The streets of Beirut are once again filled with the voices of angry citizens fed up with a system increasingly incapable of addressing the basic needs of its people. More than just the visible culmination of a contractual dispute, the current garbage crisis is a symptom of the government’s deeper systemic failures that have wreaked havoc on the nation’s capacity for stability and rule of law.
For over 450 days, Lebanon has “operated” without a President because political parties in parliament, which is tasked with electing the President, cannot come to an agreement on a candidate. Parliament, a body entirely comprised of elected officials, has twice self-extended its term, through dubious constitutional means, and undermined the foundational process of democracy to legitimize the continual possession of power by well-known political elites. Even the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), a revered institution in Lebanon, has fallen victim to the slippery slope of procedural compromise and unilateral term extensions for retiring senior military officers by the Minister of Defense because the government could not agree on replacements. These failures have led the people to protest against the constitutional impotence and degradation of governmental legitimacy now unavoidably evident in Lebanon
The demand for reform by the majority of protesters is not a radical call for the collapse of the state. Rather, it is the demand of a people for a government that actually governs—one that holds timely elections, fills voids constitutionally, and does not deprive its citizens the opportunity of participation. It is a demand for government to follow the constitution and its own rules and for political elites to respect the institutions of which they are a part by dutifully fulfilling the obligations of their offices.
In a region littered with failed states, conflict, and dashed hopes, only immediate corrective action undertaken with respect for the demands of the people and the institutional requirements of the constitution will save the Lebanese government from being added to the pile.