Thousands of people are taking to the streets in Lebanon. They want change. Fed up with the corruption and inequality, people are responding to recently announced reforms and taxes. The final straw was what has been dubbed the Whatsapp-tax, a $0.20 tax on phone calls using online applications such as Whatsapp and Facebook messenger. People have had enough, and are protesting throughout the country to demand change. The Whatsapp tax was revoked, but that was not enough – people want structural, real change. PAX has been working in Lebanon since 2003, in close collaboration with partners, activists and friends. PAX’s Pim Gerritsen is in Lebanon following the developments.
One of the first messages I got after the protests started was from a friend in Tyre, in the South of Lebanon: “The special thing about these protests is that they are not only in Beirut. They’re happening throughout the country, and people are holding their own leaders accountable. Here in the South, you see people demonstrating against Nabih Berri (the leader of the Amal Movement) and Hezbollah. This is the first time people are so critical of their own leaders.”
Lebanon is divided across sectarian lines. Various religions and confessions share political influence and power. Those leaders often look out for ‘their own people’, not the country as a whole. This system has led to enormous inequality, endemic corruption, and a government that doesn’t function. Over the past years, there have been several rounds of protest. This time, however, seems different. I asked a friend in Beirut.
“In 2015, the garbage protests were massive as well. But they were mostly led and mobilised by civil society organisations and activist groups. This time it is really different. Now, the people really affected by the corruption are starting this. They are the revolution and are coming together, regardless of their background, and expressing in a very positive and beautiful way their hopes for the future and their children’s future.”
Solidarity and connection
People are mobilising throughout the country. For me, personally, it is one of the first times I see signs of solidarity and connectedness from every direction: Palestinians and Lebanese together in the streets in Tyre; the people in Tripoli in the North, dedicating their protests to Tyre and Nabatieh in the South. Even in Baghdad, people are showing their solidarity with t
he Lebanese protesters. They are sending heart-warming messages in the realization that they are peacefully fighting similar crooked and corrupt systems.
As can be expected, the response has been unsatisfactory, as the Lebanese establishment has a clear interest in maintaining the status quo. The international community is concerned with security and stability. But the people seem determined and clear. They want change and are demanding that the government resign. Enough with the corruption, and enough with this crooked political system.