Lebanese celebrate Christmas with mixed feelings

The political situations has meant that no government has been form.
Updated 25 December 2018

Lebanese celebrate Christmas with mixed feelings

  • Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi has urged Lebanese politicians in his sermons to avoid further delays to the formation of a government

BEIRUT: As Lebanese prepare to celebrate Christmas, this year’s festivities are mixed with disappointment and fear that 2018 will pass without the formation of a government.

The Maronite Patriarchate’s media spokesman Walid Ghayyad told Arab News that Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi has urged Lebanese politicians in his sermons to avoid further delays to the formation of a government.

Housewife Nawal told Arab News: “We usually dedicate a big budget to buy presents during the festive season, but this year we agreed to buy gifts only for the children. The economic and political situation makes us reluctant to spend money, and we’ve decided to save our money for a rainy day.”

Toni Eid, chairman of the Beirut Traders Association, told Arab News: “The political crisis in Lebanon has had a negative impact on the economic situation. Crises aren’t new to Lebanon, but this is the first time that Lebanese feel this much distress.”

He said: “There’s a general feeling that this is a serious crisis. People are waiting for solutions, and no decisions are being made for the future. People’s spending has decreased.”

He added: “One of the indicators of economic decline is offering sales in excess of 50 percent. This doesn’t usually happen during the festive season.”

Eid said: “The middle class has declined, while the rich have maintained their place and the poor have become poorer.”

Economic reporter Danielle Daher said she noticed during her tours of markets a decline in consumer spending.

“Designer shops that sell expensive brands are almost empty,” she told Arab News, adding that families are buying “clothes instead of toys for children because the latter are expensive.”

Al-Rahi said in his Sunday sermon: “Human dignity requires the existence of social conditions that enable people to secure a dignified life. Unfortunately, political officials fail to realize this duty. They’ve been stalling the formation of the government for seven months, creating new problems every time a solution is found. In doing so, they inflict great damage on the state, causing serious financial losses and violating the dignity of the people by condemning them to more poverty, deprivation and anxiety. Do they realize that they’re committing a great crime against the state and the people? Aren’t they ashamed?”

He stressed the importance of forming a government comprising people “with recognized competence and neutrality who meet the requirements of the state and the people.”

Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

Updated 24 min 25 sec ago

Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

  • Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley
  • Demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”

BEIRUT: Hundreds of people took to the streets across Lebanon on Thursday to protest dire economic conditions after a government decision to tax calls made on messaging applications sparked widespread outrage.
Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, in its southern suburbs, in the southern city of Sidon, in the northern city of Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Across the country, demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”
Protesters in the capital blocked the road to the airport with burning tires, while others massed near the interior ministry in central Beirut, NNA said.
“We elected them and we will remove them from power,” one protester told a local TV station.
Public anger has simmered since parliament passed an austerity budget in July, with the aim of trimming the country’s ballooning deficit.
The situation worsened last month after banks and money exchange houses rationed dollar sales, sparking fears of a currency devaluation.
The government is assessing a series of further belt-tightening measures it hopes will rescue the country’s ailing economy and secure $11 billion in aid pledged by international donors last year.
And it is expected to announce a series of additional tax hikes in the coming months as part of next year’s budget.
On Wednesday, the government approved tax hikes on tobacco products.
Earlier on Thursday, Information Minister Jamal Jarrah announced a 20 cent daily fee for messaging app users who made calls on platforms such as WhatsApp and Viber — a move meant to boost the cash-strapped state’s revenues.
The decision approved by cabinet on Wednesday will go into effect on January 1, 2020, he told reporters after a cabinet session, adding that the move will bring $200 million annually into the government’s coffers.
Lebanese digital rights group SMEX said the country’s main mobile operators are already planning to introduce new technology that will allow them to detect whether users are trying to make Internet calls using their networks.
“Lebanon already has some of the highest mobile prices in the region,” SMEX said on Twitter.
The latest policy “will force users to pay for Internet services twice,” it added.
TechGeek365, another digital rights group, said it contacted WhatsApp and Facebook regarding the matter.
“A spokesperson mentioned that if the decision is taken, it would be a direct violation of their ToS (terms of service),” it said.
“Profiting from any specific functionality within WhatsApp is illegal,” it added on Twitter.
But SMEX said that the 20 cent fee would be “a condition of data plans” offered by mobile operators.
“Also, Facebook previously complied with a social media tax in Uganda, which is effectively the same thing,” it said on Twitter.
Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — higher than 150 percent of GDP — according to the finance ministry.
Eighty percent of that figure is owed to Lebanon’s central bank and local banks.