Polls open as res­i­dents seek to clean up lead­er­ship and the city

7 Days in Dubai - - GLOBAL NEWS -

Le­banon’s cap­i­tal will to­day hold its first elections since a months-long trash cri­sis left moun­tains of garbage fes­ter­ing in the streets, with an out­sider group of can­di­dates chal­leng­ing a po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment widely seen as cor­rupt and in­com­pe­tent.

Beirut Mad­i­nati, Ara­bic for “Beirut, My City”, has vowed to clean up the city’s streets - and its politics.

“We will go to the polls and throw out the cor­rupt politi­cians,” de­clared list leader Ibrahim Mneihm­neh, a 40-yearold ar­chi­tect, at a re­cent rally at­tended by hun­dreds. “We will no longer whine about the trash, traf­fic, or cor­rup­tion.”

Mad­i­nati hopes to chan­nel the en­ergy of the “You Stink” protest move­ment, which emerged in re­sponse to the trash cri­sis and went on to chal­lenge the po­lit­i­cal class that has gov­erned Le­banon since the end of its 1975-1990 civil war. The lead­ers be­hind the “You Stink” move­ment, which brought thou­sands of pro­test­ers into the streets at the height of the trash cri­sis, have not for­mally en­dorsed Mad­i­nati but have at­tended its ral­lies. Since the end of the war, Le­banon has been gov­erned by a power-shar­ing ar­range­ment among po­lit­i­cal blocs - many led by for­mer war­lords - that rep­re­sent its var­i­ous re­li­gious sects. That has led to wide­spread pa­tron­age and cor­rup­tion, and more re­cently to the break­down of public ser­vices. The trash cri­sis be­gan last sum­mer when the gov­ern­ment closed the city’s main land­fill with­out agree­ing on a re­place­ment. For eight months trash piled up across the city. An agree­ment was reached in March to open a new dis­posal facility, but crit­ics cast it as sim­ply an­other back­room deal that failed to ad­dress the root of the prob­lem.

And the stench grew even worse in April, as ex­ca­va­tors dis­man­tled the piles of garbage to carry it out of the city.

“When you talk about Beirut, you say she’s a beau­ti­ful woman,” said the well­known Le­banese di­rec­tor Na­dine Labaki, who is a can­di­date on the Mad­i­nati list. “Un­for­tu­nately, this is not what I’m see­ing now.”

The Mad­i­nati list is made up of in­de­pen­dent technocrats who have reached out to vot­ers through town hall-style meet­ings, ral­lies and fundraisers. But many won­der if they can suc­ceed in a sys­tem dom­i­nated by life­long politi­cians.

“It’s like in the vil­lage,” said Mo­ham­mad Hamza, a Beirut bar­ber. “The out­siders win the elections, and for the next six years noth­ing gets done, be­cause the po­lit­i­cal bosses block ev­ery­thing.”

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