The following is an interview, conducted by our German section, with Lynn Beyrouthy: an activist from Lebanon who is involved in the revolutionary events unfolding in the country. She explains how the movement came about, the grievances behind it, and what its main demands are. Note that this interview took place before the announcement of a general strike.
What is currently happening in Lebanon?
Lebanon is witnessing massive protests in every major city, mainly in response to gross ineptitude from a kleptocratic government that has consistently failed to preserve the welfare of its people. The major political parties that divided the country along sectarian lines during the Civil War are still in power today, mismanaging public funds and accumulating budget deficits year after year.
Lebanese taxpayers revolted on Thursday because the government’s only solution to growing public debt (150 percent of GDP to be exact) is to continually increase the tax burden on the average citizen, going as far as proposing a tax on Whatsapp calls. What ignited the fury of Lebanese citizens on Thursday was not the proposed $6 tax on Whatsapp calls, but the decades-long brutal assault on their living standards.
At the same time, the billionaire kleptocrats saw their wealth increase as progressive taxation on high earners was conspicuously absent from the debate on how to raise tax revenues.
How is the government reacting to the protests?
The government is pushing back against the protests, with armed forces using teargas, and several images and videos of police violence against protestors appeared on social networking sites.
What is the situation in Lebanon? What are living standards like?
Lebanon has been on the brink of financial collapse for a couple of years now. State finances, as well as the Central Bank’s costly currency peg to the dollar, have deteriorated the economic situation and forced Lebanon to borrow more money to finance its deficit and debt servicing, leaving little funds for productive investment in the economy.
In particular, investment in infrastructure, public transportation, and basic social services like healthcare and public education, has been consistently inadequate. Stagnant wages, rising inflation and youth unemployment have not helped the situation for average Lebanese citizens, who have had to endure declining living standards for years now.
The government’s plan to implement austerity in the 2019 budget spelled even-worse conditions for Lebanon’s working-class population, as regressive taxation increased, while progressive taxation, corporate taxes and taxes on bank interest remained staggeringly low.
What organisations/persons are leading these protests? What are they demanding? How are they reacting?
The protests were spontaneous and completely unorganised; no organisation claimed the protests as their own because it really is a people’s revolution. People from different religious sects, social classes and political backgrounds took to the streets to express their anger at the current mishandling of the economy and demanded the fall of the kleptocratic regime.
Although protestors come from different political backgrounds, the common thing that unites them is their anger at the assault on their living standards. This rage ultimately stems, in my opinion, from a growing economic divide between Lebanon’s wealthiest 10 percent (which happen to be made up of the ruling politicians and corporate elites) and working-class people.
The concentration of income and wealth in Lebanon is among the world’s highest. This definitely contributed to the people's fury, as politicians continue to accumulate personal wealth by exploiting the fruits of our labour. Moreover, the politicians’ gross ineptitude and mismanagement of public funds have further contributed to economic stagnation. A failure to redistribute wealth equitably has also stoked the fires of class conflict.
What is the aim of the movement? Is it raising any socialist demands?
Due to the extremely heterogeneous nature of the movement, protesters are actually many advancing different aims and demands, ranging from catastrophic ones like a military coup, to more rational proposals like a secular state guaranteeing democracy and social justice. However, the movement is united under some common demands, including regime change, resignation of the political elites in power and transparency and accountability in government.