Who knew a twenty-cent tax could be the tipping point in sparking riots across an entire country. In Lebanon that was exactly the case. Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his government announced that they would be implementing a 20 cent tax on calls through the communication app called WhatsApp. The people of Lebanon immediately took to the streets. The Lebanese people came from all across the nation to riot in the capital city of Beirut as well as the large port city of Tripoli. Although the riots were initially sparked by the tax on WhatsApp, the citizens of Lebanon have been suffering under a corrupt government for many years (Al Jazeera). Fadi Issa, a protestor from Beirut told Al Jazeera reporters “We came to the streets because we can no longer bear this situation. This regime is totally corrupt.” People in the country have felt exploited by the corruption in government, and are calling for the removal of the current government as well as new elections (Khairat).
Tensions in the country have continually been on the rise because of the regressive taxes that the country has placed on the citizens in an effort to help with the national debt, the third-largest in the world at approximately one and a half times their GDP. As a result, the poor class of citizens has paid proportionally more than the wealthy elite in the country in an effort to help offset this extreme debt. The economic inequality has put the economy into a state of chaos and has fostered significant distrust in the government. In addition to the economic issues the country has been facing, it also has major environmental issues. Lebanon has some of the highest rates of cancer in all of Western Asia, and the streets are littered with trash. The state’s lack of capacity to maintain clean streets and provide adequate air and water qualities has put the lives of the people at serious risk. People are on the streets out of sheer desperation according to Loris Obeid, a protestor in Beirut. “We are here for the future of our kids. There is no future for us. There are no jobs at all.” Another account of the desperation comes from Sahab Gabara who gave her statement amid rubber bullets being fired at protestors by the police and tires being set ablaze to minimize the visibility of the police. Sahab Gabara expressed the desperation of the citizens by simply saying, “We are hungry. We are dying. We are tired” (Khairat). As of now, two people have died and an additional seventy have been arrested during the protests (Al Jazeera).
In response to the protests, the Prime Minister announced the government would create a plan of action to address the needs of the people after seventy-two hours of deliberation. However, according to Carmen Geha, a professor at the University of Beirut, the issues facing the country will take years to solve, and she suggests the notion that they will be prepared with an answer in seventy-two hours is simply a ploy to buy time. She goes on to say that Lebanon has no reason to be a poor country, but the mismanagement of the political class has made the country unbearable (Khairat). The situation has become so unbearable that people of all different sects have come together to desperately cry out for a new government. Culturally, Lebanon is a very segregated country through sectarianism or a strong allegiance to a particular religion, however, people of all different religions and classes are coming together to chant “The people are one” (Henley). This type of unity provides the necessary building blocks to create the real structural change the country so desperately needs in this time of crisis.
The current situation in Lebanon is eerily similar to the situation seen in Tunisia only eight years ago. Tunisia, the country where the Arab Spring revolution was born, began their movement on similar grounds to those seen in Lebanon today. The Tunisian government was especially oppressive to its people and oftentimes neglected the needs of the poor, working class. As a result, the citizens rallied together across the country to demand action and eventually oust their leader Ben Ali (“Arab Spring”). The necessary ingredients for a similar revolution in Lebanon are quite prevalent. A unified people, distrust in the government, and economic oppression are all readily available in the country. Additionally, the apparent universal feeling shared by the protestors that the government has acted “too little too late” in response to the uprising points to the fact that the citizens are unified around the idea of overthrowing the government. With the intentions of the Lebanese people to overthrow their government, one can only wonder the repercussions this could have on other nations in the region. Considering the potential for snowballing among other countries, could a twenty cent tax in Lebanon lead to another Arab Spring revolution across the region?
Al Jazeera. “Lebanon Protests: Five Things You Need to Know.” Al Jazeera News, Al Jazeera, 19 Oct. 2019, www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/lebanon-protests-191019063 629182.html.
“Arab Spring.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 10 Jan. 2018, www.history.com/topics/middle-east/arab-spring.
Henley, Alexander. “Religious Authority and Sectarianism in Lebanon.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, carnegieendowment.org/2016/12/16/religious-authority-and -sectarianism -in-lebanon-pub-66487.
Khairat, Sara, director. Amid Protests, Lebanon’s Hariri Sets Deadline to Resolve Crisis. YouTube, YouTube, 19 Oct. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9ISg-RWY0w.