Rare mass demonstrations broke out across Lebanon on Thursday night as tens of thousands took to the streets calling for the downfall of the current government, which is headed by an ally of the West.
In the biggest protests in the country in years erupted in the capital Beirut and other major cities over the government's plan to impose new taxes during a severe economic crisis, with people taking their anger out on politicians they accuse of corruption and decades of mismanagement.
The demonstrations were sparked by a decision announced earlier in the day by the telecommunications minister that it would be introducing a fee for calls made on WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook call and FaceTime.
Mohamed Choucair said that he would hold a press conference next week to explain all the details behind the government proposal aimed at bringing in close to $200 million in revenues to the state, but he was quickly forced to back down as anger grew.
Hours later a number of youth gathered in Downtown Beirut and closed down a main road behind the Grand Serail where ministers had gathered for a Cabinet meeting.
The participation of protesters grew and reached tens of thousands late into the night. In the south of the country in the port city of Sidon and further toward Nabatieh, locals closed down highways and vandalised political parties’ offices, including a Hizbollah MPs office.
In the north where Saad Hariri, the prime minister, enjoys widespread support posters of him were torn down in the streets.
In the country’s capital of Beirut, young men and women chanted “down with the regime,” as they had intermittent clashes with security forces.
The Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar described it as "a tax intifada", or uprising, across Lebanon. Another daily, al-Akhbar, declared it "the WhatsApp revolution" that had shaken Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's unity government.
Smaller number of protesters began gathering again on Friday morning.
Lebanon is currently facing a difficult economic situation with the local currency, which is pegged to the US dollar, fluctuating in the black market.
Bakery owners, gas station owners and other businesses have gone on strike in recent weeks to protest the current situation.
Gas station owners purchase fuel in dollars but are paid in Lebanese liras; however, with the shortage of U.S. dollars in the market banks were not exchanging their liras to dollars. The same situation applies to the bakery owners. An agreement has since been reached with both.
The government is currently discussing the 2020 budget, which calls for austerity measures as the country continues to rack up public debt that stands at $80 billion.
CEDRE, an economic donor conference held in Paris last year saw the international community pledge more than $11 billion in soft loans and grants. But this requires a number of economic reforms to be carried out before the funds are unlocked.
Thursday’s protests were arguably the biggest protests since 2015 when thousands also took to the streets after garbage piled up in the streets across the country due to a lack of proper waste management plan.