In the wake of a severe crisis that engulfed downtown Beirut in 2015, a group of passionate academics from the American University in Beirut initiated a movement that would change the face of Lebanese politics forever, Thus, Beirut Madinati (BM) was born, a political campaign aligning to challenge the traditional political system and prioritize the livability of the city and its people.
Initially centered around addressing the garbage crisis through their “Municipal Solid Waste” policy based on the 4 R’s (Refusing, Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling), the movement quickly gathered momentum as it received overwhelming support from frustrated citizens. The Waste Management Coalition, a diverse group of NGOs, recycling factories, municipalities, and young political movements, joined forces with BM, pressuring the authorities to take action.
Despite the Municipality’s lack of interest in waste management, BM’s mission transcended its original cause. The movement transformed into a political force, encompassing volunteers from various backgrounds such as urban planning, transport engineering, waste management, and economics. Their ideology focused on achieving social, economic, and political rights for the population while preserving the environment and cultural heritage of Beirut.
The 10-point municipal program outlined by BM covered crucial aspects of city life, including mobility, public space, housing, waste disposal, social and economic development, urban security, green energy, and cultural heritage. Their ambitious goals included improving waste recycling rates, expanding green spaces , and fostering community services.
One of the defining features of Beirut Madinati was its commitment to independence. The movement financed its actions through crowdfunding, and to maintain transparency, they refused donations exceeding 10% of the budget. This independence allowed BM to stand apart from the entrenched political class in Beirut, who saw the movement as a threat to their grip on power.
Over the years, Beirut Madinati’s scope has expanded, driven by Lebanon’s widespread social unrest. Debates that were once limited to city matters have now expanded to address national issues, with discussions covering everything from banking policies to the demands of the revolution sweeping across the country.
Collective Governance Principle: Beirut Madinati’s strength lies in its collective governance model, embracing active citizens, civil society organizations, and partnerships with local businesses and universities. The movement’s collaborative approach empowers citizens and ensures that projects stem from community-driven ideas and debates. The project answers to the characteristics of “collaborative governance” involving all stakeholders; citizens, private actors, and civil society organizations.
Enabling State Principle: Although the government has shown resistance to BM’s initiatives, the movement garners informal support from progressive entities like the Ministry of Interior. Despite this, the enabling state principle remains relatively weak due to the lack of substantial financial or official backing.
Social & Economic Pooling Principle: Beirut Madinati’s commitment to “right to the city” and inclusive engagement across sectors further strengthens its standing in the Social and Economic pooling aspect. The project engages both engaged both NGOs, political parties, and citizens.
Experimentalism Principle: The efforts of Beirut Madinati have led to a number of experimental approaches. In actuality, they plan gatherings, discussions, and displays. Each event is announced on the Beirut Madinati Facebook page, and a recap is also provided there following it. Every follower on Facebook has access to information regarding debates, including the date, location, and primary themes, enabling them to take part. This level of experimentalism is moderate.
However, when it comes to Tech Justice, the movement faces some challenges which allows it to be rated as Weak. While BM effectively uses social media to disseminate information about projects and events, there remains a digital infrastructure divide in Lebanon. Not everyone has equal access to technology, potentially making some feel disconnected from the movement.
In summary, Beirut Madinati is a beacon of hope for Lebanon’s political landscape. Founded with a mission to transform the city of Beirut, it has evolved into a nationwide symbol of collective governance and social change. By encouraging citizen involvement, nurturing partnerships, and challenging the status quo, BM proves that a new era of inclusive politics and responsible governance is within reach for Lebanon.