Lebanon Rises: Second wave of Arab Spring protests arrive in Beirut

Lebanon Rises: Second wave of Arab Spring protests arrive in Beirut
Fed up with corruption, an out-of-touch political class, a growing economic crisis and total failure of basic services, large numbers of Lebanese men and women have taken to the streets
3 min read
18 Oct, 2019
Anger has been brewing in Lebanon over the past weeks [AFP]
What many are calling the second wave of Arab Spring anti-government protests that began in Sudan then Algeria, and spread to Egypt and Iraq, has now made landfall in Lebanon.

Fed up with endemic corruption, an out-of-touch political class, a growing economic crisis and a total failure of basic services, large numbers of Lebanese men and women have taken to the streets across the small Arab country.

The current administration in Lebanon has gone from failure to failure, promising the Lebanese working and middle class nothing but 'painful austerity' measures, in the words of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, a billionaire, himself.

Anger has been brewing in Lebanon over the past weeks, following an ongoing currency crisis that led to fuel and bread strikes, then a series of biblical-scale forest fires that the inept government could do little about save for begging neighbours to help.

Until Thursday night, many Lebanese may have given the government the benefit of the doubt, opting to spare their country the kind of chaos seen in neighbouring Syria at the price of sacrificing their eroding living standards and ignoring the parasitical corruption threatening to collapse the economy.
Video footage from TNA's sister Arabic website Al-Araby al-Jadeed

The straw that broke the camel's back however was a ludicrous tax proposed by the government on internet messaging app Whatsapp, which most Lebanese rely on for communication to avoid overpriced mobile phone tariffs.

To many Lebanese people, the government's refusal to tax the rich, especially politically connected profiteers who have made their fortunes from opaque government contracts and high interests on public debt, instead seeking to raise more taxes on ordinary people through VAT increases and surreal levies on internet services, was final proof that the ruling class is beyond repair.
Mass protests erupted in the capital and several major towns across the country on Thursday night, lasting through the early hours of Friday morning.

Read more: How humiliation is fuelling the Arab street

The protests resumed Friday morning, with reports of major road closures by the demonstrators, using burning tires.

Dramatic footage from the ground shows security services firing tear gas in downtown Beirut and violently beating protesters, including women, and shots fired in the air by bodyguards of government ministers caught in the chaos.

On social media, hashtags like 'Lebanon Rises' and 'The Time Has Come For Accountability' are trending heavily.

The tide of popular wrath caught the government by surprise and left Lebanon's political leaders scrambling to contain the situation. A government meeting scheduled for today had to be moved following threats by protesters to disrupt it and was later cancelled altogether, with Prime Minister Hariri facing calls to resign. 

But the so-far leaderless protests are furious with the entire political class, not just Hariri. Anti-government chants and placcards spared none, from President Michel Aoun and his notoriously populist son-in-law Gebran Bassil, to Shia group Amal and even Hezbollah, seen as enablers if not outright participants in the corruption.

On Friday, many political parties and leaders, despite being in government, sought to distance themselves from its proposed tax measures, but it seems this time, the Lebanese people shall not be fooled by attempts to hijack and derail their frustration. 

Karim Traboulsi is managing editor of The New Arab.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.