City Case: Beirut|Tax intifada, Taif Agreement & Hezbollah

In October 2019, series of non-sectarian protests commenced in Lebanon following the economic crises and other government failures. Across the nation, schools have closed, banks shutdown and shortage of fuel and of other imports were reported. It is important to peek into country’s history of protest and system to get hold of the current situation.

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Map of Middle East

 

After the fall of the Ottoman empire, according to the sykes-picot agreement, France got the mandate of Lebanon. Eventually, Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943. During the French rule, Maronite Christians were always benefited and Arabs were oppressed. When Lebanon gained independence, French-made sure that the system dominated by Maronite Christians would continue. This move ultimately led to civil war, each block claiming its rights. Also, Isreal attacked Southern Lebanon, as there were some Palestine groups using Lebanon as a base to attack Isreal. To combat Isreal, Hezbollah was formed(funded by Iran). At last, in 1989, Lebanese leaders gathered in Saudi for the solution and the Taif Agreement was signed keeping all the religions in mind, like Druze and Morgans. The Taif agreement lays-

  • Prime minister of the country will be Maronite Christian
  • President of  the country will be Sunni
  • Speaker of the chamber will be Shia
  • 18 official religions

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    The Taif agreement, 1989

In February 2005, Hariri (Father of Lebanon) died, which led to the division of the country into two blocks, each block blames other of Hariri’s death. Block alliance 8 is supported and associated with Hezbollah and Iran. (Hezbollah may not be the most sparking group these days but is a potential proxy of Iran. Hezbollah was formed amid of Lebanese civil war, which was the major reason for its formation.) Whereas alliance 14 is backed by Saudi Arabia. Consequently, the protest also took place in 2005, demanding that the Syrian army should withdraw from South Lebanon, as assumptions of Assad’s involvement in Hariri’s death spread.

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Hezbollah army
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Supporters of Hezbollah

An important event in the history of Lebanon was the visit of Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri to Saudi Arabia. Saad Hariri is the son of Hariri and is multi-billionaire, having multiple businesses. During his visit, he resigned, stating that he feared that he may also die like his father by Hezbollah. But when he reached Beirut back, President Michael Aoun and masses urged to withdraw the resignation. Ultimately he withdrew his resignation. There can be multiple reasons why Saudi urged Hariri to resign. One of the reasons is that Hariri was not harsh on Hezbollah and Saudi with the USA wants to crack down on Hezbollah.

But the crackdown is not simple.

Hezbollah is not simply a terrorist organization but has evolved further. Hezbollah is one of the major political parties in Lebanon. The USA had many times threaten Lebanon to either get rid of Hezbollah or the aid from the USA will cease. Lebanon cannot simply get rid of Hezbollah as Hezbollah’s army is larger than Lebanon’s and also they provide security to Lebanon, as already country is surrounded by its adversaries. Still, many in Lebanese condemns Hezbollah and protest in 2011 occurred particularly against Hezbollah.

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Saad Hariri

2019 Lebanese protests began on the night of 17th October 2019 when Lebanon’s government plan to impose taxes on gasoline, tobacco and online phone calls was revealed. It was planned to impose $6 tax monthly over WhatsApp users. However, the protest was not only because of tax over WhatsApp. The reason is frustration of people regarding the failed state. Departments have failed to provide proper services. Electricity cut for half the day and in 2015, ‘You stink’ movement when piled of garbage was collected on the roadside and no one was there to collect them properly are some of the examples. The economy is also under dept. For a very long time, Lebanon had been borrowing and now public debt exceeds 150% of the GDP. Due to the continuous failure of government, the educated class has been leaving the country, hence Lebanon has a very strong diaspora. Protest in non-sectarian, however, some people feel that the Taif agreement has failed because Lebanon had been accepting a large number of Muslim refugees from Syria which is affected country’s demography, as the Taif agreement was signed taking care of the country’s religious composition, that composition had changed significantly. The protest continued and by 18th October, the country was standstill. The long history of Lebanon’s protest shows that whenever protest occurs, the government co-opt the protest. However, this time protest is totally against the government. The current protest is simply united and against the government. On 19th October, president Saad-al Hariri promised to bring reforms, people very much believed him but the protest did not stop.

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2019 Lebanese protests

On 29th October, President Hariri resigned seeing the conditions getting out of hand. The size of protesters increased and the army is deployed in Beirut. Fuel and medicine shortages reported. Restriction on withdraw of hard currency imposed by private banks. On 6th and 7th November, students also joined the protest, as they fear that the country doesn’t have any future and they do not want to leave their nation. Hopes that Hariri should revoke his resignation are still alive, as it is hard to find his substitute as he has very strong international support.

 

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