Lebanon fails to elect president again as protesters escalate anti-government campaigns

09/02/2015 - 21:33 PM

Kordab Law

Lebanon's divided government appears powerless to address a growing protest campaign that began with frustration over rubbish collection and has ballooned into anger at a stagnant and corrupt political class.

On Tuesday night, the situation turned briefly violent when police ejected several dozen protesters from the "You Stink" campaign who had occupied part of the environment ministry to press the minister to resign.

[Lebanon's government] needs to take seriously that this is not only about garbage, it's about governance.

Carnegie Middle East Centre's Maha Yahya

 

In a sign of the ongoing impotence of the political class, parliament failed Wednesday for the 28th time to elect a new president.

The post has been empty since May 2014, and the legislature is so politically divided that every attempt to fill the job has failed.

This paralysis has increasingly become the target of "You Stink", which is not only demanding that environment minister Mohamed Mashnuq step down, but also insisting on new parliamentary elections and accountability for violence against protesters.

On Wednesday, dozens were seen gathering to demonstrate near the prime minister's headquarters in central Beirut, which security forces had reinforced with a thick cement barrier.

The call to protest came from "We Want Accountability", another civil society group that is demanding an end to corruption.

Organiser Neemat Badraddine, who had taken part in the sit-in the previous day, pledged demonstrations would continue at public institutions "which are the property of the Lebanese people".

Government urged to 'face the facts'

On Wednesday afternoon, interior minister Nuhad Mashnuq sought to prevent any repeat actions.

"Any occupation, sit-in or damage to public institutions will be dealt with immediately according to the law and with force," he warned.

However, he acknowledged that some officers had used excessive force against demonstrators at a protest on August 22.

Analysts said the campaign was putting significant pressure on the government.

"Now the government and the political class know that they're under scrutiny," said Sahar Atrache, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

But she cautioned that the movement risked petering out if it did not focus on achievable demands that would avoid polarising public opinion.

Lebanon's political class is broadly divided between two main blocs, each backed by different outside powers, and the tensions between them have been exacerbated by the war in neighbouring Syria.

Maha Yahya, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre think tank, said Lebanon's government should respond quickly to the protests.

"It needs to take seriously that this is not only about garbage, it's about governance," she said.

"There are ways that they can move quickly on the environmental portfolio issue — like with clear transparent bids [for trash collection]."

But she questioned whether the government was taking the activists seriously.

"They simply don't want to face the facts that this is a genuine movement of people who have had enough."


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