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Protests in Lebanon

Protests in Lebanon

Tag:GS-2||International Relations||India & Rest of the World||West Asia

Why in news?        

  • Lebanon is going through a series of country-wide, non-sectarian protests in response to the government’s failure to find solutions to an economic crisis that has been looming for the past year.
  • The protests have cut roadways, closed schools, and shut banks nationwide.

 Background of the latest protests

  • On the evening of 17 October, groups of youths –apparently coordinating among each other over spontaneously formed networks on social media –took to the streets and closed major intersections in and around Beirut with burning tires.
  • On 18 October, the phenomenon spread to other areas, bringing most of the country to a standstill.
  • Lebanon has a long history of protests-2005, 2011, 2015 (YOU STINK).
  • In the past, the country’s traditional leaders have typically co-opted the movements to draw the youth into their respective political camps.
  • Sometimes these leaders have even initiated the movements.

The Glorious Past of Lebanon

  • The country has developed a well-known culture and has been highly influential in the Arab world, powered by its large Diaspora.
  • Before the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), the country experienced a period of relative calm and renowned prosperity, driven by tourism, agriculture, commerce, and banking.
  • Because of its financial power and diversity in its heyday, Lebanon was referred to as the “Switzerland of the East” during the 1960s
  • Beirut attracted so many tourists that it was known as “the Paris of the Middle East”.

The Political pact

  • Though the constitution does not require so, an unwritten understanding exists between the Shia, Sunni, and Maronite (Christian) leaderships in Lebanon since 1943, known as the National Pact.
  • The President has to be a Maronite Christian,
  • The Prime Minister is a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the Parliament is a Shia Muslim

Changing demographics

  • As of October 2016, the government estimates that the country hosts 5 million Syrians.

Tax Intifada

  • It is suspected that the direct trigger to the protests was due to the planned taxes on gasoline, tobacco and online phone calls such as through apps like WhatsApp.
  • The government planned to implement a $6 monthly tax on WhatsApp users (phone calls).

Deeper causes

  • Lebanese have suffered for years from failing public services and state negligence, most visibly dismal electricity supply, massive pollution and the breakdown of garbage disposal.
  • The cost of living has ballooned, salaries have stagnated and unemployment rates have risen, prompting a significant proportion of the country’s well-educated youth to emigrate.

Why is this protest different?

  • The current protests, however, are so far free of sectarian undertones.
  • In fact, protests have been marked by expressions of solidarity between localities and communities supposedly on opposite sides of the country’s political/sectarian divides.

Why should such protests be taken seriously?

  • Such protests are caused due to increasing alienation of peopleunderemployed youth, in particular –from political leaders and systems that seem unable to promise them a better future.

Lebanese Debt

  • Lebanese governments have for years relied on deficit spending and borrowing, with the budget deficit peaking at 5 percent of GDP in 2018.
  • Much of Lebanon’s public debt is held by the country’s private commercial banks; many of those banks are, in turn, owned by the country’s politicians and their relatives.
  • Public debt now exceeds 150 percent of GDP and debt service consumes around 50 percent of state revenues.

Response from Govt

  • Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri agreed on 19th October, a package of reforms with government partners.
  • Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said he would submit his resignation on Tuesday(29th2019), declaring he had hit a “dead end” in trying to resolve a crisis unleashed by huge protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite.

Mains model question

  • While the tax proposal has since then been withdrawn, if it were to pass, Lebanon would be the first country in the world to do so. The move, however, has triggered mass anti-government protests in the West Asian country. Explain