Protests continued to rage in Lebanon on Friday amid growing frustration over the government’s handling of the economic crisis in the country. Protestors called for the resignation of the current government, including Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, President Michel Aoun, and Speaker Nabih Berri.
The protests began in the capital city of Beirut Thursday night. By Friday, demonstrators across the country took to the streets to call out their government. The protests were in response to the announcement of a new tax intended to increase revenue for the state. The plan called for a $0.20 tax on WhatsApp calls per day and the possibility of an increase in the Value Added Tax from 11 to 15 per cent. The WhatsApp tax was reversed, however, after the protests grew.
By Friday, Lebanese men and women were taking to the streets across the entire country, calling for changes to the current government. As frustrations grew, the protests turned violent. In an effort to quell the protestors, security forces shot rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowds. The people responded by throwing stones, lighting fires, destroying billboards, and ripping signs from the ground. According to Al Jazeera, the Lebanese Red Cross rushed 22 people to the hospital and treated 70 more on the ground. The Internal Security Forces, the Lebanese police, reported that 60 officers were injured. In Tripoli, a security source reported that one individual was killed and four wounded after the bodyguard of a former Parliament member fired into the air.
The WhatsApp tax was, for the Lebanese people, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Frustrations over rising inflation, the growing debt crisis, and a falling standard of living contributed to the build-up of pressure. The protests spanned not just across the territory, but across religious and political groups as well. According to Reuters, Christian politician Sami Geagea and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, both members of parties with ministers in the coalition cabinet, have called on the government to resign. The wide reach of the protests shows how this issue is not related to a single ethnic, regional, or political group. The economic crisis facing Lebanon is affecting all of those in the state. “We have always warned that the wrong economic policies and the imposition of more taxes and burdens on citizens will lead to popular explosion,” said Ali Damoush, Vice President of the Executive Council of Hezbollah.
The government’s response, however, has not shown signs that there will be any major changes. “Any alternative to the current government would be far worse and might lead the country into catastrophe and strife,” said Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. However, some government officials have recognized the problem. Raya El Hassan, the Interior Minister, warned that Lebanon could collapse entirely if the government were to fall. According to Reuters, the protests follow warnings by “economists, investors, and rating agencies that indebted Lebanon’s economy and graft-entrenched financial system are closer to the brink than any time since the war-torn 1980s.” Despite the clear need for a solution, a cabinet meeting that was scheduled for Friday to discuss the 2020 budget was cancelled.
It is imperative that the sitting government finds a solution to the growing crisis in Lebanon. Allowing the problems to persist will only create greater unrest in the country. In order to prevent the country from collapsing, the current government needs to listen to the needs of the Lebanese people and commit to finding a solution that will move the country in the right direction. If that includes the removal of the current government in place of new one, then the politicians should abide by that wish.
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