With thousands of tonnes of trash piling in capital city Beirut's streets, Lebanon is witnessing its largest protests in recent history as tens of thousands are gathering to tell their government: “you stink.”
Lebanon security forces violently removed 30 protesters who had entered the environment ministry on September 1, demanding Environment Minister Muhammed El-Machnouk's resignation.
Three days earlier on August 28, 250,000 men, women and children protested at Martyr’s Square and gave their government a 72-hour ultimatum to find a sustainable solution to the trash crisis.
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How the trash crisis started
On July 17, residents around the country's landfill in Naameh city blocked roads to the site, effectively shutting it down.
That landfill had been catering to neighborhoods of Beirut and Mount Lebanon — almost half of the country's 4 million strong population — since 1997.
The landfill was meant to be a temporary solution to collect about 2 million tonnes of garbage while the government devised a long-term solution. But that solution never came, as politicians — divided by local and regional conflicts — were unable to agree on where to dump the county's trash.
As the Naameh landfill reached 15 million tonnes — seven times its planned capacity — the stench became unbearable for surrounding neighborhoods. The government had announced it would close the landfill on July 17. The day came and the authorities still did not have an alternative in place. So residents took matters into their own hands and shut Naameh down.
Since the landfill's closure, main waste management company Sukleen stopped collecting trash, saying it had no place to dispose the garbage.
Soon mountains of trash started piling up on Lebanon's streets, forcing people to walk around wearing masks.
The You Stink movement kicked off calling for sustainable solutions to the waste problem and got people on the streets, but the situation quickly escalated beyond trash towards addressing larger problems related to corruption within the current government.
Lebanon suffers from weak governance, poor infrastructure and daily electricity cuts, and has had no president for more than a year. In 2009, its parliament extended its term until 2017, with no elections, citing instability as a reason.
The You Stink movement coalesced around Lebanese citizens’ indignation at their government's cavalier attitude towards garbage disposal.
Two government ministers who tried to enter the protest area were refused entry, but the movement said those who resign are welcome.
In addition to people carrying political signs, some came up with creative ways to draw attention to the cause.
Videos capturing police violence against protesters in Lebanon are making the rounds online. Is protesting against mounting rubbish and government corruption worth being beaten up and teargassed for?