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

In October 2019, a series of non-sectarian protests commenced in Lebanon following the economic crises and other government failures. Across the nation, schools have closed, banks shut down, and shortages of fuel and other imports were reported across the nation. It is important to peek into the 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. Maronite Christians always benefited during French rule, and Arabs were oppressed. When Lebanon gained independence, the French ensured 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 some Palestine groups were 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-

  • The Prime minister of the country will be Maronite Christian
  • The President of  the country will be Sunni
  • The 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 country’s division into two blocks; each block blamed the other for 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 the Lebanese civil war, which was the primary 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 the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, to Saudi Arabia. Saad Hariri is the son of Hariri and is a 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 the masses urged him to withdraw his 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 wanting to crack down on Hezbollah.

But the crackdown is not simple.

Hezbollah is not simply a terrorist organisation but has evolved further. Hezbollah is one of the major political parties in Lebanon. The USA has often threatened 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 more extensive than Lebanon’s and provides security to Lebanon, as the country is already surrounded by its adversaries. Still, many in Lebanon condemned Hezbollah and protest in 2011 occurred particularly against Hezbollah.

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Saad Hariri

2019 Lebanese protests began on 17th October 2019, when Lebanon’s government’s plans to impose taxes on gasoline and tobacco and online phone calls were revealed. It was intended to impose a $6 tax monthly on WhatsApp users. However, the protest was not only because of the tax over WhatsApp. The reason is the frustration of people regarding the failed state. Departments have been unable to provide proper services. Electricity was cut for half the day, and in 2015, the ‘You stink’ movement when piled garbage was collected on the roadside and no one was there to collect them properly are some examples. The economy is also under dept. Lebanon had been borrowing for a long time, and now public debt exceeds 150% of the GDP. Due to the continuous failure of the government, the educated class has been leaving the country; hence Lebanon has an influential 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 the 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 the 18th of October, the country was at a standstill. The long history of Lebanon’s demonstration shows that the government co-opt the protest whenever a protest occurs. However, this time protest is totally against the government. The current rally is simply united and against the government. On the 19th of October, president Saad-al Hariri promised to bring reforms, and 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 was deployed in Beirut. Fuel and medicine shortages were reported. Restriction on withdrawal of hard currency imposed by private banks. On 6th and 7th November, students also joined the protest, as they feared that the country didn’t have any future and did 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 solid international support.

 

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