Longstanding economic, social and governance problems are coming to a head in Lebanon’s protests, which are cutting across traditional sectarian lines and geographical barriers. Scholars at institutes that study the Middle East are offering background and analysis. Here are summaries of some of the key commentaries, updated on Nov. 13. (See related articles “In Lebanon, Sect Vs. Sect Turns Into People Vs. Politicians” and “Professors Start a School of the Rioters” and “Lebanon’s Universities Have Emptied Out Into the Streets.“)
Fadlo R. Khuri, President, American University of Beirut
The protest movement ends the political order that has prevailed in Lebanon since the Taif Accord of 1989, a system based on sectarian division. The Lebanese Civil War finally ended on October 17, 2019, Khuri writes.
The protesters include many of our own students, faculty and staff. We must help students complete their studies while they participate in the demonstrations. At AUB, service to the community is an integral part of a liberal arts education.
The protesters must stay united, and they must not make heroic victims of themselves. This would only serve the interests of the men running the country.
We must resume classes, which have been suspended since October 18, even while we support and protect the freedom of speech and right to protest of our students and faculty members.
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
Hatim El-Hibri and Clovis Bergère, Jadaliyya.com
“The Lebanese WhatsApp tax was a straw that broke a camel’s back, but what made it a straw to begin with?”
In Lebanon, the app is almost inseparable from mobile phone use, due to the country having some of the most expensive phone and data rates in the world. “The tax would have cut into the fabric of many kinds of social interaction, particularly for the unemployed and working poor,” the authors write.
It is a regressive tax, meaning the amount levied is fixed at a single rate, which makes it proportionately more expensive for the poor than for the rich. A political system that mainly serves the interests of the rich favors regressive taxes as opposed to progressive taxes, which are levied according to the taxpayer’s ability to pay.
But it is an easy tax to collect in a country like Lebanon. In Lebanon the lack of a consistent system of physical addresses means the absence of a permanent fixed relation between location and citizen. Taxation requires that a fiscal entity—something or someone—be located and counted. In Lebanon, a potential taxpayer can’t be identified by a home address, but can be compelled to pay a tax when using a freely available portable object.
The authors compare the situation in Lebanon with the protest movement now in progress in Guinea—“another country with a protest movement also entangled in the dynamics of the telecom industry.” The main difference between the two countries is that in Guinea the government resorts to shutting down the Internet completely to block protest, something that has not been done in Lebanon.
Sami Atallah, Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, Beirut
Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s reform plan proposed in the wake of the protests (Hariri has since resigned), and politicians’ support for it, show their unwillingness to reform the state and the economy in a way that would serve the welfare of citizens. It does not provide for the establishment of an independent judiciary, essential to the rule of law. Hariri refused to sign the law that would establish a national council to fight corruption. And his plan does not restructure the tax system to make it fair.
Perhaps Hariri resigned to improve his bargaining position for the next government. Popular protest has changed his political calculus. For Hezbollah leader Sayyed Nasrallah, preserving the system is more important than fighting corruption.
The problem is not about passing laws. Laws that are passed are not implemented.
The problem is the lack of trust between citizens and political parties.
Political parties used the end of the Syrian occupation in 2005 as a new start, and blamed the Syrian presence for hindering reform. Almost 15 years later, things have only got worse. Lebanon is in serious need of a new system of governance.