Tens of Thousands of Lebanese Still in the Streets
As banks and schools close, citizens throughout the country continue to call for the government to resign
Tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens poured into the streets of major cities on Sunday for a fourth consecutive day, expressing anger over a bad economy and political corruption.
Lebanese media reported that banks, schools and universities would remain closed due to the unrest, in which people have been demanding major changes, including the government’s resignation.
One party in the ruling coalition headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri said it was withdrawing.
“We are now convinced that the government is unable to take the necessary steps to save the situation,” said Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party. “Therefore, the bloc decided to ask its ministers to resign from the government.”
There were immediate calls for other parties to follow suit.
“We are fed up with all of them,” Beirut resident Zakaria Moti told The Media Line. “The country is falling apart, and all they care about is themselves.”
According to Hasan Awwad, a Middle East expert at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, Lebanese politicians are well aware that they themselves are part of the problem.
“Politicians in Lebanon have not offered any solutions,” Awwad told The Media Line. “All they do is impose new taxes on people.”
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah went on television on Saturday, telling protestors that their “message was being heard loudly.” But he said their demands for the government to resign were not in the best interest of the country, warning that it could take time to form a new government to address the crisis.
Security forces have been using teargas and water cannons to disperse the crowds. The army on Saturday called on demonstrators to “express themselves peacefully without harming public and private property.”
Protesters first took to the streets last Thursday, angry over a proposed tax on calls made via messaging apps such as WhatsApp. The majority of Lebanese rely on such methods to communicate.
The government swiftly reversed its decision, but the protesters kept coming out.
Hariri gave a speech promising a reform package within 72 hours, by Monday, but it might not do much good.
“We don’t believe him. He and the government had a lot of time to do something, and they didn’t,” Marwan, a 25-year-old unemployed engineer, told The Media Line.
“They know we mean business this time, and that’s why all of them are scrambling to appease us. We want major change. We want them out,” he exclaimed.
According to the Lebanese Finance Ministry, the country’s public debt stands at about $90 billion – more than 150 percent of its annual gross domestic product. The government already announced austerity moves to enable Lebanon to receive $11 billion in economic assistance pledged by international donors last year.
The country’s economic growth has plummeted in recent years due to political deadlocks and the impact of some 1.5 million refugees fleeing eight years of civil war in neighboring Syria. More than a quarter of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Time, therefore, is ticking for Hariri, and Lebanese citizens say that unless his promised economic package includes major changes, they will continue to pack the streets.