Protests have taken place across Lebanon for over a week to demand an end to government corruption and inequality. The protests have covered cities including the conservative city of Tripoli, Beirut and the southern city of Tyre.
The protests encompass wide-spread anger about the state of the Lebanese government. Politics in the middle eastern country is being largely affected by religious factors and the current structure of government means there is wide inequality and the political system is unable to function properly. Some of the protests have been dubbed the ‘WhatsApp Revolution’ citing a sign of the times. The protests are in response to a tax on internet calls, including WhatsApp was proposed in the country and this resulted in widespread protests and demonstrations with people putting aside their religious differences and political affiliations.
As a result of the protests, bank and schools have been shut as the protestors aim to bring the country to a standstill and remove the whole government.
Disillusionment, disenfranchisement… why is there anger at the Lebanese government?
The ruling class of Lebanon has not changed for 30 years. Since the end of the civil war in 1990, the same dynasties have continued to take control resulting in today’s disenfranchisement.
The disillusionment begins with religion. Lebanese politics is structured according to religious representation; however, this system began after French colonial rule. According to the constitution, the president must be a Christian, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the parliament must be a Shia Muslim. However, since independence in 1943, the religious diversity of Lebanon has grown significantly. A census from 80 years ago stated there were 18 different religious groups, however failure to update the census suggests there could be more.
Consequently, a top-down system of politics has also made a homogenous political system impossible, with religious sectarianism partially to blame. Different political groups are polarising themselves, seeking support only from their religious communities, this dividing the country.
In terms of civil society, Lebanon has been suffering setbacks for years, for example, 1% of adults receive a quarter of the national income, 40% of young people are unemployed, and living in Lebanon from day to day is becoming increasingly harder with frequent power cuts and water is unsafe to drink. Freedom to communication also grows limited by taxes on social media sites such as WhatsApp.
What happens next?
The current situation is deadlocked. Citizens have already united in the streets in violent and non-violent protest.
The President, Michel Aoun, has said he understands the disillusionment and the only way to turn the recent events on their heads is through a constitutional change. On Thursday, he also proposed a cabinet reshuffle leading to the installation of some technocrats. However, the situation seems unfixed as the current president, prime minister and the speaker would remain in post.
However, many of those in support of the government warned that violence could turn into civil war. Lebanon’s Hezbollah warned of Friday suggested that as power begins to be vacuumed away from the people and adversaries across the world such as Israel and the United States push for conflict, that a civil war could arise as a result. The leader of the heavily armed group is a key player in Lebanon, however, with their leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has warned his followers not to join or exploit the protests. It is undoubted however that the group continue to support the government, rejecting any move to topple current president, Michel Audun.
Mr Audun’s reluctance to resign is causing and will continue to cause dissatisfaction. However, it is the similarities in history between Lebanon and its neighbouring countries, that predicts the potential for protests to continue only to the point of resignation by Michel Audun.