Lebanon protests: What has changed in the country since 2000?

Written by Staff Writer by Emilie A. Banks, CNN

Lebanon’s protests on Saturday will be the biggest since tens of thousands took to the streets last year. They are over rising prices, unemployment and government corruption.

The demonstrations are expected to take place in Beirut and other major cities, with the movement expected to gain momentum over the next week. The demonstrators are demanding to change the country’s economic model, and are calling for the resignation of President Michel Aoun.

Following the popular demonstrations of the early 2000s, these are the major changes that have occurred since then.

2000s and now

The Lebanese economy is still experiencing the effects of the post-Cold War era. As the country became a haven for Middle Eastern refugees, and reconstruction efforts began in the wake of the 2005 Cedar Revolution, Lebanon became dependent on foreign aid.

Take a look at what life looks like on the streets of Beirut.

The “developments” the country reportedly enjoyed during this period were in fact, only temporary. The 2007 war with Israel resulted in many refugees returning home after a few years in Middle Eastern exile.

Economists say the current protests stem from a 2012 decision to raise gasoline prices by 41%. These unpopular hikes also coincided with a sharp drop in oil prices. This raises the question: What is happening in Lebanon right now is not in the ‘ideal economy’ that the media often suggests.

Changing system

Over the years, France became increasingly involved in Lebanon, its demand to extend its defense treaty with the country increased, and long-favored political players became more influential. Among these big name political figures is Yassir Arafat — who is considered one of the most influential Palestinians after Yasser Arafat — because of his longstanding relationship with Hizballah.

Tens of thousands of people take to the streets of Beirut in mid-June 2018. Credit: Maya Alleruzzo/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

Some economists have expressed concern over the growing Lebanese debt. Lebanon’s borrowings had reached 87% of GDP in 2017, according to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“As in other oil-exporting middle income countries, Lebanon’s high sovereign and cross-border debt relative to GDP has to a great extent been financed by borrowing at artificially low interest rates,” the IMF said in a report.

Despite this, Prime Minister Saad Hariri formed the new government in late September and a new economic development plan was unveiled.

“There was so much anger among the working people that the establishment realized that [Hizballah] wasn’t going to be respected without protesting,” said Hussam Halawani, a Lebanese refugee and data analyst who has analyzed the website nowebanhizzydetwork.com

Potential gains

The protests have already seen Lebanon’s “post-fact-ional” political parties unite to demand better living conditions for the country’s citizens. Hariri and Aoun both endorsed the riots. Former Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and Minister of Culture Ahmed Fatfat signed a pledge saying the biggest part of the proposed protests won’t affect the economy.

Halawani says that the main gain will be “the country absorbs all the shocks that the economy is currently passing through.”

“Lebanon has seen a huge increase in prices of many goods and services. Because of this, there has been a very drastic decline in the purchasing power of the population,” Halawani said. “Inflation, not only of prices but also of the national wage in the lower economic strata, has reached levels not seen since the 1980s. At the same time, there are many difficulties with the budget, such as poverty and education. A large majority of them are working class.”

Take a look at what life looks like on the streets of Beirut.

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