Home inContext Anti-Government Protests Erupt in Beirut

Anti-Government Protests Erupt in Beirut

Michael Johnson

Anti-government demonstrators filled the streets of central Beirut again on Tuesday night, continuing a series of turbulent protests that began over the weekend. The Lebanese army deployed troops to the capital city as clashes between security forces and rioters turned violent.

The latest unrest started Saturday when protesters gathered in front of Grand Serail, the Prime Minister’s office, to confront the government over the uncollected garbage lining the streets. In much of the city, trash has piled up since last month’s closure of Beirut’s main landfill. A “You Stink” movement, loosely associated on Facebook, helped demonstrators spread awareness of their cause and urged people to take to the streets. In response to some protesters throwing stones, police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water canons to confronted activists. One person was killed, but organizers of the demonstrations blamed sectarian infiltrators in the crowd for causing the violence.

A Lebanese activist paints graffiti on a concrete wall installed by authorities outside the main Lebanese government building, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 25, 2015. (Photo: AP)

Preparing for the government to wait out demonstrations, security forces erected a wall of concrete barricades around parts of Grand Serail. Organizers used the wall as a focal point of their struggle before police replaced it with razor wire the next day. Undeterred, “You Stink” posted on social media that it hopes for a larger protest next Saturday.

In response to the protests, the government also held an emergency cabinet meeting on Tuesday, but politicians were unable to reach an agreement to restore the garbage collections. Hezbollah, which is the largest party represented in the Lebanese Cabinet as well as an organization deemed a terrorist group by the U.S. government, and its Christian allies walked out in protest, with the Shiite group releasing a statement that criticized “mounting and worsening corruption” in Lebanon.

The struggle over garbage removal serves to highlight wider frustration among Lebanese citizens over other problems including: electricity shortages, corruption, and shortage of social services caused by an influx of over a million Syrian refugees. Many people blame these shortcomings, and the government’s inability to elect a new president for over a year, on political sectarianism and infighting. The cabinet lead by acting President Tammam Salam, has attempted to fill the void of executive branch while the Parliament has extended its term twice until 2017. With protests set to continue, it remains uncertain whether the situation will escalate.