Updates on #YouStink

Sami Atallah of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies has a concise piece on the waste collection issue that was the direct reason for the ongoing protests (which last night swa the wiorst police violence yet, with mass arrests, not covered live by any Lebanese media as far as I can tell.

“The root of the problem goes back to the mid-1990s when the government contracted a private company to collect waste in Beirut at twice the amount that the municipality would have charged. However, the government chose to ignore the numbers. Since then, the value of the contract has increased much faster than the scope of work originally slated for the private company, which started with an estimate of $3.6 million in 1994 and has increased to more than $150 million today. In fact, the cost of solid waste collection has been increasing at an average of 5% in real terms since 2002. Furthermore, the contracting was devoid of any competitive bidding and the details of the contract remain confidential. Consequently, Lebanese pay one of the highest costs per ton for garbage collection in the world. Furthermore, the government has decided to tap the Independent Municipal Fund (IMF), a trust fund whose money is allocated to all municipalities, to foot the bill. Since the private company will not provide services for all the municipalities in the country, the government issued a decree (article 1 of Decree 3038 of 2000) that gives the Council of Ministers the authority to spend IMF money on works that can benefit some but not all municipalities. The Court of Account considered the above amendment to be in violation of the principle that deductions should benefit all municipalities as stated in Decree 1917 of 1979.   Following the adoption of Budget Law 326 of 2001, the government was authorized to charge municipalities benefiting from solid waste collection services 40% of their IMF share. What is strange is that the 40% of a municipality’s IMF share has no bearing on the actual cost of collecting garbage for that municipality. In other words, citizens do not know whether the cost charged to municipalities is more or less or equal to how much it is actually costing the government. Looking closely at the numbers, the total amount collected from the municipalities’ IMF shares covers about 22% of the actual cost of collecting waste in 2009. When I once asked the Ministry of Finance how the remaining 78% is covered, I was told that the Council for Development and Reconstruction was paying for it but registering it as debt for municipalities. So not only is the government using the municipalities’ funds, also it is not informing them of the real cost of the service they are providing and that they are accumulating debts for a service they did not ask for.”

Middle East Eye has more on the increasing irrelevance of the original organising platform which is being overtaken by the people in the streets: ”

“Lundi, le communiqué publié par le mouvement « You Stink » ne comportait pas la mention de la chute du gouvernement, ce qui expose un clivage au sein de la mobilisation, selon Marie-Noëlle Abi Yaghi : « La rue le demande, les slogans chantés appellent à la démission, c’est donc grave de ne pas le mentionner dans un communiqué, c’est comme si on n’écoutait pas le peuple. Le terme d’« organisateurs » est déjà étrange ! Un mouvement social appartient à la rue, pas aux réseaux sociaux. En traitant certaines personnes de voyous, on ne se pose pas les vraies questions, on reproduit les clivages libanais habituels entre ceux qui souhaitent une loi et ceux qui veulent renverser le système. J’ai peur que ce mouvement s’essouffle de lui-même, alors que la vraie force est celle de la rue ».

Même si la mention « démission » n’est pas comprise dans le communiqué de « You Stink », elle semble bien être le but du mouvement. « La démission du gouvernement, ainsi que la tenue de nouvelles élections législatives, est évidente car aucun des députés ni des ministres n’est capable de répondre à nos revendications », déclare à MEE Lucien Bourjeily. « Ils nous disent ‘’on ne peut rien faire’’, donc si ce n’est pas en leur pouvoir, pourquoi ne pas organiser des élections pour élire les gens qui auront ce pouvoir ? Cela revient au peuple de choisir ses propres représentants. C’est très basique : on leur dit de faire quelque chose s’ils le peuvent, et s’ils ne le font pas, ils devront laisser la place à d’autres qui pourront. »

Il mentionne aussi la notion de « long-terme », car « le changement ne va pas se faire en une nuit », et appelle les manifestants à « persister, et tenir contre la corruption ».

