Title: Activists Cry Foul as Lebanon Imposes a Tax Hike Right Before Postponing Elections, Again
Author: Joey Ayoub
Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:31:55 +0300
Podcast Download URL: https://globalvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Screen-Shot-2017-03-22-at-1.39.34-PM-400x300.png
Elections have been postponed three times in Lebanon since 2013. As a result,
eligible voters from ages 21 to 28 have never had a chance to vote.
Protesters wave Lebanese national flags during a demonstration against proposed
tax increase, in front of the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon. March 19,
2017. Photo by Hassan Chamoun.
Days after two thousand protesters gathered in front of the government palace
in Beirut on March 19, to protest against proposed tax hikes, the Lebanon's
Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri announced that elections will be delayed,
Hassan Chamoun, a videographer and member of the widely successful
anti-corruption ‘You Stink’ Movement, argued that the proposed tax hike is
an attempt to distract the Lebanese people from the
election extension. Speaking to Global Voices, he said:
Ruling politicians are bringing attention to this issue on purpose, to
eclipse the parliamentary extension and political deadlock between them
regarding a new electoral law.
Elections should have taken place in June of 2013, but the parliament extended
its own term for 17 months citing ‘security concerns’. Then, in November of
2014, citing the need to decide on a new electoral law before voting, the
parliament delayed elections to 2017. This time, the government is saying
the extension is for ‘ technical reasons’, in reality the parliament has
reached a deadlock on the new electoral law.
To put this in perspective, a 28 year old Lebanese citizen has yet to vote for
their parliamentarian of choice despite being legally allowed to vote since
they turned 21. Popular blogger Elie Fares sarcastically thanked the government
or dawleh for the extension on Facebook:
I’m 27 year old, moving to Philadelphia in 2 months, and I’ve never – nor
will I ever at this rate – voted for parliament. #ThanksDawleh
Taxation without representation
Ramez Dagher, a blogger at Moulahazat, said that he joined the protests
because the government is imposing taxation without representation. Speaking to
Global Voices, he said:
They cannot raise taxes without giving the people the right to have a say
about it. It is pure hypocrisy especially since they are leading the country
towards a third cancelled parliamentary election. Lebanese politicians made
us live in garbage for a year in a half, deprived us from electricity for
decades, breathe corruption, and now want to raise taxes that will eventually
feed that corruption in a way or another. Enough is enough.
The government is arguing that increased taxes are needed to finance the
salaries of public sectors employees. Both Dagher and Chamoun agree that Prime
Minister Saad Hariri appeal to protesters on Twitter was a publicity stunt and
a strategic step meant to distract the public.
ادعو منظمي التظاهرة الى تشكيل لجنة ترفع مطالبهم لمناقشتها بروح إيجابية
— Saad Hariri (@saadhariri) 19 March 2017
I ask the organizers of the protesters to form a committee to raise their
demands and discuss them positively.
His tweet followed his appearance, surrounded by security forces, at the
protest, seemingly attempting to talk to to protesters, who greeted him with
chants of ‘thief!’ and throws of water bottles.
Dagher said that this made him “look as cool, friendly and caring” and
“indirectly threw the responsibility from the government to the opposition,
while also giving something for the protesting groups (who have nothing in
common) to argue about: whether to negotiate with the PM or not”. Chamoun said
that Hariri “wanted to look like the victim.”
Public discussion organized by Nasser to bring together activists and anyone
concerned to discuss ways of tackling governmental corruption. March 20, 2017.
Photo Source: Zeina Nasser Facebook Page.
GV contributor Zeina Nasser, who has been involved in the protests as both
a journalist and an activist, points out that protesters’ demands are already
Personally, I think that our demands are clear enough, and were announced in
the protests. There is no need for a committee and we know that this takes a
lot of time in Lebanon. We're with raising employees’ salaries but not from
the pockets of other Lebanese citizens who can barely make a living. We're
with finding new ways for financing that such as a tax raise on maritime
public property or projects that cost millions of dollars.
The tax hike is a smokescreen
Marina Chamma, a writer, activist, and blogger at ‘Eye on the East‘
argued that a tax increase isn't justified because the government refuses to
tackle existing problems:
If only tax evasion, public financial waste, and corruption in the public
sector are fought, this alone could finance the salary scale and much more.
Instead, the government prefers to increase indirect taxes (such as VAT) and
taxes that affect the average citizen (e.g. on interest on deposits), instead
of undertaking a major overhaul of the taxation system (e.g. increasing
direct tax such as income tax to make it truly progressive) or taxing such
sectors as the banking sector that are considerably under-taxed.
While the government is willing to increase taxes on those already struggling,
it is unwilling to tax the very wealthy. An example of that, as MTV Lebanon
explained, is the government's attitude to wealthy yacht owners:
فصدق او لا تصدق: اليخت بطول يفوق ال 15 مترا معفي من الجمرك ولا يدخل في هذه
الحال الى خزينة الدولة الفارغة ليرة واحدة. والانكى من ذلك، ان المالك الاجنبي
اضافة الى عدم دفع الرسوم الجمركية لا يدفع ايضا الـ tva على عكس اللبناني ما
دفع المتمولين اللبنانيين الى استخدام عدة الاعيب ملتوية عبر تسجيل يخوتهم على
اساس انها اجنبية للتهرب ايضا من دفع الـ tva .
Believe it or not, yachts that are larger than 15 meters are exempted from
customs and not a single penny enters the treasury of the state through them.
Furthermore, a foreign national owning a yacht, in addition to not paying
custom duties, unlike Lebanese owners, does not pay the Value Added Tax
(VAT), which prompted many Lebanese owners to use several tricks
by registering their yachts as foreign to evade paying the VAT.
But activists have more obstacles ahead of them. Not only do they have to find
a way to maintain the momentum and fight against ‘protest fatigue’, but some
are finding difficulties including more sections of society to make the
protests more inclusive. Nasser is among those trying to organize the
movement from the bottom up. She explains that there is a need to include
disenfranchised groups in Lebanon such as the illiterate, the poor and migrant
We are less hopeful every time a protest ends. I think that a sit-in is a
must since it cause more pressure on the government.
Written by Joey Ayoub · comments (0) 
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