Historic anti-government protests in Lebanon have shut down the country over the past week, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in Beirut and far beyond to demand the government’s resignation. Prime Minister Saad Hariri addressed the nation on Oct. 18, promising immediate reforms, but his words ultimately rang hollow as Lebanese continued to demonstrate in growing numbers. The Lebanese Forces, a prominent Christian political party, has already resigned its Cabinet members.
The initial demonstrations in downtown Beirut late last week were a response to reports that the government would impose a $6 fee on the use of WhatsApp, the popular messaging service owned by Facebook. Lebanon, currently the third most-indebted country in the world, already has some of the most expensive mobile phone services in the Middle East. Both of the telecom companies in the country are state-owned. In a matter of hours, other protests soon cropped up in cities around the country, from Tripoli in the north to Tyre in the south. Demonstrations in Lebanon have usually been centered in Beirut, but the participation of citizens across the country reflects a unifying rage pushing people to cast aside historically divisive political and sectarian affiliations.
Given their broad scope and nonsectarian nature, the protests soon went far beyond the price of using a mobile phone. They are a popular outcry against the poor quality of life under a government that regularly ranks as one the most corrupt in the world.