Beirut, Lebanon – When the results of the Lebanese Engineers Union election were announced on Sunday, a large group of engineers and activists gathered at its headquarters in Beirut burst into joy.
A coalition of grassroots activists and political groups had won decisively against all odds.
“It’s amazing. I didn’t expect this victory,” said Abir Saksouk, architect among the elect. “We expected to make a breakthrough of some kind because we had so many opposition candidates for the first one. times in the history of unions – but nothing like it. “
The coalition, dubbed The Syndicate Rises, garnered 7,650 votes, effectively controlling six of the union’s seven branches. A large alliance of the country’s otherwise disputed political parties has landed the other branch, which represents architects and engineers working in state institutions.
The landslide victory of this coalition is the second of its kind in Lebanon since an uprising against a sectarian elite ruling class rocked the country in October 2019. The Beirut Bar Association had also beaten candidates who represented the powers that be traditional policies of the country to elect an independent leader in November 2019.
The result came amid growing frustration in Lebanon, a country reeling from an economic crisis that has plunged more than half of the population into poverty, with the local currency losing well over 80% of its value against the US dollar in less than two years. .
Saksouk, who has worked for years on a multitude of issues, from housing rights to public spaces, now hopes that the rest of the country’s unions and unions – for decades under the thumb of sectarian political parties – can be “taken over. “and become effective again.
It was an even sweeter victory for Paul Naggear, an electrical engineer who also raced with The Syndicate Rises.
“For the first time since August 4, we felt a sense of relief,” he said.
On that day, nearly 11 months ago, a massive explosion in the port of Beirut razed much of the Lebanese capital, killing some 200 people and injuring more than 6,500 others.
Naggear lost his three-year-old daughter, Alexandra, in the explosion.
The disaster was seen as the deadly by-product of years of corruption and neglect in Lebanon, as authorities left more than 2,700 tonnes of a mysterious shipment of explosive ammonium nitrate in the port for several years.
Almost a year later, the state-led investigation continues to stagnate, leaving thousands of people like Naggear to wonder if they will ever see justice.
“When you can’t find justice, you have to take on another battle,” he said. “But for the first time, my wife and I, after seeing the results, felt there was a battle we could win.”
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 break the grip of a handful of contracting companies that dominate. market and reform unfair building codes to improve access to housing.
Some believe the victory will also give grassroots activists greater freedom amid an entrenched system of patronage and political patronage.
Bassel Salloukh, professor of political science at the Lebanese American University, said unions and other civic spaces were co-opted by the Lebanese ruling elite after the country’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990 to quell any viable form of opposition.
“All of this means that after the demonstrations on October 17, the invention of new sites for the political opposition must necessarily be gradual and strategic,” Salloukh said.
“A small victory at the same time in these sites which form the soft underbelly of the sectarian system. “
Looking ahead, members of the winning coalition also hope for a victory this month, when engineers and architects vote for the union’s new leader.