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Lebanon Plan to Address Protest Grievances Falls Short

“Trust Deficit” May Doom Hariri Proposal

Lebanese riot police fire tear gas during a protest against government's plans to impose new taxes in Beirut, Lebanon, October 18, 2019.  © 2019 AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Spontaneous anti-government demonstrations broke out across Lebanon last week, sparked by the announcement of a slew of new taxes. Thousands took to the streets to express anger against the entire political establishment, whom they blame for the country’s dire economic situation and endemic corruption.

The largely peaceful protests took an ugly turn on October 18th when the army used excessive force to clear areas of Beirut while the Internal Security Force’s riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at fleeing protesters. Security Forces reportedly detained over 100 protesters.

In response to protester’s demands, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri set a 72-hour deadline for the government to develop an economic plan to respond to their grievances. Today he announced the plan as protesters assembled in cities across the country.

The plan includes reforms to overhaul the failing electricity sector, a federal budget for 2020 that does not include new taxes on individuals, lower salaries for government officials including ministers and parliamentarians, and higher taxes on banks, alongside other reforms. Whatever the reforms might do to address some of the protesters’ grievances, they ignore calls for holding corrupt politicians to account.

Lebanon’s trust and accountability deficit is a result of the government’s perennial failure to hold officials and other perpetrators to account despite credible allegations of abuse and misconduct. From the fate of the 17,000 Lebanese kidnapped or “disappeared” during the 1975-1990 civil war, ongoing incidents of torture and death in detention, abuse of kids in school, illegal trash burning, abuse of migrant domestic workers, and abuse and discrimination against women and members of the LGBT community in Lebanon, people have again and again suffered the consequences of impunity for misconduct and worse.

In response to Hariri’s proposal, protesters on the streets immediately expressed lack of confidence and rage at the political establishment, claiming they would stand steadfast in their demands for accountability. If history is any guide, they are right to doubt that promised reforms will have their stated impact unless there is a genuine commitment to accountability for abuses.

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