Protesters in Lebanon are calling for “revolution”. They are demanding an end to corruption and poverty—and the fall of the government.
Hundreds of thousands of people across Lebanon have taken to the streets since Thursday of last week.
They say they’ll accept nothing less than the end of the government of prime minister Saad Hariri—and an entirely new political system.
Protests began after the government imposed a new tax on phone calls made via messaging app WhatsApp.
The tax sparked anger in a country with high youth unemployment and where austerity has ravaged basic public services. The government quickly scrapped the WhatsApp tax.
But by then the movement had developed much bigger demands.
People accuse Lebanon’s ruling politicians of enriching themselves while trying to make ordinary people pay for the country’s economic crisis.
One young protester told the Al Jazeera news channel, “There’s no future for us, no jobs at all, and this is not acceptable anymore.
“We have shut up for a long time—and now it’s time to talk.”
Another protester said, “The regime must be toppled from the top of the pyramid. It’s not useful if just one goes away.”
The protests are the largest in Lebanon since 2005. They have drawn onto the streets people of all ages and from many different backgrounds across the country.
This is significant in a country whose political system is divided along religious lines.
Protesters have blocked roads with burning tyres, and surrounded the offices of president Michel Aoun.
Police attacked the demonstrations late on Friday of last week in an attempt to clear the roads. Groups of protesters fought back, and others smashed shop windows in affluent areas of capital city Beirut.
Hizbollah—a political movement which grew among impoverished Shia Muslims due to its resistance to imperialism and Western-backed governments—opposed the protests. It is a major part of the ruling “national unity” coalition.
Hizbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah effectively told protesters their demands for fundamental change were impossible. He said calls for the end of the government were a “waste of time”.
Meanwhile the Western-backed Hariri claimed to sympathise with the protesters. The prime minister blamed Lebanon’s economic crisis on groups in the government who he said blocked “reforms” that would encourage £9 billion in foreign investments.
The government passed a package of reforms on Monday.
These included cuts to politicians’ salaries, an increased tax on bank profits, more money for social security and some anti-corruption laws.
But they also included plans to cut government spending and privatise the telecoms industry.
The mass demonstrations looked likely to continue.
Protesters in Beirut chanted “Revolution, revolution,” and “We want the fall of the regime” after Hariri announced his reforms.
One protester, Maya Mhana, said, “We are remaining in the streets—we don’t believe a single word.”