Devant le Parlement, dans les manifestations qui ont suivi les violences de dimanche soir, bien que moins nombreuses et unitaires, les Libanais présents tiennent un discours plus ferme, évacuant de fait la question des casseurs. « Ce n’est pas grave s’il y a des dégâts », estime ainsi Anthony*, 30 ans, venu lundi soir. « Si les gens veulent arrêter maintenant, on va garder le même gouvernement ! Les gens qui ont organisé les manifestations ce week-end ont de bonnes intentions, mais ils n’ont pas forcément l’expérience pour mener à bout une telle mobilisation. C’est nouveau au Liban. »

Une nouveauté que met également en avant la chercheuse de Lebanon Support : « C’est un moment très important pour les Libanais. J’ai rarement vu autant de gens descendre dans la rue pour des raisons économiques et sociales, c’est exceptionnel ! ».”

Meanwhile, the political caste just remains mired in its own inefficiency and corruption: ”

“Lebanon’s cabinet ended an acrimonious meeting on Tuesday with no solution to a trash crisis that has sparked violent protests and calls for the government’s resignation.

Impromptu protests on Tuesday descended into violence once more in the evening, as a small group of young men threw rocks at Lebanese security forces.

After more than five hours of talks, the cabinet decided to reject a list of tenders for waste management contracts across Lebanon and refer the problem to a ministerial committee.

“Given the high prices (quoted by would-be contractors), the council of ministers has decided not to approve the tenders and is charging the ministerial committee with finding alternatives,” a cabinet statement said.

The decision came after a session that saw six ministers from one political bloc walk out.

For months, the 18-month-old government has been paralysed by political disagreements between its two main blocs, rendering decision-making virtually impossible.”

Also interesting (albeit translated into horrendously bad English) is this interview on the interplay of class and sect in Lebanon and the way it is exploited by the elite, given last year by the late Bassam Chit of Socialist Forum:

In one of your speeches you argued that, “sectarianism is not a tribal or feudal tradition, but it is actually developed by capitalism in Lebanon. It’s rather a modern story not a traditional story. Sectarianism is actually a distorted class struggle, not related with tradition”. Can you tell more about the class consciousness within a society which is claimed to be sectarian?

The idea is that you have to seperate two things; the class struggle as a material existence which is an objective reality within any capitalist system and the idea how people take up ideas to understand it. So any person that is trying to make sense of reality. Within these contradictions, for instance, if we look at the development of the economy in Lebanon, we have the France in the first of all that started investing in the Christian areas of Lebanon during the control of Ottoman Empire through deals. That meant that a new economy was developing in one area when the other areas stays in the old economy. So we had silk factories being erected in Mount Lebanon in the Christian areas, you have a new working force developing, a diminishing feudal class and a rising petite bourgeois class.

In 1860, we had the –what they call- a civil war which was actually a peasant uprising which included Maronite, Shiite, Sunni and Druze peasants against the feudal lords. But the new Christian bourgeoisie and Christian feudal lords allied with the Druze feodal lords temporarily in crashing the peasant revolt. So in that sense it wasn’t a civil war, what we had was a peasant uprising. Later on, the leaders of this peasant uprising changed their rhetoric from peasant revolt to a sectarian discourse of protecting Christians. But we have to see that the first attempt was to crash the revolt and shift to a sectarian position from the ruling classes at that time.

So within that sense, we have to understand there are two dynamics that happened. You have the conditions of class struggle rising from the ground. People started to perceive it but they perceived it based on a tradition of ideas. When we move to later on, we had a very powerful Christian political elite by the day of independence because of their economic developments. At the same time, we had a very powerful commercial elite within Beirut which is around the Sunni community. In the meantime, we also had a much weakened feudal structure in the mountains in the Druze areas and the Shia areas in the south. At the start of the civil war by the 1970’s due to the deterioration of feudal structures meaning the deterioration of peasant economy, people were moving more and more towards the cities. When you move towards the cities, you see the injustice in the economic structure. That meant the state which was controlled by the Kataeb or the right wing Christian parties attempted to gain their legitimacy through the sectarian practices. That means, for example, facilitating the Christian workers while not allowing Shia workers to benefit or vice versa.”

I am still working on the English translation and update of my piece (in Dutch) published by DeWereldMorgen, but the constantly evolving situation means I need to go back and rewrite things all the time, so hopefully by tomorrow…

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