refugees) has been ordered to halt the registration of new people.
Lebanese state and its countless militias have used the same crackdown on the Lebanese protesting these days as on Syrians. They refused to recognise the legal status of refugees and have denied their access to essential basic services. The ruling class justifies such practices by means of racist speeches in the mass media seeking to channel the discontent of the population against the most vulnerable.
The xenophobic discourse of the government and of sectors of the extreme right is based on the presumption that Syrians would be taking jobs away from the Lebanese and saturating their hospitals and schools. Aid for the refugees comes essentially from humanitarian organizations linked to NGOs and the United Nations and is totally inadequate. Actually, most of it is lost along the way before reaching the people, because of the corruption and endless red tape.
Many refugees get a meal every second day, live in shacks made of cardboard and billboards, and cannot get any shelter from cold and rain. On top of it all, they have to pay about $500 a year to the owners of the land on which they live.
Sectarian and undemocratic political system
Lebanon’s political system was created to accommodate the existing leaders of the various religious factions in the country and not the entire population. It encourages sectarian disputes to maintain a false balance between different power groups. The demonstrations of recent days have broken the logic imposed by imperialism and the Lebanese bourgeoisie, because their deeper roots have to do with social inequalities and not with sectarian divisions.
The Parliament is by law divided into Muslims and Christians and each one of the communities has a right to 50% of the seats. Inside each community there is a second subdivision between the different sects. As we have mentioned above, It’s a system where divisions of the society into religious groups is taken for granted and forces each citizen to join one of the legally acknowledged groups (18 in total) where he could vote and participate in elections. The constitutional agreements that created this system were signed in 1990 in the Saudi city of Taifa after the civil war ended. It was the old logic of imperialism: divide and rule.
The wounds of the civil war are still open
Lebanon lived a horrible civil war that lasted 15 years, from 1975 to 1990. It was one of the most complex conflicts of the Middle East rising against the background of the Cold War, of the decadence of the Arab Nationalism and of Zionist colonialist and racist policy of eviction and repression of the Palestinian people and their movement of national liberation. It is also related to the colonial division of Syria promoted by the French (when Lebanon was created in 1943) and the intervention of American imperialism backing the Maronite Christian bourgeoisie that became a partner of the Gulf bourgeoisie and of the big capital linked to oil production.
Over 150,000 people lost their lives, other 100,000 had permanent injuries and more than 900,000 people were permanently displaced due to the war. The conflict involved different groups, political parties and militias. There were the Christian-Fascist Phalanges (Lebanese Front), armed by the US and Israel; the Palestinian groups which were expelled from Jordan in 1970 and were operating in Lebanon; secular brigades linked to the pro USSR left; Shiite militias (like Hezbollah), linked to Iran; the Lebanese National Liberation Movement, of pan-Arabic ideology that supported the Palestine people among others.
Syria and Israel took part directly in the conflict. In 1976, Syria supported the Maronites (who also received support from the Zionists) and Israel in 1982 against the Palestinian National Authority after an attack against the Israeli ambassador in London. During the civil war, the famous massacres of Sabra and Shatila when 3,000 Palestine and Lebanese civilians were killed by the Phalanges militia responding to the command of the Israeli Defence Forces under the command of Ariel Sharon. Syria continued occupying the country up to 2005 when they were forced to retreat after the great popular mobilisations known as the Cedars Revolution unleashed after the murder of Minister Hariri and that demanded above all the end of the occupation. Everything suggests that the Syrian government was involved in Hariri’s death.
In 1990, peace accords were signed and the current parliamentary system was created. As all this was part of a political agreement without any participation of the masses and with the only purpose of sharing power between the different bourgeois groups, the wounds of the civil war are still bleeding, above all the extreme social unevenness that exists in the country.
The demonstrations in Lebanon are part of the struggles in the entire Middle East
What we witness these days in Lebanon should be analysed as part of the political reality of the entire Arab world. In recent weeks we have seen massive demonstrations in Iraq against the government carrying very similar demands to those in Beirut: better basic services, end of corruption and resignation of corrupt politicians.
In Syria, the civil population keeps on resisting the attacks of barrel bombs and chemical weapons carried out by the murderous dictator Bashar al-Assad. In spite of the silence and the total lack of support, the Syrians refuse to surrender and continue moving against the regime and extremist Islamic groups.
In Yemen, there is a very important process of struggles that toppled President Abd Mansur Hadi, the successor of former dictator Saleh. In Palestine, the people’s resistance against the occupation and the daily crimes committed by the Zionist army and settlers is still alive.
Long live the Arab struggles against dictatorships, Zionism and imperialism!
Full support for the protests in Lebanon!
For restoring the collection of rubbish and the nationalization of the service!
For the immediate release of all the detainees arrested during the protests!
Resignation of Nuhad Al-Mashnouk, Home Minister, because of the cowardly actions of the security forces, and Mohammed Al-Mashnouk, Minister of Environment, for the disastrous management of wastes!
Down with the repressive and corrupt administration!