‘You Stink’ crisis reflects global leadership failure

Friday 04/09/2015
A Lebanese anti-government protester looks at pictures of Lebanese politicians on “unwanted ” posters during a demonstration against the ongoing trash crisis in downtown Beirut, on August 29, 2015.

The world looks on as Lebanese citizens protest in Beirut’s streets while holding placards saying “You Stink!” directed at political leaders who seem incapable of addressing a basic need — collecting and disposing of the city’s garbage after closing the Naameh landfill south of Beirut.
But what I see is a microcosm of a war-weary world failed by tepid leadership, cronyism, self-interest and debilitating social experimen­tation of failed policies.
It is ironic that after all the pain and suffering Lebanon endured during the bloody 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, it is a protest over garbage collection that sends thousands of irate citizens into the streets. They demand political reform to unseat the government of former adversaries from more than 60 factions who were brought together “to prevent civil war” and who, the protesters charge, have been unresponsive to basic needs such as reliable electrical power and clean drinking water.
The primary target of the protest is Environment Minister Moham­med al-Mashnouq, who has asked Prime Minister Tammam Salam to replace him on the committee tasked with solving the garbage de­bacle — but who refused to resign as protesters requested.
However, the problem goes deep­er than that. Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year as the country is pressured by the influx of refugees from Syria and threats from the Islamic State (ISIS), which are being patently ignored by the major countries that could have prevented the destabili­sation of the region had they acted earlier. While the West is distracted by internal economic issues, Russian President Vladimir Putin flexed his muscled body for all to see while threatening Balkan states with impunity as his own country’s economy suffered. China devalued its currency and sent world mar­kets into a tailspin.
The European Union teetered as smaller members Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain dragged the EU economy down with their liberal approach to entitlements and failing economic growth. The result is a global power vacuum that emboldens terrorists and des­pots to act.
While the major powers have abdicated leadership, “You Stink” protesters have given the Leba­nese government an ultimatum to meet their demands or deal with a “surprise”.
That launched discussions between Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt to explore solutions to end the crisis. Hezbollah voiced full sup­port for the dialogue. Will they be successful?
Many Lebanese think not. They point out that Lebanon’s political history is replete with reforms but that consisted only of replacing older members of Lebanon’s ruling class with younger members of those families.
I hope they are wrong.