Beirut, Lebanon – When the results of the Lebanese engineers ’union elections were announced on Sunday, a large group of engineers and activists gathered at its Beirut headquarters erupted in celebration.
A coalition of grassroots activists and political groups had won decisively against all odds.
“It feels amazing.” I did not expect this victory, “said Abir Saksouk, an architect among the electorate.” We expected to make a good advance because we had so many candidates in the opposition for the first time in the history of the unions – but nothing of the same kind. “
The coalition, called The Syndicate Rises, garnered 7,650 votes, effectively controlling six of the union’s seven affiliates. A broad alliance of the country’s otherwise contentious political parties has exploited the other branch, which represents architects and engineers working in state institutions.
The grand victory of this coalition is the second of its kind in Lebanon since a revolt against a sectarian elite ruling class rocked the country in October 2019. The Beirut Bar Association had also beaten candidates representing the the country’s traditional political powers to elect an independent leader in November 2019.
The result came amid growing frustration in Lebanon, a country plunged into an economic crisis that has plunged more than half the population into poverty, with the local currency losing much over the top. 80% of its value against the U.S. dollar in less than two years. .
Saksouk, who has worked for years on a range of issues, from housing rights to public spaces, now hopes that the rest of the country’s unions and unions – for decades under the inch of sectarian political parties – can be “recovered” and become effective again.
It was an even sweeter victory for Paul Naggear, an electrical engineer who also co-founded with The Syndicate Rises.
“For the first time since Aug. 4, we felt a sense of relief,” he said.
On that day, almost 11 months ago, a massive explosion in the port of Beirut it flattened a large part of the Lebanese capital, killing about 200 people and injuring more than 6,500 others.
Naggear loses his three-year-old daughter, Alexandra, to the explosion.
The disaster was seen as the deadly byproduct of years of corruption and neglect in Lebanon, with authorities leaving more than 2,700 tons of a mysterious shipment of explosive ammonium nitrate in the port for several years.
Nearly a year later, the state-led investigation continues to stall, leaving thousands as Naggear wonders if they have ever seen justice.
“When you can’t find justice, you have to take another battle,” he said. “But for the first time, my wife and I, after seeing the results, felt that there was a battle we could win.”
Trade unions in Lebanon cannot pass laws, but The Syndicate Rises has promised to work to improve working conditions for engineers and architects, as well as to break the grip of a handful of contracting companies that dominate the market and reform unfair building codes to improve access to housing.
Some believe that the victory will also give grassroots activists greater freedom amid a deep-rooted system of clientelism and political sponsorship.
Bassel Salloukh, a professor of political science at the Lebanese American University, said that unions and other civic spaces were co-opted by the Lebanese ruling elite after the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990 to quell any form of violence. ‘feasible opposition.
“All this has meant that after the October 17 demonstrations, the invention of new sites for political opposition must necessarily be incremental and strategic,” Salloukh said.
“A small victory in turn in those sites that form the suffocation beneath the sectarian system.”
Looking ahead, members of the winning coalition also hope to get a victory this month, when engineers and architects vote for the new union leader.