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Trashy Politics in Beirut

The Garbage Crisis and Lebanon's Political Future

Water bottles are gathered to be recycled near a statue in Martyrs' Square in Beirut, August 25, 2015. Jamal Saidi / Reuters

It was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, expressing support for ongoing nationwide protests against his own government, which has failed for weeks to collect mountains of trash in the streets of Beirut. It was an absurd but revealing statement; Lebanon’s political class is either stunningly oblivious to its own failings or, perhaps worse, incredibly adept at avoiding responsibility for any of the country’s woes.

If only the problem were limited to sanitation. Only half the people in Lebanon are connected to official water supplies, most of which barely function. Only a tiny minority gets full electricity coverage; the rest are on strict power rationing or live in the dark. More than a third of young people in Lebanon are unemployed. Public education is the surest path to long-term joblessness. Government health care is a death wish; expensive, private insurance

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