Protesting austerity measures and economic stagnation in Lebanon
The people of Lebanon took the world by surprise when on 17 October 2019 they took to the streets to protest planned austerity measures. According to the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), Lebanon has been saddled with increasing government debt. In a monthly bulletin focused on the Lebanese uprising and consequent changes, ANND explains that the cabinet had been in negotiations for the 2020 budget, which was finalized in October, in efforts to increase the state revenue and reduce the country’s deficit: now at 11% of its GDP.
According to ANND, the Lebanese economy was contributing to a mounting crisis, with the middle class and the poor bearing the burdens of austerity policies, from which politicians, sect leaders, and the rich were largely protected. Unemployment had reached 16%, affecting 45% of the youth. This has prompted many young Lebanese to leave the country in search for better opportunities. Basic services, which were already being paid for by the citizens, were not provided, leading to ongoing power cuts and water shortages. As a result, discontent has been growing in the country, illustrated by the “You Stink” movement that grew out of a garbage collection crisis. The movement linked the crisis to the political system, which was also the focus of the Lebanese uprising.
It is thus of no surprise that when the news that the government was to impose further taxes came out, people took to the streets. While the protests were spontaneous and decentralized, they quickly spread across the country. Protesters were determined that the current economic crisis was a result of corruption that was born out of the “mutual co-existance” principle between the different sects and their political representations as agreed on in the 1989 Taif agreement to end the Lebanese civil war. This principle created a political system that is based on the sectarian division in Lebanon distributing constitutional powers and administrative roles in order to guarantee that these groups are represented. Furthermore, for many, including ANND, the crisis is the direct consequence of the liberal macroeconomic policies the country has adopted since the 1990s, through privatization and minimizing the role of the state in providing basic services. This fueled the uprising that aims at changing the entire economic and political system.
In Lebanon today, diverse organizations, social movements and individuals are coming together to defend the country’s political and economic future, put an end to the sectarian based electoral system and adopt new democratic law to ensure social justice for all.