Thousands of Lebanese protesters on Thursday packed the streets of Beirut and other cities to condemn the Government’s plans to impose 20 cents a day in taxes on WhatsApp and other free messaging applications as a way of combating the country’s economic crisis. The protesters blamed the state of the economy on decades of corruption and mismanagement.
On Thursday evening, Telecommunication Minister Mohammad Chukair said he was dropping the WhatsApp Tax, blaming the plan on Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
According to Al Nahar, President Michel Aoun held a phone call with Hariri, and the two men agreed to hold a government session at the Presidential Palace on Friday.
Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah urged the Telecommunication Minister to cancel the proposed WhatsApp Tax, which Hezbollah had rejected from the start. Fadlallah insisted the protests across Lebanon were spontaneous, even as Hezbollah’s Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mahmoud Qmati announced: “We will do whatever we can to reverse this decision.”
There have been sporadic protests in Lebanon since the summer, with participants repeating the slogan of the 2011 Arab Spring demonstrations: “The people want the fall of the regime.”
Lebanon’s struggling economy is unable to deal with the country’s huge debt, at a time when capital inflow is down. Lebanon’s debt, $86 billion, equals more than 150% of its gross domestic product.
In June, the Lebanese parliament passed an austerity budget to comply with the demands of international donors, who last year pledged $11 billion to finance a plan to revive Lebanon’s economy. But those international donors refuse to make good on their pledges without a show of commitment on the part of the Hariri government to implementing painful reforms.