If you know anything about Lebanese politics, you probably know that a sectarian formula is used to assign government positions. Lebanese law stipulates, for example, that the nation’s Prime Minister always has to be a Sunni Muslim, the President a Maronite Christian, and the Speaker of the Parliament a Shiite Muslim.
This sectarian or “confessional” political system is often defended as the only way of uniting a Lebanese population that’s historically been plagued by brutal civil wars between various ethno-religious groups. Nevertheless, a critique of this sectarian status quo has been mounting. According to critics, the confessional political system has done little other than reinforce divisions within Lebanese society and perpetuate dysfunctional governance.
In the midst of the Arab Spring in 2011, Lebanese citizens took to the streets for a series of large protests against the country’s confessional system. Protesters blasted Lebanon’s political class as corrupt and demanded an end to sectarian politics. In the summer and fall of 2015, thousands of protesters returned to the streets amid chants of “revolution” and “the people want the fall of the regime!”—two rallying cries from the Arab Spring. The catalyst behind this latest round of protests was hardly abstract; the source of people’s rage was trash, specifically a garbage collection crisis.
But while the government’s failure to meet its sanitation obligations may have sparked the unrest, the so-called “You Stink” movement that grew out of the initial protests has transformed the garbage issue into a symbol of a broader crisis in Lebanese politics—a crisis that demands across-the-board reform.
In this Muftah podcast, we speak with Joey Ayoub, one of the main organizers of the “You Stink” protests and the author of the blog “Hummus for Thought,” where his first-hand accounts of the protests have been widely read. Now a graduate student at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Joey previously worked as a freelance journalist, writing for Muftah among other publications.