Interview: Journalist Rania Khalek On The Protests That Erupted Throughout Lebanon
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned as nationwide protests against the government continued.
Rania Khalek, co-host of the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, believes this leaves Lebanon vulnerable. The United States government will probably warn against a potential “Hezbollah government.” The next government in Lebanon may even face sanctions that further compound a looming economic crisis.
Khalek noted that Lebanese people are panicking because most of the currency exchanges refuse to give out dollars. The current black market rate, as of October 29, was 1800 lira to 1 U.S. dollar.
Western media is incorrectly reporting that protest violence is the result of Hezbollah. They fail to acknowledge how Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the Shiite Amal movement have relied upon “thugs” to impose their will over communities.
On this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure,” Rania Khalek, who is based in Beirut, described what sparked the nationwide protests and highlighted what has unfolded in the streets.
Khalek also addressed the false idea in the press that somehow Hezbollah might turn the protests violent.
To listen to the interview, click on the above player or go here.
During the show, Khalek says the protests are a result of anger toward elites for neoliberal policies. Demonstrations erupted because the government attempted to add regressive taxes, like a flat tax, that would impact everyone except the most wealthy people in Lebanon.
“The government had suggested adding like a $6 tax a month on WhatsApp calls,” Khalek adds. “People in this country, they use WhatsApp to communicate because phone calls are so expensive. I think Lebanon has one of the highest, one of the most expensive mobile networks in the world.”
“I pay more here than I do in the U.S. I think for having data and being able to make phone calls. People use WhatsApp because you can use the internet and make calls for free. So, that really pissed everyone off.”
Also, October is wildfire season in Lebanon. They had really bad wildfires that destroyed a lot of greenery. The government has helicopters that were donated years ago that are supposed to be used to fight wildfires, but the government did not spend money to maintain the helicopters. That upset people, according to Khalek.
“There’s such extreme wealth inequality here. It’s like on steroids,” Khalek contends. “You really have an oligarchic country, where you have these oligarch/warlords who just run the country and deplete it of its resources and make money off of everybody. And just literally steal from the public in such an extreme and in your face way.”
The explosion of protest was not limited to Beirut. It involved almost all parts of the country, which is unprecedented in Lebanon. It cut across sect and class too.
Lebanon’s government is “run in a way where there’s not actually a functioning state necessarily. What you have is different political parties that are run by leaders who basically are the people from the civil war,” Khalek describes. “Lebanon had a civil war that lasted from the ’70s to the ’90s that completely destroyed the country.”
“What ended the civil war was this agreement that the country would basically be run by sect. You would have these different parties and party leaders that represent each sect.”
People in Lebanon do not get public services from the government. Public services are run through the sect that controls regions. This fuels division in Lebanon, and it also allows elites to enrich themselves through funds that are supposed to be spent on people.
Khalek suggests many of the issues infuriating the Lebanese people are “kitchen table issues.” For example, a person cannot get 24-hour electricity.
“In Beirut, you get electricity for all of the day except for three hours and then you have to pay extra on top of your electric bill. If you want electricity for those three hours, you have to buy a generator or you have to purchase amps from a generator in your building. You have to pay extra monthly just to have those three extra hours of electricity.”
Other parts of the country have it worse. They may have six hours or 12 hours during the day that they have no electricity.
Generator companies are owned by the oligarchs. They make money by forcing citizens to pay fees for power during the parts of the day when they need additional electricity.
A lot of what you’re seeing from English-speaking media that’s covering this – everyone seems really supportive of the protest but what a lot of people are trying to do because they have certain agendas is insert this anti-Hezbollah aspect.
Additionally, much of the coverage by Western media views the protests through an anti-Hezbollah lens when violence by protesters is not necessarily the result of Hezbollah.
The Shiite Amal movement has its own “thugs,” who according to Khalek know they can go out in the streets and wave both their flags and Hezbollah’s flags to stir up chaos. They understand Western media will not know better and report that Hezbollah was responsible and it will help them in their efforts to maintain power.
Khalek acknowledges that Hezbollah has a political wing with elected officials in government, and they are no longer simply a military organization. But they apparently recognize how Western countries will seek to discredit the protests by saying Iran is involved if they openly back protests. They do not want this, and they’re a disciplined organization that is careful when taking action.
Lebanon is a lot like other developing countries that are fed up with austerity measures by the corrupt ruling class.
“In every country, it’s the same system. This is a part of globalization. You have this same corrupt system in almost every country, particularly in the developing world. It’s more in your face and extreme, the corruption, but where you just have this class of ruling elites that just steal everything, hoard everything, make money off of everybody,” Khalek declares.
“We’re reaching a new era globally, where economies particularly in developing countries are shrinking and are stagnating. You have these growing populations that these governments aren’t able to serve because of neoliberalism and because of austerity. And in some cases climate change plays into that and, of course, global inequality plays into that in terms of the way the Global North interacts with the Global South.”
To listen to hear more of Rania Khalek’s reporting, go here.