Politics & Economics

Lebanon: What Was The Economy Like Before The Protests?

Middle East

Years of economic frustrations have played a significant role in motivating the Lebanese people to take to the streets and protest.

Before the protests broke out in Lebanon in mid-October, the state of the economy was a topic of great concern in the country for months in advance. Indeed, the tipping point came when the imposition of taxes on petrol, tobacco and voice messaging were set to be introduced on 22 October, triggering the nationwide protests.

Nevertheless, structural problems and societal grievances regarding corruption in the economy and the lack of fairness in the system abounded before the proposition of the aforementioned taxes.

An article released in the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat in September, just three weeks before protests broke out, claimed that Lebanon was facing its worst economic crisis in five decades. It alleged that around 10% of Lebanese business enterprises had closed down over the past few years.

Economic growth rates had fallen dramatically from around 8% in 2010 to an average of around 1.5% between 2011-2018. The start of the slowdown of the Lebanese economy coincided with the beginning of the civil war in Syria.

Indeed, the economies of Syria and Lebanon are known to be dependent on one another, as the economic performance in one country has a significant impact on the economy of the other.

Plans to reform the Lebanese economy and deal with its enormous public debt, known to be one of the largest debt burdens in the world, were on the negotiating table in political circles at the start of 2019. Nevertheless, the lack of momentum regarding these plans and the discontent felt among the Lebanese population took its toll in October, leading to radical demands being made by protesters, aimed primarily at the political elite.

The demands have since led to the resignation of Saad al-Hariri as Prime Minister. Protesters have nevertheless continued to take to the streets all across the country as they demand further economic and political reforms in order to see the restructuring of a system that they believe has been working against them for years.