The Lebanese Revolution: Forty Days and Counting
The Lebanese government’s decision to impose taxes on WhatsApp was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Lebanese people had reached breaking point when this decision gave them a reason to rebel. A revolution broke out against a corrupted political system that was established from the moment Lebanon became an independent state.
In 1918, as WWI came to an end, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and Western countries took over the region; France colonized some territories with a Christian majority (potential future allies). Lebanon was thus created and stayed under French colonization until 1943.
A fifteen-year civil war in Lebanon attracted Syrian and Israeli military forces into the country, where Israel armed Christian militias. Iran joined in and created Hezbollah in order to fight the Israeli occupation that started in 1982. When the civil war ended, nothing changed except that warlords hung their military uniforms and put on their politician suits, granting themselves amnesty instead of going to trial. They even put in place a system that would keep all the major powers in their hands such as economy, elections and foreign policy.
In fact, the Ta’ef agreement, concluded in Saudi Arabia in 1989, supposedly to end civil war in Lebanon, created patterned governance that highly depends on religion and sectarian division. The three presidencies were distributed among the largest sects; the president a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker a Shiite.
In the post-war period, warlords took over raw materials, lands, public spaces, bought hospitals and built their own financial empires, thus creating an important gap among the people and making the middle and poor class depend on them, turning them into their clients.
Today, Lebanon’s politics mainly rely on foreign support, interference and funding; no other country in the world has both Saudi Arabia and Iran as allies. Iran supports the Shiite political leadership (Hezbollah) while Saudi Arabia has got the Sunnis’ back. This explains why the country’s fate has often been manipulated by foreign powers.
The ever-increasing corruption pushed the Lebanese people over the edge. Crises had been piling up for a moment; many dramatic events recently occurred, namely the lack of electricity, the trash crisis, the ravaging wildfires, the influx of Syrian refugees and the economic mismanagement, not to mention the fact that Lebanon has one of the highest debt levels in the world.
While Lebanon’s population hit six million, the richest 3,000 earned 10% of the total national income which represents 50% of what the lower-class population earns, noting that unemployment level has reached 45%.
In July 2019, the government decided to increase taxes on imported products and take austerity measures in its budgets. Cuts to public sector salaries and pensions were made. In October, new tax plans were announced including a 6% tax on WhatsApp calls. In response, the Lebanese took to the streets, demanding legitimate rights such as job opportunities, civil rights, healthcare and retirement plans, electricity, clean water and education. Even though the decision on the WhatsApp tax was immediately withdrawn, the people never left the streets.
Thousands, of all ages, from different religions, confessions and sects stood united and formed a human chain across the whole country from the north to the south as a symbol of this unity. In addition, the Lebanese diaspora stood in solidarity and held peaceful protests in cities all over the world. Forty days have passed, and the Lebanese people are still standing hand in hand demanding President Michel Aoun and the corrupt politicians to form a new government, after Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned two weeks into the protests. Today, the Lebanese patiently await a new government of independent technocrats that would implement reforms to save the country from the deteriorating economic situation and enact a new elections law, in order to ultimately ensure the rights of all citizens.