Origins: Beirut Madinati is a “local, political movement,”* founded in autumn 2015 by a group of academics, mainly from the American University of Beirut (AUB), and activists, a few months before the municipal elections in Beirut. The initiative came out of Lebanon’s waste management movement, which protested against the government’s inaction in sustainably managing waste in the country, instead allowing for trash to pile up on streets throughout Lebanon. In the summer of 2015, groups such as “You stink” and “We want accountability” emerged and organised demonstrations, sit-ins, and strikes against the government’s failure to find solutions to the trash crisis. The protests, however, went beyond demanding a prompt solution to the trash crisis, developing into anti-corruption protests with protesters expressing their political grievances concerning corruption, bad governance, clientelism and confessionalism. Beirut Madinati’s founding members participated actively in this movement, sharing the same “anti-establishment”* viewpoint with the organisers of the garbage crises movement. Even so, Beirut Madinati’s founders were convinced that instead of organising political action in parallel to the system and trying to convince political rulers to govern differently, they should work within the system in order to change it. This perspective allowed the group to gain a lot of legitimacy and support as many depicted them as peaceful and credible. With this, the group decided to run for Beirut’s municipal election on the basis that these elections were the only democratic elections that were scheduled to occur in the near future. In addition, municipalities represent the form of government closest to the people as they have the power to affect people’s daily lives. As one of the first volunteers explained, “For the first time, we wanted the citizens to feel like they have the power to participate in the decision making process and not only be able to pressure politicians to decide.”*
Spokesman: There has never been a single spokesman for Beirut Madinati, rather, there are 24 candidates that represented the campaign, with Ibrahim Mneimneh as head of the election list.Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Beirut Madinati’s volunteer on July 22th 2016.
Actors: Beirut Madinati is a volunteer led campaign, gathering people from different professional, social and religious backgrounds. In the span of a few months they gathered over 1000 volunteers.
Ideology and goals:Beirut Madinati presents itself as an independent and politically unaffiliated group with the primary objective of making Beirut a more livable city. On March 22, 2016, it launched a campaign with ten key points revolving around environmental and socio-economical issues. In fact, in order to make Beirut a safer and healthier living environment for its citizens, the campaign aimed to reduce the widespread pollution that threatens the health of all citizens by cleaning the city’s streets, monitoring water quality, recycling at least 40% of Beirut’s solid waste and implementing a city-wide lighting plan. The program also intended to expand greenery and public spaces by creating at least 5m2 per capita of green space within 6 years, in comparison to the less than 1m2 per capita today. In addition, Beirut Madinati wanted to provide better community services and spaces by creating community centers, public libraries and educational facilities, as well as providing social services vital to developing community social life in Beirut. Finally, the campaign focused on organisational and structural issues that Beirut’s municipality has faced for decades and pledged to improve its efficiency with better governance and collaboration between its institutions.
Strategy: Beirut Madinati’s strategy is “fundamentally citizen-centric and based on extensive research and collaborative work.”Haya Hamade, “Interview with Beirut Madinati Candidate, Rana Khoury”, Sobeirut, English, http://www.sobeirut.com/features/59/meet-beirut-madinati (last accessed on July 28th 2016). Their campaign was based on two areas of focus: participation and transparency. In an effort to engage the community, the group formulated its program by hosting discussions with citizens of different socioeconomic backgrounds and classes, including students, professionals, community leaders, non-profit organisations, and others to better understand Beirut citizens’ needs. In addition, the campaign organised many public debates around different areas of Beirut in order to allow people to talk about the problems they are facing in their daily lives. Furthermore, Beirut Madinati formulated its campaign through extensive expertise and research of the city and its constituents. “The data we used has included research conducted across all socioeconomic levels of the Beirut population,”Idem explained Rana Khoury, Beirut Madinati candidate.
Furthermore, Beirut Madinati is “the first political campaign in Lebanon to take on crowd funding for its core activities, almost hitting the 200k mark in dollar donations from individuals.”“Beirut Madinati talks design, social media and colors”, Bananapook, English, May 6th 2016 http://www.bananapook.com/2016/05/beirut-madinati-talks-design.html (last accessed on July 28th 2016). “We don’t want anyone to have power over us nor the ability to sway our agenda one way or the other,”Haya Hamade, “Interview with Beirut Madinati Candidate, Rana Khoury”, Sobeirut, English, http://www.sobeirut.com/features/59/meet-beirut-madinati (last accessed on July 28th 2016). clarified Rana Khoury. For this reason, they did not accept any sum exceeding 10% of their budget from any one source. Thus, as transparency is an integral component in the campaign, Beirut Madinati has made all its financial reports public and available on the official website.
