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Karim Traboulsi

Lebanon's crisis continues as activist arrested for 'insulting flag'

Date of publication: 7 October, 2015

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Analysis: Lebanon's multi-faceted crisis continues, with the rival political factions in the Lebanese 'national accord' government still unable to agree on solutions, despite steady pressure from Lebanese anti-corruption activists.
Like previous rounds of National Dialogue sessions, Wednesday's meeting produced little new, as anti-government protesters from several umbrella activist groups continued to target government institutions with protests.

The rival politicians failed to agree on top army appointments, a condition for the Free Patriotic Movement to allow the government to convene again.

Lebanon has been without a president for 17 months running.

The dialogue will convene again tomorrow, but there is little hope it will reach an agreement by the close of business. Many believe the main obstacle blocking the resolution of Lebanon's political stalemate boils down to an agreement among regional and international powers, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.


Fresh protests and activist stunts


On Wednesday morning, activists staged a protest outside the residence of Prime Minister Tammam Salam, wearing facemasks. The protesters demanded Salam convene an urgent cabinet session to agree an immediate solution to the ongoing waste disposal crisis.

The protesters then moved to the Ministry of Environment, where they voiced the same demands.

On Tuesday, activists from the You Stink campaign painted red arrows over the road from the Ministry of Finance to Lebanon's Central Bank, to draw attention to the wastage of taxpayer money, as activist Imad Bazzi told al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic service.

You Stink protesters are opposed to some aspects of a provisional waste-management plan approved by the government recently, especially in relation to funding of local municipalities.

The protesters want the municipalities to be in charge of waste collection, rather than private companies where they say politically sponsored corruption is harder to monitor.

Protesters from campaigns such as You Stink and We Want Accountability have been experimenting with different methods and platforms to mobilise support for their cause and pressure the stagnant political class into action.

A major new protest has been called for Thursday, October 8, with the organisers urging a large turnout.

Government flexing its muscles

Although large numbers of people showed up to previous protests, many of which were marred by heavy-handedness by the authorities, the Lebanese political class has not budged.

Rather, it appears that the Lebanese government and the political and economic interests behind it are choosing to ignore demands for reform and respond with more arrests, restrictions on the freedom of speech and even violence.

On Tuesday, the police arrested activist Asaad Thebian from the You Stink campaign, after he wrote slogans on the Lebanese flag painted on the outside wall of the Ministry of Interior. He was charged with "insulting the national flag".

Thebian was later released after activists held a sit-in outside the ministry.

The same day, a court sentenced journalist Mohammad Nazzal to six months in prison for a Facebook post criticising the justice system in the country.

Meanwhile, with the start of the rainy season, many fear the worst of the waste crisis is yet to come.

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