On 17th October 2019, a handful of protesters gathered in the downtown Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square, which has become Lebanon’s October revolution. The protesters got outnumbered by the riot police who were guarding the nearby Parliament and prime minister’s offices. Many people came out on the streets, paralyzing the country’s transportation and banking system and, on 29th October 2019, forcing the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Lebanon Protests in a snapshot
|1.||Date of Protests||17 October 2019 – Present|
|2.||Causes||Austerity, Political corruption, Recession, Sectarianism, Unemployment|
|3.||Methods used by the protesters||Demonstrations, Strike action, Sit-ins, Civil resistance, Barricades, Internet activism.|
|4.||Causalities||70 arrested but released next day|
Here are the 7 things you need to know about the Lebanon Protests in October 2019:
1. What sparked the Lebanon protests?
The protests raged across Lebanon for days over proposed new taxes. The government of Lebanon announced new taxes, including a $6 monthly fee on calls on free messaging apps like WhatsApp, which are widely used in Lebanon, because regular phone service is expensive. This unleashed the anger against decades of corruption, government mismanagement and nepotism. The Lebanese Republic suffers from long-running shortages in government-provided electricity and water.
2. Who are the Protesters?
The Lebanese came out on to the streets, cutting across sectarian and religious lines, and waving banners and shouting slogans against Hariri’s government. Before the resignation of Hariri’s government, Lebanon was divided into sectarian lines, with each of the main sects holding a position in government – the president a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim and so on. Majority of the protesters were from the Shia movement Hezbollah, who attacked the offices of their deputies in southern Lebanon.
3. What are the demands of the protesters?
There are a series of overarching demands that have echoed among the vast majority of protesters. The protesters have demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s cabinet, along with the resignation of top officials, including Aoun. The people demand of a new downsized and independent technocratic government. They have also demanded early parliamentary elections with a new electoral law and an independent investigation of stolen public funds.
4. Are the protests also about the economy?
Gov. Riad Salame, who has managed the central bank since 1993, has been inspected for ongoing financial engineering that initially was meant to be a provisional measure to prevent hyperinflation following the end of the civil war. The Lebanese pound’s peg is 1,507 pounds to the US dollar, but with a large debt load and stationary growth, the country has struggled to maintain the peg. The shortages in recent months have forced the banks to hoard dollars. Citizens are already struggling to withdraw US dollars and are facing a rising black market exchange rate. Before the protests, the unofficial exchange rate on the street went up to around 1,650 pounds to the dollar. The black market exchange rate rose to 1,800 pounds to the dollar because of the banks closed during the protest.
5. Why now?
It has taken time for people to come to see the system as the problem. Where in Egypt, Syria, or Libya, there were clear strongmen to fall over, Lebanon’s government, on the other hand, is a union of sect-based political parties, which govern in shifting alliances. This outrage didn’t happen during the Arab Spring because the protests were much smaller than the current protests.
6. Does Hariri’s resignation bring any change?
Hariri announced his resignation on 29th of October 2019. Earlier that day, protesters supporting the Hezbollah and Amal parties beat demonstrators and journalists and set fire to protest encampments in Beirut. Hariri had ensured protesters on 18th October 2019 that he and his cabinet would present an economic blueprint for swift reforms within 72 hours. Despite presenting those reforms, protesters remained obstinate for him to resign. It’s now up to Aoun to appoint the next prime minister, who will then set up a new cabinet. In the meantime, Aoun requested that the current cabinet continue to perform few activities.
7. What Next?
Since Hariri’s resignation, protesters and politicians have been trying to reposition themselves. Forming a new government will not be an easy task. Aoun must discuss with different political leaders and parliamentary blocs before appointing a new prime minister. Lebanon can face a complete financial and economic meltdown. A quick formation of government might stop the slide or at least contain it for a bit. Political rivalry can inflame, causing even worse conditions for the citizens.
Protests in Lebanon seem to have risen above the divides that caused so much chaos in the past, snubbing their sectarian leaders and the system that has kept them in power.