BEIRUT: Earlier this month, a tweet by the Lebanese Presidency's Public Information office sparked controversy, in which President Michel Aoun asked the people to "sacrifice some of their gains" to help Lebanon through its economic crisis.
Many citizens turned to social media to express their outrage about what many described as an illogical solution to the economic crisis that the country is facing.
Jad Chaaban, an economist and associate professor of economics at the American University of Beirut, stated in a report published by Carnegie Middle East Center, that “urgent economic reforms are needed, but how can we expect the ruling class that is responsible for this dire state of affairs to enact them?”
Hussain Ayoub posted on Instagram that he pays two electricity bills monthly. One to the government, and a completely separate one to a private generator owner to fill in during daily power cuts caused by the crumbling infrastructure.
His post reads: “What more can I do, I’m already paying two bills. Am I not already providing the country twice to help this way?”
The Lebanon Economic Report released by Bank Audi, last year, proposed reforms that include austerity measures, proficient deployment of national resources, enhancing tax collection, fighting tax evasion, pushing for reforms in the electricity sector, and improving the general business environment in the country.
Joey Badr, a young filmmaker, commented on Facebook that he would totally accept sacrificing for the sake of the country if the president would mention one thing that the government has provided for its citizens that is a want and not a need.
Other users insisted that the tweet didn’t surprise them, like Mohammad Ghali, who posted: “It’s karma, you get what you vote for.”
Some tried to address the continuous crackdown on freedom of expression. Adam Abou Hamdan, replied to the tweet saying: “If I voiced my opinion on this matter, I’d probably end up in jail.”
Economist and university instructor Hala Ghareeb told Annahar that the solution proposed by the president is not practical.
“People don’t even have their basic needs, what more can they give up,” she said.
Ghareeb insisted that the first and most immediate step to be taken to pull the country out of the economic crisis is to increase taxes on rich politicians and business owners, noting that “the poor have given up everything already.”
She further highlighted that the time has come to endorse reforms that spare the marginalized and less fortunate groups in society, and enforce a greater burden on those who have enriched themselves on the shoulders of common taxpayers.
“In a country with a 35% poverty rate, I’m surprised he has the nerve to tweet such a thing,” one anonymous user posted on Twitter.
Annahar contacted Aoun's Public Relations office several times for clarification to no avail.
Lebanon is facing a Greek-style bankruptcy, without the European Union to support it. Today, public debt stands at 150% of GDP, one of the highest in the world, as public debt increased seven percent year-on-year to $85.1 billion at the end of 2018, according to the Ministry of Finance.
Lebanese citizens are facing serious obstacles as a result of the economic crisis, like small business owner, Maria Daou, who told Annahar: ”I wasn’t able to find a job because of the dire situation, after opening my own arts and crafts shop, I had to close it down since rent was too expensive, I wasn’t able to cover all the costs.”
Daou has resorted to selling her products online, but it’s still not enough to make ends meet, and she’s one of many.
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