Beirut’s “You Stink” Movement: A Tongue in Cheek Slogan to Hold Officials Accountable

Author(s): Amy Ekdawi
Date: February 23, 2021
Country: Lebanon
Language(s): English

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In the summer of 2015, the streets in Beirut, Lebanon, once known as the Paris of the Middle East, looked like an open large landfill. Solid waste management in the city had always been a problem for many reasons, but mainly because of the corruption of its officials. While waste management had been a decades long ongoing crisis, the situation reached an apex in 2015 when residents of towns adjacent to Lebanon’s biggest landfill began experiencing serious health problems, resulting in complete closure of the site and its operations. Concerned Lebanese activists began protesting and posting footage and videos showing tons of household waste littering roads, river banks and shorelines to highlight the extent of the crisis. The simple title they chose for their campaign highlighted the link between the garbage problem and the corruption of their politicians. The title they chose was طلعت ريحتكم– (talaeat ryhatukum) which means “You Stink” in English. 

In the Arabic language the word for corruption is فساد  (Fassad), and this is the same word the Arab speakers use for spoiled food that has sharp, bad, and trashlike smell. The adoption of this clever title for the campaign attracted more protesters, and more than 20,000 Lebanese took to the streets in few days.  

In the Arabic language the word for corruption is فساد  (Fassad), and this is the same word the Arab speakers use for spoiled food that has sharp, bad, and trashlike smell. The adoption of this clever title for the campaign attracted more protesters, and more than 20,000 Lebanese took to the streets in few days. 

The campaign also used banners to reinforce this link between the garbage crisis and the widespread corruption among Lebanese politicians. One of the banners had photos of all the allegedly corrupt politicians with the header,SOME TRASH SHOULD NOT BE RECYCLED. Another banner read “CLEAN UP THE TRASH IN THE PARLIAMENT. In a country that was torn by a civil war and whose political system is sectarian at its base, the campaign was the nation’s first non-sectarian movement in decades 

The campaign was short lived since it did not have clear asks at this time, and the government adopted some other unsustainable measures to temporarily solve the trash problem in Beirut’s streets. However, the accessible language pioneered by Beirut’s You Stink movement of 2015 provided entryways for mass mobilization in the ongoing nationwide anti-corruption protests that erupted in late 2019. 

ABOUT ACCOUNTABILITY KEYWORDS

Key terms in the accountability field often have different meanings, to different actors, in different contexts – and in different languages. This project addresses “what counts” as accountability, analyzing the meanings and usage of both widely used and proposed “accountability keywords” – drawing on dialogue with dozens of scholars and practitioners around the world. The project includes both an extensive Accountability Working Paper and more than 30 invited posts that reflect on meanings and usage of relevant keywords in their own contexts and languages. To share a post about a keyword that interests you, send us a proposal at arc@american.edu.

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Amy Ekdawi

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Co-Director, Arab Watch Coalition 

Based in the USA 

Amy has been working with pro-rights civil society movements around the world in the last 30 years. Her work in the last 15 years has focused on connecting the local pro-rights southern movements to the global pro-rights northern movements in order to promote for social, economic, and environmental justice in the policies and portfolios of International Financial Institutions.  Before joining Arab Watch Coalition, Amy was leading the regional programs around the world, including in MENA region, for the Bank Information Center- a nonprofit watchdog in the US. 

Amy has master’s degree in International Relations from Elliott School, George Washington University in Washington DC, and a Participatory Community Development Diploma from Coady Institute, St. Xavier University, Canada. She has another Masters in French-Arabic Interpretation from Ain Shams University in Egypt from where she had received a Bachelor in French Language and Literature few years earlier. 

Amy enjoys intelligent and informed debates. She can spend her days following non-stop political debates. 

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