Last month, mass protests against proposed taxes on “WhatsApp” forced the government and Prime Minister of Lebanon to step down. The argument over whether Lebanon is a country of resilience or a country that cannot stabilize goes back decades. Lebanon, similar to many Middle Eastern countries, has become yet another nation of peoples frustrated with democracy and disappointed by failed promises.
In early October, the Lebanese government stated that there would be a 20% tax imposed on the first WhatsApp call made by users every day. Lebanon has faced an economic crisis for many years and this was just the latest attempt at raising revenues to reduce the national debt. Unfortunately, the plan instantly resulted in mass protests all over the country. It seemed as if an angry citizenry only needed the tax proposition to set off their already intensifying anger towards the government. Though the government quickly retracted its original plan in order to stop the rioting, it was too late for Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his cabinet. The people had enough and are once again ready for a new leader to step in to power.
Saad Hariri came to office two years ago promising Lebanon that its enormous debt would be lifted and that the crisis with refugees would be managed. The idea of a unity government originally brought some stability, but still the economy continued to plummet. The Institute of International Finance shows government loans currently at 150% of GDP. A similar pattern of government failure has repeated itself over and over again since 1975 and the fate of Lebanon’s democracy is in question. Under Hariri, the country’s debt has risen to astronomical levels. Hariri still enjoys broad support from the Sunni people, which is causing a rising speculation that he will return as Prime Minister in the near future.
While the country is considered “free” by Freedom House, its consociative nature makes it a complex government to manage. Freedom House rates Lebanon with a score of only 43 out of 100 for overall freedom, mostly due to its extremely high rate of corruption. Taking a further look into the World Bank governance indicators, Lebanon is only in the 7th percentile for “political stability and absence of violence and terrorism” –a very poor performance. The country does better for “voice and accountability” (40th percentile), but is only in the 12th percentile for control of corruption. Without political stability and with such high corruption levels, Lebanon’s democracy is deeply challenged.
As of right now, Hariri looks like he will be the head of whatever new government forms. The fate of Lebanon is on rocky water. With its economy drowning, relationships with allies losing patience, and no hopes of a successful leader in the near future, its democratic state is not looking bright. Hariri has loans coming in from other countries that Lebanon desperately needs right now, especially from France. If Iranian backed government comes to power, things could take a turn for the worse.
Additionally, Iran is deeply involved in the Lebanese political system. The government in Lebanon has consistently been formed with Iranian backed officials and removing this system could create great conflict that Lebanon cannot handle. The Hezbollah, set up by Iran to integrate into Lebanese politics, has been a target of the recent protests. If the Hezbollah loses power in the areas it controls, Iran could turn against Lebanon. The removal of Iran and the Hezbollah would be very dangerous.
This time protests only took 13 days to wipe out the Prime Minister. Lebanon desperately needs a change. The corruption and dishonesty so deeply in the government roots need to be addressed. Until the people have a leader they believe in, this unrest will not stop. Hariri back in power will surely have the same outcome, a country without a leader
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