Lebanon plunges into unrest
Lebanon has plunged into a state of unrest and virtually shut down after nation-wide protests erupted last week calling for the government to step down. The tension has been building for months as the government searched for new ways to levy taxes to manage the country’s economic crisis and soaring debt. The trigger, in the end, was news Thursday that the government was planning, among other measures, to impose a tax on WhatsApp calls a decision it later withdrew as people began taking to the streets. In a televised address, Prime Minister Saad Hariri threw in the towel and gave his partners in the government a 72-hour ultimatum to implement reforms before he steps down. Hariri’s supposed allies, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who are both represented in the Cabinet, had already provided their answer: they called on him to resign hours earlier. The unrest is only beginning but it could have all ended and business could have resumed as usual as on previous occasions if Lebanon wasn’t flirting with a financial meltdown. This time is different. Hariri’s call is likely to fall on deaf ears as the ruling class trade accusations while the economic malaise grows and the financial system comes under more stress in the next few days. Hence, the threat of revolution is so grave, and the nation is in a very volatile state.
Nasrallah backs the Lebanese government
In a move that has added heat to the storm, Lebanon’s influential Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that the Shia movement does not want the government to resign. Nasrallah, in a televised speech on Saturday, called for a new agenda and “new spirit”, adding that calls for government resignation were “a waste of time” since the same political groups will haggle over forming a new one. Any tax imposed on the poor would push him to call supporters to go take to the streets, the Shia leader said. Hezbollah group and its allies are part of the government that came to power last year after months of negotiations between political groups divided into sectarian and religious lines. “The problem is not with the government, but with the agenda,” Nasrallah said in his first comments on the protests. During his statement, Nasrallah added: “If the current government, or any other government, take practical steps by ending wastage and corruption and merging institutions, it will save a lot and the crisis will end.” The Hezbollah leader went on to call for adopting a “plan in which the rich, poor, leaders and banks would sacrifice to end the crisis”. Lebanon has one of the world’s highest debt burdens at $86.2 billion in the first quarter of this year. This accompanied by high youth unemployment that has brought people on the edge. Unfortunately, it appears the damage that has been done is already too big, to maintain the current political order.
The Nationwide protests paralyzed Lebanon Friday as demonstrators blocked major roads in rallies against the government’s handling of a severe economic crisis and the country’s political class. In some cases the demonstrations evolved into riots, as protesters set fire to buildings and smashed window fronts, taking their anger out on politicians they accuse of corruption and decades of mismanagement. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia announced on Friday a warning to its citizens against travel to Lebanon in wake of the eruption of nationwide protests against the country’s political elite. An official source at the Foreign Ministry said: “In wake of the current situation in Lebanon and in anticipation of any negative repercussions and out of the Kingdom’s keenness on the safety of its citizens, the ministry warns all citizens against travel to Lebanon.” It also urged Saudis currently in Lebanon to exercise the utmost caution and contact the Kingdom’s embassy in Beirut for any assistance, reported the Saudi Press Agency. The United Arab Emirates issued a similar warning. Khalid Belhoul, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary, has advised Emirati citizens currently in Lebanon to contact the UAE Embassy in Beirut to arrange for their safe return home. This highlights the internal paralysis of the Lebanese state after the eruption of unrest, as well as the international scale of it, affecting Lebanese citizens worldwide. This highlights the extent of the chaos in Lebanon, as well as its scale, further sending warning signals of the increasing risk of a revolution.