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You Stink!: Protests Over Beirut's Garbage Crisis Take Larger Stance


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language chanted).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Foreign language chanted).


That's the sound of marchers in the streets of Beirut, Lebanon's capital city. The protests are in response to trash that piled up on sidewalks, trash that was later whisked away and dumped wherever overwhelmed workers could find a place for it. NPR's Alison Meuse is in Beirut, and she says over the last few days, anger has transformed into action.

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: So over the weekend, protests began against a long-standing garbage collection crisis for more than a month. There's been trash piling up everywhere, and since then, it's been taken away to unknown locations. And when people started hearing that the government was just dumping it out of sight, out of mind, they got really angry about it, so you've had all sorts of people taking to the streets under the banner you stink. But people are talking about much more than the garbage.

There's been deterioration of public services. People have daily power cuts, daily water cuts. And that's all kind of come to a head. Now, on the first day, we saw a really mixed crowd - the original organizers, you can say, are more of the hipster crowd, but everybody's really gravitated towards these demonstrations. And when they were met with force over the weekend by the police, who, for example, fired water cannons at the crowd when they don't even have water in their house, people got really angry.

SHAPIRO: You said people are upset about trash collection, power, water. It sounds like there are really deep-seated frustrations that are coming out here.

MEUSE: Definitely. Today in Lebanon, you have some very urgent crises. You have the Syrian war next door. You have about a million-and-a-half Syrian refugees. You have the threat of ISIS at the border. But people at these demonstrations say they're not willing to just accept that because of the security threats, their politicians can't deal with their day-to-day basic needs.

SHAPIRO: A few years ago, we saw huge protests in many of the countries around Lebanon - Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya. Lebanon did not take part in what we then called the Arab Spring. Explain why not, and explain how these protests are different from the kinds of protests that we saw in those countries.

MEUSE: Well, one of the slogans I heard chanted last night was the people want the fall of the regime, which, in some ways, is ironic 'cause Lebanon does not have a regime. They're not like Egypt or Syria where they have this strong man that people wanted to topple and associated with the years of corruption. But they have had this rising anger at all of their daily issues. Let me tell you about a 17-year-old kid I met yesterday. He told me that none of his friends that he knows that graduated high school have a regular job. They can't afford university. They - you know, maybe people are working 12 hours a week. They make 300 or 400 bucks a month. Lebanon is pretty expensive. You could spend - you know, you need a lot of money to get by. He was saying I don't feel like I have a future. And those are the kind of frustrations. I talked to another guy who said, you know, I only have an hour and a half of electricity a day. You know, how do you do your laundry? How do you plan anything when you have those kinds of problems?

SHAPIRO: Having been to these protests for the last few days, do you have a sense of whether they're growing or starting to fizzle out?

MEUSE: Well, the original protesters are calling for another big gathering this coming Saturday. Actually, people have already been meeting despite calls to put it off until then. So there was a smaller gathering in the weekend last night, and those people I met say they want to stay in the streets. They're going to go every day.

SHAPIRO: And that's NPR's Alison Meuse reporting from Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.