THE BLOG
08/28/2015 09:32 pm ET Updated Aug 28, 2016

Could Lebanon Turn Trash into Treasure?

Aisha Subhan

Beginning in late July, Lebanon's capital, Beirut, has faced a ceaseless trash crisis. Residents who live near Beirut's landfill have made complaints about their health. The Lebanese government has postponed a solution to this problem for quite sometime. As a result, the landfill is now permanently closed and trash continues to accumulate in Beirut's streets.

Several weeks have gone by and the Lebanese government is still without a sanitation solution. The citizens of Beirut have seen trash pile high on their streets, witnessed the stench worsen, and experienced detriments to their own health.

Yet the trash crisis has only been the breaking point for the frustrated protesters. Given the current political situation and recent protests, much is at stake in Lebanon.

In addition to the garbage, the Lebanese people have endured annual water shortages and chronic electricity problems. All of these issues reflect deeper-cemented political dysfunction. As a result, protesters have taken it to the streets.

Peaceful protests soon became violent. Some protesters threw stones at police; the police responded, attacking protesters with rubber bullets and stunt grenades. Ironically, police utilized water cannons against protesters despite Lebanon's serious water shortage issue.

It remains clear there is no shortage of anger, however, as citizens of Beirut continue to protest. Words and phrases like "corruption," "incompetence," and "dirty politicians" are constantly used.

Like the trash piling high, so has the Lebanese people's complaints and frustrations--for decades even.

The Lebanese government is known for its inability in decision-making. Since May of last year, the Lebanese parliament has not elected a president. Many individuals have blamed the Lebanese power-sharing system, which has divided key government positions to different religious groups. In part, this system has pitted sects against each other, all participating in struggles for power.

Interestingly, the garbage disaster has displayed Lebanese citizens coming together, ignoring ethnic and religious divisions. And their fight is making noise.

In protest, many have voiced "Al-shaab ureed nisqat al-nidam," meaning, "the people want the fall of the regime/order."

This same Arabic phrase ran across banners and protest signs, and was voiced in the same manner during the time of the Arab Spring. Egyptians, Syrians, and Tunisians alike asserted the same demand.

Evidently, the Lebanese people desire drastic political and social change. Once and for all, Lebanese protesters want a new order, fresh political thought, and an end to chronic political dysfunction. Even after the Lebanese Civil War, a new order was never established. The same system of governance remained untouched.

Today, a new energy seems to have shaken Lebanon. Motivated and fed-up, a Lebanese protester spoke on behalf of his friends and fellow citizens: "we want to topple the government, and we won't stop until we do."

Here lies both a significant responsibility and opportunity. The Lebanese people just might have a chance to challenge the current order but much has to be realized first.

For years, Lebanese political parties have reflected religious and ethnic affiliations. But what if the majority of Lebanese citizens, the protesters and their allies, could rally behind a party--not embedded in factionalism--but one that best adheres to the people's pressing concerns?

Arab Spring attitudes are present: similar phrases voiced, similar instances of courage, and similar frustrations. Recently, Hamra's restaurant Mezyan held a live music event called "Power to the People" where tunes from Arab revolutions entertained restaurant goers. Moreover, Beirutis sense returning emotions.

Others are more cautious. Hoping for concrete demands and strategic action, some Lebanese citizens hope the protesters can effectively organize themselves and maintain a clear vision for the future.

In this case, these emotions must translate into strategy. The people have mobilized, chanting their demands in the streets. They want their rights. Amid such protests, social and political consciousness has been realized. Dreams have been rekindled.

What is to come next should be both methodical and planned. A party and leader must arise, best reflecting the people's collective concerns. Protests should remain peaceful. Despite anger, the Lebanese should be measured throughout demonstrations.

Fortunately, things are moving in this direction. The "You Stink" campaign, the movement at the forefront of these protests, has announced a brief pause in the hopes of organizing and strategizing their demands.

Much is at stake in Lebanon. A stagnant economy, an enormous influx of Syrian refugees, and a scarcity of basic necessities and resources exist.

Now the people want a fall of the regime and this desire perhaps is attainable.

But some are weary of what happened to some of their fellow Arab nations, including one of their next-door neighbors.

Somehow elements of hope persists. Often times, desires for positive change retain such optimism. Treasures are within reach. Revolution. Reform. "Refolution". Something is on its way.

Lebanon, however, knows it must be careful. Syrian refugees serve as a powerful reminder of the dangers of revolution.

But the stench is worsening. Health problems are on the rise. The government continues to argue amongst each other.

What other options do the Lebanese people have?