Effect on public policy: In the elections that took place on May 8th, Beirut Madinati ran against the “Beirutis” list, a coalition of traditional political parties mainly backed by the Future Movement, along with other integral political parties including the Kataeb, the Lebanese Forces, Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya and the Free Patriotic Movement.Beirutis List wins local elections: final results”, Dailystar, English, May 10th 2016 http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2016/May-10/351420-beiruti... (last accesed August 3rd 2016). Receiving “40% of the overall votes”Idem. in the city, Beirut Madinati lost the elections but managed to reach a tight outcome and therefore exceed the expectations of many, especially given that the voter turnout of the elections only reached 20%.“Not their city: Beirut Madinati loses in Lebanon’s first poll in six years”, Middle East Eye, English, May 9th 2016 http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/not-their-city-beirut-madinati-lose-le... (last accessed on 28th July 2016). Even though the campaign did not win, Beirut Madinati has challenged the traditional political establishment by providing voters with strong candidates able to compete with traditional politicians of the city. The fact that Beirut Madinati did so well in the polls proved that an alternative policy is possible and within reach. “We’re not taking part in the polls to make any political gain but to give serious competition to traditional parties”, Rana Khoury told AFP, adding, “We made them feel they don’t represent or serve citizens as they should.”Idem.
Moreover, Beirut Madinati inspired a broader movement of politically unaffiliated and independent electoral lists for municipal elections, such as “Baalbek Madinati” and “Ghobeiri for Everybody.”Myra Abdallah, “Shiite parties losing ground in a Dahiyeh stronghold”, Now, English, May 12th 2016 https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/reportsfeatures/566982-shiite-parties-losing... (last accessed August 3rd 2016). These newly emerging lists challenged other traditional powers, such as Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, in varying regions of Lebanon. Notably, though these groups may be inspired by Beirut Madinati, they are not directly affiliated with the movement.
Constituency: Beirut Madiniti’s electoral list was composed to equally represent the constituents of the city and as so, it crossed gender dynamics, professional discrepancies and religious and social barriers. The list had both male and female representatives that came from all parts of Beirut and were a part of different religious communities. The list also gathered qualified individuals from different professional background who made names for themselves as academics, technocrats, political and social activists, engineers, artists and more. Furthermore, Beirut Madinati is equally composed of men and women, and divided between age groups with 6 candidates representing youth, 16 representing the middle aged and 2 representing seniors.
Beirut Madinati is equally composed of men and women, and divided between age groups with 6 candidates representing youth, 16 representing the middle aged and 2 representing seniors.“Meet the candidates of Beirut Madinati” A separate state of mind, English, April 22nd 2016. https://stateofmind13.com/2016/04/22/meet-the-candidates-of-beirut-madin... (last accessed August 3rd 2016 ).
History: The Beirut Madinati movement emerged after the 2015-2016 garbage crisis protests. A small group of individuals decided to fight the current establishment with a new and positive approach by running for Beirut municipality’s elections. Finally, on March 22, 2016, five members and volunteers officially publicly launched Beirut Madinati’s campaign during a press conference. On April 22, it announced its list of candidates for the municipality’s election. During their campaign, Beirut Madinati organised weekly open houses, public debates and gatherings in order to interact with people and discuss their program as well as fundraising events. On May 8, Beirut’s results were revealed and Beirut Madinati ended up winning one of the three Beirut electoral districts, but lost the overall elections with 40% of the votes.
Projects: Now that the elections are over, one of the biggest challenge for Beirut Madinati is to transform its movement from one that revolves around municipal elections to one with a broader and more viable mission. “Although, the future strategy and evolution of the movement is still in discussion, [...] Beirut Madinati wants to preserve the relationship it has with the people so that there is [...] an exchange [of ideas and concerns] from both sides. We want to use our work to place pressure on the municipality,”Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Beirut Madinati’s volunteer on July 22th 2016. added a Beirut Madinati volunteer. However, the move to extend Beirut Madinati to a national level is uncertain as the movement’s purpose is to address socioeconomic issues that Beirut’s citizens are facing on a daily basis, and not national policy or policy related matters. Though the movement’s future plans have yet to be decided, Beirut Madinati members are committed to maintaining and developing even greater ties and connections to the people of Beirut, pledging to develop the city and making it a better place to live.
Structure: Three main bodies compose Beirut Madinati’s structure:
The General Assembly: represents the legislative body and votes on decisions for the movement
The Executive Body: elected every three months, this body helps carry out decisions that have passed within the General Assembly
- The Volunteers Corps: volunteers divided into working groups that submit project, program and policy proposals to the General Assembly.
This structure was originally setup to achieve the main goal of winning the municipal elections. “Now that the elections are over, Beirut Madinati has entered a transitional phase which requires [members] to review [the movement’s] general structure.”Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Beirut Madinati’s volunteer on July 22th 2016. In fact, starting September 2016, the structure will not be based on the legislative and executive body as it was before, but rather it will rely on organised groups that will be divided by and assigned to specific tasks.
- *. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Beirut Madinati’s volunteer on July 22th 2016.