- Mariam Mroue
- Chaotic protests broke out in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday just hours after the government tried to impose taxes on messaging services such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber.
- The information minister announced on Thursday that the government planned to charge people in the country 20¢ per day for using internet calling services, according to local news agency An-Nahar.
- Escalating protests forced the telecoms minister to reverse the proposal, but the decision was not enough to calm protesters who continued into the night and are still gathered in the city on Friday.
- Video footage also shows what appears to be the bodyguards of a Lebanese minister pointing firearms at the protesters and shooting into the air.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Chaotic protests in Beirut, Lebanon broke out on Thursday hours after the government tried to impose taxes on messaging services like WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber.
The information minister Jamil Jarrah announced on Thursday that the government planned to charge people in the country 20 US cents per day for using internet calling services such as WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and Facebook, state and local media reported.
People gathered to protest in downtown Beirut after the announcement.
Beirut resident Mariam Mroue, 34 who was present at the protests, told Business Insider that the demonstrations broke out around 6 p.m. in Riad Al Solh square in Beirut on Thursday but later moved “all around the city.”
She said the protesters “started closing the main roads” between the hours of 6 p.m. and 4 a.m on Friday.
Chouccair then said that the proposal “was just an idea that requires further study,” An-Nahar reported, despite the fact that that Lebanon’s government passed the proposal on Wednesday, according to Al Jazeera.
The bill passed by the government did not include information on how the tax would be implemented in practice, but said that the collection would start in 2020.
Protesters continued to demonstrate throughout the night despite Chouccair’s announcement of the reversal.
Video footage shows protesters gathering around a car, which multiple protesters said belonged to Minister of Education Akram Chehyeb, as Chehyeb’s apparent bodyguards proceed to take out arms and aim at the crowds. The Washington Post reported that Chehyeb jumped out of his car during the protests, and attempted to stop a guard from using their gun.
Shots are heard at the end of the video, which you can watch here:
Major protests in #Beirut the capital of #Lebanon against corruption were sparked by a tax on the popular messaging service @WhatsApp. Video below is of protesters surrounding the vehicle of Minister of Education Akram Chehayeb pic.twitter.com/g963ptvy4e
— Ahmed Alsalman (@AAlsalman91) October 17, 2019
A journalist from the Daily Star Lebanon also shared an image from one of the newspaper’s photographers, Hasan Shaaban, which he said shows Chehayeb pushing one of his bodyguards.
This incredible photo by @hasanshaaban shows Education Minister Akram Chehayeb pushing one of his bodyguards, while another brandishes his weapon on top of the ministers car. pic.twitter.com/Eqm8Hw9aPX
— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) October 17, 2019
And a video of a protester kicking a man holding a gun to stop him from shooting has gone viral in the country, with people praising the protester’s courage.
Good morning. A woman in #Lebanon kicked a thug holding a fire arm. You’re welcome. COURAGE is the weapon. Our women don’t just kick ass, they kick men with guns! ???????????????????????? pic.twitter.com/fpJDL3OvfV
— Zeina Hashem Beck (@zeinabeck) October 18, 2019
According to Mroue the police started using tear gas against protesters at 3.30 a.m.
Dr. Ibrahim Halawi, an academic in Middle East politics at Royal Holloway, University of London told Business Insider that although the WhatsApp taxes intensified the protests, they did not start yesterday and are part of wider movements among different groups protesting against harsh austerity measures.
“The scenes we see today in Beirut are a continuation of this back-and-forth: the political elite testing the patience of the public by trying to derive more government income from them rather than from seriously tackling corruption,” he said.
An activist who has taken part in multiple protests in the country, but who requested remain anonymity because of her employment, told Business Insider that the protests were the accumulation of “hits the citizens have been taking” for the last two years.
“WhatsApp taxes were the last straw but they weren’t the spark, people have been burning up since the fires and the increase of taxes on gas and bread,” she said.