Street protests feared in Lebanon over rising prices, depreciating currency and unemployment
BEIRUT: Major General Abbas Ibrahim, director general of Lebanon’s General Security, who is currently in the United States on an official visit, expressed concern over “the implosion of the social situation due to the economic situation in Lebanon”, hoping that security would not be affected.
A security source told Arab News: “The situation is very delicate. Prices for goods are doubling and some traders are now asking to be paid in US dollars as the local currency continues to depreciate out of control. Not everyone has dollar bills. How can people survive? At some point, we are forced to face a dangerous scenario.
“The security services are once again sounding the alarm about the miserable social situation of the military. How is it acceptable for serving soldiers to eat only cereals and canned goods every day? »
On Wednesday, Lebanese telecommunications company Ogero doubled and tripled the prices of some of its services. He announced packages aimed at students and people with limited incomes, provided that the price changes come into effect from July.
Before going into interim mode, the Cabinet held a final meeting and raised the prices of prepaid mobile services.
Interim Communications Minister Johnny Korm said: “The decision to increase telecommunications and internet service rates was caused by issues with suppliers and employees. There is no way for a sector to continue to work on the basis of the rate of 1,500 LBP/USD in these circumstances.
“The sector would have collapsed, so we halved spending from $560 million to $255 million, and we also took several steps to reduce the burden. Industry revenue fell 22% and we became one of the cheapest telecom industries in the world, with the average subscription revenue rate at $1.88 per month compared to $11.5 in Jordan , for example. With the fare increase, the fare becomes $7, with exceptions for people with limited income, for whom there will be $4.5 and $7 packages, taking into account people with special needs, security guards and students.
“When we raise the tariff in July, the first bill we collect will be August 8. I understand and feel the pain of citizens, but the tariff needs to be changed.”
In October 2019, the Cabinet led by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri discussed a proposal to impose a 20 cent fee on voice calls via apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook and FaceTime to avert the impending economic collapse. after the rapid decline of Lebanon’s dollar reserves.
This proposal was the initial spark that sparked one of the biggest popular protests in Lebanon when demonstrators blocked roads with burning tires and attempted to storm the seat of government and parliament. The protests spanned two years as economic conditions deteriorated.
The government sought to rescind its proposal hours after it was announced, but collapse occurred. Lebanon was unable to pay its external and internal debts and the central bank imposed measures on bank transfers. Protesters have accused the ruling authorities of corruption, while Arab and foreign countries’ enthusiasm for helping Lebanon has waned due to the growing influence of Tehran-backed Hezbollah.
Will the worsening economic crisis and rising telecommunications and internet prices bring people back to the streets?
Telecommunications engineer Abbas Qanso, who works with an internet service provider, ruled out the possibility of returning to the streets. “There will be protesters against the price hike, but many will accept it, just as they did with the rising prices of fuel, medicine and even bread.”
Official data shows that the unemployment rate in Lebanon fell from 11.4% in 2018-2019 to 29.6%, indicating that almost a third of the working population was unemployed in January 2022. The percentage unemployed women reached 32.7 against 28.4 for men. , while the youth unemployment rate was 47.8%, double the adult rate of 25.6%.
Economist Walid Bou Suleiman said: “The Lebanese pound will depreciate even more amid uncertainty in the political scene.
“Nothing can stop the depreciation of the local currency except a positive shock that comes in the form of rapid government formation, but there is no sign of that. It’s a downhill journey from here.
“Since the government went into interim mode, it no longer has the right to make decisions. A new government must be formed as soon as possible and stimulus plans must be implemented immediately, otherwise a worrying fate awaits Lebanon with the depletion of central bank dollars, which will hamper imports.