And Now From Beirut: "Down With the Regime"

Sunday 20 October 201912:52 am
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

هذه المرة من بيروت… "الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام"

Without pause, tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens have continued to protest for the second day running, while darkness covered the skies of central Beirut following a loud night of protests against a set of taxes approved by the government of Prime Minister Sa'ad al-Hariri for the 2020 budget.

In a rare scene, the Lebanese united irrespective of their political and sectarian differences to go out on the streets on the 17th of October, in one of the largest popular protests in the country over the past few years, with the protesters condemning the deteriorating living standards, in addition to the imposition of new taxes by the government.

Assaulting Protesters

The acts of violence which accompanied the protests resulted in the deaths of two people so far. Security forces had earlier used tear gas to attempt to disperse the protesters in the early hours of the 18th of October, which led to cases of fainting as well as injuries according to Lebanon's "Al-Jadeed" television station.

Meanwhile, Riad al-Solh square in central Beirut was the site of clashes between protesters and security forces as well as riot police – leading to wounded men on both sides of the conflict.

Protesters also blocked some Beirut streets with burning tires. Elsewhere in the country, protesters closed roads in various areas and provinces, which the Lebanese Army is now seeking to reopen.

Schools and universities have also since shut their doors as a result of a decision by the Education Minister Akram Shuhaib.

Meanwhile, member of parliament Hussain al-Haj Hassan tweeted that Hezbollah's ministers in the government had not approved the tax imposed on WhatsApp calls as well as other taxes; nonetheless, many Lebanese activists condemned the late declaration by the party of its position on the new taxes which only followed the outbreak of protests. Angry protesters were also able to reach Hezbollah headquarters in more than one region.

Protesters had also documented with pictures and video clips circulated on social media sites the firing of live ammunition in the air by the guards of the minister Akram Shuhaib, after his convoy passed through a group of protesters on the night of the 17th of October.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party and former member of parliament Walid Jumblatt called on Shuhaib to "surrender those who fired in the air", adding in a tweet: "We operate under the law, but call for a transparent investigation and refuse assaults on anyone."

MP Hussain al-Haj Hassan tweeted that Hezbollah's ministers had not approved the tax imposed on WhatsApp calls as well as other taxes, in an effort to distance the party from the decision.
Minister of Interior of a bankrupt Lebanon: "If people think that the situation will improve with the government's resignation, they are mistaken. That is because there are not many choices amidst the current economic climate besides those we have taken."

Warning From Security Forces

Lebanese security forces tweeted that sixty of its forces were wounded in the recent protests, warning: "While we believe in and are keen to protect freedom of expression, we will not accept attacks on members of security forces nor against public and private property."

The statement continued: "All those who are destabilizing security and every person who has been proven to have transgressed against public and private property and members of security forces will be apprehended according to the law."

Cancelling Cabinet Meeting

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Raya Abu al-Hassan confirmed the cancellation by Prime Minister Hariri of the his cabinet originally scheduled on the 18th of October, adding that onlookers are awaiting his speech.

Reports had circulated that the cancellation of the government's meeting took place to send a 'message' of calm to the people. Media reports meanwhile attributed the reason for the meeting's cancellation to ministers potentially being unable to reach the meeting place at Baabda palace (the official residence of the Lebanese president).

Such reports followed the confirmation of the changing of the meeting place at two o'clock in the afternoon from downtown Beirut to the Presidential Palace at Baabda.

Not a 'WhatsApp Revolution'

The protests have surpassed what some have called a 'WhatsApp revolution', after some had attributed the reasons for the protests to the Lebanese government's decision to impose daily charges on calls made through WhatsApp and the internet.

The evidence that disputes this however is the fact that even after the government withdrew the new proposed taxes on WhatsApp calls, angry protesters have continued their demonstrations calling for the resignation of the government.

Resignation Is Not a Solution

At a late hour on the evening of the 17th of October, Lebanon's Interior Minister declared to the local 'Al-Nahar' newspaper that "the economic measures considered by the government have not been accepted by the Lebanese people", adding that "since the beginning, the head of the government has said that there are difficult measures that must be taken, but I understand the scream of the people which says that they cannot endure it. We know we are headed towards difficult days, and the government does not have many choices, and it is important to find a formula that can treat the economic crisis and lighten its impact on the people."

The minister further stressed: "Prime Minister Sa'ad al-Hariri has no intention to resign, for what aims would that accomplish? If people think that the situation will improve with the government's resignation, they are mistaken. That is because there are not many choices amidst the current economic climate besides those we have taken."

Al-Hassan proceeded to warn: "If the government fell the situation will worsen, not improve. Any new government will have to undertake the same measures that this government is taking."

Indeed, some Lebanese agree with al-Hassan that the government's departure is not the solution, as there are no alternatives to it at the present moment, and so it must fix what it has broken.

On the other hand, the head of the Lebanese Forces party Samir Geagea directed a "sincere invitation" to Prime Minister Hariri calling on him to resign. Walid Jumblatt had also made the same call to the government.

Ultimately, Abu al-Hassan expressed her "understanding of the people's anger", adding "We have to see whether the political parties will agree to this bitter glass that we must all drink."

She concluded: "We must sit together and explore the measures we are taking, but through a way in which we can lessen their impacts on the people. We must work as one hand. As for abdicating responsibility, this does not help us to pass through the upcoming period."

Meanwhile, when asked on the method by which security forces have dealt with protesters, the minister declared: "The internal security forces accommodate the people. If however acts of rioting take place we can discuss [our response] then. But until now the instructions are to prevent any friction with the protesters."

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