Lebanese grassroots campaign “Beirut Madinati” has launched in the capital in recent months, aiming to improve living conditions for citizens by entering the race to win municipality elections in May 2016.
Beirut, a city that bears the scars of war, suffers from frequent power and water shortages, streets filled with trash and a dizzying urban infrastructure.
The campaign – which translates to “My city Beirut” – pushes for a “platform which focuses solely on people’s concerns and everyday life issues,” according to general coordinator Jad Chaaban.
“We’re sick of all the problems that we’re facing, we hit rock bottom,” he told Al Arabiya English, adding: “Beirut Madinati is a chance for people to improve their lives.”
Who are ‘Beirut Madinati’?
The volunteer-led campaign is comprised of citizens from different backgrounds; from students to professors, economists to architects, everyone who feels they want to – and can - make a change in the city’s system, according to student volunteer Yasmina el-Khoury.
“We thought that instead of trying to convince others and especially those running the country how to do stuff, why not have a group of people who represent everybody in society and actually try to do the right job?” said Chaaban, who is also an associate professor at the American University of Beirut.
The capital’s streets are filled with potholes, the gutters over flowing with sewage and the sidewalks lined up with reeking garbage bags.
Beirut Madinati (Screengrab from Beirut Madinati)
“No matter what social class you’re from, we all struggle on a daily basis because no one cares,” volunteer committee leader Jean Kassir told Al Arabiya English, in reference to the authorities.
“It’s up to people, give a chance to the people who know how to implement a program that is tailor-made for a municipality, and for Beirut in particular,” he added.
While the campaign seeks to run for municipality elections, previous statistics from the last vote in 2010 are not encouraging.
“In the last Beirut municipality elections, only 20% of eligible voters voted, so there’s this 80% that’s not voting, either because they don’t agree with who's running, or because they don’t know they can vote, or just because they didn’t want to,” Khoury said.
Lebanon has long been plagued by a complicated political system, where the government is comprised of politicians based on their religious backgrounds. To this day, the country has been without a president for 22 months and hasn’t been able to resolve a trash crisis for 11 months.
“We all know Beirut isn’t a very fun place to live. For its citizens and the people who come and go every day - who work here or just visit during the day - it’s not safe, it’s not pedestrian friendly, there’s traffic, its polluted - it’s not a comfortable place to live,” Khoury added.
The crisis was brought to the international spotlight after the world became more aware of Lebanon’s garbage situation, with social media campaigns and global headlines covering the news.
“What happened during the summer [trash crisis] was unbearable and it really touched our dignity and the feeling of living in the city,” Kassir said.
“It was kind of a wakeup call saying ‘alright let’s just do it ourselves,’” he continued.
“Beirut Madinati” is yet to announce its candidates for the municipality elections, as it is waiting for the ministry of interior and municipal affairs to open the nomination period.
“The main focus is the campaign, the program, the goals, the vision, not the people who are running. The candidates are a median to have this vision implemented,” Khoury said.
Kassir added: “It’s not about money, it’s not about power; it’s simply about people deciding that the time has come for Beirut to change.”