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Lebanon’s Day Of Rage, As Protests Forces Govt To Scrap WhatsApp Tax Within Hours

The Oasis Reporters

October 19, 2019

“We can make a change”, they chant in Beirut

With the events that happened in Beirut, Lebanon, caution shall remain the name of the game as governments continue to cast envious eyes at the freedom and liberty social media grants citizens.
Days when governments controlled information are long since gone. People access information from different sources nowadays while envious and angry governments continue to make deft moves to curb access to free flowing information, good or bad through taxation.

Protests raged for a second day in Beirut, Friday.

Although the Lebanese government has backtracked on plans to tax WhatsApp calls, protests have continued to rage on.

The government had announced a $0.20 (£0.16) daily charge on voice calls made through WhatsApp and other apps.

But it scrapped the plans hours later amid clashes between security forces and protesters.

Thousands have protested, calling on the government to step down over its handling of an economic crisis.

Dozens were reported injured on Thursday as protesters burned tyres and security forces fired tear gas. The demonstrations were the biggest seen in Lebanon for years.

Protesters are calling on the government to step down.
On Friday, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said the country was going through an “unprecedented, difficult time” but stopped short of resigning.

He issued a 72-hour deadline to his “partners in government” to stop blocking reforms.

Why are people protesting in Lebanon?

Thousands of Lebanese people have taken to the streets amid an economic crisis that many blame on the government.

“I was sitting at home and I saw the people on the move and so I came out,” Cezar Shaaya, an accountant protesting in Beirut, told Reuters news agency. “I am married, I have mortgage payments due every month and I am not working. It’s the state’s fault.”

Protesters gathered around the government headquarters, as chants of “the people want to topple the regime” echoed around Beirut’s Riad al-Solh square on Thursday. Many also expressed anger over perceived inaction by authorities to tackle the country’s worst wildfires in decades.

What about the WhatsApp tax?

On Thursday, the government announced a new daily tax for calls made via voice-over-internet-protocol (Voip), which is used by apps including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Apple’s FaceTime.

What started as WhatsApp tax demonstrations seems to be snowballing into another spring, when the Arab spring once emanated into an omnibus protest over everything, to sweep governments away and to demand for reforms.

This was what Abdullah, a protester in Beirut said to Reuters:
“We are not here over the WhatsApp, we are here over everything: over fuel, food, bread, over everything,” said.

Governments all over the world with eyes on restrictions are watching the events in Lebanon with caution and trepidation. Taxes are still rising in some countries that are traditionally fractured against fault lines and largely docile. Those ones would be unable to force the hands of repressive regimes.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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