Giving the vote back to the people of Lebanon

Giving the vote back to the people of Lebanon
Analysis: Activists won't back down from demanding an end to corruption and the holding of parliamentary elections after peaceful protests turned violent and claimed a protester's life.
4 min read
24 August, 2015
Learn more about Lebanon's deteriorating crisis [click to enlarge]
Demonstrators in Beirut over the weekend found it very hard to limit their protests to the environmental and garbage-collection crisis in Lebanon.

Many frustrated Lebanese who were fed up with the worsening living conditions in the country joined the protests as they saw this crisis to be part of a bigger and all-encompassing problem: corruption.

Joey Ayoub, part of the organising team of the "You Stink" movement that has led the protests, spoke to al-Araby al-Jadeed - as a "journalist and analyst representing himself" - to shed light on the movement's demands and the latest situation, after a protester died and dozens more, on both sides, were injured in violent clases with security forces.

The movement has since postponed protests that were set for Monday evening.

"We don't want violence. We don't have an interest in risking the lives of young men and women," Ayoub told al-Araby. Ayoub also called Saturday's events an "act of state terrorism".

"People were actually terrified for their lives," he said.

The garbage-collection crisis in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, was only the straw that broke the camel's back.

Protests, which started small and were only concerned with the refuse problem, gained momentum on 22 August when protesters demanded the fall of a "corrupt" political system, urging the government and parliamentarians to resign.

Bickering politicians have left the country without a president, and with a dysfunctional cabinet that is unable to take any decisions - including paying salaries of public sector workers.

Lebanon's parliament has unconstitutionally voted to extend its own mandate, infrastructure is crumbling, and the current environmental crisis is unprecedented here.
We are for a Lebanese cause, regardless where you come from
- Joey Ayoub

Some protest organisers had spoken of politically motivated elements and thugs who tried to hijack the peaceful protests and turn them into violent clashes to discredit the movement.

Ayoub told al-Araby that opinion was misleading.

"There have been some violence in the protests," he said. "Some of those who were violent were doing so in self-defence and some others were those who instigated the violence. We do know that there are people from certain political parties that wanted things to get violent."

The majority of protesters were young, in their twenties or early thirties. Slogans that were raised asked for the resignation of political figures from all divides.

"[The movement] doesn't have a rule that says 'anyone who is officially aligned to any political party cannot join us'. That's not our business. We are for a Lebanese cause, regardless where you come from."

In pictures: Take a look at al-Araby al-Jadeed's photo album of the protests

The movement also attributed the violence to the bickering over who would benefit from tenders for waste management. This prompted Lebanese Environment Minister Mohammad al-Mashnouq to unveil the names of the companies that won the bids to manage the waste on Monday.

However, in a press conference that followed Mashnouq's announcement, the You Stink campaign released a statement: "The tenders are aimed at stealing public funds and all those involved in them are part of the theft operation."

The campaign also called for a silent candlelit march on Saturday 29 August - and for the cancellation of the waste management tender.
We are for the law, we are asking for justice, we are asking for the constitution to be respected
- Joey Ayoub

Earlier on Monday, Ayoub told al-Araby that the movement was asking members of parliament to resign.

"If you want to declare your sympathy to us, like [leader of the Progressive Socialist Party] Walid Jumblatt did, then please resign, and say that you want parliamentary elections."

"Our position is still very moderate. We are for the law, we are asking for justice, we are asking for the Lebanese constitution to be respected," Ayoub added.

Ayoub is not scared of a political vacuum if the government resigns - there is already a political vacuum in Lebanon, he says.

"We're asking for justice, and by justice we mean give the vote back to the people," he added.

The movement is aware of the dangers of a security vacuum and chaos similar to scenes across the region.

"People in Lebanon are haunted by the examples of the neighbouring nations, like Egypt, Libya and Syria," said Ayoub. "They are more afraid of chaos than they are of organised corruption."

There is a Plan B, however, if the government does resign.

The movement will become "more organised" and field candidates in fresh parliamentary elections.

"If we don't do anything about it, we know that it would be hijacked by those who are more organised - because they have much more experience," Ayoub warned.